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Ellen B. Greer

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GRANDFATHER'S IRISH BRIDE
 


While Grandfather was in Princeton, Illinois, he met a blue-eyed Irish girl, Ellen B. Greer, whom he was to marry. She told him the following story about her journey to America.

In 1879, at the age of 21, she left her family’s small farm in County Down near Ballynahinch, North Ireland, and made the 20-mile trip to the quay to board her steamer for the trip to America. This was the first time she had seen the Irish Sea for it was not the practice then, nor even as much as 100 years later, for her family to travel just to sightsee—and certainly not as much as 20 miles. She was not really frightened about the forthcoming trip to America, since a lot of others before her had made the trip and had found a new life and prosperity.

In fact, just during her parents’ lifetime, one out of every three Irish had emigrated to America— more than two million in all. The emigration from Ireland was basically the result of an intensely populated country expanding into what was largely a wilderness. It occurred steadily, and at times there were large waves. In 1845, the potato blight had crossed the Atlantic (ironically, from America to Ireland) and decimated vast harvests in a few weeks. During the next five years, the potato famine claimed almost a million Irish lives.

In this case hunger had been the spur for emigration; Ellen’s aunt, Mrs. Holmes, and a number of other relatives fled over the years. Indeed, it was her aunt, who was happily settled in Princeton, Illinois, who offered Ellen the chance to come and stay with her.

Ellen’s family in Northern Ireland suffered the adversity of the times. Only four of their ten children survived beyond childhood; Ellen was the oldest of the four. The first born (also named Ellen) had died at the age of four in 1856. The second two, Mary Elizabeth and Samuel, died at the ages of five and seven in 1861 during a scarlet fever epidemic. Ellen herself was only three-years old at the time but somehow survived. Her younger sister, Margret Ann, died at the age of 12; her younger brother, Samuel Martin, died of pneumonia at the age of 14 (he had fallen through ice on a lake—possibly Greer’s Lough, a family namesake).

Even though Ellen’s mother, Elizabeth Corry, had given birth to ten children, had seen six of them die and had survived the terrible famine, she supposedly outlived her husband by 18 years. Her husband, Samuel Greer, (my great grandfather) had given his age at the time of marriage as 29. When he died in 1890 his daughter Margret Elizabeth listed his age at death as 77. His birth date would correctly have been 1814, not 1824, and his age at marriage would have been 39, not 29. His grandson (Thomas John Greer, my uncle once removed) made the droll comment on this anomaly, “All is fair in love and war.”

Many years later, thinking about Ellen’s departing Ireland, John Greer, her nephew, was reminded of a similar leave-taking. He related this to me during my visit to Ireland in about 1980.

“I was only a small lad when my sister went out to America. I can remember the day well. My father went with her to the quay and I went out to the field and began to shear corn with a hand hook. As I saw them going, the hook slipped up and cut my little finger to the bone, and it is a bit crooked to this day.”

 
 


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