The Irish in America

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Memorial Day: Remembering our Irish-American soldiers

Another offering from Jim McCormack…this time he writes about the Irish-Americans who served in the US military over the years.  Jim also takes a moment this Memorial Day to reflect on on a personal heroes, his uncle Jimmy Flannery – one of the many Irish Americans who bravely served in World War II. 

Memorial Day always reminds me of the role played by soldiers of Irish and  Irish American descent in American military history. Irish soldiers fought on both sides of wars America was involved in from the French and Indian War to the American Revolution  in the 18th century through the War Between the States which featured “Irish Brigades” on both sides.

In the U.S. War with Mexico in the middle of the 19th century countless Irish immigrants were recruited directly off the immigrant ships to serve in the U.S. Army.  With little training these recruits from the famine were sent to fight against the Mexicans. Many served with distinction.  On the other hand some of the new recruits changed sides and fought on the side of the Mexicans. According to members of the “San Patricio” Battalion, they felt more comfortable fighting on the same side as the Catholic Mexicans and against the Americans who reminded them of the English oppressors they were fleeing. The vile treatment they received from the Nativist leaning officers they experienced in the American army made their decision easier. Every year they are still remembered and honored in Mexico.

Another interesting fact from the History of Military Service in the United States is the majority of those honored with the Medal of Honor in our country are either Irish-born or of Irish descent.

Closer to home on Memorial Day I always think of the many family members that fought in Americas wars. One of those was my uncle Jimmy Flannery, my mothers younger brother. He was one of my personal heroes as I grew up.

Jimmy Flannery WWII

Growing up in Minneapolis after the war we as kids knew that most of the old guys had “been in the service.” What we did not know was the real meaning of that phrase.  We knew that some of the men had an easier time than others.  Of all the men that I knew or knew of as a boy my uncle Jimmy Flannery was the one that experienced the worst of the war.  As I child I was aware that he had been involved in the worst of the fighting.  No one ever told me directly or sat me down and explained what he had gone through from June 1944 to July 1945. I knew he had gone in a few days after D-Day and had fought the Battle of the Bulge.  I remember I was not surprised by the fact that he “had it tough” because I knew he was a tough guy. I knew also from listening to the adults, when they didn’t think anyone was listening, that he did not get his broken nose from singing in the parish choir. My favorite story was about an evening in Linke’s bar and café that some of the locals were making fun of one of the Holy Rosary guys who was gay. The story went that my dad Bill McCormack and Jimmy Flannery took exception and in short order beat the hell out of the miscreants.  The quote was something like “he might be gay but he is our friend.”  Although I don’t think the term used was “gay.”

Jimmy Flannery

As I grew older I began to read history and like all boys of that generation came to worship the old guys.  Although I was just fifteen when Uncle Jim died I knew that his early death was somehow connected to the war. Going through high school and college I was taught by and knew a lot of the veterans.  Unfortunately most of them never talked directly about their personnel experiences during the war. What I knew I had learned from reading and the movies.  I knew that my uncle Jim had been in the middle of it all. I knew that he symbolized to me the sacrifice of self that generation had made.  He was one of my heroes.

When I began writing my family history I wanted to include a section about his service so the younger generations could put a face on that terrible war. Who in the family could be a better face than my uncle Jimmy Flannery?

Insignia of 30th Infantry Division "Old Hickory"

If they were not too old or too young they went.  The smart ones, the not so gifted, the tough ones, the soft ones, the entire generation went.  If you had been born between 1905 and 1927 chances are you either were drafted or enlisted. The war was fought all over the world; in North Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and at home.  My uncle Jimmy Flannery was a member of the 117th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division. With the exception of not landing on D-Day this division bore the worst of the fighting in Europe. The story of Jimmy Flannery and his comrades is the one I will tell. The story is about how the division landed at Omaha Beach; broke through at St. Lo and liberated countless towns in northern France, Belgium and Holland. After successfully invading Germany they had to turn back to Belgium and help stop the Nazi counter offensive that became known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” Historians whether American or German agree on the important role the 30th Division played in the invasion of Europe and the defeat of Germany.

