Chapter 13 Philip
As they did every Sunday, the two Brennan brothers walked the road back from Mass in Templetoughy together, the children running ahead, the wives following, and from time to time, a ma or a da would be calling the boys back to the road. Brothers, John and Andrew, brought up the rear of the parade, sometimes relishin’ the quiet and sometimes talkin’ about what they must do about this or that, the weather, the plantin’, and now more often, whatever they would do to feed their families.
“I think, meself, we must call on Philip before we talk any further about leavin’,” Andrew whispered into the air between himself and his older brother. “’Twas one thing to lay the words out there, ‘tis another to go on and talk plans, talk about seriously leavin’ the place. I know we don’t see our brother often, but we know we could, if we wanted ta. And now yer talkin’ never again, not seein’ him nor talkin’ to him, no more sharin’ in the celebratin’ of holidays, none a’ that if he wants ta stay here. We’re talkin’ breakin’ up our family, we are.”
“Aye, ye are thinking straight, ye are. But he’s well settled there with his wife’s family land. No more Mahers nor Lynches there to bleed off him now.” And catchin’ himself sayin’ something that might hurt his brother, “Not that I think of ye that way. We work together, we do. But Philip has no one to share the land with, Philip, and his farm lying there like it does, in the Golden Vale. His fields are protected, whether by the fairies, the hills, the Virgin, or what, I know not. Ennaway, I’m thinkin’ we must talk with him.”
‘Twas not often all three Brennan boys got together anymore. Indeed John and Andrew had always lived as neighbors on what had been their father’s allotment. Philip, the babe of the family, however had stayed close to the Mahers, their mother’s family livin’ up in Loughmore, and carin’ for the grandparents. He had inherited their allotment now the old folks was gone and they ha no sons. No, Philip, his wife and son were nicely settled, or at least in a better state than his brothers.
Still, before Andrew and John went enna further in their plans for leavin’ Ireland, they knew they must consult with Philip. After all, leavin’ Ireland meant leavin’ all the family, and they meant to know what Philip thought of it all.
“Would you be having a cuppa tea now,” Philip asked his older brothers, still findin’ it hard to believe they were sittin’ in his house, the one that had long ago belonged to their grandparents. “Tis been nigh on two years since Daniel’s baptism. I think that was the last time ye came up here.”
“Thankee Philip, a cuppa would go down well after our walk,” John answered, lookin’ to Andrew who nodded in confirmation.
Philip called to Margaret, “Would you be bringin’ some tea, me love, and bring Daniel out to greet his uncles.”
Hidin’ behind his mother’s skirts, Daniel followed Margaret into the room, and her bein’ careful to hold the platter with hot mugs of tea away from her body into a safe space.
“Indeed it has been a while, but ye know how things have been. It seems like all of life is now about finding summat to feed our bairns. How is it with ye?”
“The same, though since I have but one bairn, I’m sure it is not so hard as it is with you boys and your brood.” A cloud passed between the men, Philip’s one livin’ child an unacknowledged heartbreak they all knew but couldna say nothing more about. “And what brings ye here? There’s no more baptisin’s takin’ place,” settin’ the loss there in the space between them. “But I’m forgettin’ meself, how is Johannah and Mary and the wee ones?”
John, the elder answered, Andrew preoccupied, worryin’ his tea cup and the arms of his chair, anxious to be getting’ to the point of the visit. “They’re all well now, though we had a bit of a scare the winter. The boys went to see if they could get some corn or soup, whatever was on the dole in the village, and it seems they brought us back only the sickness. At least that’s what the doctor said. I don’t mind tellin’ you, me heart was in me throat the night I called the priest over me little girlie. Her coughin’, her fever was like to wake the dead.” And at that John paused.
“But the priest came and prayed. and she rallied and they’re all well now.”
“And yours, Andrew? How is your lad and lassie?”
“Aye, they’re well now too.”
Silence filled the room as the men turned their attention studiously to the tea, now cool enough to be slurped away. “Well, me brothers, I know you didna’ walk all the way for a cuppa tea. What’s on yer mind?”
This time the impatient Andrew spoke, settin’ his tea on the floor beside his feet. “It’s this way Philip.” Andrew caught his breath, “We been talking about the taties, about the blight, and about our families. It seems there’s naught to be done back in Moyne but wait for the dyin’.” Andrew nodded toward his brother, “John even had some of his planted taties dug up, the people are so hungy.”
“What are ye sayin’,” Philip interrupted, “I know the taties didna’ fare so well this year, but surely the blight will be gone the next. Surely, you’re not starving yet. John, ye have tenants, don’t ye?”
“Indeed I have tenants, but their allotments are scarcely a corner of mine, not big enough to grow enough taties for a year, each one on a good year. Now, they’ve nothin’ left to sell to pay me their rent. And there’s no real work to be makin’ a penny. They’ve hardly ennathing to eat to begin with, much less ennathing to pay me. So tenants are no help atall.”
Again Andrew would have his say, “We been thinkin’ about what to do and Billy Lynch writ his family saying Pennsylvaney has good farmland, and they would be after helpin’ us if we could find a way.”
