Thought for today:
"Most of my life has been lived never knowing too much about my family background, apart from what my mum and dad chose to tell me, and because my father never said much about his family's background, I depended largely upon what mum passed on. My mother used to tell me that though her birthday is registered as being January 22nd, she was in fact born on January 24th. Happy birthday, Mum. I can't believe that over thirty years have elapsed since you died at the young age of 64 years. You were the most unselfish woman, whom, alongside my wife, Shiela, I ever knew. If there was only eight pieces of apple pie around our family table of nine seated, you would serve it out, declaring, 'I never did like apple pie, you know!' I love you, Mum. Your heart was a deep abyss, filled with love, generosity, compassion and forgiveness and a sense of humour at it's bottom.
Because I had been born in Southern Ireland in the heart of IRA country, along with my parents and two of my younger siblings, there always seemed to be a short straw drawn whenever I asked about my grandparents' background or their parents. The family mystery also deepened when it came about that though I was the eldest of seven children born to the same parents, some had their surname 'Forde' spelt with the 'e' and others didn't! This discrepancy in the spelling of our surname would have simply been passed over without comment had we been schooled in Ireland, and as any Irish nun can tell you, many a child shared a desk with another they knew as their cousin, who was their brother or sister.
However, the surname spelling discrepancy was quickly noticed by our English teachers who marked down all of the siblings whose signature was written without an 'e' for bad spelling and not knowing how to write their own name. If I, as the eldest of the siblings had an 'e' then it naturally followed, so should they! This led them to feel pressured and to adopting an 'e' at the end of their surname before they left school after their first day.
I was born in Portlaw, County Waterford in the house of my maternal grandparents. I was born in bedroom two, on top of mattress seven. My mother told me as a child, that her father had been 'on the run' with the rebels following the 1916 Easter uprising in Dublin and every morning I passed a wall full of framed Irish rebels which adorned the long corridor. They were headed by Kevin Barry, a famous rebel who was imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and the first Irish Republican to be executed by the British for his part in an Irish Volunteers operation which led to the death of three British soldiers.
A number of years ago, whilst in Kilkenny at the family funeral of a cousin, I accidentally 'bumped into' my cousin John. Before that meeting, John didn't know I existed. After the funeral of cousin, Teresa, I was standing in a crowded Kilkenny pub where the funeral party had naturally progressed to after the graveside service. At my back I overheard two men talking about a football hero of theirs who played for Kilkenny and also for the Irish national soccer squad. 'The best soccer player I ever saw on the field was Paddy Forde' I heard one man tell the other. 'He was my uncle' replied the other man proudly, who I tapped on the back to draw his attention before saying, 'And he was my dad!'
My cousin John who lived in Wales was overjoyed to meet me. He had sadly told his wife earlier that day that now his cousin Teresa had died, he was the only 'Ford' left alive. I'm glad to say that he was overjoyed to learn that he had a large number of 'Forde' relatives living in West Yorkshire and since he rediscovered his family roots, he and his wife Lynne now keep in regular contact.
John's father and mine were the closest of brothers. John's surname was the Ford without an 'e'. Over the years that followed, we frequently ribbed each other as to who was living the life of a fraud using the wrong surname and whose marriage might be null and void and children illegitimate as a consequence of supplying inaccurate information to the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths?
In October 2015, my daughter Rebecca showed me a family tree which her maternal grandfather, whose newfound hobby is genealogy, had recently researched. It felt like I was on that popular television programme, 'Who do you think you are?' as the murky waters of my past revealed some surprises. I discovered that my paternal grandfather had been born in England, joined the British Army and was posted to Ireland where he lived thereafter. His army service resulted in him receiving not medals of distinction, but a prison sentence for 'Desertion' from the British Army. We never knew if it was because he had changed his sympathies from the British Crown to the IRA or whether he'd just had enough of army life and peeling spuds and decided to leg it. The records show that he was subsequently incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison; that hallowed jail which had held the Irish rebel, Kevin Barry many years earlier. I couldn't say that it was the same cell from which Kevin Barry made his final walk to meet his executioner, but it could have been! The prison records and a later census showed that when he entered Mountjoy Prison, my paternal grandfather's surname was registered as being Ford without an 'e', but upon his release, the letter 'e' was instantly and mysteriously adopted by him and the new family surname magically became 'Forde' with an 'e'. So it seems that I have been spelling my surname wrong for the whole of my life however accurately/inaccurately my birth was registered; but I'm not changing the spelling of it now, having owned it for 74 years!
When my parent's seven children were born, the ones that my mother registered were given no 'e' whilst the ones my father registered were! I should have guessed that if one of my parents was telling the whole truth, it would have been my mother! Upon examining the family tree further, I learned that despite being the eldest of seven children, that for over seventy years, the sister I'd been calling Eileen all of her life had in fact been named 'Eile' on her birth certificate. My other siblings had always invariably referred to her as Eile and each time I heard this, I just put it down to some short-handed lazy practice they'd picked up. The reason I called her Eileen is because that is the name my mother always addressed her by, and having done so for seventy-two years now, if it was good enough for the mum who gave birth to her, then it remained good enough for me! It is a puzzle though why mum should have Christened her Eile yet called her Eileen for the rest of her life, although perhaps less of a puzzle I imagine, being a mama's boy, why I should have listened to mum all my life and ignored my other six siblings! As far as I was concerned, if it passed my mother's lips, and wasn't food, a bottle of stout, a prayer, a kiss or a cigarette, then it must have been God's solemn truth!
It's a real mixed up world we Irish live in, when one thinks about it. No wonder the English have never able to conquer the Irish on the battlefield. It isn't because of the proneness of the Irish to hide in bushes during skirmishes whenever they fired upon the enemy: but rather that they kept changing sides and changing name, or mingling too closely with relatives less distant than first cousins; thereby making it impossible for anyone to know and keep track of who was friend or foe, sister or cousin! Happy birthday Mum xxx" William Forde: January 24th, 2017.