Friday, April 20, 2007

Coincidences & Shopping Lists.

Spring is finally here in Minnesota. The blue jays are squawking, robins are chirping, even the buds on the trees are getting bigger by the day. All the snow is gone save the black ice sheets which cover the northern lakes up here. Opening fishing weekend is right around the corner, and I feel most boats will see mini ice chunks still floating and drifting along by the time opener rolls around. Ducks and geese are back, and the eerie sound of the loon echos across the lakes as they negotiate their way through the ice and water to dive for food.

Things have been busy. I've been meaning to post a story for a few weeks now about a very strange incident which occurred over in Cork at Curraghkippane, where Jerome's Celtic Cross is. Rather than rewrite it myself, I will quote my colleague Ronnie from his email that he sent me on April 4th (with his kind permission) and let him describe in his own words what he says to me will "knock your socks off".

Hi Amy,
I was thinking after I sent the pic that the evening light has been great recently for taking pics, so I decided to head up to Curraghkippane to get some good pics for the book. So I did. When I went to the grave I noticed that someone had put a vase with some artificial flowers on the base of the headstone. That was fine, so I moved them to take the pics and there was something not the same about the headstone but I couldn't quite tell what it was. Anyway about five minutes later it dawned on me, all the thick ivy and greenery that was growing around the base of the headstone has been cleared away, leaving it looking very clean. The council must have begun to act on the letter I sent or on Catryn's instructions to check for themselves the subsidence of the Celtic Cross. I rang Michael to ask him if he had been up and done it, but it wasn't him, so it must be the County Council.

Then something remarkable happened, this co-incidence is going to knock your socks off. I'd finished taking the pics and was heading out of the graveyard when this man came in, he was also holding a camera, so I jokingly said that I'm glad I not the only one who goes around graveyards taking pics. He smiled and said that he was there because he wanted to see the place where both the longest and shortest funeral's in the world were. He's a Corkman but has been living in Australia for many years and was heading back there tomorrow. He said he'd read the Holly Bough article about Jerome Collins and thought it a great story. He asked if I knew where Jerome was buried in the graveyard, I had to think about it for a few moments, but then I finally remembered (kidding). Says I, I've just spent the last half an hour taking pics of it, and I told him that we were the ones who wrote the article in the HB. Turns out he's involved in a magazine over in Perth, Western Australia, called the "Irish Scene" and he's doing an article about Curraghkippane being the home to both the longest and shortest funerals. They're very much into the whole Fenian history over there, particularly as Freemantle is in their area and that was the prison from where the Fenians escaped on the Catalpa. He wants to know if we'd send him on stuff about Jerome that they could use in the magazine, I said that we could send him the HB (Holly Bough) article if he wanted to use that and he was delighted. He gave me a copy of the magazine and a cd on which many of the lyrics of the songs are the words of John Boyle O'Reilly and John Breslin. The cd is entitled 'John Boyle O'Reilly and The Fenian Escape from Freemantle Jail".

After I read this email I just about fell outta my chair and was almost completely naked after my socks AND shirt was blown off. Good thing my window blinds were down in order to save the eyes of my poor neighbors! What was really amazing is that I skyped with Ronnie immediately after getting his email and he proceeded to tell me that there was one stubborn little cloud in the way which he had to wait for in order to take a proper pic of the Celtic Cross. It took about 15 minutes before the cloud moved and the sun shone so he could continue his photos. If it weren't for that stubborn little cloud, he would not have met the magazine man from "down under" on his way out of the cemetery. It's my own thought that since Jerome was a meteorologist, that he must have had something to do with this coincidental meeting between Ronnie and the "Irish Scene" writer! And I am proud to say that Ronnie and I submitted our article today much to the magazine's delight! This will be our third publication together in just one year. I'll keep you posted as to when it finally arrives.
Now, on to other news. The AOH is still helping, most in particular a man by the name of Jack, of whom I'll call "Just Jack" (for you Will & Grace fans you might chuckle). Jack has taken my plight under his wing and has already visited the US Naval Academy Museum on my behalf, and now wants a grocery list from me. This list is to pertain to items that I need to find which will help bring about Jerome's freedom. As mentioned in my New Year's Eve Resolution post, one of my goals was to free Jerome from the chains of arrest and suspension that were never lifted in 1884. In order to DO this, I need to find his US Navy records. This is where Jack is stepping up to the plate to assist me. Once that is obtained, then I will approach the Secretary of the Navy or whatever particular department it takes in the US Navy and plea that the charges be overturned which still taint his record to this day. I will also ask they reissue his Congressional Gold Medal, and offer a formal apology to the family of Jerome Collins. A huge wish list, but one that I know can be accomplished. Jack has given me weekly phone calls and is always eager to talk about the goings-ons of the AOH along with his own ancestor who is Irish from Fermoy, Ireland. Because Jack has been so kind to offer his assistance, Ronnie in turn has offered his own in order to help shed more light on Jack's ancestor and has made some inquiries in Fermoy on Jack's behalf. A nice little cultural exchange, don't you think?
Just this week I reconnected with a relative, Audrey. Her late husband Robert is the grandnephew to Jerome. His grandfather is my great-great grandfather. Robert and Audrey paid a visit to Curraghkippane in the 80's, he was interviewed by the late Walter McGrath of the Cork Evening Echo and ran a story about Jerome. She's also putting me in touch with their two boys, who are married with kids and one is even a grandfather now. I remember seeing them many many MANY years ago at my own grandparents home in Duluth, MN during the holidays when I was just a small kid. "Uncle Bob" (Robert) would always ask for a hug and kiss and I was way too shy and always refused. What I remember most is seeing family that I never really had the opportunity to see much, all these "big people" surrounding me during Christmas or Thanksgiving really made an impression on me. I wanted to know more about them, I was curious. And it took my teacher, Mr. Sjoberg, when I was 12 to push me to explore that curiosity of my ancestry. Over the years the families moved, grew up, and fell out of touch. But this week, I felt like I brought the past back into my life, in a more technical way with emails and so forth. And I feel that I need to keep track of who and where everyone is in the family, so that we all know where we came from and can pass on down our heritage, keeping traditions alive. I hope one day to have a Collins Family Reunion, and I hope to locate everyone in the family that has been lost, or fell out of touch. That is a huge task itself, but again, it's do-able.
With spring here, a new season has begun. And in my life, a new refreshing aspect has been added which was not present this winter; a connection with relatives who were for years unconnected. I hope I am able to give to them what I hope to receive, that sense of belonging to a proud family full of tradition and honor.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Finally..... help is on the way.

