A Toast to Charlie Hanrahan

By Pat Anderson

Historical fiction

Paperback, eBook

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794
17 mins

Chapter 1

The first thing they really noticed was the smell. It was like nothing they had ever encountered in their lives before. John Donnelly stood at the rail of the steamer looking apprehensively at the scene unfolding on the river bank. For the thousandth time he wondered if he was doing the right thing bringing his family to this place. But they had three children now and a farm labourer’s wages would never be enough. He knew what it was like to be hungry and was determined that his children would never have that knowledge.
The heat was oppressive as well. It had been a long journey over from Belfast, with the sun beating down on them all but now it seemed hotter, even though the sun was nowhere to be seen. John fingered his collar, desperate to take it off.
‘I think I’m going to be sick with that smell, Daddy!’ said Kate beside him, the wind blowing strands of her light-brown hair out from under her bonnet.
‘Me as well!’ said Wee John.’
These were two of his children; the baby, Maggie, was with her mother, being fed in some quiet corner. Of the two standing next to him, holding tightly onto his hands, Kate was the older, having turned six back in May. Wee John was four and was already becoming a handful.
John felt a bit sick himself. The voyage had actually been fine, apart from the heat, and none of his family had suffered from the sea-sickness affecting others on the steamer. Now he felt like joining those that were hanging over the side, trying to be sick even though there was nothing left in their stomachs to bring up. Most folk had recovered a bit during the journey up the River Clyde but that disgusting, all-pervasive smell had, if anything, made them worse. It was not just a smell; you could actually taste it in the back of your throat.
And there was not just the smell making the place seem hellish. Dirty smoke seemed to hang everywhere, making it impossible to see very far. Dark, distant shapes suggested buildings but they could just as easily have been hills or even giants, like from the old stories. And even though the smoke hid the sun from view it trapped the heat, making it hard to breathe. John imagined that this was what Hell was probably like.
Rosie, his wife, came back to join them, the baby sleeping contentedly in the large shawl that was wrapped round Rosie’s waist, shoulders and head. They said nothing to each other but just stood and stared. Neither of them could believe that this was going to be their home from now on.
John irritably fingered his collar again. He looked at Rosie, wondering how she managed to cope wrapped up in that shawl. She nudged him with her elbow.
‘Stop playing with that collar!’ she admonished. ‘You’ll end up making it all dirty!’
The smoke got thicker as the steamer approached the Broomielaw quay. There seemed to be hundreds of the small ships, belching thick, black clouds from their funnels. There was a lot of shouting going on between the crews on the different ships and between them and men on the quayside. Their steamer ground to a halt as it waited for a berth.
At last, after a wait of nearly twenty minutes, the steamer pulled into the quayside and ropes were thrown ashore, to be tied round capstans by the waiting men. A gangway was shoved onto the steamer, ropes on either side of it to stop anyone from falling, and all the passengers started to move toward it.
Everyone was coughing and John and his family were no exception. It was like being forced to stand over a fire and breathe in the smoke. It went right down into your lungs and seemed to stay there. You could feel it working its way through your whole body, inside and out, like it was going to be there forever and you would never get rid of it.
Everyone was silent as they walked down the gangway, apart from all the coughing of course. John screwed up his eyes against the smoke and looked around. Everything was dirty. The buildings were black with soot, the sky was black with smoke and even the skin of the people he saw seemed to have black dirt and grime ingrained in it.
‘Daddy,’ said Wee John, in between coughs, ‘I want to go home.’
‘This is our home now,’ John replied tersely and hoarsely.
‘John!’ shouted somebody in the crowd ahead of them. ‘John Donnelly!’
A man was waving to him. It took a while for recognition to dawn in John’s head as the man looked like all the other men standing there. He had on a grey, flat cap, greasy-looking black trousers above heavy, black boots. A clean collar was around his neck, holding a tie, which, along with his shirt, was mostly hidden behind a tight, black jacket, which had all three buttons fastened. And, of course, he wore a thick moustache just like every other man. Finally, John recognised his cousin, Hugh Devlin, and waved back.