The 30th Infantry Division known as “Old Hickory” had been active during WWI and was manned by Southerners from the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Georgia.  It had achieved distinction in that war and retained its identity as a National Guard unit in the period between the two wars. The 30th was recalled into Federal service 16 September 1940. In 1942 the division was rebuilt with personnel from all parts of the country.  Because of its exceptional record in training and in maneuvers the 30thwas selected for early deployment in combat and was transferred from Florida to Camp Atterbury in Indiana for final preparation before going overseas.

MS John Ericsson

Destroyed German tanks at St. Fromond 7 July 1944

The regiment sailed from Boston aboard the “John Ericsson” a former Swedish luxury liner turned troop ship on 12 Feb 1944. At 1300 hours in a blinding snowstorm they began their crossing of the North Atlantic.  The Ericsson met the rest of the convoy from New York City and Hampton Roads, VA 100 miles east of Boston on the 13th in the early afternoon and became part of the largest convoy to cross the Atlantic up to that time.  Twelve days later after a typically rough winter crossing they landed at Liverpool. They spent the next three months training for the invasion of France at various bases in England.  On 8 June they left Hemel Hempstead just north of London for South Hampton where they boarded the “Judiah Smith” for the channel crossing. They landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on the 14th of June. The 117th was committed to its baptism of fire on 15 June 1944, in a sector previously occupied by the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, with its first headquarters being established at Les Obeaux after leaving Omaha Beach. Its first mission on landing in France was to secure the high ground north of the Vire et Taute Canal. The small community of La Ray soon fell before the rolling 30thand the mission of clearing the north bank of the canal was completed by 17 June.

Insignia 117th Infantry Regiment

The 117th liberates Evreux Aug 1944

On 7 July the Division moved forward again, crossing the Vire River and penetrating as far as St Jean-de-Day. This began one of the war’s most memorable actions, the St Lo breakthrough. It was here that the 30thslugged through the hedgerows against fortified German infantry and dug in tanks. Advances were slow in July, but by 6 August the 30th relieved the 1st Infantry Division near Mortain. Suddenly the Division was attacked by five armored divisions of the enemy, the German’s purpose being to drive to the sea at Avranches and split the American First and Third Armies. The 2nd Battalion of the 120th Infantry Regiment and Jimmy Flannery’s unit the 1st Battalion of the 117th Infantry Regiment bore the brunt of the assault and were so hard-pressed, that all available personnel of the 30th Division were thrown into action. The Battalions held fast. In a week the Nazi spearhead was broken and the enemy thrown back.

The "Impenetrable" Siegfried Line

After leaving St. Barthelmy the 117th received a four-day rest period. From 19 Aug onward they were engaged in the rat race across northern France.  The 30th was the first infantry division to enter Belgium and Holland, where they liberated Maastricht. The 30th was also instrumental in breaching the Siegfried Line in October 1944, and the capture of Aachen, Germany, the 1st large German city to be captured by the Allies in WWII. This attack into Germany through the “impenetrable Western Wall” exposed the 117thto the greatest concentration of artillery and mortar fire they had yet experienced. After the fall of Aachen they continued the drive into the German industrial heartland. In late November they were part of what the American generals called the “Perfect Infantry Attack near Alsdorf Germany.

Rocket Gun captured by the 117th at La Gleize

On 16 Dec 1944 the 117th was given a new job. They were ordered to reverse course and go back to Belgium to deal with the unexpected German offensive.  This last big push by the Nazis was an attempt to drive through to Liege Belgium, split the allied forces and seize the port.  If they had succeeded the German’s could have won the war. This critical decisive battle was referred to as the “Battle of the Bulge.” After a 48 mile march elements of the 30thengaged the Germans at Stavelot Belgium.

Malmedy 2 Jan 1944

At Stavelot, Stoumont, La Gleize and Malmedy they stopped the German advance and gained control of their sector of the bulge with extraordinary speed. In a savage battle that lasted from 18 Dec to Christmas Eve they destroyed the fighting effectiveness of the elite Adolph Hitler division, the 1st SS Panzer Division.

