In my previous post I wrote about my Mum’s first great love affair, with a young man from an Irish family who tried hard to convert her to Catholicism. Had he succeeded, they may quite possibly have got married and I would never have existed. On the other hand, had my Grandad R. not been willing to become a Catholic in order to marry my grandmother, my Dad would never have been born – with the same consequence re my own existence. So here is a bit of history from that side of the family, as written in a letter to my Dad by his father in 1950. My Dad had just moved down from Glasgow; by coincidence, he was living just a couple of streets from where I eventually settled, here in south London. His family were good writers, as is evident from the neat handwriting and literate tone of my tram driver Grandad’s long letter here. Not many of their letters have survived – Dad was not a hoarder like me – but I can see why he kept this one. In it, Grandad tells some fascinating stories from my Grannie’s Irish roots, and he is, like my own Dad, a master storyteller. So here is the text of Grandad’s letter, in full:
We received your ever welcome letter and we are glad to learn that you are still keeping well, despite the weather. We are glad to be able to report, that Mum’s chest is now a great deal better, altho’ she is still confined to the house. The rest of us are keeping “nae sae bad ata’”.
You ask for a bit of information about Mum’s ancestors, well here is as much as Mum knows about them.
Their name, as you know, was Doran and they were kin of Mum’s grandmother, on her father’s side. The Dorans in question were involved in the rising of ’98, two of them were students and the third brother was a hunch-back, through falling off a hay-stack, when he was a boy.
This was the one who got away on the horse. The soldiers had placed him on the horse and while they were off guard, he caused the horse to bolt and he was never caught.
The soldiers caught the other two at their home, which was a farmhouse and they were promised their freedom, if they would tell where their comrades were hidden.
Their mother was standing there and the soldiers thought that, with her being there, the boys would weaken, but she said to them, “Whatever you do, boys, don’t betray your fellow man”. One of the soldiers then struck her over the mouth with the butt end of his rifle and split her mouth. She carried the mark to her grave. Incidentally, these two lads were both Captains, in the Rebel army.
One of them was tried for High Treason and he was going to conduct his own defence, but he met a close friend of his own, who was in the court-house.
This friend asked him, who was defending him and he said that he was going to defend himself, but his friend said to him, “Don’t be a fool, they’ll have you shot”.
The charge against him was one of demanding arms from the house of the Dean (of the Church of England).
This Dean was the principal witness for the prosecution. The Lawyer friend offered to defend young Doran and when he heard the full story, he said to Doran, “Why didn’t you put a bullet into the old Dean, when you knew he had recognised you”, and Doran replied, “I couldn’t shoot the old man”. Whereupon, the lawyer said, “He has no hesitation in trying to take your life, you should never send a boy on a man’s errand”.
The old Dean had recognised Doran by the whiteness of his hands. [Dad explained to me that, as they were all masked, this is what had distinguished Doran from the rough-handed labourers and farmers he was fighting alongside].
During the case, the lawyer asked leave to call four witnesses to prove that Doran was elsewhere, at the time of the occurrence, but they weren’t needed, as he proceeded to bluff the old Dean into admitting that he might have been mistaken. He reminded the old Dean that the penalty for perjury was having one’s ears cut off and nailed to a wall.
This shook the old fellow and he said that he might have been mistaken.
The judge told him then to stick to his story or say that he was mistaken.
However he faltered, and the case was dismissed. Later on, he (Doran) was arrested again, but on what charge, Mum does not know.
When the rebels were dispersed, he came over to England and obtained a job as Tutor (private) in a big house and he ended up, by falling down the stairs in the house and breaking his neck.
In the 1916 rebellion, one of Mum’s cousins, by name of Laughlan, was arrested when going to work, altho’ he hadn’t taken an active part in the rebellion.
He was put into an oven, in a bakery and altho’ the oven wasn’t too hot, he got such a shock, that he died soon after.
His two sisters haven’t been traced, since that time that Belfast was bombed.
We had an air-letter from Aunt Annie this week and she doesn’t seem too sure she has done the right thing, by going to Australia, but she says that maybe she’ll feel better, when John and his family arrive. She says that she and Alice get a bit home-sick, sometimes.
Robert, Nan and wee Sandra were over, at the week-end, as usual.
You should hear Sandra singing, you would be amused at the expression in her face. She sticks out her chin and bottom lip and looking upwards she hums away and usually brings into her song, something about her Dadda and Mamma and Babba.
We have bought a fireguard, to keep the wee ones from coming to harm and to preserve our own nerves.
This is all for this week, so we’ll say
Love and best wishes from
Mum, Dad and the Family”.
I love this letter for so many reasons, there is so much in it for me. The memory of my lovely Grandad R, whose gentle voice I can hear speaking the words he has written. The fascinating bits of family history, entwined with historical events and handed down by my Grannie’s relatives over 150 years. And alongside the history, some tender words about my beloved Uncle Robert and Auntie Nan and my oldest cousin, Sandra. Plus, a brief mention of the family members who emigrated to Australia (more of whom anon).
The family name Doran was also passed down along the generations, in the way of Irish and Scottish families then. In Scotland it was traditional for the firstborn to carry their mother’s maiden name as a middle name, so my Dad was duly christened James Grant R. (Grant being his mother’s family name). This, however, caused other members of the two families to feel they had been snubbed or overlooked. When my Uncle John arrived two years later, therefore, Grandad decided to try and keep them all happy by naming him John Fulton Doran Grant R. Whether or not this tactic succeeded in mollifying the relatives, Uncle John’s entry in the telephone directory – and the signature on his paintings – always stood out!
Finally, returning to the theme of my previous post: when I was 35 I experienced my own great unrequited love. He was of Irish descent, and his surname, as it happened, was Doran. I have often wondered …