From Bockagh Hill to Bayside Heights: The P.F. Grady Saga

‘I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on, cried she,
‘Come out of charity,
Come dance with me in Ireland.’
— From “I Am of Ireland,” by William Butler Yeats

By Gerry Regan and Mary Grady

Patrick Francis Grady, 90 years on this earth until his passing April 6, came from Ireland, and, in a sense, came from dance.

Pat’s father, Jimmy Grady, also known as Jimmy or “Jimmy Man” Grady, was a farmer by trade, but those who knew him say Jimmy’s real calling was stepdancing. He could barely restrain his feet in earshot of a reel. Pat’s passion ran more toward set dancing.

Pat recalled in an interview in 2009 how Jimmy once overheard a boast while in the nearby village of Ballaghaderreen. Jimmy rose to meet the challenge, stripping off all but the clothing essential for modesty, and wowing onlookers as he danced to the fiddling of Hugh Gillespie. His Dad “got a great send-off,” Pat noted.

Photo, above: Patrick Grady, foreground center, age 14, at the family farm, with, left to right, brother Michael, mother, Bridget, and brother James.

Pat’s character was shaped by a rural practicality that prizes saving, hard work, devotion to family, and making do. In Pat’s case, the simple values instilled by farm life remained strong.

His story began January 27, 1920, in the townland of Bockagh Hill, in the family farmhouse of his parents, Jimmy and Bridget.

The Grady's farm, 30 acres, was known to locals as the Coarse Ground. The farm, and its four fields, stood two miles from the cathedral and barracks town of Ballaghaderreen, in the county of Roscommon, in the rugged expanse of the west of Ireland.

Pat was the fourth of six children born to Bridget and James. His birth followed that of James, Molly, Winnie, and Kitty, and preceded Michael, the ‘baby’ of the family.

Pat’s grandfather James Grady was a widower and survivor of the Irish potato famine, and lived with Pat’s parents before his death, according to the 1911 Irish census.

Pat's grandmother, on his mother's side, a McGeever, represents a nexus between the old Ireland and the new. Her posting of a makeshift pennant brought special pleasure to Pat and his sister Winnie.

Winnie recalled: “She had an old red towel and she put it up on the side of the gable, over a broom or whatever she had. … We’d run down. She’d always say, ‘Keep a couple of pence for yourself, and buy candy.’ The only candy you could buy there was ‘sugar candy.’ It was made from brown sugar. Oh, was that a treat!”

Grandma McGeever, as were many women in the countryside in earlier times, was fond of tobacco. Pat's daughter Patty recalls the challenge her smoking presented to her Dad:

“Grandma was smoking a clay pipe, and she was smoking in bed. So the brother was finished with Grandmom. He felt she was gonna burn his house down. And grandma and Dad and I guess grandfather all took the the horse and trap, went over to the house and they moved Grandma, in her bed, back to their house, where I presume she remained until she died.”

Pat’s dad, Jimmy, enjoyed stepping out, and offered a counterpoint to his wife, Bridget, who was both pious and a teetotaler. Jimmy was easygoing and supportive of his children.

Pat was a blend of both parents, loving a spin on the dance floor, but fervent in his faith, encouraging of his children, and, a onetime Pioneer, still sparing in his drink.

While Pat was growing tall, Ireland itself was in the throes of a birthing process, in the midst of a war to overthrow the centuries-old yoke of British dominion.

Ballaghaderreen, home to a British barracks, saw its share of violence, including IRA attacks. Nine months after Pat’s birth, only two miles away, British forces dragged the body of an IRA officer through the village’s streets. Yet, despite the war, life on Coarse Ground went on largely untouched. The world beyond would soon enough tempt Pat and his siblings.

On the farm

When the rain stopped the rain began ...
And seeped inside the warmth of prostrate cows.
Then pelted bogs to syrupy peat ...
-- From "Roscommon Rain" by James Harpur

The Grady farm encompassed 30 acres, with an additional 10 coming to it after the death of Pat’s uncle, Martin Grady. It was not unusual to find Gradys in and about Ballaghaderreen. Many weren’t even sure if and when they were related.

The family worked the land, selling potatoes and oats, calves, pigs and a high-quality turf, "black coal," locals called it. Ballaghaderreen’s country fair offered a convenient marketplace.

The women milked the farm’s two cows, and tended the kitchen garden, which included carrots and cabbage, and the chickens, which provided eggs and meat. Bridget showed her versatility, though, as Pat’s nephew, Tommy Flannery, recalls:

“I remember a time when Mark Casey had a cow in the drain. All the men couldn’t get the cow out of the drain. Go back for Bee, quick, he says, and Bee might give us a hand. … She shoved the cow and the cow got up of the drain. All the men standing there couldn’t say a word because Bee had done all the work.”

