The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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A Candle for Louie

Waterford's Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Waterford’s Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Regan and I looked forward to our visit to County Waterford last September. On previous trips to Ireland we had visited Lismore and Ardmore in Waterford, but didn’t tour the rest of the county. Our real introduction to Waterford came during the past year, through the entertaining tweets from Dungarvan’s Waterford County Museum. The museum shares beautiful photographs and historical items from their collection on Twitter. Regan and I were eager to see Dungarvan and the museum in person, as well as explore more of County Waterford.

But when we arrived in Dungarvan, the sightseeing would have to wait. Regan and I had to attend to some business.

Our dad’s good friend Lou Bader passed away on June 27, 2012. Louie and Dad played a lot of golf together, which probably says it all about their relationship. Louie shared my dad’s competitive streak and sense of humor, as well as his love for a few hours spent on the golf course. But there was something else the two men shared.

About fifteen years ago, my dad began to explore his family history. He traced his roots back to Ballyedmond, County Laois, and found cousins living on the farm his grandfather left in the late 1880s. Louie had also been researching his family tree and had learned about his Irish grandfather through his mother’s stories.

Dungarvan (2)

Dungarvan Street (photo by Regan McCormack)

I wish I could say that Louie and my dad discovered they shared a grandfather –  that would make a great story! No, Louie and my dad only shared similar questions about their  family history and the wish to find out where they came from. Both men  researched their family trees, traveled to their grandfathers’ birthplaces in Ireland, and made lasting connections with their Irish cousins. Several trips followed for Louie, my dad, and their families.

In light of our autumn trip to Ireland, Dad asked Regan and I to do him a favor and deliver Louie’s memorial card to his cousin in Dungarvan. This was an “old-school” request and my dad’s directions (“Stop in at the cleaners in town and ask for Anne-Marie”) only added to the feeling that we were characters in a Victorian novel. But of course, anything for Louie. He was a good man and a great friend to my dad.

Louie’s maternal grandfather, Matthew O’Rourke, was born in 1869, the youngest son of Patrick and Margaret. The O’Rourke family lived in the townland of Carrigcastle, near the village of Ballylaneen, about five miles from Dungarvan, County Waterford. In her delightful memoir, Love and Oatmeal (2006), Louie’s mother, Madeline O’Rourke Bader, lovingly recounts when she would ask her father why he left Ireland and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. A smile came over his face when he told her his sister-in-law encouraged him to go to America. Madeline writes in the memoir:

The way he smiled when he said that, though, always made me think there was something more to the story. A few years ago when I visited Ireland for the first time and saw how beautiful the land he left behind is, I understood a little better that his smile must have covered up a lot of pain and longing. (Love and Oatmeal, p.4)

Anne-Marie wasn’t in at the cleaners, but Mary told us how sad they all were when they heard of Louie’s passing this summer. She said how much they enjoyed his frequent telephone calls (just to check in with his Irish cousins), as well as his visits to Dungarvan. In a few short years Louie had made an impact on his Irish relatives. They really missed him.

Regan and I decided we needed to do something special for Louie, so we found the little church in Ballylaneen where his grandfather was baptized, lit a candle and said a prayer. We thought of Louie and all the O’Rourkes – the ones who stayed in Ireland, those who emigrated, and the few who made it back.

St. Anne's Church - Ballylaneen, Waterford

St. Anne’s Church – Ballylaneen, Waterford (photo Regan McCormack)

For more information about Dungarvan and Waterford County history, please visit Waterford County Museum. Click here to read about the new Dungarvan guide book.


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Cobh: The Queenstown Story

Cobh, County Cork (photo: Regan McCormack)

Cobh, County Cork (photo: Regan McCormack)

I once heard Cobh described as the saddest place in Ireland. I thought of this as my sister, Regan, and I walked into town one late September morning. With bright sun and fluffy white clouds in a beautiful blue sky overhead and a postcard-perfect harbor in front of us, I couldn’t imagine a more cheerful town. The usual quiet Irish morning bustle filled the streets as we made our way to the restored Victorian railway station and home of the Cobh Heritage Centre.

Cobh Heritage Centre (photo: Regan McCormack)

Cobh Heritage Centre (photo: Regan McCormack)

It wasn’t until we stepped in to the Heritage Centre’s multi-media Queenstown Story exhibit that Cobh’s sad reputation began to make sense. From 1848-1950, Cobh (or Queenstown) was the last of Ireland seen by over 2.5 million people whose ships departed Cobh Harbor \; emigrants leaving home for new lives in new worlds. These men, women, and children were fleeing famine and political unrest, leaving a country unable to give them even the most basic social and economic opportunities.

The exhibit does a nice job of bringing the Irish emigrant experience to life — the sound of waves crashing, dim lighting, and artifacts on display belonging to actual passengers combine to give visitors a glimpse into a nineteenth-century steerage compartment.  North America promised freedom, prosperity, and a future, but first the emigrants would have to say goodbye to their homeland and risk their lives on a treacherous ocean crossing.

In addition to the exhibit space, the Cobh Heritage Centre offers a genealogy consultation service, café, and shop. Regan and I were able to sit down with Christy Keating, the genealogist on duty. We were lucky that his 10:30 appointment did not show up because Christy is a very busy man, fielding genealogy queries from some of the 100,000 visitors to the centre every year.

