The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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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!


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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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Day Eight of Irish American Favorites: Family Photo

First Communion of Margaret McCormack - 1951

I know, I know…you’ve seen this photograph before. It’s right up there on the top of the website, and I have used it on my business cards and other materials. I think it is a great photo – maybe even the quintessential Irish-America family photograph.

Andy&Mary; Mike&Katie

Andy&Mary; Mike&Katie

Three generations of McCormacks gathered (with in-laws) to celebrate the 1951 First Communion of my Aunt Maggie – Margaret Mary McCormack. The “old guys” are in the back row – my great-grandfather Andy McCormack in the classic trench coat and his brother Mike, standing a couple of people over on Andy’s right. The brothers immigrated to the United States from Ballyedmond, County Laois in the latter part of the 1800s.

Can you spot the native Irish speaker in the photo? That would be Mike’s wife, standing behind Maggie. Katie Hannon hailed from Gorumna Island, Connemara, Galway. Mike and Andy married sisters, but Andy’s wife, Mary, passed away years before this photo was taken.

My Aunt Eeny is with her Auntie Nellie (seated in front of Andy), while my dad is kneeling in the corner, looking exactly like I always imagined he would in the 1950s, in jeans and a striped t-shirt. My Grandma Agnes sits next to Maggie, pregnant with my Aunt Mary. My Grandpa Bill is on the far left, with his hand on his niece Martha’s shoulder.

Aunts, uncles, and cousins round out the group. It is incredible to see these people together, looking so happy and healthy.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of the people in this photo surface later this month as favorites all on their own.


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Immigrants and Airplanes

After reading my post, From Sheepshead to Casper, a reader told me a story about her brush with a soon-to-be Casper, Wyoming sheep rancher.

In 1949, Katie Tierney was one of a new breed of Irish immigrant. Unlike the millions of Irish who came to the United States before her, Katie traveled by air, not water. An airplane trip back in 1949 was exciting enough, but factor in that this was a 3,000-mile journey from home to a new life in a foreign country, and you can imagine how Katie felt.

From AmericasHeartland.com.

From AmericasHeartland.com.

Katie was anxious as she stepped on the plane, but was soon distracted by a handsome man seated next to her. Richard Thornton was on his way to Casper, Wyoming to work on his uncle’s sheep ranch. Katie and Richard got to talking and hit it off, sharing their life stories and dreams for the future. When the plane landed, Katie and Richard exchanged addresses and went their separate ways.

Quickly, Katie settled into her new American life, and after about a month she received a letter from Richard. It wasn’t just any letter, it was a proposal. Richard laid it all out for Katie, telling her they would live on the ranch, but she wouldn’t be too isolated since they would go to town once a month. Richard assured Katie that he could not be drafted since he was engaged in the vital service of food production.

Although Katie was flattered, she turned Richard down. She didn’t see herself as a rancher’s wife. Richard was disappointed, but he soon recovered, married, and had a family. Katie went to work in Boston, met and married an Irish American man, raised three children, and had a happy life. Katie never forgot Richard Thornton, and from time to time thought about how different her life would have turned out had she accepted his proposal. Katie had something else in mind for her American life, and she worked to achieve her dreams.

Katie may have arrived in 1949 America in an airplane, but she was part of the tradition of single Irish women who left home in search of a future, since Ireland had so little to offer them, economically or socially. I admire these women so much.

Diner_bookIf you are interested in learning more about the lives of Irish women immigrants, you must read Hasia Diner’s Erin’s Daughters in America. It focuses on the nineteenth century female immigrant experience, but is important to understanding the larger theme of Irish immigration. Excellent book.


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Heritage Pie Chart

Several years ago, the following essay won second prize in the Kansas City Irish Fest writing competition. I think there were three entries…

With Saint Patrick’s Day fast approaching, I know I think about my Irish heritage a bit more than usual. How about you? How do you define your Irish-ness? Complete the form at the end of the post or add a comment. I would love to hear from you!

It was usually around Thanksgiving when the teacher would tell us to sit down in a circle and we would take turns sharing our ethnic background with the class. The goal was to show how America had welcomed people from all over the world to form the great melting pot.  As my classmates struggled to piece together their intricate heritage pie charts (“I’m one-eighth French, one-eighth German, one-half Swedish, one-fourth Norwegian…”), I waited patiently for my turn.  I had it easy.

“I am 100% Irish.”

Although I was proud to be Irish-American and liked the ease of being 100% something, I had never given it much thought.

I was not cognizant of it, but early in my life, my dad defined Irish for me.  He was passionate about Ireland– from the history and the music to the legends and the poetry.  He would sing along to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem as he worked at his desk.  I can remember his favorites like “Roddy McCorley” blaring from the stereo speakers in his den.

My dad is a bit of a romantic with a flair for the dramatic.  He gets misty-eyed when reciting a poem by Yeats or when recounting the struggles the Irish have faced throughout history.  Sometimes the music was a little loud and my dad a little sappy, but this is what I knew of being Irish.

One Spring day in 1981, I came home to find an Irish flag draped across our front porch.  I could only imagine what my dad was up to, but when I went inside, he was not home. I found my mom and asked her why Dad put up the flag.  She told me it was to show support for Bobby Sands and his hunger strike in Northern Ireland.  My mom explained the situation to me – the IRA, Sands, and the unjust treatment of the prisoners.  Sands just wanted to be recognized and treated as a political prisoner.

Well, that certainly sounded like something my dad would get behind.

“But, Aine, your dad didn’t put up the flag.  I did.”

Now this was a surprise.  I had not even considered that my mom would do something so bold, so dramatic.  She barely hummed “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra”.  It seemed my mom was just as Irish as my dad, just in a different way.  I began to pay attention to what it meant to be Irish-American, and I realized there is not one neat definition.  I have embraced the complexities of my heritage and thankful for such a rich and diverse background.

Looking back, it was the other kids who had it easy.  I doubt many of them spent time wondering what it meant to be Franco-German-Swedish-Norwegian-American.  They could quantify their heritage. They had a pie chart.

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