Friday 18 November at 5 p.m. at Birr Library, Wilmer Road will see the launch of The Complete Poems of John De Jean Frazer, edited by Padraig Turley, Terry Moylan and Laurel Grube. This is the first collected edition of Frazer’s poems ever undertaken and represents a major commitment of time and expertise by the three editors. In this the 170th anniversary of the Birr poet’s death it is appropriate that the the launch be held in the town library in Birr. Our thanks to the editors, to Creative Ireland and to Offaly County Council (ed.) Laurel Grube writes:
As a young girl, I listened to stories about my third great-grandfather, John De Jean Frazer, and I felt a connection to him. I wanted to know him, and my curiosity has brought me to Ireland for the book launching of The Complete Poems of John De Jean Frazer, edited by Padraig Turley, Terry Moylan, and myself. Frazer from the Little Brosna, in County Offaly, to myself from the Mill Creek, a little stream in Ocean County, New Jersey.
My father encouraged my interest in our history by reading from the family history book he wrote in 1941. There he mentioned John De Jean Frazer in one small paragraph, but it caught my attention.
“John Walsh married Mary Ann Frazer, daughter of John Frazer, who wrote many poems for the Irish people, under the name John De Jean, one being published in 1851.”
Who was Frazer? My father’s book gave me a genealogical line from Frazer, but just knowing the names, dates and a few facts was not enough for me. I wanted to know the people. I wanted to read Frazer’s poems and he inspired me to write my own, though, I never read any of his poems until I found “Brosna’s Banks” when I was in my thirties. As a boy, he dreamed and wrote there. Not unlike him, as a girl, I dreamed and wrote near the Mill Creek.
John De Jean Frazer was born in Birr, County Offaly in 1804. He was a cabinet maker in Dublin and wrote poetry when he could and engaged in Irish nationalism, publishing his poems in various newspapers and books. He married Letitia Reynolds. They had six known children: Louisa, Letitia, Jane, Robert Alexander; John, and Mary Anne.
Letitia, John, and Mary Anne lived to adulthood and gave John De Jean Frazer eleven grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren who have continued his family line. The line from Mary became the strongest and is still growing.
Frazer never met any of his grandchildren, but he would have been proud to know all his descendants as many of them followed his teachings. Teachings his poetry revealed; a love of nature, kindness, patriotism, and helping your fellow man, putting him before yourself. One of Frazer’s fourth great-granddaughters received the Eleanor Roosevelt Volunteer Service Award, and a fifth great-granddaughter is a nurse helping the people in Ukraine. Several of Frazer’s descendants have also followed his example by writing published works of their own.
John De Jean’s Decedents
Letitia Frazer (daughter) married Thomas Clarke Luby in 1852. They had six children, three lived to adulthood: James Patrick Kenyon Luby, John Frazer Stephens Luby, and Katherine Letitia Luby.
Thomas Clarke Luby (son-in-law) attended Trinity College and was accepted in the Irish Bar, but his heart was in nationalism. He followed Frazer’s example and contributed to various newspapers, later becoming a leader in the Fenian movement. This took him away from home often. As the proprietor of a newspaper, the British arrested him and charged him with felony treason and sentenced him to twenty years of hard labor. Letitia raised their children alone and led a campaign to raise money for the families of other imprisoned Fenians. She spoke out against the unjust and harsh treatment of these men. After seven years Luby’s health declined, and he was released, but exiled and settled in New Jersey.
There, Luby and Letitia continued their work for Irish Nationalism. One son, John, became a Commander in the US Navy, and James became a published writer of three books and an editor for prominent newspapers. Katheryn became an editor for a periodical, The Survey, then a teacher in Cuba. John De Jean Frazer’s great-grandson, John Frazer Luby (son of John Luby) became a Major in the US Marines during WWI.
John Frazer (son) married Emily MacNally. Like his father, he was a cabinet maker in Dublin and was also involved in Irish nationalism. He admired his brother-in-law, Thomas Clarke Luby, and became a Fenian. John and Emily had one known child, Emily.
Mary Anne Frazer (daughter) married John Patrick Walsh in 1867 in Dublin. He was born in Beltracy, County Kildare, and attended Maynooth College for four years. As a Fenian he participated in the uprising of 1867. Shortly afterward John Walsh married Mary Anne Frazer, the following week he was arrested for his alleged attempt to murder an informant and was held in jail for three months before bail. One week after his release he was arrested again on the same charge as Habeas Corpus was suspended. After four months in prison, he was acquitted in June 1868. In 1869 the couple had a daughter, Anna Maria C. Walsh.