‘Welcome to Glasgow,’ said Hugh, as John and his family reached where he was waiting for them.
It had been a few years since John had clapped eyes on his cousin, who had moved to Glasgow seven years before. Since then he had turned into a Glaswegian; the dirt was etched into the lines on his face, as if somebody had coloured them in with a thick pencil. John’s heart missed a beat when he realised that he would look like that as well one day.
‘Good to meet you again, Rosie,’ said Hugh cheerfully. ‘And this must be Kate and Wee John!’ He scooped them both up in his huge arms and placed them, screaming delightedly, onto his shoulders, one on each side. ‘Ready to go, then, John?’
With Wee John and Kate held securely on his wide shoulders, Hugh started to lead them east along the Broomielaw. John pushed the big, old, wooden pram that held their few possessions tied up in a large bundle. He smiled at Rosie reassuringly and she did the same but they could both tell from each other’s expression that neither of them felt particularly confident.
They were not the only ones heading east; it seemed that everyone that had got off the steamer was going in the same direction. There was a crowd in front of them and another crowd behind them, all silent as the grave. John wondered if they had all received letters like the one he had got from Hugh, telling him how to behave in Glasgow. It was best to keep your head down and keep quiet until you arrived at your destination.
It seemed to take forever going along this street and John began to wonder if they were still on the same one or had moved onto another, or even a third. The street was crowded with horses and carts, delivering goods to and taking them away from the quayside. There were crowds of people too but they were all on the other side of the street, where the shops stood. John stole a couple of sidelong glances at these people and saw a mixture of folk; men dressed like him, others wearing more expensive clothes. There were women and children too, dressed according to their station in life. Some of them stopped and stared at the procession on the other side of the road. One or two boys pointed and said something, receiving a clip round the ear for their cheek.
Then John saw something he had never seen before and almost stopped in his tracks to stare. It was a woman with no hat, shawl or any other kind of covering over her head! He was quite shocked. He knew it was 1899, nearly a new century, but still…
At last, just when it seemed as if they were going to walk in the same direction forever, Hugh led John and Rosie across the street. The rest of the crowd kept going the same way, hardly noticing the small group that had left them. John looked across quickly at the long procession as he followed Hugh along a side street. He wondered where they were all going.
High buildings rose on either side of this new street. The street itself was quite narrow so it had a slightly claustrophobic feel; this was more than made up for, however, by how cool it was. John smiled as he watched Wee John and Kate, still on Hugh’s shoulders, gaze upwards, open-mouthed. There was nobody else around so John felt brave enough to speak.
‘Hugh?’ he asked. ‘Are we going somewhere different from the rest of those folk?’
‘No,’ Hugh replied, stopping and turning to face John. ‘This way is longer but, believe me, a lot better. Just remember what I said about looking inconspicuous!’
It was a long journey and rather a winding one. Mostly they travelled along narrow backstreets but, now and again, they had to venture out onto a main thoroughfare. Just like on the Broomielaw there was a mixture of people of different classes, whose way of looking at the family differed according to their station. People of the same class as John looked at them with hatred in their eyes, while the more well-to-do held handkerchiefs to their noses and viewed the small group with utter disdain. John could not help but notice that there was a certain amount of fear in their expressions too. Still, he was glad that these individuals were on the streets as he knew that the working-class folk would not dare commit violence in plain sight of their betters.
Gradually the grand buildings disappeared, to be replaced by a street of work yards and working-class tenements. John allowed himself a glance up at the street’s name: Baird Street. When he looked down again he felt a knot tighten in his stomach and a cold chill run through him. A small group of about half-a-dozen ne’er-do-wells were leaning against a wall up ahead, smoking cigarettes and clay pipes. Not one of them was wearing a cap or a jacket or even a shirt collar. Their dirty, collarless shirts hung loosely on their skinny, hollow-chested frames. They looked sneeringly at John and his family but said nothing.
