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Here you can read the first chapter of Anne's new book "Forget-Me-Not-Child"as well as see pictures from the real life location's and events that the book is based on, each time Anne releases a new book you will find the first chapter FREE to read here as well as pictures from the time period and other information on the book if available, so please scroll down and enjoy a good read.
Angela could remember little of her earlier life when the McClusky family lived in Donegal in Northern Ireland. As she grew she had understood that her name was not McClusky but was Kennedy and she was the youngest daughter of Connie and Padraig Kennedy and that Mary and Matt McClusky were not her real parents at all though she called them Mammy and Daddy. She also learned that she had once had four older siblings all at school and so when Minnie the eldest contracted TB and Angela’s mother realised it was rife in the school she asked Mary McClusky who was a great friend of hers to care for Angela, then just eighteen months old, in an effort to keep her safe. Mary had not hesitated and Angela lived in the McClusky home petted and feted by the five McClusky boys who had never had a girl in the family before.
However, before Angela was two years old she was an orphan; for her parents succumbed to TB too as one by one they watched their children die. Mary was destroyed at the loss of her dear friend and all those poor young children. And Padraig too for her was a fine strapping man and well able anyone would have thought to fight off any illness. ‘Ah, but maybe he hadn’t the will to fight.’ Matt said. ‘He’d watched his children all die and then his wife had gone also before he developed it. What was left for him if he had recovered? I imagine he didn’t bother fighting it. Whatever the way of it, there was a spate of funeral and though Angela attended none of them she was aware of a sadness in the McClusky family though could not understand it.
Eventually Mary had to rouse herself for she had a family to see too including little motherless Angela and Matt had a farm to run. Mary did wonder of there was some long lost relative who would look after Angela, but after the funeral it was apparent there wasn’t, Mary decided that she would stay with them. She knew there would be no opposition from Matt, who had grown extremely fond of her by then anyway, they all had and when Mary said to Matt it was the very least she could do for her friend he just nodded. He too had been badly shaken by the deaths of the entire Kennedy family and well aware that a similar tragedy could have happened to his family just as easy. This time they had got through unscathed and he readily agreed that Angela should continue to live with them and grow up as their daughter.
‘Angela will be your new little sister,’ she told her sons.
‘Not one of them made any objection, but the happiest of them all was her youngest, Barry. At five years old, he was three years younger than her and she was petite for her age with white blonde curls and big blue eyes and he reminded him of a little doll. She was better than any dole though for she had seemed to have happiness running through her, her ready smile lit up her whole face and her laugh was infectious laugh and all the McClusky boys would near jump through hoops to amuse her. ‘I will be the best brother I know how to be,’ Barry said earnestly. ‘I was already fed up of being the youngest.’
Mary laughed and tousled Barry’s hair. ‘I’m sure you will, son,’ she said. ‘And she will love you dearly.’
And Angela did. She loved all the boys she thought of as brothers and all were kind and gentle with Angela but between her and Barry there was a special closeness.
However the farm didn’t thrive. A blight on the potato crop almost damaged most of the potatoes, heavy and sustained storms meant they could only retrieve barely half of the hay they would need for the winter, meaning they would have to buy the hay needed from elsewhere, many of the cabbages turnips and swedes were lost from the torrential and ferocious rain and eventually flooded the hen house and many hens were lost. That first winter they just about managed although empty belies were the order of the day often and Barry told Angela she was lucky not to remember those times.
Everyone looked forward to the spring. Matt and his sons knew if the spring was to be a fine one and nothing would to go awry, with tightened belts they might survive. Matt had a constant frown between his eyes, the weather wasn’t good. ‘Surely this year will be better than last,’ Mary said, Matt’s lips tightened, ‘we’ll see, ’he said grimly. ‘For if it’s not a great deal better we will sink.’ In the early spring of that year a cow died giving birth and the female calf died, a fox got into the hen house and killed most of the hens, one of the lambs scattered in the hillside and was savaged by a dog and had to be put out of his misery, Their finances were on such a keen knife edge these things were major blows. Matt knew he would have to leave the farm where he had lived all his life and his father before and his father. That thought was more than just upsetting, it was devastating, but he had to face facts. One evening in late March after Angela and Barry had gone to bed and the dinner pots and plates put away, Matt and Mary faced their 4 eldest sons across the table and told them they didn’t think they could survive another year.’
