The Irish in America



All The Single Ladies

As a single woman, I find myself drawn to the stories of the single women who populate my family tree. We see those conspicuous spots where the branch just stops. Sometimes these nubs result from the early deaths of  infants or children, but often they are the result of men and women who (gasp) never married nor had children.

Many of these men and women lived long meaningful lives, but with no descendants to keep their stories alive, they’ve been forgotten over the years. It is no wonder – I read somewhere the best people can hope for is to be remembered for 80 years after death.

In this series I am going to introduce you to some women I have come across in my family history research. They are daughters, sisters, aunts and great-aunts who deserve a little bit of attention.

I am straying a bit from my basic family tree for my first selection, Catherine Theresa Foley born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 17, 1884.


Catherine Foley

Catherine Foley

My great-grandmother was Mary Foley before she married and said she and Catherine Foley were “shirttail cousins”. Catherine’s nubby branch would only appear on the most comprehensive of my family trees, but I often heard references to Catherine and her family by my grandma and her sisters.

A more technical explanation of the shirt-tail cousin relationship follows – it’s a bit convoluted and boring. Personally, I like “shirt-tail cousins” better! Catherine’s parents were John Foley and Mary Casey, both born in Macroom, County Cork. My Foley great-great-grandparents (Patrick and Mary) were also born in that area of Cork, and once they immigrated to the United States, they lived in Fisherville, New Hampshire. So did Catherine’s parents. From what I can surmise, John Foley and Patrick Foley were first cousins.

Mary Foley married Thomas McMahon and the family farmed in Clontarf, Minnesota until 1924 when they moved to Minneapolis. My grandma’s sister Rose McMahon (known as Dodo to her family) worked for Catherine Foley in Minneapolis in the 1930s.

According to census and city directories, Dodo worked as a “housekeeper” at the Foley house, located at 1329 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis. Catherine’s father was a County Sheriff who had done quite well for himself.

The idea of Dodo as a “housekeeper” always made me chuckle. She didn’t seem the housekeeper type to me. Grandma said she spent most of her time lounging under trees, napping and eating apples, rather than doing her chores on the farm. I wondered how much work got done for Catherine Foley!

Although growing up I heard her name quite a bit, I know very little about Catherine. She was a musician. She gave private piano lessons and played the organ at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Minneapolis.

Catherine seemed to have excellent taste (or at least similar to me!) My favorite table-cloth is a woven Jacquard floral – red and piney green, which came to me from Catherine’s house via Dodo. I also have a wooden box with enamel decorated flowers on top that was Catherine’s. It is very fancy, lined in a padded pink satin. I wonder what treasures she used to keep in the box?

I enjoy those items, but perhaps Catherine Foley’s most important legacy to my family was her house at 1329 East 22nd Street, or simply, 1329. When Catherine died in 1937, Dodo and my grandma bought the house from Catherine’s brother. It became Grand Central Station for the McMahon family.  Everything happened at 1329 – from ping-pong matches at the kitchen table to my grandparent’s wedding reception. Many memories were made at 1329.

A few months ago I sent for Catherine’s death certificate. I was curious. Catherine died on September 30. 1937. Cause of death was a coronary thrombosis. She had an enlarged heart as a result of 11-years with endocarditis. She was just 53-years-old. I suspect she kept Dodo around as much for her company as her housekeeping skills. I can just hear Dodo laughing in this photo!

Rose McMahon: Not your typical housekeeper

Rose McMahon: Not your typical housekeeper


I wonder if there are any Foleys out there – descendants of John Foley and Mary Casey? It would be cool to hear from you……


Get to Know Listowel

Beautiful Listowel, serenaded night and day

By the gentle waters of the River Feale.

 Listowel where it is easier to write than not to write,

Where first love never dies, and the tall streets hide the loveliness, 

The heartbreak and the moods, great and small,

Of all the gentle souls of a great and good community.

Sweet, incomparable hometown that shaped and made me.

John B. Keane (1928-2002) 

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Leading up to our St. Patrick’s Day Giveaway of a signed copy of Vincent Carmody’s Listowel – Snapshots of an Irish Market Town 1850-1950, we would like to spotlight this County Kerry town on The Irish in America over the next couple weeks.

We will look at the rich literary tradition of Listowel, as well as the town’s history and people. Naturally, since this is The Irish in America, we  are interested in the stories of those who left Listowel for America. Vincent Carmody has already got us started with essays on Elmer Walsh – the Chicago man with Listowel roots who defeated Richard Daly and Kathy Buckley – the Listowel woman who impressed the likes of J.P. Morgan with her culinary skills and made it all the way to the White House.

