A Saint Patrick’s Day Story

By Richard Mabey Jr.


In the Summer of 1905, Catherine Cavanaugh, a saddened widow with a six-year-old daughter, Bertha, left Cork County Ireland to come to America. At age 27, Catherine was pretty much alone in the world. Both of her parents had passed away. She had no aunts and uncles in Ireland. But, her mother’s sister, Shannon, lived in America with Shannon’s husband, Patrick McNulty.


What calls thy heart to leave hearth and home? What stirs thy veins to dream of finding a new start in life? For my great grandmother, Catherine Cavanaugh, the call came in the form of a series of letters from her Aunt Shannon, who lived in the Delawanna section of Clifton, New Jersey. 


We think of bravery as the heart of the soldier, walking in the front line, charging across the field of Gettysburg. Or, the astronaut aboard a rocket headed for the far reaches of space. Or, our nation’s founding fathers, standing tall and proud for liberty. Yet, there lies in heart, a kind of quiet and tranquil and steadfast bravery. The immense courage of the immigrant who left hearth and home of their country, knowing that they would never return, to come to this place of promise, they only knew as America. 


Such was the heart-felt bravery of my dear great grandmother as she boarded ship, holding her daughter in one hand and her two steerage class tickets in her other hand. One single trunk, was all Catherine Cavanaugh had to bring all the earthly possessions of herself and her young daughter.


The steerage class was the lowest living quarters for a passenger crossing the vast Atlantic. It was the lowest deck of the ship, where the cargo was stored. The food for steerage class passengers was horrible. And, drinking water was not plentiful. Steerage class accommodations were usually terribly overcrowded. But for my great grandmother, one thing kept her strong as she crossed the Atlantic with her little daughter, my grandmother. And, that one thing was the hope of a better life.


Aunt Shannon wrote her niece, Catherine, many letters of the many factory jobs in Clifton and Paterson. This place called New Jersey, offered new hope for Catherine.

My great grandmother, Catherine Cavanaugh, bravely came to America with my grandmother, Bertha Cavanaugh. They lived with my great grandmother’s Aunt Shannon and Uncle Patrick for a few years. Great Grandma Catherine worked in a silk mill in Paterson. Destiny called her to meet an English gentleman, by the name of Wesley Storms. They were to marry and have a daughter, providing my grandmother with a sister. 


The way of the Irish immigrant was not easy. It is painful to recognize this, but my grandmother often told me about the signs that were taped to some of the factories in northeast New Jersey, in the early 1900’s. They simply read, “Irish Need Not Apply.” It was not an easy path for the Irish immigrant, in the early 1900’s. But the Irish are strong people and they struggled and survived.


Hold dear in heart to thy heritage. Find within it, great inspiration. Never forget the pain endured by our forefathers and foremothers. Cherish thy family legacies. By all means, write them down for future generations. Hold proud thy sacred and unique heritage. 


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! 


Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at richardmabeyjr@hotmail.com. Please put on the subject line: My Life Publications. 


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