German prisoners clear land mines

At LaGleize on the 24th they captured over 170 German vehicles including Tiger tanks, halftracks and artillery pieces. As a result of this fight the Germans gave the 30th nickname “Roosevelt’s SS Troops.” According to the Germans this was because the 30th was always “thrown in where the going is the roughest.” The rest of January was spent slogging through chest deep snow over rugged forested terrain retaking the ground the German offensive had secured. In February they were back in Germany crossing the flooded Roer River on 24 Feb. This surprise attack under cover of an artificial fog opened the drive to the Rhine. How much resistance the Germans offered was dependent on the spirit of the individual commanders.  Some fought fanatically and others surrendered with little fight.

In early March the 30th was pulled back to Holland to train with the Navy and engineers for the crossing of the Rhine. The Rhine crossing was second only to Normandy in size as an amphibious operation. The 30th crossed in three places and experienced minimal losses. From there to crossing the Weser River at Hameln on 6 April they met with varying degrees of resistance ranging from sporadic sniper fire to stubborn fighting from fortified strong points. The 30thcaptured 24,000 prisoners and several large cities before reaching the Elbe.

Magdeburg 1 May 1945

Their last big battle was for Magdeburg where on 5 May they met up with the Russians. After a brief occupation of an area on the Czech border near Oelsnitz the 117th returned to Sissone France. After three weeks in France on 31 July they boarded ship to cross the English Chanel to Southampton.  The fourteen months that had elapsed had changed the course of human history. My uncle and hero Jimmy Flannery and the rest of the 117th Infantry Regiment had played a major role in winning the war. While in England the 30threceived the news of the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. On 15 August the Japanese surrendered. I cannot imagine the joy felt by these brave men knowing they had survived the war and would not be deployed to the Pacific after all.  Two weeks after arriving at Tideworth Barracks England, Jimmy and his fellow soldiers boarded the Queen Mary and sailed to New York on 17 Aug at 0425 hours. The trip home took only four days compared to the 14 on the voyage over. At 2215 the Queen tied up at Pier 99 in New York City.  After a day of record checking and orientation leave arrangements were made and 30 day furloughs were granted.  Most were extended to 45 days and the soldiers were then discharged at the separation center nearest their home. Uncle Jim was discharged at Camp McCoy Wisconsin 13 Nov 1945. Coincidentally his discharge was signed by his brother-in-law, my father Capt. William J. McCormack.

Queen Mary

Fifteen years later in December 1960 my uncle died at age 42.  The stresses of the Ardennes, Normandy and breaking the Siegfried line had finally taken their toll prematurely ending his life.


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A Photo of the Irish Diaspora in Minnesota

Jim, senior researcher for Archival Solution, writes about how his quest to identify all of the individuals in this photograph has resulted in new discoveries about his family research and new family connections.  He shows how photographs can often serve as catalysts in our research, leading us to dig deeper and develop a richer, more comprehensive understanding of our family’s history.

McCormi(a)ck Family Unites

Aine’s stories on her blog The Irish in America always motivate me to keep working on my own family project. For the past twelve years I have been researching the family of John Cormack who was born at Lochmoe in County Tipperary, Ireland in the last decade of the eighteenth century. According to family tradition he drifted up to Ballyedmond in Queen’s County (now Laois) where he married Catherine Purcell and started a family that would give several sons and daughters to the United States. My study has raised and answered many questions.  Among those was: “What is the reason for the multiple spellings of the family name? Why are there some “McCormicks” and some “McCormacks”? That answer is for another day however.

One of the other long-standing questions involves a picture given to me by a cousin about seven years ago. I knew it was a photo of a family function and there were 107 people in it. Of those I knew the identities of five individuals, including my Grandfather Andrew McCormack and his brother Mike McCormack, always known as our Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike’s wife, Katie Hannon and two of their first cousins were the others that I recognized. Being rather new to family history at that point I set a rather lofty goal for myself.  I decided I would identify all 107 people in the photo.

The picture was taken in July 1946 at the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of Phillip J.K. McCormick and his wife Ellen, nee Craven. Phillip was my 1st cousin two times removed.  My Cousin Zack Krueger, Phillip and Ellen’s grandson was very helpful in providing names for many of the faces. Every time I meet or correspond with a relative I pull out my photo and try to jar their memories. As of May 25, 2011 my goal is in sight.  I have identified all but eleven of those pictured. Complicating the process is that there are both McCormick and Craven relatives as well as many friends and neighbors of the family. Another problem is that there are people in the photo that are related to some of my relatives but not related to me. For example out of the fifteen Dalys shown in the photo I am related by blood to about half of them.

