The Decision – Our Immigrants' Son

The Decision

Story by John F. P. Murphy. The Irish and English recording is performed by Actress Natalie Britton.

Irish-born Patrick Murphy and Mary Heffernan—together—ventured into a new and uncertain world. It was 1845. They had only the hope and belief that a better life awaited them. Without a full understanding of the New World, they decided to become Americans. Perhaps they only had a few sketches, a newspaper, or a book about the new land. Likely a letter from a new arrival—with important news—beckoned.

Together, they departed Ireland, still unmarried, young, but certainly in love. Imagine their deep emotions as they made their first brave steps forward. They stepped aboard a nineteenth-century packet ship, the Sweden, and faced the North Atlantic.

Waves and winds were strong. Wood beams creaked. Smells of sickness hung in the salt air. Humanity was packed in tight. Shipwrecks loomed beneath the deep ocean. But also aboard there was song—Irish song. Folk dance. Stories. Long yarns.

Leaving meant cutting ties, leaving an old order, leaving a homeland, leaving familiar surroundings, leaving the old storytellers for the new, leaving family, leaving a church, hoping to leave hardship, leaving death.

They sailed on. County Waterford grew more distant. Hard work lay ahead—and it would age the young. The Ireland they brought with them now existed only in their hearts. Perhaps they held close a memory of a place now remembered only through the mist of time.  

The two of them clung to their unshakable belief they were making the right decision. Their expectation was that they would never return. They never did. Neither did their children. Their posterity would become Americans, despite confronting ardent and pervasive discrimination in their new home.  

This young couple left Ireland just before the Great Hunger’s scourge and they were pulled by the promise that was America. How incredibly brave! But they had each other. Their faith. And likely not much else.  

They prospered. Slowly. As did their children, and their children’s children, and these children’s children; they moved forward with all the complexities of life.

Patrick and Mary found joy—no—they made joy. What a momentous decision, decided because of wrongs done to them and done to Ireland and because of episodic blight. But a better, beautiful life was brought forth by them, wrought by their hands’ work and their unending, lifelong love. They held tight to God’s hand throughout. Ireland certainly lived in them. They never stopped loving Ireland. 

Together—they have now stepped into the ages. Their decision, if not made, would mean that we, their Irish American descendants, would not exist. Patrick and Mary made that decision.

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