There were of course many harrowing stories not unlike those of my own and Sean’s, as well as many miraculous escapes such as that of Vincent, or as he was known Vinny Garrity.Vinny and his young wife Jane had only been married about a year and were looking forward to the birth of their first baby. Vinny was a dockyard worker so it was inevitable they take a house near to his place of work. The tragedy that happened to him and his wife is one that should never have happened, a tragedy so unreal one wonders if indeed there is a god in heaven? Because of the imminent birth of the baby Vinny had taken some time off to be with Jane. It was whilst they were eating breakfast on that morning that suddenly they heard the explosion; Jane was the first to rush to the door, as Vinny was close behind her Shouting for her to come back. As she opened the door a projectile from the exploding ship hit her killing her instantly. Vinny meanwhile remained unhurt; to say the man was devastated would be an understatement, because as he sat in what was His house, where minutes earlier they had been planning their future cradling her Head in his arms, knowing he had also lost his baby his world had come to an end in just minutes. I rushed to the scene and was told by a woman who was walking about in a daze, the complete story. I had heard many many stories and the loss of my own family seemed enough but this story really got to me. As I knelt Beside Vinny he uttered the words “Why?”.
The Halifax dockyard, or what was left of it was almost flattened, and the count began of the dead. Well over one hundred men had been killed and these were men who worked in the dockyard, many were blown to bits and one story emerged that one worker had fallen to the ground just as his friend’s head rolled past his feet. I had heard many such stories and many of them made me feel sick inside. Sean Maguire had been taken to hospital whilst Vinny had to be dragged away from his dead wife. Like me many survivors wished they had died along with their families? And Wondered why indeed they had been saved?
On Monday December 17th at 2pm the scene at Chebucto Road School in Halifax was one that would remain with every living Canadian for many years. The area had been used as a mortuary since the explosion and thousands had gathered to say Goodbye to the one hundred unidentified victims of the disaster. Children had been kept well away from the school because the sight was only fit for those with a Strong stomach. The majority of the dead were burnt and charred as well as mutilated beyond recognition, skulls were crushed in and bones lay bare of flesh while many were minus legs and arms. They looked like blackened tree trunks rather than human beings. Many outside the school were violently sick as they stood In a blizzard trying to come to terms with death on a large scale, each one wond-Erring if any of the bodies belonged to a loved one, The sounds of people crying as the bodies were reverently placed in separate coffins could be heard for miles around, trucks were arriving in convoy to take the coffins to the cemetery, meanwhile a protestant and catholic service was hastily Arranged. I had arranged the funeral of my mother and father plus my brother Jack buried together after Christmas and this was agreed by the church.
Sean Maguire had been released from hospital a man, who was alone in the world, a man with a future without a family. Placing a hand on each coffin with tears running down his face he wondered how he was going to face the future?. Meanwhile Vincent Garrity had been sedated as he lay in hospital trying to figure out why Jane had opened that door and the loss of his child. Richmond school began its day like any other day on that fateful morning, the head Robert Dove had taken assembly and read prayers before returning
To his study to make preparations for the Christmas festivities which was on the horizon, some classes were to put on a show of Mac Beth whilst others Rein acted the birth of Christ a fitting tribute you might say?.
The sight that confronted me and the other members of the rescue team was one that no man or indeed women should ever have to face. The explosion had ripped through the school taking lives with it on its terrible journey, some of the children were about to embark on careers whilst others were looking forward to spending Christmas with their families. The loss of men and women was bad enough but to see children lying dead and dying was too much for me to take in. Sean Maguire began the tearful experience of saying goodbye to his folks. The Wind was biting cold and many of the graves had a blanket of snow over them. As his folks were placed in the ground he felt each one of them was saying,” Be Brave Sean?” After the service Sean realised he was alone and although he would find life hard he must face up to a life without a family. Sean made a decision that was to change his life forever. He decided to leave Canada and return to his mother and fathers home town of Donegal in Southern Ireland, a town he had only heard of from his folks but one he felt drawn too after the tragedy. Sean’s thirst for knowledge was one he hoped to satisfy by finding out if indeed he had any living relatives in the old country. He had nothing left for him in Canada and felt maybe he could start a new life in Ireland.
