Tom Barrett

One Man's Travels a Century Ago

Ellis Island, and Statue of Liberty
Courtesy of OptimumPx, Wikipedia Commons

DOB 7/12/1888 – 28/5/1959

Tom was born in the village of Lack, Turlough, about five miles outside Castlebar, Co. Mayo. He had four brothers and four sisters and they attended Parke N.S. where their aunt was a teacher. He went to England in his teens and worked there for a few years until he had saved enough money to emigrate to the U.S.A.

Taking the White Star Line

He sailed from Queenstown (Cobh) on the “Baltic” of the White Star Line on 23/4/1911 which docked at Ellis Island on 1/5/1911, where he had to go through the immigration process before been admitted to the U.S.A. At first he lived with his brother, Ned, at 2091 3rd Ave., N.Y.City until he started work and found other accommodation. He worked mainly on the construction of skyscrapers in N.Y.C. alongside other young Irishmen.

Two months after his arrival they got a letter from home saying that their father, Pat Barrett had died. They were upset at not been able to attend his funeral, but he was already buried by the time they received the news. Some years later, Tom and another brother, Martin, sent home money to have a headstone erected on their father’s grave, which is engraved on the base of the stone in Turlough cemetery.

His Travels Westward

After a few years he set off on his travels westward. At different times he was joined by his brothers and cousins. They worked on the construction of the railways, panned for gold (with little success) and for a time was sherriff in a small western town. They also worked on many of the large ranches across the states, fencing and herding cattle and driving them on long journeys to the railheads from which they would be taken to the cities for slaughter.

He often told stories of the adventures they experienced on those drives and of sleeping under the stars at night. There were very few roads, only tracks, so when they travelled by horseback or horse-drawn wagons to the nearest town or to other ranches they used compasses by day or took their bearings from the stars at night. In later life he would go out at night studying the stars and talk about them afterwards.

The Winters Were Harsh

He travelled through parts of Canada too. He worked in logging camps on the Great Lakes and used to describe the felling of the tall trees, stripping the branches, and floating the trunks down the rivers to the boats for transport to the lumberyards. He lived in Alberta for a number of years and considered buying land there, but the winters were harsh and the homes were very distant from one another.

In the Copper Mines

Tom paid occasional visits to New York City where he met Annie Boyle at an Irish house party and they corresponded on an irregular basis over the next few years. Some letters and cards she kept came from different places. In 1925 he wrote from Butte, Montana, saying that he was doing shift work in the copper mines from 6p.m. to 2.30a.m. every night. Later that year he wrote that he was doing bar-work outside the city limits and that the prohibition men didn’t bother much there. The next year he wrote from Chicago asking Annie to send on his cheque book as he wanted to get his affairs in order before he left. He said he would not come this way again and he also asked her to keep his citizen papers.

Back Home

August 1926 he came back to New York and on February 8th 1927, Tom and Annie got married in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament at 152 West 71st St. In 1930 they returned to Ireland, bought land at Knockthomas, Castlebar and resided there for the remainder of their lives.






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