A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The 24th of July

Yeah, I know it's the 25th, but I'm behind. 

John Thomas Flynn, my grandfather's grandfather, was born in the early 1840s to Martin Flynn of Loughrea, Co. Galway, and his wife Honora Mahoney.  Martin was born ca. 1803 in either Loughrea or the nearby townland of Kilnadeema.  There are Flynns today still living in that area, and other scattered from Australia to Canada to Britain.  The story, told by a John Flynn of Ballinlough, Co. Roscommon, the old stronghold of the O'Flainn of Sil Maelruain, is that after the Cromwell War, one widowed Flynn mother was given the option of continuing to live in the family home provided she paid rent to the new English landlord.  Rather than do such a thing, "she took her family to live with her relatives down near Loughrea."  Apparently my family is descended from a stubborn old lady.  Much is thereby explained. 

The baptismal records of Loughrea list only five children for Martin and Honora: Mary, Martin, Mary, Martin, and Bridget.  There are no earlier records, but there is other evidence of an oldest brother named Patrick. 

Why there were two Marys and two Martins is suggested by their baptismal dates: 1842 and 1844 for the first two, and 1850 and 1853 for the second two.  What happened between Martin 1 and Mary 2 was the Great Hunger.  It is not a stretch to suppose that the first Mary and Martin died in the famine. 

John Flynn came to the United States ca. 1866, apparently with his brother Pat.  In 1867, he married Anne Elizabeth Lynch, the American daughter of Famine immigrants from Co. Waterford.  John worked as a car repairman for the Delaware, Lackawana, and Western Rail Road in Washington, NJ.   At this time brakemen were getting $1.65/day and the men were being enticed to load boats at the DL&W coal chutes for $1.30/day.  "This company has been very liberal for a long time."  So this was evidently a handsome wage.  A dollar went much farther in those days, but surely it did not go that far.  In 1870, the Flynn household included several boarders and brother Pat. 

.........Gold was then $18.94/oz; today about $1000/oz.  So $1.30 would be just under $70/day.

The Flynns lived in the railroad houses just off the Yards in Washington.  In the 1880 census, when women were recorded under "Occupation" as "Keeping House," Anne Lynch Flynn was recorded as "Keeping Shanty."  A contemporary map of Washington labels them DL&W Houses.  The area was known locally as "Dublin" for fairly obvious reasons. 

John and Anne had seven kids.  The oldest daughter and oldest son were named as traditional after John's parents; the second daughter and second son were named after Anne's parents.  The third son was named for the father.  After that, it was Nellie bar the door.  The name "Martin" has fallen out of use in our family.  The last one so-named died at age 4, so it is now a bad-luck name.  It continued in use by some distant relations.  The name John Thomas is carried by my uncle. 

In 1873, John's father Martin and younger brother Martin, joined them.  Possibly the sister(s?), too.  There was always a tradition in the family that "the sisters and another brother went to California to look for gold."  Martin the father died that same year, and his tombstone still stands.  The younger Martin went to work for the DL&W on its Morris and Essex branch. 
Just after midnight on the morning of 24 July 1881, John Flynn "was at work on some cars that were standing on a side track, and wishing to go to the opposite side of the track, started to pass through between the cars on which he had been at work and some others that stood a few feet away.  As he did so, a coal train, in switching some cars on the same track, pushed those already standing there together, catching him between them."  The other workmen pulled the cars apart and carried him off, but he died "before they reached the telegrapher's shack." 

Anne Lynch Flynn was left a widow at age 35.  Consequently, sons Martin and Daniel, then 12 and 10 years old, would hop the freight as it passed through the shanty-town and ride it through the tunnel to Oxford Furnace, where they worked at the nail factory. 

A few years later, a runaway freight car severed the arm and leg off brother Martin Flynn, who died from his injuries.  You'd think after that we would stay away from rail roads.  But my grandfather was the head caterer on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. 

Top left: John T.  "My grandmother always said how handsome he looked with his red hair and leading the St. Patrick's Day parade mounted on a white horse..." 
2nd right: Anne E., a matched set of pictures kept by one of my grandfather's cousins.
3rd picture, above: Anne Lynch Flynn, 2nd from right, in later years.
Daniel is on far right.  My grandmother and great-grandmother are on left. 

4th picture, right: My grandfather on the railroad with the dining car crew.  He remembered all their names when we looked at this photo in his kitchen years ago. 

The Rail Road No More
(Tune: The Twang Man)

There was a bold railroading man, and John Flynn was his name.
He was born and raised in Ireland, from Loughrea Town he came.
But 'twas in the State of New Jersey, in the town of Washington,
That he worked on the D L and W at the setting of the sun. 

In the year of eighteen-eighty-one, in the middle of July,
He hugged his sons and his daughter dear and kissed his wife good-bye.
Then he laid his hammer by his side, the baby for to hold,
And he took little Bridget in his arms.  She was only two months old. 

Then he went with his brothers, Martin and Pat, to the rail road repair yard.
And the work there, it was dangerous; and the work there, it was hard. 
He greased the cars and he tightened screws and all the while he swore
That one day soon he would never work on the rail road no more. 

The switch engine, it was busy that night, moving cars around. 
It pulled the freight cars up the track, and it pushed the coal cars down.
It was shortly after midnight when they heard a piercing scream
As the coal cars slammed together with John Flynn caught in between. 

His friends, they pulled the cars apart and they carried his body back. 
But John Flynn died before they reached the telegrapher's shack. 
Well, his children cried most bitterly, and his wife shed many tears. 
She was left a widow with seven kids at the age of thirty-five years. 

So.  Come all ye exiled Irishmen who work on the iron track.
Throw down your picks and hammers and don't ever you go back. 
You can work in the mines or in factories or go fighting in some war. 
But it'll kill you sure, so don't ever work on the rail road no more. 

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