Celtic Energy

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER III (7) start of chapter

On their arrival in St. John they lost no time in seeking the Bishop, to whom they presented their only credential, the letter that was 'to make a landlord of Dinny.' The wife at that time spoke English imperfectly, while the husband understood no other language than that which is the sweetest to the ear and the softest to the tongue of the Connaught peasant; and clustering round this seemingly helpless couple was a swarm of young children, some little more than toddling infants. As the Bishop heard their story, and glanced at the group of young creatures, he looked upon the case as almost desperate: the husband, who had to rely on his wife's somewhat questionable powers as an interpreter, might not be able to make himself understood, and probably the struggle would be too severe for the children. Therefore he sought to dissuade them from the attempt which they were so anxious to make. But to go into the forest they were determined, and go into it they did—with a result which is pleasant to narrate.

Their entire worldly means consisted of 20l., with which they had to provide every necessary for a large family until the first crop could be reaped and gathered in. There was, however, the right stuff in the poor Galway emigrants, although they were of the purest type of that Celtic race of whose capacity your self-complacent Anglo-Saxon stupidly affects to despair. In an incredibly short space of time the Crehans had a sufficient quantity of land cleared, fenced, and cropped, a spacious log house and ample barn constructed; a horse, and cows, and hogs, and sheep, were purchased, or raised on this farm in the wilderness; and when the Bishop and I walked through their property, and inspected their wealth in barn and field, these despised and persecuted peasants were in possession of 200 acres of land, and such independence as they never dreamed of in Galway.

Volubly did Mrs. Crehan—a dark-haired, sharp-eyed, comely matron—tell of her treatment in Ireland, and her trials in her new home, as she welcomed the Bishop and 'the gentleman from the ould country' into her log cabin, which, in a few days, she was to abandon for a grand frame house, constructed on the most approved principles of American domestic architecture. This mansion was evidently an object of the most intense pride to Mrs. Crehan, who was much complimented by the expression of our desire to see it. As we proceeded towards the new building, which was then receiving its protecting coat of 'shingle,' I remarked that she must have felt somewhat lonely on her first entrance into the forest.

'Thrue for you, sir, it was lonely for us, and not a living sowl near us, but the childer. Indeed, sir, 'twas only by an ould stump that I knew whether I was near home or not; and other times we couldn't find our way at all, only for a cut on a tree. And 'twas the owls—the divils!—that would make a body's heart jump into their mouth. Oh, sir, they screeched and screeched, I declare, like any Christian, till they frightened the childer out of their sivin sinses. The little boy—he's a fine fellow now—would catch hould of me by the gownd, and cry out, "Oh mammy, mammy! what a place daddy brought us to!—we'll be all ate up to-night—mammy, mammy, we'll be all ate up tonight!" You know, sir, it's easy to frighten childer, the craychers,' apologised the mother.

'But, Mrs. Crehan, I suppose you don't regret having come here?'

'Deed then no, sir, not a bit of it. No, thanks be to the Lord, and blessed be His holy name! We have plenty to ate and drink, and a good bed to lie on, and a warm roof over our heads, and, what's more than that, all we have is our own, and no one to take it from us, or to say "boo" to us. The grief I have is that there's only the 200 acres—for I'd dearly like another hundred for the second boy. And, sir, if you ever happen to go to Galway and see Mr. Blank (the gentleman with the fine old Galwegian name), you may tell him from me that I'm better off than himself, and more indipindent in my mind; and tell him, sir, all the harm I wish him is for him to know that much. 'Twas the lucky day he took our turf and the sayweed—and a bad weed he was, the Lord knows.'

'Mrs. Crehan, where's the ould man?' asked a crabbed little fellow, who seemed anxious to do the honours of the settlement to the strange gentleman, and who would keep us company 'for a bit of the road.'

'Where is he gone, is it? Why then, Jimmy, he's gone to sell a cow,' was the good woman's reply.

'Gone to sell a cow!' exclaimed Jimmy, with an expression of affected horror. 'Yea, Mrs. Crehan, ma'am, what do you want partin' with your beautiful cow?'

'What do I want partin' with the cow, is it? Then, Jimmy, it's to pay what I owe, and I don't like to be in debt; that's what it manes, Jimmy.'

'Bravo, Mrs. Crehan!' said the Bishop; 'I admire your principle. Never be in debt, if you possibly can avoid it.'

Jimmy was silenced, thinking perhaps that Mrs. Crehan had the best of the argument, the more so as his lordship was on her side.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America