There was a gasp from Sean and Gerry, but Finbarr and Colm, who helped their father on the farm, were not totally surprised. They knew as well as anyone how badly the farm had been hit, but they still thought their father might have a plan of some sort and it was Finbarr asked, ‘What’s to do?’
‘We must leave here, that’s all,’ Matt said.
‘Leave the farm?’ Sean asked.
‘Yes,’ Matt agreed. ‘And Ireland too. We must leave Ireland and try our hands elsewhere.’
That shocked all the boys for not even Finbarr thought any plan would involve them all leaving their native land, thought Mary, heartsore as she knew that was what they had to do. Finbarr glanced at his brother’s faces and knew he was speaking for all of them when he said. ‘We, none of us would like that, Daddy. Is there no other way?’
‘Aye, the poorhouse if you’d prefer it,’ Matt and he spoke with a snap because leaving was the thing he didn’t want to do either. ‘They have one in the town.’ At Finbarr’s look of distaste, he cried out, ‘Do you think this is easy for me? This is where I was born and where I thought I would die. It’s my homeland, ‘but we can’t live on fresh air though,’ he added with an ironic smile. ‘We have made a good stab at it this year.’
Finbarr knew that well enough, but he didn’t bother commenting, but instead asked. ‘But where would we go?’
‘Where Norah Doherty has been urging me to go this past year.’ Mary said. ‘And that’s Birmingham, England. She’s in a place called Edgbaston and she says it’s not far from the city centre and she can put us until we get straight with our own place and she says she can probably even help you all with jobs..’ Finbarr nodded for they all knew the Docherty’s who had left Ireland’s shore four years before when they were in danger of throwing themselves on the mercy of the poor house to save the children starving to death. An uncle living in Birmingham had offered them all a home with him in exchange for looking after him because he was afraid of being put in the poor house too. It was a lifeline for the Docherty family and they had grasped it with two hands and were packed up and had gone lock stock and barrel in no time at all.
Mary knew Norah found the life hard at first for Norah had written and told her and the house was so terribly cramped for her uncle couldn’t make the stairs and a bed had to be made for him downstairs. But a man who lived just two doors down called Tim Bishop was the gaffer at a Drop Forge in a place called Aston and had put a word in for Norah’s husband, Mick and he had jumped at the job they offered him. She’d said he’d be tired coming home especially at first, for the work was heavy, but then a job was a job and with Birmingham in the middle of a massive slump to get one at all was great. She said and you really needed someone to speak on your behalf to have a chance at all. And they have spoken for Mick because Norah’s uncle had asked them to, he had once worked at the place too and he’d been well thought of and Tim Bishop approved of the family coming over to see to him in his declining years, for they knew well the old man’s fear of ending up in the poor house or workhouse as it was commonly known.
‘This Tim Bishop Norah speaks of seems to be a grand fellow altogether,’ Mary said ‘He had Mick set up in a job before he had been there five minutes. ‘Please God that he may do the same for us.’
‘Yeah, but what sort of job?’ Colm grumbled. ‘Don’t know that I would be any good in Birmingham or anywhere else either.’ Colm said. ‘The only job I know how to do is farming.’
‘Well you can learn to do something else can’t you?’ Matt barked. ‘Same as I’ll have to do.’
‘We’ll all have to learn to do things we’re not used to,’ Mary said. ‘Life is going to be very different to the life we have here but that’s how it is and what we must all do is accept it.
Mary had a way of speaking that brooked no argument as the boys knew to their cost and anyway Finbarr knew she made sense and he sighed and said, ‘So what happens now?’
‘Well travel costs money,’ Mary said. ‘And that’s something we haven’t got a lot of, so we sell everything we don’t need. Your father has sold all the cattle and even got something for the carcass of the cow and young calf but it isn’t enough. We’ll sell everything on the farm because we can hardly take anything but essentials with us anyway.’ Sad days followed as the children watched the only home they had ever known, disappearing before their eyes as the neighbours rallied, one took the cart and horse, another took the hens the fox hadn’t killed and rounded up the sheep and yet another said he would have the plough and even the tools were sold. It was hard to get rid of the dogs and though Angela could only remember flashes of that time, she remembered crying when Matt said the dogs had to go. All were upset. ‘They are going to good homes,’ Matt promised her and she remembered his husky voice and the way his eyes looked all glittery.
