Friday, August 17, 2012

Tyrone Diary 2012- All my bags are packed.......

The road to Hugh Cummiskey's homestead,
 Crossan, Co. Tyrone.
I had to be in my early 20s.  I was at St Pat’s Rectory and the priest asked if I’d help out the St Vincent de Paul guys.   Sitting around the table were John Donahue, Arthur Cryan, and Mr. Heafey.  At this time each had to be in his late 70s or so, still handing out food vouchers and practicing the corporal works of mercy.  If you were a parishioner a generation ago you would know these gentlemen, a term that accurately described the trio.  Arthur had this shocking white hair and eyes that focused in on you.  John Donahue was a single man who lived with his sister all his life.  He was always in a suit and hat and sat with back straight.  Mr. Heafey was always Mr. Heafey.  He was small in stature and voice as well.  His presence though just command respect.  They were amongst the last of the old guard.
I was anxious to get out of there, but as was their custom, they weren’t.  Time meant something different to them.  Taking a seat in the circle I listened in on their conversation.  “Oh yes, I remember Brother Finbar,” one would say.  “My mother often brought the Brothers food when they lived on Varney,” the other would reply.  “I had the early Mass and the maid would slip me some breakfast,” added the third.   The others would nod in agreement.   Watching them I didn’t see three old men recalling days gone by, they were there speaking as if it was a generation or more ago.  The experience happened many years past, but has stayed with me.
The fates destined me to grow up when and where I did.  It was folks like the Arthur, John, and Mr. Heafey that got me into all this.  My Dad was not an educated man in the academic sense, but knew more about early Lowell than I do now.  His stories started my passion.  Jack Flood can recall facts from 80+ years ago that I need days to research.  Little did I know that decades later I would be gathering these stories for the next generation.  Now I’ve become the one waiting to tell about life in the Acre way back when.
Hugh's Homestead
So, my bags are packed, and I’m off once again to Tyrone, where our story all began.  How great it would be if I could have shared it with those who lead me to this path.  There have been moments in this project when I wonder about how this has all come about.  Even this year looking down the well in the front yard of St. Pat’s there was a moment when I wondered.  Who stood here?  Was it the gossiping women gathering their buckets to do the laundry?  Was it the Acre kids dropping stones to hear them hit the water?  Was it Hugh resting as he patrolled the Paddy Camps in his role as constable? 
In a couple of days I’ll be at Hugh’s house at Crossan, Co. Tyrone.  We know far, far more about Hugh today than we did a year ago.  In a week’s time we’ll probably know more.  It’s been an unbelievable year when you think of the work that has progressed from Colm, the teams from Queen’s University and UMass Lowell, and folks like Walter and so many others who are committed to uncovering the story of Lowell’s Irish from Tyrone to the Acre.  Follow along as things progress.

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