The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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Listowel Letters

After Vincent Carmody contacted me and told me a bit about Listowel, County Kerry, I became intrigued by the town, its history, and its place in the story of the Irish in America.  I wanted to learn more, so naturally I took to the internet.

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

I was thrilled to stumble upon The Gleasure Letters blog. There is little I enjoy more than a nice collection of emigrant letters, and what better way to get to know the history of a town than through first-hand accounts? I admit, I am rather jealous of Ben Naylor, who publishes the blog with his wife, Kathleen. Ben’s family had no idea these letters existed until an uncle passed away, leaving a trunk containing the letters behind. I don’t think I am the only person engaged in family history research for whom such a discovery is a dream come true!

A description of the collection, taken from The Gleasure Letters blog:

Full transcriptions of hundreds of letters from 1897-1955. Letters are from the Gleasures of Listowel, Ireland to Frank Gleasure in Massachusetts and from Frank’s son George Gleasure (killed in D-Day) to his father during World War II.

I urge you to browse around The Gleasure Letters - you will look up at the clock and wonder how two hours could have passed. Ben and Kathleen have done all the hard work for us in transcribing the letters. You get to sit back, read, and enjoy, without getting hung up on words because of the fancy (or illegible) script. Thanks to Ben for his generosity in allowing us a glimpse into the history of the Irish in America, through his family’s experiences.

Mary Cogan is the author of the Listowel Connections blog, “…a personal take on Listowel, Co. Kerry. I am writing for anyone anywhere with a Listowel connection but especially for sons and daughters of Listowel who find themselves far from home.” Mary’s most recent post is a remarkable series of photographs she took while on her morning walk through Listowel.

In October of last year, Ben and Kathleen Naylor paid a visit to Listowel and saw many of the places mentioned in The Gleasure Letters. Mary documented their visit in a post on her blog – click here. Ben and Kathleen were treated to a tour of Listowel from Vincent Carmody, author of Listowel – Snapshots of an Irish Market Town 1850-1950. You could be treated to a copy of the book when you enter our St. Patrick’s Day giveaway – details announced next week.

  • Click here for more on Gleasure letters and photographs.
  • Click here to get to know Listowel native Kathy Buckley, twentieth-century culinary sensation.
  • Click here to learn about a Chicago man with Listowel roots who made his mark in politics, Elmer Walsh.


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Belfast City {more than just} Sightseeing Tours

Have you traced your Irish roots to Belfast, Northern Ireland and are now planning a visit to the old homestead? Aidan McCormack and Belfast City Tours are at your service!

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Belfast City Tours is much more than a sight-seeing bus, circulating through Belfast, providing entertaining commentary, and pointing out historic buildings. Of course they do those things very well, but Aidan and his team also create personal genealogy-based itineraries. Aidan says:

We have an intimate knowledge of our local areas and already work closely with local genealogists and PRONI to deliver bespoke tours to families and small groups.

Simply go to www.BelfastCitySightSeeing.com and take a look at what they offer. An impressive range of tours are listed on the website, in addition to some unique options which will make planning a trip to Northern Ireland a breeze:

  • Day trips to Derry, Giant’s Causeway, and more
  • Airport pick-ups
  • Hotel reservations
  • Boat cruises
  • Walking tours
  • Group activities

Belfast City Tours is a great option for all of your travel needs in Belfast and beyond. Their comprehensive services are unique and their attention to detail is fantastic. They would love to hear from you and get started making your visit to Northern Ireland one you will never forget.

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Calling all Sullivans from Baurgorm!

A Baurgorm farmhouse in ruins -- photo courtesy of Donal Collins

A Baurgorm farmhouse in ruins — photo courtesy of Donal Collins

Although I have yet to receive a Gathering postcard from Ireland, I have been graciously invited to a gathering event next year. The invitation did not come from my family in Ireland, but rather from a client.

Shortly after Regan and I returned from Ireland in October, Donal Collins of County Cork contacted us. He wanted to trace the American branch of his family tree. Donal’s mother, Dympna, had completed extensive genealogy, carrying on the work her aunt had begun years ago, collecting the stories of the older generations in Ireland, as well as keeping in touch with those who emigrated. Dympna corresponded with American cousins and hosted them on visits to Cork, but after some time they lost touch.

