October 1865-September 1866
"ANNIE! WE'RE GOING TO America!" John O'Larkin burst into the kitchen waving an envelope.
"What?" Whirling around from the wood-burning cook stove, Anne gaped at her husband. "What did you say?"
John grinned. He pulled out a chair, sat at the rough-hewn wooden table, crossed his legs and waved the envelope. "This is our way to America." He slapped the envelope down on the table.
"Whatever do you mean?" Anne sank into a chair across from him.
"My Auntie Grace in Tralee left me an inheritance." He slid the envelope across the table. "She died a fortnight ago, may God assoil her soul, and she left me everything she had."
"Everything? What in the world did she have to leave you? She was a spinster of very modest means."
"That's what she let everyone believe, including me. I'm shocked, too. Gracie left me her cottage in Tralee, plus her savings in the bank."
"Savings? What savings?"
John leaned back in his chair, eyes fixed on her face, smiling. "This letter is from her solicitor in Tralee. It says Grace O'Larkin named me her sole beneficiary in the event of her death." He paused. "Can you live with two hundred thousand pounds, my dear?"
Anne went ashen, and then inhaled slowly. "What? How in the…. Where, for the love of God, did Grace O'Larkin get that kind of money?"
John shrugged. "I have my own ideas, but I can't be sure. Grace was older than my Daddy by nine years, and she did a lot of different things in her lifetime. She lived in Dublin for several years. Mixed with an odd crowd there… literary types, pagans, actors, and the like. A very modern lady, my Auntie Grace."
"Do you think she came by the money improperly?"
"Possibly, but I don't care. I've wanted to go to America for as long as I can remember, and now we can go. America is where I can make a fortune."
Still numb, Anne regarded John thoughtfully. His eyes were dancing. She watched him as he stood and went to the sideboard to pour a dram of poteen into a small glass. She smiled. "You've wanted to go to America since I met you."
"Even before that. You said when we wed in 1855 that you'd go with me."
"I know, Johnny, and I will. But, my God, Grace left you so much money. What will you do with it all? We couldn't even spend a fraction of it getting to America."
John tossed back the whiskey and leaned his forearms on the table. "Exactly. I've got some grand ideas, my dear. A lot of ideas that won't do here, but they will work in America. Now that their civil war is over, there's nothing to hold us back."
"When do we go?" Anne whispered, her excitement growing.
"Next year." John leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head. "I'll need to sell Gracie's house in Tralee, which will mean even more money. We have to sell our cottage, and all of our furniture. We won't need it in America. I want to start all new. We need to go to Dublin to get new clothes, and luggage to put them in. I want fancy leather luggage for you, me and the kids." He paused. "Where are the little snappers, by the way?"
"Out in the byre." Anne smiled. "I'll call them in." She rose and went to the door to call six-year-old Roderick and their toddler Mary Margaret: "Roddy, Molly, inside."
As she walked past John, he stood and put his arms around her, his eyes electric with excitement. "We'll have a good life in America, Annie. You'll see. We'll be very happy."
Anne smiled back at him. With John, she knew anything was possible. Just as he filled her life, he would make their dreams come true. He would make them all happy. * * * * *
CASTLETOWNBERE, ON THE SOUTHWEST tip of Ireland, was the main village on the Beara Peninsula. Surrounded by the Caha and Miskish Mountains, it had a savage beauty created by the rocky shore and fierce winds. The village's sheltered port was filled with fishing trawlers. It was also a haven for smugglers, a fact no one talked about for obvious reasons of self-protection.
Locals made their livelihoods on the trawlers, in the copper mine in nearby Allihies, or by smuggling. John inherited the family cottage from his late father Kevin, as well as the mussel farming business, and had prospered. He bypassed local markets and sold his plentiful harvests directly to grocers in Kilkenny, Bantry, Waterford, Killarney, Limerick and Dublin. The profit was comfortable, enabling him to employ four other men. Unknown to Anne, he also made a tidy sum every month dabbling in moonshine production in the Caha mountains.
The O'Larkin cottage had been in John's family for several generations. He and Annie whitewashed their home every spring, providing a gleaming contrast with the green-trimmed doorways and windows. The thatched roof was well tended, and the small yard was fenced with oak slats painted white. Behind the cottage was the lofty byre, where they kept dozens of chickens for eggs and meat, a rooster, two cows, three goats, a duck and six pigs. In spring and summer, Anne planted and kept a large vegetable garden that supplied her family through autumn and winter.
