They said my great-grandmother was stunningly beautiful, had a whip-smart sense of humor and thought of others before thinking of herself. Yet she was also known for diving into a deep sadness that would quieten her. Even set her to trembling.
Honora’s journey is my journey. And the journey of all of us, whether they are Irish, as she was, or any of the immigrant groups that journey to America for a better life.
They say it’s not about the conclusion of a story, but the journey itself. And in this story it is the journey that made her.
She was born Honora Kelly in the year 1880 to a large family on a small farm on the banks of the Shannon River estuary.
~ Labasheeda, the village where she was born, was a tiny farming community that was still reeling from the horrific Great Hunger (also known as the “potato famine”). It had only been thirty five years since the Great Hunger had begun, and as many historians will tell you, the blight on the crop may have improved, but emigration out of the impoverished Irish countryside remained unabated.
From all accounts Honora was a gorgeous baby, but it couldn’t help her to fight against the hunger that raged in her little belly. She was one of many children, and because her parents could not feed her she was given up for adoption to an orphanage in Ennis, the capital of County Clare. ~ I often imagine her: A beautiful little girl, starving and parentless. Thrown into a dorm
with many other girls, forgotten. Then I remember that her ability to fight is what gave me a chance at life.
By the time she was a teenager she must have realized that there was nothing in Ireland for her. County Clare was continuing to get pummeled by terrible economic conditions imposed upon it by the absentee landlords. A colonial government in London exasperated the situation by its steadfast commitment to a Laissez Faire policy which both handcuffed Ireland, and forced the people to pay their own way.
By twenty-one years old Honora had somehow, miraculously, according to some in my family, saved enough money to emigrate to New York. Yet her problems were not over.
On the ship to New York she was huddled into the steerage compartment with many other people. Her beauty had attracted some of the crew and the worst thing imagined, actually happened to her. Honora was lured away and trapped. Taken advantage of.
I learned this fact from a great aunt and uncle. They were in their 90s when they mentioned this. During their day, something so tragic and personal was never spoken of, but they wanted me to add it into the genealogical story I had been collecting.
In New York Honora found work cleaning homes and making sandwiches in saloons in Greenwich Village. She then became associated with groups that raised money for Irish freedom. ~
One night in 1902, at a dance ball put on by the local Gaelic Athletic Association and the
County Claremen’s Evicted Tenant’s Protective and Industrial Association, she met a very tall and imposing man.
At 6’4″, he was a giant back then. With a deep voice and a stern demeanor, Thomas Lynch was known in Greenwich Village for running a clean saloon named Lynch’s Tavern on the corner of Barrow and Hudson streets. He didn’t take any crap from anybody, including police officers looking for handouts.
For whatever reason, he approached Honora, towering over her, and gently extended his hand to her. She must have been so nervous, though she allowed him a dance.
When he had proven, over months of courting, that he did not have a mean bone in his body, particularly with her, she agreed to continue seeing him. Never again would a man take advantage of Honora, especially as she was escorted everywhere by a giant, mean-looking man whose reputation preceded him.
The rest is history. They had six children, including my grandfather. After living above
the tavern for a few years they moved to Brooklyn and lived a moderate, working class life.
Eventually two of their sons became lawyers and saved the tavern when it was foreclosed during the Great Depression.
My grandfather, the youngest boy, took over the tavern from his aging father and kept it in the family until the 1970s. It’s still there, in fact, though under different ownership (It’s called Barrow’s Pub now. I still go there sometimes!).
Honora lived a long and comfortable life after her arduous journey. She was loved by one and all, even when her thoughts went dark and she became quiet while thinking of the past.
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Production & Published Works
Psychological thriller An Affair of Concoctions (Shanachie51 Press, 2009).
Book of poetry Love and Maladies (Shanachie51 Press, 2010).
Historical novel Divide the Dawn (Shanachie51 Press, 2020).
Young Adult Novel Chin Music Rhubarb (Shanachie51 Press, 2021).
Scifi-Horror AudioDrama Democracy Jones Podcast (artofneed Productions, 2022).
Fiction Podcast Chin Music Rhubarb (artofneed Productions, 2023)
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One thought on “Honora’s Journey”
This work sounds wonderful and really resonates, Eamon! I often feel badly about the condition Gen Z (which includes my own children) face. Then I think about the story of the grandmother I knew best and realize life has always been quite difficult. We are here because they were survivors — often with little except the mercy of God to sustain them. Blessings on your work.