The early years of Tom Crean’s life in Annascaul will have mirrored that of other children across Ireland. He attended the local Brackluin School in Annascaul which he would have walked to barefoot – shoes were a luxury for children from more affluent families. Children of tenant farmers like Tom will have had a poor and meagre diet consisting of bread, soup and potatoes. Tom had 7 brothers, Hugh, John, Cornelius, Patrick, Daniel were his older brothers. Michael and Martin, both of whom would emigrate to the USA and Canada after the turn of the century, were his two younger brothers. Of his three sisters, Mary was his eldest and Johanna and Catherine his younger sisters.
In 1879, when Tom was two years old, Ireland would, as happened a quarter of a century earlier, suffer from famine. An Gorta Beag, was on a significantly smaller scale than the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) of 1845-1852 yet it left its mark with great hunger experienced by thousands living in rural areas across the western seaboard. Evictions were rife across Ireland and Tom will have witnessed the distressing spectacle of his Annascaul neighbours being removed from their homes by the gangs known as ‘crowbar brigades’ who were hired by Landlords to remove tenants unable to pay their rents.
In February 1886, when Tom was 9 years old, twelve Annascaul families were evicted from their homes as they could not afford to pay the rent levied on them by the landlords. Evicted tenants were reliant upon the kindness of their neighbours in the aftermath. To ensure that they could not return to their homes the men hired by the landlords to throw families out, would destroy the buildings often burning them.
Tom Crean’s family faced the ever-present threat of the same fate and this too may have played a part in him seeking a different way of life in order to help prevent the same thing happening to his family.
At school Tom will have been taught reading, writing and arithmetic most of the time yet children also learned geography and history. It’s perhaps these last two subjects that sparked a longing for a new life and an escape from the cruelties he would witness. As a native Irish speaker he will have learned his English at school and from hearing it more prevalently as the years progressed.
To discover more about Tom Crean’s full story, the book can be purchased at the following link.
Biography of Tom Crean – Crean – The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero