The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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Maureen’s Memories: Haunting Halloween

Maureen’s Memories takes a spooky turn with this Halloween offering. Get ready for goosebumps – Maureen shares ghosts stories from her native Milltown, County Kerry and her present home in Massachusetts. The origins of our Halloween celebrations can be traced to Ireland. Maureen tells us about Irish traditions at Halloween such as barnbrack and bobbing for apples. Harry Houdini even gets a mention! Do you believe in ghosts?

Sunset, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Sunset in New Hampshire

Haunting Halloween

 

When I was child in Milltown, Halloween was very much a time of religious observance. We attended daily Mass but All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day were when we remembered all those who had passed away.

I don’t think we carved turnips, the original Jack-o-Lanterns, but “bobbing for apples” was one of the traditional children’s games we played.  A favorite Halloween treat was the chestnuts that we gathered from the nearby Kilderry Woods. Our Mam would roast the nuts in the hot coals of the hearth-fire.  We always ate Barnbrack, a fruit bread with a tacky gold ring baked inside. Legend was whoever got the ring would be married within the year.  As young children, that struck us as funny, being too young to be wed. We bought the brack from Miss Hannah Sugrue’s shop on Church Street, but it was probably baked at Larkin’s Bakery on Main Street.

A friend recently told me that when she was in her pram, over 80 years ago, her Mam wheeled her along the Killarney Road and up to the entrance where Billy Whelan’s Boreen stood. Right there, they came upon the apparition of a priest in old-fashioned cassocks, reading his breviary. But he never looked up to acknowledge them. Her brothers and sisters were so frightened they ran home, screaming all the way.  Their mother followed frantically, pushing the pram close behind.were so terrified of the ghost that they didn’t look up that road for over a month.

I once read a story of a parish priest who was so loved in Milltown that he was buried a total of three times. He was transferred to and died in North Kerry, but was beloved by the parishioners of Milltown because he was so good to the poor. They clandestinely disinterred and reburied him in Milltown, but the people of North Kerry came and took his remains back to North Kerry and reinterred him there.

Another friend tells the story of the haunting of her family farmhouse just outside of town. Her sister lived alone and, almost every night, while she sat by the fire, she saw a ghostly figure in the kitchen window. Sometimes she even heard the sound of horse-hooves when she saw the spooky specter. This went on for quite a while before the culprit was finally caught and literally uncovered. It turned out it was a neighbor wearing a white sheet who wanted to scare her off and buy the land. He wore bed-sheets and stood at the window every night trying to scare the living daylights out of her––and very nearly succeeded.

Halloween_MaryPowerOnce, when my son, Will, was visiting a friend in upstate New York I was home alone. In the morning, I went downstairs only to find that the front door that I’m certain I locked was wide open. Will’s friend was Walter Gibson, the creator of the pulp-fiction character, “The Shadow” a fellow magician and friend of the famous Harry Houdini. Walter also ghost-wrote some of Houdini’s books.  Gibson was known to attempt to contact his friend Harry by séance on Halloween, but never made after-life contact. But  there I was, home alone and on the next morning I calmly started down the stairs, this time certain I’d once again find the door open. Two days in a row the front door was not only unlocked but opened-wide when I was certain I’d locked it up tight, being by myself for a few days.

The man who sold us that house was the only remaining member of his family. He told us that he was happy to sell to a family with children and that he had turned down better offers from single people. The first night we lived there was a very hot August night, with barely a breeze of fresh air to be found in the old house. However, we hardly slept a wink as the doors kept slamming all night long! Later, we often would hear footsteps during the night no matter what floor we slept on. Neighbors subsequently told us that the 1880s-era home had been vacant for several years before we moved in, and that it had a reputation of being haunted.

We kept in touch with the previous owner throughout the years, so I knew that his brother, Warren, died in the hospital from heart disease as a young man. Once, in the 1970’s I picked up my phone to make a call and heard an exceptionally clear “crossed-line” conversation. As distinct as a bell, I heard Warren and his parents talking. The call ended when both of his parents said, “Good-bye. I love you, Warren.” Warren replied: “I love you too, Mom and Dad.”

 

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories…


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That’s Pretty Old!

John Regan, circa 1872

John Regan, circa 1872

October 24th is the 185th anniversary of my great-great-grandfather John Regan’s birth.

John Regan was born in the townland of Clashbredane, Kilmichael, County Cork, Ireland on October 24, 1829. His parents were Cornelius and Ellen (Foley) Regan, and his godparents John Connor and Johanna Regan. John was the fourth of ten children, the second son.

When I first looked into John’s story, I was struck by how he never provided an accurate age when asked for it. Be it a ship’s officer, a census-taker, a priest, or a city clerk – never did John report his real age. John did not know how to read or write. English wasn’t even his native language. He could have not understood the question, but I have a hunch John thought his age was his own business.(I will always note his real age.)

In 1864, John arrived at New York harbor aboard the City of Baltimore. He is listed as a 24-year-old laborer (34). The names John Regan, Patrick Foley, and Timothy Galvin appear consecutively on the ship’s manifest. My grandma Agnes McMahon Regan always told me that John Regan and Patrick Foley came to America together from County Cork, that their families were close in the old country. According to John’s birth record, they were more than friends, they were cousins. Was Timothy Galvin an old friend from Ireland or a new friend from the ship? We will never know.

Once in the United States, Regan and Foley made their way north to find work in the jobs-rich industrialized Concord, New Hampshire, while Galvin went west and farmed in Illinois. Thirteen years later the three Irishmen would be reunited and among the pioneer settlers of Tara Township in Minnesota.

The 1870 United States Federal census lists an unmarried laborer John Regan, age twenty-five (40). He is living with seventy-year-old Ellen Regan, his mother. I wonder when Ellen joined John? Maybe she came with his younger brother Jeremiah, who also settled in New Hampshire? The 1870 census record is the only mention I have found of Ellen Regan in America.

The photo above is an old tintype and the only one I have of John Regan. I believe it was taken about the time of his marriage to Mary Quinn on May 19, 1872. The couple was united in Concord, New Hampshire. John was twenty-eight (42) and Mary was twenty-five.

Three children were born to John and Mary in New Hampshire – Cornelius, Ellen, and Patrick – while John worked at a local machine shop. By 1878, the Regans had saved enough money to move from the crowded city of Concord, west to Minnesota. On August 17, 1878 John Regan purchased 240 acres in section 7 of Tara Township near Clontarf, Minnesota for $1,745.24.

John added to his family and his land holdings over the next ten years. Three more children were born – John, Jeremiah, and Mary. John’s wife Mary died of consumption on June 17, 1895 at the age of forty-nine. Their youngest daughter Mary was just eight years old and John was fifty-six. By this time John had amassed over 600 acres in Tara Township.

Tara Twp 9 Oct 2007 Sec. 10 Jer. Regan place

Regan House – Tara Township

John continued to work hard on the farm until he sold his holdings for $31,650 on April 1, 1913. John must have seen his son Jerry as most likely to succeed him in farming, or perhaps most in need of his help. He purchased a section of land once owned by his old friend Timothy Galvin. John built a lovely two-story home which dominates the flat landscape of Tara Township to this day. John spent the rest of his life in this house. He died on January 21, 1924 of pneumonia. His death certificate says birth date was unknown, but age estimated at ninety-years-old (94).

Francis Byrne, a grandson of John, remembered only a gruff old man nearly blind with cataracts, but his mother told him stories of “Old Johnny”. He was tough as nails and fiercely independent. When the local postmaster and general store proprietor tried to tell Old Johnny how to vote, he defiantly went the other way. He was a determined man who kept to himself.

Even in the end, John’s age was not recorded correctly. After years of claiming to be younger than his real age, John’s gravestone says he is two years older.

 

John’s obituary is near the bottom

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Well, He Finally Did It!

My dad, Jim McCormack, finished his book: The Ballyedmond McCormacks in Ireland and America. I am proud of him and in awe of the achievement.

The Jimmys having a laugh outside the old house

The author and his cousin sharing a laugh outside McCormack cottage in Ballyedmond

What I am most impressed with is how Dad went the extra mile to tell the stories of ALL the McCormacks who came from Ballyedmond, near Rathdowney in County Laois, Ireland. He could have told the story of his grandfather and great uncles who came to America in the 1870s through the 1880s. That would have been enough for most family historians and genealogists.