A recent meeting with some of my Nugent cousins provided the identity of several more of the celebrants. Researching the faces in the photo has been very rewarding for me. By putting faces on the names many of the McCormicks, Dalys, McDonalds, Burns, Nugents, Peteks, and Kruegers, have become real people and not just names found on old census and church records, as well as birth and death certificates

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Glenamaddy Update

Galway -- not Glenamaddy, but a pretty shot from near Spiddal (2009, RBM)

Remember James who was looking for descendants of relatives who emigrated to the US from Glenamaddy, County Galway?

Jim, the head researcher with Archival Solutions, tracked down several leads for James based on the information he provided.  James was trying to locate his mother’s brothers and sisters in the historic records, with the ultimate goal of finding living relations.  Only one of his uncles remained in Ireland, and when he died his widow sold the farm in Glenamaddy and moved to Scotland.  James’ mother was the youngest sibling, and she moved from Glenamaddy as a young woman.  The five remaining McGuire siblings emigrated to America.

Before he contacted us, James had never spoken to a cousin on his mother’s side, least of all met one face-to-face.  This has all changed for James.  I would like to share his email:

Dear Aine,
Just to keep you up to speed – I have now had several emails (along with photos) from two of George and Arlene’s daughters.   One lot of photos showed the old farm buildings in Glenamaddy, along with one the people who remember the family.  He lived on the farm just below the McGuire family.
The sons of their daughter Linda, like my sons have red hair and her two boys would pass as brothers to my two sons!   They have also been in touch with other member of the family throughout the States.
My wife and I will finally meet Henry & Susan in September when our cruise ship docks in NY and we are staying over for a few days before flying back to the UK.
So you see you and your Dad’s work paid outstanding results for me – I will be forever grateful.  God bless you and yours.
Warm regards

How fantastic that the children and grandchildren of the McGuire sisters are able to compare notes on family history, photographs, and memories!  James had photographs belonging to his mother of American relatives that he is now able to identify.  I can’t wait for an update later this year, and am delighted we were able to help James find the American branch of his family tree.  Emigration tore so many Irish families apart over the years; it is nice to know that it is never really too late for family to come together again.

If you are interested in learning about what happened to Irish relatives who emigrated to the US, or would like to connect with your long-lost cousins, please visit our Find Your Cousins page for information on how we can help you like we helped James.  And do not hesitate to contact us — we would love to hear your stories!


Ireland Reaching Out: Update and FAQ

The following is a copy of an email I received from the Ireland Reaching Out program.  Sounds like they are on track for a fantastic “Week of Welcomes” in the parishes of south-east Galway…

Hello from South-East Galway!


We have been receiving an overwhelming amount of email from you over the last weeks and days as we ramp up the project and look forward to our inaugural Week of Welcomes 26th June-2nd July – a week of learning, heritage and fun.


Due to the volume of enquiries, we are not in a position right now to answer every individual query. We are a relatively small team, made up almost entirely of volunteers, and the immediate focus is on a successful pilot and rollout of the project in the South-East Galway area. With this email, we’d like to answer the most frequently asked questions. 


What is the Ireland Reaching Out pilot project and when will it expand to other areas of Ireland?

The Ireland Reaching Out pilot project is primarily focused on making contact with our South-East Galway Diaspora, i.e. global emigrants and/or their descendants who left the area and inviting them to reconnect with their place of origin. Over the past year, over 40 local Irish parish communities have been working hard to find out who left their areas and have been helping us to create an online presence for each parish such that should you believe you are connected to a particular Irish parish, you can introduce yourself directly to the local Ireland Reaching Out team.

Due to the huge popularity of the project, we have experienced a great volume of queries relating to parts of Ireland outside of our initial focus. These are welcome, but right now, we must prioritize those queries which are made in connection to South-East Galway.  You will, however, be pleased to know that it is anticipated that the Ireland XO will expand nationally in the second half of 2011. Should you be interested in becoming involved in a parish anywhere else in Ireland, you will be able to register your specific interest at that time.

How can I keep myself informed about the project and its progress?

How can I help spread the word about the Week of Welcomes June 26th-July2nd?

