All posts by Andrea Gibbons

Contention at Clonmacnoise

Contention at Clonmacnoise…

This from the annals in 942:

Between the foul of the sea and the foul of the land, where there was a great slaughter of crows 942

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An Early Christian site founded by St. Ciarán in the mid-6th century on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th  -13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe.
Heritage Ireland

The Megalithic Cairns of Loughcrew

The cairns at Loughcrew may have been one of my favourite places to visit, if only because we got to see them on our own, wander about them at our pleasure after picking up the key at the centre.

[of course, when picking up the key I was given directions to the cairns, which somehow went in one ear and right out the other and so we got lost and so we had to go back, and my partner was ever so brave going back inside to ask where we needed to go a second time.

Of course, I was really the brave one driving at all. Hunched over the wheel, white-knuckled. Pulling over regularly to let real drivers whiz past. It was grand.

Also, I left my glasses at the visitor’s centre so they would always remember me.]

In a landscape of inspiring beauty and intriguing history, the cairns at Loughcrew form the largest complex of passage graves in Ireland, much older than the better known Newgrange.

The Cairns are megalithic structures originally built about 4000 bc as burial chambers. The cairns are in two groups; Carnbane West, about 15 cairns, including Cairn L which is roofed and contains superb symbolic carvings in good condition.

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Mayo and Galway: Sacred Hearts, Sacred Mountains, Sacred Tat

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Oweynagat: Ireland’s cave of the cats

Oweynagat, or the cave of the cats. This may not look like much, but is in fact a gateway to the underworld — it is more terrifying that it is small and hidden I suppose. From this portal have emerged herds of fiendish swine, the ancient goddess of battle Morrigan, malevolent birds, and a monstrous triple-headed creature. Also cats, who battled Cuchulainn and two other warriors. Later it was just known as a cave entrance to hell. Now it sits in a field to be entered perilously by the informed adventurer.

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Oweynagat from a fiend’s eye view, my partner’s legs, if not his very soul, here at risk:

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As St Patrick’s day is not only my dad’s birthday and a day for St Patrick himself, but also St Gertrude’s day, the patron saint of cats, it seemed fitting to share a few more photos of the great Ireland tour of ought thirteen. The cave is part of a larger complex, from the Rathcroghan website:

the royal complex of Cruachan, the oldest and largest unexcavated Royal Complex in Europe….Rathcroghan boasts a multitude of monument types, from the majestic and enigmatic Rathcroghan Mound, which in the Iron Age was impressively topped by wooden ramparts and ceremonial henges, and whose secret heart remains an untouched mystery. … Kings were inaugurated at the ceremonial heart of Rathcroghan and the site is witness to the rise and fall of great tribes, wealthy chieftains and dynastic families. Some of these went on to rule the whole island as High Kings, ensuring the continuing legacy of this unique complex well into the modern era.

This was the home of the

great Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb, who ruled all of Connacht from her home here in Rathcroghan, the origin point for our National Epic ‘an Táin Bó Cuailnge’ – the Cattle Raid of Cooley, which features a whole host of legendary heroes including Medb herself, the mighty Battle Goddess Morrigan, the Connacht Champion Fraech and the boy hero Cúchulainn, whose names and deeds are inextricably linked to the landscape that surrounds us here. Witness the site where the ferocious white horned bull Finnbennach, battled the legendary Donn Cuailnge, the brown bull of Cooley.

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The One-Legged Gibbons of County Galway

My dad’s birthday today, St Patrick’s day. He was Patrick Colum Gibbons Jr., of course, but only named for St Patrick indirectly via my grandfather. I miss him more than I can say, grief never does go away, does it? Sometimes it hits me at unexpected moments like the proverbial sandbag, but today, today it is expected.

My dad was amazing, and he never did get to hear the story of the one-legged Gibbons(es) of County Galway, nor see what a beautiful place it is our family comes from, so I thought today I would tell him. It is exactly the kind of story he would have most loved. And then on to a real St Patrick story. Our very own.

Dad

So my great-grandfather Thomas Joseph Gibbons, and his siblings Delia and James immigrated to Pittsburgh from County Galway at the turn of the century. While my great grand-dad was a gambler and an abusive son-of-a-bitch fleeing gambling debts as the story goes (though he also made violins and is listed in the census as a carpenter, which is rather lovely), Delia worked as a maid and cook (and read tea leaves), and James got a job on the tram.

So family legend had it that James lost his leg in an accident on the Pittsburgh tram line. Andrew Melon (that Andrew Melon), Delia’s boss, helped them get a good lawyer, and on the proceeds from the resulting lawsuit, the two took the money and ran, all the way back to Ireland to buy a pub. So in the early fall of 2013 when my partner and I, more by luck than judgment, ended up in a cottage in Toormakeady, I thought I might try and find them. The decision to spend the holiday in the West of Ireland was sort of in honour to dad anyway, so I looked up what he’d been working on and from a postmark on a letter Delia had sent my great-grandmother Mary, we found Clonbur and Gort na Ropa, the ancestral lands also known as the Field of Thieves. In Galway, but right along the border with Mayo. I mean right along the border. Turns out our lovely little cottage was in Mayo, but on the very same road.

So we started in Clonbur, and feeling a little too much like a daft American searching for her past I had a pint of Guinness to steady my nerve, then approached the bartender. I knew it was a long shot I said, but my great-grandfather with his brother and sister had left the area for Pittsburgh, but my aunt Delia and uncle James had come back in the 1920s or 1930s. The thing is, my Uncle James had lost a leg in a tram accident, so they had come back to Ireland with lots of money and my family believed they had bought a pub.

Surely that might be memorable?

The bartender conferred with some gentlemen at the end of the bar. They didn’t know of a Delia, or a James Gibbons who had lost a leg. But maybe I was meaning Gregory Gibbons, who worked out of a garage just down the road? The one who had cut off his own leg with an axe?

But no, he would have been a few years too late, wouldn’t he. No, it couldn’t be him, though he’d only had the one leg.

(and you know, I should have written this down right away, because was it Gregory cut his own leg off with an axe? Was it not Geoffrey? Something else altogether? Was in he in a shed not a shop?)

