Archive for the 'heritage' Category

Dubh Lin

Well, after a year of hoping, wishing, praying, and planning I have at long last made it to Ireland.  Currently in the capital city of Dublin, I am finishing my day as most of you are just getting off work.

It’s quite strange to be in a city where everyone speaks English, and yet everything is still so foreign. Despite the common language I question how well i can actually communicate with people.  I mostly get strange looks when i talk so I have refrained from doing so too much today since I am already rather sensitve and tired after a long journey.

John Mannion, a historian on Irish immigration in Canada, wrote this about early Irish immigrants:

Once the Irish peasant had left his native townland, he said farewell to kin and neighbours and to almost everything that was customary and familiar. For the first time, perhaps, he faced the world virtually alone, as a stranger. To his eyes the novelty of the move must have appeared overwhelming.  (John Mannion, Irish Settlements in Eastern Canada, 1974)
In a very very small way, I think i can relate.  Although I have travelled lots, this is my first time travellign in a foreign country alone. I don’t think i anticipated how overwhelming it would all see..for the first time facing the world alone, as a stranger.

Despite the initial experience at Dublin airport (not the friendly place I imagined), everyone has been helpful so far. I had my first day at Trinity College where I passed through the groves of tourists and into the Berkley Library with my very own TCD student card.  The head librarian was particularly lovely. She went out of her way to give me a tour, collect material, and provide me with direction to every place I would ever want to go.

Although my accomplishments today only involved staying awake and getting the basic of TC library use, my suspicions were confirmed. Most of the primary sources I need are scattered around Ireland at local history site (archives, libraries, museums, etc.).  I didn’t imagine there were any sources Trinity College didn’t have as it contains over 4 millions books. Copyright laws automatically give them a copy of every book published in England. I understood today why you need a master’s degree to become a Libarian! I can’t imagine having to catalog and organize all those collections!  In fact, only about 20% of Trinity’s sources are on the shelves for public access–the  rest are stockpiled or electronic.

I suppose some people are wondering (and the rare few maybe even interested) in what I am actually studying here in Ireland.  Well, this is all research for my classes at St. Stephen’s University and eventual Masters thesis.  Specifically, while I am here, I am focusing a research paper called “Cultural Transfer and the Irish Immigration Narrative in New Brunswick.”  Of course  i am looking at Irish settlement in all the Maritimes, but often New Brunswick (saint john and st. andrews) was an entry point for irish immgrants.

Here is a short excerpt from my project proposal which i am using as an outline which may give you an idea of exactly what i am doing way over here across the Atlanti:

The Irish Diaspora is a compelling field of study in both Canada and Ireland. With the help of the Ireland Canada University Foundation, I plan to explore in depth the historical phenomenon of cultural transfer and the Irish immigration narrative in New Brunswick and Maritime Canada. Through the study of the Irish exodus and the eventual settlement of Irish Catholics in New Brunswick (1765-1850), Atlantic Canada as a whole will gain a clearer understanding of the Irish contribution to Canadian identity.  This work will provide a detailed case study of early Irish settlement communities in the province of New Brunswick (particularly the Miramichi and Saint John regions) to determine what cultural traits and traditions were both left behind in the “Old World” and which were kept in particular “New World” settlements.  To achieve this research objective, a thorough analysis of the cultural transfer of early Irish communities is essential. I plan to uncover the ideals of these early immigrants, how their expectations were met (or not met), how the economic and social status of the Catholic immigrants in particular affected their migration and settlement choices, which folk traditions were kept and which were lost, and finally how fully appreciating the Irish Diaspora in the Maritime Provinces will help preserve Irish culture and enhance Canada’s Irish identity.

The Irish Catholic settlement communities in New Brunswick remained unassimilated longer than other regions of immigration in the region.  They still retain a vibrant Irish identity.  As such, these communities can be used as a case study for both Irish and Canadian scholars alike.  However, to be credible, this research initiative must have access to significant sources contained in the archives and libraries of Dublin; sources such as emigration and ship records, censuses, newspapers, and periodicals, as well as immigration and folk literature and related first-hand accounts. The Irish people in New Brunswick have much to offer both Canada and Ireland, but cultural transfer and the Irish immigration narrative needs deliberate attention and investment. As one scholar of Irish Diaspora Studies put it, “If Irish Diaspora Studies – and, indeed, Irish Studies – is to be anything more than a ragbag of predilections then we must make good scholarship our first aim.” (Patrick O’Sullivan, University of Bradford, 1997)

My New Relationship

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So I think I’m falling in love. Not sure, but it’s the only thing I can equate my feelings to at this point so I’m just going to go with it.

