I can hear almost see them standing there, cold, alone, hopeless. My people. Maybe dad, only 10 years old then, perhaps quiet and afraid, too shocked by the situation to deal with it. These were my people.
My grandfather, Danny Doherty, a farm labourer, glad of the work. Survival was a luxury in their world. He was a hardworking, loving father until the day he became a non-working, loving father. The labourer position came with a small house, 1 room, enough to shelter his family of 4, far from ideal, but it kept them together out of the storm, gave them a foundation to bring up the youngsters.
Down the years, in history and fiction the landlord’s name has been regarded with mistrust, sometimes horror, and from time to time they do live up to their reputation. The farm labourer position was swiftly removed from my granda one winter’s morning, from their beds they were arisen and to the road they were shown. The job swiftly passed to a relative of the landlord’s family. I wonder of that morning, did the landlord look them in the eye when he was forcing them to the road, was it easy, as easy as the daily ritual moving the bastes from field to field, maybe? Into the void they were thrust, into hell itself.
The hand to mouth existence hardly allows for a backup plan or even a few shillings to see off the hunger for a day or 2. Life was that hard, for them and many others the land over. Injustice and greed reigned, as they often do to this day. There are folk with plenty and more to spare, folk with damn all, and what they do possess, half of it owed out.
I know that crossroads, just outside Glack where they would have stood together that morning. I walked past it many a time on the way to the gaelic pitch in my youth, I’ve driven past it for years and knew nothing of its significance. I know now, I’ll stop and tell my own children the next time we pass.
McGowan family, people held in high regard in the community then and now, good folk. It was my grandmother that took to initiative to get practical. Losing your head and your heart when your family’s survival is at stake is not really a choice, I can imagine the motivation, a mother’s primal instinct. Door to door she walked, people would meet her with pity but no charity; other doors simply remained shut. The door of the McGowan family home opened and a helping hand extended. A room was offered, enough to keep them from the rain, a share of the family meal too. A great act of humanity was shown that day, that dark day that no doubt my grandparents hoped would be long forgotten.There would be many more dark days ahead.
Fast forward a bit to the year 2016, 27th February. There is a photo here from that day. I took it I knew it would be meaningful to the bride and her family. A warm embrace from a loving granny that no doubt shared so much happiness with her wee granddaughter down many, many years. The real stuff, the reason I lift a camera, to document our time of this earth, to preserve people and their times, to capture some emotion.
I shared this photo with my da and it was then that the story came out. The kind granny in this photo was the Samaritan that held open the door to a family in difficulty way back. Previously I had only known that the McGowan were folks from our parish way back in the 1980s, people that knew my parents and no doubt shared a bit of chat or craic in the rare old times.
When I think back to what my camera has captured in 2016 I am drawn most to this single photo, for it was this alone that drew that story from my da, a story that might have never been told.
I pray this and stories like it will echo down the generations that follow me; that my great great grandchildren might sit around a kitchen table and recall what they know of those that tread the paths that they now call home. That they will know that the doers of kind deeds will never be forgotten, and although they may be long gone from this world they will live for as long as the stories do and for as long as people recall their names. I write these words so that my children, and in turn their own will know that a kind deed, as simple as it might seem at the time will echo down the ages and never be forgotten…