We got to work on the search for descendants and began by looking at four Sullivan siblings who left from Baurgorm, near Bantry, in West Cork, in the late nineteenth century. Their father Denis Sullivan of Baurgorm married Helena O’Leary of nearby Widdy Island. Denis built the farmhouse pictured above. Three of the Sullivan siblings (Patrick, Denis, and Helena) settled in Manchester, New Hampshire. The fourth sibling, Timothy, settled in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Once we had located the four siblings in the records, we turned our attention to their descendants. Some descendants have already been “found” and invited to the Sullivan O’Leary Baurgorm Bantry Gathering on June 15, 2013. Donal has a full slate of events planned, including a Mass, reception, food, video on the history of the family, and live entertainment. Donal told me he has a really great group of musicians lined up and is encouraging attendees to share their talent – be it a song, a story, or a dance.

Take a look at the invitation we sent to descendants found thus far!

Photo courtesy of Donal Collins

Photo courtesy of Donal Collins

Sounds like a great night! Now, we just need to get some American cousins to Bantry for the celebration. If you claim descent from the Sullivan or O’Leary families of Baurgorm/Widdy Island via Manchester, New Hampshire, leave a comment or send me an email. I will put you in touch with Donal right away. It is not every day you receive an invitation like this!

Here are some of the surnames associated with the Sullivan-O’Leary family in the United States:

  • Martin
  • McGillan
  • Sullivan
  • O’Leary
  • Rohrbaugh
  • Simard

If you think you might be related, or know someone who is, please contact us. Get in touch with your family history, see the farmhouse Donal and his wife Carol lovingly rebuilt in 2000, and learn the stories of the Sullivan and O’Leary families.

Click here to see some fantastic photos of the Baurgorm Stone Circle.

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I wonder if I will receive a postcard?

Gathering postcards are on their way…

On November 9th The Gathering Ireland announced its latest tools to attract visitors next year. From the Press Release

The Gathering Ireland 2013 has partnered with An Post to distribute postcards to 1.8 million households in Ireland this November. The postcards are being distributed to encourage Irish families to invite someone home for the Gathering Ireland in 2013 and should land in people’s houses over the coming days. The initiative is an important part of the Gathering campaign in order to encourage invitations to be sent to the four corners of the world. Everyone is being asked to use these postcards to send a message to family, friends and loved ones abroad and invite someone home next year for the Gathering Ireland 2013.  

In theory this is a great way to spread the Gathering word. There are a lot of people in the United States who have not yet heard about The Gathering. For example, I had dinner with an Irish-American friend last Saturday and when I mentioned the Gathering, I saw a blank look on her face. She had no idea what I was talking about.  My friend has Irish heritage on her both maternal and paternal sides of her family tree,  she visited Ireland for the first time as a high school student as a participant in the Irish American Cultural Institutes‘s Irish Way program, and she later returned to Ireland with family. My friend  loves Ireland and looks forward to returning one day. She (and her family) are exactly the Americans The Gathering should target. A postcard inviting her back to Ireland might be just the incentive she needs to book a trip…

How do those in Ireland feel about the postcards? Will you send them? And who will you send them to? Do you feel pressure to send the cards (see Emeralds blog post about the cards)? Please share your thoughts on this initiative – leave a comment.

On the receiving end, I would love to hear from anyone outside of Ireland who finds one of these postcards in their mailbox. Let me know what you think of it – will you take them up on the invitation?

I hope my Irish cousins don’t waste one of their postcards on me. I have never waited for an invitation before to visit Ireland!

A bunch of McCormacks in 2011


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Wexford: Maps, Oral Histories, and an American President

In addition to the usual information on household and water charges there are a couple of surprises on the Wexford County Council website (they also tweet – check out the latest info here.)

Click on the Interactive Maps link to see a list of maps for nearly every aspect of life in County Wexford – great for visitors and locals alike. Looking for a beach? There are over thirty on this map. Or perhaps a day at a museum is more your style, or even a round of golf. These maps have you covered. Hopefully you will not require medical attention, but if you do, a map of local hospitals is right here.

