Our voyage to New York took 5 or 6 days, and it was a great event for four kids from a small Irish farm. Both of our parents had lived in the US previously. Michael Kenny had emigrated in 1922 or ’23, having been on the losing Republican side of the bitter civil war which followed when the Irish Free State was set up. Margaret Conboy came to New York in 1927—on a day made memorable by the ticker-tape parade in honor of Charles Lindberg. My dad returned to Ireland in 1930, my mom some time later. There they eventually met, and married in 1937. (Later on, I will tell about those earlier emigrations.)
Anyway, the Mauretania was a great adventure for us children. Here are some things I remember:
1. Chris (the youngest) fell down a flight of stairs, but without serious injury.
2. We older three, John, Peter & Pat, had fine times exploring the ship– including places we weren’t supposed to be, like the first-class area.
3. There was a free movie theater, something we’d never experienced. John & I saw what I think was a gangster film, but I didn’t understand it at all. Was the hero named “Seán”(Irish) or “Jean”(French)? Maybe the latter, for I couldn’t follow the dialogue.
4. Speaking of French: we met a boy whose language we couldn’t understand. John told me a phrase which he said was French: “punch-a nah-wah, wee wee”. Did he use his “French” on that kid? No wonder he looked blank.
5. We dined in splendid style! Three times a day, in a great dining room, served by a waiter in tie & tails. I especially liked the “fruit cup” of diced peaches, grapes, etc. Our mother told dad “Mike, now you realize we have to give him a good tip when we arrive—at least a pound note.” Our dad, still conscious of our poverty: “I swear to you I’ll not give him a pound!” But I hoped he would relent, or I’d feel sorry for the poor man.
6. That other young man from the Dublin-Holyhead boat was also emigrating. No doubt sad to be leaving home, he was still drunk every time we saw him (“Ah the poor fellow…”)
My parents were good at making friends, and we met some interesting people. One was a Maryknoll priest who had returned to Ireland from Korea; he’d be going back there from the United States. (I believe he was a Fr. Wood or Woods.) He told them about Korea, which they might never have heard of before. He was not optimistic about the future there. After the 1950 invasion, he died (along with other missionaries) as a prisoner of the North Koreans.
Hearing talk of wars, strange countries and politics, John told me a story to explain the world situation: Russia, the US, Britain and France wanted to divide up the world between them. They set up a big globe as a target and blasted away—and whatever piece a marksman knocked off his country got to keep. Maybe he’d seen a political cartoon on that theme? Though I’m sure he was quite capable of making it up out of whole cloth. (We were often like Lucy and Linus in “Peanuts”.) Naive as I was, though, I don’t think I quite believed that one.
Arriving in New York harbor, I remember being disappointed on seeing the Statue of Liberty; it looked rather green and dirty to me. And I don’t recall anything about customs and immigration processing – I guess we went thru Ellis Island, which was still in use until 1954?
What I do remember is the excitement of a week in Manhattan with Mom’s relatives the Treacys, meeting many other relatives– and lots of parties! More on all that in my next posting.