by Martin Emmet Quinn
A ship there sailed my dreams return
To the days of yesteryear;
To the night of bliss, the parting kiss,
To the ship that brought me here.
A ship will sail my visions torn
Once more to the bounding main;
To loves sweet charms, the waiting arms,
To the ship that brings me home.
My grandfather loved poetry. Although he never finished the 8th grade in formal education, he loved to read and write poetry. He may have even been inspired by the famous Icelandic poet, Stephan Stephansson, who lived near his boyhood home near Markerville, Alberta. He boarded with their family in order to attend school for a short time.
Grandpa wrote “Ships” after surviving the Spanish Flu the previous fall, with the dead and dying all around him as he lay in a military hospital in France. The illness delayed his deployment to the front and the Armistice was signed before he ever saw battle. By January he was waiting for a ship home when he penned these few lines anticipating a happy reunion with his sweetheart—my grandmother. We also read it at his funeral: he was 97 and outlived his beloved wife, Alice, of 65 years by nearly 6 winters. This solemn occasion was filled with emotion and the tender thoughts of the happy reunions taking place beyond the veil.
The draw of family has always been strong with me and as a youngster I loved hearing the stories of the way things used to be; the joys, hardships and triumphs of generations gone by. Grandpa Quinn would sometimes tell me about the visit of his Grandpa Quinn to their homestead near the Rocky Mountains west of Red Deer, Alberta. His Grandpa came from Ireland in the late 1850’s to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he married and raised his family. On his first trip out West, he brought a fruit that my Grandfather had never seen, the banana. Although no stories of life in the “Old Country” came down to my generation, through family history research of old documents in Halifax, I was able to learn that the Quinn family lived in a hamlet of Killagoola, near the small town of Moycullen, north of Galway City in County Galway in Ireland. Later, I was surprised to learn this was one of the most adversely affected counties of the Irish Potato Famine. Maybe, as often happens with those who come home from war, the stories of that time were just too horrendous to be passed down.
This week I have had the chance to return to the land of my ancestors with my son, Adam, my wife, Ann, and my sister, Debby. We visited the medieval ruins of a small castle built by the Quinn clan in nearby county Clare. They are located on private property with no roads leading to them, so we had to rent a small row boat to cross Inchiquin Lake. Next we visited the ruins of pre-famine peasant homes, cemeteries and old buildings of County Galway around Moycullen and Killagoola. Traces of my Quinn ancestors from nearly two centuries ago have vanished, but a possible link to a distant cousin running Hurley’s Pub, east of Moycullen, provided some connection to the past.
I think it’s good for us to consider the sacrifices of the past which, in many cases, help provide the blessings we enjoy today. I love the beautiful green hills overlooking Lough Corrib. The fields are divided by countless stone fences crisscrossing the land where my ancestors toiled, probably as peasant farmers. I could feel their hopes for a better life for their children and descendants; the same hope and appreciation I would like to pass on to my posterity.