On this St. Patrick’s Day, there will be many a celebration of those who are Irish by birth as well as those who choose to be Irish for the day. Everyone wants to be at least a little bit Celtic on March 17!
This year, especially after having my DNA deciphered as my birthday gift last April, has reminded me of my own Irish heritage and the stories my mom would share with me about her years growing up in an Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn New York. But I’ll go back a generation before my Mom, to her Mom, born Lucy Devlin in 1894. My grandma Lucy was born of Irish immigrants who met in New York City after arriving (I presume) through Ellis Island. Lucy was one of five children born to Mary Rogers and Peter Devlin. Great Grandpa Peter died at a relatively young age, leaving Mary to raise the children.
They lived in a 4-story tenement apartment that had no heat. It was hard living and I remember my mother telling me that Grandma Lucy had a scar on the palm of her hand. When Mom asked her about it, Grandma Lucy explained that a drunk had come into their apartment and was going to attack her mother. Grandma Lucy grabbed onto that knife with her bare hand and would not let go until the drunk was no longer a threat.
The family had a cat named Minnie. She was memorable for the fact that, one day, she fell out of the apartment window and onto the pavement below. Since cats have nine lives (apparently), Minnie survived the fall, but, thereafter, she had to feed herself by lifting food up onto her paw and placing it in her mouth. Minnie was one tough Irish kitty. 😉
When she was a teenager, Grandma Lucy met a young man who loved to sing and tap dance. His name was Benjamin Prince. Now Benny as he was called was descended from British parents so I’m not sure how Lucy’s Irish family responded to that union. Nevertheless, they married in 1912 and a year later, my Uncle John was born. Grandpa Benny worked on the upper railroad in NYC and when Uncle John was not even a year old, Grandpa Benny died in a terrible accident at work in October of 1913. Unbeknownst to Grandma, she was pregnant with my mom who was born in July of 1914.
These were the days before unions and worker’s compensation and my Grandma Lucy would bundle up her new baby and go to court to fight for compensation for the loss of her husband. She received no recompense at all.
Grandma Lucy had to leave her two little ones with Great Grandma Mary while Lucy went to work for the phone company. I’m certain she struggled to make ends meet but a family member told me that she always presented herself well with professional attire.
When my mom was very small, a young German immigrant took an interest in Grandma Lucy. He went away to fight in WWI in Europe and when he returned, he carried a gift for my mom in his bag—a child’s hand-painted china tea set made in Bavaria. It must have won Grandma Lucy’s heart because when mom was about six-years old, Grandma Lucy married the man who I called “Grandpa.”
In later years, even when Grandma had dementia, Grandpa always had his arm tenderly wrapped around her shoulders whenever they sat on the sofa together. Grandma would tell everyone, “Marrying that man was the best decision I ever made.” To see their sweet romance last until 1970 was a joy.
And that tea set that Grandpa brought back for my mom after WWI? It sits on my hutch in a place of honor—a treasure to hold from my Irish heritage.