Barry hadn’t liked to see the dogs go either but knew he had to be brave for Angela and so he said, ‘We can’t take dogs to this place, Mammy said we’re going to, Angela, so they have got to stop here.’
‘They’d hardly like it in Birmingham anyway,’ Mary said. ‘Their place is here.’
‘I thought mine was,’ Gerry said.
‘Gerry you’re too old to moan about something that can’t be changed,’ Mary said sharply. ‘What can’t be cured, must be endured you know that.’
‘Who’s having the table?’ Barry asked.
‘The person who has bought the cottage,’ Mary said. ‘That’s Peter Murphy and he asked me to leave the table and chairs, my pots and all, the easy chairs stools and settle, the butter churn and the press and all the beds. I was happy to do it and he gave me a good, fair price for them too.’
‘Funny to think of someone living here when we’ve gone,’ Gerry said.
I suppose,’ Mary said. ‘But I‘d rather someone was getting the good out of it than it just falling to rack and ruin.’
They all agreed with that but when they assembled the following Saturday very very early that late April morning Mary looked at their belongings packed in two battered cases and two large bass bags and her heart felt as heavy as lead. She wasn’t the only one. As they left the farmhouse for the last time they all felt strange not to see the clucking hens dipping their heads to eat the grit between the cobbles outside the cottage door, or hear the barking of the dogs. As they began their way to the head of the lane where the neighbour who bought the horse and cart would be waiting for them to leave them down at the rail bus station in the town, they missed seeing the sheep on the hillside pulling relentlessly on the grass, the horse and cows sharing the field to one side and the other side of the lane, the tilled and furrowed fields, bear with nothing planted in them.
Sad though they were to leave, the children were excited though Mary’s excitement was threaded through with trepidation, for she had never gone far from her home before. None of them had and she looked at their eager though slightly nervous faces and hoped to God they were doing the right thing. All knew where the McClusky’s were bound for, even at that early hour some neighbours had come to see them off and wish them God Speed and their good wishes almost reduced Mary to tears as she hugged the women and shook hands with the men and laid the way on to the rail bus where her and Matt got them all settled in. They were soon off, the little rail bus was eating up the miles, but it was only the start of the long journey to Birmingham. They would leave the rail bus at a place called Strabane and from there get a train to the docks at Belfast. Then a boat would take them across the sea to Liverpool where another train would take them from there to Birmingham. But eventually the rail journey began to pull though, they all perked up a bit when it was time to board the boat.
Mary was very nervous of going up the gang plank and one on deck, the boat seemed to lift from one side to another. It was very unnerving, but what worried her most was the safety of the children, not the older boys, they should be all right but it was Barry and little Angela she was concerned about. What if one of them was to fall overboard? Oh God that didn’t bear thinking about! She didn’t express her fears, she knew they would only laugh at her, but she said to Finbarr and Colm. ‘You make sure you look after Barry and Angela. Make sure you keep them safe.’ She knew they would more than likely want to explore the ship, her gallivanting days were over and she was finding it hard enough to keep her balance now and they hadn’t even set off yet.
‘I don’t need anyone to look after me,’ Barry declared. ‘I can look after myself.’
‘You’ll do as you are told.’ Mary said sharply to Barry. ‘And you mind what Finbarr and Colm say.’
Barry made a face behind his mother’s back and Finbarr clipped his ear for his disrespect. ‘Ow,’ he said holding his ear and glaring at Finbarr.
‘Never mind ow', Finbarr said. You behave or we’ll not take you anywhere. We’ll just take Angela because she always does as she is told.
‘Yes,’ Colm said, ‘you’d like to see around the ship wouldn’t you Angela?’
Angela wasn’t sure she did, it looked a big and scary place to her, but she knew by the way the question was asked what Colm wanted her to say so she nodded her head slowly and said, ‘I think so.’
Barry said nothing more because he definitely did want to see over the ship and Finbarr could be quite stern sometimes and he knew his Mammy would never let him go on his own. Anyway he hadn’t time to worry about it because the call came for those not travelling on the boat to disembark and excitement filled him for he knew they would soon be on their way. Finbarr put Angela up on his shoulder because she couldn’t see over the rail and from there she watched those wishing to disembark scurry down the gangplank to stand on the quayside and wave as the sailors raise the gang planks and untied thick ropes attached from the ship, wrapped around round things on the quayside that Finbarr told her were bollards. Then the ship’s hooter gave such a screech Angela nearly jumped off Finbarr’s shoulders. The ship’s engines were turned on and began to throb, Finbarr lifted her down and Angela felt the whole deck vibrate even through to her feet as the ship moved slowly to the water.
