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14 April 1845
Today is my wedding day. My name is Jane Flaherty--now Jane McClary for I have married Michael McClary this morning at our parish church. I begin this diary so that I might look back in years to come on the early days of my marriage, so that I might tell my children of the tiny details of my life. And here I begin. This book was given to me by the lady who employs me as a seam-stress. Her name is Mrs. Grant and she tells me I am a fine talent with needle and thread. She said it would be useful to have a place to keep my household accounts, and made of this small book, a wedding gift. But instead, I will write my thoughts and my dreams on these pages. It is for her kindness that I am able to write and read at all, for she taught me when I first went to work for her. And I will teach my daughters and they will teach theirs. Then they may all see the world in the pages of great books. My Michael has come home for his supper and I must end here.
Jane McClary slowly sank into the rough wooden chair, placing her hands on the table. Her heart felt as if it had dropped to the floor and she stared at her husband. His eyes were bright with excitement, a quality that had made her fall in love with him the very first time they'd met.
"Surely you see." Michael reached out and took her hands between his, the calluses rough against her skin. "Our future is there. There are jobs and good land to farm. People are leaving every day, from Dublin and from Cork. The boats are full to Liverpool and still more want to go."
"But, our home is here," Jane said. "Our families are here." Michael shook his head. "But not our future." He glancedaround the sod house. "I work until my back aches and my fingers bleed and we never get ahead. And you, you sew into the wee hours, your eyes straining to see the stitches, and for nothing more than a few shillings. How much longer can you do that, Jane? And what will happen when we have a family? It will be even more difficult to leave then. If we are to go, it must be now."
"But we can't afford one passage, how could we afford two?"
"We won't," he said. "It's three pounds ten. We have a bit saved and Johnny Cleary says that he'll loan me the rest for he's taken his entire flock of sheep to market just today. And when I get there, I will find work and send for you. Our babies will be born in America, Jane, and they will grow up fine and strong. They will have a future that they could never have here in Ireland."
Jane drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She had seen friends and relatives make the same decision, and though she'd heard harrowing tales of the dangers of crossing the Atlantic, all that she knew had arrived safely. And Michael was right. Ireland offered nothing to an ambitious man and he had always been that. A bit of a dreamer, too, she thought to herself. But how could she deny him this? She was his wife and bound to follow where he led, like Ruth from the Bible. It was her duty.
"When will you go?" she asked.
"In a week's time," he said.
"That soon?" Jane dropped her hands to her lap, twisting her fingers together nervously. They'd been married not yet three months and now he would leave her to live alone.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of newsprint. "There. Read that. Johnny gave that to me. He says there'll be jobs waiting for us. Good jobs with good pay."
Jane picked up the paper and read the advertisement. "Strong Irish Lads Wanted," she said. "Railroad work. A dollar a day, room and board included. Call at 17 Carney Street, Boston, upon arrival." She glanced up at Michael. "And how long until I might join you?" she asked.
"They say the passage is six or seven weeks, eight if the weather turns bad. I will work through the winter and send for you in the spring. The time will fly by and you will barely know I'm gone. And during that time, you will sew curtains for our grand new house in America. I promise you, Jane, it won't be a dark and tiny stone cottage with a leaky thatch roof. It will be a grand house made of wood, with real glass windows and a marble fireplace to keep you warm at night."
Jane put her hand on her belly. The baby would be born in the spring, March if she counted correctly. She hadn't told Michael yet. She'd wanted to wait just a bit longer to be certain. But now, she would keep the secret from her husband, for if he knew, then he would never leave.
She pushed away from the table and walked to the dry sink, then pulled down the small butter crock from the shelf above it. Inside was their life savings, enough to buy a pretty dress, new pair of shoes and perhaps dinner at a fancy hotel in Dublin.
Jane crossed to the table and dumped the money on the scarred surface, then counted it out. "One pound, nine," she murmured. "We can sell the cow. You'll have to have food to eat, and a warm coat. I hear that winters are fierce inAmerica and I won't have you getting sick for wont of decent clothing."
"And what will you do for milk and butter if we have no cow?"
"I will buy it in town. Mrs. Grant pays me enough to feed me. And Jack Kelly has always coveted this plot of land. He'll be happy to take it over after I harvest the crop. I can sell the potatoes you won't be here to eat and the garden will provide the rest. I will do quite well for myself," Jane said with a weak smile. "You married a clever girl, Michael McClary, and you would do well not to forget that."
Michael nodded, then rose to stand beside her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him, kissing her softly on the forehead. "We'll have a fine life in America," he said. "I've seen it in my dreams."
Jane closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against his chest. His heart beat, strong and sure, and Jane tried to memorize what it felt like to be held by him. There would come a night when she'd reach across the rope bed and he wouldn't be there. But she would be brave, for she loved this man and would follow him to the ends of the earth if he asked.
ROSE BYRNE STOOD IN THE protection of a church facade, staring out at the cold drizzle that had turned the cobblestone streets slick. The sky above was so gray she couldn't tell if it was morning or afternoon. She'd stopped listening to the chiming of the church bells on the hour. It only made the time move more slowly.
