The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


Leave a comment

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.


5 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

Ireland Reaching Out to Middle America

Enjoy the latest press release from the folks at Ireland XO. It’s great to see them reaching out to the Irish communities in Chicago and Milwaukee!

Ireland XO reaches out to Mid-West Irish-American Diaspora

The Ireland XO Team in action at the Milwaukee Irish Fest: Mike Feerick, Dolores O’Shea, Rory O’Shaughnessy

Ireland Reaching Out began its first major outreach drive to the Irish-American diaspora with a busy and successful visit to Galway’s Sister City, Chicago and the Milwaukee Irish Fest 2012.

Loughrea, Co. Galway, August 27th 2012  The Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has asked Ireland XO to trace the Irish roots of his wife who has Irish ancestry – this is just one of the many hundreds of requests that the team took home from their first major outreach to the Irish-American diaspora in the US Mid-West.

As part of a delegation which included both Galway City and County Councils as well as Fáilte Ireland, members of the Ireland Reaching Out Programme travelled last week to Chicago, en route to the 2012 Milwaukee Irish Fest. Supported by local volunteers from the Chicago area, the team “reached out” to the estimated 120,000 attendees at the Fest to sign up Irish-Americans interested in tracing their roots and one day returning to the parish of their ancestors. There was extraordinary interest shown by those engaged in linking to their Irish Heritage and the majority of them were planning a visit to Ireland for The Gathering 2013.

In Chicago, Ireland XO made presentations at the Irish American Heritage Centre and Gaelic Park in Chicago where Irish culture, language, music, dance and sport is celebrated by many thousands of members. In excess of 150 people attended both venues where Mike Feerick and Henry Healy of Ireland Reaching Out explained their work and  closer co-operation between the organisations is envisaged. In particular, the IAHC has an excellent library and archives as well as a monthly genealogy group which Ireland XO intends to leverage.

At the Chicago mayoral reception, John Mahoney, best known for his role in the TV hit comedy Frasier, and whose grandfather is from Co. Cork, praised the Ireland XO concept and encouraged both Diaspora and Irish parishes to sign up.  At Milwaukee, the ancestral details of over 600 Irish-Americans were signed up for the programme. These ranged from one Virginia State resident tracing his ancestor’s departure from the town of Ballina in Mayo in 1740 and now having 1,200 people on his family tree (all members of the Ballina, Co Mayo Diaspora!), to those who were finding out for the first time about the Irish origins of their grandfather.  Commenting on the feedback, Mike Feerick stated that “the immense opportunity for local communities in Ireland to connect with their Diaspora was starkly evident at the Milwaukee Irish Fest. We should not stop until all 70 million of the Irish Diaspora are reconnected!”

For further information on the Ireland Reaching Out Programme, or getting involved, please contactinfo@irelandxo.com  or telephone 091 842 013.

Bill Gaynor (Sister Cities), Henry Healy and Mike Feerick (Ireland Reaching Out), Austin Kelly (Sister Cities), Marian Ryan, general manager and John Devitt, President Gaelic Park Chicago.

 

Galway City delegation, members of the Chicago Sister Cities Committee, Ireland XO and Consul General Aidan Cronin with Mayor Rahm Emanuel

For further media information please contact:

Paula Kennedy, Press Officer,
Tel:               +353 (0)91 842013       / 086-069-5152

Email:               pkennedy@irelandxo.com

   

Mike Feerick, CEO of Ireland Reaching Out with Consul General Aidan Cronin

About the Ireland Reaching Out Programme
The Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO) project won the special award at the national “Pride of Place” Awards in Nov 2011 and in February 2012, was voted the “Best Community” initiative nationally by the Local Authorities Members Awards (LAMA).  The project was founded in South-East Galway by tech entrepreneur Mike Feerick in 2009 and has been funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Heritage Council, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the Ireland Funds, Galway County Council, Galway Rural Development (GRD), and Irish-American sources. Sponsors include Google, Guinness, An Post, and the National Library. In Dec 2011, the project launched a global partnership with the GAA, agreeing to link newly identified members of the Irish Diaspora to the network of nearly 500 GAA clubs worldwide. Well-known broadcasters and economists David McWilliams and George Lee have been prominent supports of Ireland XO pointing out the extraordinary economic potential of the project, which rises well beyond the immediate and obvious tourism opportunity. The Ireland Reaching Out project aims to connect over million people through the project by the end of 2013. It believes it can achieve a database of 10 million members of the Irish Diaspora, including delivering one million additional visits to the island of Ireland by 2016.