But Dad included the stories of the McCormacks who came to America the generation before his grandfather. This is such a well-researched book. It seemed as though every few months Dad would say he had just met a new cousin. He got to know so many cousins, learning their stories, identifying photographs, and filling in the gaps. The book explores the strong links between the American and Irish branches of the McCormack family – links I have talked about on this blog.

What Jim has to say about the book…

This labor of love was almost 20 years in the making. I drew on resources in America and in Ireland, including family oral tradition and memoirs, verified wherever possible, church and civil records, newspaper accounts and a few secondary sources. The result was a 240 page volume including about 300 photos and charts.

Click here to view the flyer.

If you would like to order a copy, send me an email and I will put you in touch with Jim.

Nice job, Dad!

 

 


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Old Glory and Tiger Lilies

Neil Regan circa 1935

Neil Regan circa 1935

Today is the 141st anniversary of my great-grandfather Cornelius “Neil” Regan’s birth. He was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire to John Regan of Kilmichael, County Cork and Mary Quinn of County Clare, Ireland.

I paid tribute to Neil on his birthday last year – click here to read the post.

My mom, Eileen, remembers her grandpa looking out the front window of their South Minneapolis home on June 14th, smiling, and saying, “Well, how nice of everyone to raise the flag for my birthday!” Those were the days when nearly every house on your block would proudly hang Old Glory on her special day.

My grandma told me that after she married Neil’s son, John, the couple lived alone for less than one year before Neil moved in with the newlyweds. I commented that must have been a pain, but Grandma shook her head. “Oh not at all. Neil was such a kind man, so agreeable. He kept to himself and never caused me any trouble. And once Eileen was born, he was such a good grandpa. We were lucky to have him.”

Grandma remembered the one time Neil got upset. Just one time. A neighbor dropped by with a big bunch of tiger lilies from her garden. Grandma was ao pleased with the stunning orange blooms. She filled a large vase and set it on the dining room table. Something to really brighten up the house.

When Neil came home from an afternoon of cards with his cronies in the park and saw the flowers, he immediately swiped them from the table and threw them outside.

In a stern tone Grandma had never heard pass from Neil’s lips he instructed, “I never want to see those orange flowers in my house again!” Neil went in his room and closed the door.

Grandma could not believe the scene she had witnessed. She had never seen someone react that way to a beautiful bouquet. And stranger still was that gentle, mild-mannered Neil would display such outrage.

tiger lilyTurned out it wasn’t really the flowers he objected to, it was the color of the flowers. Grandpa explained to Grandma that his father had inherited a distaste for the color orange from his Cork-born father, John Regan, who never allowed anything orange in his house. By all accounts, John Regan was a feisty man who did not stand for anyone telling him what he could do or where he could do it. And to this Catholic Irish immigrant, that is precisely what the color orange symbolized.

I like that John Regan’s oldest son was born on Flag Day. Flag Day commemorates the day in 1777 when some other people who didn’t like the British government telling them what they could do and where they could do it adopted the primary symbol of the United States of America: Stars and Stripes. Old Glory. Our flag.

Old Glory

I suppose there is always a chance that Neil just didn’t cared for tiger lilies, but I like this story better. Happy Flag Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The River Shannon Project

What a cool project! Playwright and Limerick native Helena Enright is looking for people to talk to about the River Shannon and how it has figured into their lives.

Helena is collecting stories of the Shannon – from folklore passed down from Irish emigrants in America to modern first-hand experiences of life in Ireland. Read on to learn more about the project and how to contact Helena…

From The River Shannon Project Facebook page

From The River Shannon Project Facebook page

For immediate release: Tuesday 4th March 2014

 

The River Shannon Project begins with your stories.

Limerick City stands at the point where the River Shannon meets the sea water of the estuary. It is an integral part of the landscape and the folklore of the city. How do you relate to the river?  What does the River Shannon mean to you? Perhaps you have a story to tell about the River Shannon or know of friends or relatives who have?

Viva Voce, in collaboration with Limerick born playwright and actress Helena Enright, are creating and developing a new performance which will celebrate the people of Limerick’s real life associations with the River Shannon.  The play will be performed on a boat on the river in Limerick as part of the Limerick City of Culture 2014.