Even when Hugh walked in front of them they remained silent. There was, however, a tension in the air, which John could feel stretched almost to breaking point. He and Rosie had reached the men and John felt himself relax slightly; it looked as if nothing was going to happen. And then Kate spoke.
‘Are we nearly there, Uncle Hugh?’ she asked in a loud voice. ‘I’m bursting for the toilet!’
The sound of her Irish voice somehow roused the crowd of ruffians from their torpor.
‘Just what we need,’ said one of the men loudly, ‘more fucking tinkers from Paddy-land!’
‘Why don’t you all fuck off back to Oirland!’ shouted another.
‘Aye!’ another agreed. ‘We don’t want you over here stealing our fucking jobs!’
John doubted if the man had ever done an honest day’s work in his life! He felt the muscles in his arms tense but he kept his eyes to the ground. One came right over and gave John a push. John made the mistake of raising his eyes and looking directly into the man’s face. It was an ugly face, thin and unshaven, with the mouth pursed into a rictus of hatred. The man took the clay pipe from his mouth and spoke.
‘Here’s some holy water for you, you cunt!’ he said and spat right into John’s face.
As soon as he’d done it he moved back slightly, nervous about what John’s reaction might be. John looked at the man’s ugly, smiling face, whose mouth exposed the few black and broken teeth that he still possessed. He could smell the man’s breath from the spit; it smelled of cheap tobacco, stale beer and decay. He took his hands off the pram, took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. The muscles in his arms tightened and he felt the heat rising in his face. The man in front of him started to show fear. After all, John could probably rip his skinny carcass apart with his bare hands.
Rosie put a hand on John’s arm and gripped it tightly. He turned and looked at her and then ahead at Hugh’s pleading expression. Without saying anything he put his hands back on the handle of the pram and moved off, Rosie still holding onto his arm, as if nothing had happened.
‘That’s right!’ shouted the skinny man. ‘Just keep moving if you know what’s good for you!’
Children suddenly appeared from every nook and cranny; obviously drawn by the shouting. They soon sized up the situation and decided to join in the fun. They started to skip behind the family, keeping enough distance for a good head-start if things turned nasty. A couple of them started chanting in a sing-song voice.
‘Stinky-minky-tinkers!’ they sang.
The other children soon joined in. Others came to see what the commotion was and added their voices to the refrain. Before long there were about forty children skipping along, singing their new song at the top of their lungs. John had never felt so frustrated and humiliated in his life.
At last, after what seemed like an eternity, they reached where Castle Street ran from left to right in front of them. The children followed them when they crossed the road, but when they realised where the family was heading, most of them turned and ran back to where they had come from. A few hardy souls kept following, looking to squeeze as much pleasure out of the game as possible.
Hugh led John, Rosie and their small band of tormentors onto another road, which John noticed was called Garngad Road. He recognised the name and realised that they were almost at their destination. Once they had gone along Garngad Road a way, Hugh let Kate and Wee John down from his shoulders and stood, holding their hands, waiting for John and Rosie to catch up with him.
‘Excuse me a minute,’ he said, letting go of the children’s hands.
The band of singers saw him advancing on them and turned tail to run off. One of them was not quick enough, however, and received the full force of Hugh’s right foot up his rear end.
‘My dad’ll get you for that!’ the boy shouted, once he was a safe distance away
‘Send him along!’ Hugh shouted back. ‘I’ll kick his arse as well!’
He took Kate and Wee John by the hand and led his small band forward again. Now that they seemed to have reached home turf, John allowed himself a look round. What he saw was hardly inspiring. All around were filthy, close-packed tenements, which looked as if they might collapse if somebody farted too hard. The buildings were black with soot and you could not see the sky for the smoke and filth. The smell was even worse here and John guessed that the source was nearby. It could not be good for you, living in this place and John regretted again bringing his family here; but what else could he have done?
