The Irish in America



She was never much for having her picture taken…

Margaret and Frank McMahon, 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

My grandma was meant to be in this photograph, but she wouldn’t sit still. Every time the photographer carefully posed the three youngest McMahon children and turned his back to go to the camera, my grandma would get up and run to her mom.

Grandma was just under two-years-old at the time of this photo. She claimed she could walk from the age of nine months, telling me, with a chuckle, that she was so short that she could walk clear under the kitchen table, with room to spare.

Grandma managed to stay put for this photo, up on a chair with mom right behind her.

McMahon Family 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

McMahon Family 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)



Meant to Be


John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)


John Foley and my grandpa John Regan were good friends. They spent their early childhood together in Clontarf, Minnesota.  John Foley moved to Minneapolis with his family in the mid 1920s.

It was only natural that the two boys were friends. Their paternal grandfathers (Patrick Foley and John Regan) were friends in their native Kilmichael, County Cork, and they came to America together, settling in Fisherville, New Hampshire before venturing to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.

I don’t know if “the Johns'” fathers (Tim Foley and Neil Regan) were friends when they were young. Clontarf was (and is) a small place, but from what I have heard, the two had little in common. If I consider as evidence my grandma’s collection of studio portraits of many of the young men of Clontarf, Tim and Neil were not close. – there are no photos of the two of them together. However, the evidence does show that John’s uncle John Foley and Neil were friends (see below and click here to read about it).

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated (ATMR Family Collection)

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated, around 1900 (ATMR Family Collection)

As I mentioned earlier, Clontarf’s a very small place so even when folks moved to Minneapolis, as so many did in the 1920s and 1930s, families remained close, supporting one another as they made their ways in the big city. The community was strong whether it was in the rural west or the largest city in the state. It was sometimes difficult to see where family ended and neighbors and friends picked up. It could all get very complicated…

For example:

One day in late 1930s Minneapolis, my grandma’s Aunt Bid Foley (John Foley’s mom) invited her over for cards. Have I mentioned yet that John Foley and my grandma, Agnes McMahon were first cousins? How about that they were double first cousins?

John Regan was staying with his old friend John Foley at the time of the invitation. Agnes and John Regan had crossed paths over the years, but it wasn’t until Uncle Tim asked Agnes to take his place in a cribbage game with John Regan, that sparks flew.

I don’t know who won that game, but I bet it was fiercely contested. They fell in love over a cribbage board and were married in 1941. They were a perfect couple.

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man...

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man…

Agnes’ maternal grandfather was Patrick Foley and John Regan’s paternal grandfather was….John Regan. The two friends from Kilmichael, County Cork.

When we visited Kilmichael Parish in Cork, Ireland several years ago, we learned that the connection between Patrick Foley and John Regan may have been stronger than we thought. John Regan’s mother was Ellen Foley. Patrick and John were cousins.

I thought this was very cool. Then my sister mentioned how that would have made grandma and grandpa some sort of cousins, too. Distant, of course, going back to their great-grandparents generation. In 19th century rural Ireland that must have happened a lot…right?

Distant cousins, yes, but friendship connected the Foley and Regan families through the generations, across an ocean and into a new world.

And I didn’t even tell you how my grandma’s mom and grandpa’s aunt were life-long besties….

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

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Three Sisters

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (early 1930s)

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (mid 1930s) ATMR Family Collection

When I think of the Irish in America, snapshots like this one come to mind. My grandma Agnes with two of her three older sisters, young and happy in the midst of the Great Depression.

The McMahon sisters were second generation Irish Americans. However, my grandma told me they didn’t spend any time thinking about their heritage when they were young. She made up for it when she grew older and had a highly inquisitive granddaughter. She shared with me stories and songs, old sayings and recipes, passed down to her from her parents and Irish-born grandparents. Grandma was my link to our family history.

I am not sure if this is at the house in Columbia Heights where the McMahons lived, or if it is in south Minneapolis at the Foley house. Maybe my mom will help us out and leave a comment!

I am currently scanning and organizing my grandma’s collection of photographs and ephemera. Moving forward I will share some of my favorite items.


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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And We Have a Winner!

WWWTKWell, actually, we have TWO winners! It didn’t seem right to stop at giving away just one signed copy of Monica Wood’s memoir When We Were the Kennedys. It is such a fantastic book, we needed to spread the wealth. Thanks to all who entered. We had great response over at Twitter for this giveaway.

Books go to both sides of the Atlantic: Mary from Massachusetts and Melanie from Ashbrook House, County Derry! We can’t wait for them to read Monica’s memoir. We notified the lucky winners, we’re collecting their addresses, and signed copies of When We Were the Kennedys will be in their hands shortly.

Thanks to Monica Wood for writing such an amazing book. Can’t wait to hear what Mary and Melanie think of it!

This weekend we will hear another account of “Where Were You?’ the day of President Kennedy’s assassination when Vincent Carmody of Listowel, County Kerry shares his memories.

Monica Wood

Monica Wood

Click here for more information on author Monica Wood and When We Were the Kennedys.

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Up Close and Personal with Philadelphia’s Irish Memorial

Philadelphia is full of things which photographs (and words) do not do justice – the Liberty Bell, the seventeenth-century residential street Elfreth’s Alley, and the steps scaled by the iconic film character Rocky Balboa are just a few of the sights one really needs to experience in person to fully appreciate.

But, until you all can get to Philly, I will share some of the photos from our trip last week. Let’s begin with a few of Regan’s snaps at the Irish Memorial.

The story of the Irish Memorial.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

Memorial with Benjamin Franklin Bridge in background.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

Another view.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

I love this poem by Peter Quinn, located at the memorial.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

The Irish Memorial is a beautiful tribute to our Irish ancestors and a poignant reminder of their struggles, tragedies, and triumphs.

Click here for more details on the memorial.

Next time I will share some more about the wonderful city of Philadelphia – a city it only took me a few days to fall in love with!


Day 19 of Irish American Favorites: McGillin’s Olde Ale House

McGillinsI have never been to Philadelphia, but that is not stopping me from selecting an Irish bar in the City of Brotherly Love as one of my favorites in Irish America. I am visiting Philly later this summer, and I can’t wait to go to McGillin’s Olde Ale House. For starters, I love “olde” anything. William McGillin, an Irish immigrant, opened the tavern in 1860. Established in a row house, “Pa” and “Ma” McGillin raised thirteen children upstairs. After nearly 100 years, the tavern was sold to another family in 1958. Click here to read the history of McGillin’s.

McGillin’s is the oldest tavern in Philadelphia in continuous operation. I’ve seen McGillin’s on several lists of the Best Irish Bars in America, and in 2010 Gourmet Magazine named it one of the 14 coolest bars in the U.S. Last December USA Today said McGillin’s was one of the best places to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

One reason I am looking forward to visiting McGillin’s is because I don’t think they overdo the “Irish thing”. Many Irish bars in the US seem to either go overboard with the cheesy menu item names and decor, or they are too sophisticated, with tons of dark wood and mood lighting. Both versions are trying too hard to recreate the feel of a pub in Ireland. In my opinion, it is impossible to have a truly “authentic” Irish pub in America. But what we can have is an olde tavern, established by an immigrant family in a city full of history, with friendly people, and great food and drink.

We’ll see you in July, McGillin’s!

Follow McGillin’s on Twitter: click here.


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