For the past 3 weeks I've enjoyed telephone calls from a man that is with the AOH, Ancient Order of Hibernians. Thanks to Mr. Tennessee, I've been put in touch with him through his friend who is also a member of the AOH. Things have gotten quite interesting, I've learned more pieces of the puzzle that I never knew before. A connection was made, a very old and significant connection, one that Uncle Jerome could have only organized himself. And I discovered, had it not been for John Devoy, I might not be here today. Yes, you heard me, John Devoy, probably the most famous Fenian in all of Irish history.

What's absolutely astounding is I finally found help. The AOH member has taken hold of my story and the work that I am doing on behalf of Uncle Jerome. I finally have supporters, a few at the moment, but it's enough. They are actually going to places that I can't right now, making inquiries and taking photos on my behalf. They BELIEVE in what I am trying to accomplish, which is vindicating Jerome and freeing him from his arrest/suspension which binds him in death to this day. They will help. And I can't express enough my deepest gratitude, I say that with a huge sigh of relief. Finally, help has arrived, and just in time.

I've about given up asking my local and state politicians to assist me. I've been lead on by Senator Coleman's office for well over a year now, and basically got the feeling they just wanted me off their backs. Sure, they made some inquiries for me, but they weren't aggressive about the search. I also sent Senator Ted Kennedy a long letter, and as expected it has gone unanswered. Guess it's because I'm not his constituent, never mind the fact we are both Irish. It's the politicians that put my family in this boat, (no pun intended for those of you that get that), and it's been over 120+ years that my family has questioned why... why weren't the charges against Jerome removed? Why weren't they ruled upon? Why was a mock inquiry allowed if they had no intention of ever erasing the stain that still holds my ancestor under arrest to this day? I can't help but think that even though my Irish family didn't really seem to suffer the common day discrimination that all Irish were branded with in the 1860's and 70's and so forth because they were honestly quite "well to do" at the time, they were unequivocally politically discriminated against during the inquiry. And I can't help but think that discrimination continues to this day. I have this thought that every search I do for Uncle Jerome's records are flagged with comments such as "DO NOT REVEAL" or "TOP SECRET". I can't help but think that no one, even to this day, wants to admit that the Navy made a mistake. God forbid the US Navy admits THAT. It's almost as if someone is playing that game "hot potato" with Jerome's file... once I get near enough to finding it, it's all of a sudden not where I think it is and I'm passed off to ask somewhere else, for fear that once I do read his file I'll find the missing documents which were stolen from his cold dead body on the Lena Delta, or I'll learn the truth that James Gordon Bennett conspired with the US Navy to cover up what really happened to Jerome while forced to sign on as a seaman with the Navy just to represent the New York Herald. Conspiracy. It's been around for hundreds of years. Today, it's the stuff that movies are made of. When I'm done with all this, I'll be giving a copy of the script to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Seriously. This is the wish of Cousin Louise, and I'll carry it out in her honor.

Until then, the search is still going, people are helping, and the story of Jerome's life is being written. I could say that I can't ask for any more than that, but c'mon here.... I always hope for more. St. Pio always said, "Pray, Hope, and Don't worry". Ok then.