One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life Sunday this week is family homestead.
I was immediately struck by an image from my childhood of my Great Grandmother’s house in Ireland. It has quite an interesting history.
This isn’t my Great Grandmother’s actual house. Her house is gone now. It is a house I found on the Irish tourist board website, but it is very close in look to the actual house.
Great Gran Min was born in the 1870s into a family in chaos as a result of the potato famine. Her father had gone to work with his own father in New York as a result of the blight forcing them off the land. Her mother had to stay back home in Ireland with the kids as her own mother was ill and had no one else to care for her. Min, being one of the eldest girls, helped run the house, but it was difficult with very little money and not enough food.
When Min’s father died in an accident in a factory a few years later the family was forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet. Min always referred to that time as ‘ the days of dishpan hands and eating bread-ends for dinner’ as her mother gave the best parts of the loaf to the lodgers. She remembered, even once the famine had ended, the bailiffs coming in and people going bankrupt. Entire villages emigrated to Europe and America and sometimes it was so quiet you could hear the wind whistle up the laneways.
By the turn of the century Min was married with children of her own. Her mother continued to live in the house and was supported by Min and her husband.
The house was made of stone. It had a slate roof and low beams inside. The six foot high open fireplaces warmed up the stone floors so well that windows often had to be opened in the middle of winter. When the land recovered from the blight, a market garden supported the household very well for years.
The house had been built in the early 1800s but the land it stood on had been in the family for over 500 years. Generation upon generation were raised there and at one stage one of the outbuildings housed the local school consisting of 15 students.
I never got to see the house because it the 1940s it burned down. No one knows how it started because no one was living in it at the time but it was razed to the ground. All that remained were a few stone walls standing jagged and lonely, like misplaced standing stones.
The stone walls have crumbled now. The pieces that remain are covered with moss and brambles. There is a air of melancholy surrounding the site. A plaintiveness that is somehow sacred. How many homes have ended up like this? Neglected, forgotten, forlorn; once so full of life and laughter but now gone for good.
The land is still owned by the family. One day I would love to build a house there, to bring a sense of purpose back to the land, to honour the memory of Min. I hope that one day I get the chance.