Still, I was very focused on finding my own James and Delia Gibbons. I look back now and don’t know how I didn’t ask more questions about the Gibbons who had cut off his own leg with an axe. I was embarrassed about the questioning, and single minded. My James hadn’t cut off his own leg after all. No one gives you money for that. If they did we’d all have one leg.

There are two Gibbons’ pubs in the area it might be, they said, so after a long walk in the area (so beautiful, utterly beautiful) we drove to the first on the way home.

It was empty. Gaelic football was on, so it was just the owner’s daughter and her boyfriend. You’ll have to come back to ask my dad to be sure, she said, but she didn’t think it was the pub I was looking for. Still, her dad had bought it from a Bertha Gibbons, and funnily enough, Bertha had also lost her leg.

Diabetes and a problem with her toe and the leg had to be amputated.

Three one-legged Gibbons separated by time yet not space…

Amazing.

We did not find my Aunt Delia or Uncle James, but a story. And we found this place that a piece of me is from, it’s amazing. My family from this stretch between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, on the slopes of Binn Shléibhe:

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In honor of dad today, and in light of ever more material online, I did a little search for James Gibbons, and look what I found — turns out he was a railroad brakeman (so sad I only found a tiny article, but a brakeman…so cool, Eugene V. Debs was a railroad brakeman, or did he just organise them? I can’t remember):

From Friday, August 22, 1924 – Page 7 of The Pittsburgh Press.

And then look here, from the Wednesday, September 28, 1927 – Page 13 of The Pittsburgh Press:

That was a shit ton of money in 1927. They came back home rich unless the lawyers took it all.

They might have. It seems the railroad fought hard, I found text of the judgement on their appeal. They were real bastards:

The plaintiff, claiming defendant had been negligent in the operation of its railroad, and that, as a result, he had suffered injury, brought this action in trespass to recover damages for the loss sustained. A jury rendered a verdict in his favor, and a motion for a new trial was refused.

This judgment allowed the railroad to bring another case because my great great Uncle’s lawyer said this:

It is admitted that counsel for plaintiff stated in argument as follows: “Just look at that man. Does he look like a crook? Does he look like a liar, and does he look like he was a man who was trying to rob some railroad?” This comment was manifestly improper. The question for the jury to determine was not whether Gibbons was a crook, a perjurer or a robber, but whether the facts as testified to showed negligence on part of the railroad, free from proof of contributory negligence of plaintiff. The natural tendency of such language was to put in the minds of the jurors the impression that, if they did not decide in favor of the claimant, their determination would in effect be a declaration that he was of the criminal class suggested.

Real bastards. I suppose it all worked out in our favour in the end?

Galway papers are all behind a firewall, though I did give it a go. Surely there must be something. I tried to find out from the genealogical office just a few miles away from Clonbur in a town littered with Gibbons, we walked past it and dropped in. I told them the story and the man was busy writing it down but stopped almost right away.

You’re from the Galway Gibbons, not the Mayo Gibbons, he said.

Nothing else to say really.

While there we also took a trip out to Inchagoill island, leaving from the pier into Lough Corrib where the old steamers used to leave for Galway City, first step on my family’s journey to the US.

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We were taken across on a boat, and entertained by someone who had appeared as an extra in The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara — he showed us the pictures and all, sang us songs, it was utterly lovely.

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Inchagoill — My dad would have loved it.

The connection with St Patrick takes us back another half century or more. Continuing west on the island the visitor will come to the ruins of the much older St Patrick’s Church. This is related to the legend that St Patrick came to Cong in the middle of the fifth century, as part of his evangelizing mission in Ireland. It is said that he met opposition from the Druids, who practised their own religion at the time. Because of this, Patrick had to flee to Inchagoill, and indeed this is how it got its name, ‘the island of the foreigner.’ The legend has it that Patrick was accompanied by Lugna, or Lugnaedon, his nephew, who acted as his navigator. Lugna is recorded in the ancient Book of Lecan as the son of Limanin, who in turn is named as a sister of St Patrick. On Inchagoill, Lugna and Patrick built the church which bears Patrick’s name.

There is a stone in the ancient graveyard of the church which is the most curious of all the relics there. It is about 70cm in height and is in the shape of a rudder, appropriate for Lugna the navigator. The stone bears a total of seven crosses and an inscription in the ancient Ogham alphabet which was used on monuments. It has been decoded by scholars as LIE LUGNAEDON MACC LMENUEH, which is translated as ‘The stone of Lugnaedon son of Limenueh’. The inscription is also found on the stone in Irish. This is thought to be one of the oldest Christian inscriptions in Europe.

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There is a tiny graveyard and it is full of Sullivans, full of them — we have a Bridget Sullivan or two in our genealogy and I wonder if they are not from here…

Our own mountain from Lough Corrib:

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There is too, Croagh Patrick. Mark and I climbed — almost climbed. We didn’t join the steady line of people to the very top.

Croagh Patrick, which overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo, is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland.

The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption. Its religious significance dates back to the time of the pagans, when people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of harvest season.

Croagh Patrick is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation. The Black Bell of Saint Patrick was a highly venerated relic on Croagh Patrick for many years.

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So beautiful.

Anyway, this whole place was so imbued with Patrick. Thought I would share all he had found about the family, and tell him I miss him. Dad had written after finding out about Clonbur:

Next vacation to Ireland, this is a spot to visit and soak in roots.

And now? More than you could ever possibly want to know about our branch of the Galway Gibbons from my dad himself. For posterity I suppose, to make it available if anyone else is searching…

Gibbons Genealogy—2009 Recent Work on Thomas Joseph Gibbons, His Siblings & Mary J. Barrett

1. An envelope with no letter was postmarked July 26, 1939 (see copy attached). This letter was sent to Mary Gibbons, our grandmother, from Delia Gibbons, our great aunt, and the postmark was Fairce with return address Buffuld (Buffield? The name designates either a house or farm, typical British naming without numbers), Clonbur, County Galway, Ireland. Fairce (now An Fhaiche) is Gaelic for Clunbur. Clonbur is in Corr na Móna, the parish of Cong, and is on the Galway/Mayo border, the parish being largely in County Mayo. County Mayo as we know is the source of the name Gibbons, being an Anglicized form of Gibouin, Gaelic for Gilbert—Gislebert, a Norman (Norse-French) name.