Ireland XO in the Press 2011/2012
TV3 Morning Show – Ireland XO wins Arthur Guinness Fund Award

RTE George Lee – The Business – The Irish Diaspora
New Tech Post (David McWilliams): Ireland Reaching Out Launch 2012
New York Times: In tough times; the Irish call their Diaspora
RTE Nationwide: The Obama Visit – Linking to the Diaspora
Irish-American Magazine; Bring them all Back Home

Ireland XO Press Section 


Leave a comment

Lovely Laois

Erke, Co. Laois (R. McCormack)

I am extremely excited for my trip to Ireland next month. We have quite a bit on the agenda, but will be wrapping the trip up with a week in the heart of Ireland, County Laois.

My great-grandfather Andrew McCormack came from Ballyedmond, County Laois in the late 1880s and settled in Minnesota. My father has done extensive research on his McCormack lineage over the past fifteen years.

I had no hand in this research, but I have enjoyed all the fruits of my father’s labors. Click here and here to read about the fun we have had connecting with our McCormack relations.

My dad won’t be along on this trip, so I may need to don the family historian cap – if only to keep my sister straight on who’s who! I had better review my dad’s printouts…

While in Laois I am planning a visit to the County Archives and Local History Department in Portlaoise. It may have taken a while, but I have learned that a good first step when looking into the history of your Irish ancestors is to go to the County Council website.

The council website for any given county in Ireland will have all the information necessary to live in that county – from where you should dump your trash to the operation hours of the local branch of the library. But they are a great resource for visitors as well. Often these websites provide extensive history and heritage information, including details on genealogy, archives, and special collections.

A couple of clicks into the Laois County Council site, I landed on the Local Research page. Once there I found these useful links: 

Like any good researcher, I plan to do my homework before showing up on the archive’s doorstep in September. It looks like they have quite a bit to offer. Maybe I will even find some emigrant letters in some of the personal collections listed on the Laois Archives page.

The Local History Online link brings you to the Ask About Ireland website. This is a very cool site, a must-visit for anyone interested in what the libraries, museums, and archives of Ireland have to offer.

AskAboutIreland and the Cultural Heritage Project is an initiative of public libraries together with local museums and archives in the digitisation and online publication of the original, the unusual and the unique material from their local studies’ collections to create a national Internet resource for culture. (from http://www.askaboutireland.ie)

Ask About Ireland also features Griffith’s Valuation, the first valuation of property in Ireland, published from 1847 to 1864. You are able to search the Valuation, and of course the more information you have, the better.

Returning to the Local Studies Department, we find an extensive collection of newspapers, cemetery records, photographs, maps, local files, and folklore. All are available to view by appointment. Bridget told me that the microfilm machine is a much sought-after appliance, so set your appointment early to ensure you will have access to the newspapers and records available on microfilm.

I am definitely looking forward to my visit to Portlaoise and the Laois County archives and local studies department. Can’t wait to see what I can dig up!


3 Comments

Skerries is a Great Old Town

By now you must all know how much I love letters, so let’s take another look at the Stephen Owens Collection. Discovered at the Old Skerries Historical Society in County Dublin in the late 1970s by well-known Irish Emigration historian Kerby Miller, this is a small collection of letters sent from Stephen Owens of Clontarf, Minnesota in the USA to his niece Celia Grimes in his native Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland. The letters are from the first few years of the twentieth century.