The cottage was small and tidy. Just inside the front door was the living area, and beyond that the kitchen and two bedrooms. The big bedroom was John and Anne's, with an attached porch seen through curtained French doors. The two children shared the second bedroom, where their two small beds were covered with quilts made by Anne. The fireplace was unusual in that it opened into both the large bedroom and the living area, where John built a deep hearth with seats. The arrangement warmed both rooms in the winter months, while the cook stove heated the kitchen.
Supper that evening consisted of boiled cabbage, potatoes, diced sausages with tomatoes, and warm bread and butter. The children drank milk, while Anne sipped watered wine and John drank ale. They didn't tell their children about the move to America. Not yet.
Roddy was the image of his father, but with lighter hair and pale skin. Molly was pale, too, with black hair and dark eyes. They were beautiful children and their parents were justifiably proud of them.
After supper, Anne put the children to bed and joined John by the turf fire for a last cup of tea. John usually stayed up later than everyone, his mind running and dreaming. Anne knew he would be full of ideas tonight, excited beyond belief by their good fortune and eager to get started on his dreams.
"Will you be up long?" she asked.
"I shouldn't be. I have a lot to do tomorrow, so I'd best get my rest."
Watching him, she finished her tea and then smiled. "Even I'm getting excited about going to America. I never thought I'd see the day. It's remarkable, too, knowing we will be starting all over again in a new world."
"We won't be like other Irish who go to America." John leaned forward eagerly, elbows on his knees, eyes shining. "We have more than most. A lot more. We can book passage on a decent ship, not like the majority of us who go to America on death ships. We have a good life here, Annie, and we've been luckier than most, but I know we can have a better life in America. Thanks mostly to my Aunt Gracie, God rest her soul."
Anne set down her tea cup. "I know Grace adored you, never having had children of her own. But why did she leave you everything?"
"She had no one else. Not family, anyway."
"I'd still like to know where she came by so much money. I hope we're not going to get into any trouble."
"Why should we?" John scoffed. "I don't know where she got such a stash, so what's our trouble? I'm not going to question our good fortune, Annie. I'm going to relish it."
Smiling at his enthusiasm, she leaned down and kissed his cheek. "You're right. I'll say no more. I promise."
"There's a good girl. You'll see, Annie. You'll see. I'll build you a home in America. It's a big country and we can go anywhere. Anywhere at all."
"Mind, don't stay up too late," Anne said gently, leaving him to retreat to their bedroom.
John sat by the fire, staring into the flames, his eyes bright with excitement and anticipation for the life ahead. Absently, he picked up his cup, sipped the cold brew, made a face and set the cup down, while his mind repeated: "In America, the possibilities are limitless. Absolutely limitless." * * * * *
SLIPPING HER LONG, WHITE cotton nightgown over her head, Anne sat at her dressing table. She looked at herself between the candles on either side of the mirror. John built the dressing table, as well as the bed, for which she made a light blue coverlet. She felt the warmth from the turf fire, and wiggled her bare toes on the soft wool carpet. The harsh October wind keened around the cottage, but John had insulated their home so well that they felt neither the cold nor heat of the Peninsula.
Enjoying the comfort, Anne thought about John's uncanny knack for doing everything exceptionally well. His unique combination of fervour and patience always resulted in success. He has a golden touch. It didn't cross her mind to give herself credit for her work and support that gave John the freedom to indulge his enthusiasms. Sighing with a comfortable happiness, she unbound her gold-brushed brown hair and began to brush it one hundred strokes to keep it thick and wavy.
She looked at her image in the candlelight. While she wasn't beautiful, her face was arrestingly serene and self-possessed. She was tall, almost five-foot-nine, with a long and narrow face, thin lips, and a rather long nose. Her skin was naturally pale, the darkness of her eyes like distinct coals set amongst translucent ash. At thirty-one, she managed to look younger than her years. She noticed her hands and grimaced. Big, like her feet, she thought, and red from kitchen work, with large knuckles and short nails. John always said he adored her looks, that he had no use for small, frail women. He loved that she was tall, strong and healthy. Beneath the details, visible only to discerning eyes, were poise, a slight reserve, a natural nobleness and a touch of melancholy.
Anne married John O'Larkin in 1855 when she was twenty-one. Before that, John was betrothed to Anne's younger sister, Maeve. Anne grew to know John from his visits to the O'Quinn home in Bantry, twenty miles from Castletownbere.
The O'Quinn's were a comfortable middle-class family. Anne's father, Dary, was a blacksmith with a shop in Bantry. He met John when the younger man came to buy forging tools. The two became friends, which led to John's introduction to Dary's two daughters.
