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Peter Flannigan (1890-1995)



Donated by Edward (Ned) and Mary Flannigan of Avondale, NF.


In Newfoundland, stories and romantic tales are an extremely important part of our heritage and culture.† There are very few Newfoundlanders that have not been exposed to these traditional anecdotes.† During my life in Newfoundland, I have grown fondly acquainted with these stories, and over the years I have heard quite a few.† But of all these tales, one specific narrative sticks out in my mind.† The story of Peter Flannigan.† It has all the makings of a successful Hollywood movie.† It contains intrigue, lost loves, adventure, and a sentimental reunion.† There have been many stories about Newfoundlanders that were reunited with their families after numerous years, but what makes Peter Flanniganís story peculiar is the fact that it took him 87 years to journey back to his home.

Peter was born in the rural community of Avondale, in 1890.† He was a handsome young devil whose most outstanding physical feature was a head brimming with red hair.† Peterís relatives and friends remembered him as being an intelligent, witty, and mischievous boy who was always cooking up schemes.† For instance, at the young age of 10, Peter used to saddle his familyís horse and provide people with a 20 mile excursion from Avondale to Bay Roberts, so that they could board a boat that would transport them to Labrador.† For his assistance Peter would charge a small but profitable fee.

Unlike his siblings, Peter didnít enjoy small town life.† Although he had never attended any type of schooling facilities Peterís intelligence level was above that of his fellow neighbours and friends.† Peterís intelligence enabled him to realize that there were additional forms of humanity in the world and that he yearned to encounter them.† So Peter established a strategy to leave Avondale and the poverty that encircled him.

In 1904 at the pubescent age of fourteen, Peter stowed away on a boat from his Avondale, Newfoundland home, and never looked back.† The boat that Peter stowed away on was destined for England, and when the crew on board located Peter they were too far along in their voyage to veer back.

Upon landing in England, Peter commenced to search for employment, but instead he established himself in quite a predicament.† Peter had no I.D. with him, so the probability of acquiring a job without getting deported was virtually non existent.† Because of this consequential factor, Peter was obliged to enlist in the British army.† The army was seizing men of all ages without I.D. or any references, it was the solitary occupation that Peter could acquire without any questions asked.† Peter accepted a station in the army and during the First World War Peter served as a front line infantry man.

Back home the Flannigan family lost a few sons in the war and they suspected that Peter, the runaway was one of them.† But miraculously, Peter survived the war.

During the remainder of his existence Peter laboured as a migrant worker throughout North America.† He also worked with a team of horses structuring the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, assisted in fabricating the Trans Continental Line launching the route from Quebec to British Columbia.

In the decade of the depression, better known as The Dirty Thirties, Peter voluntarily worked at relief camps and collected additional funds labouring as a logger.† But of all his professions, labouring on ships was what he preferred.† Peter had a passion for the sea and late in his life he found it to be a faithful companion.†† Peter spent about thirty years of his life working on trunk steam ships and the Canadian lake boats.† He discovered an immense amount of fulfilment and satisfaction in his occupation, but all good things must come to an end.

Unfortunately at the age of seventy Peter began to find it demanding to continue working on the sea.† He was no longer the twenty year old man and evidence of Peterís aging were becoming very apparent.† Although he was an exceptionally healthy and seasoned man for his age, he could no longer maintain the body or exertion of younger men.† So at the age of seventy, Peter decided to settle down, retire, and get married.

Peter transferred to Pender Island, a small island off Vancouver.† There he married a woman named Lois who was only thirty seven years old.† It became evident that Peterís body could not keep up with his mind.† In his mortal life Peter had perpetually been a penetrating and profound thinker, and a scholar of philosophy, history, and chronology.† There was very little about the history of man that Peter did not know, and with this knowledge, after eighty seven years at the age of 101, Peter determined that it was time to return home.

Peter took the first step and permitted himself to be interviewed by a reporter.† After interrogating Peter, the reporter ran a commentary in a newspaper, The Downhomer, entitled SEARCHING FOR PETER FLANNIGAN?....† When the reporter transcribed the article she never realized that it would institute as much joy and media regard as it did.

The 100 member Flannigan family of Avondale located the article and immediately contacted Peter and Lois.† Finally, in 1992, Peter journeyed home to the community and family that he had not encountered since 1904.† Peter reappeared like a time traveller that drops in after many years.† To his family Peter was like someone that had returned from the dead.† Although Peterís parents, some of his brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbours had already passed on, Peter had the intoxicating pleasure of meeting many of his nieces and nephews.

To the residents of Avondale the mystery of Peter Flannigan was finally deciphered, but many of Peterís relatives had queries and questions.† One question put forth was why Peter had never written or phoned home.† Peter pronounced that one dwelling was just as suitable to him as another, as long as he had an abundance of food to consume and a bunk to slumber in.† This response disillusioned many relatives.† Although they were appreciative that Peter had journeyed home, they couldnít disregard the actuality that Peterís parents and siblings, principally his mother, had passed away distressing about Peterís security, praying for him, and mourning his probable death.

Peter didnít appear to be exceedingly family conscious or family oriented, and because of this he generated a lot of heartache and affliction.

Throughout Peterís life he had only two authentic companions, the sea, and his faithful union bible.† After Peter left the sea he became like a rose in a vase with no water he lingeringly slumped over and perished.

Peter often recited poems and melodies from his trusty union bible.† Among the various rhymes and verses, there is one particular lyric that suits him perfectly.

Donít try to talk of unions or bills
He says heíll never organise and he never will
He always will be satisfied until his dead
With coffee and doughnuts and a lousy old bed.

This ancient lyric described Peterís priorities flawlessly.† He was a man who had travelled North America to its most towering mountain peak to its flattest valley.† During Peterís voyages he soaked up knowledge like a sponge and afterwards he was considered to be a scholar, but Peter never contemplated the anguish of the family that he left behind.† He never once paused to write and console the sorrow that his mother was feeling.† He let her die anguishing frequently about the son that she had never had the opportunity to see grow up.

After listening to the story of Peter Flannigan I possess a great sense of sympathy for him, but I have an even more prominent compassion for Peterís parents and siblings who never knew what happened to Peter.† What astounds me even more is that this shrewd philosopher was not particularly concerned.† Peter might have reappeared to his hearth and family, but the visit was long overdue.† The vicinity of Avondale that Peter backtracked to in 1992 was full of unfamiliar faces and spectacles.† It was too late to console his parentsí grief.

Currently I discovered that Peter had passed away at the age of 104.† It struck me that this brilliant man had died alone without the most comforting factor in the world, family.



Page contributed by: Barbara McGrath
Page transcribed by: Ivy F. Benoit (January 2001)
Page revised: August (Terry Piercey)

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