Head on a Pole by Judith Ann Moriarty – The Storyteller

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It’s true a Fitzgerald never enters a room without first asking, “Is there a Moriarty in here?” I know that because I was sitting in a café in Paris when a Fitzgerald made that inquiry after seeing my Moriarty name on the hotel registry. This is the sworn truth on me mother’s grave.

Just because I am a Moriarty of Irish heritage doesn’t make me a potato head with no brains. I don’t even imbibe, but I do like potatoes.

Anyway, two decades ago in the good old days, I started a long, long journey, shaping a book based on my dad Lauren Reiter Moriarty’s family roots. I had to narrow it down as he came from a family of 10, and that was a task beyond me. One of my kin out in the Dakotas (where the family Moriarty raised sheep) for who else would thrive among rocks and problems?

The Irish, that’s who. My kin came here from Kerry, hot to escape the Potato Famine. They landed in Mass., the whole passel of them. One of their offshoots, a potato sprout, eventually married Estella Reiter who was earlier wed to a Wisconsin chap named “Button.” We like to imagine he was a man of means. To the Irish that may merely mean more than one potato to divide among 10.

But to fast forward, I am still in touch with my Dakota kin because we share the same grandmother, Maude Moriarty, the eldest of my dad’s tribe of 10. She ran a thriving sheep ranch, which family tales tell was so enormous that it ran on into Montana. I recall visiting the ranch as a kid during sheep shearing time, and more recently, on a trip west to find the roots of the Moriarty family. Most of the time was spent wandering cemeteries, seeking the headstone of Mary Bridget, the bride of John Moriarty who arrived with the clan in Mass. We found nothing. Oh we did find Moriarty stones, but not the one we wanted.

It gets so complicated, this search for TRUE IDENTITY, and if you are a prude, it is sometimes better not to pursue the truth.

In a dusty courthouse in Muscatine, Iowa, I did unearth the original document requesting a divorce. Signed with an X by John Moriarty, he accused his wife Bridget of adultery with his neighbor, a Stoneburner. This strikes me as hilarious. Then again, the winters in Iowa were long and cold. John seems to evaporate after the filing, to who knows where. Everyone lost touch with him and Bridget soldiered on to raise two kids, one of them, my grandfather Maurice Moriarty who rose to become a judge on the Dakota Supreme Court. I was born the year he was struck and killed by a speeding car.

But well, life goes on does it not. I managed to tell at least part of the tale within the hardcover bound pages of my Potato People book, published in a limited edition and given to specific members of my family. A recent note from my Dakota kin, a Bucholtz and formerly a Clarkson, says she and her husband visited Ireland and were toured around in grand style.

She was a bit irritated (I could tell) that a Moriarty book, written by an Australian, was being launched during the tour. Alas, it contained not one word about the Moriarty clan of which I write. There are Moriartys galore in Ireland. Formerly their name was Muircheartaugh which indicated they were navigators. For what that’s worth. I do have a sister who owned a sailboat. And I learned to swim at an early age.

Okay, so what does anything of this palaver have to do with the clan Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald, you see, was the Earl of Desmond, and the same bad news chap who, with his barbaric troops, stole my kin’s only cow, despoiled by kin’s wife, and then fled into the Irish Sleive Mish Mountains.

My kin, poor chap, gave chase and found the Earl. Off with the Earl’s head, and back it went to rot on a pole in England. This means my kin must have had a horse. Let’s not go there.

Okay, so are any of you readers about to embark on the long long search, the backroads and twists and dead- end paths leading (if you are patient) to perhaps (perhaps) the hint of where you came from. Ancestry searching is a big business now and the electronic age is said to make it much easier. Me, I prefer walking graveyards.

P.S. we have yet to find Mary Bridget bless her pea green heart.

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