Among the tenements were different factories with chimneys reaching up to the sky. All the works were closed, it being a Saturday evening, but some of the chimneys still vomited a constant stream of dirty smoke into the air. John guessed that the fires beneath them were difficult to get lit and so were never allowed to go out. He let out an involuntary cough at the mere thought of all the filth floating about in the air around him.
There were dirty children playing in the street, kicking a makeshift ball composed of rags, while others were pushing each other in an old pram. A group of girls sat on the opposite pavement, trying to beautify their grubby, old rag dolls. He shuddered when he realised that this was going to be his own children’s playground.
They passed a few streets leading off the main street to the left, where John saw the same scenes of children playing while women hung out of windows, watching them.
‘Just round this corner!’ called Hugh cheerily.
They turned into a narrow street where the tenements were more closely packed than they had been on Garngad Road. It meant that what little light there was filtering through the smoke was mostly cut off, making it seem as if night was already falling. Thankfully, it also made the street slightly cooler than out on Garngad Road. John looked up at the faded sign on the end building; Cobden Street.
Below this sign was a pub, called ‘The Free Trader’. The sign on the pub had a picture of a man with a great mane of hair and impressive, mutton-chop sideburns. The pub’s window was wide-open, with a kind of counter projecting from the bottom of it. There were glasses of beer on this counter and a gang of men, who were drinking, smoking and talking animatedly. They all acknowledged Hugh when he passed, nodding heads, raising glasses or waving the stems of their clay pipes.
The buildings had openings all the way along the street, on either side, like dark mouths yawning, as if to show that they did not care about the people within. John and his family followed Hugh into one of these openings.
Inside the close the chemical smells were replaced by smells of unwashed people and the lingering smells of old cooking. These were familiar odours and were a welcome relief from the all-pervading stench outside. It made the place seem more like home. There were noises of people talking, babies crying and a man and woman arguing. John noticed that the stone stairs were clean, as if they had been recently brushed and mopped. They stopped on a landing with four wooden doors, which had been painted at one time but were now cracked and peeling. Hugh turned the doorknob on one of the middle doors and they all went inside.
There was a tiny lobby going to the left, with just enough space for the makeshift bed that lay there. Directly opposite where they all came in, was an open door and through it came Mary, Hugh’s wife, and her two daughters, Tessie and Molly.
Mary and the girls had the same fair hair as Hugh, Rosie, Kate and Wee John. It could have been called a family trait, except, of course, that Mary and Rosie were from different families. And then there was John. His hair was jet black, as was his thick, bushy moustache.
‘I’ve already got the kettle on,’ announced Mary as she came to hug them all.
Tessie and Molly danced about excitedly, grabbing a hold of Kate and hugging her tightly.
‘You’re going to be sleeping in with us!’ laughed Tessie, who was nine and the older of the two.
Molly, who was five, was more practical.
‘You don’t pee the bed, do you?’ she asked, causing everyone to burst out laughing.
‘I think I might,’ said Kate, dancing from foot to foot, ‘if I don’t get to go for a pee now!’
‘Come on!’ laughed Tessie. ‘I’ll show you where the lavvy is!’
‘It’s okay,’ said Hugh when he saw John ready to go with the girls. ‘We use a bucket and then empty it in the one outside. I don’t like the girls using that thing out the back; it’s filthy!’
Kate looked mortified.
‘Don’t worry!’ laughed Hugh. ‘It’s hidden away. Nobody’s going to see you!’
‘Excuse me, Uncle John!’ said Tessie as she squeezed past him.
Everybody’s attention had been drawn to the bedding lying to the left in the lobby so they had not noticed the heavy curtain hanging down on the right. It was nailed to the top of the wall, near the ceiling, and draped right down to the floor. He wondered where on earth Hugh had got it; it looked quite expensive.
‘Here it is!’ announced Tessie, pulling back one side of the curtain.