Matt and Mary joined the children at the rail as they watched the shores of Ireland slip away and Mary suddenly felt quite emotional, for she had never had any inclination to leave her native land. The sigh she gave was almost imperceptible, but Matt heard it and he put his gnarled, work worn hand over Mary’s on the deck rail. ‘We’ll make it work,’ he said to her. ‘We’ve made a right decision, the only decision and we will have a good living there you just see if we don’t.’ Mary was unable to speak, but she turned her hand over and squeezed Matt’s. It was hard for him for farming too was all he knew, but he was a hard worker and had always been a good provider and she had a good pair of hands on her too. She swallowed the lump in her throat and said, ‘I know we will. Matt, I’m not worried about that.’ And while the children slipped away to explore, they stood together side by side and watched the shores of Ireland fade into the distance.
Mary was to find that she wasn’t a very good sailor though the children seemed unaffected and wolfed down the bread and butter Mary had brought because it had been a long time since that very early breakfast. Mary could eat nothing and Matt ate only sparingly, but Mary thought that was probably so that the children could eat their fill than any queasiness on his part. Mary was very glad to leave the boat and be on dry land again, she was bone weary but it would be another couple of hours before they would reach Birmingham. All the children were tired and before the journey was the way through Angela climbed on to Mary’s lap and went fast asleep. She slept deeply as the train sped through the dusky evening and did not stir when the train pulled up at New Street Station. Oh how glad Mary was to see a familiar face as she stepped from the train for Mick Docherty was waiting with a smile of welcome on his lips. He was unable to shake Mary’s hand for she had Angela in her arms. But he shook hands with Matt and the children onn by one, even Barry, much to his delight.
He led the way to the exit and Mary was glad of it for she had never seen so many people gathered together. The noise was incredible, so many people talking, laughing, the tramp of many feet, the clattering train hurtling into the station to stop with a squeal of brakes and a hiss of steam. And that steam rose in the air and smelled of soot as it swirled all around them. There was someone trying to announce something and someone she presumed selling the papers he had on the stall but she could understand nothing they said. And porters, their trolleys piled high with luggage weaved between the crowds urging people to, ‘mind your backs please’
‘We’ll take a tram,’ Mick said as he led the way to the exit. ‘We could walk, and though it’s only a step away, I should say you’re weary from travelling. The young one is anyway,’ he went on indicating Angela slumbering in Mary’s arms. ‘Aye.’ And little wonder at it,’ Matt said. ‘We’ve been on the go since early morning and I’m fair jiggered myself.’
‘Aye I remember I was the same.’ Mick said. ‘Well you can seek your bed as soon as you like, we keep no late hours here, but Norah has a big pan of stew on the fire and another of potatoes in case you are hungry after your journey.’ The boys were very pleased to hear that.
They had hoped that somewhere there might be food in the equation, but no one said anything for they were out of the station on the street and they stood and stared, for they had never seen so much traffic in the whole of their lives. Mary was staggered. She’d thought a Fair Day in Donegal Town had been busy, but it was nothing like this all these vehicles packed onto the road together. There were horse drawn vans and carts mixed with a few petrol driven vehicles she had heard about but never seen, hackney cabs ringed, the station and bicycles weaved in and out among the traffic. The sour acrid smell hit the back of her throat and there was a constant drone, the rumble of the carts, the clip clopping of the horse’s hooves sparking on the cobbles of the streets. And this was mixed with the shouts and chatter of the very many people thronging the pavements.
And then they all saw the tram and stopped dead and stared. They had never seen anything like it. It was like a clattering, swaying monster and they saw it ran on rails set into the road. Steam puffed from its funnel in front and it sounded its hooter to warn people to get out of the way and Mary found herself both fascinated and repelled by it. ‘That’s good,’ Mick said as he led them to a tram stop just a little way from the hackney cabs, ‘We’ve had no wait at all.’
‘Yes,’ Mary said. ‘But is it safe?’
Mick laughed. ‘It’s safe enough,’ he said. ‘Though I had my doubts when I came over first.’
