My Grandfather was a remote type of man. It was not often he was willing to discuss anything with me despite my constant pestering.
He told me one tale that has always fascinated me.
When he was a small boy his father packed up his family and decided to make the trip across the seas to Australia.
They had lived in Ireland and suffered greatly through the famine years. My great grandfather had a brother in Australia and so the family set sail on a voyage that was to greatly change their lives. They became boat people.
Australia was at that time a colonial settlement under the rule of the English.
My grandfather grew up in Sydney and at the age of twenty married my grandmother.
He told me this story of growing up and survival to remind me that life was hard but there were rewards for those who worked and prayed hard.
Being Irish they were fiercely religious and equally anti English.
Life was hard and in those days Catholics were often discriminated against, especially the Irish ones who made up the bulk of the Catholic population.
Menial jobs were all they could get, cleaning, working as labourers on construction jobs and there was always plentiful work on the farms around where he lived.
But grandfather was determined to get a better job than those, as he wanted his family to suffer less hardship than he had.
Added to that was the almost constant arrival of children. My grandparents had eleven children and lived in a small house grandfather built. It had two bedrooms initially and as more children arrived he built onto his house and in the end he had a house with six rooms and a lean-to out the back where most of the boys slept.
With grandfather working so hard there was not much room for entertainment apart from Mass on Sunday, which they all attended.
Grandfather never lost sight of the need for family to come above all else. My grandmother was expert at cooking and the family never went hungry no matter how poor they might have been at any one time.
Grandfather instilled into his children the importance of family, of hard work and of prayer. There was always a sense of inclusiveness and belonging. This feature of our family still exists today. We don’t meet so often but grandfather’s story of working and praying has worked to keep our family as one even in such diverse times as we live in now.
From my grandparents eleven children came thirty-five grandchildren and from them countless great grand children. You might say we are a very fertile lot.
We don’t meet so much now as our respective parents have passed away but we still know we belong to a family whose foundations my grandparents worked so hard to establish.