Memories from Ken Neil

Sadly I do not have any of the wonderful memories of spending happy childhood times in St. Columban such as those of  Fergus, Kelley or Sean. By the time I came along the Delaneys had long left the Parish. Therefore my memories are just snippits of information that my grandfather would suddenly remember and recount to us. He always talked, almost longingly, about St. Columban and the farm as if he had lived there all his life. His mother Margaret Delaney instilled in him the love of the Irish and the importance of their St. Columban roots. Obviously he spent time there in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. He was probably there when his aunt Catherine was buried, when his grandfather James was buried and also his grandmother Margaret.

The farm was sold in 1908 and I am not aware of any return visits by my grandfather until the early fifties, when, during one of his reminisces, my father suggested that we take a drive to St. Columban and try to locate the farm and the cemetery. It was deemed a great idea, so my parents, my grandparents, my younger sister and myself climbed into the old Dodge and set off on this road of discovery. No maps were required, just man’s natural ability to find his way in the wilderness. After about three hours of unnatural driving around on gravel roads and dead ends trying to remember the location , with the grandmother getting pretty agitated with the dust flowing into the car through the open windows (necessitated by the 90 degree temperature that turned the car into a sauna bath) and the black flies biting every part of our bodies, covered or not, we reluctantly decided to return home.

One problem, we were lost in this maze of dirt roads, cow paths and dead ends. But with a quick prayer to St. Anthony (my grandmother’s idea), and with apologies to St. Columban we carried on and low and behold we turned the next corner and there right in front of us was the church and across the street, the cemetery. 

As we piled out of the car my grandfather took me by the hand and we started to wander through the cemetery. He would approach a headstone, pause for a while as if in deep thought, and then say, with his eyes glistening, this is my grandfather. We would move on to the next one and he would say, this is a cousin, this is an aunt and so on and so on.  He seemed to know most of the people and their relationships to each other. Looking back it is truly sad that all that knowledge was not documented. In any event this excursion had made his day and he was quite happy.

After a while, looking like the before picture in an acne commercial, thanks to the millions of native black flies who were only to pleased to welcome us to St. Columban, we all got back into the car for the return trip to Montreal.

One problem, once we left the cemetery we were back into that maze of uncharted pioneer paths. After another hour of navigating those bumpy and rocky  “roads”, the car finally had enough and simply decided to take a rest in the nearest ditch, much to the chagrin of my very annoyed grandmother. My grandfather didn’t say much, he just sat there with a contented grin on his face. Nothing would spoil his St. Columban memories.

Shortly after an obliging farmer came by with his team of horses and pulled the car out of the ditch. Unfortunately the drive shaft was broken and as it was Sunday we had to leave the car and hire a taxi to get us back to Montreal. All and all it was an amazing day and my first memory of  St. Columban.