Rain had been falling for almost three days and the dampness had set into her bones and her lungs until she wondered if she'd ever feel warm again. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine a sunny summer day from her childhood, when she'd walked in the meadows around her Grandmother Patrick's Wexford cottage and lain in the tall grass amongst the butterflies and wildflowers.
Life had been so simple then, her dreams untarnished, her future full of promise. Though it had not been five years ago, it seemed like a lifetime now, so much had changed. She'd married at nineteen and traveled with her husband, Jamie Byrne, to Dublin where he'd found work at a mill. They'd lived in a small flat near the river, just two drafty rooms and a grimy window with a view of another tenement, so different from her grandmother's cottage. But it might have been scalp, a hole dug in the ground with sticks for a roof, for all she and Jamie cared.
Though the country was in turmoil and Dublin at the center of it, at first Rose and Jamie paid little attention to the politics that drove Irish life. Though Jamie worked hard, his pay never seemed to be enough to buy any more than the necessities. After a time, he became frustrated and spent his evenings at the pubs instead of at home.
Rose found work taking in laundry and sewing for a well-to-do Irish merchant and his family. And when she'd discovered herself pregnant after six months of marriage, she and Jamie had looked forward to the birth of their first child. But the baby had been stillborn just a month before it was due and a miscarriage followed that.
When she found herself pregnant again, she had begged Jamie to take her back to Wexford, to use the small inheritance from her Grandmother Patrick to build a new life where the air was fresh and she might have a chance to carry her baby to term. But Jamie had become involved in a patriot's cause, in a revolution that had been brewing for years in the pubs and factories all over Ireland. He refused to leave.
It was his duty to their unborn child, he'd argued. He wanted his children to grow up in a free Ireland, an Ireland that might promise a better future than the one he'd been dealt. But Rose was frightened she would bring a child into a world at war with itself and as her time grew near, she watched the conflict escalate and her husband take risks that put his life in danger daily.
Jamie had sworn his allegiance to the IRA, determined that Ireland become an independent and unified republic from north to south, east to west. But the Free Staters, willing to let the northern counties of Ulster go in a treaty with Britain, won out in the end.
His dedication to a lost cause had cost him his life. Jamie Byrne, husband of Rose Catherine Doyle, had been killed in October of 1921, when he and three other Republicans were ambushed on a country road outside of Dublin. He'd been buried by the government in an unmarked grave.
A cough wracked her chest and the child nestled against her body wriggled beneath the damp wool blanket, her wide, blue eyes staring up at Rose. "It'll be fine," she cooed. "We'll find a place to live with a warm fire and a solid roof. And we'll have hot food to eat and I'll feel better again."
"Sleep, Mama," Mary Grace murmured, reaching up to touch her mother's cheek.
Rose drew the blanket up around the child's face, then stared down at her dirty fingernails. Her hem had been soaked in so much muddy water, her white petticoat had turned grey. And her hair, once a vibrant auburn, was now limp and filthy.
Mary Grace Byrne had been born a week after Jamie was murdered, three years ago. Rose had almost expected the angels to take her, as well. They'd taken so many of the people she'd loved--her mother and brother, her grandmother, and her beloved Jamie. But though she'd come a month early, Mary Grace had inherited her father's dark hair, his indomitable spirit and his good health.
They'd lived on the inheritance for a time and money she took in for laundry and sewing. Rose had tried to find a job in a factory, but her health prevented her from working the long hours. Money soon became scarce and the landlord impatient. She'd been forced to sell the sewing machine that her grandmother had given her as wedding present. With it went any chance to make a living.
Three months ago, she and Mary Grace were evicted, tossed out onto the streets after she'd fallen behind on the rent. Now, she was forced to scrabble through the rubbish bins for food, joining the ranks of the poor and indigent who existed on whatever the streets of Dublin could provide. She knew to hide during the day and to forage at night, avoiding the authorities who might drag her off to the poorhouse and take her daughter away from her. And occasionally, a passerby would take pity and toss her a coin, enough to buy Mary Grace a bit of milk and bread.
She began to hum a tune, a lullaby that she remembered from her childhood, rocking her daughter against her. If only she'd had family she could turn to, Rose thought. Her parents were gone, her mother dead in childbirth with Rose's younger brother. Her father had put Rose in the care of Bridgit's mother, Elizabeth Patrick, and then left without a word as to his destination or his return. Rose could barely remember him. But when she fell in love with Jamie, she'd thought she'd found a man who would protect her forever. She'd been so terribly naive.
Rose shivered, hugging her daughter close. How much longer could they survive? Winter was nearly upon them and the weather was becoming so cold. She hadn't eaten in three days and if she didn't get out and find food for them both, she'd be forced to make a decision soon. To die with her child and join her family in heaven, or to leave the girl on the steps of St. Vincent's orphanage. Surely the sisters would take good care of such a pretty little thing.
She pressed her lips to Mary Grace's smooth forehead, then ran her fingers over the wavy dark hair on her head. "You're a strong little thing, you are. You come from a long line of strong women. We still have time, wee one. We'll find a way, I swear on all that's holy."