Proud of her family
Carbonear resident reflects on a life lived for her children
A Carbonear woman in her twilight years talks about raising a large family, and the challenges along the way.
All you have to do to bring tears to Margaret Merrigan’s eyes is mention her brood of children.
The Carbonear mother, grandmother and great-grandmother looks intently at a family photo. A tear glistens in the corner of her eye. She raises a hand and brushes it away.
“I enjoyed raising my children,” she said in an interview with The Compass last week.
The tears she sheds bespeak happiness, not sorrow.
“ Thank God, my children never gave me any trouble,” she said.
Then, with a smile, she added, “ Well, just the routine, you know. They probably got into a scattered fight or something like that. But they never gave anyone any problems.”
The 81-year-old is in a pensive mood, ready to talk about the ups and downs of a life lived entirely for the benefit of her children. Nothing else mattered but to successfully raise them and encourage them in their personal pursuits in life. In this, she succeeded admirably.
Margaret Hurley was born on Bell Island in 1929. A year later, the family moved to the Conception Bay community of Kingston. After a few years, they went back to Bell Island, where Mr. Hurley worked in the mines. When he retired, all hands returned to Kingston.
Margaret was in Grade 9 when she left school.
“ I should have stayed in school,” she admitted in retrospect. However, her parents, not unlike others in those days, didn’t encourage females to get an education. Get married, yes. “But there was no such thing as girls going to work, like they do now,” Margaret said.
At 15, she went to Carbonear as a domestic. She did housework, hooked mats and painted lofts, among other tasks.
Later that year, she made a trip to Indian Harbour, on the Labrador, and cooked for her fisherman brother.
A year of domestic work on Bell Island followed, after which she went to Petty Harbour, her second and final summer in Labrador. She spent her 18th birthday on the S.S. Kyle, a well-known coastal boat that is now a fixture in Harbour Grace.
At 20, Margaret married William (Bill) Merrigan of Carbonear. A total of 12 children were born to the couple. Two died young; 10 are still living. Coincidentally, Margaret’s parents also had 10 children.
When he was well, Bill worked as a carpenter. However, as a tuberculosis sufferer, he had only about 20 per cent of one lung.
“ That affected him,” Margaret said. “At that time, he was given six weeks to live. But he lived 48 years longer than the doctor had told him he was going to live!”
To say that times were tough is an understatement.
Today, Margaret Merrigan lives independently in her own house. She feels well physically.
Still, her children are always on her mind. “ I love my children,” she said.
One Sunday recently, she had 16 of her children and their offspring in for Jigg’s Dinner. And what comes after the meal? “ I listen to them telling stories, about places they went and what they did when they were growing up,” she answered. “It brings back a lot of memories.” The tear tap is turned on again. “ It makes me lonely sometimes,” she said.
Margaret is well-known in her town and active in her church. In fact, some 300 people attended her 80th birthday party.
Brenda Dean of Options Hair Studio in Carbonear knows the senior lady well.
“ When we started out, I was her hairdresser,” Dean said. “But then we became very close friends.
“ She’s like everybody’s Nan. She leaves a very positive, lasting impression on anybody and everybody she meets.”
Margaret herself is modest and unassuming. There are aspects of her life she doesn’t even mention, unless asked. Dean revealed some of those things.
“ She’s always telling jokes,” Dean said. “Anybody and everybody who knows her will tell you the same thing. She likes to entertain, make everybody around her in a good mood, no matter the situation.” But it doesn’t stop there. “As a young girl, she used to do a lot of dancing,” Dean continued. “Even at the very young age of 81, she still loves to dance.” Margaret especially loves the square dance.
“I keep telling her, ‘Don’t ever act your age because you most certainly don’t show it,’ “ said Dean.
Margaret herself has her own take on Dean’s statement. “ I don’t try to hide my age,” she said. “Lots of people say I don’t look my age, but I don’t know if they’re telling me the truth or not. It’s nice to hear, though.”
Margaret has a modicum of advice to offer readers.
“ The only thing I can say is trouble and hard work don’t kill anybody!”
As one who experienced both in her long life, Margaret Merrigan has earned the right to make that statement.
“ While Bill was out of work, he did a lot of setting and selling vegetables,” Margaret explained. “ That’s how he made a living.”
Dependence on government assistance became a necessity.
“ We had no other choice,” Margaret said. “I would tell my children, ‘ Your father is sick, not lazy.’ You were reared hard and honest.”
At all times and under all circumstances, her children were her primary concern. “ They are the ones I lived for,” she said.
Her greatest fear was that something dreadful would happen to them before they grew up. She didn’t want her children to make the same mistake as she did by leaving school early.
Which is why she did all within her power to encourage them to achieve, to obtain an education, to have their own professions, ensuring gainful employment.
Her 10 children distinguished themselves as teachers ( three), a hairdresser, sheet metal workers ( two), an office worker, an electrician, a roofer and a construction supervisor.
“It made me so proud when they made something of themselves,” she beamed.
Margaret Merrigan posing for a picture after being serviced by her hairdresser, Brenda Dean, owner/operator of Options Hair Studeo, Carbonear.
The Merrigan family in 1976, from left: Helen, Anthony, Angela, Bill, Sadie, John, Catherine, Margaret, Frank, Bill, Jim and Mike. The family is posing on the occasion of Catherine’s marriage.
Margaret Merrigan spent her eighteenth birthday aboard the S. S. Kyle. Recently she asked her granddaughter, Siobhan Merrigan, to paint her a picture of the coastal vessel.