A local writer later described what had long been the cycle of life for the rural poor in Ireland’s West: “…and the men who once came home with the Winter spawning salmon to fertilize their lands and their women … now come no more.” Thus it was in Tom Gallagher’s family of ten children, seven girls and three boys. Most were conceived in the springtime when his father returned from England for a few weeks to plough the fields and plant the crops – and make the next baby.
In addition to the author, the main characters are his parents and his siblings (though not all with equal parts): Jimmy; Maureen; Eamon; Patricia; Kathleen; Eveline; Anne; Angela; Christina. Other than the storyteller, a key character is Tom’s mother, burdened with the near impossible task of raising an ever increasing brood of children while laboring in the fields as hard as any man, and usually pregnant with the next baby to boot. There are miscarriages and once a still-birth that almost took her life. With scarcity always present and want never far away, she is overwhelmed with the responsibility that fate has dealt her. She rages against the man who is rarely by her side and who has given her divorce Irish style, that she was robbed of her girlhood and her dreams. Young Tom is often fearful that one day she will give up and run away, or go completely mad, or worse. After the rage she will cry her heart out and tell the children that she would never abandon them and that many dads have gone to England and never returned, and never sent home the weekly money in a blue reinforced, registered envelope that kept hunger at bay in the home, especially in the long mean months of winter.
The seasonal tasks of life on a farm are discussed in detail. With little mechanization, most of the work is labor intensive, lots of elbow grease and loads of sweat. There are few male-only jobs on the land and as the family grows each new pair of hands, even a six-year-old pair of hands, has a job to do. School is an unwelcome though necessary intrusion in the serious business of surviving.
For Tom, two diversions eased the unending tedium of farm life, joining the FCA (Irish Reserve Defense Forces) and the adventures and misadventures with friends during the long nights of winter. Lying about his age, Tom joined the FCA before his 15th birthday. His only concern, shared by the FCA, was whether his skinny frame would be able to stand-up his FCA uniform in a fitting manner. It did, though barely. Night-time in the wilds of Mayo was deathly quiet, mostly blackness, punctuated with house lights off in the distance, and high beam headlights of cars up on the Main Road. In defense of fun and war on boredom, Tom and his pals engaged in some minor lawlessness – with hilarious results – when the stillness itself cried out for relief.
Like countless thousands before him, Tom knew that he was only marking time in Ireland and that sooner or later he would answer the summons to the emigrant boat or plane. As did his older brothers and sisters, in their turn, Tom emigrated, coming to the United States in 1965.
A Note From the Publisher
Pub date is tentative.