It all started about two and a half months ago. It was innocent at first and very unfamiliar–often overwhelming–and mostly I wanted to bolt. But I didn’t. And now here I am and I can’t believe that this is my life because I never expected to feel this way. I want to give my all my spare time to this new strange relationship. Suddenly it’s like everything has purpose again…

You see, I just started a Masters degree.

It was like jumping into cold water with my eyes closed. I tried my hardest to see what was down there and look around to make sure it was the right decision but there was no way to tell except to take the plunge. But once I dove in I found that the water was warm and full of life and that was more of a shock than the cold sting of the ocean in December.

I am studying Maritime Celtic history and literature. I know there’s no one out there who can really understand this, but I love it. I am particularly focusing on the poverty of the Irish and Highlanders as they arrived here and how that has since influenced our culture. My topic keeps getting more and more interesting and the more I learn the more interested I become.

I never ever expected to fall in love with my homeland. In fact, I spent most of my time growing up expecting to leave it. But it’s like there is something I just can’t get away from and it’s scary because now I know I might not ever be able to leave. I find myself driving around and wondering what things were like here 100 years ago…or hear a maritime accent and instead of being embarrassed I beam with pride. I look at the run down houses and the struggles people here face everyday and feel compassion and empathy…but never pity. How could I? This is where I come from. And the more I understand and uncover the buried treasure of my land, the more my heart softens. It’s like blinders have been taken off my eyes and I can see what was always right in front of my face.

How crazy do I sound? I drive around and just silently take it all in–the land, the architecture, the people-because there are no words to describe the way I feel. I am the luckiest girl I know. I have a place where I come from, a heritage, and I am part of what I see as a great story. It’s like we’re in the middle of it all, only part way through, so no one else knows how amazing the story is going to turn out but somehow I got a glimpse. The past, the present, the future all connected…and I get to live it. The only feeling I have ever felt that can compare that of falling in love…only without the fear that it won’t work out because it’s all already finished.

I don’t expect you to understand. I know that I may stand alone in this, but that’s o.k. I just wanted to share this new relationship and tell someone that I have never felt so whole.

And yes I love studying local history, literature, and language and I thought I should share that with the world. If that makes me crazy, well I guess I can deal with that.

My Heritage

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Like I said in the last blog, I wanted to tell you some more about my grandmother because she was one of the great ones (picture above–isn’t she so cute?!). The past year or so I spent a lot more time listening to her stories and reflecting on my heritage. In fact I came to love and appreciate her in so many new ways. What I have come to understand most of all through her, is that my heritage, above all else, is Love. Not the feeling, but the kind of love that comes from sacrifice and births kindness.

She was born Rose Mary Arsenault in 1920 in a french village in Western, PEI (St. Felix). Her mother was raised by nuns and was a strict woman and teacher. My grandmother was the oldest girl and when she was born she was missing a knee cap. The doctors said that she would never learn to walk, but through determination she finally did (though at an older age). I remember her sad face as she would recall how her brothers and sisters would run to school and leave her behind to limp along at her slow pace. She absolutely loved school, but was heartbroken when she was forced to quit (around age 13 I think) because her mom had a nervous breakdown. Being the oldest girl, my grandmother was responsible for the house and raising her 5 siblings. What disappointed her the most was that she always wanted to be a teacher (she had a huge passion for reading) but had to forfit for her dream.

Eventually she met my grandfather. He was “from the shore” as she would say. The boys from the shore had a reputation for being bootleggers and very rough. They were fishermen and often in the winters they would head to New Brunswick to work in the lumber yards. My grandfather, though, was one of the good ones. Being a small town there wasn’t much to do so all the young people would hang out at the end of my grandmother’s lane (drinking the bootlegged liquor I suppose). One evening a boy from the shore name Jean-Pierre Perry offered to walk her home and she accepted. I guess in those days that was enough to mean you were dating.

My Pepe was blind in one eye which saved him from having to go to war (though he tried) unlike his brothers. I always laugh at the thought of the pair of them–a bum knee and a bad eye–and remember that love is for everyone, not just the perfect. From what I know, they knew a lot about love.

