Lafcadio Hearn’s Links to Tramore

Young Lafcadio Hearn and Sarah Brenane

Young Lafcadio Hearn and Sarah Brenane

Lafcadio Hearn’s Links to Tramore

The Boy who became Lafcadio Hearn

  • Born in 1850, on the Greek island of Lefkas,  son of Charles Bush Hearn and Rosa Casimati, a formal young Protestant Irish military surgeon, and a beautiful and exotic Greek girl.
  • The young Patrick Lafcadio Hearn had a  fragmented and insecure childhood:  Soon after his birth, his father was restationed at Grenada, the boy remained with his mother in Greece until he was two years old, when he was brought to Dublin with his mother where they first lived at 48 Lower Gardiner Street with his grandmother Elizabeth Hearn.
  • His mother returned, in poor health, to Greece in the Summer of 1854 when he was 4 years old, shortly after father returned from his foreign posting.
  • Sarah Brenane – the younger sister of Elizabeth Hearn – then entered the scene.  It is she who provided the link to Tramore. She was a key figure in the boy’s life from the age of two and was effectively his full guardian from 4 years of age.
  • Sarah Brenane loved holidaying in Tramore throughout her life, and had a great friend living there – Elizabeth Molyneux, nee Hearn.*  She retired to Tramore and lived at Sweet Briar Lodge during  her last years.  She was buried at Holy Cross Church in 1871. Her grave and tombstone inscription can be found close to the main (North) door of the church.
  • From March 1854 to July 1856: Charles Hearn was again on campaign in the Crimea, so little Patrick did not see his father again until he was six.  He saw him a number of times during the next year but the last time he was ever to see him was in July, 1857, on the strand at Tramore, when he was seven. In later life he wrote:
Tramore Coastline with Metalman Monument William Howis (1804-1882) COURTESY OF WATERFORD TREASURES

Tramore Coastline with Metalman Monument
William Howis (1804-1882)
COURTESY OF WATERFORD TREASURES

“We took a walk by the sea.  It was a very hot day and father had become bald by then; and when he took off his hat, I saw that the top of his head was all covered with little drops of water.  He said “She is very angry; she will never forgive me”. She was auntie.  I never saw him again”  (the cause for auntie’s anger was the decision by Charles Hearn to divorce Patrick’s mother, and to remarry)

  • The young Patrick visited Tramore regularly in the summers with his guardian.  He became fascinated by the sea and learned to swim there – a pasttime he continued to enjoy all his life.   Over thirty years later, as a married man in Japan, he came across a small seaside town, Yaidzu, which seems to have reminded him of Tramore.  He insisted on visiting there every summer with his children and renting a fisherman’s cabin. There is a lovely story told about him floating on his back in the night sea at Yaidzu in Japan, with his customary cigar glowing in the dark, where the locals would point and say “There is Firefly”)
  • In Tramore, he absorbed all the local folklore about fairytales, ghost stories and shipwrecks from the household servants and from a local fisherman –  material which fired his vivid imagination and inspired his future writing, he was sent to boarding school at the Jesuit Ushaw College in Durham, from 1863-67
  • The last time Patrick Hearn visited Tramore was in 1869 just prior to his departure to America.  By this stage, his grandaunt was elderly and failing in health.  She had invested and lost most of her fortune in supporting the business ventures of Henry Molyneux, son of her friend Elizabeth Molyneux.  Because of this the inheritance which Patrick had been lead to believe was his, was lost, and he had to be removed from his boarding school before his education was completed.

Reclaiming the Irish Roots of Lafcadio Hearn The published work of Irish diplomats, the Late Ambassador Sean Ronan and former Ambassador, Paul Murray have firmly reclaimed the Irish roots of Lafcadio Hearn. Sean Ronan had, in fact, researched and published about Hearn (Lafcadio Hearn, His Life, Work and Irish Background), published by the Irish Japan Association in 1991). “Some of the happiest times of his boyhood were spent in Tramore, Co. Waterford during summer vacations.  Tramore – Tra Mhor in Irish meaning the big strand – with its three mile stretch of beach and coves was a setting of sea and cliffs that he could never forget.  There he acquired his love of swimming.  There too he learned old tales and legends from fishing and farming people.  His letters in later years tell of the retentiveness of Irish oral tradition and of his vivid recollection of Irish dance tunes and harp music.  years later the fishing village of Yaidzu that he loved so well must have reminded him of Tramore, which also inspired his fascination with the sea in works such as Gulf Winds and Chita, his first work of fiction

His earliest Biographer Nina Kennard, writing in 1912, attributed Hearn’s life long love of the sea to his days in Tramore. She described Tramore Bay as “presenting scenes striking and grand enough to stamp themselves forever on a mind such as Lafcadio Hearn’s. Another biographer, Vera McWilliams, wrote in 1946, that “his times by the ocean there were the happiest moments of his Tramore days, and his Tramore days were the happiest of his youth”. It is fitting that the town of Tramore should be the place in Ireland where Lafcadio Hearn’s memory and extraordinary life story is best remembered and celebrated.

LAFCADIO HEARN’S LINKS TO TRAMORE, COUNTY WATERFORD

LAFCADIO HEARN BOOKS AND REFERENCE GUIDE