Behind the curtain was a small recess with a metal bucket on the floor to one side. John could not see if the bucket had already been used; he could not smell anything either. When Tessie had pulled the curtain back a pleasant, fresh smell had wafted out; it was a smell that John had never encountered before but he liked it. Hugh noticed his surprise.
‘Mary sprays the curtain with Sanitas every day,’ he smiled. ‘It stops the stink going through the house.’
They all left Kate to it and walked through into the living room. The heat hit them immediately. The dirty window was open only slightly, a piece of wood jammed in to stop it falling down. There was a fire in the grate with the kettle hanging on a hook over it. The fire was only comprised of a few lumps of coal, enough to heat the kettle, but it made the room hot and stuffy.
‘Have a seat,’ said Mary. ‘It’s your home as well, now!’
There were four wooden, straight-backed chairs for the adults; the children would have to make do with the floor. John took off his jacket and hung it over the back of one of the chairs while Rosie unwound her shawl and sat down with the baby on her knee.
‘Where will I put the pram and our stuff?’ John asked.
‘Just leave it behind the door for now,’ Hugh answered. ‘Let’s have a cup of tea first!’
John sat down and took off his collar, glad to be rid of it. He put it into the inside pocket of his jacket, making sure to put the studs into a different pocket so they would not get lost. The baby woke up and immediately started to bawl, demanding to be fed. Rosie moved her shawl around so that she could feed Maggie without everyone seeing.
‘So how was the voyage over?’ asked Hugh, taking a chair over next to John, placing John between himself and Rosie so as to give her some semblance of privacy.
‘It was certainly long,’ replied John. ‘It took nearly twelve hours!’
‘With that sun beating down on you all the way over?’ Hugh shook his head.
John nodded. ‘It was a good job we brought a couple of beer bottles filled with water!’
That was about as much small talk as they could manage. All their family, apart from the two of them, were dead and they had grown up in different parts of County Derry so they had nobody in common to ask about. They had only met each other occasionally as they were growing up so, really, they did not know each other that well. And now, here they were, flung together, having to share the same living space. They both sat awkwardly, looking at the kettle, willing it to hurry up and boil.
Kate took Wee John to show him where the toilet was while Mary fussed about, preparing cups and saucers on top of the sideboard and putting tea in the teapot. The kettle at last started to boil and Mary lifted it from its hook with a folded cloth. She poured hot water into the teapot and placed the kettle at the rear of the sideboard. She then stirred the teapot, put the lid on and left it to brew for a couple of minutes.
‘Do you want me to hold the baby, Rosie, while you have your tea?’ she asked.
‘But what about your tea?’ Rosie replied. ‘How are you going to drink yours?’
‘Oh, never you mind about me. I’ve not been stuck on a boat all day! Besides, I’m dying to say hello to my wee niece!’
Maggie had finished her meal and had gone back to sleep; she was a good baby and very rarely caused a fuss. Once Mary had the tea poured and the men seen to she took the baby while Rosie helped herself to a cup of tea from the sideboard.
The four of them sat in silence while the children played about, giggling, in the lobby. When he had finished his tea Hugh took out his clay pipe from his shirt pocket.
‘You’re not smoking that filthy thing in here!’ snapped Mary. ‘Take it outside where the rest of the smoke and poison is. And empty the bucket while you’re at it!’
Hugh gave John a resigned look and motioned toward the door with his head. John smiled his sympathy and stood to follow his cousin outside. He waited while Hugh fetched the bucket from behind the curtain and then followed him out the door and down the stairs.
In the back court John discovered why Hugh and his family used a bucket. There were only two toilets for all the people living on that side of the street. Hugh had checked both of them and they were blocked and overflowing. The contents of the toilets had run out from under the wooden door and had formed foul-smelling puddles in front of them. Hugh had to stand in one of these puddles to empty his bucket down the toilet bowl. Not that it was worthwhile; the contents of the bucket just swilled over the edge of the bowl and ended up on the floor.
