About the places where these stories live:
Art by Tony Oakes, 2019. To purchase a print, click here.
In Ballyhest, Clonea, County Waterford, Ireland, it was the River Cloddiagh that enchanted me, where I imagined Bill’s grandmother’s life before she came to Albany and became a Reilly. The River Suir, separating Tipperary from Waterford, is just north of Ballyhest. We get together with Bill’s cousins on the other side of that riveer, in Carrick-on-Suir, to celebrate having found one another.
The Spruce Creek invited the six O’Hara immigrants and their mother, Ann, to make a good road up one side and down the other of it, and to build a covered bridge to keep them connected. For reasons no one has ever seemed to know, the road and the neighborhood was always, “Mexico.” As our families moved to other nearby towns, they still remained bound by two Canada Creeks…one to the east and one to the west of Herkimer County!
And Albany was rife with creeks from time before memory, etching their way out of the hills to the Hudson River. Fox Creek was the northern boundary, and Beaver Creek was the southern boundary of the City, more or less. Both of them were subsumed to accommodate the growing population, their waters made into underground tunnels to the Hudson. There is talk, these days, of unearthing the Beaver Creek, and letting it find its own way, once again, to the Hudson.
The Mighty Hudson, at Albany, was fed, in the old days, by streams that flowed out of the hills, to the left and right of the town, and often, right through the place. Seeking its own level, the water gouged out hollows that were uninhabitable, and were used as drainage ditches for all kinds of unmentionable stuff, inviting diseases to run amok. No one would live on those filthy creeks. Until the time of the Great Hunger in Ireland. That drove destitute Irish refugees, often starving, often sick, to find family and maybe the way to fortune, in Albany. They were willing to build shacks along Fox Creek, toward the northern edge of the city. Cholera epidemics were frequent in the 1830’s and 1840’s. At least two of our recently-arrived ancestors died in 1849 in Albany, of Cholera…John and James Segrave, who belonged to a family of Tailors. By the time my great grandmother, Catherine Donahue, married Thomas Segrave in 1877, Fox Creek ravine was known as “Sheridan Hollow.” We still call it that, today.
Farther south, at the other edge of Albany, Beaver Creek ate its way through what used to be a tar-paper shack shanty town, but then became Beaver Park (now Lincoln Park). The natural creek was buried in a tunnel under the park and the less than humble homes were razed as the population increased. By the 1850’s, the area was filling up with homes built by and for tradesmen and newly middle-class folks. My great-grandfather, Patrick McMahon, was one of those people. Arriving with his parents in 1839, he got himself a peddler’s cart, connected with a vegetable and fruit farmer in Galway, Saratoga County, and made enough money to own a home on the newly-built Myrtle Avenue, by 1960. He was only about twenty years old. That is where his granddaughter, my mother, was born, in 1908, at 90 Myrtle Avenue. The produce business continued to operate through his sons until the 1950’s, in the Lyons Building, in Market Square, on Hudson Avenue. Highways and cement overhead roads now occupy the space that once bustled with housewives and chefs and farmers and vendors in the early mornings. Can you hear them? “Fresh fruits!” “Fresh eggs!” Everything was “fresh.”