Remembering Aunt Rose: An immigrant story

Martin McGovern's Aunt Rosemary Whitty, left, is pictured with his mother, Eleanor McGovern, at his 1990 wedding. (Photo courtesy McGovern family).


Remembering an aunt’s immigrant example


By Martin McGovern

Special to BostonIrish


When my father declined to cross the Atlantic for my wedding in 1990, I understood why. Traveling from Dublin to Massachusetts and meeting so many new people would have been anxiety inducing for him. Although his decision did not upset me, it left me worried about my mother traveling solo and without a partner at a family event.

Thanks to my aunt and godmother, Rosemary Whitty, those concerns were short lived as she volunteered to accompany my mother to the wedding. That meant she had to travel from her home in Middlesbrough in England's northeast and connect with my mother, her sister, in Dublin before heading to Boston.

When it came to family, distance or difficulty never deterred Rose. Having her present at the wedding with my mother was both a relief and an expression of her loyalty to family and her affection for us.

On the day itself, the two sisters enjoyed themselves immensely. Moreover, they stayed several nights with the mother of my bride. The three of them clicked and had much fun together—a good omen for inter-family harmony. 

Rose left school at 14 to help her mother cope with a large family. Subsequently, she emigrated, finding employment in Cardiff, where hotels were hiring in anticipation of the 1958 British and Commonwealth Games. There, she met her husband and together they raised a family and built a life for themselves in Britain.  As she did so, Rose always found ways to keep the ties between home and away alive and vibrant.

Growing up, I remember the excitement when they would arrive at my grandparents’ house after taking the ferry across the Irish Sea for a summer holiday. There was the lilt of Rose’s Irish accent tinged with Welsh or regional English tones, the buzz of a family catching up, and the prospect of English sweets then not available in Ireland!

After working in Norway one summer, I visited Rose in Middlesbrough on my way back to Dublin. Over several days, she and my uncle Kevin treated me like royalty, and I basked in their kindness after several months of hard work on a Nordic farm.


With their children raised, Rose and Kevin frequently vacationed with my parents in both Britain and Ireland. Inveterate explorers, they knew how to relax and enjoy themselves.

Then,when age and illness took their toll on my parents, Rose returned to Dublin many times to care for them. Even after my mother passed, Rose still came to assist my father. She did so out of love, a generous heart, and an unbreakable family bond.

I left Ireland not as a teenager but at 23 and, even with the benefit of higher education, I found my early years in America challenging. I can only imagine what Rose faced as a teenager emigrating alone in an age before cell phones, Zoom, the internet, and cheaper travel options that make it much easier to stay in touch today.

Although I went farther abroad than she did, the challenge remains essentially the same—how to build a life in a new country without being a stranger to the folks in your old one.

I have been living in Massachusetts now for 45 years and Rose’s example has encouraged me to invest in my American life while keeping my Irish connections alive and flourishing—it’s a delicate balance alternating between hosting and being hosted. With work, family commitments, and financial concerns, it has not always been easy doing so. However, it really helps in terms of confidence when you see what someone you know, love, and trust can accomplish.

Rose died last November. I am grateful for her guiding example and my heart will hold cherished memories of her always.