It was 1863 in Ireland. Thady Conlon was 36 years old. He had seen some hard years in his late teens during the Great Famine. Now he decided to travel south to find work and maybe meet someone to share his life with. He packed his meager belongings and started out.
He had heard of a landlord named Philip Taaffe in Woodfield near Kilkelly in County Mayo who had some work on offer. So he decided to head that way.
He stopped in Derrycastle. Known for a big hill thought to house ancient ruins. There he met and married Margaret Regan. Six years later he was renting 11 acres, ten roods and two perches of land at an annual rate of 2 pounds and 5 shillings from the landlord. Thady and Margaret had four children. Patrick, Thady, Mary and Margaret (who died at age 23 of tuberculosis on September 2, 1891).
Thady built a little stone home where he and Margaret raised their family. They had very little but they found comfort in each other. Thady always suffered from breathing challenges and succumbed to asthma at the age of 50 on March 18, 1877.
Thady’s first born son Patrick took over the land from his mother Margaret in 1883. He increased the land holding to 25 acres and 14 roods in 1905 and because of the Land Purchase Act he now owned the land and paid less taxes. Patrick married Catherine Regan on January 27, 1889. They had ten children. Nellie, Tim (severely injured as a sniper in WWI fighting for the US), Denis (who passed as a baby), Matthew, Thomas (who died in his mid-twenties suddenly after returning from the war), Patrick (who was electrocuted in the United States putting up hydro poles), Maggie, John, Kate and Owen. Patrick heard people passing their small home say, “Look at those poor Conlons. All living in that small little shack.” That drove him to do something about it. Each year Patrick would travel to England to find work. Then he would come back and build a little more of the homestead with his earnings. In the end, he completed construction on the first two storey home in the area in 1910 and his grandson and namesake Paddy Conlon still lives there today.
Patrick’s son John was not a farmer. He was a renaissance man. He read what he could and he knew things about the world. He could have been anything. He got his passport and planned to travel to new places. His older brother Matt was to take care of the farm and the old folks. But Matt followed his girlfriend to the United States and when he returned home to see his parents he died of a burst appendix in 1929. His girlfriend’s heart was broken and she joined a convent where she spent the rest of her days. And now there was no one to work the land. So John Conlon, my grandfather, put his passport in a drawer and stayed home.
He met Mary Kate Lyons and they were married in 1937. They had six children. Paddy, Sean, Mary, Kathleen, Joseph (who passed as a baby from whooping cough) and Michael.
Mary’s older brothers went to find work in England and sent money home so that Mary could go to the convent school. After high school she applied to nursing school in England and got in. Next she did her midwifery in Scotland. And finally she took a job as a nurse in Toronto where she met her husband Jim Kelleher from County Cork.
Mary and Jim had two children named Siobhan and Seamus.
Siobhan is writing this story. Thady and Patrick and John and Mary Conlon could have each taken different paths and made another choice. But they chose the road that brought me to life. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
As poet Robert Frost once said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”