Mary mounted gingerly helped because she still had the chid in her arms. She was glad to sit for even a short journey, even though she slid from side to side on the wooden seats, for Angela was a dead weight in her arms and it seemed no time at all till Mick was saying, ’This is ours, Bristol Street. And once they had all alighted from the tram he pointed up the road as he went on. ‘We go up this alleyway called Bristol Passage and nearly opposite us is Grant Street.’ And Mary saw an area she never knew existed, not as homes for people for the small, many houses were packed tight against their neighbours and Mary felt her spirit fall to her boots for she never envisaged herself living in anything so squalid. The cottage she had left was white washed every winter, the thatch replaced as and when necessary and the cottage door and the one for the byre and the windowsills painted every other year and she scrubbed her white stone step daily.
She couldn’t say a thing of course, nor even show any trace of distaste. One of these was the house of her friend, besides which she didn’t know how things worked here. Maybe in that teeming city of so many people houses were in short supply. She hadn’t time to ponder much about this as Norah who had obviously been watching had come dinning down the road to meet them and threw her arms around Angela, careful not to disturb Connie, but her smile included them all as she ushered them back to the house. ‘I have food for you all,’ she said, but added to Angela, ’what will you do with the wee one?’
‘I think she is dead to the world,’ Mary said. ‘I see little point in waking her. She’d probably be a bit like a weasel if I tried. She hates being woken up from a deep sleep.’
‘Oh don’t we all?’
‘Yes,’ Mary agreed. I suppose I’d hate it just as much. So if you show me where she is to sleep, I’ll take her straight up.’
‘That will be the attic,’ Norah said. ‘And you, Mick get those boys sat around the table with a bowl of stew before they pass out on us.’ The boys sighed with relief and busied themselves sorting chairs around the table as Norah opened up the door against the wall and leading the way up the two flights of stairs to the attic. There was a bed to one side, a chest and set of drawers and a mattress laid on the floor,’ That will do you two and Angela.’ Norah said. ‘The boys I’m afraid will have to sleep elsewhere for now.’
Mary was completely nonplussed at this though she knew Norah had made a valid point for she had four children of her own and the walls were not made of elastic. ‘When will they sleep then?’
‘In Tim Bishop’s place,’ Mary said. ‘You know I told you he got the job for Matt?’
‘Oh yes,’ Mary said as she laid Angela down on the mattress and began removing her shoes. ‘Where does he live?’
‘Just two doors down,’ Norah said.
I suppose it’s him we shall have to talk to anyway about a job for Matt
‘Oh course I never told you Tim died last year.
That took the wind right out of Mary’s sails because she had sort of relied on This Tim Norah had spoken so highly of to do something for them too and it might be more difficult for them had been for the Mick Docherty. But a more pressing problem was where her sons were going to lay their heads that night.
‘So whose house is this now?’
‘His son Stan has it.’ Mary said. ‘Tim died a year ago and before he died he gave permission for Stan to marry a lovely girl called Catherine Gaskell. They had been courting, but they were only young, but unless they were married or almost married when his father died, Stan as a single man wouldn’t have had a claim on the house. Anyway they married and sheer willpower I think kept Tim alive to see that wedding for he died just three days later and now Stan and Kate have an unused attic and the boys can sleep there.’
‘I couldn’t ask that of perfect strangers.’
‘They’re not perfect strangers, not to me’ Norah said. ‘They’re neighbours and I didn’t ask them, they offered when I said you were coming over and I couldn’t imagine where the boys were going to sleep. Stan said he’s even got a double mattress from somewhere. Anyway I can’t see any great alternative. Can you?’
Mary shook her head. ‘No and I am grateful for all you have done for us, but I’d rather not have Barry there. He is only seven and for now can share the mattress with us and let’s hope Matt gets a job and we get our own place sooner rather than later.’
‘I’ll say,’ Norah said. ‘And you can ask Stan about the job situation because he’s the Gaffer now. Apparently Mr Baxter who is the overall Boss said there was no need to advertise for someone else when Stan had been helping his dad out for years. So if anyone can help you out it’s him.’
That cheered Mary up a bit. And she did find Stan a very nice and helpful young man when she saw him later that evening. He had sandy hair and eyes, an honest open face, full generous mouth and a very pleasant nature all told, but Mary did wonder because he was so young whether he would have as much influence as his father had. Still she supposed if he agreed to put in a word for Matt and the boys for only Barry and Gerry were school age, the others could work and if he could help them all it would be wonderful, but she supposed only time would tell.
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