In 1852 Thomas and Ellen came to America with a new hope for a better life and the opportunity to provide for their family and perhaps a new beginning for the generations to come.
Coming from Co. Kilkenney in Ireland they were leaving behind family, friends and all that they knew. They were being driven from the land of their birth not by men or by a government but by the desolation of The Great Famine that took the lives of millions of their countrymen.
As was the custom of many they boarded ships for that long and hard journey far across the sea to a new land and a new life. Once arriving they found a new country that was wide open. Soon they became part of the fabric that was forming the new industrial nation that has become a giant symbol of hope and freedom to peoples of the world.
One thing they brought with them was their character for hard work and faith in God. Here they settled in the town of Saugerties, New York, along the mighty Hudson River. They became members of Saint Mary of the Snow Roman Catholic Church, which was established earlier in 1833. However, in 1854 the lives of the family were changed drastically when Thomas was killed in a explosion while at work.
Here is the account of that horrible day for many in the busy town along the Hudson called Saugerties.
Saugerties, New York - May 27, 1854
Powder Mill Explosion.
On Thursday the 25th inst., six very distinct and heavy concussions were heard at about 7 1-2 oclock, A.M., and a few moments after, a vast cloud of smoke arose in the direction of Laflin & Smith's powder mill. So violent was the shock that glass was broken from several windows, although the mills are five miles distant.
We started for the scene of disaster soon afterwards, and on approaching, witnessed an unwelcome sight. For a great distance around where the mills had lately stood, the ground was almost covered with blackened pieces of timber, shingles, splinters, limbs of trees, leaves, &c.
Hardly a trace was left of the former site of several mills. Trees in the vicinity ten or twelve inches in diameter were cut off by the great force of flying timbers. A wrought iron bar connected with the press, four inches in diameter had been broken off by a lengthwise pressure. Although the mills are situated quite a distance from each other, yet one exploded after another in almost instantaneous succession.
Going further we learned that seven men had perished in the explosion. --- Their names are Cyrus Brocklebank, a native of New Hampshire, Peter F.L. Buising a German, Jas. Bell, Isaac Bell, Geo. Kennedy, Jeremiah Quirk and Thomas Healy, natives of Ireland. The last four had families. One man was thrown a quarter of a mile from the mills, and when found was not much mutilated, only a part of his head being blown off. Three of the bodies were somewhat entire, the remaining ones being found in pieces, scattered over a large extent. Arms, legs, ribs, a lower jaw, pieces of back bone, &c., were found until enough of the remains were gathered by which to identify the whole seven.
The cause of the explosion is unknown. The mills had been started about five minutes when it occurred, and but part of the hands were in their places. Had it happened a few minutes subsequent the loss of life would have been greater. About seven hundred kegs of powder were in the different mills which exploded. The owners suffer a great pecuniary loss by this terrible catastrophe which has destroyed so many lives and made widows and orphans.
On a sunny spring day I went to the grave site of Thomas and Ellen to connect with this part of my roots and reflect on these findings. Here below are some words that came to me upon reflection.
On the hilltop I came to you and
sat at your feet to ponder
what life was like.
I read to you the account
of your sudden and horrible death
and drew closer to you.
I looked out over the valley
to the river beyond.
I thought of the valley as a place
of toil and labor with
hands and sweat of brow.
Beyond the valley
lay the river,
a river of life and hope.
Looking back over the years many paths
and roads have been traveled throughout the valley.
Sometimes these paths and roads cross
and life is enriched.
Sitting here with you is more than
a meeting in time on the journey I travel.
Sitting here with you has become a moment to renew.
To look out over the valley with you
and see a river of hope.
A river ever flowing, always renewing.
As the eternal river flows and renews
so our life is renewed
as we meet here on a hill top in time.