Friday 6 January 2012: Two Irish Mugs
I thought I should pay homage to my maternal grandfather David Halloran, but I must go from memory and do my best. Some of the fragments we have of his life have stuck in my memory better than others, and even now when I'm past fifty, more pieces keep drifting in.
David was born in a village called Galbally, County Limerick, in 1892. He had many siblings, most of whom were brothers. We know little about his childhood, but around 1910 the parish priest believed that young David should enroll in Trinity College in Dublin and get a classical education there, since he showed intellectual promise. Instead, he sailed for America. He did not travel in steerage class. He walked the decks and later recalled that there were cattle on the ship.
In his early years in the US he worked at a Remington Arms factory in Connecticut, as did some of his brothers. The information grows a little thicker when he meets my grandmother Catherine Clancy after WW1 and they marry around 1923. She had been a governess for a rich New York family and came from a somewhat poorer family than David's. She was from Ennis, County Clare, and had sisters who also had come to America.
David and Catherine had two sons and two daughters, my Mom being the second-born. Mom was four when the Great Depression hit, and by then David was driving a taxi cab to earn his living. They lived in Queens, NY.
In March of 1936, David lost his wife to pneumonia and his oldest child, 13-year old David Jr. to diabetes, one day apart. At this point the family is shattered in more ways than the basic tragedy would carry by itself. One of my grandmother's sisters came and stayed with the children, but somehow she offended the grieving David with a remark, to the effect that if he had earned more money, these deaths might have been avoided with better medical care. My grandfather ordered her out of the hoouse and forbade her from ever again communicating with his kids. It's taken about 75 years to re-connect the two sides of the family.
David had strained relations with his own siblings as well, again involving differences in income levels. The details are not entirely clear, but only a year ago, when my sister found a distant cousin, the cousin knew everything about David's siblings, but she didn't know that David had ever existed.
David was a cab driver in the middle of the Depression, with three motherless kids. He arranged for them to stay in a Catholic orphanage for a few months while he found another apartment in the Laurel Hill section, with no hot water. My Mom (age 11) then became the family cook and took care of her younger sister and brother.
All of my mother's descriptions from the following years were about being poor, but with her Dad finding all sorts of ways to get by. A British naval officer who rode in his cab tipped him by giving him his long, heavy uniform coat, and this kept the kiddies warm as toast all through the winter. When a street was being re-paved he borrowed a wheelbarrow and gathered up hundreds of hickory cobble stones to burn in the little stove in his apartment.
My Mom's lifetime friend Ruth lived downstairs. She remembers my grandfather as a man who always had employment through the worst of times and always provided for his family. At some point he bought his own cab, which was an important step up. There is a photograph of Mom, Aunt Peg, and Uncle John posing proudly by the cab.
He was small-built and very funny, always telling stories and joking, always reading. Ruth thought of him as a leprechaun. Some time after my grandmother's death, David brought a new lady around, but my Mom shunned her, very coldly. The relationship did not become a marriage.
In 1942 when my Mom was sixteen, her father was crossing a street in Manhattan and was hit by a taxi. He was dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital --massive head injuries.
That's my granddad David on the left, in his ID photo from his taxi license. It is one of two pictures we have of him. The other is from the same shoot, with him wearing a cap. About ten years ago I proved to the Irish government that I am his grandson, and they issued me the passport you see on the right. It allowed me to establish legal residence in France when I lived there for two years, saving more aggravation than I can even get my head around. It also brought me closer, at least in my mind, to my ancestral homeland, and to David Halloran.
Here's to you, Grandpa!