A Blog of Flashbacks
Philip Philip Barry
This is selection from my book, The Soul of My Soldier (published by Familius, 2015).
Juniper roots become dry and limbs desiccated and twisted, but the stubby trees still grow needles and berries at their tops. So too does oral family history change, in this case across one hundred years. After a 1993 family reunion of several generations and over four hundred people, my mother-in-law, Eleanor Barry Giese told my husband and me her version of this story of an Irish village’s conflict and resolution. I then had several versions to meld.
Grandmother Barry, Eleanor’s mother, told me about her life in New York City because she had lived two blocks from where I spent part of my childhood. We both seemed to relish that we had lived so close in distance yet apart in time. Like few places in this country, fifty years had done little to change the Greenwich Village neighborhood where we lived. When I heard these stories, I saw Robert’s family and the history of war and peace within his and my family.
Like many who joined the military, Robert enlisted because his small town offered him little opportunity, and he knew he was not headed to college. He still remembers sitting on Grandfather’s knee. I doubt if Grandfather’s participation in resistance to the British fostered Robert’s desire to join the military, but it would not have discouraged it. To this day, if we watch a film with Irish accents, Robbie understands the dialogue. If the actors have an English or BBC accent, he says he can’t understand what they’re saying. I think such subtle learning is a part of how we learn prejudice. The Irish and the English have been at war for over four hundred years with periodic flaring of hostilities.
In the late nineteenth century in Ireland, the absentee English landlord still owned most of the country’s land. Each family either paid rent on their house, or if they owned it, they still needed to pay an annual fee to live in their dwelling. Presumably, this custom in Ireland corresponded to the custom in Scotland, both probably left over from the Middle Ages. Still extant in Scotland in the 1960s, this practice meant that someone could own the house but not the land on which it sat and had to pay a fee to live there.
In the late 1800s, English landlords hired men to go house to house to collect rent fees. Poor even before the potato famine of 1848, a family often had trouble scraping the funds together. If they did not pay, they were immediately turned out of the cottage. Knowing that some families did not have the money, it occasionally happened that young men of the area intimidated the fees collector who, then, did not return for a few days. This gave a family time to gather more money. As the story goes, the collector was robbed on occasion and the money taken to the next house.
Philip Philip Barry, Robert’s grandfather, was born in Tureendarby, Newmarket, County Cork on 31 October 1875, the youngest of six children. His father, Philip Kane Barry, had left for America before he was born, leaving the family to exist on village charity. Philip Philip was named for his paternal and maternal grandfathers. Because the same first and last names are so common in Ireland, many acquired nicknames. Robbie’s grandfather became known as Phil Ban’n: ban’n or bawn being Gaelic for “white.” Known as Whiteboys—a term of dignity for the secret society of eighteenth-century men who resisted the Crown’s taxes—these teenaged young men wore white hats and waylaid the Protestant rent and tithe collectors for the duration of the nineteenth century. To the Irish, the Whiteboys, probable forerunners of the Sinn Fein, were good boys who fought the English on behalf of their people.
In 1890, Philip Barry, age fifteen, and two friends, Jerry Egan and Dave York, waylaid the local collector. They had probably done this many times before one fatal night. In the melee of confrontation, the collector died either from falling off his horse or a blow to his head. All three young men were arrested and taken to jail.
Jerry and Dave pointed to Phil Ban’n. Phil went to prison and Jerry and Dave forcibly left the country, immigrating to America—Jerry to Lake County, Oregon, and Dave to San Francisco. It would be several decades before Phil ever spoke to either man, their betrayal still hot in his heart. During his ten years of imprisonment, a priest who taught him to read and write befriended Phil Ban’n. In those days, prisons did not provide meals. It was a small girl from the village, Bridget Cotter, the daughter of Phillip Cotter, a prominent and well-off villager, who, according to her father’s instruction, took Phil Ban’n his dinner bucket each day, beginning at the tender age of five.
In 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and pardoned many prisoners. Philip Philip Barry was one. He immigrated to Lake County, Oregon by way of the Panama Canal and California. In 1901, at the age of twenty-six, he landed in San Francisco and met his father, Philip Kane Barry, (who had left for the States before his son was born) for the first time. The two hardly ever spoke, but Philip Kane was known for not talking much to anyone.
Starting off as a sheepherder, Phil Ban’n took some of his pay in sheep and eventually became a Guano Valley and Long Valley sheep rancher. The sheep and cattle wars were going on in eastern Oregon at this time. By now, Phil had enough sheep to start his own ranch. Some cattlemen caught up with and captured him, then tied him to a wagon wheel and left him to die. One of his sheepherders came upon him in the dry open range and untied him.
