Our mother could not afford to keep three girls and two boys. At the age of six, my brother Jim and myself were sent to an orphanage in Drogheda. We spent four years there before we were sent to Artane Industrial School. My sisters went to a school in Armagh. I lost track of them after that. Mother used to visit us in Drogheda. My brother learned weaving in the school while I went on the school farm until I was sixteen years of age. I was later sent to a man in Taughmaconnell named Peter Naughton.
I never knew where my brother went, we lost track of each other. The day I went to Taughmaconnell, Peter Naughton met me at Carraduff Station near Athlone. He met me with a horse and trap and brought me to his place. I felt very isolated, I did not know anyone there. I was a stranger. I remember getting very sick. Doctor Kyne and Father Galvin were sent to tend to me. I had hurt myself lifting a plough onto a cart. I do not remember exactly what was wrong but that I was in terrible pain. I was sent back to the school hospital for six months. I returned to Peter Naughton after my recovery. I did not stay very long with him and went to another man a few miles away. His name was Mick Doran. I stayed with him for at least ten years. It was there that I learned how to cycle. Mick Doran bought me my first bicycle, a Hercules. Of course that meant I had to stay until I had earned the bike. I remember well getting the bike. I could not sleep on Saturday night waiting for Sunday morning so that I could cycle to mass. It was a big change to driving the Dorans to mass in the horse and trap. I was glad to be with this family as they did everything they could for me. However, we parted company and I went off to Athlone on my bike, where I joined the Army in 1939. I passed the medical examination and was sworn in. I stayed in the army until 1943. I visited the Dorans on leave and they in turn used to write to me. When I left the army I got £25, a suit of clothes and a pair of boots.
I went back to the Doran’s for a while before moving to Ballinasloe where I got a job in the Bum House. I was let go after a month and I never really knew why they let me go. I picked up a few weeks of work here and there, cutting turf. I was in great demand as workmen were scarce. I travelled on to Athlone where I got three weeks work cutting turf for Tommy Shine, Brendan Shine’s father. I had a great time there as they had a shop. Mrs Shine looked after the shop whereas Tommy her husband worked in the cotton factory in Athlone. He would have holidays when the turf cutting started. Brendan used to come to the bog when he came home from school in Athlone. He never forgot the twenty cigarettes his mother used to send to us with the tea. They used to bring the tea out in a large bottle with plenty of brown bread.
When the turf cutting finished I chanced to meet a Father Murphy who brought me to friends in Cummer. I was very well treated there. I then went on to Monivea, where I worked for a Dolan family in Ryehill. They were very nice people but when the work was done I had to move on. I walked to Athenry. In the market square I was asked to spread turf for Jack Duane from Lisduff, Attymon. That was the first week in June 1948. After two weeks there I went to Madge and John Lawless. They made me feel at home immediately. I stayed longer than expected with them. A few weeks after arriving there, John had to go to Athenry Sheep Fair to buy some sheep. He left me with a scythe to cut around the headlands. I had barely cut the first blow when I found a half crown. After another bit of cutting I found two more. I brought the three half crowns to Madge even though I had no money of my own. From that day on Madge took to me and I ended up staying there for a very long time. There I got a very bad sore knee and John brought me to Nile Lodge in Galway where a Professor McDermott, a surgeon examined me. I was admitted into hospital and was operated on. I was there for six weeks with my leg in plaster wondering what I was going to do as Mr. McDermott had told me I would not be able to work for at least a year.
Madge and John took me home and looked after me. Madge was my mother then as I had forgotten my own mother by this time. Just as I was getting better my legs swelled up again and I had to go back to hospital again. It must have been three years before I got to work or cycle but John and Madge would not let me do anything for them. They were very good to me. I made up to them as much as I could by staying on with them and working as much as I could even when I went to England. I used to come home to cut the turf for them and save the hay as often as I could. It was while I was with the Lawless family that I found out where my brother Jim was living. I saw an add in the Irish Independent for weaving goods, placed by a J. Kearns in Clifden. I told Madge, John Lawless and Alfie who was only about ten at the time that I was going to write to him at the address given in the paper. After about ten days I received a letter saying that he was in fact Jim Kearns my brother. I prayed and prayed, it was an answer to all my prayers. Madge and I cried our eyes out with joy.
The next day Madge and John decided I should take a week off and go to Clifden where Jim lived. I went to Attymon station where John bought me the ticket to Clifden and gave me a few pounds. When I arrived in Clifden, my brother was at the bus stop, he recognised me instantly. I spent ten days with him. We had a big ‘do’ in a pub called Mannion’s and they were the happiest days of my life. There was a big write-up in the Irish Independent. Reporters were at the pub, it had all been arranged in advance. The film “The Quiet Man” was being filmed in around Clifden and Leenane, Jim brought me out there on the Sunday. I met John Wayne, Ward Bond and Maureen O’Hara. Jim gave them some tweed to bring back to America. That was a time I will never forget.
I went home, Madge Lawlesses’ was what I called home then, I was very sad and happy. I soon settled in again until I decided to go to England with a few pals from Mountbellew. We took off on August l4th 1952, our destination was Birmingham. We got digs with an Irish family. I got a job in Cadbury’s Chocolate factory. I was not happy with the job or the digs so I looked for another job. I got one with the buses, in the Control room, it wasn’t what I wanted so I ended up working in the University College Hospital, London W 1. I learned how to control the switchboard there. The administrator transferred me to another department where I got a live-in job. I saved as much as I could and returned to Dublin where my brother Jim had taken up work in the Woollen mills in Cork street. I arrived in Westland Row on Easter Saturday. Jim met me. I had a rest on Sunday and on Monday we went to look for our sisters. We found out that our mother’s name was Bisette and that Kiernan was her married name not Kearns as we used to call ourselves. We found this out in the Customs’ House. We then went on to Balbriggan, that’s where we had relations. There we got the names of Mary Ann Fagan and Mrs Gibbons, in Finglas. One Sunday morning we arrived at St. Margaret’s where we were met by our sister. She told us our mother had died three months previously. She was elated that after all these years the two boys had turned up.
We went into her house where all her family was. They went over to the pub to get drink and they also went to Finglas to get our other sister, Christina Gibbons. We had a great party into the early hours of the morning. I went back to England without seeing my other sister Kitty Coughlan who lived in Santry. After a month or two I came back again to meet her and her brother Jack. I stayed with them for a week. I then stayed with Christina, after that I stayed at Kitty’s before returning to England for work on the 3rd of January. When I got back to my room in England I cried for my mother like I had never cried before even though I had not seen her since I was six years old. I returned to Ireland and have lived in Athenry for a few years now. I look back on my days travelling from place to place in search of work. I remember there were bad and tough times but the memories that I cherish are the ones of happiness, such as the nice families I worked for and reuniting with my family.
Written by Tom Kiernan
Published here 08 Feb 2021
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