Saturday, March 10, 2012

A jolt to the family memory bank

I have just been reading a little of my past from another’s perspective, and it excites a strange feeling. Good, if somewhat eerie.

It came about with Brendan O’Connell giving me copies of some memoirs written by a relation of the Nolan family. To put it into perspective, we Byrnes, O’Connells, and said Nolans are all related. That story is longtailed, but I might get to do it someday.

Anyhow, the memoirs I mention are written by a Phyllis Brugnolotti in New York. There are also a couple of ’fiction’ pieces written by a Joan Comiskey from Leonia, New Jersey, in which I recognise distant relations.

Phyllis is the one which is most in my mind at the moment. Her pieces are about her mother, her times and tribulations and how she went to America from her native Ballylinan. And also about her grandmother, who was my grandfather’s sister Katherine Agnes (Katie) and who left Kilcullen to marry a Michael Shortall in Ballylinan.

The details of what Phyllis has written I’ll leave to another article, but what has thrown me into a timeloop this evening are all the people she mentions who are in my own family folkmemory. Her remembrances add to my own in a way that makes them much more rounded.

So I now have more detail on how my grandfather was perceived by a considerably older sister (he was the last of seven, all the others girls), and how that same sister showed many of the same business traits that I remember from my own grandfather, and my own father too. Also that she had six children of her own (one of whom came 'home' and married a Nolan).

She writes about my ’Uncle’ Barney, who was a prisoner of war in Japan, and wonders about the details of his life before he died indirectly in the 50s of his wartime privations. And about Katie’s sisters Nora and Peg who raised him after their other sister ’Birdie’ died shortly after his birth. I have fairly recently worked out a few of these details for myself, but there’s a richer vein here.

My dad Jim Byrne is also mentioned in the piece. I have, of course, more direct memories than Phyllis has of him. But there are a few things she has that I didn’t.

I’m writing this as an immediate reaction to reading what Brendan gave me. I have also asked my son Carl in New York to try and make contact with Phyllis, who might still be able to give him, and his newborn son Gavin down the line, a little more insight into where they came from.

But just for now, I wanted to say that I feel very much closer to my forebears tonight. Thank you Phyllis, and Joan, for writing what you did. It is similar to what I’ve been doing for some years now, so that my grandchildren will know where they came from.

And me too.