John Walsh had a fine disposition and was well-liked. He started a business but lost it because of his generosity in helping his fellow man. Mary must have seen her father’s good qualities in her choice of husband. John came to the United States. Mary and their daughter Anna came two years later and settled in Jersey City, New Jersey where they owned a grocery store.
In 1874 they had a son named John, born in Jersey City. He died at an early age. Then in 1878, they had a daughter named Alice Letitia Walsh who died in infancy.
John Walsh died in 1882 due to his weakened condition from the hardship in Ireland and his time in prison, then working long hours to make his grocery store successful.
On 3 March 1883, Mary married her second husband, John E. Donovan. He was born in Ireland in 1849 and emigrated to New Jersey in 1871. John Donovan worked as a machinist. They had one daughter, Ellen Letitia in 1886. Anna described her mother as kind, sweet, caring, and helped others, qualities she learned from her father John De Jean Frazer.
Anna Maria C. Walsh (granddaughter) went to school in Jersey City. Each day after school she worked as a child laborer in a cracker factory. The child labor laws changed in 1885 and she could not work unless she was fourteen. She was sixteen so she continued working until she married Charles William Clinton Bunnell on 1 May 1889 in Jersey City. They had eleven children: Annie Frazer, Charles W., John Eldridge, Eleanor Kiernan (my grandmother), George Holman, Alice Maria, Mary Letitia, Dorothy Ilingsworth, Clark Luby, Robert Eldridge, and Samuel Kenworthy.
Some of John De Jean’s children’s names were honored in the naming of these great-grandchildren (I have italicized them above) including his daughter Letitia’s husband, Thomas Clarke Luby the famous Fenian. Even my middle name, Jean, is for John De Jean Frazer and I have passed it on to my daughter, his fourth great-granddaughter.
Three of Anna’s children died in infancy: Annie Frazer, Mary Letitia, and Robert. Eight children lived to adulthood, with Charles and Samuel dying before age 22 from tragic accidents.
After the birth of Eleanor, in 1895, Charles and Anna moved their family to his hometown in Ocean County. The family grew and prospered there, and Charles continued to follow the water. He worked as a fisherman, and oysterman and eventually owned his small sailboat to take out fishing parties.
Charles W. C. Bunnell (grandson-in-law) was born in 1853 in Potters Creek (now Bayville), New Jersey. He was a steward on a schooner in the early 1870s and spent 5 years going up the Amazon River. He wrote about the people and the customs of the native tribes they met along the way. The story One Thousand Miles Up the Amazon was sent home and published in the New York Herald sometime before he returned home in 1876.
At the time of Charles W. C. Bunnell’s marriage to Anna Walsh, he had been working as the cook on a tugboat in the New York Harbor. Eleanor K. Bunnell told me her mother, Anna, kept busy raising the children, tending the vegetable garden, and preserving food. Her father would help with the cooking, and a booklet with some of their recipes was handed down to me.
“Oyster Omelet – Anna Maria Walsh Bunnell
Beat six eggs well, and add by degrees a gill of cream, pepper and, salt to your taste. Have ready one dozen large oysters cut in halves. Pour the eggs into a pan of hot butter and drop the oysters over it as equally as possible. Fry to a light brown and serve as an omelet. It must not be turned.”
“Apple Roll – Charles Bunnell
For syrup, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups water. Simmer slowly. Then 4 medium apples pared and chopped coarsely. Set aside. For the dough, 2 cup flour, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt. Mix with 3 Tablespoons shortening. Add enough milk or water to make a soft dough. Roll out to ½ inch thickness. Sprinkle apples over the dough. Roll up and cut into 2-inch pieces. Put in the hot syrup cut side down and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake in a moderate oven [350-375 degrees F.] until a nice brown. Eat warm.”
Clark Luby Bunnell (great-grandson) worked at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. He helped build airships and worked there in 1937 at the time of the airship Hindenburg’s tragedy. He owned a strawberry farm. I remember sitting in his field among those juicy red berries when I was a small child.
John E. Bunnell (great-grandson) was a tugboat captain moving ships through the Panama Canal, years later through the New York Harbor.
Eleanor Kiernan Bunnell (1918) and John De Jean Frazer (1840s).
I can see a resemblance between them.
