Did you ever wonder how your family came to be in Bradford County? I knew my father’s side of the family, the Brennans came from Ireland, journeying here at the height of the potato famine in 1848. Over a million other Irishmen who wanted better for their families left home between 1845 and 1850.
But I wanted to know more. Why did they come here, to Standing Stone of all places? And how did they get here? I mean, really, I knew they had to come on a ship, at least that part I knew, but I wanted more.
So I started searching and researching and checking out books and visiting cemeteries and the Towanda Historical Society and museum. Lo and behold, a story is born.
I know your story is not exactly the same, but for a lot of you, it is very similar. So I invite you to read over my shoulder as I share, in pieces, the story as it came to me.
Chapter 1 1846 Gunfire
Gunfire! Repeated volleys of what he recognized as the booms of rifle fire and the softer bangs of pistol shots startled John Brennan. He looked up from his work in the byre, and worry growing, John ran first into the house to see if his pistol was still there in the back of the armoire. He had hidden it under the tiny dress his mother had tatted the lace for and that they used only for the christening of each new baby. Johannah was not happy he laid the pistol there, but they agreed no one would think a weapon would lie beneath such a holy garment.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the pistol still tucked into its place. At least the bairns were not running about with the pistol, but where were they? Patrick and Timothy? And from the dark of the cottage he ran into the sunlight where he shielded his eyes against its glare and looked toward Moyne, certain then that the shots rang out from village. Smoke drifting lazily into the sky over the village confirmed his fears. The big boys had struck again, had taken their fill of the English and being beaten down and of having no future but the future of their fathers. Poverty, starvation, and no way out… without violence. Probably t’was the Boyos from Moyne, the name John heard the local lads had chosen for the current gang.
John called his own little boys, first from the cottage, then running into his fields, and finally to the road leading from Templetoughy to Moyne. Each time he called out “Timothy! Patrick! Where are ye? Get yersels here!”
He waited to hear the boys return, “Da, we’re just over here. Why ye be shoutin’?” But nothing. He ran toward the smoke, hoping to meet Timothy and Patrick, fearing it would be the same as before, when the lads fired upon the English, John saw either the back of the lads running across the hills or broken and bleeding bodies where they fell.
The sharp volleys of gunfire burned into his ears, and still he ran, his gaze sweeping from one side of the road to the softly rolling fields beyond where they planted the taties. Nothing, and then he searched the other side where he had planted some barley and oats, hoping to see boys running, not boys dying in the dirt, Red Coats standing over them.
There, was that one of the boys, black coat flapping in the wind as he ran, disappearing behind the hedge row separating one field from another? John stopped in the middle of the muddy road. Should he go after the lad? Should he wait to see if there were others? Should he run into the village to see for himself what the smoke meant, though in his heart he knew. It meant the same thing every time. Dead boys who would never learn to listen to their fathers’ warnings until it had cost them blood, and he wasn’t sure they learned even then.
John set off after the lad, following him through the blackthorn hedge and found him where he expected to, lying in a ditch, sweaty and white-faced, a shaky hand brandishing a knife out toward John. “Quiet lad.” John said more tenderly than he felt, “Rest yerself. I mean ye no harm, only to find out who was with ye? And what can ye tell me about the battle?” He knew the lad would like those words, like the idea that he had participated in a battle, a rebellion, more than the futile, and deadly to the Irish, skirmish that it truly was.
“They came out of the pub, they did, the Red Coats. Forty of them at least. Their rifles firing before they saw us. Warned they were, of that I’m sure. This time we,”
John interrupted the lad with more soft words, “But who was with ye? Were my lads with ye there?“
This time the boy raised his other hand to shade away the sun, it hanging in the sky golden hot behind John. More softly, almost to himself, he whispered “We didn’t think there would be so many.”
Again, John pressed him but in a voice that said, you’d better listen to me this time, “My boys, Patrick and Timothy, little uns, scarcely eight and ten?”
“No, what do ye think of us? Do ye think we would allow bairns to carry weapons, to die wid us fer the cause? No, they’ll be havin’ their own turn, but t’was not taday.” And the man and the scarcely-more-than-a boy stilled as they heard footsteps comin’ their way, men or boys breathin’ out exhaustion, finally fallin’ through the hedge at John’s feet.
“Ah, go on wid ye,” and John turned away, looking back only to warn the lads once more, “Remember, not my bairns. Ye’ll not be going after my bairns to fight wid ye.”
Watch for the next chapter and maybe you can imagine your grandfather in a similar situation.
Carol Brennan King
photo from https://monkeysandmountains.com/wicklow-way-ireland/