Delia, if you remember, was sister to Thomas Joseph Gibbons, our grandfather. She came to America as a servant and became a popular cook with some of the wealthier families in Pittsburgh, including for a time that of Andrew “Andy” Melon. She was described as stout and had the ability to read tea leaves. This she apparently did on request when after a meal the tea cups were sloshed around with their little remaining tea then turned upside down and placed on their saucers. Delia would pick up a cup, turn it over, look inside and study the patterns of the leaves. Through this study should would reveal some aspects of the future of that cup’s drinker. She did this so well, she was in high demand. We can know from this that she was able to captivate and audience, certainly those susceptible to such goings on (Andrew Meoln?). We also know she was a good cook of simple fare, as Dad mentioned Andy Melon liked her food above that of his own hired kitchen staff, and that on occasion she even traveled with him so he could get a good, simple meal.

This is about as much as I know of Delia, other than she appears in the 1920 census of Pittsburgh (see attached)—this with the fact that she returned to Ireland, unmarried, with her brother, James, who also was unmarried, sometime after 1920. She was noted as being 45 years old and single in 1920.

The postmark is important as Dad also mentioned that our grandfather, Thomas, came from a place I remember as being pronounced Gortnarumpna. That this place was on Lough Corrib. I have never been able to find such a place in Irish place names. But with the Clonbur address of Delia, I went to the web site of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, did an enlarged topographic view of the area around Clonbur, and there about 1 mile to the southwest of this village I found Gort na Ropa, a setting of fields and half a dozen or so houses on the eastern apron of mount Gable (Binn Shléibhe). This, then, is the place of origin of Thomas Gibbons – and, it must be assumed, of Delia and James. Oh, and Gort na Ropa means Field of Thieves in Irish.

Wikipedia has Clonbur noted and you can search the net for other info on the area. Next vacation to Ireland, this is a spot to visit and soak in roots. It is also possible the cemetery and parish records in Cong will have more information to follow up with the Gibbons line. There may even be some relatives left (note the Griffith’s Valuation charts show a John Gibbons as holding land in Gortnarup (same as Gort na Ropa). Also, note there are Coyne’s holding land in the same place (see Coyne).

Delia Gibbons

A picture of Ross Hill cemetery at Clonbur with Gort na Ropa at the foot of the mountains in the the background. Great aunt Delia should be buried here.

Great Uncle James we know little about, less than that of Great Aunt Delia. Finding him has been difficult as he never married and never owned a house. The one story that comes down clear is that he was a street foreman for the City of Pittsburgh Street Railway, was run over by a city streetcar, and severely injured a leg (lost a leg or part of a leg?). He survived. For probably valid reasons he claimed the City of Pittsburgh was at fault. Great Aunt Delia somehow persuaded Andrew Melon to get involved and he instructed one or two of his lawyers to act on behalf of James to sue the City of Pittsburgh for damages. The suit was successful and James was awarded the highest damages given out in the country up until that time ($80,000?—a figure once or twice jogged out of my poor memory). The conclusion of this tale is, that however much the settlement was for, it was more than enough for James and Delia to take the money and to return comfortably to Ireland. We know Delia returned from the letter in this collection. The story rings true. That James used Melon’s attorneys and had his backing also rings true as the danger of losing the contest would have more than bankrupted James—he never had the kind of money, status, or union to end up on the wrong side of the City of Pittsburgh’s wealth and batch of attorneys. Losers pay court costs. I suspect an out-of- court settlement given the guns put up here.

I have no picture of James, no legal records of birth, immigration, naturalization, military registration. I do find a James Gibbons in the 1920 census (taken 8 January; see attached) which fits him—somewhat. This shows a James B. Gibbons as 50 years old (birth then about 1870 which fits, being from the second marriage), Irish (fits), single (fits) and occupation as Street Foreman (fits) for the City of Pittsburgh (fits). The puzzling aspect of this record is that he is living with a sister, a Catherine Barry who’s age is given at 67 (born about 1853 from the first marriage, which fits) and who is widowed (which is why she is living with him). If this James is brother to Thomas, then the sister is a half-sister.

What to make of this? There are a few other James Gibbons living in Pittsburgh (again a common Gibbons name), but none who fit so exactly our James. We do know that our great grandfather had two marriages. One was to a Bridget Sullivan (our direct line) and one an unknown Coyne. We also know that there was a half-brother of Thomas, our great half-uncle, living in Pittsburgh. As noted elsewhere in this report, I believe this half- brother is John Gibbons. The age given for Catherine puts her birth before any of the three siblings—Thomas, James and Delia—and makes her a likely candidate for there being a half-sister here in the states along with half-brother John. I know no more about this Catherine Barry.
An added problem occurs in the 1920 census, for the enumeration for Thomas and family (taken 25 April) shows James, brother, age 50, occupation carpenter, now living with them. The conclusion is that either the James who is Street Foreman is not the brother of Thomas (unlikely), or that James moved in with Thomas after the January census take and was re-enumerated in April, all residents being counted. This latter is the more likely by my thinking, knowing the mess the census data is. See the Thomas section below.

Thomas Joseph Gibbons, our grandfather, is as elusive as his siblings, but not in the census data—or not quite. The quality of factual data in the census from year to year is terrible. The years do find people, though. The first census that I find Thomas in is 1900 (taken 6 June). Here the last name is spelled “Givens,” not “Gibbons.” We must remember that both Thomas and Mary were native Gaelic speakers and English was a second language, making their English speech probably a bit difficult to understand to some. Misspellings occur with great frequency in the census, not just with our family. This 1900 census has Thomas as born in December of 1866 (showing him as age 33) in Ireland and having arrived here in 1884. He is married to a Mary who is age 27, born in January of 1873. They have been married for 5 years (the marriage taken place in 1895). They have two children: James (age 3) and Annie (age 5/12). Thomas is shown as a laborer. Mary is showing as having given birth to 3 children with two living. This all fits.

