Shippin’ Up to Dublin – Interlude

This loom is probably very much like the looms my great-grandfather would have recognized.

As a part-timing, semi-self-employed, participation-trophy-wife, E-350 driving working mom, I was often available to chaperone field trips with our younger children (the older two don’t know how lucky they had it). The kids’ school, and their teachers were well aware of my simple rule – if it’s outside, I’ll go, if it’s inside, please find someone else. This meant that I had multiple occasions to visit the Frontier Culture Museum, in Staunton (forget how it’s spelled – it’s pronounced Stan-ton.).

The tour never changed much over the years, the English farm, the German farm, the Irish farm, the American farm, and eventually, the West African farm. I should have paid more attention to the the Irish farm, the 1700s Ulster linen weaver’s farm. Sure, the thatched roof is kind of cool, and yeah, burning peat stinks, and they have special beds because they all have some sort of lung problems, how fascinating. And there’s a loom in the living room where do you put all those kids. Yeah, flax., linen. Got it. How remarkable, are we done in here yet? Imma gonna go pet the sheep and the pigs.

Fast forward to 2019. I’ve somehow wended my way through a dozen genealogy websites, and am in the lower reaches of PRONI – the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland – looking at census records from 1880. Margaret Port, my dad’s grandmother. Her records. Her dad, a weaver. All born in Ballinderry near Moneymore. Magherafelt. Londonderry. Ulster. The thatched roof. The burning peat. The loom. Weaver’s Lung. The skinny ragged kids. The smell of rotten potatoes. My monogrammed napkins. My starched tablecloths at Thanksgiving. Black 47.

I was sick to my stomach. When I was in Staunton, at the Frontier Museum, I had been standing in Maggie Port’s world, and didn’t even know it.

And the more I learned of Maggie Port’s world, the sicker I got.

Margaret Port Smith - Kindly Grandmother, Bona Fide Bad-Ass

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