see also: 1938 Letter from Blin Brown to "Jack"
I met Blin only once and I was all of four years old at the time. My mother had taken my brother Brian and I for a visit to Killynure. The year was 1951, two years before the farm would be sold. In the only memory that I can recall on my own, it was raining and Blin and I were crossing a field. Her raincoat was draped over me, covering my head like a hood. It had a flannel tartan lining with lots of red in the intersecting lines and a not unpleasant smell of hay and barns. She was holding my hand and we were walking quickly. I could see her boots and the deep green of the grass, but no more.
According to the 1914 records in the “List of Alien Passengers from the United States Immigration Officer at Arrival”, Blin was five feet eight inches tall, had fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. My Aunt Dorothy who knew her both as a child and as an adult remembers “her thick auburn hair”. Blonde hair? So much for officialdom. The form was related to her trip on the S.S. Campania. She had sailed from Liverpool on April 25th and arrived at New York on May 3 with at least $50.00 in her purse. She was 27 years old and on her way to visit her sister Frances, age 33, who lived with her very dear friends, the Dr. Dobsons at Edgehill, Poughkeepsie, NY.
This visit was one of many. In a 1920 letter from Mary Griffin to Sallie Whiteside, mention is made of Fran going back to Poughkeepsie, but not Blin. It seems that their mother’s health at the time wasn’t great. Digestive troubles were mentioned. (Her mother would have been 77 years old at the time). In a later letter written by her mother July 27, 1922, we learn that Blin came home from visiting her sister looking thin, but well. It was probably a treat to get away from the farm and be able to stay in a prosperous area of NY with excellent educational (Vassar) and theatrical opportunities.
The photo seen above, kindly given to me by Gika JACKSON on my visit in October of 2003 is the only one I have ever seen. Had I not known from the emigration record that Blin’s eyes were blue, I would not have guessed. There is often so much less to go on when family members have no descendants of their own to carry the torch. But I don’t want Blin’s life to go unmentioned. She is significant in both the learning and telling of this family history.
After the death of her parents in the early 1920s, Blin was the main one who ran the farm at Armagh. In a letter written July 21, 1928 to Sallie Whiteside, Sallie’s sister Maggie says, “Thompson & Blin "Hold the Fort" in Killynure. Its a big change since the big houseful of long ago.” According to local people, Thompson was one of those men with big ideas and not much practicality. He probably drove Blin nuts. She had to sell the farm in 1954, after the deaths of all of her brothers and sisters, the years were probably taking their toll on her health. After the sale, she parceled out some money from the sale to various relatives and by at least 1957 (age 71) she herself was living in a home Belfast in some kind of room and board arrangement. The Knox family had bought Killynure and it is still owned by their daughter, Amanda and her husband, Edgar.
In the early 1950s, before the farm was sold, my father suggested that he (an absolute non-farmer if I ever saw one) move back to Ireland with the family and take over the daily running of the farm, Blin turned him down flat. "You'll not be bringing your children up here or else you'd be bringing them up for hating,” she told him. I am forever grateful for that. There was no messing around with Blin and she was usually right. I recall my father saying that a couple of years before WWII broke out, she saw it coming and had hundreds and hundreds of jars of fruit canned- enough to last out the war when sugar would be a scarce as hen’s teeth.
In 1995, when two of my brothers and I went to Ireland for our first time, a month after our father’s death, we stayed at a B&B owned by a devout Catholic woman, a Mrs. O’Hagan. Given the sectarian tensions at the time, we started off being cautious about even mentioning that our family hailed from the other side of the religious divide. No problem. As soon as she heard of Killynure, she couldn’t wait to tell us of the “two sisters”. When tradesmen were down on their luck, Blin was known for finding a job on the farm that needed doing. A fence rebuilt. A bit of whitewash. Enough for the man to earn a bit to tide him over. It was thirty years after her death, but the legacy of her life was still opening doors for us left right and centre.
Her direct way of speaking - no pussyfooting around - was a trait that likely served her well in the farming trade. In 1957, when Dorothy and her husband visited Ireland, they quite enjoyed their glimpses of this straight-shooting, albeit not always tactful, style of talk. For example, Dorothy was quite naturally curious about family resemblances and wondered whether she looked like anyone in the family that Blin might have known. “Oh,” said Blin, “you look like Bessie, but not nearly as good looking.” Dorothy still laughs when she recounts this at age 92.
Not surprisingly, given this make-up, not much stopped Blin when she made her mind up. “You would have enjoyed her, Sharon,” Dorothy told me recently. In 1957, (age 71) Blin took Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Len to the Fairhaven Cemetery where so much of her family was buried (Blin’s parents and her brothers and sisters: George, Bob, Mary, Thompson, David), but the entrance gate was locked. This presented no obstacle at all for Blin. She just hiked her skirts and climbed over the fence. She had probably been doing that for years, that and walking the three miles into town and back again to carry home groceries. Strong in body; strong in mind. If you didn’t heed her, you heard about it. When Len was driving them to a destination that was new to him, he missed a turn that Blin had instructed him to make and there was a stentorian voice from the back seat, "Dammit man. Can ye no turn left?"
It may be that she had much in common with the temperament of her father. He was said by Aunt Dorothy to be something of “a martinet”. No young man could be good enough for his girls. Only “Bessie” got free of that. Perhaps the way that Blin was treated by her father stuck with her and she passed it on (as we all seem to do with many of the traits of our parents). My Aunt Dorothy recalled Blin’s brother George saying "No way I could bring a wife to Killynure because Mother, Blin and Mary were all there.” Them, and Lizzie the maid.
That being said of her temperament, Blin also had a laugh that could override the laughter of many in the mostly male farmer’s fraternity that she worked in. My mother told me this story. Apparently, Blin took me (age four) to a cattle auction, propped me on a fence and was standing behind steadying me as we waited for the animals to be paraded past. Cows were new to me, city girl that I was. With my sight of the first cow, my shrill little girl voice cut through the rumble of the mostly male crowd, “Look Auntie Blin, that cow’s got four penises.” According to my mother, Blin’s laughter hooted louder than that of the whole kit and caboodle of them.
I am grateful for Blin’s notes on family history, a great impetus to the work done by Wendy Jack and me. Although Wendy and I had never met nor heard of each other, it was Blin’s notes that brought us together and have given me a treasured long-distance friend. Both of us enjoy the always fresh and slightly irreverent tone of Blin’s notes and correspondence. “For the past few days I have been like Alfred Waddell, up a tree, sir, but in my case its the family one, & gosh! it has been a 'flee bedder' in its time!!” If only we had even more of them. She refers to Mary Jane REED as “an unclaimed treasure” and her tongue is only barely in cheek when she describes the marriage of her aunt, the redoubtable Margaret JACKSON to Andrew Bradford MCCULLAGH: “Andy - married Margaret Jackson Reed - Poor fella!”. When I reread her notes, I feel as if I am seated at the kitchen table at Killynure, have just pulled my chair in a little closer and she is facing me over a steaming cup of righteous tea (though perhaps with a shot of Black Bush or Jamieson’s in it).
The Killynure of today has seen changes from Blin’s days, although fewer changes than what one might expect. The red gatehouse is gone now (When Dorothy & Len visited in 1957, it was still there and had a fire and bellows.) Lizzie the maid has long since passed on and the bell pulls that would have called her to the various rooms have been rendered inactive. The farm is still a working farm and when I slept in the front bedroom upstairs, I could look out on fields that Blin would have looked out on. A little bit of heaven.
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