Another incident involving Grandfather Barry occurred in 1904. He was driving 1,500 of his sheep and had stopped for the night. While he was asleep in his tent, some men came along, blindfolded him, and tied him up. Initially, Phil thought it was one of his brothers or cousins and hollered at them to stop joking around. Before long though, he realized these men had malicious intent. With Phil Ban’n trapped in his tent, the men then set about killing as much of his herd as they could. It seems that The Oregonian, Portland’s and all of Oregon’s newspaper, got wind of this and published the event. Western Oregon became so outraged that this triggered the quick end of what had become known as Oregon’s Sheep and Cattle Wars. Later, Phil Ban’n, like many other ranchers in the area, ranched both sheep and cattle.
All this time, as Phil made his way in America, he waited for Bridget, the same young girl who had brought him his dinner bucket for the ten years he was in prison. Bridget’s brother, Joe Cotter, knew of Phil Ban’n’s intent of marriage to his sister. Joe gave Bridget, now age seventeen, the fare for the boat to America, enough money to get as far as New York. In order to travel alone, she had to state she was eighteen, the age shown on Ellis Island records. She lived with a family on the north side of West Ninth Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Greenwich Village, when she first arrived, working as a seamstress for the family who owned the brownstone house. One of Phil Ban’n’s brothers, who also lived in Lake County, said, “Phil, you better go get her. She won’t wait much longer.” Phil Ban’n took the train back East to fetch his bride. They journeyed by train to Oregon, marrying along the way in Washington, DC, in June of 1909.
He and Bridget had twelve children. They lived at the Shirk Place on the ranch in Guano Valley, and also bought a house in town, 134 South H Street, so the children could attend school. The sixth child and fifth girl they named Eleanor. Phil called her Paddy and doted on this feisty and very-much-like-him child.
In 1942, Eleanor Barry Giese, now herself a young bride, her mother Bridget Cotter Barry, her Uncle Pat Cotter, and her sister Elizabeth Barry left Lake County for a train trip to San Francisco. Shaving and looking steadily in the mirror, Phil Ban’n gave his daughter an order before she left.
“Go see Div Yorrk, ‘n’ tell hi’ I sint ye.” He handed her a slip of paper with an address.
“Why?” she asked.
“Go see Div Yorrk, ‘n’ tell hi’ I sint ye,” Phil Ban’n repeated.
She put the address in her handbag and left for the city.
The four—mother Bridget, Uncle Pat, Eleanor, and Elizabeth—took a taxi to the address. Eleanor, young and slender, wore a green suit with a matching hat and a fur-trimmed coat. She got out and the others waited in the taxi. She went to the door and rang the bell. A good-looking man, about six feet five inches tall, with glasses so thick they magnified his eyes, opened the door. Having no idea of the looks of the man she was to see, knowing only that Dave York owned a lot of apartment buildings in San Francisco, and seeing that this man was too tall for an Irishman, Eleanor said, “I’m looking for Dave York. My father sent me to see him.”
He opened the screen door and grabbed Eleanor, knocking her hat to the ground.
“My God! My God! You’re Phil Ban’n’s daughter!” he cried. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he held the five-foot-four young lady so tightly it hurt her. He didn’t let go and hugged her more and more until she was afraid he’d break her ribs.
“Let go! You’re hurting me! Please let go,” she cried out.
Dave York finally calmed enough to release her and invited her in.
“But my mother and sister and Uncle Pat are in the taxi.”
Patrick Cotter! From home! He rushed to the cab to invite them all in and paid the fare.
Together they walked to the door of his house. His wife was a little bit of a thing who wore her hair in a bun. Dave insisted the guests stay for a turkey dinner. He told his wife to go to the store to buy the turkey, and on her return she fixed the celebratory dinner.
Periodically during the afternoon, as the turkey cooked, Dave York, sitting in his armchair, talked and wept, sometimes muttering, “Forgiveness. Forgiveness.”
In the late 1940s, Phil Ban’n and his son-in-law, Con Lynch, were shipping their cattle out of Plush, Oregon. Con did some manipulation at the end of the day and managed to get Phil Ban’n to have a whiskey with Jerry Egan that cold autumn afternoon—their only contact since that fateful day the tax collector died.
The family was left to wonder whether it was Phil or Dave or Jerry who caused the fee collector to fall off his horse. I have also often wondered about these three young men—Phil Ban’n, Jerry Egan, and Dave York. Were they revolutionaries like the Whiteboys of earlier years or Sinn Fein, the group that lay on the horizon?