I began to look at the letters of Stephen Owens in an earlier post (click here to get caught up.) I will pick up the action with a letter dated July 20, 1900.

Mr. Owens starts right out with the weather (typical Irishman and Minnesotan!) It is the hottest and driest summer in over twenty-five years in Minnesota. No rain and scorching heat have left the farmers with little in the way of grains to cut come harvest time:

Corn and potatoes are Pretty good but the American likes to live on flowers instead of potatoes.

Mr. Owens writes of his younger cousin, a daughter of his Uncle John, who works for a family in Lynn, Massachusetts. He had a letter from her in which she describes her employer and their summer holidays in New Hampshire. She wants very much to come out West to visit her cousin which leads Mr. Owens to write, “I would like to see all my friends before I Die, God bless us all.”

The next letter to Celia is dated April 1, 1902. Mr. Owens tells her of the new priest in Clontarf and how the beloved Father McDonald died of consumption. He goes on to tell Celia that she may miss her brother who recently left home for America, “but it is 49 years last February since I seen your Mother, my sister Eliza.” All those years later, Mr. Owens still misses his sister and family. He even misses Celia, and she was not even born when he was last in Skerries!

Main Street Skerries, ca 1900 (courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland)

In a previous letter Celia must have told her uncle that there is something of an Irish language revival in Skerries because he writes:

Skerries is a great old Town. It is getting very patriotic. I am glad to hear the young People are learning their Country’s language. It is a good sign…

The last letter from Mr. Owens in the collection is dated November 10, 1903. The tone of this letter is less than up-beat. He has been ill for five weeks and sometimes is unable to stand for the pain in his back and legs.

Mr. Owens is pleased to hear that Celia was reunited with her brother who came back from America, and he comments on the latest wave of migrants from Ireland:

…you sent 11 people out from Skerries lately. Them is the kind that is wanting, Old People is only in the way here in America they don’t want them. I suppose it’s that way in every country…

Mr. Owens is clearly facing the fact that he has reached the twilight of his years and he has apparently given up the notion of returning to Ireland to see all of his old friends and family – “I think when we meet next it will be in heaven.” It was another two years before Mr. Owens passed away in December 1905.

I contacted the Skerries Historical Society to see if they had the originals of these letters – I only have copied transcripts. Maree Baker, the librarian at the Society got right back to me and said that they did not have the original letters. She sent along a couple of items from the Grimes family that are part of their collection – a photo from the late 1920s and two memorial cards. Celia’s brother James is on the left in the photo and Maree said Celia could be one of the women to the right.

Grimes Family of Skerries (courtesy of the Skerries Historical Society)


7 Comments

This Old Farmhouse

The first time I visited Ireland in 1988, I was struck by the number of derelict farmhouses dotting the countryside. “Why doesn’t someone just tear those old houses down?” I wondered. “That’s what we do in the good ol’ USA…we don’t leave houses to fall down on themselves. If we don’t want or need them, we get rid of them and build something new and better…”

Abandoned house near Ballyedmond, County Laois (all photos by Regan McCormack)

This sentiment came from a teenage girl from the city who spent more time in the countryside during six weeks in Ireland than she had in sixteen years back home – in the “good ol’ USA”. I thought I was so smart…

Fast-forward twenty years and I am closer to home, driving the country roads of Tara Township, crisscrossing its thirty-six square miles in Swift County, Minnesota. My maternal great-great-grandparents were among the pioneer 1870s settlers of this township on the vast prairie of Western Minnesota. This was my first visit to Tara. I had traveled three thousand miles from home on a number of occasions to visit Ireland, my “ancestral homeland”, yet I had never bothered to drive a few hours west to see where my people settled when they came to Minnesota.

Granted, as far as vacation destinations are concerned, Ireland is a bit more attractive than Western Minnesota, but it turns out, the two places have some things in common.

