The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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Day 22 of Irish American Favorites: Ainsley

2009

2009

It’s time for me to gush over my other favorite Irish American niece, Ainsley Marie McCormack. I told you about Ainsley’s older sister, Maryn, on her birthday earlier this month – click here to read the post. You and Ainsley will get along just fine if you understand a couple of things: yellow is her favorite color and she is always Belle when you play Princess.

2010

2010

When she was a baby, Ainsley liked to build towers of blocks and knock them down. Now, at nearly five, Ainsley LOVES crafts. Pretty much anything that involves coloring, cutting, and taping paper is big in Ainsley’s book. Flowers and kites are her favorite things to create right now. Ainsley has an awesome imagination and she uses it when she tells you one of her stories. Mom and Dad might need to watch out for this talent in years to come!

2011

2011

It is so cool to see Ainsley grow up, and because Maryn is just fifteen months older than she, it seems to be happening quickly as she tries to keep up with her big sister. The way her mind works is fascinating to me. She explores complex themes, such as crime and punishment (“Will I go to jail if I…?) and scientific processes (“You see, metamorphosis is when things change…) Ainsley loves dancing, hopping, running, and showing me how strong she is when we go to the gym. She loves to swing high on the swing-set, and says she will go sky-diving and on hot-air balloon rides with me when she is old enough, “But,” she told me, “we will have to get outfits first.” Looking good is always a priority for Ainsley – she is very stylish.

2012 Dance Recital with Maryn

2012 Dance Recital with Maryn

My favorite Ainsley quote? Once I picked up a hairbrush and told her I would fix her hair. Ainsley stared at me, slowly blinked her big blue eyes, and said, “This hair doesn’t get brushed,” as she shook her red curls back from her face. Well, well, well…

Ainsley (and her hair) baking with Maryn at my house

Ainsley (and her hair) baking with Maryn at my house


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Day 18 of Irish American Favorites: Photo

I love this photo of three young Irish American men, taken in the early 1940s. From left to right: my grandpa Bill McCormack, his brother-in-law Jimmy Flannery, and his brother Jim McCormack.

Out on the porch, shooting the breeze, having a smoke and a laugh. It reminds me of summertime…

Bill McCormack, Jim Flannery, Jim McCormack


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Relatives Who Served in the United States Military

Jim takes some time out this Memorial Day weekend to honor his McCormack relatives who served in the United States military…

As I researched my family history I noted that the following served our country in military service and I wanted to remember them on Memorial Day.

WW I

Army, France

  •  John Lambert McCormack
  • Philip Columbus McCormick
  • Benjamin Patrick McCormick
  • Michael Burns
  • Pat Burns
  • William Flannery
  • Bernard Flannery

Navy

  •  John Patrick McCormick
  • Jack Nugent
  • Phil Nugent

WW II

  • William McCormack (Army)
  • James F. McCormack (Army, Aleutian Islands)
  • Philly McCormack (Army, Pacific)
  • Zach Kruger (Army, Pacific)
  • Phillip Eugene McCormick (Navy)
  • Phil McDonald (Navy)
  • Patrick Frances McCormick(Army Air Corps, 35 Missions over Europe)
  • Jimmy Flannery (Army, Europe)

Post WW II

  • Ed Burns (Army, Korea)
  • K.J. McDonald (Air Force, Korea)
  • Patrick Benjamin McCormick (Army)

Continue reading


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DAY 10: Gorumna Island and the McDonaghs

Gorumns_RMcCormackI find myself saying “One of my favorite…” a lot when I talk about Ireland because it is impossible to have just one favorite anything, especially in Ireland. How could you say you prefer the soaring sea cliffs of Donegal’s Slieve League to the gorgeous patchwork fields of Tipperary? It proves as pointless as comparing apples to oranges — or Ulster to Munster. Each is stunning in its own special way.

With that in mind, Gorumna Island in Connemara, County Galway is one of my favorite places in Ireland. The rocky and desolate landscape should encourage quiet introspection. That is, until you meet Michael and Joseph McDonagh. The brothers aren’t loud, but they are full of questions, stories, and opinions. They are as knowledgeable about current events in Ireland and the world as they are about family lore and genealogy.

Gorumna_RMcCormack

I am related to the McDonaghs through my great-grandmother Mary Agnes Hannon, who emigrated from this part of Connemara in the late nineteenth century and married Andrew McCormack. Click here to read my post about our 2009 visit to the McDonaghs.’

Gorumna_RMcCormackI smile when I remember Michael McDonagh that afternoon we visited. He kept disappearing into the other room and coming back to with a book, newspaper, or photograph to show us.

It seems like the McDonaghs are related to everyone, and they are very proud of their connection to the diaspora. At one point, Michael snuck out and returned, beaming, holding up a Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins) baseball jersey. Apparently a relative of Joe’s had visited and gave the brothers the jersey as a present. Even Joe has connections to the McDonaghs, on his mother’s side.

