PICTURE the scene: It’s 6pm in Fermoy town on a summer Sunday in 1950 and a large family is huddled round the public telephone box outside the Royal Hotel.
When the day arrived for Joan to leave, my father went with her to get the bus in Fermoy to Cork, then the bus on to Cobh, where they stayed overnight in a B&B. The night my sister left, we stayed with my Aunt Moll, my mother’s sister, in St Mary’s Terrace on the southern part of Fermoy — my mother was too upset to be at home and was comforted by Moll.
Joan got the tender to Roches Point, about five miles outside Cobh Harbour, to board her Cunard liner to New York. My father must have been full of grief and sadness as they parted ways.
Of course, when she arrived she had to go to Ellis Island for a physical examination with hundreds of others before she could set foot on U.S soil.
I have often, in the years since, wondered how this 16-year-old girl must have felt, coming from a small town like Fermoy to the big city of New York. It must have been a real culture shock.
In 1994, I visited Ellis Island and imagined my sister Joan getting off the liner and going to the big hall, where she was seated before her name was called and all her particulars were taken.
Joan was a great daughter and sister, and would write to us with the news and send her brothers parcels of comics which were never seen before in Fermoy.
I was very popular with my school friends because I would give them the comics to read.
In 1954, aged 21, she married Jack Flanagan. They had five children — four sons and, just like with my parents, one daughter.
Tragically, Joan died aged just 35. It must have been a dreadfully sad time for my parents and a terrible shock.
About 11 years later, Joan’s only daughter, Florence, visited her grandmother in St Bernard’s Place for the first time. She was the dead stamp of Joan when she had left for America and, to my mother, it was as if her only daughter was returning home: an occasion of great joy for all the family.
In 1994, I got to visit Boston and met my nephews and brother-in-law Jack for the first time, a wonderful and joyous occasion. I also visited Joan’s grave, it was a very emotional visit and I paid my respects to her and said some prayers.
She is buried with our aunt, Mary Ellen, and her husband, Jack, in a very well kept cemetery. I had a look around and was amazed at the number of people buried there with Irish names. Of course, Boston was a great destination for the Irish.
In the 1940s and early 1950s, every Christmas week, I would go to Fermoy town and have a look at all the shops beautifully decorated with wonderful displays of toys, books and Christmas stockings. I could only look, with no chance of having them.
Then, with my father, I got lovely berry holly which we would put around the pictures and dresser. We made paper chains from colour paper to hang from the ceilings with colour balloons.
We got no Christmas presents. There was no Santa Claus in our house — it was the same for a lot of families at the time. Very little work was around for the men in those years, and it was a very hard times for parents.
For Christmas dinner, we had bacon, no turkey or ham, no Christmas cake or Christmas pudding. After dinner we would go to the local Ball Alley and play a good number of games — and be grateful for that. Nobody had TV until the 1960s, we still had the oil lamps to light the house.