Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 12, 2022


It seems odd that while music is so ubiquitous, no one has been able to say what essential human need it fills. In my own case, I have always wondered why, in particular, I seem to be so drawn to Irish music. And while I love the high-energy reels that accompany step dancers, it is the slow pieces such as "Danny Boy" that induce a melancholy reflective feel that touch me most. Certainly, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, the French and all the others who left their native lands to start again in America must have harbored longings for the places they left behind, but no group seems to express those feelings the way the Irish do.

These thoughts arose recently when husband Art, while in one of his researching moods, came across a song titled "The Emigrant" by John Canavan.

To all intended emigrants I pen this simple lay
From one who lies in hospital three thousand miles away
To warn them of all dangers that they might meet and see
The fate of a young Irish man in the great land of the free.

It's uncertain when Canavan penned the words, but it would have been sometime between 1900 and his death in 1921. It was the second verse that Art suggested I pay particular attention to.

I left my peaceful residence near to Slieve Gallion braes
Lighthearted as the Moorcock among the heathers plays
No hare on Carndaisy more swifter was than I
When I left my lovely Irish home and bid my last goodbye.

Carndaisy is the name of what is called a townland in Ireland - and in this case, the name of the townland where my Stewart kin lived in the late 18th century. My branch began departing for America in the early part of the 19th century. Carndaisy is less than a square mile in size and a place we visited in 2008. Slieve Gallion is the name of the mountain peak less than three miles to the northwest.

On board of an ocean liner where the Foyle's bright waters play
I stood an Irish emigrant bound for Amerikay
And as I took my last fond look with a heart both sad and sore
I cursed the law that drove me from my sainted shamrock shore.

For years, I had assumed my family had left Ireland from Belfast, Northern Ireland's largest city. But I later discovered that in those times, Derry, located where the North Atlantic meets the Foyle River, was the main port of departure.

The morning that I landed I scaled 200 pound
I feared not John L. Sullivan who wore the laurel crown
Fresh from my lovely Irish home with muscles strong as steel
No champions on Columbia's shores before him I would yield.

John L. Sullivan is considered the first heavyweight boxing champion and reigned from 1882 to 1892.

But for six long months in search of work I traveled far and near
'Til at last I joined the Navy as an Irish volunteer
No wonder on my wasted cheeks I felt the blush of shame
To think that I backed the Stars and Stripes against the sons of Spain.

Canavan mentions the Spanish-American War and the emigrant's shame at backing the American side as the Americans had become friends with Britain, who treated Ireland as one of its colonies.

I stood on board a battleship on that ill-fated day
When the Spanish fleet was captured in Santiago Bay
A bombshell fell that evening from out Port San Juan
Left many a widow mourning and I a wounded man.

Though longing for his home, he was a healthy and strong man. But that changed in an instant.

Disabled now for all of my life I never more will stray
By the fields of Carndaisy or the green shores of Lough Neagh
I'll never see my parents dear who bore my loss full sore
Nor look at my lovely Colleen from the town of Moneymore.

Now his longing takes on a deeper tone as he realizes he will never again see his Carndaisy home, his parents or his girl. Moneymore is a village two miles to the southwest and many of my Stewarts are buried there. Lough Neagh is a large lake about seven miles to the east.

But why should I be dreaming on those happy days gone by
For it's in a New York cemetery my wasted bones will lie
Like thousands of my countrymen I'll fill the nameless grave
Far away from Carndaisy where the bloomin' heather lay.

There are not a lot of happy thoughts to be found in Canavan's words. Yet they swiftly took me back to late spring in 2008 when Art and I wandered the glen at the southern edge of Carndaisy. Then we drove to the top of Slieve Gallen where it is possible to see much of Northern Ireland. Later, when our daughters flew in, we toured the area with them as well.

My relatives raised flax and wove it into linen. But increasing mechanization meant machines could do the weaving more cheaply and so families began leaving. My Stewarts were all in "Americay" by the time the famine struck in 1844.

Today, singers frequently refer to this song as Carndaisy and I imagine Canavan was intimately familiar with it for he was born and lived much of his life in the townland of Killcolpy, 11 miles from Carndaisy and a mile from Lough Neagh.

I wouldn't consider the song to be particularly beautiful. Yet hearing the names of places that would have meant so much to my ancestors somehow makes them feel a bit less like names on a page and more like flesh-and-blood people. Funny how something like music that has no obvious purpose can affect us so deeply.

"The Emigrant" as performed by Northern Ireland's Anne Brolly.

Top (l-r): map of Northern Ireland. Light-blue area is Lough Neagh. Dark-blue in the center is Carndaisy; A "rambler's" map indicating a walking path (red) starting at Carndaisy Glen leading to the northeastern peak of Slieve Gallion and then moving on in black to the southwestern peak. Green is an outline of the Carndaisy Townland; Gloria facing north at the location of the blue dot near the bottom of the previous map. Bottom (l-r) A view from the northeastern peak of Slieve Gallion. The yellow bushes are gorse; the small creek at the bottom of Carndaisy Glen; Katie, Gloria and Mariya behind a Stewart memorial stone in the Moneymore Congregational Church cemetery. (NI map from openstreetmap.org and the rambler's map from ufrc-online.co.uk)

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