"Are those your parents?" I asked pointing to a vintage photograph hanging on the dining room wall. "No," said Una, "they're Joe's grandparents."
Of course, now I could see that the vintage photograph belonged to the 19th century, not the 20th.
"And," she added as she cleared the breakfast dishes, "when his grandparents were children, their families were evicted from their homes, along with 18 other families in this area, in the aftermath of the great famine.
Just a casual comment on a family photo. And here in Ireland, "The Troubles" are not far away.
Joe and Una Smith are the innkeepers of Riverside B&B. Their well maintained and modernized 100 year old farmhouse overlooks the Annalee River and its centuries-old stone bridge. They cater primarily to fishermen, but also to travellers seeking ancestral information. A couple from New Zealand arrived the day before.
Joe, who had left the room as Una talked, returned with something in his hand.
"Now, here's my father," he said and handed me a copy of a newspaper article and a small frame enclosing a document. The article's headline stated, "Grand Old Man of Irish Politics Looks Back and Forward." I read on in disbelief about the legacy of Paddy Smith, Joe's father, the longest serving T.D. (elected representative) in the history of the Dail (Irish Parliament). After 54 years as a deputy, he had decided to retire from public service. He had campaigned in 17 general elections, and now at 77 years of age, it was time for him to step down.
As amazing as this lengthy period of unbroken public service was, what really riveted my attention was the small framed document on the table in front of me: Paddy Smith's death sentence. In 1921, during a surprise attach by a British army unit on a Republican training camp, 20 year old Paddy had his jaw was smashed by the butt of a British rifle. He was arrested and sentenced to death for treason. The death sentence was not carried out because he was freed as a part of the general release of prisoners following the amnesty. But, Paddy was arrested and jailed again for his involvement in an attack on the British Cavan Barracks in 1923. As he and fellow prisoners waited in the lorry, a woman and her daughter approached with hot tea. Warned to stay back or be shot by the British soldier in charge, the woman replied, "I guess you better go ahead then and shoot." During this incarceration, he and 6 other prisoners went on a 41-day hunger strike. Also during this time, he was elected Sinn Fein candidate in September, 1923. His election and that of others immortalized the expression, "Vote ‘em in to get ‘em out."
At the time the newspaper article was written, Paddy was 77 years old and walked with the aid of a stick because of arthritis in his left leg. At the mention of it, a grin spread over his craggy face. "But I can still kick a ball with the other," he said to the reporter. And so apparently could his son, Joe, now 62. Una chimed in to say that when Joe played Irish football, he had many penalties called against him but not nearly as many as he should have. "Sometimes," she said, "I was embarrassed to watch."
I got up to honour Paddy's memory with a vigorous shake of Joe's hand.
"Thank you," I said, "for sharing this about your father." I had a lump in my throat.
With a big smile on his cheery face, his big hand squeezed mine as he said, "There's not many of us left anymore."
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007