Aisling an Ógfhir
This year, my 18 year old son William left home and travelled half way around the world to attend university in Dubai. As his departure date approached, I felt compelled to feed him all of his favorite meals: steaks, tacos, hamburgers, pineapple upside down cake, crepes. Nurturing him like this was the best way I knew to express my love for him.
On the day he left, I felt the strong urge to cram him full of practical knowledge. Be aware of your surroundings, I told him, keep your wallet close to your body, watch out for strangers. I soon gave up, realizing reluctantly that the world would teach him these things one way or another anyway.
I felt such a sense of loss as he disappeared into the security line at the airport. He had become a young man so fast, and I regretted all the times I hadn’t spent enjoying this beautiful person. He had grown up despite me into an honest and thoughtful man, polite, articulate and with a wry sense of humor.
Alexander, Hugh, William, and James Cascadden set sail from Londonderry in 1790, bound for a better life in the United States. They were 19, 18, 17 and 16 respectively, four fine young Protestant lads from Drumhome in County Donegal, in northwest Ireland. They left behind their father, Robert, their mother, and sister Luella in pursuit of a more prosperous life abroad.
I imagine their mother felt just as I did, worrying about whether she had adequately prepared them for the real world, and mourning her loss as her sons left to pursue their dreams. I am sure in the days that led to their leaving that she fed them lovingly with hearty meals of stew, potatoes and brown soda bread.
Their trip itself would have frightened her greatly: a ten week journey across the Atlantic Ocean in a small ship that would be tossed around carelessly at sea. Sudden storms, illness and food shortages were all common occurrences in the sea voyages of the time.
But off her sons went anyway, just as mine did, just as we had both intended. We wanted the very same things for them: better opportunities, independence, expanded horizons.
William made the 22 hour trip to Dubai without incident despite the worries of his mother, and his great 6x grandfather, William Henry Cascadden made it safely to Pennsylvania. Hugh and Alexander did too, but 16 year old James was lost at sea. I’ve heard various family stories of shipwrecks, icebergs, drinking salt water and jumping overboard, but I don’t know the truth about how he died.
My heart goes out to James’ mother, whose worst nightmare and best hopes were both realized. She lost one son, but the others, including William Henry, thrived on this new continent. He married a decade later, settled in Ontario, Canada, had eight children with his wife Betsy Bayles, and died at 77. His first born was named James, and when I researched the family here and back in Donegal, I found the name James was carried on in the next nine generations. Gone too soon, but 220 years later, still not forgotten.
Fair winds and following seas, Will.
“Aisling an Ógfhir”, or the “Young Man’s Dreams”, was first recorded for the harp by church organist James Bunting in 1790 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This song is thought to be the original tune that later became Londonderry Air, and that the words to the famous Irish song “Danny Boy” were eventually penned to.
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling From glen to glen, and down the mountain side The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying 'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide. But come ye back when summer's in the meadow Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so. And if you come, when all the flowers are dying And I am dead, as dead I well may be You'll come and find the place where I am lying And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me. And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me. I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.