“Life, like leather, can be stiff and unyielding, then turn supple and soft, can be shaped and trimmed only with skill and patience, and only then result in a finished work of high quality to be proud of, and beauty to be admired.”  - Cornelius Collins, 'Of Leather and Stone'

The Great Famine


A young boy of fourteen, Cornelius Collins survives seven years of Ireland’s Great Famine and escapes on a ‘coffin ship’ to Boston. Without prospects and the threat of anti-Irish ‘nativists’ prowling the streets, he finds escape into a world 'OF LEATHER AND STONE'.

Cornelius Collins escapes the horror of Ireland's Great Famine to Boston where he becomes a master boot maker, and Giuseppe Ambrosini, a master stonecutter leaves Italy to seek his fortune in America.

Each man and their families find themselves caught between America's promise of prosperity, and violent cultural prejudice against them, as they hurl headlong into the twentieth century and "the war to end all war".

Set in the prosperous nineteenth century industrial New England town of Milford, Massachusetts, this deeply affecting, family saga, is a fictional account of Charles Paul Collins' ancestors written as personal memoirs in their own words.

Theirs is the common fate of common people; living their lives without fanfare, known only by those who worked with them, and those who loved them, then forgotten by time. 

Until one day their names are spoken again by the living.

leather boots
stone quarry

The Odessey of Cornelius Collins

It is 1845, the first year of ‘An Gorta Mor’ the Great Famine in Ireland.

The Hunger Death

Fever sickness and human filth were everywhere, and fallen people covered the land like uprooted trees after a violent storm. The dying and dead lay unburied along the roadsides and in the open fields where starving dogs finished them off.

I made my way to Liverpool where the packet ships sailed a regular weekly schedule to Boston, over 3,000 nautical miles away and 40 days at sea.

The Coffin Ships

I cannot describe the sufferings pregnant women and those with children endured. One day when a heavy gale storm came on us there was a woman in the far rear of the ship who died giving birth. 

They opened a hatch at the back of the ship and pushed her and the still born child out into the sea and closed the hatch. It had to be done so no one spoke of it.

Boston City

The ‘land sharks’ were quick out of the crowd coming right up to you speaking English and Irish like they were old friends from home. 

All the while they’re laying their hands on your shoulders and into your pockets if you didn’t fill them with your own hands first.

In Liverpool I had seen the fate of those left to the streets and I would do anything not to be that man.

'Of Leather'

As we walked through the front doors the air was thick with the smell of leather, burning oil lamps and some other odors I didn’t recognize. 

The wagons being unloaded at the doors were filled with leather hides and wooden crates filled with boots. 

This is where they make the boots for America and by the Grace of God I thought, I am here and not on the streets of Boston city.

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