A Tale of Irish Ingenuity
I never knew my grandparents, never even saw a picture of them. I was a child of immigrants, raised in an enclave of the newly arrived Irish. I didn’t have a relationship with my grandparent because they lived some 3,000 miles away.
But there was one story in my family history that I think had a long-reaching effect on all the descendants of my family. It is the story of my great grandfather's visit to Cleveland.
Thomas (Tommie) English was born in 1847 on Achill Island, off the western coast of County Mayo. He married in 1867 and had eight children. My grandmother Bridget English Moran was the eldest child. Great grandmother Mary died in 1908.
Tommie had a first cousin also named Thomas English who had immigrated to Cleveland many years before. He became a Cleveland Policeman, rose high in the ranks and retired with honors.
In 1910, Cleveland’s Thomas decided to return to Ireland for a year, an arduous trip in the early 20th century—a day-long train ride from Cleveland to New York City, a seven-to-ten day sea voyage, and because cars were not yet in Ireland, a horse-drawn carriage or cart ride from Cobh in County Cork to Achill Island in County Mayo. The journey probably took more than two weeks.
One night while drinking pints of Guinness’s, the two cousins decided that since Cleveland’s Thomas English would not be using his passport for the year, Ireland’s Thomas English would use it to visit his son John, who had immigrated to Cleveland in 1905. Both men were widowers in their early sixties. The exchange was made and both men used that year to visit with their families and friends.
It was very difficult to get a passport in those days. It was assumed that any applicant wanted to live permanently in America and he or she had to be sponsored by a relative and have a job lined up. Travel to visit relatives was very rare.
Amazingly, both men lived out the year uneventfully! Great grandfather Thomas English returned to Ireland with his cousin's passport and then Cleveland’s Thomas English returned to the U.S.
Tommie English, my ancestor, became known as “The Yank” after the exchange because he answered questions with “yeah” and other Americanisms that he had picked up. He was the first “blow in” in our family and he started the transatlantic visits that continue in our family today, six generations later.
Tommie passed on his sense of adventure and love of family to forge a bond that is unbroken. My great niece Carrie Hearns relocated to Ireland this past year. Cousins Mary and Marty Kilbane of Achill are now raising their families in the Cleveland area. We’ve exchanged visits between the Calveys, Morans, Hearns, McManamons, Mangans and the English families on the American side and the Bradley’s, the Joneses and too many Kilbanes on both sides to count. There have been at least two or three visits a year between us for the last three decades. Of course, we all have our own passports now.
Peggy Calvey Patton is a freelance writer. She lives in West Park.