I posted this photo last Sunday for Mother’s Day because it features two special moms in my family (my great-grandma and grandma). I am sharing it again today because of what is behind them: the house.
This photo hung on the wall above my grandma’s kitchen table for years. Grandma would often glance at the picture and smile while we chatted, played cards, or had something to eat. The photo sparked Grandma’s memory, and a family story or tidbit from her past, relatable to the current activity or conversation, would follow. Regardless of what the memory was, Grandma would always have this to say in conclusion: “You know, your grandpa’s family moved into that house several years after this photo was taken, and that is where he grew up.” Grandma loved making that connection.
Recently my mom and I came across a folder in our Clontarf archive labeled 300 Cashel Street, the address of the house in the photo. The folder includes notes, hand-drawn house plans, photographs, and copies of property deeds. Nearly twenty years ago, we began looking into our Clontarf, Minnesota roots with the ultimate goal of writing a book. We love to research and have done tons of it throughout those years but have not yet written the book. There are many explanations (excuses?) for this, but the scale of the project is somewhat overwhelming.
So, we decided to start small. We will use the house on Cashel Street to tell part of the story. We are not sure what this project will look like, but we are motivated to take the excellent research we have done out of the archive and shine a light on it. What can this little house on Cashel Street tell us about early twentieth-century life in a Minnesota railroad community? Stay tuned to find out!
In the 1970s or 1980s, my mom embroidered the saying, “Mother is another name for love,” and placed it in a green-painted frame as a Mother’s Day gift for her mom. I can see it hanging on grandma’s wall, and I remember when I was young, considering the idea that my mom could possibly love her mom as much as I loved both of them.
I have shared this photo several times, but it is my favorite for Mother’s Day.
My great-grandmother Mary Foley McMahon is with her seven children outside of their Clontarf, Minnesota, home. My grandma(Agnes) is standing on the chair before her mother.
“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” — Abraham Lincoln
I am confident I have already seen the recipient of the “Worst Film” medal, which will be awarded at the end of my St. Patrick’s Day Film Festival. I guarantee that no movie could be worse than Far and Away. I had heard that Tom Cruise puts on a terrible Irish accent, and it was pretty bad, but at least he tried to sound Irish. Nicole Kidman spoke in a generic accent, a cross between South Dakota and South Africa. Very odd.
Throughout the first part of the movie, I was never sure if it was supposed to be a spoof or if it was a serious drama. I invited my sister to watch with me, and a few minutes in, she commented, “I think Ron Howard let the interns make this movie.” Regan really wanted to quit, but I wouldn’t allow it. We watched all 140 dreadful minutes. My apologies, Regan.
I needed a palate cleanser after that, and the black comedy set in Dublin, Intermission, was just that. Fast-paced action with many interconnected storylines, Intermission is hilarious. You can’t go wrong with the cast, which includes Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, and Colm Meaney. Meaney was also in Far and Away, but I don’t hold that against him.
Here is the list of movies I watched over the past week, including links to movie trailers. I have more than enough movies to carry me through the weekend. It is nice when St. Patrick’s Day is on a Friday because I feel entitled to an elongated celebration.
I thought I would share a few pages from the family album featuring Fran, my first cousin once removed (she and my mom are first cousins). Am I choosing today to share these photos for any particular reason? Perhaps, but Fran doesn’t like to make a fuss, and neither will I.
Fran’s mom was Mary McMahon Fuchs, the eldest sister of my grandma Agnes McMahon Regan. Agnes, her parents, and five siblings moved to Minneapolis in the mid-1920s, while Mary stayed behind in Benson to work and help their Aunt Maggie. That’s where Fran was born, in the house her mom and dad shared with Aunt Maggie. Fran was the second of five girls in the family.
In the 1930s, Agnes regularly visited Mary and her growing family. Often she and a friend would don traveling clothes (jodhpurs, jackets, and tall boots) and hitch a ride from the city, making their way 140 miles west on Highway 12 to Benson. Although eight years separated the sisters, Agnes always said that she and Mary were best pals, and these visits were happy times (look – even Aunt Maggie is smiling in the pic below).
Fran thought the world of her Aunt Ag, and I know the feeling was mutual.
When Fran graduated from Benson High School, she moved to Minneapolis to work. She lived with Agnes and her family for a couple of years. The whole gang would drive out to Benson on the weekends. I don’t have any photos of Fran from that time, so this one will have to do; Fran and her sister around Mary’s table in Benson, a bit later.
The years go by, and so much in life changes and becomes almost unrecognizable, yet family can always connect us – to one another and the past. In Fran, and my mom, I see the women I knew – Grandma and Aunt Mary – and all those I never knew, those who came before any of us.
I think the world of Fran. I hope she has a lovely day!