Eventually, after they were married, they moved to Summerside which was a bigger, English town. Both being from very poor families, they started out with very little, but managed to build a small, three bedroom house in the west end of town. It’s funny to hear anyone over 40 talk about the west end–like it was the Bronx. It had a pretty rough reputation, being the poorest area. My grandparents had 12 children and raised them all in that tiny house (and often took in extra kids)! But no one complains about that part. They just remember the fun times, all living together; they remember my grandmother every night at 6 p.m. sharp making them say the rosary on their knees in the living room (in her thick Acadian accent, “blessed are you amongst womans and blessed is da fruit of dy womb, Jesus”). Anyone who happened to drop by at that time was also made to participate, no exceptions. My dad remembers trying to sneak out at that time, while some of their friends who came from incredibly broken homes, would try to sneak in so they could feel like part of a family.

My grandparents made everyone feel like part of the family, as though there were no limit to the number of people that could belong. They were surrogant parents to many and I truly believe they didn’t have the word ‘judgement’ in their vocabulary (so rare for that generation!).

In 1960 my grandmother lost a child. Her daughter Anne, age 13, was hit by a car and killed instantly. The tragedy really marked the family but instead of letting it tear them apart, my grandmother appreciated her family more than ever and let it draw them closer together. I think that love may be the only thing strong enough to keep something like that from destroying you.

I don’t know how she did it–I honestly don’t. She worked outside the home, yet managed to raise 12 amazing children (no exceptions). Everyone of them willing to move heaven and earth to lend a hand; everyone of them kind, generous, and caring. She would work late into the night, then up early cooking, cleaning, and getting the family ready for the day…and with a gentle hand at that!

I think it’s amazing what we are capable of as women and men. Being able to carry such a heavy load and not crumble, or love under the toughest of circumstances. As I learned about my grandmother–not just the facts, but who she was–I found myself in awe. This woman’s blood run in my veins! I had never been prouder of my heritage–poor, catholic, Acadian.

My grandfather died in 1996 of a massive heart attack. It was a shock to us all, and my poor Meme was left for the first time on her own with no one to care for. What a shock that must have been! From caring for her brothers and sister, to caring for her 12 children and husband, to no one needing her anymore. I believe those were the longest, saddest years of her life. Although she rarely talked about it (she really wasn’t a woman of many words), the ache of missing her husband never stopped for a second.

In the final years she would say her rosary many times a day, sit quietly, and think of her beloved. Her family was her life. I think it was the most amazing thing to watch as things switched in the past few years and she became our life. It was amazing to watch her children and grandchildren care for her–like it was a joy and a privilege.

I think of my Meme as a great matriarch. I look at my massive family and think “this all extends from you, Rose Mary Arsenault Perry. You couldn’t have known.” And what a legacy she left! I have so much to be thankful for, and she taught me to not just appreciate my heritage, but to appreciate family in the broadest sense. I see how she made her family her priority and I want to do the same; I see how she took in the lost and lonely and made them like her own children and I want to do that same; I see how she loved her husband and I want the same–they set too great of an example (followed by my parents) to be able to settle for less. I have so far to go still, but I’m working on it.

I once read in a history book that during many British-French wars over the Maritimes the Acadians were always the most humble and hospitable people. No matter who was in charge, they were loyal and kind. The only thing they asked for was to be able to keep their homes. They weren’t adventureous or wild. They didn’t revolutionize the country or even fight much for their lands. They just made their homes and created peaceful, loyal, and joyful communities (I think of them like the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings). I see that spirit in my Meme and I am so proud of her.

There is a song that Eva Cassidy did called “Songbird” that I love. I always imagined it as a wedding song until Meme passed away when suddenly, as I played it, the words were mine to her. They sum up how I feel about my time spent getting to know her better, caring for her, and how she is finally at rest with my Grandfather, her daughter Anne, and her son Alfred. The words are:

For you, there’ll be no crying
For you, the sun will be shining
‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you
It’s alright
I know it’s right

And the songbirds keep singing like they know the score
And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before

To you, I would give the world
To you, I’d never be cold
‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you
It’s alright
I know it’s right

And the songbirds keep singing like they know the score
And I love you, I love you, I love you like never before

Like never before.

Thanks for sharing this part of my life with me by reading.


Good Advice

"Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things"

Currently reading…

"'Tis" by Frank McCourt

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June 2017
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