He again appears in the census of 1910 (taken 22-25 April) as Thomas Gibbons age 39 (a discrepancy having him born in 1871—typical of his fiddling with his age), married to Mary for 14 years with Mary’s age as 35 (making her born now in 1875), both married for 14 years (the marriage now in 1896 unless they were married between 25 April and 6 June, which put the marriage back to 1895). Children are James (age 12), Anna (10), Bridget (8), Margretta (6), Patrick C (3) and Thomas (1 month). Thomas shows his immigration year now as 1883, that he is naturalized and that he is a carpenter. Mary now shows her immigration year as 1888 (making her only 13 years old coming to the states —not likely). Mary is noted as having had 8 children with only six living. From Dad, I know that there was a Bridget who died young. The Bridget shown here has to be Isabelle who fits into this birth order slot and who is missing. What is with our family?

The 1920 census (25 April) has Thomas now age 54 (being born once more in 1866), having immigrated in 1884 (like the 1900 census) and naturalized in 1900. He again is shown as a carpenter now working in an oil refinery. Mary is now age 50 (again born in 1875) having immigrated in 1888 (like the 1910) and naturalized in 1900 (maybe). I repeat that the only Mary Barrett arriving in New York between 1888 and 1891 who fits her profile is the Mary of 1891. Other Mary Barrets arrived but none of the proper age and through New York. This puts Mary’s naturalization date in question. In fact, I question if she was ever naturalized, but simply said so. Mary is noted as having had 8 children with 6 living. The children are: James (age 22), Anna (19) Isabell (17), Margaret (15), Patrick (12), Thomas (9). This all fits. Here for the first time appears James, brother of Thomas, age 50, carpenter in construction, now living with them. Note that Bridget has disappeared and Isabell is in her place. From this we can assume that sometime before 1910 a Bridget was born between Ann and Patrick and died less than 8 years old, perhaps in the great Swine Flu epidemic of 1918.

The 1930 census (25 April) does not show Thomas with Mary, rather Mary is now head of household. Her age is 53 (making her born again in 1877, not 1875), that she is married (note not widowed), was married at age 22 (year about 1899 which is impossible as she already had James and Ann); her immigration year is 1890 (not 1888 or 1891) and she was naturalized in 1890 (not possible if she immigrated in 1890—again, I don’t think she was naturalized). Living at home are James J (age 32, born now in 1898) and Patrick C (21, born now in 1909—what a mess). Issy and Tom are not shown as resident, though they certainly were in the later 30’s.

What we get from this is that Thomas is not living with his wife. We know that Thomas was largely estranged from his children, that he had little contact with them and kept himself privately to himself. We know that Dad would not talk of his father other than to say he was an excellent carpenter and also was a good fiddle maker (which meant he probably could play as well). Dad also said we were related to Grinling Gibbons, the great English carver, though I don’t know if this is so (strong doubts, probably put into his head from his father). I know neither Issy nor James talked about Thomas in my presence. Indirectly, from Mother, I gather Thomas was an abusive alcoholic, though she said no more about it though she reaffirmed no one would talk about him. He is whispered to have left Ireland under cloudy aspects, gambling with money he did not have—a runaway welcher. We also know that he was Church of Ireland (allowing his line to own and pass on land) while Mary was RC—an added problem with Mary’s strong church ties and faith. His absence here indicates a thought out (welcomed?) separation.

So where is Thomas? He shows up in the 1930 censes (12 April) in Pittsburgh living with who I believe to be his half-brother, John. This census taker made error upon error throughout his taking, particularly with place of origin, seeming always to put Pennsylvania down then overwriting. The form shows Ireland as place of origin for Thomas then being overwritten by England (the time of Thomas immigration Ireland was in the hands of the UK, England being frequently used instead of Ireland in the census, even on some ship rolls). Here Thomas is shown as a lodger, age 62 (born 1868), married (at age 26, making the year about 1894), immigrated (1886), and occupation as laborer in a mill. While this data sort of fits, I have reason to conclude this is our Thomas if you look at the John Gibbons info.

Thomas does not appear anywhere after 1930. I know nothing of his death, year, or place of burial.

Mary Gibbons (nee Mary J. Barrett) I now know has the middle initial “J” (see census data for 1930). It could stand for “Jane” (popular at the time in Ireland) or for “Jo” as used in the family or? I have found no naturalization data on her, but have found her in the 1900 census as entering the country in 1891 (other census data gives differing dates, but this is the first census in which she shows up and, I believe, the most trustworthy). Dad said she came in at New York’s Castle Garden (old Fort Clinton). There is a record of a Mary Barrett debarking from the ship City of Paris, Steerage class, 21 May, 1891 (see attached). Her age at the time was estimated at 18 which would put her birth at 1873. Her birth as noted on the 1900 census is January of 1873 making the two dates fit. You should note that from census to census (see attached) ages change along with dates of entry—the census data is quite unreliable for dating. This family seems to have no sense of years or has some superstition against giving accurate dates. Also, it must be noted, that Mary Barrett is a somewhat common name (too Irish; it would help if her name was Gertrude or such). This is the best fit I can make here from all given data and as it is her first census I believe she would give a more accurate reading of her birth—nerves and fear of government (they did live under English rule back in Ireland). Mary does show up as head of household in the 1930 census, still married, not widowed, with Thomas missing. See the section here on Thomas—maybe not missing. Interesting.

The rest of Mary’s history is collated in a number of photos and letters to Patrick (Dad) archived here in Tucson. She was largely in poor health in her late fifties and into her sixties, took some sort of daily medication that soothed her chronic nervous condition, complained bitterly about her children living with her (Tom and Issy)—too much partying, not enough money given her for needed food and rent. Dad and Jack Jones (her daughter Ann’s husband, later Tom) would send money frequently to help with bills. I do know they somehow rigged the electric feed (with a coin) into the house (Fisk Street house, Pittsburgh) so that electrical usage did not register with the utility. It seems suggestive from her letters that she developed a heart condition, but she took no notice of it with regard to being active. She would get up each day at 5:00 AM and start a laundry (Sunday I am certain was excluded)—ignoring the suggestions of her children to take it easy, that laundry did not have to be done every day. She was deeply religious and Roman Catholic. She also was controlling in that she expected her children to be un- American and closely hang around her or return with frequency—a very rural way of thinking. She disliked the freedoms expressed by Issy and Tom and longingly pleaded with Dad to come home for every holiday, including the Fourth of July. In one instance she would not eat candy sent her by Dad until he came home (from Detroit) to share it with her.

