I’ll preface this with saying I am not Irish – I’m Canadian and in being so am a typical Celtic Mutt – a mix of English, Irish, Scots. However family histories and stories interest me, and on St.Patrick’s Day I’d like to share this bit of history from my Irish side. There are a number of chunks missing, and what I know has been cobbled together from various sources, including from a lovely distant relative I connected with years ago through Ancestry.com
My great-great grandfather David was born in Dublin in the 1860′s to Julia (nee Lanaghan) & John Curtin.
David was one of several children, and not much is known of his early life. His family left Ireland when he was a teenager moving to an area near Liverpool called “Little Ireland”.
His father died not too long after the move to Little Ireland. One brother was later institutionalized and died in an Asylum, another brother wed, had children and settled in Liverpool. Their mother Julia died in 1897. At some point David joined the military, I’m unsure as to when, but by the age of 28, he was sent to Nova Scotia, Canada with the British Army.
It’s here that he met Adelaide, and married her. To remain in Canada, David had to “buy himself” out of the military which he did. Adelaide’s family being Protestant disowned her when she converted to Catholicism in order to marry David. She was essentially completely cut off from her large farming family in Nova Scotia, never to speak to her English father again.
The newly weds remained in the maritimes for awhile, calling New Brunswick home for years where Adelaide gave birth to several daughters. From Fredericton the family then moved westward, to Kingston, Ontario where David worked as a Carriage Driver for a Doctor, before finally settling in Toronto.
In Toronto, the family resided at 530 Carlaw Ave on the east side of the city. I actually live pretty close to their house and have wandered by on occasion. I’m not sure if it’s the original building from the 1920′s or a newer build. It’s odd to stand in front of a building that once was home to your family, a family I never knew except through stories. And in this house on Tues, May 14th, 1929 David died in his 69th year of pneumonia.
I wish I knew more about what life was like for him. I briefly visited Dublin with my Mom several years ago, and remember wandering around trying to picture what the city must have been like for David and his parents, where had they lived and where were their old stomping grounds in the city, what did they do, and what parts of the city did they love or walk by, any number of questions.
My Irish friends would often roll their eyes in regards to North Americans who would say they were Irish, when a good several generations had passed since they could claim any direct relation from the Emerald Isles. I understand both sides as to why this might be annoying, but also why North Americans can be like this.
Identity is something as a country we often struggle with, a lot of the time we define ourselves as Canadians by what we aren’t. We’re fiercely proud to be Canadian, but also proud of our ancestry be it Irish, Italian, Japanese, Polish and so on. It’s through our ancestry that we gain a deeper sense of history and understanding of who we are through these personal family histories.
I often wonder what my Irish ancestors would make of our modern day St.Patrick’s Day festivities. It’s a huge event in the city, with a large parade and people celebrating well into the wee hours clad in green and cheap fabric Leprachaun hats. I have to say I find myself rolling my eyes at how the day gets turned into an excuse to drink, I write this, as I have a pint of Guinness by my side (so trust me, my horse isn’t that high).
What I do know about St.Patrick’s Day is that I always stop and reflect on my family and the little I do know about my great-great Grandfather. He was a giant of a man with an impressive moustache, gentle, soft spoken, with a love of gardening and his many grandchildren. When my great Auntie Dot was still alive, she spoke of her Grandfather with love and respect. Maybe one day I’ll know more, but I’m happy to know the little I do at least.