Gorumna is absolutely gorgeous, but the McDonaghs are what make it an Irish fave.

Photos: Regan McCormack


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I wonder if I will receive a postcard?

Gathering postcards are on their way…

On November 9th The Gathering Ireland announced its latest tools to attract visitors next year. From the Press Release

The Gathering Ireland 2013 has partnered with An Post to distribute postcards to 1.8 million households in Ireland this November. The postcards are being distributed to encourage Irish families to invite someone home for the Gathering Ireland in 2013 and should land in people’s houses over the coming days. The initiative is an important part of the Gathering campaign in order to encourage invitations to be sent to the four corners of the world. Everyone is being asked to use these postcards to send a message to family, friends and loved ones abroad and invite someone home next year for the Gathering Ireland 2013.  

In theory this is a great way to spread the Gathering word. There are a lot of people in the United States who have not yet heard about The Gathering. For example, I had dinner with an Irish-American friend last Saturday and when I mentioned the Gathering, I saw a blank look on her face. She had no idea what I was talking about.  My friend has Irish heritage on her both maternal and paternal sides of her family tree,  she visited Ireland for the first time as a high school student as a participant in the Irish American Cultural Institutes‘s Irish Way program, and she later returned to Ireland with family. My friend  loves Ireland and looks forward to returning one day. She (and her family) are exactly the Americans The Gathering should target. A postcard inviting her back to Ireland might be just the incentive she needs to book a trip…

How do those in Ireland feel about the postcards? Will you send them? And who will you send them to? Do you feel pressure to send the cards (see Emeralds blog post about the cards)? Please share your thoughts on this initiative – leave a comment.

On the receiving end, I would love to hear from anyone outside of Ireland who finds one of these postcards in their mailbox. Let me know what you think of it – will you take them up on the invitation?

I hope my Irish cousins don’t waste one of their postcards on me. I have never waited for an invitation before to visit Ireland!

A bunch of McCormacks in 2011


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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!


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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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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


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Check this out…

I was recently introduced to a great genealogy blog via Twitter…

Kevin’s Irish Research  is a blog by Kevin McCormack (same name, no relation) from County Cork, Ireland. He is tracing his roots and bringing readers along on the journey. The blog highlights his own research, as well as tips for conducting research in Ireland. His latest post shows how Irish newspapers can provide clues on the origins of the Irish in America.

I appreciate Kevin’s perspective as he is an Irish person in Ireland researching his Irish roots. I particularly enjoyed Kevin’s post on his trip back to his great-grandfather’s birthplace – click here to link directly to the post.

Check this blog out…it is worth a visit!


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Ireland is a Small Country

Jim takes a moment to reflect on family, genealogy, and Ireland…

Ireland occupies 27,136 square miles of Mother Earth’s surface. As of 2011 about 4,581,269 people inhabit that area. As a comparison Minnesota, where I live in the United States has about 5,200,000 folks spread over about 86,934 square miles. Just how small was illustrated by an encounter I had on a recent trip to the homeland.

One of my goals on that trip was to meet the members of the Loughman/Kelly branch of my McCormack family tree. My grandfather’s youngest sibling Johanna McCormack who was born at Ballyedmond, Queens County (now Co. Laois) in 1874 married James Loughman from Killadooley in 1904. For many years Aunt Johanna, as she was called, corresponded with my aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin in Minneapolis. Johanna’s daughter Catherine Loughman, who would later marry Tom Kelly, continued the correspondence with my Aunt Nellie. As part of my search I had acquired several photos taken of family in Ireland when my cousin Eileen Hamm Garding had visited in the mid 1970’s. I had already identified the people in most of the photos. I was however stumped by a photo in which the only two of seven people pictured that I knew were Eileen and our cousin Kate Loughman Kelly. On my second day in Ireland I met Michael Kelly, Kate and Tom Kelly’s oldest son. The way that meeting came about is a story to be told another day. For our purposes today let it suffice to say that Michael was easily able to identify the other people in the mystery photo.

They were Nan Loughman Wall, Kate’s stepsister, Nan’s son Mick, his wife, and their two daughters. The names are only important because of what happened next.

Regan McCormack, Johnny Delaney, and the cup

Two nights later my family and I were attending a victory celebration in a pub in Clogh. It just so happened that the Hurling team from Clogh/Ballacolla had recently won the County Laois Championship. The reason we were at the party is that another cousin Johnny Delaney was the captain and star of the team.

While enjoying the celebration at the pub I was introduced to a fellow named Mick Wall. The name sounded familiar but I could not place it. I do have about 1700 names in my family tree. After a few minutes it started to come to me. I asked him if his parents were Mick and Madge. Sure enough he was the son of the family in the mystery photo that had just been identified two days earlier. Where but in Ireland could a Yank from St. Paul Minnesota be celebrating with the team captained by a cousin in one of the smallest hamlets in the County run into the son of a man on the mystery photo?

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