A couple of weeks before St. Patrick’s Day each year I pull out my Irish and Irish American DVDs and host a film festival. Usually, I am the only attendee, although this year my mom seemed genuinely disappointed that she missed the double feature of In America and The Secret of Roan Inish when I mentioned it. Those two movies are so good they definitely deserve encore screenings closer to the big day.
I just realized that I don’t have a single movie about St. Patrick in my St. Patrick’s Day Film Festival. I should check these out. I ought to be able to squeeze one into the lineup.
Take a look at the list of movies I’ve watched so far. These are all from my collection of DVDs, but I believe most are available to be streamed if you would like to host your own film festival.
I have some good ones yet to watch, like Brooklyn, The Dead, and Intermission. I found an unopened copy of Far and Away in my drawer. I have heard it is terrible, but I will give it a chance. My dad loaned me a few DVDs, including The Wind that Shakes the Barley which I have not seen in years and can’t wait to watch.
This is what is up next: the 1997 gem The Matchmaker starring Janeane Garafolo.
What’s your favorite Irish or Irish American movie? Share it with a comment!
I am getting old. I’m not saying this because I am over fifty and my hair is gray, but because I said this to friends last weekend when we were planning a night out:
“Let’s go somewhere quiet…so we can chat.”
Turns out my friends had the same idea and the four of us spent a lovely Saturday evening gathered around Ace’s dining room table, catching up, laughing, and snacking on chips and guacamole, chocolate-covered pretzels, and brownies. The evening was low-key and comfortable and felt old-fashioned (the Hamm’s may have added to the nostalgia).
My mom often reminisces about the regular family dinners, get-togethers, and card parties of her youth. Often hosted by her parents, John and Agnes (McMahon) Regan at their South Minneapolis home, the evenings and Sunday afternoons were sometimes held at McMahon and Regan cousins’ homes peppered throughout the city.
Here are a few snapshots of my Irish American family around the table. The common denominator of these photos is the McMahon family – three generations of descendants of Francis and Catherine (McAndrew) McMahon. Once the McMahons moved to Minneapolis from the Clontarf area in western Minnesota, they branched out making matches with those of non-Irish heritage. Names like Fuchs, Freitag, Nelson, Oien, and Bebus joined the McMahon family tree. My grandma Agnes was the only of her siblings to marry fellow Irish American (and Clontarf native) John Regan.
My grandma Agnes McMahon Regan is on the right, resting her head in her hand, next to my grandpa John Regan. The others are identified only as, “Foley girls – Aunt Bid and Uncle Tim’s.” Aunt Bid was Bridget McMahon. Mom says this is most likely is at Aunt Bid’s kitchen table. Maybe the others are Kit, Cecilia, or Loretta Foley?
Rose McMahon is on the left, with her sister Mary McMahon and husband Will Herr. Could this be at Mary and Will’s fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration in Bristol, South Dakota? Written on the back is, “Eileen and John Regan may be at next table.” Mom can help me out with this.
From left: Fran Fuchs Lainsbury, Dody Fuchs Abbott, and their mother, Mary McMahon Fuchs at the table in the Foley house in Benson. That’s my Aunt Mary (actually a great aunt, but always just Aunt Mary to us). I think Aunt Mary looks so cute here. I only remember her when she was twenty years older.
Some members of the McMahon family gathered at the wedding of Mary Fuchs (possibly). From the bottom left: Frank, John, Aunt Rose McMahon, Ella (John’s wife), Benie Oien, Rose “Dodo” McMahon Oien. I bet Frank’s wife Bertha took the photo unless Frank had a penchant for handbags (“Frank, hold my purse for a minute while I take a picture.”) I wonder where John and Agnes are sitting? And who is that guy standing on the left, behind the table, like he is in the picture?
Does anyone else wish we could step into old snapshots like these and stay for a moment, just long enough to catch Bertha asking the table for a smile and to hear John laughing? And maybe even long enough to pull Dodo aside and ask her why old Aunt Rose is sitting between John and Ella.
Note: Mom told me that the guy at the left behind the table is her cousin Jim Nelson. So, if this was a modern photo, he would have squeezed himself in somewhere to be part of the shot! Also, mom thinks this may have been Dodo and Bernie’s wedding (that would explain Bernie’s natty ensemble.
It was never the couch; never the sofa. For Grandma, it was always the Davenport.
That Grandma called the multiperson upholstered seating apparatus the davenport had nothing to do with her Irish heritage, but everything to do with regional and generational influences. I am sure that many members of the Greatest Generation in the Midwest used the term, but Grandma was the only person I ever heard call it a davenport, so I have forever associated the word exclusively with Grandma, and thus, cozy comfort and love.
“Come on in and sit yourself down on the davenport.” was the invitation equivalent to Grandma’s hand smoothing the hair from my tear-soaked face or a boiled dinner she made with enough potatoes for an army. Grandma’s davenport was like a warm hug.
