The official word arrived confirming Mary and Jimmy would depart March 13, 1879, barely three weeks after their marriage. The 20th Regiment, Lancashire Fusiliers, was ordered to Plymouth while they awaited further instruction. Eventually, they would be heading towards the Curragh Camp in Ireland to train in musketry. Troops were being prepared to replenish men in India, a distant part of the Empire.
The regiment would travel by steamer to Devonport in Plymouth. From there they would be transported to the military training grounds. Mary’s father knew the camp’s reputation. “A first class facility,” he uttered. “Its reputation is unquestionable.”
Her mother interjected, “You were just a child when your father trained at the Camp Curragh, Mary. We stayed in Dublin with your grandparents for much of the time. It was where your sister Lizzie, came into the world.”
Since Jimmy came from Dublin, Mary hoped they might spend a few days with his family. Who knows whether he will ever see them again. When we ship out to India, it may be for a very long time.
But Jimmy was inclined to go directly to the camp. “I am a soldier, Mary. I have no time to be visiting.” In truth, Jimmy was reluctant to meet with his family. His father had died about twelve years previously. Then, four years later, in 1872, his mother fell on hard times and died. That was before Jimmy joined the army in Manchester and became a soldier. He really had not been very good about staying in touch with his brothers and sisters since then.
Mary was unwavering in her persuasion. “You owe it to me, Jimmy. I want to meet your family. Don’t you want them to meet me?”
With that thought, Jimmy paused. He was proud to have Mary as his wife. He felt it was a good thing he had done. “Well perhaps you are right after all. We will only stay a day or two, Mary. That will be more than enough.”
Mary’s mother agreed. No matter how many years had passed, Jimmy should take the time to visit. “It would be proper for you to go your parish and pray for your Ma and Pa, Jimmy. And it wouldn’t hurt to see your own brothers and sisters. Mary, you can pray for your Pa’s family too. With your grandparents gone, we are called upon to honour their memory and pray for their souls. There would be no better place than at St. James’ parish where they were faithful members all those years.” The Doran and Byrne family parishes were within a few miles of each other. St. Paul’s Church, parish home of the Doran family, was on the north side of the River Liffey, in the Smithfield district.
Her mother added, “St. James’ parish is only a short walk across the river and down towards the big distillery. I used to walk you and Lizzie down by the river when we stayed on Bow Lane.” Pausing for just a moment, Josephine added, “You ought to take a gift to Jimmy’s family. You might make his sisters a shawl. It can be damp in Ireland and believe me, as we get on in years, a bit of extra warmth is most welcome. Yes, the Curragh Camp will wait for you. ”
Mistress of her own quarters, Mary had passed a glorious few weeks as wife to a man who could easily transform the worst day with the simple act of breaking into a smile. She spent her days arranging their home, heading out to shop, and preparing their dinner. She had devoted hours to knitting the lovely shawls using the yarn her mother found tucked in her knitting basket. “Well, I don’t know what I am saving that bit of wool for,” her mother offered. “You might as well use it.”
Mary deepened her relationship with her mother those last few weeks together. Now reconciled with her daughter’s decision, Josephine was free just to love her daughter and take joy in the girl she had raised. She understood how important their bond would need to be to support Mary in the uncertain and transient years ahead.
When Jimmy brought the news home about their coming departure, Mary initially responded with genuine excitement; India — how exotic! Eager for the adventure, curious about the foreign land, and thrilled to be taking an important step towards true independence, Mary embraced the idea. She glistened with the fresh glow of her grown-up life, and now such a grand adventure before them. Then — it was if a tiny pin had pricked the fragile edge of her bubble. Hardly perceptible at first, the euphoric bliss seeped away, and left Mary with a starker realisation; one part of her, a big part of her, would be left behind.
