A brief autobiography by James Francis Rafferty
|I was born on March 30, 1902
on a small farm, (36 acres) in County Roscommon 2-1/2 miles from Williamstown
Co. Galway. Went to school, when not needed at home, until I was 13.
(Compulsory Education came in, in 1914-1915). At age 13 & 14 I
spread turf for neighbors, at 8 shillings per week, also helped with
our own crops & turf.
In 1917 at age 15, after the big Snow of that year, I got a job on
"Direct Labor" County employment, at 15 shillings per week,
as a snow shoveler, after the Snow I worked on the County Roads &
in Sand Pits, & Quarries. In 1918 I got a job with a contractor
who was building a flour mill in the town, our part of it was digging
a "tailrace" a Waterway. I joined the Irish Transport &
General Workers Union. The Union at that time was establishing a wage
scale of 36 shillings per week. We had a few strikes and we were losing
a lot of time because of bad weather. I took a job on a dairy farm,
28 shillings per week, rain or shine. This place was an education
in farming, all modern tractors & machinery, it had its own electric
power, years before the town got it, about 100 cows, a few bulls,
eleven horses, 50 rows of oats, 1- acres of turnips & marigolds,
five acres of potatoes, 60 acres of meadow land, a two acre garden
with hot house & gardener, a manager, a land steward (graduate
of Agricultural College of Cork), a butler, a footman, cook, about
10 girls in the Big House, a groom, an electrician, a plumber &
three chauffers. There were about 40 men working the farm & gardens.
We worked hard, there was nobody poking you and the work was done
on a competitive spirit, with a line of 15 or more men across a field
hoeing turnips or marigolds or smigging turnips or wringing marigolds
(you were not allowed to use a knife on a margold) you kept your place
My brother and I joined the IRA in 1918, South Roscommon Brigade.
In the fall of 1920, together with many others I was laid off at the
dairy farm, it is now a show place. Home of the O'Connor Don, Clonalis
Castlerea. Direct decendent of the last King of Ireland. In Jan. 1921
because of the absence of employment I went to Birmingham, England,
looked for work for weeks. If you went to a Public Utility the first
thing they asked you for, was your Army Discharge paper. (Veterans
Preference). On construction jobs, they would tell you that they would
let you on if you would bring a bricklayer with you. (they were scarce.)
Before going to England I had resigned from the IRA and turned in
my equipment. In February I got a wire from home informing me that
our steamship tickets had arrived from the U.S.A. I immediatley returned
home, with my brother, we had to go to the much-hated RIC Barracks
to apply for passports, my brother at this time had also quit the
IRA. The Passports arrived within a few weeks & were shown to
our friends, After a week or so I got some feeling, which caused me
to take the Passports & tickets out of the house and insert them
in the turf-rick.
About a week before our scheduled departure date, about 6:30 pm a
raid by a party claiming to be from the IRA. The purpose, to pick
up the passports. A thorough search was made of the house without
result. We were then escorted to a field a short distance from the
house and while two covered us with guns the third interrogated us.
After much of this I kind of broke down & told my brother, I'll
tell him. He must have heard this, because when I told him that the
tickets & passports were in the hand of a well known steamship
agent in the town, that I would go with him right then to pick them
up, he seemed satisfied, expecting that I would pick them up and give
them to him. I knew he would not take a chance on going into the town
at that time of night. The raid was not pulled by our Company and
though we had a strong suspicion that the originator of it came from
the Company we never established it.
Later in the evening we went out to visit with our usual crowd and
took evasive action, (crossed the fields on our way home.) After we
got home, we packed up our slight gear, went to the turf rick, removed
a sod took out the tickets & Passports put them in my pocket and
headed for the nearest town. Our father & mother came with us
about a half mile, where we said good-bye. Our older brother came
with us to the town. We got a train for Dublin and a night boat to
Holyhead. We stayed at a hotel overnight & next day contacted
a friend in Holyhead who took us to his house for the rest of the
week before going to Liverpool. We sailed from Liverpool on the Wite-Star
Line, R.M.S Cedric on March 30th 1921, my birthday. Those 30's followed
me around, married on June 3rd 1930 etc. My wife's birthday is January
We had a rough trip across, because the Cedric, which had been used
as a troop transport was not fully converted. We slept in three tiered
bunks as the soldiers had, in steerage. On arrival in New York, we
saluted Miss Liberty but still did not know our status, we were unloaded
and taken to Ellis Island for fumigation, you had to surrender all
your clothing & they were processed, but I had an overcoat which
I prized very much, when the clothes came back from the fumigation
process, it looked like the Biblical coat of Jacob. "Many Colors"
Leaving Ellis Island, we began to understand rackets. The S.S. agent
booked us on the Fall River Line, which then ran so we were back on
a steamer of sorts again, To the best of my memory, we debarked at
Mansfield Mass. and picked up the Boston & Maine for Manchester
N.H. Not being too green, as soon as we got off we took a taxi to
234 Bell St. greeted by our brothers & sisters.
My first job in Manchester was for the Manchester Street Railway,
We were assigned to cleaning parks, owned by the Company, Pine Island,
Massahesic Lake Park & others.
I had overlooked one very important occasion in my life. In 1912 arrived
home from Galveston Texas, two cousins Ellen and Agnes, Beautiful
girls, for me at 10 years of age, the chief attraction, they were
on the first ship ("The Carpathia") to reach the scene of
the wreck of the Titanic, after reversing their route & searching
through fields of ice, over 100 miles, 3-1/2 hours under full steam.
The Titanic was long since gone down, but the Carpathia picked up
several hundred survivors, and brought them back to Queenstown or
Tom Coyne & his sisters from a family close by, were in Chicago
& they always mailed the Chicago papers to their father, in this
way although, only ten, I was fully up on all events, I was fully
informed of the wreck of the Titanic, I would say, Better than the
average, The girls could give little information because I presume
that during rescue operations they were kept below-decks. Living up
to the law of the sea, a German ship 100 miles east turned back to
aid in the rescue. It had been claimed that the Titanic was unsinkable.
But who knows?