Christy told us about the genealogy services they offer at the centre. We talked about the challenges in tracing Irish emigration – there are many online passenger list resources, but they usually are not useful without additional genealogical information. For example, a visitor from Connecticut in the United States walks through the exhibit and approaches Christy and says, “My great-great-grandmother Mary Sullivan came to America during the potato famine – can you tell me more about her?”

Christy politely asks a few follow-up questions, such as what year did she emigrate, what port did she enter, did she travel alone. where was she from, etc. These are often met with a blank stare. All this visitor knows is that their great-great-grandmother Mary Sullivan came from Ireland during the potato famine. Christy does his best to point people in the right direction for learning more about their ancestor, but a few basic details would help immensely.

A number of other family history professionals, genealogists, and archivists in Ireland echo this sentiment: if you are visiting Ireland and have an interest in learning more about your Irish roots, a little homework done before your trip (or visit to the National Library or Archives) can go a long way. Learn some basic information and they will better be able to help you find your ancestor in Ireland. Who knows? You may be able to connect to the county, parish, or townland your family member left all those years ago.

If you are planning a visit to Ireland and know you have some Irish heritage, but don’t have the time to research your roots, The Irish in America will do the work for you. Visit the Find Your Cousins tab at the top of this page to get started. We offer a free consultation and reasonable research rates.

Annie Moore (Photo: Regan McCormack)

Annie Moore (Photo: Regan McCormack)

A statue of Annie Moore and her brothers stands near the Heritage Centre in Cobh. Annie was the first immigrant processed at the newly opened Ellis Island in New York harbor in 1892. Emigration can be a heart-breaking event, but this statue symbolizes the struggles and optimism of those who have left Ireland. Cobh is a sad place in the collective memory, but today it welcomes back the descendants of the emigrants who had to leave their home.

I think every American who is aware of their Irish heritage and visits Ireland should go to Cobh and take a moment to think about their ancestors.


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Arrivals

This may be old news to many of you, but I wanted to share the new RTÉ documentary Arrivals. It aired a couple of weeks ago, but I just caught it today. RTÉ describes Arrivals:

Catching up with Irish emigrants one year after they left to start new lives abroad. All participants featured in the ‘Departure Day’ documentary screened in January.

Click here to view the program.  It will be available on RTÉ’s website until December 12th.

The original documentary Departure Day told the story of the most recent wave of Irish emigration. Small business owners, carpenters, electricians, lawyers, and recent university graduates are faced with the grim reality of a stagnant Irish economy and prepare to leave Ireland in search of jobs and a future.

Arrivals picks up with the Irish subjects settled in their new homes in Canada and Australia. If we take away the mobile phones and computers, the story of Irish emigration in 2011 appears basically unchanged from that of previous generations. While I watched the documentary, I found myself drawing parallels between the subjects and my own emigrant relatives who came to America more than one-hundred years ago.

When Larry, an electrician Ireland, mentions the loneliness of working on an 18,000 acre ranch in Australia, I am reminded of my ancestors who moved to the virgin prairie of Western Minnesota in the 1870s. I have often wondered what they thought of the flat, vast expanse of land before them, with their nearest neighbor at least a mile away, and town up to ten miles.

One thing that is different for the present-day emigrants featured in Arrivals when compared to earlier generations is that these Irish seem to be moving to a city or country where they have no ties – no family or friends to welcome them and help them adjust to their new lives. I have mentioned on this blog many times how networks helped generations of Irish in the New World during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. New communities were created around these networks in cities and settlements throughout North America with churches, schools, pubs, sporting groups, and other institutions.

The young man from Cahir, County Tipperary seems to follow the traditional model of a single male emigrant. He works hard, but he finds time to socialize and have fun with a community of other Irish in Sydney. He’s the frequent passenger on the “party bus”. I have the feeling that a couple of my ancestors would have definitely joined him on that bus!

What will happen next to the emigrants featured in Arrivals? I hope another follow-up is in the works.


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Ireland Reaching Out, Portumna Workhouse, and a Family Reunion

Journalist Loretto Leary has written several articles, as well as conducted interviews, about the Portuma workhouse in South East Galway and posted them on her website Breise! Breise! (Extra! Extra!).  We have heard quite a bit about the South East Galway region recently for its participation in the Week of Welcomes, the pilot program of Ireland Reaching Out.  Local Portumna historian John Joe Conwell ties the workhouse, emigration, and the Ireland Reaching Out initiative together very nicely in Part 2 of the Irish Workhouse Center video (which appears midway down the page.)

Ursula Marmion is the project head of the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna.  It is an exciting and ambitious project to conserve the buildings, establish a visitor’s center, and tackle future redevelopment.  Ms. Marmion shares her thoughts in Part 1 and Part 2 of Irish Workhouse Center.  Videos and articles can be found on Loretto Leary’s site.  When you are finished with the Irish Workhouse information, take a spin around the rest of her insightful blog.  Thanks to Noreen Bowden (@noreenbowden) who introduced me to Loretto’s blog via a tweet yesterday.  Click here for a few photos of the Portumna workhouse.

More than simply a family reunion, the Irish Times calls the meeting of over 300 members of the McNamara clan in Loughrea, Galway the McNamara Festival!  This ambitious endeavor was inspired by the Ireland Reaching Out program, now perhaps it will inspire you to plan your own family reunion.  I am more than happy to help spread the word and help track down American relatives.  Leave a comment if you have ever considered organizing an Irish family reunion.

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