As you already know she died in 1943 from burns suffered when in her morning routine she went to light the coal fire and her night-dress caught fire. I never knew her though Blanche may have some vague memory of her. Mother described her as saintly—that she had a visible glowing aura about her. Issy (her daughter Isabelle—Issy’s spelling) claimed that Mary was from a line of French Jews who fled Ireland at the time of the Huguenot massacre in France. That Mary’s line was not West-Country Barrett, but the name came from the beret which was worn by the French (it is true that the East Irish Barretts derive their name from this hat and that they were French refugees). Take this for what it is worth. DNA would show the mitochondrial line and resolve it.

Coyne. The name meant little to me until I found that a John Coyne held land in Gort na Ropa (Gortnarup)—this from Griffith’s Valuation (see attached). This triggered a memory. Dad once or twice mentioned that there was a female Coyne married to his grandfather. The fact that a John Gibbons and a John Coyne both held property in Gort na Ropa (a tiny place) strongly indicates these two families are related. This would fit the story of our grandfather having two marriages, one to a Coyne and the other to our great grandmother, Bridget Sullivan. I cannot remember our great-grandfather’s name. It could also be Thomas (seems to ring a tinkle of a bell).

Uncle John in Mary’s letters is a mysterious figure. Who is he? I believe I have found him: John Gibbons. Three clues were given by Dad to help the search. Dad mentioned that Thomas had a half brother living in Pittsburgh, that he was very tall and given the title “Spire” Gibbons—a decidedly Irish pun of political twist. He was a self-taught flute player who could play anything by ear and from memory. He had two sons. He had a wife who went blind. This is all I started to work with. Mary writes about an Uncle John and in a letter has James going to see him with a question about Francis. Francis appears in her letters and letters from Peg, Dad’s sister Margaret. So I started looking in the census data for a gibbons with two sons, one named Francis. As the half-brother would be from the earlier marriage of Thomas’ father, he would be older than any of the three siblings, Thomas, James and Delia.

I found him. John Gibbons. He first appeared in the Pennsylvania 1910 Miracode Index (see attached), birthplace Ireland, age 46 (birth about 1864, thus older than the sibs), married to a Hadler (native Pennsylvanian) age 45, and with two sons, Francis (age 18) and Joseph (15) both born in Pennsylvania, with another occupant, a Hannil (can’t they read the writing? What’s a Hannil?), age 47, sister-in-law. The ages work out, the two sons fit, and having a sister-in-law somewhat reaffirms the need for some help if John’s wife had recently gone blind. But more needed to be looked into.

Next the census of 1900, where the two sons would show up in the search. I found them again in Pittsburgh and with a better fit. John Gibbons, age 39 (born Jan 1861), origin Ireland, married, laborer, arrived in 1883. John is married to Mary E., born May,1863 in Pennsylvania (parents both born in Ireland), married for 12 years (about 1888), had 4 children, 2 living: Francis (age 8 born September 1891) and Joseph (age 5 born July 1894).

The census of 1920 finds John, age 56, renting and as a laborer. Mary, age 54. Joseph, age 22. Francis has left. There are no other residents shown. The sister-in-law is gone.

The 1930 census has John 66, now owning a house valued at $5,050 and working as a watcher with the Railroad; he is still married to Mary who is now 64 and there are no children still at home. Who does show up is a Thomas Gibbons, married, and living without wife as border. This is our anti-social and missing grandfather I suspect gone to live with his half-brother.

I find no record of John and Mary after this census. The 1940 census is not available to me.

Lastly, if John had a sister here, then the widowed Catherine Barry would be Catherine Gibbons of the first marriage of our great grandfather. I am not interested in pursuing this line as it has too may dead ends and “if’s.”

Great grandfather Gibbons. Our great grandfather is a mystery to me. He clearly lived just over the Mayo border in Galway, in the scattered farm area of Gort na Ropa (also spelled Gartnarup) just southwest of Clonbur (An Fhairche), Corr na Móna, Galway. His name may be Thomas (John?). He was married twice (from Dad), his first wife being a Coyne, first name unknown and who probably died in childbirth or complications from, as was common at the time. His second wife was Bridget Sullivan. Both marriages would have been in Clonbur or Cong. Our grandfather Thomas was Church of Ireland (from Mother), Protestant, and the current church in Clonbur is Roman Catholic. I suspect the marriage may have been civil or in the nearest Anglican parish church (St. Mary’s Church, Cong—as of today—though there is a ruined church, probably Anglican and recently abandoned, in Clonbur; there is a RC Church in Clonbur, St. Patrick’s, but of more recent build). Today Gort na Ropa is in the parish of Cong, largely in Mayo. More than likely he was a renter of land and house, or lived with a close relative who did so. The record of ownership for the Gortnarup area shows a John Gibbons as tenant in Gortnarup, block 4a and labelled “Gully” on the accompanying map, this in Griffith’s Valuation (see attached). About Griffith’s Valuation (www.failteromhat.com/griffiths.php or http://griffiths.askaboutireland.ie/gv4/gv_family_search_form.php): Irelands Valuation office conducted its first survey of property ownership and tenants in Ireland from 1848 to 1864. This survey became known as ‘Griffiths Valuation’ after Richard Griffith who was the director of the office at that time. The survey was used to determine the amount of tax each person should pay towards the support of the poor within their poor law union. This involved determining the value of all privately held lands and buildings in rural as well as urban areas to figure the rate at which each unit of property could be rented year after year. The resulting survey was arranged by barony and civil parish with an index to the townlands appearing in each volume. Griffith’s Valuation can be used as census substitute for the years after the Great Famine as censuses prior to 1901 were destroyed.” It is important to note that both a John Gibbons (as well as a John Coyne) held land in Gortnarup at the time of this valuation. This John Gibbons most certainly is in our family line.

