For most of my life, I’ve known about Bridget. She was my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother.
She was, by all accounts, a tiny fearless woman. In almost every story I’ve ever heard about her, she had a quote that began, “By hell …” spoken with a strong Irish brogue. Such is life when you grow up in a house with a picture of John Kennedy on the wall, years after his death.
I know Bridget’s story almost as well as my own. Born in County Mayo, Ireland, c. 1850. I shared what I know about her tragic childhood in this post last year.
Bridget’s granddaughter, my grandmother, would laugh when she would flip my brown hair forward to reveal the deep red that lies beneath it. “Your Irish roots are showing,” she would tell me. “Mine were the same way once.” I would marvel at that as I’d only ever known her to have a thick headful of gray/white hair.
My point is this: I’ve known about my maternal Irish heritage pretty much since Day One. But paternal Irish roots? Those are a relatively new development. But they’re there, just the same. And that story in America is more than a century older. It’s so old I can’t track it without having a pedigree chart in front of me!
The family lore is that Mary, an Irish Protestant, came to the United States in the early 1700s as an indentured servant. As luck would have it, she came across another Irishman, this one a Catholic, when he arrived in America, and was brought, sick with a fever, to the house where she worked. Mary nursed him to back to health.
Her fellow Irishman was grateful. So grateful, he bought her out of servitude and married her.
He and their sons would fight in the Revolutionary War. (And survive, thankfully.) One of their daughters would marry the American-born son of a Scotsman. That couple would, fortunately, have a child, before the young husband was brutally murdered by a Tory sympathizer somewhere around 1781.
That only child would come with his mother and her new husband to Illinois. And a little less than two centuries later, Mary’s great-great-great-great-grandson would marry Bridget’s great-granddaughter.
As a result, I sit here today before this computer typing this story.
Thank you, Bridget, for enduring a lifetime of tragedy so that I may know joy. Thank you, Mary, for working so hard and for having the compassion to save a life that, together with you, played an integral piece in the puzzle that is me. I’m proud to have your lives inextricably intertwined with my own.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.