The Exiled

I stand and wonder why I’m here at all –
My great grandmother, she was Irish, so tall.
In 1846 they put her afloat
To England, work with hope.

When she landed all was quiet
Many had died of starvation and fright.

‘No rooms to let’ she heard someone say
As she walked the street in her gentle Irish way.
One English lady said, ‘You come inside
I cannot say no to those Irish eyes.’

How she did weep, with Jesus, in a Big House,
Not far away, near Euston Street.

One day, please God, and I too
Will meet my grandma with those gentle feet.

: Mrs. Olive O’Brien of Bexhill, East Sussex. Mrs O’Brien writes:

“My great grandmother’s name was Ellen Conway. She came to England in 1846 from Ballingarry (near Rathkeale), County Limerick. No shoes on her feet. She knocked on people’s doors, they did not want her, they were all in a very bad way, dirty, ill, etc. But Ellen was a very good Catholic, she must have been praying, one English lady gave her a room. She earned her living selling lace collars that she made herself for the nurses in Highgate Hospital.
“Most of the Irish came to England not to beg for assistance but to work and hard work they did and a great impetus was given to the growth of the church. “I’d love to know if any of her family are around.”

Mrs. O’Brien goes on to say that Ellen Conway had a brother who was a priest in the USA. A sister, Nora, also emigrated to America. In June 1997 she received the following testimony from the Reverend Timothy J. Murphy, Parish Priest, Immaculate Conception Parish, Salem, Massachusetts:

“I received your note and I am happy to say that I have some information for you. From what I read and see, your great grandmother’s brother was a truly remarkable man.
“I am enclosing copies of a church bulletin that we put out just a month ago on the 140th anniversary of his death. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Salem.
“…He was probably the greatest pastor this parish was ever blessed with.
“I don’t know what I will find out about his sister. That will be a much more difficult task.
“Meanwhile, maybe some of the family can come to Salem and see the beautiful church he began building in 1857.”

Published in The Green Dragon No 6, Spring 1998