Anne Horrigan Geary: March gladness in nature, family history

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DALTON — I know some people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket named COVID-19, but I am a cock-eyed optimist and I know this too shall pass. I know that for certain because March is the month, not of madness, but of gladness.

Two of my favorite events occur in March, and they both have to do with the color green. Now that the snow has melted from around the house, lots of spring bulbs are raising defiant shoots in the air. The hyacinths are budded, and the forsythia and pussy willow branches are showing the swelling bumps that will soon flower. My little purple primrose, which had laid hidden below the pine-needle mulch, has the tiniest of buds. Nothing can hold back the power of nature, and it's time to celebrate that fact.

While the wind is still cool, the sun is warm on my face as I rake the leaves off the flower beds that rim the patio. The chickadees fly in for a quick chat before dive-bombing the feeders, which will soon have to be removed.

When I sit to take a break, I survey the leafless trees, marveling at their casual symmetry and note how well the shrub hedges have grown into thickets. It has taken 15 years to develop my wildlife-friendly landscape, but I have enjoyed every bit of it, from buying plants to propagating clones to welcoming garden gifts from others.

Looking at the distant hillsides which surround us, I am transported to the other place where green is all-encompassing. Of course, it's the place with the thousand shades of green, the Emerald Isle. I think of Ireland and all its charms throughout the year, but I can't escape a special remembrance on the 17th of March. From learning the Irish jig in the kitchen from my grandmother, to the high school celebrations (because most of the nuns were Irish and the date was close to their feast day of St. Joseph), to the many trips we've taken to the "auld sod" I cherish all aspects of my Irish heritage.

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I bake soda bread because it is the taste of poor Irish farmers, who struggled to survive during the Great Hunger, and eventually found their way on great ships to a place that promised a better life. Patrick Horrigan and his wife, Julia O'Brien, arrived in Goshen, Connecticut in the 1840s. With their growing brood (and her mother Marcella) in tow, they traveled first to Monterey, Massachusetts, and eventually settled in North Adams, where there are two permanent reminders of their family. There are several family graves in Hillside Cemetery, where Patrick and Julia, some of their children and grandchildren are interred. Marcella and three of her grandchildren are interred in Water Street Cemetery in Great Barrington.

Patrick's son, Thomas Francis, along with his wife, Margaret Hickey, bought some land in Clarksburg to do some farming with their 11 sons and one daughter. The road in front of the farm became known as Horrigan Road, as it is still known today. It wends its way through woodland and pastures right up to the border of Stamford, Vermont. If you drive along the hillsides it looks remarkably like the scenery in the West of Ireland. Coincidence? I think not.

I'm glad that I live in the Berkshires, where so many ancestors found a welcome, a place to thrive and raise their families. But I'm also happy to know the town of Kilmihil in County Clare in which my dear Mary Keniry was born and raised until a ship took her to America in 1901. There she found the love of Joseph Patrick Horrigan in the city of Cohoes, New York.

As we celebrate the heritage of Irish Americans and other immigrants too, may we do so with a resolve to remember their sacrifices and honor their memories in a way that would make them proud.

And St. Patrick's Day is a good time to plant your peas.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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