Memoirs of an Irish American Dream

December 8, 2010
By Samantha Skelton SILVER, Shadow Hills, California
Samantha Skelton SILVER, Shadow Hills, California
5 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Queenstown Evening Post
“Black ’47 haunts 1912”
Thousands gather in their households for American Wake, dancing and singing on their last night before boarding the RMS Titanic in hopes of escaping what the Potato Famine Left us.

The entire world read headlines about “The Unsinkable Ship”, the Titanic. Few had seen headlines like the one of the Evening Post, and even fewer know the story of those that lived to tell the tale. Especially the immigrants. A misconception travels through people’s minds that only the grandest and the rich survived the icy waters and went on with their lives. Many, like myself, came aboard in hopes for a better life. The journey of what made us leave our old life behind and our struggles to make a new one have been buried under society for decades, until now.

Before I left Queenstown, Ireland, home was not home anymore. An invisible disease spread through our potato crops years before. We were poor. My family, my friends, half the town. We were losing everything, even each other. It wasn’t always like that though. My family was born with life and entrepreneurship in our blood. My mother Grace, or Grainne in Ireland’s home language Gaelic, called herself a seamstress. In true part, she was a truly talented designer. She hand made breathtaking gowns, with beads, sequins, and the finest hand stitched florals around. Hats, gloves, and more accessories were made to accompany them. The people of Queenstown had no use for them though, so she sold them to boutiques in France. My Father Christopher, or Criostoir, admired her. He was a fix it man. When the crops failed, he started to do what he truly loved, making the unfixable-fixable. He fixed fences, roofs, and even the tiniest of lockets, like mine. His smile gave people hope. After mother died though, I didn’t see that smile anymore. She died about five years before I left Ireland. The effects of the famine came to be too much. Our town started to swallow itself. Money was scarce, but so was survival. Mother grew pale and weak. Dark circles consumed her eyes. Her hair began to thin. I remember walking into our home and seeing what was left of a woman, what was left of my mother. We huddled together like it was the end of the world. And it was, it was the end of our world. Father knew he had to leave. I think we all knew it was time. He stopped looking me in the eye. Conversation grew minimal. He stopped recognizing important holidays and my birthday. Sometimes I wondered if he forgot he had a daughter. Father saved money up for almost three years. I held on to some hope that he and I could be family again. On July 16th, 1910 that hope sailed to America aboard the SS Campania. Over the course of a few years I was all that was left of the De Lune family. I was alone. My friend Anna was my shoulder to lean on. If we weren’t working to make the town prosper we were educating ourselves on subject. Other than that, I spent my days writing. That’s what I did. I wrote stories, sometimes non-fiction, but most of the time fiction. I fantasized of my adventures to America. Maybe I could fly there overnight! And when I got there the buildings would be taller than any tree I’ve ever seen, surrounded by brilliant shades of color.Then one day, I saw all my fantasies glash before my eyes when a letter arrived. It was from father.

“Claire, an Americay letter for you! An Amerikay letter from New York, It’s for you!” My only friend Anna shouted with excitement.
It was titled Clar, my name is Gaelic. That was oru hometown language although my family chose to learn English years ago. I took a deep breath and opened the letter I thought would never come.

My dearest daughter, I want you here in America with me. This new world is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and you have no business staying in that rotten town. Although it saddens me to be so far away from where I loved your mother, life is better than death. I have kept myself busy here and through long hours of work, I managed to save enough money to get you here aboard the new RMS Titanic. It stops directly in town, so you’ll find your way. You will board in just a few weeks. I have enclosed your ticket, important information you need to know, and lastly $75.00.Present only $25.00 when you arrive in New York. Give no one a reason to ship you back home. I will meet you at the port. Be smart. Be brave. Do not be afraid of change.

Sincerely, your father

P.s. Happy Birthday

“What does it say Claire? Tell me!” Anna asked.

“I’m…I’m…going to America” I stuttered.