To begin your journey to Listowel, listen to this Radio Kerry podcast. Presenter Frank Lewis brings listeners on a tour of Listowel, and is joined by our friend Vincent Carmody. Sit back, listen to the program, and get acquainted with Listowel, County Kerry.


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The Thumbers: A poem from Seamus Hora

Seamus Hora shares another great poem with the readers of The Irish in America. We’ll let Seamus tell you what it’s about…

“It is difficult to believe that the following poem describes an Ireland of 40 years ago. I am delighted to have been a part of that era and feel I owe so much to those people. It is only as you grow older you appreciate the value of their advise and remember each individual sense of humour. Thumbing was the word used to describe a signal from people who waited on the road for  a car to take them to their destination. Even in today’s modern times there is still no public transportation this route. The journey describes the 5 miles between Gorthaganny  and Ballyhaunis.”


Quiet rural road in Ireland (source:

The Thumbers


The practice of thumbing in the seventies was rife

Cars they were scarce it was part of our life.

Friday is one of the day’s I recall

People seeking a lift; for post office to call.

First on the road, Summer Light. –Winter Dark.

Problem with hearing, this was Mrs Clarke.

The ball alley stood out on the hill up ahead

In winter this part of the road I did dread

A picturesque cottage my next port of call –

Where colourful roses adorned the wall.

Doors painted brightly, lime on each stone

Mod’ lady called Sally stood waiting alone

At this time the car was beginning to fill

A couple of regulars awaited me still.

Pat Hoban was next-with a strange point of view.

To let air circulate cut vent holes in his shoe

The three in the back were not very pleased –

Let in Mrs Ganley crush became squeeze

Sadly, the last one mobility did lack.

Surname was Kenny either Jimmy or Jack

Each day of the week things were much the same.

So many thumbers! Too numerous to name.

Some are still with us. Some laid to rest.

Relaxed eyes closed tightly – I can picture them best.

Seamus Hora

A bit about the poet…

Seamus Hora was born in Gorthaganny, County Roscommon. He has been employed by same company, Delaneys Ltd in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, for 44 years. He has lived in Ballyhaunis for the past 20 years. Seamus is married to Rosaleen and the couple has one daughter, Sandra. Seamus only recently started to write poetry. and he bases his poems on his life experience. He values feedback and would like to hear what people think of his poem. Please leave a comment!

For more poetry from Seamus, click here and here. Enjoy!


Winter Reminiscing

Seamus Hora is so kind as to share another lovely poem with The Irish in America. This time he remembers winter evenings of days gone by, the 1950s when all you needed was a radio for company and a turf fire for warmth. Seamus thought there might be a few TIIA readers out there who also remember the “old days” in rural Ireland and might care to reminisce along with him…

Photo courtesy of the fantastic blog - That Curious Love of Green - check it out by clicking on the image.

Photo courtesy of the fantastic blog – That Curious Love of Green – check it out by clicking on the image.



Tonight I am reminiscing

I have turned back the years

Removed the locks from both the doors

And forgot about my fears.


Removed the TV from the shelf

And put it out of sight

Replaced it with a radio

Commentating on a fight.


Put the mobile phone on silent

Took the handset off the wall

Tonight-The only interruption

Neighbours foot steps in the hall.


Reached up to the fuse board

Reversed the on off handle

Got an empty bottle from the press

And placed in it a candle.


Replaced the coal and briquettes

With a seasoned wooden log

And a couple sods of well dried turf

Harvest from the local bog.


The lid from off the oven

I will heat until just right

Wrap in a woollen sweater

Place in the bed tonight.


Stare out through the window

Watch the snowflakes as they fall

Pretend its Christmas Eve again

And Santa’s sure to call.


Will I read a passage from the book

Or the rosary instead?

Then go outside – melt a little snow

Before I go to bed.


Seamus Hora

Click here to learn more about poet, Seamus Hora, and to read his poem on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.


DAY 14: Studio Donegal

I had to drag my heavy black wool jacket out of the closet this week. Snow and cold reappeared in Minnesota. I thought I was done with winter coats, scarves, and hats – it is April for goodness sake!

I love my black jacket. I bought it at Studio Donegal in 2000. It was definitely a splurge then, but for thirteen years (and counting) of wear, I’d say it was a good purchase.

Regan and I were a little obsessed with Studio Donegal – located in Kilcar, County Donegal – during the fist five years of the twenty-first century. We visited three times and stocked up on throws, scarves, hats, and Regan even bought some wool for her own creations.