It can also be noted that Gibbons as tenants in Galway at the time of this valuation are very few. The name is not common. There is a cluster around Gortnarup, on the coast to the west and a few scatterings both east and west of Lough Corrib. Of the Thousands of tenants in Galway, only 106 are Gibbons, and some of these are repeats as one Gibbons may be tenant on more than one property making the actual number of Gibbons even fewer.

I also do not know anything about Bridget Sullivan other than she is from the area (how big an area?) and would have been a Gaelic speaker.

There is one other relative mentioned by Dad. This relative was game keeper for a local estate. The one large estate nearby is the Guiness estate just east of Clonbur. There is also the Lynch family (hated locally). There were other holdings in the area of which I know nothing. I do know that this family member would occasionally bring game to the family, legally or not. I do not remember the name of this relative.

Though this place and time in our family line is but one movement or our line from a place to another place, Gort na Ropa is unique. This narrow strip of land between two large lakes was the passage of war—mountain people to the west, plains people to the east—many a cow and horse must have made its stolen way here.

Also note that our Field of Thieves is historically/mythically extremely important to Irish memory. Here at Mount Gable, according to legend, the Fir Bolg assembled on the summit before their confrontation with the Tuatha Dé Danann at the Battle of Moytura. This was a big one. Wikepedia notes: “In far antiquity the Fir Bolg were the rulers of Ireland (at the time called Ériu) immediately before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who many interpret as the Gaelic gods. The King of the Tuatha Dé, Nuada, sued for half the island for his people, but the Fir Bolg king refused. At the ensuing Battle of Mag Tuired the Fir Bolg were all but conquered and their king slain by the goddess Morrigu, though the fierce efforts of their champion Sreng saved them from utter loss, and the Tuatha Dé were so touched by their nobility and spirit they gave them one quarter of the island as their own. They chose Connacht. After this, the Fir Bolg all but disappear from mythology.” Neat!
Search the net to add your own color here. Fun. http://clonbur.galway-ireland.ie/

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Cathy Come Home

I knew Ken Loach’s 1966 film version of Jeremy Sandford’s Cathy Come Home would be harrowing, so I saved it for a time when I had great things to look forward to. The great London weekend of ought-seventeen. Made me miss London. Sadly I am writing about it post great weekend, but it has to be done.

Also, spoiler alert. Though you can probably guess the broad outlines of how this film is going to go.

I can see why it caused nationwide controversy and outcry, can see how it connects to the formation of Crisis and Shelter — from the BFI’s description, it:

gave a welcome boost to the (coincidental) launch of the homelessness charity Shelter a few days after the play was first broadcast, as part of the BBC’s The Wednesday Play strand.

I can see why this is a pivotal film in thinking about housing in Britain. For showing the state of it, for showing what the loss of it meant. For showing how many people sought it in vain. I loved how it abandoned the studio to take us through the city.

Clearly it showed a number of viewers (12 million people says wikipedia, for what that’s worth, a quarter of Britain’s population from the glory days of limited channels) a great deal of the absurdity of judgmental support systems when you are poor. How demeaning, how belittling, how ultimately idiotic they are. How a bit of respectful support early on could stop that terrifying descent and the loss of everything. Dignity, hope, marriage, children. The demolishing of a family. This is a battle we continue to fight, I imagine will always have to fight. People with privilege never seem to quite believe that poverty isn’t the fault of the poor, this seems the most massive of hurdles. Even when the privileged do cross it, the poor or working classes too often remain a ‘class’, a cypher, never become fully human in all their potential and possibilities and everyday kind of flaws. They are always other.

I think one of the true successes of this film, as in Up the Junction, was how Loach succeeded in bringing alive workers and those finding themselves homeless, making them real for a broader audience. These films make them entirely human. They reveal the brutal and exaggerated consequences of bad luck, the easily-trodden pathways to despair that abound in our society for those without wealth or property or connections. Above all, I loved that Cathy herself got to speak and be heard, got to tell her story.

A newly growing majority once again.

It starts though, as life usually starts….Cathy (Carol White) arriving in the big city, falling in love with Reg (Ray Brooks). Their romance is set against the housing programme of their times, as they climb up and up and stare out over the slums. ‘It’s all coming down’ Reg tells her. It is only a backdrop here, not yet the loss which will define their lives.

Like the other films, their story is interspersed with bits and pieces of others. The film goes from their from wedding to the visit of a health worker conniving with a daughter in overcrowded lodgings to get her dad put into home. It broke my heart this banal conversation about him as if he were not there even though there he sits, the clinical discussion of his incontinence and his face… oh his face trying to hold in the emotion.

The boys are coming home, she says, we don’t have space to keep him. Like he’s a pet. Yet true enough, there is no space to keep him. There is no larger house on the horizon.

For Cathy and Reg all starts out well. A flat that feels like home. Until Reg’s accident. The loss of his job. Cathy’s pregnancy. They go seeking for a room and there is nothing, and over the top of it all documentary voices discussing the lack of housing, the overcrowding. The documentary voice dissasociating itself from the very human struggles over home.

And thus begins the great descent.

First to Reg’s family’s home. Kids and laundry everywhere, SO MANY KIDS, so many pregnant women. The voices of its residents describing their lives there.

One bedroom, no married life…

You can sit on the toilet and cook your breakfast…

Reg’s mother (Winifred Dennis — poor Winnifred Dennis, the horrible racist mother in The End of Arthur’s Marriage as well) going on and on about her having done her bit, raised her own children, going at Cathy saying she’s been teaching her boy dirty habits, worrying her son so he drove off the road. That awful nitpicking voice.

Still, I liked seeing this life now gone. Hope still lived here with them.

It gets to be too much so they take another step down, to a cheaper street — people talking about how horrible these streets are, the boarded up windows, the rats, the noises from the empty houses. But there is also the camaraderie, the friends, the jokes.

