The Irish in America


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Maureen’s Memories: Puck Fair

Just in time for the annual Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, Maureen sends us her memories of the festival from the 1930s and 1940s. Maureen helps us make sense of the beloved Irish summer celebration. Enjoy!

 

When I was a girl in the 1930s and ’40s, Puck Fair was a much-loved harvest festival, and always held on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August in Killorglin, County Kerry. We would go with our grandfather, Dan O’Meara, and enjoy all that the fair had to offer a child. There were savory meat pies, crubeens (boiled pig’s feet) and dillesk (a very salty, purple seaweed). O’Donoghue’s Bakery and Confectionary sold a wide variety of delicious baked goods and the best rolls around; as well as all kinds of sweets. Peggy’s Leg (a thick rock candy stick) was my favorite. The stalls sold money balls which were a round candy with red coloring that came off on your hands and sometimes, if you were lucky, a coin was hidden inside. Glendillion’s was known for their delectable, homemade ice cream.

August 10th is known as the Gathering Day, when the horse fair began. We already knew it was fair time because the Irish Travellers’ and Romani had already begun to assemble and mingle among their own people. My mam must have had a reputation as being kind-hearted because the women of both communities would knock on our door as they passed through town. Asking for a pinch of tea and sugar they, in turn, would give her a paper posy or a blessing in return. They arrived in town in their colorful horse-drawn caravans. Some made a living as horse traders and others as skilled tinsmiths.

August 11th is Fair Day since it was the time that the cattle fair was held. On this day, the Irish step-dancers performed and traditional music was heard throughout town. I don’t recall exactly when Perks Amusement’s started there, but it was certainly our first time on a mechanical ride. There were many games of chance, including card games, to be found in the stalls. You could try your luck at Find the Lady (Three-Card-Monty) other shell games with three thimbles and a pea, as well as roulette. You could have your fortune told as well.

August 12th is Scattering Day, the day the festivities began to wind down. The stand, stages and stalls are closed up and taken down, and fair goers begin leave town.

The first time we were allowed to walk to the fair alone I knew I was growing up. It was only my sister, Joan, and me, since Kitty, Dolly and Helen were still too little to walk the four-mile trek from Milltown into Killorglin. Many years later, I was describing Puck Fair to an American friend. I’ll never forget the look on her face! Then, as I thought about it, I understood how strange it all sounded. You catch a wild Billy-goat, having already found a lovely maiden who is crowned Queen Puck. Build a three-tiered wooden tower and have the young girl, resplendent in a white, Celtic gown, crown him “King Puck”. Parade them through town, as Killorglin is declared open to all. Place the puck on top of the stand where he will watch over his subjects for three days. On the third day, the August king is taken down from his royal perch where he has been fed and protected against the elements by an awning. His crown is removed by Queen Puck. Finally, he is released back into the wild.

My friend was appalled and exclaimed “Why, it’s a Pagan festival!” I had never thought about it that way, since the Catholic clergy never voiced any objection to our attending the much-loved, traditional country fair. There was the Oliver Cromwell cover story, after all: A he-goat ran out of the hills to forewarn of Cromwell’s troops approaching Killorglin. Although it did coincide with the Pre-Christian festival, Lughnasa.  One of my friends, Maura, lost her mother when she was very young, so they didn’t have much of a Yuletide celebration. She told me “Puck Fair was better than Christmas!”

 

Check out PuckFair.ie for all things related to the festival. Photos courtesy of PuckFair.ie, thank you.

About Maureen…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories


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A Day in the Bog

Another lovely poem from Seamus Hora: “Just a few memories of a day in the bog…”

A Day in the Bog

The scent of the bacon
From the cast iron pan,
The sweetest of tea
Brewed in the sweet can.

The tiny skylark
Without effort he flew
Soaring and soaring
Disappearing from view.

The hare with ears pricked
Observing the scene,
The corncrake call
From meadows so green.

The curlew cried out
In so many ways;
Indication of weather
For upcoming days

The pealing of church bells
Announced the midday,
Far distant whistle
Said trains on the way.

Just a few memories
Of a day in the bog;
Yes those were the sweetest
The rest was a slog.

Seamus Hora

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 over 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…just leave a comment!