Photo: Pat, 29 years old, right, and oldest brother, Jimmy, back from New York City, at Coarse Ground.

The women, minus Winnie, who balked at farm work, cooked and baked on the open hearth. Plowing, harvesting, turf cutting and livestock rustling fell largely to Pat and his Dad, as brother Jimmy emigrated in 1929 and young Michael was left to his school work.

Pat did attend the two-room Tonregee School in Bockagh for a few years but finally left to help his Dad with farm work.

As a young man, Pat embarked on one of the legendary rituals of the Catholic Church in Ireland, joining hundreds of pilgrims during a nighttime trek up 2,500-foot-high Croagh Patrick, which St. Patrick, climbed during the 5th century. During the ascent, Pat lost his hat to a stiff breeze. A neighbor prevented Pat from a rash effort at rescue, perhaps saving Pat’s life.

Another incident nearly thwarted Pat’s attempt to reach his 90th birthday. His grandson Tim relates the story: “Grandpa had to take a horse out in the morning. The horse went berserk. And then he just made a run for the shed. There was a cobblestone archway. If he hit his head, I was afraid Grandpa wouldn’t be here today. … He ducked right by the horse’s head, and went right into the barn and was safe.”

If Pat hadn’t ducked, we might not be here today. Meanwhile, though, Ireland was learning that independence didn’t guarantee prosperity.

Pat would soon face a wrenching decision, to work Coarse Ground, as did his forebears, or take the well-trod immigrant’s path to America.

To London and America

'The car is yoked before the door,
And time will let us dance no more.
Come, fiddler, now, and play for me
'Farewell to barn and stack and tree.'
— From The Emigrant by Joseph Campbell

At Coarse Ground, life continued hard, and the income as uncertain as Ireland’s fickle weather. Still, all was not drudgery. Pat, now a young bachelor, often made time for the local dances, whose late hours brought him to what his mother called “the Old People’s Mass.”

Pat’s sisters Molly, Kitty and Winnie eventually followed young Jimmy to America.

Winnie and Kitty worked in England as the Nazi blitzkrieg swept across much of Europe. They had an opportunity to book a passage to America, and decided they wouldn’t let German U-boats intimidate them. Winnie made a harrowing wartime voyage to New York.

Hinting at Pat’s own anxieties about his sisters, brother Mike’s fears about the fates of his sisters arose in an interview: “The war was raging at the time. They boarded at night. There was a couple of thousand of American soldiers on the boat.”

In 1949, with “The Emergency,” as neutral Ireland called the war, well behind, Pat’s father died. Now 29, Pat took charge of the farm.

Through the years, he and his father worked the farm, his siblings would pay sporadic visits, bringing with them newly acquired Yankee ways and perspectives.

Photo: West Street, Harrow on the Hill, By Herry Lawford / Wikimedia Commons

Molly brought the family its first “wireless” radio, an item that her mother quickly rejected as too extravagant.

Clearly, that mindset had an impact on Pat, who carried forth his own brand of practicality.

In 1947, Pat’s youngest brother, Michael, emigrated, leaving Pat as the only man on the farm. One added burden faced bachelors like Pat in Roscommon – competition. In 1951, when Pat was 31, there were 6 men to every five women in the county.

After one particularly poor harvest, a destructive storm, and buoyed by an invitation from his brother Jimmy, Pat began to contemplate a better life — abroad.

Pat too soon took the well-trod immigrant’s path. He traveled to Dublin, but failed the U.S. embassy’s physical when a spot showed up on his lung in a chest X-ray. He feared the worst — tuberculosis, a highly contagious infection of the lungs that often brought its victims to sanitariums.

Back on Coarse Ground, Pat met with some of his mother’s kin back from London for a funeral. One man, McGeever, invited Pat to stay with him and his wife and work with him in London. Resolute on starting anew, Pat left for England. His sister Kitty was the last of his siblings on Bockagh Hill.

In bustling London, unlike anything he’d ever seen, Pat quickly found work in construction in Harrow on the Hill, in London.

Unlike many of his country peers, Pat always kept up with dental care, and McGeever’s wife referred Pat to her dentist. This man in turn led Pat to a contact at the U.S. Embassy, where Pat was cleared for emigration, having discovered that the spot on his x-ray was not tuberculosis.

Ebullient, Pat set out for New York via Trans World Airlines in September 1955. On arrival, Pat found he couldn’t work the pay phone, so he gave some change to a stranger to make one of the most momentous calls of his life.

