To America, 1948 (Part 3: The Voyage)

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.

7 Responses to “To America, 1948 (Part 3: The Voyage)”

  1. Maeve Says:

    Peter,

    thanks for sharing these! I can’t wait to read more about your voyage and arrival in the U.S. I remember asking Dad about whether you had come through Ellis Island or not (I had visited there one time–and there is a search function and I think I had searched on your family, but nothing came up), and I think he said that you hadn’t come through there … (I just checked the web site again now and it was open in 1954, but I did a search on Kenny, male born in 1938 and nothing came up. Perhaps you should search on your father’s name and birth year? Visit: http://www.ellisisland.org/search/passSearch.asp?)

    I am enjoying your reminiscences though! I will also share them with the kids.

    • PJK Says:

      Maeve,
      I searched too and could not find anything on us– also on our dad’s 1st emigration in 1922 or 1923. But I’m sure there are records there somewhere. Lynn & I visited her cousin Tom Parnell, from DC, who has been researching their family history, and they worked together on her family. She was happy to finally learn when her great-grandfather Peter Corcoran had come to NY– as a 10-year-old in 1850. Also info on her mother’s German family. So we’ll find what records we can, and when we can’t we’ll have to use our imaginations! But I’ll share what I remember in any case.

      • Maeve Says:

        Peter,

        Try searching with your father’s name on the year of his birth–also your mom. Or send those dates to me and I’ll do it–I am curious to see what turns up.

  2. Brian K Says:

    Thank you Dad! Please keep it coming.

  3. Maeve Says:

    Peter–you might be interested to see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeUCbBjkOtE
    (amazing what you can find on the Internet! though reading the comments after this video leave some doubt about which ship this is …) and this contains some similar footage: http://www.shipgeek.com/Mauretania1948YouTube.htm

    Still trying to see if I can find more information out about the ship and where it sailed into NYC …

  4. Maeve Says:

    One more: I know why I think you didn’t go through Ellis Island (not that it matters to anyone except us annally retentive virgos!): From the Ellis Island national monument web site (http://www.nps.gov/elis/historyculture/ellis-island-history-continued.htm):
    Although Ellis Island still remained open for many years and served a multitude of purposes, it served primarily as a detention center during World War II, for alien enemies, those considered to be inadmissable and others. By 1946, approximately 7000 German, Italian, and Japanese people (aliens and citizens) were detained at Ellis Island during the War, comprising the largest groups. The United States Coast Guard also trained about 60,000 servicemen there. In November of 1954 the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen was released, and Ellis Island officially closed. Changes in immigration laws and modes of transportation as well as cost effectiveness of operating the island all played a role in its closure.

  5. PJK Says:

    Hi Maeve,

    You’re a good detective! Oct. 1948 was certainly when we arrived in NY harbor, on the Mauretania.
    Replay the “Mauretania 1948” video and stop it at 1:18. Perhaps that’s your dad in the back, looking on as the bigwigs play shuffleboard? Anyway it looks to me like a dark-haired boy in short pants, which we still wore. And as I said, we wandered all over the boat; I think I remember our being chased away when we went into the 1st-class area.

    I think I’ll now leave over the family history for a while, start a new theme. “Jetzt Wohin?” (now where to?)– a poem of Heine, maybe I’ll try translating it.

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