This film is full of amazing views of the old two-up-two-downs. The landlady is kindly, forgives the arrears. But death takes her, and the nephew demands the money.

The council begins to come in to its incompetent and horrible own. A man explains the point system, the lack of housing (and hello Geoffrey Palmer!). They are visited by another council worker telling them their house isn’t fit to live in and he will have to evict them — they are living in one room as it is too damp upstairs for the children. His reaction when they tell him they’re being evicted already by the landlord?

Oh good, it saves me from doing what I don’t want to do.

Day of the eviction they barricade themselves in, bailiffs beat the door down, throw all of their things into the road in front of the huge neighbourhood crowd. There is no drama here really, it just rolls on relentlessly the way poverty does.

Another step down. Off to the caravan, past a long line of junked cars. A cast of brilliant characters, a sense of community. Men in the pub, women bringing in the water. My favourite quote of the film (loosely quoted mind you)

You’ll never find a louse, because we know how to thwart them. With the devil’s dung.

Another telling quote from those not so fond of the life.

Once you’re in a caravan you’ve gone as low as you can go.

With the building of a new housing development, new neighbours give speeches about slums on wheels, hold meetings, speak with all their petty fury about the caravans, and how yes that’s a traditional gypsy camping ground but these aren’t gypsies, they’re scroungers. They throw rocks thrown through caravan windows, firecrackers.

Scenes go from talking about hops, potato picking, enjoying laughter in pub to a caravan set on fire, and dead children. The hatred is shocking.

Cathy and Reg search again. No children allowed anywhere. From caravan they look to a boat. Another good quote:

people tend to deteriorate when they’re living on boat… they turn it into a slum…

And so they yield to the worst — emergency shelter, women and children only. They have to interview for it and again we are face to face with just how horrible the council is as the case worker (or whatever his title might have been) tries to catch them out in lying, to convince them that they don’t want it, that other tenants aren’t very nice. That he can’t accommodate the father, that they have to pay rent for it, that it is only one room. Treats them like dirt.

Nurse sends Reg off at the gates, and you know that this is probably the end for them. Another clinical voice

Many social workers feel that all homeless families are problem families. If they weren’t when they arrive, they are when they leave…

This place is full of even more women and children.

What shocked me, I suppose, was the same old blaming of immigrants for the lack of housing, the same horrible attempts to control the women body and soul, the same treatment of them as less than human. The same program forcing them to abstinence and hunger and the scrubbing of floors on their knees, the same as fucking Margaret Harkness (1854-1923) described in her illuminating investigations of workhouses. It shocked me that so little had changed.

So I was happy to see her get angry, see her talk back to the nurse talking down to all of them. See her snapping at the social workers snidely asking if she’s even married after telling her that her husband has stopped paying for her. Not even a thought to what that means. I was happy, but terrified too, because I knew what that would cost her. Privilege can’t bear to be talked back to. Charity requires humility and submission from its objects, which is perhaps one of the worst things about it. It is the thing I hate most.

I cried as she runs, is caught, is left sitting alone after her children are taken.

I wish that such stories remained in the past. But welcome back to 1966.

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1917: Art of the Russian Revolution at the RA and Tom Hollander in Travesties

This was accidentally a London weekend full of references to Lenin and 1917 — both in the (planned) visit to the art of the Russian Revolution exhibition at the RA, and in the (impromptu) attendance of Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties. (Tom Hollander in the lead as the aging Henry Carr! Brilliant! British Consul in Zürich in 1917, when that city was host to Tristan Tzara, founder of Dada, James Joyce, and Vladimir Lenin! Amazing!)

Here we have Lenin as the ideal:

Isaak Brodsky, V.I.Lenin and a Demonstration, 1919. Oil on canvas. 90 x 135 cm. The State Historical Museum, Moscow Photo © Provided with assistance from the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO. The State Historical Museum, Moscow.

As a human being he did not live up to this ideal, no one could. I am in agreement with those who tire of hearing (leftist) people cite him chapter and verse. I loved Stoppard’s gleeful Brechtian treatment of him through consul Henry Carr’s fading memories. Loved the brilliant physical acting of Forbes Masson as Lenin (even at this grand moment when he is being called back to Russia) tossing his beruffed head when dismissed in a huff. Sticking his neck through a window to sing. Working hard at the library writing his book. Loved the socialist burlesque scene, the whole of the witty repartee, the sudden hilarity. The limericks. I admire Lenin. I am still troubled by him because I never did agree with his vision for achieving the revolution. Because he was conservative in many ways, his taste in art and music among them, and he had no right to stamp down on the wild flourishing of creativity that the revolution both inspired and made possible.

I think his praxis arguably set the stage for what happened in Russia under Stalin.  And of course Stalin was inexcusable, unforgiveable, unforseeable, caused the death of millions. He betrayed everything the revolution stood for.

But goddamn, wasn’t the Russian Revolution glorious for a while? Didn’t it end the terror of the Okhrana and desperate lack of nutrition/education/health care/housing/women’s rights/right-to-anything-at-all-especially a decent life or a dream for the future that comprised existence for so many existing, just existing, under the tsar? Didn’t it open up conversations about democracy and the rights of workers, women, ‘colonised subjects’, writing, art, space travel, architecture? Didn’t it go beyond survival to start thinking about the meaning of a full life for all and create a moment when suddenly the whole world stopped and wondered if that were possible?

Yes, yes it did. We still fight for that possibility. People all over the world have been inspired by it. Still believe that there is an alternative. Still believe that revolution doesn’t lead inexorably to Stalinism. Surely the question becomes how do we strive to reach it without this streak of authoritarianism emerging through our struggle — an authoritarianism that only mirrors what we face. How dare that be forgotten by those who are comfortable in an ever-more unjust world full of hunger and want and bombs falling. To collapse revolution itself into Stalinism is fairly intellectually sloppy, but that was much of the message I received from the exhibition’s written commentary (as opposed to the art itself). Another blogger, whose beliefs run rather counter to mine as far as I understand them, seems to have got something of the same message:

The show arrives, I think, at a particularly timely moment, when artists here in the West have fallen in love all over again with the idea of supposedly avant-garde art as a vehicle for promoting supposedly leftist political causes. As such, the event at the R.A. offers a spectrum of what can only be described as awful warnings.
Restless Revolutionaries: A Timely Look At Russian Art By Edward Lucie-Smith

I’m not quite sure what that means exactly, staring at it doesn’t help. I’m not sure if the awful warnings are for artists to beware left politics because that leads straight to the gulag (as if art weren’t always political already), or that those fighting for a better world should avoid the avant-garde at all costs.  (I’m rather sure that’s not what she’s saying, but makes me laugh all the same.) There’s a similar dire warning of something or other in the Guardian. Do not celebrate this art it says. It rather turns my stomach.

