Almost eighty- years ago, a woman that stood just under five feet tall set sail for New York. She was the youngest daughter of a poor family. She was a fierce little one from a small town called Kilconly, just outside of Tuam, Galway. A country girl coming to New York City where her aunt awaited her with some work for her hands.
She came to the United States on a boat.
As it neared the shoreline she and her fellow immigrants clamored to see their new America. When she saw the Statue of Liberty, she cried. So many around her did as well. Although she loved her Irish heritage, from that day forward she never flew an Irish tri-color, she flew an American flag.
As she stepped off the boat, she was dressed in her finest dress. Her hair was done properly. She would not come to her new nation looking poor. She stepped off the boat greeting her new home with the dignity she felt it deserved.
Like so many of her peers, she worked for very little. She met a fellow Irish immigrant. He hailed from Glengarriff, Cork. She fell in love and they got married, just before he went to war for his new country. The Japanese attacked their new home. He wore the uniform of the United States Army.
She anxiously awaited his return from war – the American bride of an American G.I. When he finally returned, he brought back upon his chest a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. This was his commitment to a nation within which he was not yet a full citizen.
Neither complained about their time apart. Neither complained about the sacrifices made for their new nation. They simply set back to work, quietly building a family life that was otherwise interrupted by evil overseas.
Ultimately, that little girl from Galway would raise four children – two boys and two girls – with her husband. Unfortunately, he would never meet any of his grandchildren. He would die in his New York City police uniform on March 16th, 1967. He served his nation twice.
With one son in college and a daughter preparing to go to college herself, this simple farm girl had no time to mourn. The pittance of a 1960s police widow’s pension would not allow her the time. She went to work and supported the family. She would not take a handout from her new nation. She was too proud.
This little woman from Galway never complained about her education as a handicap. It had been curtailed at 3rd grade. This was common for an underprivileged Catholic female in British-run Ireland. She went about teaching herself with the gift of the mind God gave her.
She continued to pay her mortgage. She continued to pay her bills. She raised her children into their adulthood. She never complained about her lot in life; it was better than that from which she derived.
This girl from Galway of humble means came to America. When she passed away in 2011, she had no money, but she left the wealth of an Irish-American legacy. Her four children far-exceeded her 3rd grade education. Among her children and grandchildren can be found seven bachelors and five graduate degrees. There has been one Sailor, one Airrman, and one Marine. This was the consequence of a deeply ingrained legacy of patriotism and service to her new nation. Among her children and grandchildren are lawyers and business owners… senior executives and designers… technicians and administrators.
Her great-grandchildren are still too young to make their mark yet, but oh they will. I count amongst them actresses and lawyers… Nobel Peace Prize winners and astronauts… baseball players and doctors. The great things they will accomplish in America because a little Irish woman stepped on a boat eighty-years ago. I thank her every day for doing so – a little unknown girl from Galway.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you Irish, Irish-Americans, Irish-Others, and the millions of immigrants from other nations that have made this a better country. This is your story, too.
Have a Great Week!