The sisters were different as land and air. Anne was tall and robust; Maeve was petite and frail. Anne had light hair and dark eyes; Maeve had red hair and green eyes. Anne was reserved and plain spoken; Maeve was smiling and mysterious. John and Maeve were immediately and mutually smitten, but a few weeks before their wedding Maeve was struck down by the pox and died within three days.
John was devastated. When Dary O'Quinn offered Anne's hand in marriage as a consolation to his grief, John accepted. Since they were nearly strangers, the first year of John and Anne's marriage was a tad formal, but gradually they grew comfortable with one another and developed a warm mutual affection. However, Anne knew from the beginning that John still held the memory of Maeve close to his heart.
After a stillbirth and a miscarriage, Anne gave birth to the healthy Roderick in 1859. After two more miscarriages, Molly was born in late summer of 1864. While Molly was healthy, she was small-boned and dainty, unlike her parents, but much like Maeve.
Anne watched in the mirror as the brush moved rhythmically through her hair. She acknowledged privately that she enjoyed the intimate parts of marriage. John became aware of that fact slowly, and they eventually developed an active sexual relationship. As a Catholic, Anne knew it was a sin to enjoy sex. Marital coupling was only supposed to be a means to produce children. To that end, she avoided confessing her sins to the priest at St. Mary's Church in Castletownbere, even though she attended Mass every Sunday with Roddy and Molly. John rarely went to church unless it was Christmas or Easter, or if there was a funeral to attend.
Relaxed and sleepy, she put down her brush. She blew out the candles and climbed into the large bed, pulling the covers to her chin. Turning her head, she looked through the fireplace into the living room where she saw John's wavering image through the flames. He was lost in his exciting dreams for their future.
She smiled contentedly as her eyelids grew heavy. Their life had always been comfortable. They never suffered like most of the Irish, generation after generation. Combined with the O'Quinn's stability before their marriage, and John's success since, Anne had never known deprivation. She worked hard, but had never starved. She had never been evicted from her home by the British Crown rent collectors, nor punished for her religious beliefs. Their home on the Beara Peninsula was too far south and remote for the British to practice their habitual high-handedness. The English influence was weak in Castletownbere, and rarely felt even as far as Bantry. However, they knew if the British government ever discovered the smuggling practices in Castletownbere port, the distance would no longer isolate them.
Her eyes were closed only a few minutes when John slipped into bed beside her. He startled her awake by snuggling close, putting his arm around her waist and kissing her cheek. She exclaimed: "Why, John O'Larkin, you haven't a stitch of clothes on!"
"Aye, Annie," he chuckled. "I'm fully aware of that. I can't sleep. I'm too wound up about the money we'll be getting, and all the things we can do with that money."
"And would you like to talk then?" she teased.
"Talk? Are you mad, woman?" He pulled her tight to his body. "Take off your gown. The kids are asleep, and it's late. Come on and give us a kiss, love."
She sat up, pulled off her nightgown, and turned to him.
At thirty-six years old in 1865, John Kevin O'Larkin was a strikingly handsome man. He was strong in mind and body, and possessed an iron will that refused to bend once he identified his goals. Tucked away in Castletownbere, he had never known the fear of British persecution, for which he often felt guilty. How could he honestly call himself an Irishman without knowing the suffering that was an organic part of Irishness? At times, when the guilt became heavy, he renewed his conviction that he didn't have to live in poverty or resentful acceptance in order to be validated as an Irishman. He had more than earned his comfortable life and rebuffed the notion that suffering became martyrdom, another standard badge of Irishness. Besides, he had dreams and ambitions to fulfill in America. Yet guilt still plagued him on occasion.
He hoped the guilt would dissipate once he moved to America. That hope, and the endless opportunities America offered especially now that he had more than enough money, were the driving forces of his determination. John was the only surviving child of Kevin and Rachel O'Larkin. Other children born to the couple died in infancy, or were stillborn, but John came into the world big, strong, and healthy. He was never sick, other than an occasional sniffle, and his extraordinary health, strength and quick intelligence made his parents proud. He excelled in school in Castletownbere, and at age fourteen was sent to a private school in Kilkenny. His health, good looks and education merged with his strength of character and drive, creating an intense, charming man accustomed to getting his own way and not above manipulating others to accomplish his goals.
When his mother died in childbirth in 1836, John's father vowed to raise his son alone. Father and son shared the family cottage in Castletownbere, content with their daily work and their nightly pint. John adored his father, and they never had a cross word. The only other remaining family was his father's sister, Aunt Grace, who lived in Tralee and visited several times a year.