The Week of Welcomes will become an annual fixture in every parish’s calendar in Ireland – help us to spread the word about the inaugural event in South-East Galway this June. The website is continuously being updated as we confirm more details but one thing is for sure: it will be a visit to remember!


Can I attend the Inaugural Week of Welcomes June 26th-July2nd?

The quick answer is that yes you can! Even if you are not connected to South-East Galway but priority is been given those with local South-East Galway roots and those with surnames such as Kelly, Burke, Fahy and Madden which are native to the area (see the 1855 Griffith’s Valuation list of most common surnames in the pilot area here – scroll to bottom of page: A small number of places in each parish is reserved for people of Irish Heritage who would like to come along and enjoy the local Irish welcome for this very historic event. If you would like to attend but have no specific link to South-East Galway, please let us know. The event will covered by local and international media.
I am interested in tracing my ancestors – can you help me to do this?

If you are trying to trace your ancestors to Ireland, the Ireland Reaching Out Project can certainly help you once it is rolled out Ireland-wide later this year. What we offer is a connection to your parish(es) of origin where local people (possibly relatives!) who have volunteered as part of the project will be keen to assist.  One of the remarkable aspects of this project is that when you have a community of people assisting you to trace your ancestors, the process is way quicker!

If you don’t know your parish of origin, knowing the county of origin will help.  If you don’t know this – but simply know your people are from Ireland – then please have patience, because we are possibly going to get to you from the other direction – all in good time however.  If you have some information about your family, but are unsure of where they come from, we will give you the opportunity to register that information later on this year.  For now, help us to help you by letting people know about this project which in turn will help the project to scale up.  Through your help, we can systematically reunify the entire Irish Diaspora. Even if you are a “John Kelly” of Irish roots, working together, we will one day find out who you really are!

I would like to get involved in the project — how do I volunteer? And what skills are you looking for?
We have had many offers of assistance for which we are very grateful. We are keeping track of every offer of assistance and even if we do not get back to you straight away, please bear with us as our central organization is strengthened in the coming months.  You can sign-up and tell us about your skills and areas of interest here:

In the area of Loughrea, Co Galway, we are looking for people with professional IT, web, management, research, strategic development, financial, marketing, PR and event-organization skills.  Further afield, we are looking for volunteers to assist with the online management of local Irish parish websites, something that can be done as easily from Australia, UK or the USA as from the West of Ireland!

Thank you for your continued interest, offers of help, ideas and support!  If you have family and friends with an interest in Ireland, please let them know about the exciting project!

The Ireland XO Team


Dolores O’Shea
Project Administrator – Ireland Reaching Out
South-East Galway Diaspora Pilot Project
25, Dunkellin Street, Loughrea, Co. Galway


In Loving Memory

On several occasions I have mentioned my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan and the small collection of photographs and greeting cards she left behind.   Among the mysterious photographs from Manchester England, a photo-pin of a priest, and a charming Christmas card from a sister, are two memorial cards.  Below is the card for her father who passed away the year before Annie came to the United States.

William Hill memorial card, 1898 (click to enlarge)

In 2009 I visited Rathmore Churchyard.  I was unable to locate William’s grave, but I suspect it rests hidden in the overgrown grass, somewhere amidst the gravestones of Hill relatives of whom I am not familiar.

Rathmore Churchyard, County Kildare (2009 Regan McCormack)

The other card is for James Hill.  I assume James was a nephew, and one can imagine this loss was felt deeply by the entire family.

James Hill memorial card, 1895 (click to enlarge)

Memorial cards can provide great information to the genealogist or family historian.  In the case of Annie’s father, I knew his name from her birth certificate, but I learned his birth year, date of death, and place of burial only from this memorial card tucked into a stack of old photographs.  But memorial cards can also raise more questions than they answer, and prove to be as frustrating as an album full of unidentified photographs or a postcard with faded text.

Because they are so portable, I am sure a great many memorial cards crossed the Atlantic, mailed to emigrant daughters and sons in America, accompanying letters detailing all the latest news from home.

Share your stories about how items like memorial cards have assisted you in the search for your family history.  Perhaps a memorial card is all that is left to tell of an emigrant relative’s life in America?  I would love to hear your stories, so please, leave a comment!