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Monday, 17 February 2014

Granda Brien

My mother's grandfather was from Ireland. His name was Edward O'Brien and he left Ireland, on his own, and moved to Newfoundland. We know that his O'Brien line was not related to any other O'Briens in Newfoundland. That's all we know. There's a story there obviously.

My knowledge of my great grandfather comes from my mother, the story teller in our family. She loved her grandfather O'Brien and spoke of him fondly. He lived with her family when she was growing up. Her memories of him became mine and with them came the desire to find out more. That has proved to be difficult.

Mom called her grandfather Granda Brien. It's interesting that the O was left off the O'Brien in baptismal records as well. The old record books that Mom and I saw on our trip to the Archives at The Rooms in St. John's all had fountain pen, scrolled, elaborately penned words in the records, but with each entry for her grandparents, the surname is Brien. She even had difficulty getting a passport because her own birth records showed her as Mary Brien. She had to have an affidavit sworn for the correct name.

In Newfoundland, Edward was a fisherman. He married Bridget Ann Kielly in 1882, in Petty Harbour  and they had ten children, one of whom was my grandfather, Gus. They settled in Maddox Cove where they built a home, and had enough land to grow vegetables and graze animals.

Something that was very noticeable about that land was that the various fields were separated by a row of trees or a line of rock/stones. When Rick and I visited Ireland, one of the things that was very emotional for me was seeing how the fields along many of the hillsides were separated the same way. Edward did the same thing with his land as he had seen in his homeland.

I found out from Census information after Mom died that Edward was born in August 1853. However I don't know where he was born. I did ask my grandfather once and he told me, but I didn't record it and don't recall what he said. I will never be able to track that information.

There are some stories about Edward. His namesake, my Uncle, Ned, Mom's older brother was carrying on one day while Nan was bent over a sack of flour in the pantry. Ned dropped something into the flour, causing it to drift upwards in a heavy cloud, covering my grandmother. Mom was there and reported that Nan was white except for her eye holes. Nan ran after Ned; he was laughing as she chased him. Ned and Nan passed through the kitchen where Edward was sitting on the day bed.

He said, "Don't hurt him, Monnie. (Monica was called Monnie). The world will treat him hard enough."
 
His attitude towards children was kindness. Mom always talked about how 'sweet' he was to her.

                Edward O'Brien 1853-1939

My cousin, Gus O'Brien, told me the story about my great grandfather, Edward, my grandfather, Gus and two other men coming into Petty Harbour once during a terrible thunderstorm. They were returning from a fishing trip and were in the outer part of the harbour. My great grandfather stood up in the boat and shook his fist, saying something like,

"Come on Old Man, give us your best."

The story goes that a bolt of lightning hit the boat and broke her in two, throwing the four men in the water. Luckily they were already in the harbour and survived.

Mom always talked about her grandfather's faith. I don't know if the experience in the boat had anything to do with it. He attended Mass every day and had a horse and carriage that he used to get to Church. 

Edward lived to be eighty-six years old. He prayed to die saying,

"I've been in this world long enough now, God. Take me home."

The morning he died, in December 1939, my mother was up and ready for school. However her father sent her to the Madden's house across the cove, to phone for the priest to come, her grandfather was dying. In the rush to get there, she crossed the river on the icy, winter morning, fell and her hands stuck to the ice. She tore the skin off parts of her hands. Mrs. Madden bandaged her hands before she went home. Her grandfather was dead before the priest arrived.

I wish I remembered where my great grandfather was from but I guess Edward will always be a mystery to us.




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