With the help of her mother, Mary started to collect the things the couple would take with them. The military life had obliged Josephine to pack up and move many times. And she knew about living in a tropical climate. Josephine had been born and raised in the British protectorate, Corfu, one of the Ionian Islands situated between Greece and Turkey. Mary often heard stories about life where her mother was raised and where Mary was born. By an odd coincidence, early in her father’s career and shortly after Mary was born, the Byrne family had been posted to the Curragh Camp. Josephine shook her head, “After we left Corfu it took years for me to feel warm again.”
Mary was subdued on the morning of their departure. Jimmy was busy organizing the men in his unit. The few bags they were permitted to bring with them, stuffed to capacity, were standing by the door like a row of disciplined soldiers. Along with Mary’s everyday dresses, Josephine had insisted Mary have a more formal outfit for social calling. Some personal items: her brushes, combs and, of course, her bible and some writing implements were considered essential. It was unclear how long they would be in Ireland before being shipped out to India. Some warm clothes must be included. Tucked into one of the last remaining pockets, Mary had placed the shawls she made for Jimmy’s sisters, Mary and Ellen.
Image Credit: Phil Evans
Her family went with them to the dock to say their goodbyes. Even Lizzie had managed to get home for a few days. Mary knew her sister was saddened about their looming separation. Jessie and Maud had each other and they did not fully understand. Josephine held tightly to little Millie, as if she might also lose her if she loosened her grip. Mary had teased her little sisters, “You girls pay attention and mind your Ma.” She wrapped each of them in an affectionate hug. She then turned to her best friend and sister, Lizzie. “How am I ever going to manage without you?” Mary spoke collapsing into her sister’s arms. They embraced each other and struggled to keep their tears from welling.
“We will be together again, one day, Mary. I am certain of this.” Lizzie stepped back. She had dreaded this day since Mary came home flushed, excited and betrothed. She grabbed each of the younger girls by the hand and gathered energy from their youthful excitement.
They watched as Mary received an unusually long hug from their Pa. “ I am very proud of you. Please stop by St. James’ parish when you get to Dublin and say a prayer for your grandparents. Will you do that Mary?”
She nodded, “I will miss you Pa. I will be sure to write once we get settled.”
Finally, Mary turned to her mother. She saw her face bent towards little Millie. It was no use — tears rolled down her mother’s face though she tried so hard to hide them as she nestled her cheek into the baby’s bonnet. Lizzie stepped up to take Millie and then mother and daughter came together. “Oh Mary! God keep you safe, my dear girl. Make your devotions every day and send me word of your safe arrival.”
Mary contained her emotions as best she could but her mother’s grief set off her own dismay. She could no longer stop the tears. “I will, Ma. I promise.”
Josephine brushed her daughter’s cheeks. “Now we all have to be strong. You are off on a great adventure and we will carry on. We must follow with courage the path The Lord gives us.”
Jimmy, free from his work on the steamer, came down to meet his wife. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Byrne. Mary’s in good hands.” He circled his arm around her waist, “Mary, come on now, it’s time to go aboard,” and escorted his wife up the ramp.
From the deck, Mary looked down on the crowds seeing her family huddled together. They seemed so distant already. She was glad Jimmy stayed by her side to prop up her strength. The family smiled and waved as the blast from the ship’s horn gave a bellow to signal their departure. She blew them all kisses as she recalled another voyage long ago.
Mary was ten years old when the family first departed North America bound for England. She distinctly remembered standing with Lizzie at the ship’s rail, hands clutched in their father’s grip. They were so excited to be on another adventure and they watched the town of Levis grow smaller and smaller until their home disappeared entirely. Her mother refused to watch. She had tucked herself safely below deck and was focused on her two youngest children, Michael Joseph, then a busy two-year old, and the infant, Paul Frederick. It was the first time Mary sensed loss mingled with excitement. She often wondered whether her mother could not bear to say goodbye, particularly to her little sister, Josephine Brigitte, who slept forever with the angels in a little corner of the cemetery at Paroisse St. Joseph.
Mary watched a different scene unfold on the day they left the Verne Citadel. She and Jimmy stood together to face their future, and at once she completely understood the pain her mother felt as she watched those she loved so dearly fade from her sight, leaving Mary with a sense of deep anguish.