The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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Ireland is a Small Country

Jim takes a moment to reflect on family, genealogy, and Ireland…

Ireland occupies 27,136 square miles of Mother Earth’s surface. As of 2011 about 4,581,269 people inhabit that area. As a comparison Minnesota, where I live in the United States has about 5,200,000 folks spread over about 86,934 square miles. Just how small was illustrated by an encounter I had on a recent trip to the homeland.

One of my goals on that trip was to meet the members of the Loughman/Kelly branch of my McCormack family tree. My grandfather’s youngest sibling Johanna McCormack who was born at Ballyedmond, Queens County (now Co. Laois) in 1874 married James Loughman from Killadooley in 1904. For many years Aunt Johanna, as she was called, corresponded with my aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin in Minneapolis. Johanna’s daughter Catherine Loughman, who would later marry Tom Kelly, continued the correspondence with my Aunt Nellie. As part of my search I had acquired several photos taken of family in Ireland when my cousin Eileen Hamm Garding had visited in the mid 1970’s. I had already identified the people in most of the photos. I was however stumped by a photo in which the only two of seven people pictured that I knew were Eileen and our cousin Kate Loughman Kelly. On my second day in Ireland I met Michael Kelly, Kate and Tom Kelly’s oldest son. The way that meeting came about is a story to be told another day. For our purposes today let it suffice to say that Michael was easily able to identify the other people in the mystery photo.

They were Nan Loughman Wall, Kate’s stepsister, Nan’s son Mick, his wife, and their two daughters. The names are only important because of what happened next.

Regan McCormack, Johnny Delaney, and the cup

Two nights later my family and I were attending a victory celebration in a pub in Clogh. It just so happened that the Hurling team from Clogh/Ballacolla had recently won the County Laois Championship. The reason we were at the party is that another cousin Johnny Delaney was the captain and star of the team.

While enjoying the celebration at the pub I was introduced to a fellow named Mick Wall. The name sounded familiar but I could not place it. I do have about 1700 names in my family tree. After a few minutes it started to come to me. I asked him if his parents were Mick and Madge. Sure enough he was the son of the family in the mystery photo that had just been identified two days earlier. Where but in Ireland could a Yank from St. Paul Minnesota be celebrating with the team captained by a cousin in one of the smallest hamlets in the County run into the son of a man on the mystery photo?


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Grandfather

Years ago I resigned myself to the fact that I would never knew much about my paternal grandfather, Bill McCormack. He died of a massive heart attack in 1957 and so much sadness surrounded this event and its implications, that people rarely spoke of him. I understood why this was so, but at the same time I wanted to know what kind of man was my grandfather. I had a couple of reasons for my curiosity: 1) I never had a grandpa and I felt like I was really missing out, and 2) I loved to ask questions and get to the bottom of things (What, are you writing a book or something? is the question my dad frequently asks me.)

My dad has thoroughly researched the family tree, and several years ago, he learned that his first-generation Irish American father had visited Ireland as a young man in the 1930s. My grandpa’s first cousin Paddy McCormack (of Rathdowney, County Laois) was a boy at the time and recalled the visit. This intrigued me and of course I had a bunch of questions that no one could answer. By default, my imagination took over and I created a dramatic tale surrounding my grandpa’s return to his father’s birthplace in Ireland.

Last month while in Ireland, my dad and I were chatting with Michael Kelly (see previous post). One of the first things out of Michael’s mouth that afternoon was, “The day my mother received word that Bill McCormack had passed away was a sad day indeed…” I had heard such sentiments over the years, but what made this different was what followed.

Michael went on to say that when my grandfather came to Ireland in 1934, his mother (and Bill’s first cousin) Katie Loughman showed my grandfather all around the area and introduced him to neighbors and relatives. Stories of horse races and touring, nights out and singing – it sounded like they had a fabulous time and Katie and Bill became great friends. Katie also corresponded with Bill’s sister Nellie for many years.

I was thrilled to hear Michael tell the stories of my grandfather’s Irish visit. For the first time I could associate joy, humor, and fun with my grandfather – things I always suspected about him, but I was unable to get past the sorrow of his untimely death.

My grandpa Bill McCormack, great-uncles Jimmy Flannery and Jim McCormack, early 1940s

Thanks for the stories, Michael Kelly. I am that much closer to learning about my grandfather.

Next time, guest blogger Jim with his observations on family history and his recent trip to Ireland.