Hugh rinsed the bucket under the water pump at the far end of the back court and took off his shoes one at a time to rinse those as well. He and John then went back to stand outside the back entrance to their close. He got his pipe lit and drawing well and then pointed to the chimney stack they could see over the tenements opposite, belching smoke into the filthy sky.
‘That’s the Copper Works over there,’ he said. ‘At least there’s not far to walk of a morning!’
John just smiled and looked around the rest of the back court. In the middle were two large middens, full of ashes; it might be summer but folk still needed to cook. He could smell cooking smells coming from the buildings around him now; it even managed to overpower the stench from the toilet and the pervading stink from the factories. John felt his mouth water and realised that he was hungry.
Hugh must have read his mind as he said, ‘We’ll need to be getting something to eat soon. You lot must be starving!’
He did not wait for an answer but tapped his pipe gently against the wall, taking care not to break it. Satisfied that the smouldering tobacco had gone he blew on the bowl a few times to cool it and then placed it carefully back in his shirt pocket.
‘Let’s go,’ he announced. ‘I’m feeling hungry myself.’
‘Wait,’ John replied, ‘I’ve got no money on me. I’ll need to run up and get my jacket. Besides, I’ve not got a collar on or anything!’
‘Never mind collars and jackets!’ laughed Hugh. ‘We’re only going to the next street. And you don’t need money; we already put a bit aside to treat you on your first night in Glasgow. I could do with a hand carrying the stuff back, though!’
Mary and Rosie, meanwhile, had lifted the bundle out of the pram, had opened it on the floor in a corner of the room and retrieved the baby’s blankets. Kate held her little sister while her mother and aunt worked. Once the pram was ready, Maggie was able to lie down properly and Kate was free to rejoin her cousins.
With Maggie safely out of their arms, Mary and Rosie were able to use some of the water left in the kettle to wash up the tea things in a basin. Rosie then dried them and put them back in the sideboard while Mary went down to the back court to empty the basin.
Kate, Tessie and Molly sat on their bed in the lobby and spoke of important matters like school and friendly and unfriendly children in the neighbourhood. They spoke of games, places to play, secret places to hide, dolls, sweets and special occasions. Wee John had nothing to contribute and sat on the edge of the bed, bored to tears. He would not dream of leaving, however; he hated to be left out of anything.
Mary came back with the empty basin and smiled at them. It was only a few minutes later that John and Hugh also came in, carrying parcels from which came the most delicious smell. Tessie and Molly knew immediately what was in the parcels.
‘Hurray!’ they both shouted and skipped into the living room behind the men.
‘What is it?’ asked Kate as she followed them through the living-room door.
‘Fish and chips!’ cried Tessie and Molly together, jumping up and down excitedly.
‘Fish!’ exclaimed Kate disgustedly. ‘But it’s not even Friday!’
Back at their old home Friday was a day of vegetables and potatoes only. The stricture against eating meat on a Friday normally meant a fish dinner for families; Kate and Wee John, however, could not stand fish of any kind. Since John and Rosie were not overly fond of fish either they just stuck to eating a normal meal without the meat on Fridays.
‘You wait until you’ve tasted this fish!’ laughed Hugh.
Kate had to admit that it certainly smelled enticing. Hugh separated the parcels and shared out the food; a fish supper, fish and chips, for each adult, and half for each child. He ripped the newspaper to put each child’s share into its own parcel; they were not going to bother with plates.
When Kate bit into the fish she was pleasantly surprised. It was one of the best things she had ever tasted. And as for the chips, she could not believe that they were made with potatoes! If she was to be served this kind of fish on a Friday from now on then she would have no problem eating every bit.
After they had finished their meal Hugh gathered up all the papers and the children helped him to pick up any bits of fallen food. He was taking it straight out to the midden.
‘It doesn’t do to have chip papers lying about,’ he said, ‘it encourages mice.’
‘Do you get mice coming in here?’ asked Kate, looking around fearfully.