‘I am look for all sorts of stories relating to the river Shannon. As our longest river it has a special place in the folklore and literature of the country and I am interested as to how it features in people’s lives today. Perhaps people have Irish ancestors who have told stories of the river or perhaps they themselves have visited Ireland and made a special connection to the river.   The main focus of the project is oral testimony so I would like to interview people about their memories of the river or what the river means to them. I cannot make this project happen without the people of Limerick both here and abroad. I would love the project to include memories and stories from Limerick people all over the world.’

A Facebook page has been set up where people can upload pictures and comments about the River Shannon.  There is also a Twitter page @rivershannonpro and we are encouraging people all over the world to leave a tweet describing the river in 140 characters or less. You can also follow our board in Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/Hels75/the-river-shannon-project/

The River Shannon Project began as part of the Elemental Arts and Culture Festival in Limerick in 2012 and in for the 2013 festival Helena created an audio walk along the banks of the river.  There are also plans to stream the play live on a boat in Boston and New York. Helena will be visiting New York and Boston in early April to meet with and interview people.

Dr Helena Enright is an experienced researcher and freelance theatre practitioner whose has been working in the arts for over twenty years.  She has worked as an actress and producer in both theatre and film, and also as a teacher and facilitator on many outreach, community, school and university theatre projects in both Ireland and the UK.   She is also an award winning playwright and director whose plays include Less Than a Year (2006), Walking Away (2007), Under Pressure (2008), Aquéro (2010) and The Exeter Blitz Project (2012).

Four of these plays have incorporated the testimony of real people and have dealt with subjects such as domestic violence, cancer, road fatalities and war.  In 2011 she completed a PhD in Performance Practice at the University of Exeter on the staging of personal testimony.

 

Media Contact:

Helena Enright, Artistic Director

Tel: +353 87 3975526

Email: rivershannonproject@gmail.com

 @rivershannonpro on Twitter, use #rivershannonpro   

http://www.facebook.com/RiverShannonProject

Click here to view and download the flyer for The Shannon River Project.

 


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Maureen’s Memories: Dancing in the Dark

Maureen is back with another delightful story, tying together her childhood in Milltown, County Kerry and her life and family in the United States. Enjoy! And make sure you check out Maureen’s other stories, links are at the end of this story.

Dancing in the Dark

Our family spent the dark winter nights sitting cozily by the kitchen hearth with oil lamps and candles our only sources of light. We happily passed the time on cold evenings telling tales, singing and reading. When a neighbor dropped by, they were always offered tea and home-baked goodies which were readily accepted. They in turn eagerly shared their own tune or story.

Present-day Milltown, County Kerry

Present-day Milltown, County Kerry

I remember grandfather, John Teahan, telling us that on the rare occasion he went downtown to Milltown for a few pints at Shea’s Public House, he was always guided home by a mysterious light.  It was a long mile and a half trek in the pitch-black darkness of the countryside back to his farmhouse in Lyre. He never speculated about it, but we grandchildren liked to think it was our late grandmother, Mary Falvey Teahan, guiding him safely home. Many years later my sister, Kitty, thought it was just a young neighbor on the road who, concerned for his well-being, silently lit the way with his flashlight.

My brother, Donal, recalls that our sister, Helen, always said she saw the apparition/spirit of the same grandmother sitting by the fireplace at the Lyre farmhouse in the evenings. We never knew our Granny Teahan and had no idea what she looked like. She passed away in 1917 and there were no photos of her. Were we surprised when our cousin later told us his father said Helen was the spitting image of his mother, Mary Falvey! Our sister, Helen, was gorgeous, with a delicate, Grace Kelly-like beauty.

Before electricity, the only middle-of-the night excitement was the one time a man arrived by horse and frantically knocked at our door. He had ridden in from the countryside, asking directions to Dr. Sheehan’s house. My Mam assumed his wife was in labor, but we never found out just what the emergency was.

Joan Teahan Kelly

Joan Teahan Kelly

I was about eight years old when the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme finally brought power to Milltown. We couldn’t afford to light our house; it just wasn’t in the budget. So our home wasn’t on “the grid” and we never missed or felt we needed it.  Although, I’ll admit we children would stay up late into the night when we should have been sleeping watching the blinking lights in Miss Hannah’s shop across the street. Dennis Sugrue, Milltown’s Renaissance man, had installed them around the windows of his aunt’s shop. What a Christmas novelty it was as we excitedly counted the seconds in anticipation of the next blink!

