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The village of Convoy in County Donegal is thriving at the moment with many new and elaborate housing developments. Cashing in on the Celtic Tiger and long may it continue. It wasn’t always like that. In fact just a few years ago Convoy was exactly the same as it had been for over a hundred years. Most of the people who lived in it worked in the Convoy Woollen Mill and what economy there was managed to sustain a couple of shops and the Post Office. If you didn’t work in the Mill or manage to get casual labouring jobs in one of the farms outside the village you hadn’t much choice but to emigrate. Either to building work in England or Scotland or to the promise of something better in America. George McBride didn’t see much future in Convoy nor did he fancy joining ditch digging on the other side of the Irish Sea so just after the turn of the 20th Century he set off by ship for the U.S.A.. He settled in a place called McKeesport in Pennsylvania and worked in one of the many steel mills which peppered the area.

 

Three of the McBride sons
Three of the McBride sons


George settled into American life very well. The money was good in McKeesport and it wasn’t too long before George’s thoughts started to take a romantic turn. He was also a bit homesick and somehow he managed to combine these two powerful emotions and come up with the idea that he would go back to Ireland, find a wife and bring her to America with him. These were the days before transatlantic air travel. To travel by boat took the best part of a week and with only three weeks vacation from his work that left him just one week to find, court and propose to some, as yet unsuspecting, young Irish girl.




Mary Jane launches the U.S.S. Scott
Mary Jane launches the U.S.S. Scott

 

He arrived back in Convoy on a Sunday and spotted her almost immediately coming from Mass. Inquiries led him to find out that she was Mary Jane Ponsonby from a town land called Tivickmoy. She was from a large family of five girls and four boys and, if truth be told, had no intention of looking for a boyfriend never mind a husband, but a ‘Returned Yank’ with a few spare dollars in his pocket would have been very hard to ignore in the Convoy of the early 1900’s.

They were introduced. George, mindful that time was not on his side, quickly made his intentions known and, close to the end of the week, had convinced Mary Jane to marry him. This was only half the battle because he still hadn’t even met her parents – my great grandparents. A suitable appointment was made but George was unable to make it because of an encounter with a faulty bicycle. He had to return to America with nothing more than a promise from Mary Jane and a vague notion that her parents’ enquiries about him would lead them to realise that he would be able to give her a very good life in McKeesport.

Mary Jane and her  grandson Eddie Humphreys
The Pittsburgh Press featuring a picture of Mary Jane and little Eddie Humphreys

His plan worked. The Ponsonby parents agreed to the plan and a few months later a ticket arrived for the boat to New York and Mary Jane set off from Tivickmoy on the long journey to McKeesport. She and George got married a few months later and by all accounts were blissfully happy. They had eight children – six boys and two girls.
By then it was the late 1930’s and if life in America was good, it was just the opposite in Europe with the onset of the Second World War. America joined the allied war effort of course and five of Mary Jane and George’s sons, George, Emmett, Terry, Eugene and Francis, joined the Navy. All five served at the same time but not together in the same units and, miraculously, all five survived the war, although a couple of them had a few close encounters.

 

The Congressional  Record
The McBride's story is features in the Congressional Record

On the third of April 1943 Mr and Mrs McBride and their sons were recognised for their contribution to the war effort when Mary Jane was asked to christen a United States Naval Destroyer called the U.S.S. Scott. She and her family were mentioned in Congress a few days later and the local papers carried the story for weeks. It was quite an honour for a young woman who was from in a large impoverished family in a small Donegal rural community.


Colum Arbuckle
30/6/2006

 

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