Of course, they had had mice in their old home but they had slept on a bed then, raised up from the floor. She was going to be sleeping on a mattress tonight and she was frightened at the thought of mice running over her face or getting into her hair.
‘Don’t worry!’ her Uncle Hugh reassured her. ‘I haven’t seen a mouse in here for a long time. They’re after food and there’s none to be had in here! In fact, there isn’t a full larder in the whole building so the mice go somewhere else!’
Kate felt better and she was relieved to hear her cousins affirm what their father had said. Rosie was relieved too; her imagination had been conjuring up huge rats coming in to devour her children.
Once Hugh had disposed of the chip wrappers it was time for bed. Both Hugh and John owned rather battered pocket watches, which kept quite good time. It was half-past eight and time for the children to get ready for bed. The adults would not be long behind them since they would all have to be up in the morning to go to Mass.
Hugh produced a single mattress from beneath his and Mary’s double bed, which was in a recess at the side of the living room, hidden by a cheap curtain. Mary quickly made up a bed for Wee John in the lobby and all the children went to the toilet, got changed and excitedly leaped under the covers.
Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Hugh, with a flourish, pulled out a folded, double hair mattress from under his bed.
‘God, Hugh! How many mattresses have you got hidden under there?’ laughed John.
It did not take long to get a bed made up in the middle of the floor. Once Maggie’s nappy had been changed she was happy to go back to sleep in her pram. Mary marvelled at such a good baby, who was not too demanding and who slept without any fuss. And so everyone got ready to settle down to sleep.
It was still quite light outside but this was dealt with by the simple expedient of an old blanket draped over the window, the edges of it tacked to the top of the window frame. Hugh pulled the curtain across to hide his and Mary’s bed to give them and the other couple a bit of privacy.
‘Well?’ John whispered to Rosie as he lay on his back, his arm around her shoulders as she snuggled into him. ‘Did we do the right thing?’
‘I don’t know why,’ she replied, ‘but I think everything is going to be alright. I think things are going to work out fine.’
She was tired and soon fell asleep, breathing deeply. John was tired too but his mind was still working. It had been a long day; a very long day. He thought of all the ships at the Belfast docks, delivering produce and raw materials from all over the world. Other vessels were being loaded with export goods and people, to be taken to the British mainland and beyond. It was one of the small ships carrying goods to Glasgow that John and his family would be travelling on.
He remembered the man that had spoken to him, taking him aside from his family. He was a red-faced, bluff stevedore, who had obviously worked at the docks for a long time. He had admired the baby and the children and swapped friendly small talk with John and Rosie before indicating with his head for John to follow him.
‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, my friend, but I would imagine that you and your family are Roman Catholics,’ he said, once they were out of earshot of the others.
John nodded, wondering why the man was asking.
‘Well, if you’ll take my advice,’ the man continued, ‘get some more money together and go to America. It’s not the paradise they make out but I assure you that you and your family would be a lot better off over there than you’ll be in Scotland.’
‘But I’ve got family in Glasgow and a job lined up,’ John had argued. ‘What’s wrong with Scotland?’
The man looked around before answering. ‘I think you’ll find that Scotland is not all that different from Ulster. You Catholics have it just as hard over there as you do here!’
John had thanked the man for his concern but at least he had a reasonably well-paid job to go to in Scotland, something that was hard to come by in Ulster for a Catholic like himself. Why should he give that up to take his family away to the other side of the world? And would things be any different in America?
The walk along Baird Street had come as a shock to John. He had never encountered anything like that in Ulster, although that might have been to do with the fact that he had lived in a small, out-of-the-way place. Still, it brought home to him what the man in Belfast had meant. He hoped to God that it had been an isolated incident and was not typical of what happened in Glasgow.
He closed his eyes and listened to his daughter and her cousins whispering softly out in the lobby. He could not make out what they were saying but they sounded happy. Maybe he was reading too much into what had happened in Baird Street. He was sure of one thing, though: he would never forget the ugly, twisted face of the man that had spat at him!


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