As many of you know, I struggle with degenerative disc disease. It isn't really a disease and it is only partially degenerative, but that is what "they" chose to name it nonetheless. A couple of nights ago I was in a lot of pain.....a LOT of pain. I wasn't able to sleep. Luckily I have books for those times. I recently ordered a copy of Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly. I decided to read it, as it wasn't like I was going to be able to sleep. As I read those pages, my pain faded into the background and I became engrossed in the story. It is a novel, based on the family experiences of the author. It follows a fairly typical Irish family in Galway from the horrors of the Great Hunger (I refuse to call it a famine!) to the streets of Chicago and then on to the battlefields of the Civil War.
Yes, it is the story of her family. But in a way, it is also the story of mine. My ancestors also fled the disease and starvation in their native land, which they loved as only an Irishman could. They threw in their lot with their respective states when the Civil War began. Some fought for the North and some fought for the South. The simple fact that the coffin ship that left on Tuesday landed in New York and the one that left on Wednesday landed in New Orleans dictated the side they fought on. Their blood, spilled on numerous battlefields throughout our land, paid the price for our acceptance into society.
As I read the book, I felt the presence of my ancestors standing guard over me, telling me that if they could handle centuries of oppression, then I could handle chronic pain. They have a point. My 8th great-grandfather was "Silken" Thomas Fitzgerald who was hanged, drawn, and quartered on orders from Henry VIII for rebelling against English rule in Ireland. What's a little back pain compared to having your intestines pulled out while you are still alive? But in all seriousness, I felt them with me as I read a story that could have very well been their own.
I am proud to be an American. I am prouder still to be an Irish-American. And I am prouder yet that my Irish ancestors fought so willingly and valiantly for their adopted country. Their spirit lives on in me, my brother, and our sons. It is fashionable now to be "Irish". But my family has always been Irish and not just on St. Patrick's Day. It is both a blessing and a curse.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who would like to say