The Irish in America

Happy Birthday Minnie!

6 Comments

Mary “Minnie” Foley, 1875-76

Minnie was my great-grandmother, and according to my grandma she absolutely hated the nickname “Minnie”. Please forgive me, Great Grandmother, but I think it is a cute name, and since your real name Mary is shared by at least 75% of the women in your family tree, I chose to call you Minnie.

Minnie Foley was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire on January 2, 1875. She was the fourth of five children born to Patrick Foley and Mary Crowley (their eldest son did not survive infancy.) Patrick emigrated to the United States from Kilmichael, County Cork in 1864. Mary came a year earlier in 1863, also from County Cork.

Minnie was baptized on January 24, 1875 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Concord, New Hampshire. John Foley and Mary Casey were her godparents.

Three years later, Minnie and her family moved west to Clontarf, Minnesota with several other Irish families from the Concord, New Hampshire area, including the Regan family. John Regan and Patrick Foley emigrated together in 1864 from Kilmichael. The families settled on farms in Tara township. Minnie and Nellie Regan were best friends from a very young age.

First-Generation American Girls: Minnie and Nellie in about 1886

My grandma told me that Minnie worked hard her entire life, and that included working on the family farm in Tara Township while she was growing up. Her sister Maggie worked inside, while Minnie and her younger brother Jackie worked outside. My grandma confessed, she wasn’t sure where Minnie’s older brother Tim worked!

The McMahons, an Irish family from County Fermanagh, lived about a mile from the Foleys in Tara. Minnie married Thomas McMahon at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf on June 28, 1904. Minnie’s sister Maggie and Tom’s brother Frank were their witnesses. I imagine Minnie and Hoosie (as Tom is referred to in Minnie’s autograph book) having secret meetings over hay bales and missing chickens during their courtship…

Minnie and Tom raised seven children and after giving farming all they had the McMahons moved to Minneapolis in 1925.

When she died in 1945, Minnie was living with my grandma, her husband John Regan, and their new baby (and my mother) Eileen. My grandma said that Minnie was smitten with Eileen. Minnie would say that she had never known a baby to sleep as much and as well as little Eileen. Minnie marvelled at how Eileen would even fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth.

In many ways things came full circle for Minnie. Also living with my grandma in 1945 was Neil Regan, Nellie’s older brother and my grandpa’s father. Eighty years earlier Patrick Foley and John Regan had journeyed to the United States. After Fisherville, New Hampshire and Clontarf, Minnesota, the families came together again in Minneapolis…a long way from Kilmichael.

In my grandma’s recipe book are a few recipes attributed to Minnie, her “Ma” – I think I will make “Ma’s Spice Cake” in Minnie’s honor today.

Nellie Regan Byrne and Minnie Foley McMahon, 1942

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Author: Aine

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My heritage pretty much covers the map of Ireland: great-great-grandparents from Cork (Crowley, Foley, Regan), a great-great-grandmother from Clare (Quinn), a great-great-grandfather from Fermanagh (McMahon) and his wife's parents from Mayo (McAndrew), a great-grandmother from Connemara (Hannon) married to my great-grandfather from Laois (McCormack), great-grandparents from Sligo (Flannery), and a great-grandmother from Kildare (Hill). All of those people ended up in Minnesota, where my four grandparents were born. Three and four generations after my people left Ireland for America, I retain all Irish heritage. So much for the melting pot...

6 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Minnie!

  1. I don’t know why sometimes we don’t like the nicknames people give us. Minnie is delightfully cute. My Mom named me Carol because there were no derivatives from it. Only as an adult did I come to understand the affection that lies behind nicknames.

    • I agree! But it seems that people have very strong feelings about nicknames, doesn’t it?

      • People do have strong feelings about nicknames. My father-in-law was 90 before he confessed why his nickname was “Fox.” Seems the men in town took him out fox-hunting when he was in elementary school. They didn’t catch any foxes, but he got all scratched up. The next day, kids at school asked him why he was all scratched up and they didn’t believe him when he told them, so they started teasing him by calling him “Fox.” He was so embarrassed that they didn’t believe him that he never told anyone why they called him that nickname. By the time he was 90 telling the story, it was simply charming and a reinforcement of what we all knew, he was a man of deep integrity.

  2. Love to hear of other Irish families. I would be interested to learn more Irish nick names. It was a big help to learn that Ned was a nick name for Edward. He was recorded as Ned on two of his three children ‘s baptism records.

    • Melissa — Irish nicknames is a great idea for a post. The nicknames used in Ireland and by Irish people don’t always make sense to us! I had a difficult time locating my great-grandmother’s sister Bridget in census records, until I realized “Delia” is a nickname for Bridget. I had no idea! Thanks for reading the blog! — Aine

  3. Great story Aine, I like the way it came full circle.

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