Barnard (a/k/a Bernard) McKenna (b. 1813) was only twenty-seven when he set out from County Tyrone for the new world with his twenty-one year old wife Margaret Corrigan (b. 1819) and their baby son Thomas (b. c1839). In Ireland he probably heard that a hard working Irishman could own land and prosper in Canada. Barnard would be lucky to get his young family out of Ireland at that time, for in a few short years the country would be devastated by the Potato Famine that would create untold misery, starvation and would cost many lives.
Violet Davy (daughter of Margaret McKenna-Davy) in her memoirs Bygone Days writes about her grandfather Bernard and the challenges that faced him:
???My mother???s parents ???Bernard McKenna and his wife Margaret (Corrigan) McKenna with their little son came to Canada from County Tyrone, Ireland and settled on a farm on the banks of the Rideau River called ???Black Rapids???.
After many years of hard work he had cleared the land. In order to do so, trees had to be cut down, the trees stumps removed, which was hard labour in those days, since they had to be uprooted by back breaking labour. No machines in those days to do the work.???
Bernard???s farm at Black Rapids in Gloucester seemed to be thriving until a massive firestorm roared through the farming community in 1870 causing widespread destruction.
In her memoirs Violet Davy also recounts what happened:
"However, in time he had built a comfortable home and farm buildings, which alas were all, swept away in the great fire of 1870. They were grateful however that their lives and those of their children were saved by sheltering in a cave near their home. My Grandfather in a desperate attempt to try and save some of their possessions carried out some pieces of furniture among which was a drawer containing one-hundred dollars in currency received from the sale of a quantity of barley sold at a mill.
The wild force of the wind swept his money out of sight and so the many years of backbreaking work and success were gone. However, his Irish heritage and Catholic faith sustained him. He began again to build up what he had lost. He hired himself out to work by the day for a farmer already established in Cyrville and walked the many miles to and from work often carrying home on his back a bag of grain as feed for his cows. His determination and courage paid off and brought him success and he again had a comfortable home that he lived in until his death un 1890
The Ottawa Free Press, Friday - Dec. 12 1890
McKENNA: On Thursday inst., Bernard McKenna, at his residence, Gloucester, at the age of 77 years. He was a native of Ireland. Funeral on Sunday at 11 o'clock from his late residence, Township of Gloucester. Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend.
We have only a sense of what their lives were like back then. They had to clear the land, and work the fields ??? back breaking work and always at the mercy of the elements. They celebrated the arrival of each baby but also saw many of their children go to early graves. The farmhouse they built and the barns they raised would be taken down by a massive fire in 1870. However, they persevered and rebuilt not only the structures but their lives as well. Despite all the trials and tribulations there were still moments of great joy spent with family, friends and neighbours - folks who could appreciate the likes of a good fiddler, a caller, reels and step dancing and (not to mention), some whiskey.
James Collins (Elizabeth McKenna & Matthew Collins??? son) captures the spirit of those evenings in a verse from his poem written in 1915 ??? ???The Days of the Pioneers???
Let???s backward roll our memory???s scroll
To the days of the pioneers
When the old log barn on the rising knoll
Rose proudly tier on tier
And gathered around the girls and lads
To help at the raising bee
As they forward looked with lightsome hearts
To an old time raising spree
When the floor was clear and fiddler sat
In the corner and crossed his legs
And blew in the scroll of his ancient ???strad???
To tighten the slipping pegs
And the ???caller off??? shouts ???All arrange!???
And away goes the eight hand reel
And the floor resounds with their dancing feet
As through the set they wheel
And at dawn of day they homeward wend
As gallant as lords and peers
For those were the heroic days
The days of the pioneers