Sunday, December 30, 2007

Where did James Heaphey Come From?

A guest post by Simon Barrett.

I had the opportunity to ask author James Heaphey about his background. I happen to live in Canada, and I was surprised to discover that he too has a Canadian connection. Here is what he told me:

My paternal grandparents, Michael, called "Paw" by all of us, and Theresa (Fogerty) Heaphey left Ireland for Canada when the harvest failures of the 1870s brought fears of another famine like the one in the 1840s.

Paw said they went to Canada because "America waz too dollary fer us." The shock of all those Irishmen flooding into Boston and New York during the first famine scared the U.S. Congress into passing two Passenger Acts affecting all ships intending to dock in America. The first one limited the number of passengers a vessel was permitted to carry. The second increased the price of the cheapest passage to 17 seven pounds, which was indeed "too dollary" for my grandparents.

Though my grandparents could afford the price of admission to Canada they were nonetheless unwelcome. As an example, at that time the Common Council of St. John, one of the two Canadian ports where the Irish landed, unsuccessfully petitioned the British Government to take the Irish Catholics back to Ireland.

The captain of my grandparents' ship bypassed St. John in favor of Grosse Isle to join a queue of 40 ships, carrying 15,000 Irish, many seriously ill, some already dead. As they waited English newspapers in Ontario and French newspapers in Quebec printed a leading statesman's warning, "These Irish are the most diseased, destitute and shiftless that Canada has ever received."
My dad was born in Canada during the last decade of the nineteenth century, close to both Toronto and Montreal, where Irish-Catholics were shunned by English-speakers because they were Catholic and by French-speaking Catholics because they could not speak French. Church services were conducted in Latin and French. Schoolwork and church social activities were carried out in French. No one in my father's family spoke more than a dozen or so words in French.

When dad was around nine years old, Abel Funeral Company, located in the neighborhood where I was to grow up, offered Paw work as a harness maker. "I tol' em" said Paw, "I'm already lookin' fer a horse knows the way cross the border."

The family - there were five children -- settled in a Catholic mission manned by St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. Missions were defined by the Church as "outposts in wildernesses of need." About twenty years later a permanent parish campus was built and called St. Aloysius.
I believe no member of the family other than my father bothered with citizenship rigmarole. My father had "papers," as he called them.

St. Thomas mission was the next best thing to heaven for them. They were surrounded by Irish Catholics with a significant number of Catholic Germans thrown in. Catholic Germans were scorned by German Protestants but were admired by the Irish for their superb craftsmanship. No sense of "us and them" between Irish and Germans existed in my neighborhood. Two of my fathers' sisters married Germans. German and Irish kids played together in the streets. It was a holy alliance untouched by intense vilification of Nazis during World War II.

My father had three sisters and a brother still alive when I was a child. Only one had children then, Aunt Mae. She married Al Then, a German, and had three children, John, Dorothy, and "Junior," whose ages approximated those of Tom, Lois and myself. The two families lived within short walking distance and were always friends, especially the boys. As adults, John, "Junior," and Tom were fast friends. They bowled competitively as a team, played golf together, and, with their wives, partied at one another's homes in basements-turned-into dens by my father.

Paw and my father seldom spoke of their past. They would make jokes - or what at the time we thought were jokes as in the case of "not being able to afford America" - but kept their personal histories to themselves.

More to come.... Simon Barrett

An Introduction to James Heaphey

I am not James Heaphey, I am just a guy that likes books. I am a book reviewer, I have no qualifications, I don't think the Universities offer degrees in book reviewing yet. But seeing how they do have courses in video game design it is only a matter of time!

Jim decided that he needed a web site, I thought a blog would be the perfect weapon, and this is it.

I hope that you will enjoy this journey into the life of a very interesting man, and his book Legerdemain.

Simon Barrett