Here’s my grandma in the 1960s, sitting on the davenport. I am not sure it is her davenport – Mom will let us know. That lamp does not quite look like Grandma’s style.
Here’s a davenport full of family. Eileen Regan, Margaret McMahon Nelson, John Regan, and Agnes McMahon Regan at the Regan house on Tenth Avenue in South Minneapolis in the late 1950s.
One more group of Irish Americans on the Davenport, although “Cousins on the Couch” has a better ring. Tom McMahon, Carol and Betty McMahon, and Eileen Regan in 1962.
I have observed a few other prominent settings in my collection of family photographs, namely the dinner table, the sidewalk, and next to a car. Stay tuned…
UPDATES per Mom (2/22/2023):
Photo #1 of Grandma was taken at the Roth family home. The Roths were members of Holy Name parish and they belonged to the parish book club, as did Agnes and John Regan.
Photo #2 correction made – sitting next to Eileen is her aunt Margaret, not Rose.
Mom thinks Photo #3 was her high school graduation party. She remembers the dress she was wearing: yellow with eyelet trim at the neck and sleeves. I didn’t ask, but I assume Grandma made it!
When we moved my grandma from her apartment, there were dresser drawers full of neat little bundles of fabric, remnants from decades of sewing projects. Tucked into one of the drawers was an embroidery hoop holding a once-taut piece of muslin. Work had begun on the piece but was interrupted.
Mom could tell by the signature brown stitches that this was Minnie’s handiwork. Was it abandoned when she had to go to the hospital in October of 1945, where she would pass away? It is likely that is why my grandma would hold onto an unfinished embroidery project for nearly sixty years. That’s why Mom and I have kept it for twenty more years. I can picture Minnie smoothing the fabric and tightening the hoop, threading the needle, and eventually slipping the needle through the cotton and setting the work down for the last time.
This is an embroidery pattern that was also floating around in Grandma’s things:
Now, I am off to bake a spice cake. For me, molasses, nutmeg, and cloves combine to create an olfactory time machine. In a couple of hours I will be enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee and a slice of spice cake with Minnie.
My great-aunt Dodo was born on this day, December 28th, in 1908. I’ve mentioned her many times, often speculating about the origins of her nickname.
I love this photo of Rose Ann McMahon, aka Dodo. She is often laughing and smiling broadly in the early photographs. As she aged, her smile narrowed, but she always seemed up for a joke and a laugh.
Unrelated to jokes and laughs, I came across this while looking at my archive;
I can’t really picture Dodo as a receptionist, or a switchboard operator. But, she would have been looking for a new line of work in 1946. She worked at the New Brighton ammunition factory during World War II (an actual Rosie the Riveter!)
Today I have enjoyed taking time to reminisce about Dodo (breakfasts at Embers with the coupons), and recall my grandma’s stories (my favorite is the nieces’ Communion dresses). As always, it seems strange that it could be so long ago.
Some time ago, my dad dropped off a couple of boxes of “Irish books.” He was going through his library – refining his collection – and I told him I’d like to take a look at his cast-offs.
There is a good mix of books: novels, history, golf, biography, music, travel, and poetry. The two boxes would make a great “starter library” for someone interested in Irish and Irish American Studies.
When I started going through the books, I tried to not be offended when I came across books I had given Dad as gifts. They just didn’t make the cut, I guess. When I got to the bottom of the first box, hidden beneath several Morgan Llewelyn paperbacks and Great Golf Courses of Ireland, I couldn’t believe what I saw. How could Dad let go of this gem?!?
This book is just supposed to be on Dad’s bookshelf, I can picture it there, right alongside Alive! by Read, The Poetry of Robert Frost, and What Color is My Parachute? (Honestly, Dad had them arranged better than that, but images of those books are cemented in my memory.) Trinity by Leon Uris was hands down the most widely read book at our South Minneapolis home during the last quarterof the twentieth century. It made the rounds. One look at the state of the book will tell you how much we loved it.
For anyone who has not read Trinity, it is a sweeping tale covering the history of Ireland from Famine to 1916. Uris masterfully weaves the lives of rich, engaging, and complex characters into actual historic events. It is not just Catholic vs. Protestant, or even Irish vs. English, it is about the people who make history. The story draws you in and is so good that you really feel like you come away with an understanding (or at least a beginning of an understanding) of Irish history eventhough it also feels like pure entertainment.
Trinity was my literary introduction to the history of Ireland. It’s been awhile, but I think it is time to read it again. I was twelve and in my early U2-obsessed phase when I first read it. I revisited it often in high school and read it again in my twenties. I guess I’d say it was part of my youth. Time for a more mature perspective.
Read along with me, if you would like! I am going to see if any of the McCormacks want to join in reading as well. But they will have to get their own copies. This one is mine.
Leave a comment and let me know if you will be joining me in reading Leon Uris’ Trinity, or let me know about a book that made its way around your family when you were growing up.