Monday, December 10, 2012

The Nun Story!

In the last 10 years or so I've taken an increasing interest in researching family history.

Recently the photo below was kindly shared with me by cousins on my father's side. We were trying to trace who the mystery nun in the photo was. All we knew was that she had some connection to our  granny. There were few clues to work on. The photo looked like it was taken at least 100 year ago and the nun's habit seemed rather distinctive. Handwritten on the back of the photo were the very faded words "James Mullen, Paddock, Ratoath". Ratoath is a lovely little village in Co. Meath, Ireland. It's in an area where my father and his siblings grew up. Indeed their mother and father were also born in the surrounding area and at least a few of their grandparents.

A lot of research followed and I'll spare readers all the details. But I traced the habit in the photo as belonging to a Texas USA religious order started in the 1800s called "The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word". I swapped many emails with their San Antonio Texas branch and they were quite helpful to me. With their assistance and also through me getting some birth records of our granny Margaret Mullen we eventually traced the nun as our granny's aunt. Her name was Catherine Mullen and the James Mullen mentioned on back of the photo was her brother (our great grandfather).

So Catherine Mullen was born in 1861 in Corbalton in Meath (5 miles from Ratoath). Her parents names were Thomas and Marcella Mullen (i.e. our great-great grandparents). Catherine was recruited by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1888 from Dublin and went to Texas for the rest of her life. The photo was taken in Texas probably around 1892. Catherine's Religious name was Sister Pancratius.

The convent in San Antonio was also able to email me the history of the good works of Sister Pancratius. This detail is shown here and you can also see that she died in 1937 and is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth Texas.

It struck me strongly that none of us today as Catherine's living relations would have been aware of her long charitable life in the USA and indeed where she was finally laid to rest. So it means a lot to myself and my cousins to put the record straight.

I want to pay a particular thanks to Eva Sankey of The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio Texas for her great help to me in this research. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong R.I.P.

Yesterday my great hero as a teenager passed away. In July 1969 I stayed up all night to watch Neil Armstrong land and walk on the Moon. He was a great aeronautics engineer and a highly skilled pilot.

How strange it must have been to approach the lunar surface with Buzz Aldrin and discover that they were going to land into a large football field sized crater full of rocks and boulders. Neil had to steer the lunar module a good distance over this alien world to find a safer area, nearly running out of fuel in the process. His heart rate rose to 156 beats per minute but he put the lunar module down perfectly.

"The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said.

Last night I walked out onto our balcony and watched the D shaped Moon about to set on the western horizon. It seemed to me that even the Moon itself was bowing in respect to the human who first touched its face.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Star of the Sea - a must-read novel

I have just finished reading this fascinating novel set in the mid nineteenth century.
    Joseph O'Connor has woven an excellently crafted work with ingredients of interesting period characters and storyline, suspense, even good crime fiction twists and it keeps the reader's attention all the way through.
Moreover, for me the positives above are really secondary value seductive hooks to allow a platform for portrayal to readers of the real heart and soul of this book - the almost unspeakable details and horrors of the darkest period in Irish history.

The great Irish famine of the 1840s was truly a form of Armageddon for Ireland. Starvation, diseases and deaths on an massive scale coupled with degrading evictions, disgusting workhouses, permanent family breakups by emigration and further deaths and appalling conditions on the emigrant "coffin ships" for those who could sell all they had to afford the passage to America. Over time the direct and indirect effects of this period in our history reduced the population of Ireland by many millions of people to about half of it's pre-famine levels.

There are few novels which cover this pivotal time so well with such a variety of the raw descriptions badly needed to be exposed. The author has researched his subject properly. It is no easy task to integrate not just minute historical details but also nineteenth century phraseology, customs and attitudes. Very commendable also is the accurate nautical and maritime information from the period coming from a man who admits to being a landlubber. I've been impressed by Joseph O'Connor's writing skills for some time. I think this work is his greatest achievement to date and will be respected forever as one of the great important classics of historical literature. As a novel and a story it is a truly captivating read and one's soul is also left indelibly imprinted with many of the savage details and implications of a very important part of Irish history.

A highly recommended read for everyone and especially Irish people and those in USA of Irish descent from 19th century emigration.