Mike the Pies today
Last night we had our monthly meeting of North Kerry Reaching Out (I’ll tell you all about that anon.). One of the items on our agenda was the choosing of our logo. An idea that was thrown about was to incorporate a symbol of emigration. The strongest symbol of emigration is a tear; deor in Irish gave us the word deoraí; exile or emigrant. Traditionally emigration was associated with sadness but today’s tale shows how this initial sadness can be turned around with success in the land of opportunity.
The background to this story is this. My trusty collaborator, Vincent emailed all his contacts and sent out a plea for them to contribute stories to my blog. Roger McElligott was the first to reply. Here today is his lovely poignant tale of his family’s journey from Upper William St. to The Golden State.
Here is my write-up on No. 28.
It was fun to do. Thanks for the opportunity.
The McElligotts of Upper William Street,
Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland:
The McElligotts, of 28 Upper William Street, my grandparents, were William McElligott and Mary Dillon and their children: Mary (Mae), Michael, Margaret (Rita), William (my father), Patrick and Emmett. Mae, the oldest, was born in May of 1890.
They operated a pub and a grocery store that shared a tiny triangular vestibule at street level. In the rear area, where there were a stable and workshops, from which they operated general contracting and funeral undertaking businesses. But, even with all that variety, they found the times financially difficult. So, on hearing of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of April, 1906, they decided to emigrate to San Francisco, with the hope that their skills in the construction business could lead them to success in faraway California.
With that, they sold 28 Upper William Street to the O’Connors (Mike-the-Pie) and sailed the Atlantic from Queenstown, now Cobh, County Cork, on the brand new Mauretania, sister ship to the much more famous Lusitania. Mary (Dillon) did not have her heart in it, but along she went with sixteen year old Mae and a younger Rita in tow. The three surviving boys Michael, William and Emmett (Patrick had died in some epidemic.) were left at a boarding school in Ireland: the Cistercian abbey of Mount St. Joseph, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.
After the crossing and their 3,000 mile train trip across the continent, they may have gone to San Francisco, none of us knows for sure. But, somehow, for reasons long forgotten, they ended up in Sacramento, 90 miles east of San Francisco, where my grandfather did find good employment as the supervisor of construction for large multistory buildings, most of which are still standing. (That speaks well for him.)
My grandfather, William, built a house in Sacramento and, in 1912, when the boys had all finished at the boarding school in Roscrea, he sent for them to make their move to Sacramento. It was decided, by my grandparents, that a chaperone would be in order and they enlisted Jim Taylor, who was husband to Margaret (Peg) Dillon, my grandmother’s sister. Jim and Peg were then living at 54 Charles Street, Listowel. That address was then linked to the Dillon family.
(Peg ended up in Sacramento too, but I don’t know when or how she arrived.)
Jim Taylor lived to be 102 years of age and, to the last, told of the horrors he experienced keeping his three charges in line. If it was half as bad and he told it, he had experienced a tough-tough time on that long-long journey by ship and by rail.
In the living room of the Sacramento house hung a large photo of the Lartigue monorail steaming through a grove of trees. My dad, William Ignatius, loved to tell of the mischief he and his brothers perpetrated against the Lartigue, They would find an incline along the rail and coat it with axle grease, so they could watch the train struggle to gain traction.
Another of the family stories that has to do with 28 Upper William Street: That small triangular vestibule was used for what the boys thought was the most fun they could have. British troops would spend evenings in the pub. After they had put away plenty of pints, the boys would tie a trip-wire across the entry door of the vestibule and then would feign a fist fight in the center of the street. When the soldiers came rushing out to intervene, they would pile up like cord wood in the doorway. Those troops must have had short memories or there was a lot of turnover.
But, I once told this story to Bryan MacMahon and he said he found it believable.
I first saw Listowel in 1975, when I was 41 and have been back another seven times to stay at Mount Rivers, attend Writers’ Week, go to the races in September and to just hang around for a few days. With any luck, my wife and I will return soon. It is truly “Lovely Listowel.”
Roger William McElligott