Friday, January 26, 2007

Charles and Emily of Long Point Farm

My great-great-great grandfather Daniel O'Connor left his farm at Long Point in Leeds County, Ontario to his youngest son, Charles. Charles O'Connor was someone who would have done well in the old Irish days, fighting against the Normans alongside the Lords of Connaught and the Lords of Munster. He was of noble character and great physical strength, a musician, a craftsman, a dreamer, very at home in the woods and the wilds, a lover of books and song.

Running a farm in the second part of the nineteenth century, however, involved a great deal of drudgery and backbreaking work. From reading Charles’ diaries, it seems he struggled with melancholy and perhaps alcoholism. But he had a wife who would not stand for any nonsense; strong drink was completely forbidden at Long Point Farm, at Emily’s bidding.

In the family photograph, just as Charles reminds me of a warrior poet, my great-great grandmother Emily McArdle O’Connor could be one of the ancient Celtic queens, Dierdre, or Iseult. In her petite form, sorrow is softened by resignation; a strong-will is reined in, as her exquisite posture gives testimony. Emily’s grandmother was a Talbot and passed on to Emily’s sister Kate McArdle Donnelly a ring with the crest of the Howard family. It was all part of a McArdle family tradition that through the Talbots they were descended from the Howards, the Dukes of Norfolk, and the Plantagenet kings.

At any rate, the McArdles possessed a brick house and a piano, rare for Irish Catholics of Leeds County. Emily’s father, Squire Andrew McArdle had been quite an adventurer, traveling to South America before he settled down at a place called Sweet’s Corner with his wife Sarah McMullen, where they had a large family. Their daughters were educated in the Notre Dame Convent in Kingston. Andrew, because of his education, appeared frequently in court at Brockville where the presiding judge allowed him to question witnesses. Through the Talbots they were connected with the politician Darcy Magee, who was a frequent visitor at both the McArdle’s and the O’Connor’s.

Charles and Emily met practically the day that Emily was born, on December 15,1853. Little Charlie, who had just turned six on December 8, was taken by his parents, along with his eight siblings, to see the new baby at Sweet’s Corner. The O’Connor and McArdle families were among the Irish Catholics in the locality who steadfastly refused to surrender their religious beliefs, in spite of social pressure to conform to the Protestant majority. (see Glenn J. Lockwood’s Leeds and Lansdowne) So Charles and Emily would have had occasion to see each other many times as they were growing up, at funerals, baptisms, weddings, and religious festivals.

In November of 1876, they were married. They had fertility problems, with probable miscarriages and the loss of at least one new-born baby (that we know of). Therefore, it was with great joy that their son Fergus Joseph was born on April 1, 1879. A daughter Madeline was born in 1890 (she had a twin sister who died.) It was a small family for those days.

Nevertheless, the farm at Long Point was a busy place, a veritable hub of activity, with relatives stopping by for tea, politicians coming for dinner, and beggars coming to the back door for hot food and shelter. Charles and Emily’s house was the site of dances on Saint Patrick’s day, when Charles would play his violin, and people would keep time by rattling spoons. Peddlers came by with the news; Charles writes in his journal in December of 1901 of how two Russian peddler women came by and sang for them. When they departed they kissed Emily’s hand, grateful for the hospitality given them. “I thank God for a kind wife, a charitable one,” recorded Charles in his diary.

Directly across the road from the farm was the stone school house, built by Charles’ father Squire Daniel. Both Fergus and Madeline went to school there and the teacher usually boarded with the O'Connors. They had to put up with teasing about being “papists,” and were forbidden to make the sign of the cross at school prayers. However, the kindness of Charles and Emily won the hearts of the little scholars. As their daughter Madeline (who became a writer under the name of “Joan Talbot” ) related in an essay: “The house across the street was a kind of second home to the school children. If hurt or frightened, they could run over to the grandmother [Emily] or on stormy nights, they could stay all night there. If a lunch pail was forgotten at home, their mothers did not worry, as they knew they would go to grandmother and…get a real meal.”

Other than the multiple tasks that go with farming, there was logging, sugar-making, berry-picking in the summer, and fishing in the lake every Thursday for Friday fare. In the evening they read aloud, talked and prayed the rosary before retiring. Along with grains and vegetables, they grew flowering shrubs such as lilacs, and the white Jacobite roses which Daniel had brought over from Ireland.

Due to the scarcity of priests, Mass was celebrated locally about once a month. The only church was some distance, in Philipsville; Charles and Emily were among those who contributed to the building of a new church in Lansdowne, closer to Long Point. The cornerstone of Saint Patrick’s Church was laid in June of 1902; the O’Connors donated two of the Stations of the Cross and the stained-glass window over the altar. It is interesting that the church was built outside the town because the citizens did not want too much popery in their midst.

On their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Charles wrote: “God be thanked we have overcome health and business troubles and never had any domestic one. Our love is stronger than ever.” Their son Fergus became a doctor, married and had eight children, who were often at the farm when they were small. Fergus became the mayor of Gananoque and later was a prominent physician in Kingston, Ontario. Madeline never married, and lived to be a very old lady, with many stories to tell. Share

2 comments:

alice L. said...

I enjoyed reading about Charles and Emily. Do any of your Canadian cousins read this?

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I think that some of them do.