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Mayo v Dublin: A Poem from Seamus Hora

It is that time of the year again and Seamus Hora shares a poem about the GAA, tradition and home. Seamus writes:

As the summer draws to a close in Ireland if there is one subject which creates more conversation than the weather it’s the  GAA now that my adopted county has once again reached the semi finals in what promises to be the game of the year…

Seamus_Hora

Who will meet Kerry in the final? The Mayo-Dublin semi-final match is next Sunday, August 30th @ 3:30pm at Croke Park, Dublin.


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She was never much for having her picture taken…

Margaret and Frank McMahon, 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

My grandma was meant to be in this photograph, but she wouldn’t sit still. Every time the photographer carefully posed the three youngest McMahon children and turned his back to go to the camera, my grandma would get up and run to her mom.

Grandma was just under two-years-old at the time of this photo. She claimed she could walk from the age of nine months, telling me, with a chuckle, that she was so short that she could walk clear under the kitchen table, with room to spare.

Grandma managed to stay put for this photo, up on a chair with mom right behind her.

McMahon Family 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

McMahon Family 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

 


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Meant to Be

 

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

 

John Foley and my grandpa John Regan were good friends. They spent their early childhood together in Clontarf, Minnesota.  John Foley moved to Minneapolis with his family in the mid 1920s.

It was only natural that the two boys were friends. Their paternal grandfathers (Patrick Foley and John Regan) were friends in their native Kilmichael, County Cork, and they came to America together, settling in Fisherville, New Hampshire before venturing to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.

I don’t know if “the Johns'” fathers (Tim Foley and Neil Regan) were friends when they were young. Clontarf was (and is) a small place, but from what I have heard, the two had little in common. If I consider as evidence my grandma’s collection of studio portraits of many of the young men of Clontarf, Tim and Neil were not close. – there are no photos of the two of them together. However, the evidence does show that John’s uncle John Foley and Neil were friends (see below and click here to read about it).

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated (ATMR Family Collection)

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated, around 1900 (ATMR Family Collection)

As I mentioned earlier, Clontarf’s a very small place so even when folks moved to Minneapolis, as so many did in the 1920s and 1930s, families remained close, supporting one another as they made their ways in the big city. The community was strong whether it was in the rural west or the largest city in the state. It was sometimes difficult to see where family ended and neighbors and friends picked up. It could all get very complicated…

For example:

One day in late 1930s Minneapolis, my grandma’s Aunt Bid Foley (John Foley’s mom) invited her over for cards. Have I mentioned yet that John Foley and my grandma, Agnes McMahon were first cousins? How about that they were double first cousins?

John Regan was staying with his old friend John Foley at the time of the invitation. Agnes and John Regan had crossed paths over the years, but it wasn’t until Uncle Tim asked Agnes to take his place in a cribbage game with John Regan, that sparks flew.

I don’t know who won that game, but I bet it was fiercely contested. They fell in love over a cribbage board and were married in 1941. They were a perfect couple.

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man...

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man…

Agnes’ maternal grandfather was Patrick Foley and John Regan’s paternal grandfather was….John Regan. The two friends from Kilmichael, County Cork.

When we visited Kilmichael Parish in Cork, Ireland several years ago, we learned that the connection between Patrick Foley and John Regan may have been stronger than we thought. John Regan’s mother was Ellen Foley. Patrick and John were cousins.

I thought this was very cool. Then my sister mentioned how that would have made grandma and grandpa some sort of cousins, too. Distant, of course, going back to their great-grandparents generation. In 19th century rural Ireland that must have happened a lot…right?

Distant cousins, yes, but friendship connected the Foley and Regan families through the generations, across an ocean and into a new world.

And I didn’t even tell you how my grandma’s mom and grandpa’s aunt were life-long besties….

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)


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Three Sisters

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (early 1930s)

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (mid 1930s) ATMR Family Collection

When I think of the Irish in America, snapshots like this one come to mind. My grandma Agnes with two of her three older sisters, young and happy in the midst of the Great Depression.

The McMahon sisters were second generation Irish Americans. However, my grandma told me they didn’t spend any time thinking about their heritage when they were young. She made up for it when she grew older and had a highly inquisitive granddaughter. She shared with me stories and songs, old sayings and recipes, passed down to her from her parents and Irish-born grandparents. Grandma was my link to our family history.

I am not sure if this is at the house in Columbia Heights where the McMahons lived, or if it is in south Minneapolis at the Foley house. Maybe my mom will help us out and leave a comment!

I am currently scanning and organizing my grandma’s collection of photographs and ephemera. Moving forward I will share some of my favorite items.


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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……

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