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One Photo; One Story: Homesick

Forty Children died during the six days of the Easter Rising is 1916. Six were dead within 500 yards of Dublin’s General Post Office, the others spread throughout the city.

My grandfather, William Fulham, was eight years old on the morning of the Rising, April 24, 1916.

It’s 104 years since that day, I heard through passed down stories that my grandfather, a supporter of the Rising and a lifelong Irish Republican, ran messages on his bicycle to various parts of the city for a few pennies a trip.

In my imagination, I can see a wee lad ride up to a door and be handed a message by Patrick Pearce to be delivered to James Connolly who then sent him to Eoin MacNeill on the outskirts of Dublin. He would then ride his bike home to Clontarf and give the pennies to his mother.

I also heard a story that in his twenties, he was so outspoken on his politics that it was “suggested” that he go to “Ameri-Kay” in order to stay alive. When I made my own trip to Dublin a few years ago, I was told he was in love with a Protestant girl and left for New York after a row with his father.

He met my grandmother, Elizabeth at a dance. She was an Irish girl from Tipperary and was Catholic. Much more to the liking of my great grandparents apparently.

The truth is buried with him. He never really shared much with his grandchildren. Men of his generation never spoke much, neither did he. He swallowed his feelings washed down with whiskey and beer. Grandmother used to say, “He’s got the addiction”.

I tried to get him laughing as he got older. He could tell a joke and have a laugh and just as soon get sour. I loved his guttural staccato laugh.

If it was “suggested” that he leave Dublin in 1929, a poem I found of his takes on an entirely different meaning to me.

In 2017, I went to the address listed on his birth certificate: 23 Brian Boru Ave, Clontarf, Dublin Ireland. It’s East of the Docklands on the mouth of the Liffey. Further east is Howth, The Irish Sea to Holyhead on the coast of England. I stood on the banks of the Liffey and saw a ship headed east toward Holyhead.

The sun was setting in the west as I imagined him composing his little sonnet.

The Wild birds call when the day is done

The green sea moans its endless song

As I stand on a beach and watch the ship

Come up with the dawn from the horizons lip

I think perhaps it may have been

To that far off land of which I dream

In fancy, I see the white gull soar

And hear once again an angry roar

Of an angry sea on a rockbound shore.

William Fulham, 1930

As I stood looking toward Holyhead, I couldn’t imagine he stood where I was and dreamed of going to England. I must have missed something.

No way an Irish Republican who survived the Easter Rising would have chosen the Crown.

As I examined his passport issued in February 1929, I noticed something that filled me with sorrow. He left in March of 1929 to come to America. He wrote the poem in 1930 in New York, not Dublin. He was homesick.

He had been looking out to New York Harbor, past Lady Liberty out to sea toward home.

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