To me, this exhibition rather avoided a full understanding of those early years, being rather too full of phrases expressing sentiments like this one:

Many Russian artists, philosophers and writers were nostalgic for the beauty and charm of the old Russia, rapidly disappearing under the boots of the proletarian masses.

I lie, that was the most extraordinary of the sentences the exhibition exhibited.

As if the poor had not been systematically shut out from beauty and grace in the previous centuries of exploitation. As if the artists on display here were backward looking. As if they were not propelled by excitement of what suddenly became possible with the overthrow of a violently repressive aristocratic order. As if that violently repressive order did not underpin the ‘beauty and charm’ for a limited few in old Russia. As if the true tragedy of revolutionary Russia was not the immense hope and promise which flourished, only to be crushed in what was not an inexorable process sparked from the moment Russia dared dream of a true revolution, but something rather more complicated. A complex historical process, just as the Bolsheviks and their part in a wider revolutionary movement was  complex, full of contradiction as they themselves were full of contradiction.

I suppose we were sat in Burlington House in the West End. Heart of the Empire. What did I expect.

Anyway.

The period leading up to the revolution was full of struggle and heady new ideas full of what was possible, and then it came and what artists created was extraordinary. How could the art of the exhibition not be most wonderful? The inspiration for the exhibition no less exciting:

Taking inspiration from a remarkable exhibition shown in Russia just before Stalin’s clampdown, we will mark the historic centenary by focusing on the 15-year period between 1917 and 1932 when possibilities initially seemed limitless and Russian art flourished across every medium.

Fantastic…and indeed, one of my favourite rooms was that of Malevich recreated from photographs of the exhibition of 1932 ‘Fifteen Years of Artists of the Russian Soviet Republic’, with his white architectural forms and brilliant faceless farmers (his nod to the demand that he be more ‘representational’ — I share the frustration at such a demand. In the here and now the frames have all been reworked to a plain Ikea style, though the picture of the original exhibit gives a sense of the different feel of it).

Malevich Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932
The Kazimir Malevich room at the 1932 exhibition, Fifteen Years of Artists of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic
Kazimir Malevich, Dynamic Suprematism Supremus, c. 1915. Oil on canvas. 80.3 x 80 cm. Tate: Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1978 Photo © Tate, London 2016.

Then we discovered the Suprematists made food coupons! Amazing. We saw Kandinsky, one of my very favourite artists, The Blue Crest (1917):

Oil on canvas. 133 x 104 cm. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg Photo © 2016, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Another favourite, Marc Chagall. The painting description notes how Chagall was inspired by his wife pictured here, and said she floated above all of his work. How wonderful:

Promenade (1917-18) by Marc Chagall. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo © 2016,

This exudes the happiness of those early days.

They were showing excerpts from Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera, and other clips including a manic one from Eisenstein showing thick and disturbingly spurting milk all over peasant hands and faces.

I especially loved the mixture of paintings, posters, ceramics, textiles and film. I mean, could there be anything more awesome than the phrase ‘agitational porcelain’? Followed by Konstantin Yuon’s New Planet?

Konstantin Yuon, New Planet, 1921

Another room that contained El Lissitzky’s design for a new apartment, rebuilt here in all of its streamlined glory. I know Owen Hatherly disapproved, writing

This reconstruction of El Lissitzky’s putative design for a flat in Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin building, made for the Revolution exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA), has a similar discomfort. Lissitzky’s room wasn’t laid out in real space when the building was constructed, between 1928 and 1930; he made a photomontage to show how the duplex flats of this collective apartment building could be furnished.

I see his point, it almost looks shabby hovering in cardboard over the gleaming parquet, but I rather loved it.

The textiles were awesome, like Andrey Golubev’s Red Spinner.

Andrey Golubev, Red spinner, 1930. Cotton Print, direct printing chintz. 17.5 x 27 cm. The Burilin Ivanovo Museum of Local History Photo © Provided with assistance from the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO.

Pavel Filonov — how did I not know Filonov before this? How was he not in Janson’s History of Art, which continues to reverberate through my life with wonder as I finally get to see the originals of those pictures I only ever dreamed of?

Formula of the Petrograd Proletariat – Pavel Filonov

But he wasn’t there. Nor was Sofya Dymshits-Tolstaya’s cool glass paintings — This lovely thing Peace to the Sheds, War to the Palaces. How much did I love that?

Sofya Dymshits-Tolstaya, Propaganda glass “Peace to the Sheds, War on the Palaces”, 1919-21. Oil on glass, 40 x 53.5 cm

To end…Vladimir Tatlin’s Letatlin, a model glider that was … impossible to say it was my favourite thing in this exhibition full of wonderful things, but. Well. Wondrous.

So to go from this to Stoppard’s Travesties was pretty awesome.

Apollo Theatre

I knew all about Vienna in 1900 but had no idea what was going down in Zürich in 1917, even though I have chased Lenin in Krakow and elsewhere in Europe. Just a way to explore the city. I chased Joyce in Dublin and Paris. I’ve never chased Tzara, however, despite having chased Aragon and Breton. If I go to Zürich I will start. Of course I will go.

Still, how lucky I am to have been able to see the gallery, these paintings, and then rest my weary feet here, in the eagle’s nest. The only time I love gilded anything is in the theatre. The more there, the better.

Apollo Theatre

And this wasn’t even everything we saw in London. I wanted to say more about Stoppard, but think I will have to read the screenplay. And write more later perhaps.

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