A Poor Irish Widow

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVI (7) start of chapter

An instance of the courage and energy which a mother's affection inspires may be given in the simple language of the poor woman who tells the artless story of her trials. The family were well off so long as the husband lived; but, when he died, the widow was compelled to accept a few pounds in lieu of valuable improvements which her husband had effected on two farms. Left with four children, and seeing her little fund diminishing day by day, and dreading that the poor-house would be their fate if she did not make some desperate effort to save them from such a calamity, she resolved to start for America herself, and there, by hard work, earn as much as would bring them out; and this determination she resolutely acted upon. Telling, in happier times, of her past trials, she used these words:—

'Oh, it would break the heart of a stone to see my four little children on the road, crying after me. My heart, sure enough, was near breaking with the sorrow that day. I ran as hard as I could away from them, for they cried and bawled; and it was "Oh, mammy, mammy! Oh, don't lave us! Oh come back, mammy, mammy!"—it went through and through me like a swoord. I had to look back, no matter though I tried not to do so, and I thought the seven senses would jump out of my two eyes. Poor little Patsey was then about four years old, and he ran after me, and cried "Mammy, mammy!" bigger than the rest. Sure my legs couldn't carry me any farther. He kissed me, and asked me to give him another penny: he didn't know where I was going to, or how long I'd be away, poor darling. This broke my heart entirely—I declare to you I don't know how I got away from them—it was like a bad drame to me. Well, we landed in Quebec, and I didn't know a sowl on God's earth, but a neighbour's boy of my own; and sure I thought that N—— (meaning a place nearly a thousand miles away) was the next ploughland to Quebec! They put me in a boat, and I felt as if it took us months to come to N——, for I was nearly perished with the could and the hunger. Sure the cattle passengers are treated better than the Christians. When I came to N——, I lived with a farmer. I worked hard all the day, and cried the most of the night. No wonder, for I was wanst full and comfortable at home, with my cows, and my pigs, and my horses, till my husband died—God rest his sowl! But, begonnies, in three months I was able to send home for the ouldest little girl—she was only nine years of age. When she came out, it warmed my poor heart; but she was a great care to me—I had to pay $4 a month for her boord, and that was hard enough. After a time I says to myself, "This will never do; paying $4 a month won't help me to bring out the rest of the children, poor things;" so I went and looked out for another place, and God sent me one.

I hired as a cook, and the little girlwas taken to nurse the babby for her boord. I took greatcourage then entirely, and in half a year more I sent foranother of the children. But I axed the priest—who wasfrom my own place at home—to lend me the loan of thepassages for the other two, and I would pay him, as sureas the Lord was in heaven. He did, sure enough, trust mewith the money, and so he might; and may the Heavensbe his bed for that same, amen! The three landed safeinto my arms; then I felt I was a happy woman—and Icried that night at my prayers—but it was not like thescalding tears on the road, when I was laving them, andevery step was like tearing the heart clane out of me:them tears, that night, did me good. The children weresoon able to earn for themselves, and now, thanks be tothe Lord! we are all comfortable and happy—no thanksto the villain of a landlord for that same; and the bigboy, the Lord mark him to grace! is now able to readhis fine books of Greek and Latin, and knows more thanMurty Dermody, the schoolmaster in our parts. Oh, thehealth was a grand thing; that and the help of the Lord,glory be to his holy name! got me through; for, if I hada pain or an ache, the fear would come on me—and whatwould become of the children? 'Twas hard work enough;but sure the Lord fits the back to the burthen.'

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