We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the new electric lights. Every night, a man came in from the countryside. He never spoke a word to anyone, shopped, or went into the pubs for refreshment. He just stood silently under the lamppost, stayed there about a half hour, and then returned back the way he came. At the time we thought him eccentric, but now I think of him as a visionary who utilized light therapy before it became common.

It was an oppressively hot, humid day when my sister Joan’s youngest, Christine Kelly, married Jim Clougher on June 30, 2001. She had planned a summer wedding to avoid the disaster of a winter storm. Sadly, her Mom had passed away just two months before on May first and so didn’t live to see her daughter marry, but some say Joan was there that day!

As we sat in St. Columbkille’s Church, Brighton, Mass. that afternoon, it was clear that dark storm clouds were rolling in. The Mass and ceremony were lovely and the rain held off as the wedding party later greeted well-wishers outside the church. But as we drove to the reception at Lombardo’s in Randolph, it became apparent we couldn’t escape the thunderstorm.

Still, we were able to enjoy the cocktail hour and dinner without a hitch. The newly married couple had their first dance together as bride and groom. Christine was able to dance with her father, Joe Kelly. As the guests started dancing, the lights flickered off and on three times before they went out for the rest of the evening. The wait staff lit the candles on the tables and placed more around the hall.

Christine and Jim

Christine and Jim

People began to walk out to the hallway to see the spectacular light-show Mother Nature was putting on in front of the floor-to-ceiling picture window. Lightning reflected off the crystal chandelier above the spiral staircase as we looked out from the second-floor balcony, making for a surreal sight like out of a movie.

Back in the hall, the reception continued on without electricity, guests able to converse comfortably, not having to raise their voices above the din of blaring music. Spontaneously, a table would break out in song and people would dance and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  When I looked up at the head table during dinner, I thought I saw Joan sitting there for a moment.

Christine and Jim’s slight disappointment when the lights went out soon turned to astonishment because they felt in their hearts that Joan may have had something to do with it! And they weren’t the only ones there that strongly felt the same way! We told them some day they would laugh about it. And they have, along with their children, Kelly, Patrick and Brendan. Someday, God willing, their grandchildren will laugh at it, too.

Lombardo’s couldn’t have been more hospitable, but they just couldn’t explain how three backup generators failed. When Christine and Jim checked out the next morning, the desk clerk told them the other wedding parties left in disgust. Not surprisingly, the Clougher’s wedding reception went on until the wee hours of morning. The newlyweds were very relieved that their guests continued to enjoy themselves despite the darkness. In fact, many people told them that night was the most fun they’ve ever had at a wedding! Never underestimate the Irish, who have never needed power to have great craic.

Christine_&_Jim's_wedding

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories…


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St. Patrick’s Day Fun in Holyoke

SPD_parade+_Holyoke

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holyoke, Massachusetts

In case you aren’t ready for St. Patrick’s Day to be over for 2014, there’s one more big celebration to come. On Sunday, March 23rd the Massachusetts town of Holyoke hosts the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States (only the New York City parade is larger!)

Holyoke residents are fiercely proud of their Irish heritage, and they know how to show it. The town of about 40,000 will welcome up to 400,000 visitors to its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Here’s what the parade website has to say:

The Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade has been a cherished institution since 1952. Each March, our city streets fill with happy folks from near and far celebrating Irish heritage, civic pride, faith, family, friendship and tradition. A regional event attracting over 400,000 on street spectators, this Parade is the Pioneer Valley’s biggest homecoming of the year!

Festivities will kick off at 12:30pm on Thursday with the raising of the Irish flag at Holyoke City Hall. Then, at 1:00pm is a preview of the “Grand Colleen” float.

 Photo by Manon L. Mirabelli| Holyoke 2014 Grand Colleen Sheila S. Fallon, of Holyoke, with her father, Daniel Fallon

Photo by Manon L. Mirabelli| Holyoke 2014 Grand Colleen Sheila S. Fallon, of Holyoke, with her father, Daniel Fallon

Many thanks to reader Ed O’Connor for telling me about the Holyoke parade. I am always learning something new about the Irish in America! Good luck to everyone in Holyoke – I hope you have a beautiful Spring day to celebrate your Irish heritage!

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