Anne Horrigan Geary: Like Irish, may all find a safe haven

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DALTON >> Patrick Horrigan arrived from Ireland to the green fields of Goshen, Connecticut in time to be counted in the 1850 census, along with his wife, Julia O'Brien, and first-born son. It is believed they came to find a better life because the 1840s in Ireland were a tough time.

Some refer to that decade as the time of the Great Famine, but others prefer the more precise term Great Hunger because there was indeed food available, especially if you were British and wealthy. Poor tenant farmers who depended on their potato crop were those who went hungry when a blight ruined the crop. When you couldn't pay the landlord (most of the landowners were British lords), you were tossed out of your tiny rented cottage into the road. Or if you were any son after the first-born in a family which owned a bit of land, you knew you had to seek your fortune elsewhere.

Still today in Ireland, the rule of primogeniture prevails. The tiny Cahermurphy cottage in West Clare where we like to stay is owned by Brendan Murphy and his family. The main farm up the road, and its large modern farmhouse, belongs to his oldest brother — and sits empty because the brother lives in Australia and has no plans to return.

Patrick resided for a time in the area around Goshen which had and still has horse farms. He probably had the skills to work there, but as time went by, he moved his growing brood up the road to Monterey Ma., another farming community. Eventually they settled in North Adams where he found work in the mills.

One of his sons, Thomas Francis, did buy his own farm in Clarksburg in the area that became Horrigan Road. When the last of his sons who lived there passed away, the farm was sold. Factory work became the norm for most of the sons and grandsons, although I know of two cousins who were Hoosac Tunnel miners.

Historical records show that Irish immigrants were persecuted much like any new arrivals were. "No Irish need apply" was a sign seen frequently in large, East Coast cities, and skilled Irish workers often had to take the least-skilled, lowest-paid work if they could find any at all. Maybe that's why some of my kin chose the small towns and back roads of rural New England. I do think this area bears a striking geographic resemblance to the rolling green hills of County Cork.

The second wave of my Irish ancestors arrived from Clare in the early 20th century. The Kenirys settled around Cohoes, N.Y. where my grandmother and her siblings could easily find work in the mills. Thanks to reference books at the Cohoes Public Library, I could trace their employment and lodgings. When my grandmother married Joseph Patrick Horrigan, she moved to Pittsfield where my father and his brothers were born.

I wish I had talked to my grandmother about Ireland and what life was like in the area around Kilmihil, and why they left, but I didn't and everything I know about the area I have learned by visiting there. Like most immigrants, they were all looking forward, seeing American as a land of promise and opportunity.

There is so much unrest in parts of the world, and so many people trying to leave their homelands in search of safety and economic prosperity. Many of them face grave perils and prejudice in their struggle for a new start and a better life. They may not be from Ireland, but I like to see them as families just like mine, crossing a storm-tossed sea in a search for security and comfort. May they all find a safe haven and a welcoming hand somewhere.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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