Eleanor Kiernan Bunnell (great-granddaughter) grew up in Bayville and attended school there. Starting in 1905, she attended the Jersey City schools and lived with her grandmother, Mary Anna (Frazer) Walsh Donovan, during the school terms through college. Eleanor graduated from Rutherford Business School in 1914. She told me her widowed grandmother (Mary) worked in a pajama factory in Jersey City. Eleanor heard stories about her great-grandfather, John De Jean Frazer, and his poetry, and learned about the hardships his family endured during the famine.
1922, Eleanor Bunnell married Edgar Freeman Lewis, from Bayville, New Jersey. His ancestry is not unlike Frazer’s, rumored to descend from French Huguenots. The Lewis family came to North America through Wales in the 1600s and settled in Massachusetts. By 1870 they moved from Long Island, NY to the coast of New Jersey.
Edgar F. Lewis (great-grandson-in-law) served in the US Army as a mechanic in the 78th Division and was wounded during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in Grandpré France during WWI.
After his marriage to Eleanor Bunnell, in 1922, Edgar worked as a carpenter at Lakehurst Naval Air Station. He also served seven years as a Township Committeeman trying to make his town a prosperous place to live. In addition, he ran the family farm with his father, James P. Lewis.
James M. Lewis (grandfather of Edgar F. Lewis) a baker by trade, worked on a whaling ship for the Hudson Whaling Company during the time John De Jean Frazer worked as a carpenter and poet in Ireland.
Eleanor K. (Bunnell) Lewis learned to sew with a fine hand from her grandmother, Mary Anna, who had been sewing since an early age to help the family during the famine in Ireland.
I inherited the little outfit of a ruffled silk shirt and velvet suit Eleanor made for her son Edgar B., my father when he was four years old in 1927. The stitching is straight and fine with little pearl buttons and handstitched buttonholes.
While Eleanor’s husband worked to feed his family, she raised their two children, Edgar B., and Verna Ann. She also helped raise her first cousin Eleanor Carmichael, daughter of widowed Ellen (Donovan) Carmichael whose three children were divided among family members while she worked as a live-in nurse.
In addition to raising the children, Eleanor B. Lewis maintained the household in which they lived with her mother and father-in-law. Her mother-in-law became blind two years after Eleanor and Edgar married. The family also boarded the local Minister. Eleanor B. participated in church activities, serving as Sunday School Teacher, superintendent of Sunday School, President of the Wesleyan Service Guild, and authored a book on the history of the church her great-grandfather Samuel Bunnell founded. She also co-authored a cookbook The Home Cook, a collection of recipes from local families as a fundraiser for her church.
“Raisin Bread – Eleanor Bunnell Lewis
1 cup seedless raisins soaked in hot water 15 minutes
Sift together: 3 cups flour, ½ cup sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt
Add 1 egg beaten, 1 cup milk. Mix, pour in baking pan, let stand 10 minutes
Bake in moderate oven 40 – 45 minutes”
Edgar Bunnell Lewis (great-great-grandson) married Carmela Veutro in 1951. They had three children; I am the middle child. Edgar studied to become a mechanic, but his true calling was in volunteer work as a First Aider and a Fireman. When I was in first grade, he was the Fire Chief.
Dad loved nature and I remember walking with him through the family woods where we both grew up. Our ancestors walked and worked at their mill in those woods on the little Mill Creek at the same time John De Jean Frazer walked along the Little Brosna. He artistically used flowers and fauna as symbolism in his poetry.
My father taught me the names of plants and trees growing there in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. My sanctuary was always those woods, their peacefulness, and scents in the fall when the dried leaves crunched underfoot or in the springtime when the blue Myrtle carpeted around me, and the Mountain Laurel bloomed, or the Pink Ladies Slippers popped up from their hiding places.
I now imagine John De Jean Frazer writing poems along the Little Brosna, his sanctuary. And unknowingly like him, I sat in our woods along the little Mill Creek writing poems using nature as imagery and symbolism. I have written many since childhood, but none as skilled as my ancestor, John De Jean Frazer’s though. He inspired me to write this poem when I was fourteen, titled: John De Jean Frazer.
“Blue myrtle flowers around me,
I sit in the woods in silence.
But bird songs sing someday I’ll see,
Those Irish poems of prominence.
I hear their songs and write my own,
Of rhyming words and dreams,
My ancestor’s poems, the world has known
But to me they’re unknown, I scream!” – Laurel Jean 1968