I love the map of Wexford area attractions. All of the sites I mentioned last time are included, plus a few more. An easy tool for planning a visit to County Wexford!

In the Library section of the County Council’s website, you will find the Oral History Project, complete with podcasts of 130 interviews conducted with residents of County Wexford. The project provides anyone, anywhere the opportunity to listen to Wexford residents tell their stories:

Since 2008, over 130 have been interviewed. The recordings are available here as podcasts and on cd for borrowing from all branch and mobile libraries.Wexford people here are witnesses to and practitioners of aspects of local life which are disappearing fast.Hear about school and childhood, work, trades and crafts, fairs and festivals, shopping and lots more.

If you trace your roots to County Wexford, you may just find a cousin on the alphabetical list of interviews. Select a name from the list and a photograph and a short biography are displayed. It is also possible to browse the interviews by region and townland – another way to learn something new about life in your ancestor’s Ireland.

There were no interviews from Dunganstown, the site of the John F. Kennedy Homestead. Dunganstown is the birthplace of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick, who emigrated to America in 1849. President Kennedy returned to the small cottage during his 1963 tour of Ireland. This is the speech President Kennedy delivered in Wexford:

It would be interesting to learn if anyone mentioned JFK’s 1963 visit in the Wexford interviews…

It looks like the homestead is closed until 2013 while a modern visitor’s center is built. It will be ready just in time to mark the fifty-year anniversary of Kennedy’s visit. The JFK Park and Arboretum, a beautiful place to visit, is also located in Wexford (it’s on the map!)

President Kennedy’s Irish roots spread across Ireland beyond County Wexford  – his maternal Fitzgerald great-grandfather came from County Limerick. Click here to read more about President Kennedy’s Irish connections.

This is a great video of President Kennedy in Galway and Limerick in 1963. Enjoy!


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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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Packing Breather

I need a break from packing.  For the past ten minutes I’ve been staring at the full duffel bag on my bedroom floor and the stack of clothes waiting to (somehow) be stuffed into that full duffel bag.  What stays behind? What can’t I live without for two weeks in Ireland?  I don’t feel equipped to make such important decisions at the moment.

Instead, I want to daydream about my trip.  Several fun events have crept into my itinerary, including the 2012 Ireland Reaching Out Launch at the Loughrea Hotel, Galway Wednesday October 12th at 9pm.  David McWilliams is schedule to speak.  By all accounts the Week of Welcomes was a huge success this summer, so I am eager to hear about their plans for 2012.

My dad has “discovered” another branch of our family.  Some of the folks live very near to where we are staying, so I believe he has another party up his sleeve.  Hopefully it will go as well as our previous attempt at entertaining in Ireland – read the story here.

McCormack Family Gathering: Old Parochial House, Tipperary, 2009

I am excited to meet Elizabeth McEvoy at the National Archives in Dublin.  When I first had the idea for this blog I contacted her to ask if she had many Irish people looking for information on their emigrant relatives.  Elizabeth was very helpful and includes the link to this blog on the National Archives site.  I am most appreciative for the traffic that link provides!

Well, better get back to packing.  No clue where that stack of clothes will end up.  Oh dear, I just remembered about the Minnesota-themed gifts for my Irish friends and relatives in my closet… something’s got to give!

Follow me as I tweet from Ireland: @irish_america on twitter.  Let me know if there is anything I must not miss while I’m there!


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Family Ties

Can you identify the American in this photo?

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.

Paddy and Maura McCormack, far left.

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.

McCormacks -- 2009 (Ellen McCormack from first photo is seated at far right)

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.

Two Jimmys by old house (same house in 1975 photo)

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!

Jimmy and Martin McCormack -- couldn't resist including this slice from the seventies...

Check out related posts…

Week of Welcomes: McCormack Style (Part I)

Week of Welcomes: McCormack Style (Part II)

Read my story that appeared on IrishFireside.com about our 2009 parties with the McCormacks — click here.

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