Three Irishmen

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER IV (4) start of chapter

I was much struck with the histories of three Irishmen whom I met while in New Brunswick. One was a sturdy Independent, from the neighbourhood of Belfast; the others were Catholics—one from 'Sweet Glanmire,' near the city of Cork, the other from the county Fermanagh.

The Cork man's first enquiry was, 'Why, then, how's Beamish and Crawford?(2)

Having satisfied my cheery acquaintance on that head, by assuring him that Beamish and Crawford were as well as he could wish them to be, I suggested a leading question—

'I suppose, Mr. McCarthy, you had to fight your way, like the rest of our countrymen?'

'Faith, and that I had, sir, and no mistake. All I owned in the world, when I got as far as Frederickton, was twenty-five cents, and sure enough that same was not left long in my pocket, as I'll tell you—and it makes me laugh now when I'm telling it, though it was far from a laughing matter then. I took the twenty-five cents out of my pocket, and I put them in my hand, and I looked at them and looked at them, and I thought to myself they were mighty little for a man to begin the world with; but faith, sir, there was no help for it, and I had my health and strength, and all I wanted was work to do, for I was equal for it. Well, sir, small as the twenty-five cents looked in my hand, they looked smaller soon. I felt myself very dry entirely, and I wanted a drop of tea bad; so I went into a house, and said to a woman I met there, "Ma'am, I'll feel much obliged for a cup of tea, if you'd be pleased to give it to me." "Certainly, young man," says she, for she was civil-spoken enough, and I was quite a young fellow in them days; "certainly," says she, "you must have a cup of tea, young man; but you must pay me twelve cents for it." "Beggars can't be choosers," says I to myself, "so here goes for the tea." That cup of tea made a large hole in my twenty-five cents, and the bed and the breakfast next morning put the finish to my capital. But, sir, as the Lord would have it, I got a lucky job from a good gentleman that same day; and when he saw that I was steady, and didn't want to spare myself, he gave me more to do. From that day to this I've never been idle, and always steady, and keeping away from the drink, unless a little in reason, once in a way; and now, glory be to God for it! I have enough for myself and my family, and I'm doing a good business, and have something put by. But, sir, wasn't it a small beginning? Faith, I can't help laughing when I think of the twenty-five cents, and the big hole that cup of tea made in it.'

The Fermanagh man was then living upon his income, which was still considerable, though he had educated and provided for a large family. It was his boast that 'all he had in the world when he landed from Ireland was a dollar and a shilling.' Industry, perseverance, and good conduct did the rest.

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