Kate Adams Nyhan looked remarkably vibrant for a woman born in Ireland in 1877 on the stage at the Garden City Library on February 12. Channeling Kate was Eileen Cronin, Kate’s granddaughter, who stood in Kate’s place and used Kate’s voice in a charming one woman show at the Irish Cultural Society meeting.
Eileen Cronin wrote and dramatized her grandmother’s story, the story of a County Cork woman who lived through a time in Irish history which culminated in the establishment of Ireland as an independent nation. Eileen’s was a first person dramatization. As Kate, she pointed out to her audience the props which gave the stage a touch of rural Ireland. “Kate” told the audience who had crotched the doilies and the afghan throw on the wicker kitchen chair. She told stories about each of the letter writers whose letters have survived the years. Kate’s shillelagh was, of course, on view, as was her iron, not electric but effective, if a bit heavy. “Kate” brought her listeners so deeply into the family weddings, pictures of which were mounted on a board, that they could hear the reels and laughter of the parties.
Eileen used references to the culture of the late 19th – early 20th centuries to help the audience capture the world in which her grandmother lived. People were born and waked at home; children went to one room school houses; Council homes provided decent dwellings; kids were warned about the chilblains and told to turn the bellis wheel every so often to keep the fire burning. And, this being a family with eight children, Kate had to discipline the children for their “divilment.”
“Kate” relayed episodes of IRA skirmishes in the 1920s and reprisals by the Black and Tans. The Tans burned many homes and the town of Mallow in undisciplined attempt to destroy the IRA by punishing the people. In fact, “Kate” told her audience, her uncle wisely put metal plates in the house windows to deflect bullets fired recklessly into homes. The plates worked.
Kate’s was a rural family which worked the land and raised pigs. When Kate lost her husband, her enterprising nature led her to sell candles, paraffin oil and snuff. “Kate” described the almost carnival atmosphere of threshing time, an event which brought the community together in a spirit of joint economic interest and joyous celebration.
A strand that runs true in all Irish stories is the story of emigration. In Eileen’s words, emigration led to “the breaking up of home, heart, and family.” “Kate” shed tears at the recollection of the departure of her children to America, the tears replaced by the joy of a voyage to America for a double wedding in the Bronx.
“Kate” ended her reflections on her life by stating her guiding philosophy: “I worked hard, loved God, and did the best for my family.”
The audience enthusiastically applauded Eileen Cronin for her singular achievement in bringing her 137 year old grandmother to Garden City, another theatrical miracle.