Bridget McManus was my Mother and it must be said, was as sensible as the day is long. She told me this Tale not long before she passed in 1962.
In around 1920, my parents, Donal and Bridget McManus, were both in their early twenties and not long married.
Donal had an uncle, his Mother’s brother, there in Chicago who promised him work and a place to stay until they got theirselves settled and, I suppose, it seemed a grand offer.
Donal and Bridget bid a warm farewell to both their families and emigrated from Kilkenny, Ireland to Chicago, America in search of prosperity and adventure. And so it was, adventure they found, only not in the shape they had dreamed of.
This Tale finds them only weeks after arriving in Chicago. Donal and Bridget were asleep in the attic room of Uncle’s house, enjoying the deep sleep reserved for those with a clear conscience.
Bridget woke first. She heard 3 knocks at the Attic window. An impossibility sure, and yet she swore it were true. So, Bridget heard 3 knocks and sat up to see her there. Sat at the end of their bed, smiling silently was Donal’s own Mother, Orla.
There was nothing unnatural to her appearance, she looked altogether familiar: her Sunday shawl wrapped around her shoulders, her hair curled and her hands resting softly in her lap.
Bridget shook Donal to wake and they both sat up and looked upon the vision of Orla: sitting with the grace of her renown, and smiling, just smiling.
Donal spoke and this is what he said: “Mother dear, why have you come? What have you to tell me dearest?” But his Orla did not answer. She tilted her head a little and smiled warmly then disappeared from before their eyes. Donal and Bridget both swear they felt a weight lift from the bed as she disappeared.
There was no more sleep to be had that night and no drop of whiskey or pot of tea could settle their helpless agitation. Donal and Bridget dressed and waited, pacing the floor or gazing out the attic window.
When dawn arrived, Donal told his uncle of the apparition. As Donal spoke, the breath in Uncle’s chest tightened and he fell pale. “Tis the Good People” he said, “they have followed our kin across the western sea. Didn’t the very same thing happen to my cousin, there in Boston… I am afraid dear Donal, dire news is upon the wind”.
Donal hurried to the Church Rectory for to ask a kindness. Very few people had a telephone of their own in the day so, as was the way of things, he turned to the Church for help. Donal used the church telephone to call the telephone in the Church at Kilkenny, and heard the news he had dreaded.
Donal’s Mother had passed on only hours before. It was sudden and, they said, painless. She had been strong as an ox until the minute she died.
Donal was terribly shaken. He returned to Uncle’s house wearing the face of a Motherless son. “She came for to say goodbye” is all he said.
Emigration may have promised Donal and Bridget a heavy purse but aren’t some things more important anyway?
That very day, they left Chicago for New York and the first voyage home