Long before our 2009 visit with our McCormack cousins in Ballyedmond, County Laois, the family was welcoming American relatives back to the farm and home place. We were not the first McCormack Yanks to make contact with our Irish cousins, but it seemed our family suffered from a bit of historical amnesia. Much the same way that people don’t keep in mind the lessons learned by their parents and grandparents and proceed to make the same mistakes (war, high heels, trusting that a boom economy will last) my family lost touch with its history for a generation or so.
In 1934 my grandfather Bill McCormack, first generation Irish-American, visited Ireland with his Uncle Pat who had emigrated to the United States in the 1890s, and had designs on moving back to Ireland. Poor health ultimately prevented Pat from returning to stay, but at least he was able to have one last visit home. My grandfather’s cousin Paddy McCormack of Rathdowney, County Laois was a young man at the time and remembers this visit.
My grandfather passed away in 1958, and while his sister Nellie stayed in touch with the family in Ireland, this connection was lost for my father and his sisters. Also lost were the stories my grandfather could have shared about his trip to Ballyedmond and our Irish relatives. I can think of one inquisitive granddaughter who would have relished these stories! My father became interested in genealogy in the 1990s and after much research, new generations of the American branch of the family connected with the Ballyedmond McCormacks. Initially I had the sense that my father had “discovered” our family roots, but of course they were always there, it just took a little digging.
I would love to see a snapshot from the 1934 visit, but to my knowledge there is no photographic evidence. Instead, I share a photo from 1975 when another McCormack relative visited Ballyedmond (see top of post.) The American I challenged you to identify is Eileen Garding, a first cousin to my grandfather Bill. Andy McCormack is the gentleman in the shirt and tie – my grandfather’s first cousin who lived in the house in the background, the house in which my great-grandfather was born.
The 1975 photo provides a bridge from my grandfather’s visit in 1933 to my own family’s visits to Ireland. In 2000 when I first met my Irish relatives, I met Tess McCormack (pictured next to her husband Andy) and her daughter Ellen (next to Tess, at left end.) I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Ellen’s brother Martin pictured next to Andy in the blazer, but her other brother Jimmy and his wife Helen have graciously welcomed us back to Ballyedmond.
My sister remarked to me after the 2009 party in Ballyedmond that she felt like she had known our Irish relatives her entire life, not simply met them once or twice. I felt the same way. I guess that is what can be great about family, when you can pick up where you (or your grandparents) left off and move forward. Hopefully my nieces will not need to recreate the family tree forty years from now. I think the internet and computer files may have solved that problem!
Check out related posts…
Read my story that appeared on IrishFireside.com about our 2009 parties with the McCormacks — click here.