The Dockyard, although almost completely flattened still had ships arriving and leaving daily because cargo had to be delivered. As Sean made his way through the rubble of what was once a thriving dock, without so much of a glance he headed towards each and every ship until he saw the Steamship Orion and its cargo of machine parts heading for Ireland. The letters on the cases were in bold print And said,”Mcginty Hosiery Factory Dublin”. It was then the Sean knew this ship was to be his home for the next few months. As he stood with only the clothes he had on and nothing else Sean knew his new life was waiting for him in Ireland. Sean was completely taken aback by the sheer size of the ship, and as he stood admiring its size a voice said,” Sure is a pretty sight is she not?” The voice was coming from a lad about the same age as Sean; he was wearing a suit that was far too small for him and a large flat cap that almost hid his face.” Shamus Riley At your service?” he said holding out his hand for Sean to shake. Sean guessed by his accent he was Irish as he quickly replied, “Sean Maguire also at your Service?”. As the two young men walked along the Quay Shamus explained He was from Tipperary,” It’s a town of great beauty to be sure”, he said as Sean replied, I think my folks came from a town called Donegal?”.” Well me lad is you looking to go to Donegal or are your folks against it?” Shamus Enquired.” My folks died in that recent explosion” Sean replied..
” Say no more me lad I will be having a word with the captain of the Orion And maybe get you a job as a deckhand; I cannot see one of my own countrymen out on a limb can I?, just work hard Sean and get some money saved for you’re new Life in the old country meanwhile lets seal our friendship with a drop of the hard stuff shall we?”, with that he suddenly produced a bottle from inside his jacket. Sean wondered maybe there was hope after the loss of his family and maybe Shamus Was to be the answer?, Shamus was more outgoing than Sean so maybe he was Just what Sean needed he wondered as the drink hit the right places and helped ward off the cold.
Sean soon found the journey to Ireland was not what he expected although the Captain of the Orion a Mr John Oakes was a kindly sort and as a deckhand he was treated the same as the rest of the crew, apart from the many times he found himself hanging over the side to be sick Sean and Shamus became firm friends as the Journey progressed. Sean’s first impression of Ireland was how small it was compared to Canada. As the Two of them alighted Shamus said maybe Sean would never find his relations and that maybe he should come with him to Tipperary,” Maybe at a later date we could go to Donegal to try and find your long lost relations Sean?”, Shamus said as they strolled along the quay. Since his only friend at that time was Shamus Sean readily agreed to meet his folks, besides Shamus said his Ma made a great Irish stew And Sean was hungry. As Sean and his new friend headed for the nearest public house the Captain tried to get them to come to America, but Sean said he had enough of the sea for now And his future was in Ireland. Shamus it seems was well known because as they Entered the Public house his name could be heard ringing out!. Sean had never seen a public house before yet he found this one friendly even if the beer was Infact warm.” Jesus Christ!” a voice rang out from the other side of the bar.” If It isn’t bloody Shamus Riley himself?”, the two men shook hands as Shamus turned To Sean and said,” Sean this here is Caleb Ryan and Caleb this is my new friend Sean Maguire from Canada, his folks came from Donegal many years ago and he Aims to find out if he has any living relatives, his folks er died when two ships Collided in Halifax Harbour, a terrible time it was Caleb?”, Shamus said as the Beer began to flow. It was then that Sean noticed the public house was called “The Hard Stuff”. Caleb and Shamus came from the same town, infact they had grown up and gone to the same school until Shamus left to go to sea. As the three young men left the public house a little worse for wear it became clear the town was under occupation by British soldiers. Caleb took Sean’s arm and said,” Just follow me And do as I say and their wont be any trouble?” Sean glanced towards Shamus and soon realised Caleb was a wanted man!. Shamus explained that Caleb was an officer in the Irish Republican Army and he was wanted in connection with a shooting!. Sean began to wonder if indeed he had done the right thing by Leaving Canada and this was a war he wanted nothing to do with.
As the pace began to quicken Sean noticed the Caleb had a tattoo of a four leaf Clover on his right arm and the words I.R.A. on his left arm. Suddenly Caleb left the other two and made his way towards a small house whilst Shamus told Sean to follow him. Sean was by know completely confused as to what was going on, that was until Shamus explained how Ireland was now occupied by the British Army.