There are the obvious similarities in place names in this part of Minnesota. Bishop John Ireland established several colonies of Irish Catholic settlers with names like Avoca, Kildare, Tara, and Clontarf. Hundreds of Irish families from cities and communities in the Eastern United States seized the opportunity to own land and live in a community with its own church and priest, surrounded by fellow Irish Catholics.

The Depression came early to rural communities and persistent crop failures and changing farming practices combined to make farming unviable for most small farmers. My relatives moved to Minneapolis, as did several other Tara families. Some of the original Irish settlers had left Tara even earlier, moving further West, always in search of better land.

So, I wonder why I was surprised to find this in Tara Township?

Section 22 of Tara Township – the McMahon place

On nearly every section of land in the township stands an abandoned farmhouse, or at least a grove of trees planted by the original settlers to protect a house. And this in the “good ol’ USA” where we tear things down!

Folks in Ireland and Tara Township have the same reaction when I ask them why they don’t simply tear down the abandoned houses. They shrug and say that they are no bother and they can be used for storage. That is the practical response, but I wonder if there is something a bit more sentimental lurking beneath?

The abandoned houses got me thinking…A similar hopelessness that drove millions of Irish to America during the 19th and 20th centuries could be seen in rural Americans who fled the farm for the city in the 1920s. Major difference, of course, is there was not a famine like Ireland experienced, however there was tremendous poverty, crops failed miserably, families were split up, and life changed permanently and dramatically.

I am rather ashamed of my sixteen-year-old self for not being as smart as she thought she was. She should have realized that the same reason this stands today in Ireland…

Near Ballyedmond, County Laois – 2011

might be why this…

Cahir Castle, Tipperary – 2011

and this…

Rock of Dunamase, County Laois – 2011

and this…

Johnstown, County Kildare – 2009

are still here today. I doubt that the farmhouse ruins will have the staying power of the castles and abbeys of centuries gone by, but in the meantime they can remind us from where we came. Whether it is a farmhouse in Ireland or Tara Township, Minnesota.

Now, if I could only get Jimmy to fix up this old house…

Two Jimmy McCormacks at old family house in Ballyedmond – 2009


2 Comments

Mick Moloney and the Music of Irish America

Yesterday I heard a re-broadcast of an  Arts Tonight interview with folklorist and musician Mick Moloney on RTÉ Radio1.  Here is a little bit about Mick from his website:

Mick Moloney is the author of “Far From the Shamrock Shore: The story of Irish American History Through Song” released by Crown Publications in February of 2002 with an accompanying CD on Shanachie Records. He holds a Ph.D. in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught ethnomusicology, folklore and Irish studies courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, and Villanova Universities, and currently teaches at New York University in the Irish Studies program.

Mick has also recorded and produced more than forty albums, organized and performed countless concerts and productions, consulted on American Public Media programs, and earned a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The interview was very interesting because it reminded me that I can look to music as a historical resource for furthering my understanding of the Irish American experience.  When Mick was asked what he encountered when he came to the United States looking for Irish music, he said that he was amazed by the number of songs about the Irish that existed in America…songs about Irish railroad workers and Irish canal workers, Irish anthracite miners in Pennsylvania and Irish coal miners in Montana, big-city Irish politicians and pioneer Irish farmers, Irish activists and Irish gold-rushers  in California.  Songs covering most of the Irish experiences in America.  Mick’s conclusion?  The Irish “speak of our personal lives and our history as a people through music and song.”

Mick was impressed by the quality of the Irish music being played in American cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, and Chicago.  From the mid-1970s, Mick documented the music he found as he traveled all over the United States.  The result is a collection of recordings housed at the Taminent Library and Wagner Archives of New York University.  Click here to visit the library’s detailed guide to the Mick Moloney collection.

 

This looks like a great book.  It was published by Mick Moloney in 2002 and is accompanied by a sixteen song CD.  It is available from Amazon.com – click here to take a closer look.  I will be ordering myself a copy soon…can’t wait to read and listen to it!

I will leave you with a song…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,947 other followers