My heart was pounding so fast. I couldn’t believe it! I was finally going to escape the place where a funeral seemed to constantly dance around these people’s hearts. Immediately, I went to pack my things. At first, I was so overwhelmed with relief and excitement, I packed as if I would be back the next day. Then it dawned on me I would probabl y never be back. So, I took things I valued. I took pictures and articles I saved, my best clothing which wasn’t a lot, two leather bound journals, “The De Lune Family” sign which used to hang on the tiny door of our home, and last but not least, my most prized possessions, my mother’s gowns. They were all that I had left of her. I packed two and gave the rest to Anna. I told Anna that I would never forget her. I promised her I would save money and send it to her so she could be free from death as well. The night before my departure, some of the townspeople gathered my American wake goodbye celebration. We danced, sang songs, and ate what little food we could scrounge together in celebration of my journey to the land of prospers. On April 12th, 1912, I boarded the RMS Titanic and waved goodbye to my homeland. There’s no need to re-tell the tragedy of the Titanic, but I find it crucial to tell you what you don’t know. As traveling as a third class passenger, I still received for accommodation that I would in Queenstown. The walls of my room were white and shinier than I’d ever seen. Although there were not enough baths’ to cover the 700 of us, I didn’t mind that small problem. I was restricted from a lot of things, especially from the other classes and the accommodations they were accessible to. When we hit the ice burg, at first there was no commotion. A woman I had been rooming with spoke Gaelic and I understood her worries. She said she heard talk of the cold waters and the ice burgs they carried. As panic began to float around the cabins, an idea came to my mind. If they were already telling us to move to the upper decks, the other classes would have first choice over anything. Quickly I rifled through my suitcase, pulled my mother’s gown from it, and slipped it on. I knew it would come in handy. I saw a chance of survival for myself when I went to the upper decks and a captain asked me where my parents were and why I wasn’t put on a lifeboat earlier. They obviously believed I was in a higher class. Unlike many tales, all the hundreds of third class passengers that contained us immigrants did not freeze to death in the waters or get locked up below. We found ways of surviving. My way was aboard lifeboat #15. We waited hours on end to be rescued, but eventually the Carpathia came to our rescue and delivered us to Ellis Island, New York. The first sight of America was breathtaking. Buildings were everywhere! Not as much color, swarms of people running around, many languages, and I seemed to see new things every day. Upon my arrival, I pulled out the letter my father had sent me. Suddenly it dawned on me that he was not here. We were late getting here, but still, I had no way of finding out where he could be. I didn’t know where he worked, or who he knew. I stayed at St. Vincent hospital along with other Titanic survivors for two nights in hopes that he would find me. Eventually, it occurred to me that he did not want this. He loved me enough to get me out of Queenstown, but my mother’s death had taken too much of a toll on him. They questioned me for only a short time, but they managed to fit in so many questions. I tried not to cough so they wouldn’t think I’m ill and I was very cooperative. I started to panic, where would I go? I only had a little money to get me through the days. I felt completely and utterly lost. On my first real day exploring this new land, America was truly a place of wonders. I spotted hundreds of Irish people like myself, and some spoke Gaelic. It saddened me that we were disliked at times. Walking through the streets, I would be spit on or taunted about my clothing, or how I looked, or even the holidays we celebrated like St. Patrick’s day. They didn’t get I just wanted to be an American. The first few weeks were the hardest. I slept in alley ways and begged for work. I got scared that policeman would send me back to America, but they were Irish and felt pity on me. In my spare time I continued to write. I wrote about new things I encountered in this life, and eventually that was a church. It amazed me how many people can gather under the same faith. I met men and women in the church who helped me cope with my new surroundings and eventually led me to a job in the factories as well as a place to live. I was soon referred to a Mr. John Patrick who let me room with him. This turned out to be the best decision of my life. Although, the long hot hours of working in the factories made me hate America at times, I knew it was for a better life in the end. I felt as if I woke up in the morning and finished yet again in the morning. When we had candles to burn for light, we wrote until our hands hurt. And like writing, we had things in common. My clothes felt dirt and un washed for months at times. This daily routine of life seemed normal for years. Eventually, things got better though. I grew older and donated to the church that helped me cope when I first got here. John got me going towards my big break. A woman who worked at a printing press noticed my writing and suggested I work towards that being my career. John died from cholera, around the same time I accomplished something huge. By 1950, I was the first Irish immigrant to write an original screenplay. I sent money back to Anna, but never saw her again. I never found my father either. Looking back on my life today, it’s really just a memory of my Irish American dream.

The author's comments:
The story of the Titanic is possibly one of the biggest landmarks in American history. This fictional story explores the possibilities of Irish immigrant life aboard that ship.

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