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Final weeks on the Islands

Meany, Dr Denis

6. Final weeks on the Islands
Final weeks on the Islands

Denis spent a very harsh five years on the Islands. The oldest living Aleute said that it was the harshest in his living memory. The Doctors task was by no means an easy one, apart from being the Islands Medical Officer and Teacher, he was also Agent for the "Alaska Fur Co". Writing as early as 1873, he says."Was left alone on the Island of St. George, with a steward and cook and an officer on the part of the government". At the time of this particular entry, he had just shipped out 68.000 Seal furs for San Francisco. Denis was also appointed Commissioner for the United States Government, by this time his Salary had increased to $100. Nevertheless, his writings of 1876/7 betray his feelings of loneliness and longing for home. He was - towards the end of his stay - suffering quite bad with hip pain and on occasion confined to bed for up to a week at a time. Several entries in his Journal of 1876 bemoans the late arrival of the Steamer which would carry his mail from home. Each entry made by him would close with the words "Good night Frank". It took me some time to discover that "Frank" was his sister who was in fact Sister Ellen Francis who was a Nun at Lismore Convent Co Waterford.

By this time Dr Denis Meany had become adept in art of survival. He was keen hunter and actually made his own clothing from Seals and Fox skins. During his last months on the Island he was busy making two coats."I am now at work making a fur skin over coat for self of dark skins and when finished I'll make another of Light skins. It takes 43 skins to make" He goes on to say, "It's a big job, I'd rather do it myself than pay a woman $10 for making one, so she'd expect $20 for the two."
During the final six weeks of his exile, the Island was completely surrounded by a sea of solid ice. He states. "There's not a single blade of grass to be seen". On St Patrick's day 1877, he declares. "Please God, I'll be in the ould Country this time next year. I want a change. Ice all around the Island, only a little open water. I treated our boys to some "Congress water"(Whiskey) today, they drank to Holy St.Patrick."

On Monday 4th of May. The Steamer finally arrived to return Dr Meany to the mainland.

An Interesting aspect of Denis's stay in San Francisco was the people that he visited while he remained there. I include some extracts here because of their relevance and content, which may be of interest to some people that have connections with Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Moreover, perhaps there may be relatives of people mentioned still living at Dungarvan or indeed other parts of the world.

Hannigan Michael. "I called to see Michael Hannigan of Dungarvan, Tom's Son. He is in a splendid way. He has $100 a month. He is without exception one of the smartest young men I ever came across. He has a brother out here in another dry goods store or shop doing well. Before they got those good places, they both worked in the limestone quarries for two and a half dollars a day, but now they are independent to any man."
The Thomas Hannigan referred to here was most likely Thomas who had shops on the Main Street of Dungarvan.

Landers. "I called to see David Landers, who worked at Ms Odham's some years ago. He is out here doing well in a cloth Shop. His brother Pat is in the hardware line. He was formerly with Keatings of Dungarvan. They command great respect".
The Landers family referred to here are either from the Carrigroe area of Dungarvan or from Kilminnin, Dungarvan. I believe that David may have had a business partner named Byrne.

O'Brien. " Bob O' Brien of Dungarvan is gone up the country and taken a large tract of land with nearly 2.000 horses. If they don't get killed by the Indians or the miners. They should do well"

Connell. "There is a son of Mrs Connell's of Cappoquin here in a liquor store.. well I'll see him tomorrow". Other people he mentions as having visited are, Father O Gorman of Abbeyside, Dungarvan. Fr Prendergast who was with him at Mount Mellary, and came from Ballylooby.

Fr. William Walsh. Philadelphia. " Went to see Fr. Walsh of Dungarvan, remained a day and one night with him".

Fr John Kiely. "Crossed over to Brooklyn to see Fr. J. Kiely. Here I remained for my stay in New York. I had a Cead Mile Fàilte from the noble hearted and Dungarvan Sagarth, who spared not himself or his carriage to show me around".

Dr Denis Meany eventually returned to his native Clonea. The family farm was no longer there. He did however purchase a farm and married a local lady named Mari Barry. He did not become a gentleman farmer. He took a keen interest in the welfare of the poor in the community, served on the board of Guardians and worked at the dispensary in Dungarvan. In 1883, he was appointed to a special committee set up to deal with the acquisition of suitable sites for the erection of Labourers cottages in the Dungarvan and Ballinacourty area. He worked up until the time of his illness and passed away five days later on April 2nd 1892.

Author: Eddie Cantwell

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