Visitors are invited to tour the workshop (upstairs from the showroom) and see how the beautifully hand-woven items are made. Definitely worth a visit if you are in that neck of the woods. Gorgeous part of the country – can’t wait to get back to both County and Studio Donegal. It may be time for another splurge. I like the looks of this handbag…



And the winner is…

Judge Maryn choosing the winner...

Judge Maryn choosing the winner…


SPD_winnerAngela, you are the winner of our St. Patrick’s Day drawing for this gorgeous print by I Love Mayo’s Jane Steger-Lewis. The print is signed and numbered by the artist, and it is now all yours!

Angela’s favorite thing about Ireland? “The FABULOUS scenery” Angela entered the contest via Twitter.

Send us your address, so we can send you your print! Click here to send us an email.


Congratulations, Angela!

Visit I Love Mayo for more of Jane’s beautiful work:

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Out from Moylough: The Clancy Family in America

Over the past several months I have had the pleasure to exchange emails with Margaret from County Galway.  Margaret has shared memories and stories about relatives who emigrated to America in the early twentieth century.  I would like to show you how we were able to take Margaret’s memories, add some Irish Census evidence, throw in, and put it all in the hands of an experienced researcher to identify the American branch of Margaret’s family tree.

In the pursuit of family history research, there are times when every path seems to lead to a dead-end.  Other times the bits and pieces of information fit together effortlessly to tell a wonderful story of your history.  Luckily for us, the data slid right into place.  To get up to speed on Margaret’s research quest, click here.

Moylough Church, Galway - compliments of

When Margaret first told me about the Clancy siblings, her relatives who left Ireland for America, she shared some memories – Trimmings after the Rosary for the “boys in the war”, an old letter that mentioned debris from the Lusitania scattered in the sea as a young woman sailed to America, a generous wedding present from an American relative in New York.  Great stories that provide priceless clues for the researcher, but a few dates will always make the research process easier.

Margaret delivered again and gave us the birth dates and places for the five Clancy siblings.  She was unsure of exact emigration, but she provided information from the Irish Census – whether or not someone appeared on the 1901 or 1911 census helped us narrow our search and make positive identifications.

And did we make identifications!  Margaret may well learn more about her Clancy relatives than she ever wanted to know!

Jim, a senior research associate from Archival Solutions , stepped in and began to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Jim told me that this project was made much easier by the information Margaret provided, and he said that the information he gathered is just the tip of the iceberg – there is much more out there, on both sides of the Atlantic and in cyber space.  This brings up a key point to remember: When you begin family research of any kind, gather all known information at your disposal – the more you have, the easier your search will be.

Over the next week, I will highlight examples from this project that will illustrate the types of information you can expect to find when you embark on researching your family history in America.  I will begin with a story with its foundations in the once-popular and treasured item, the emigrant’s letter home.

Margaret recalled an old letter belonging to her aunt.  It was from her father’s cousin Nellie Clancy who went to America.  In the letter, Margaret remembered a vivid description of the debris from the Lusitania floating in the sea as Nellie’s ship sailed for America.  Margaret believed this letter was sent when Nellie returned to America after a holiday in Ireland.  The letter is long gone, but the image of Lusitania wreckage stayed with Margaret.

Panoramic view of the Lusitania - 1907

Jim found Nellie Clancy on S.S. St. Paul ship’s manifest right away.  She sailed from Liverpool on May 8, 1915 – the day after the Lusitania was sunk on May 7, 1915.  Nellie was not returning from a holiday in Ireland as Margaret believed, but rather this was her first voyage to America.  Nellie didn’t travel alone – she was accompanied by her younger brother and the youngest of the Clancy siblings, James.  James is listed as an eighteen-year-old farmer,  and the twenty-year-old Nellie’s occupation was listed as teacher.  Their closest relative in Ireland is given as,  father Theo. Clancy, Moylough, Ireland.  All of this information is included in the Ship Passenger Manifest.  What a way to start your new life, amongst the wreckage of a torpedoed ship!

The 1920 U.S. Federal Census shows Nellie and James living in a rooming house in Brooklyn, and the 1930 U.S. Census has Nellie married and living in New York, while a James Clancy is shown living in a house with two new Clancys – Teddy and Anna.  Margaret will have to let us know if there were a couple more Clancys hanging around.  Remember back to the ship’s manifest?  The Clancy father was named Theo., so there is a chance James wasn’t the youngest Clancy after all.

Next time we will look at the “Boys in the War”: the American soldiers remembered in the nightly prayers of a family in Galway.



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