He paused and Philip seized his words, “Find a way? Are ye sayin’ what I think I’m hearin’? That ye are thinkin’ of leavin’ the land, the land of our fathers, the country of our blood. Ye’d run away from our family in the hopes of something better, something ye’ve only heard rumors of?”
“Ah, but Philip,” ‘twas John’s turn now. “It’s nothing like that. Mebbe ye haven’t seen the lines of coffins along the road. Mebbe ye haven’t heard Daniel cry himself to sleep because his mate died or mebbe because his empty belly hurts. But we have.”
“What about the workhouse? Ye could go into the workhouse for a while, till things get better.”
The older brothers looked beyond Philip into the fire, and finally John answered. “The workhouse would be the death of us. If we don’t die from the disease or starvin’, why, ” he paused, his forehead wrinklin’, “ Do you know how they treat families? Do ye know ye have to give up all right to your land? They make ye sign all yer rights away.” Again he paused, “People go to the workhouse not long before they die.”
“It canna be that bad, can it?” and this time it was Philip who looked into the fire. “Ye and yer families could come here.” Four beats later, Philip looked at his brothers. “Ah, I see, comin’ here would mean little but that we would be dyin’ together. That’s what yer thinkin’, taint it?”
Andrew and John nodded. “That’s why we must consider what Billy Lynch writ in his letter.”
“But, what about ye Philip,” John continued. “How do ye and yer family fare? And the rest of yer Margaret’s family.”
Ah, the Quinns be well, they be. Her da still runs the pub, her ma helps with store. I make deliveries, I do. We have a garden and some pigs and chickens and a sheep or two, so we are farin’ better than some. And I have to tell ye, before ye ask if I’d be thinking of leavin’ Tipperary. There’s no way Margaret would leave just now. Why finally we have our own son. Our Daniel’s his name, like his grandda, but ye know all that. I’m thinking there’s no way Margaret would leave her parents, would leave what she knows for sure for what she can’t even be thinkin’ of.” This time it was Philip who looked into the fire.
“But John, Andrew,” Philip continued, “ I’d be after helpin’ ye a bit if ye decide to go. I’ve a bit of money laid by. I could help ye now, and then, if things change here, or maybe if they don’t, ye could help me out when the day should come.”
Margaret called the brothers in for some soup and brown bread, and the early afternoon passed as the brothers admired the wee bairn Daniel, and followed Philip around his farm allowin’ him to show how fine everythin’ looked. Suddenly it was time to be headin’ back down the road into the gatherin’ mist toward home.
“Aye, Philip, we thankee for the tea and soup,” and scuffin’ his feet in front of the door, John added, “and for the offer of some help. We will let ye know before we do ennathin’ for certain. We haven’t talked it through with the women yet. We wanted ye to know what we was thinkin’.”
The brothers solemnly shook hands before pushin’ through the door, farewellin’ one another till the older brothers disappered down the road at the bottom of the hill.
For a while Andrew and John walked in silence, tracin’ the path they had walked for most of their adult life, the path home to where their ma grew up, past the corner where they and their brothers and sister had been baptized in the Church at Templetoughy, past the hedges around Lady Elizabeth Lovett’s land, the hedges where the boys had all gone to school, though they knew little of it took. They watched their step as they crossed the creek on the same high rocks they had danced across as boys, careful now in the evenin’ light, a little less sure of their footin’ than they had been back in the day.
Finally, Andrew could stand it n’more and slapped his brother on the back, playfully, he meant, but perhaps a bit of tension stung its way into the slap. “What do ye think about a sheep or two? Back there, what Philip said? You’d think the fairies were bitin’ his tongue, ye would.”
“Aye, it’s right clear he is well settled, workin’ there for Margaret’s family,” and after a moment, he added, “with her family. And it don’t seem to matter how many sheep he has, there’s roots holdin’ him fast to the airth.”
Moments passed as the brothers, each one in his own head, worked at how to set his thoughts out. Finally Andrew said it, what they both knew, “We must do it oursels, then. And like the Lynches, mebbe you ought to go ahead and get settled with yer family and then send me the passage. I hear that’s the best way, the one ahead has the easier job to earn some extry money than the one that sets here and prays the taties will last.”
“Will yer Mary agree to such an idea? I know she and Johannah are right close. Would ye run the land and tend to the tenants behind me, whatever that might be meanin’?” At that John paused, “I’ll have to be talking to the Lady Lovett about this afore long if we’re straight on our plan, and then I’ll be after askin’ the priest, to write to Billy.”
“Aye, the priest first, and then mebbe after we hear from Billy, ye could talk to her ladyship. She’s allus been a good sort to us, letting us work for real pay as little uns and keepin’ your big girl Margaret there as a housemaid. For sure ye don’t have to worry about Margaret starvin’.”
The idea grew so big in their heads that the brothers fell silent, each to his own thoughts about how it could ever come to pass, how they might live, the one gone on ahead of the other. And there at the end, as they could see smoke from the chimneys in their own corner of Tipperary, each one fingerin’ his ever-present single decade rosary askin’ the Blessed Virgin for her help, to be astartin’ in the moments just ahead. They had to find the right way to tell Mary, to tell Johannah about how their lives would be achangin’.
Fireplace photo from https://www.curbed.com/2016/3/24/11300930/rumford-fireplace-design-historic-home