Annie Mc Cusker was born on June 29, 1892 at 52 Lettuce Hill in Belfast, Ireland. She was the second child born to William Mc Cusker and Mary Collins. She had one elder brother, Joseph, born in 1888, and would have two younger sisters, Elizabeth Lily born in 1894 and Theresa, born in 1899.
It is likely that Annie was born into a poorer, working class family that lived close to a subsistence level. Her father, like generations of people before him, had left the agricultural lands of Ulster and beyond, and had come to Belfast in search of industrial work and to the type of insecurity which was so typical of unskilled working class life across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In the Census of both 1901 and 1911 he described himself as a Laborer. Although Annie described her father as a happy man who loved to fiddle, the life of unskilled laborers was precarious, and families often relied upon the ability of wives and children to earn money. Most people in Belfast earned enough to keep themselves in lodging, but destitution was also a constant presence in the city. In the narrow streets of working-class areas, particularly around the shipyards, packed red-bricked houses were filled with large families. Along these streets, working class culture often revolved around a love of sport and music and drink.
Long before her birth, at the beginning of the 19th Century, Belfast was already embarking on the process of industrialization which so altered its nature. Linen mills and shipbuilding were its most significant economic activities. Technology, notably in mechanized spinning wheels, saw Belfast become the leading center of linen production in the world. The linen mills were based mainly on the Antrim side, where they helped stimulate the development of other industries such as chemical manufacture. By the start of the twentieth century, more than 35,000 people worked in textiles in Belfast.
Belfast in 1911 was enjoying the greatest boom in its history. The chimneys of its linen mills and the cranes which stretched above its shipyards framed the commercial success of the city. This success ensured that Belfast was a place unlike any other in Ireland. Wealth in Belfast was the product of industry. It was then, and by a considerable distance, the largest city in Ireland.
Annies was a Catholic family, and in Belfast at the time, there was great division between the Catholics and the Protestants. Even before the change driven by nineteenth century industrialization, tensions existed between Presbyterians and Church of Ireland members. The influx of tens of thousands of Catholics brought another new dynamic to Belfast. Recurring riots led newcomers to Belfast to seek safety in numbers. Catholics dominated the south-western part of the city with Protestants dominating much of the rest. This residential segregation reinforced divides which did not ease with the passage of time. Divisions in places of employment - Catholics were grossly under-represented in skilled industrial work, for instance - and the development of separate streams of education confirmed the partitioned nature of the city.
Yet, against this backdrop, Annie befriended a Protestant girl named Sarah. They were tried and true friends at an early age. However, one day Sarah, along with another friend of hers, made fun of Annies Miraculous Medal, so Annie punched her in the nose and ran away. Sarahs father, a shoemaker, one day encountered Annie on his way to work. He crossed the Falls Road and confronted Annie, asking if she had punched Sarah in the nose. Annie replied aye, she made fun of my medal. He indicated that he would have a talk with Sarah about that indicating that he was not pleased with such behavior. The following day Sarah approached Annie and asked "Would you be on with me again? "And so they were, and they would be friends for life. They corresponded regularly after Annie moved to the United States, and she was saddened when Sarah shared with her that her gramdson, an RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) policeman was killed by and IRA combatant. And, it was Sarah who was able to get Annie a job at one of the linen mills, however Annie was not allowed to share with her employer that she was Catholic. Annie was also invited to attend a dance with Sarah, but when she was approached by an interested Protestant boy, she ran all the way home!
Though delighted to have her job at the mill, linen workers suffered very high death rates. Perhaps the greatest single killer in this era was tuberculosis. In Belfast the illness was common among linen workers where the hot, humid conditions in the mills created ideal conditions for the spread of infection. In 1914 it was found that the rates of pneumonia , respiratory disease and pulmonary tuberculosis were far higher amongst Belfast mill workers than the rest of the citys population. Presumably Annie would have begun work at around 16 years of age, and probably left employment at the time of her marriage in 1914 at the age of 22 or so. Thankfully, she escaped any respiratory illness, however it did strike tragedy into her family. Her older brother Joe married Lucy OConnor, also a mill worker, in 1910. They had a son, William James at the end of that year, but the little boy would die eight months later of tuberculosis. Lucy would perish of the same disease on June 4, 1912 as well as Joe on December 5, 1912. Tragedy visited the family again when her younger sister, Lily, a stitcher, would perish at the age of 23 due to tuberculosis. The linen mills certainly took their toll on the Mc Cusker family.
On April 12, 1914 Annie became the bride of James Jimmy Mc Nulty, an iron worker at Harland and Wolff shipyard, at St. Peters pro Cathedral in Belfast. Afterwards she took up residence with her husband and his family at 23 Milford Street just a block away from the church. Their first born child, a son named Edward Albert Mc Nulty , was born on January 23, 1915. The name Edward was after Jimmys brother Edward who died at an early age, but as to why the middle name of Albert was chosen has always been a curiosity. But perhaps there is an explanation. At the time preceeding her marriage, Annie and her family resided at 24 Osman Street, just a 5 minute walk to the church. Interestingly, her walk would take her along Albert Street, and one wonders if there may have been some romantic experience for the couple on that street.
Annie remained with the McNultys where her next three children, Margaret (born 1917) Elizabeth Betty (born 1920) and James (born 1922) were born.
It is not known the reason for certain, but husband, Jimmy departed for the United States in 1923 and took up residence in Brooklyn, New York. There was great sectarian strife in Belfast at the time, and there was great pressure to remove Catholic workers from the yards beginning in 1920 and certainly up until 1923. Perhaps without a job Jimmy decided that there was no longer a way to support his family in Ireland and that it was time to move on. It appears that, upon his departure, Annie and her children moved to her mothers home at 42 Alexander Street West in Belfast.
Annie followed a year later bring her children with her aboard the steam ship Cameronia, departing Derry on December 13, 1924 and travelling in steerage arriving in New York on December 24, 1924. It would make for a nice Christmas that year, and the family resided in Brooklyn for at least several months. By 1930, they had relocated to 242 112th Street in Manhattan and by 1935 they moved to 375 Beekman Avenue in the Bronx where Jimmy took a position as the building superintendent. There she would remain until approximately 1960 when she moved with her son, James "Peppy" and her brother-in-law, George to Valley Stream, New York. It was around this time that she applied for United States citizenship.
On June 20, 1945, she lost her son Edward. He was killed in Okinawa on the last day of the last battle of WWII. Though greatly saddened by Edwards death, she did much to support her daughter-in-law, Mae, and Edwards children, Bobby and Eileen for the next 14 years. In 1953, she lost her daughter Margaret and then her husband Jimmy. Annie lived with her son in Valley Stream until her death on March 26, 1981.
Annie was a short but sturdy lady who, despite all of the hardships in her life seemed to always have a smile on her face. Except, perhaps, when Mr. Pointon, who was also a native of Belfast, came around the block in Valley Stream to drop in and chat. (It was from Mr. Pointon that her granddaughter, Eileen, learned that her grandfather had been part of the construction of the Titanic along with Mr. Pointon.) She wasnt really a smoker, but on the occasion of a visit with Eileen, she would always sit her down with a sup of tea and a cigarette, though she never really inhaled the smoke. Many of these personal stories were shared with Eileen during these visits.
|St. Peter's Pro Cathederal - Belfast_1.jpg (3.62 MB)
|Date of Birth
|29th Jun 1892
|Date of Death
|26th Mar 1981