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The Proof is in the Picture

“You know, Jim, my brother Paddy met you before. It was in the early Seventies at Nellie Marrin’s home in Minneapolis,” Michael Kelly told my dad one afternoon last month shortly after we arrived in Ireland.

“I don’t think so…he must have me confused with someone else…I really don’t remember that at all,” my dad replied shaking his head.

Regardless of whether Paddy met my dad, I was curious how Paddy Kelly found himself at my grand-aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin’s house in South Minneapolis. I had heard my dad mention the Kelly name when he referenced his genealogy work in recent years, but this was the first time I had met a Kelly.

Paddy and Michael’s mother, Katie Loughman Kelly, was a first cousin of my grandfather Bill McCormack and his sister Nellie McCormack Marrin. This makes my dad, Paddy and Michael second cousins.

Michael shared a number of entertaining stories with us that afternoon. Over the years, he collected stories from his mother Katie, and passed her memories on to us with keen understanding and insight.

Katie considered her American cousins Nellie and Bill “kindred spirits” and enjoyed a life-long correspondence with Nellie. Katie never met Nellie in person, but Bill visited Ireland in 1934-35 and the two of them became good friends.

Michael invited us to dinner the following Sunday. We had a great time at their lovely home. Michael’s wife Moira is known for her culinary and hosting skills and the entire Kelly family was delightful.

Paddy Kelly stopped by and after introductions were made, Michael mentioned to Paddy that my dad didn’t remember meeting him. Paddy stood his ground – indeed they had met – and he went on to tell us how Nellie sat in her rocking chair, closed her eyes and recounted the name of every family on the road from Ballyedmond (County Laois, where her father’s home) to Rathdowney. This was truly a stroll down her father’s memory lane – the families Nellie listed were her father Andy McCormack’s neighbors before leaving for America. Nellie must have heard her father’s litany often enough for her to commit it to her own memory.

Paddy turned to my sister, mom, and me and said that he also met the three of us that day at Nellie’s.

Paddy let us stew a few minutes before pulling out a photograph taken at Nellie Marrin’s in 1972:

Jim, Eileen, Regan, and Aine McCormack - 1972

Sure enough…the four of us posed for a photograph for an Irish cousin (I am the camera-shy one on the right!) We had all met a Kelly before.

I don’t blame my dad for not remembering. After all he was twenty-seven-years-old, busy with his young family and his life.

So often people lament not talking to older relatives about family history or not asking more questions when they were young and there were people still around who could answer them. I say don’t be so hard on yourselves! As young people, most of us don’t care that much about what old people have to say, and sometimes the old people don’t want to talk anyway.

The photograph Paddy produced reminded me of the dozens of old, unidentified photos in my family collection. I think I will begin labelling them all as “cousins” of whichever relative they most closely resemble!

Next time I will take a look at the other side of the family history obstacle – when no one wants to talk about it. When we were in Ireland I finally learned a few things about my grandfather.


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Reader suggestions…

John from Ireland wrote to me with a few suggestions for using the Irish Census data available on-line.  He began by pointing out www.census.ie which provides information on how the Irish census is used today as well as its role in history and as a valuable research tool.  Click here to go directly to the history portion of the site.  This page contains interesting information on the census and will also link you to the National Archives, the home of the 1901 and 1911 Irish census.

I suspect many of you researching your Irish roots are familiar with the Irish census data from 1901 and 1911 on the National Archives of Ireland website.  You have a couple of options for looking at the census: you can browse  or you can search.

If you know the county, parish, and townland of origin for your subject, why not take leisurely browse through the actual records.  This method can be a bit more time-consuming, but you may get a bit more of a feel for your subject’s life.

Of course, a search will get you to your goal a bit faster, and you can always browse the records from that point.  Either way, these records are fascinating and can provide valuable information for your family tree.

John pointed out a list of several links at the bottom of the main census page on the National Archives site that I had completely missed.  These photographs and articles provide some context to the 1901 and 1911 census data.  See a tram timetable from 1911 or a photograph of the 1903 All-Ireland champs from Kerry.  The eviction scene from County Galway (below) is one of the items listed.

Eviction - Woodford, County Galway

Speaking of browsing, I was completely sucked in by another collection John recommended, the digitized photograph collections at the National Library of Ireland .    The photographs are organized in several smaller collections, according to time period, region, and subject matter.  If one of the collections fits your area of research, click on the name and you will be able to further filter your search.  Or you can just browse through the photo collections.  The photographs can be downloaded, free of charge.

Many thanks to John for providing a fresh perspective on researching Irish roots!

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