Job, Wife and Kids

So you had a few jobs
Then said "What the hell!
I like talking so much
I'll work for Ma Bell."
-- From "To PF" by Danny McLaughlin

Big brother Jimmy brought Pat home for a few weeks. Pat later sojourned into the homes of sisters Molly and Winnie, before moving into an apartment with his brother Michael.

Pat sampled a number of jobs, finally landing at New York Telephone in 1957, a job secured with the aid of Martin Hunt, a fellow Roscommon native.

Photo: Pat and Mike Grady in their bachelor days.

With this, Pat's thoughts turned to finding a mate and building a family, and lively Friday and Saturday nights venues in Manhattan offered the young Irish abundant opportunity.

In one of the clubs, Pat found Mary Teresa Burke (pictured, circa 1959), a native of Caherciveen, County Kerry, had a winning way, and, importantly to Pat, was a passable dancer, and so the love match was made.

Their marriage took place July 26, 1958, in St. Ignatius Church, in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In typical fashion, Pat and Mary kept the nuptials, and their anniversaries, low key. Summing up their attitude, Pat’s bride wryly noted in 2008, with a bit of wry exaggeration: “We don’t celebrate anything.”

Pat and Mary moved into an apartment in Flushing. Pat took on a part-time job at Flushing High School as a janitor to help with the bills. Their first child, Mary Josephine, came along Sept. 8, 1959. Catherine followed, in 1961. Patricia, their youngest, was born in 1964.

In 1965, Pat moved his family to a solid, albeit modest, home in Bayside Hills, in St. Robert’s parish, where Pat and Mary continue to reside and worship.

Pat and brother Mike’s families typically shared the holidays with each other, then and now.

“PF,” as he is also known, urged his children to further their educations, and as they moved out of the house, relished their stories about gaining raises and boosting their savings. “You have to pay yourself first.” he was fond of counseling.

Pat retired from New York Tel at age 65, and took a part-time job as a security guard at Queensboro Community College. Finally, at age 75, Pat seemed ready to take it easy.

Pat’s Legacy

'Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand …
-- From 'Grow Old Along With Me' by Robert Browning

Arthritis, in fact, hobbled Pat, though in the past 15 years, he has found himself a much-in-demand baby sitter, with an emphasis on sitting. As Pat neared 80, he became a grandfather, first to Meredith, then Tim, Willie, Elizabeth, Frankie, and Sarah. Ever since, Pat and Mary have had regular gigs keeping a watchful eye on the grandkids.

When a bit sprier, Pat would regularly go with daughter Patty and one or two of her kids to the Bronx Zoo. There they met Bill Clinton one day. Firmly independent and focused, Pat was unimpressed:

“Pat and I used to do weekly trips up to the Bronx, to the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens. One Tuesday in particular, lo and behold, we see a police unit coming through. There was Bill Clinton coming out of his car with his security team. I was enthralled, I am meeting a celebrity, a former president. Dad was more concerned with his grandchildren, whom I had sort of ignored. I shake the hands of Bill Clinton, while Dad tips his hat and keeps on walking,” more focused on keeping his grandchildren in sight and safe.

Faith is a bulwark in Pat’s life, and one figure looms particularly large in his spiritual formation — one-time Bockagh Hill neighbor, Father Pete O’Grady. The padre, a remarkably well-traveled and talented musician and man of God, seemed to embody those two pillars of Pat’s life. Father Pete was educated in St. Nathy’s College in Ballaghdereen, and attended seminary at Salamanca in Spain, where he was ordained. He was on the faculty of Gonzaga University for many years, and occasionally performed with Josie McDermott, a flute player from Arigna. Father Pete composed “Father O’Grady’s Trip to Bocca,” among other traditional tunes.

Photo below: Family and friends of Patrick Francis Grady and his wife, Mary T., gathered with them at St. Robert Bellarmine Church to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2009. Photo by Gerry Regan

Pat worked as an usher for many years at St. Robert’s, yielding that post only when he found it too difficult balancing the collection basket and his cane.

PF never lost his feel for farming, though he only returned to Ireland once, in 1986. In a 2009 phone conversation, former Bockagh resident Pat Flannery said: “I remember walking down the land with him. … I was bringing a cow up for milking. You’d think Paddy had never left Ireland. I said ‘I’m farming the length of your arm and you know more than I do about cows.’ ”

But Pat’s journey ultimately led him to us, his legion of surviving friends and family. At his passing, PF was the patriarch of a large, and ever-growing extended family. Right up until his death, his children, grandchildren, sons-in-law, and a wide circle of friends continued to draw inspiration and love from his quiet, attentive and, yes, country ways.

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Tags: City, Family History, Genealogy, London, New York, United Kingdom, agriculture, emigration, farming, immigration

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