“What a splendid book … what a delightful story. The bibliography and illustrations give it the right air of authenticity. The book is very educational – all those who read it will hardly notice they are being taught … the author is a superb storyteller! I could feel the slushy peat field … I could smell the rain coming.”
Authority on Grosse Île and its preservation as an Irish monument
Quebec City, Canada
How in the world did Polly Noble, a bubbly little girl with freckles, born just outside Dromore in January 1837, live to become the subject of a biography more than a century later in Toronto?
This is the story of an idylic irish childhood torn asunder by the famine of 1847, and the trials of emigration to a new life in Canada. It was on her father’s farm, on the old Coach Road between Dromore and Enniskillen, that Polly spent an idyllic two years with her parents, George and Jane Noble. Then Disaster struck. On January 6, 1839, the infamous ‘Big Wind’ rose out of the sea and swept across Ireland, wailing like a thousand banshees. It flattened whole villages, burned down farm houses, and finally killed her father. It changed Polly’s life forever. Two years later, Polly’s mother, Jane, married William Fleming, the handsome widower across the road at Bridgewater Farm. Soon Polly began to walk back and forth the mile or so to the one-room school run by the Kildare Society in Dromore. But she found time to plant potatoes, milk the cows, look after the goats, pull flax, chase the hens and run bare-foot in the meadows. Then disaster struck again, this time the potato crop failed and famine and typhus threatened Bridgewater Farm. Like thousands of Irish people, the Flemings decided they must escape. They packed what they could, travelling by horse and cart to Londonderry/Derry, and drinking in their last views of the green fields and hills of Ireland. On May 14, 1847, along with 418 other passengers, they boarded the three-masted sailing ship ‘Sesostris’. Only 10 years old, Polly was on her way to a new life in Canada. After an appalling voyage, during which some of the passengers, including Polly’s darling little brother and sister died, they docked at Grosse-Île, the quarantine station on the St. Lawrence River, about an hour from Quebec. After three years in Montreal, where she met her future husband, Polly was now ready for her next adventure in a vast unknown land called Canada. Her destiny would be linked with a dozen children who had lost their mothers, one of them a future mayor of Toronto.
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About the author
Polly of Bridgewater Farm: An Unknown Irish Story was written by Catharine Fleming McKenty. Catharine is the granddaughter of four-time mayor of Toronto, R.J. Fleming; younger brother of Aunt “Polly” Noble Verner, who ran the Cabbagetown Store, in Toronto during the late 1800s.
Polly of Bridgewater Farm – A review by Barbara Canella (nee Ennis) published in the Tyrone Constitution Thursday 13th May, 2010
I picked up a copy of this delightful book during the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Concordia University in Montreal. It is a wonderful, gentle book about a subject that was a painful time in Irish history. It tells an ageless story of famine amidst plenty but without bitterness or prejudice. It is definitely a book for our times when Irish people, both north and south of the border, have moved beyond the violence caused by bigotry. Written by a Canadian with a great story to tell of her ancestry, there are hints of the innocence of “Anne of Green Gables” in her treatment of Polly’s poignant story. The descriptions of a day in the bog in Ireland conjure up fond memories of my own childhood there in the mid-twentieth century. At school in Ireland, we learned the misery of famine and this treatment by Catharine Fleming McKenty is refreshingly optimistic. The ending is crying out for a sequel. Although there is “Cabbagetown Store” by John McAree (available on the web at http://www.crpmuseum.com/index.php?article=40) which I have not read, I yearn for the continuing story as told from the perspective of Polly’s grand-niece. I hope that Catharine and Cabbagetown Press will seize this opportunity. The publication is also extraordinary in its paper quality, archival photos, illustrations and bindings.
A wonderful book for all age groups, it would make a great addition to the libraries of schools in Ireland.