When his father died in 1847, John was severely crushed by the loss but went on alone, working and living in Castletownbere, making improvements to the cottage and dreaming of the day when he could finally go to America. In a sense, his dream was frightening because it meant leaving the security of his home and the familiarity of the village. But fear of the unknown also made it more exciting.
He was still haunted by his dainty Maeve's death, although he hid it from Anne. He felt a great affection for Anne. She was a good wife and mother, her temperament so genial that she made his home a peaceful haven. She was also a willing participant in his dreams of America, making it clear she would follow him anywhere.
He was grateful to her for their stable and calm marriage and their two healthy children, but he felt no great, heart-wrenching love for her. He loved her, he supposed, affectionately and comfortably. She was a perfect wife in almost every sense, but he had never felt a stirring in his soul for her. He felt guilty about that, too. He felt that stirring only once, for Maeve, but not since, and he never expected to experience such a great love again.
His greater passion was his dream of America and becoming someone of consequence, someone important that no one could shake a stick at. His single-minded determination had yet to fail him, and he prayed those instincts would not fail him now. * * * * *
OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL months, the O'Larkins prepared for their trip to America. When they told the children about the move, Roddy was excited. Molly, too young to understand, saw her brother's excitement and clapped her hands. It was a trait that would follow her for many years to come: watching Roddy to monitor his reaction and to pattern her own response after it. She adored him, and he treated her with a consideration unusual in a child his age. He was protective of Molly, and concerned about her feelings and thoughts. When she didn't understand what going to America meant, he volunteered to explain it to her when she was old enough.
John and Anne went to Dublin in May 1866 to purchase clothes and luggage, leaving Roddy and Molly in Bantry with Dary O'Quinn while they were gone. John convinced Anne to buy a dozen new gowns. She chose durable and attractive petticoats, stockings, chemises and shoes. John bought practical items such as trousers, white shirts, work boots and suspenders. Anne also selected several outfits for the children, as well as brushes, combs, and decorative accessories for Molly's hair. John purchased four leather suitcases, one each for the adults, one for the children, and one for extras.
John sold Aunt Grace's cottage in Tralee to a local businessman for five thousand pounds, along with the acre and a half around it. A few months later, he sold the cottage in Castletownbere to a sheep farmer from Ballylickey for seven thousand pounds. Of the money from Aunt Grace, they spent only two thousand pounds in Dublin, which gave John more than a tidy profit margin after the sale of the two cottages.
Dary O'Quinn decided there was nothing to keep him in Ireland. Since Anne was his only family, and Roddy and Molly his only grandchildren, he sold his property and blacksmith business in Bantry and made plans to go to America with them.
John bought passage on the steamer ship The Tobercurry for the family for 2,500 pounds, paying extra so they could sail in comfort. He and Anne would have their own cabin, with its own water closet, while the children would share a larger cabin with their grandfather. Meals were not included, so he bought several months worth of supplies to feed them: salted and dried beef, cheese, some eggs, their own water, three wooden crates of vegetables, sacks of flour and sugar, coffee, tea, cured bacon, and tubs of lard and butter. Anne bought crockery and utensils from a local haberdashery in Castletownbere, small packets of soap and large jugs of fresh Beara water on the Peninsula.
The Tobercurry was due to set sail from Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Since Dún Laoghaire was two hundred miles north of Castletownbere, John booked passage on a stagecoach. They would stay at an old inn called Na Mara the night before sailing, which overlooked the city's harbour and departure site of The Tobercurry. * * * * *
GONE WAS THEIR VIEW of the wild coast of the Beara Peninsula, which John did not mind. Instead, he felt a sense of renewal, of hope and promise for the future. He loved Castletownbere, of course, but there was no going back. Not now. Maybe when he was an old man he would sit and think about Ireland and what it meant to him. After all, being from Ireland made him what he was: the man who had strength and conviction to uproot his family and begin a new life in a new land, with no assurances and certainly no guarantees.
The Tobercurry set sail from Dún Laoghaire Harbour shortly after seven on the morning of September 1, 1866. Aboard were one hundred passengers, some in cabins, most in steerage, as well as spices and other supplies bound for New York City. The length of the voyage was scheduled to take two weeks, and then those on the ship would disembark in the United States of America.
America was the land of opportunity, where vast fortunes could be made by the lucky and ingenious few. It was also the land where important dynasties were created, and where John O'Larkin's dreams would come to fruition.