Don’t Forget St. Gertrude

Well, you learn something new every day. Not only is today St. Patrick’s Day, but it is also St. Gertrude’s Day. And Gertrude is the patron saint of cats.

 

Ironically, or maybe not, one of the few photographs I have is this one, of my great-grandmother, Rose Glennon Lamb and her daughter, Gertrude in the back row. There is also a cat in the picture, held by the child Mary Brogan. They lived in Yonkers, N.Y. in the early 1900s. Perhaps it was taken on St. Gertrude’s Day?

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From Mentalfloss:

As saint expert Thomas J. Craughwell explains it, “St. Gertrude … is invoked against mice and rats, which has led cat lovers to assume that Gertrude was a cat person, and so the ideal patron of their favorite pet.” There are now many icons and paintings of her with a cat.

 

Although the Vatican can make a saint’s patronage official, it has never done so with Saint Gertrude and cats. But most patron saints have been assigned their duties by popular tradition rather than by official recognition. So, if you want to get a medal of St. Gertrude to hang around your cat’s neck, go right ahead. ~Valerie DeBenedett

 

Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny …millions of Irish immigrants have called America home

Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed, for decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America… Enda Kenny, Taoiseach

Maybe because some of us tend to forget our ancestor’s journey, is the reason why history repeats itself.Maybe with each successive wave of immigration, we should remember our own history. While many demand that certain groups stay out, or assimilate faster, it would be a good time to recall that it took generations for our families to complete the journey.

My ancestor’s left Ireland during the Famine. They made their way to New York and to the marble quarries of Westchester County. Later, they moved a few miles into Yonkers and made their living at the Alexander Smith Carpet Mill. Here in Yonkers, branches of my family tree joined together. My great-grandfather, after several years in the carpet factory, was the first to leave the labor field for a desk job selling insurance. Fifty years later, after World War II, my grandfather, 3rd generation Irish, left the enclave and reinvented himself in Washington, D.C.

Three generations of quarry labor and factory work. Three generations before my grandfather broke away. From serving in the Coast Guard, he discovered his love of radio and love of performance. He landed a radio job in DC, which led later to television and advertising. My father, fourth-generation, was the first to go to college.

As the Taoiseach says, the Irish came here because they believed in the shelter, compassion, and opportunity of America. They worked hard for generations in order to provide for their families. It took generations to move out of the neighborhood from which all was familiar, to leave the remnants of Ireland behind.

Saloons, Cockfighting, and Covering Your …Research.

Grandpa’s been at it again.

“A young man, of Irish descent, recently committed a piece of roguery near this place…for which he was summarily dealt with…he was lodged in jail.” (The Statesman, 2/2/1871)

The place he was near?

“Two doors north of the Catholic Church, as if to give dignity to the institution, a new liquor saloon has recently been opened…to which…is attached a cockpit, in which several fights have already taken place…” (The Statesman, January 6, 1870)

I can’t verify my Irish immigrant ancestors in Westchester County New York did these things, but I’m willing to bet he had a rooster or two in the cockfighting ring, that he tasted a whiskey or two. Or three. In any case, I will attribute many of these escapades to my great-great grandfather once the manuscript is underway. The joy of fiction!

I spent several hours researching primary source documents. The kind librarians at the local history library were able to do some inter-library loan work.

I scrolled through several years of the Statesman, which later became the Yonkers Statesman on microfilm (does anyone else get nauseous while using that machine?) I’m sorry to say that when I sat down to begin, I looked for a search button. I had to snap my mind back to the fact that microfilm machines do not have keyword search tools. They have a knob to turn the reel. And focus functions. And, nowadays, a print function.

Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M
http://www.flickr.com/photos/29072716@N04/3920937438

Within history is a story. Within every day, every life, there is a story. Searching through news nearly 140 years old gave me the opportunity to see what life was like then. What did people do for entertainment? What was the social class structure like? What was life like for Irish Catholics during the various waves of immigration? How did cockfighting become a pastime?

I don’t think a novelist has to be a historian – but a writer does have to do research. A writer should be able to answer the questions in order to create a detailed world in which their characters will live. In the case of historical fiction, that world has to be accurate.

Tanners and Quarrymen: The Irish Immigrants of Westchester County

“Caught between long periods of unemployment, the natural ruggedness of the work, and the economic and social inequities of the time, the communities that sprang up around the quarries, particularly Waverly…became slums infested with crime and corruption…there was probably no place in the country that contained so many thieves as Waverly…” (Torres, 56).

Go great-great grandpa. This is the neighborhood where my family settled upon arriving in America from Ireland. Three generations of my family lived around these marble quarries, in the neighborhood of Waverly, in the town of Eastchester, New York. In the Westchester county of the late 1800’s, most of the Irish immigrants worked in the quarries. By the turn of the century, the demographics changed and the neighborhood filled with mostly Italian immigrants. It’s debatable whether Torres’s description is accurate.

There is a Waverly Street in Tuckahoe, a line of well-maintained suburban houses. There is also Waverly Square, a collection of shops in the Tuckahoe/Eastchester area. I wonder if my ancestors could have imagined their  now a well-to-do neighborhood in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

Hugh Lamb would have attended school here. It closed in 1884.

John Lamb, an immigrant from Ireland – possibly county Westmeath – and his son, Hugh Lamb were tanners, specifically glove makers. It seems that they made the gloves for the quarrymen. I’m still researching this role in quarry neighborhoods. Since Masterton (one of the quarry owners) employed blacksmiths at various site to take care of the work horses, oxen and mules, I’m guessing that he would have had craftsmen to make work gloves for the men lifting and blasting marble.

James Joy, another Irish ancestor, was a stonecutter. Stonecutters were step up above the laboring quarryman, requiring skill and expertise to design a ton of marble into an evenly cut pillar. The quarryman was responsible for lifting the marble intact, and the stonecutter cut and dressed the marble.

I have to wonder if my folks were part of the “crime and corruption” crowd, as Torres describes. I can only imagine they stories they could tell about early life in Westchester or the conditions for Irish immigrants, leaving their homeland due to famine. So that is my task, my goal as a writer: to take the outline of history and then imagine their stories.

Source: Torres, Louis. Tuckahoe Marble: The Rise and Fall of an Industry.Purple Mountain Press, 1976.

Also take a look at: http://eastchester350.org/

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