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Gimme the Butter

A version of the following article first appeared in Irish Lives Remembered Genealogy Magazine (July 2013 issue).

Tom McMahon, 1895

Tom McMahon, 1895

“I’ve never heard that! Why didn’t grandma ever tell me that story?”

I have to admit, when my older sister Regan says this, as she does from time-to-time, I feel a tinge of satisfaction. Younger sisters will understand how years of childhood rivalry can spill over into adulthood and we briefly allow ourselves to revel in the tiniest of victories. A card game won, a promotion at work, or in my case, a story my grandma told me.

But, as the ever-modest younger sibling, I shrug and tell Regan it’s simple. She never heard the story because she never asked. I was constantly asking my grandma to tell me all about the “old days”, and a question like, “What was your dad like?” (and a few key follow-ups) often lead to an afternoon of unearthing memories and revealing truths. Like this…

Thomas Edward McMahon, my great-grandfather, was born on June 13, 1879, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the second child and eldest son of Francis and Catherine (McAndrew) McMahon. His father was a native of County Fermanagh and his mother was born in New York – her parents came from County Mayo in the 1850s.

1904

1904

My grandma was Agnes McMahon Regan, Tom’s youngest daughter. Grandma said her dad was warm and generous. His family and friends could depend on Tom to be there when they needed him. No one was better in a crisis. Grandma smiled when she said that in the end, her dad was at heart, a big kid. He loved to play with his children and his easy manner lead to lots of jokes and laughter. Tom enjoyed nothing more than sitting in his chair in the evening, surrounded by his family as his wife, Mary, read aloud from Treasure Island or Little Women or whatever novel the mobile library offered that month.

Tom wed Mary Foley on June 9, 1904, at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, Minnesota. The couple grew up a mile apart on farms in Tara Township and were childhood friends. Tom’s nickname was “Hoosie” and Mary was “Minnie”. They had seven children – four girls and three boys.

Grandma said her dad was so good-natured, he never raised his voice.

“Never?” I asked. A natural question.

“Well…there was one time…” And we’re off.

The family was at the table for dinner when my grandma (who was about four-years-old at the time) said to her dad, seated next to her, “Gimme the butter!”

Tom was startled by his daughter’s demand. “Pardon me?”

Grandma said it again, this time louder, since he obviously didn’t hear her, “GIMME THE BUTTER!”

Tom was taken aback. None of his children behaved so rudely, not even his spirited middle child, Rose. But he was especially surprised by the outburst from Agnes. Tom told her she could have the butter if she asked for it nicely.

Grandma thought about it for a moment and said, “Gimme the butter!”

Tom had heard enough. He stood up and ordered Agnes to leave the table immediately. Grandma stormed out of the kitchen and threw herself on the seat of the buggy outside. She cried like she had never cried before. A short time later, Tom came out to Grandma. He set her dinner on her lap and placed his arm around her shoulders. Grandma said she apologized profusely. Her dad brushed the black curls from her forehead and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “There, now, that’s the girl. You’re alright…”

The two of them sat on the buggy while Grandma ate her dinner. She still felt terrible, but she had learned her lesson. Looking back, Grandma thought her dad felt as bad as she did that he raised his voice. He never did it again. And Grandma learned some table manners.

More I learned about Tom McMahon…

1921

1921

According to Grandma, her dad was a true farmer. He loved everything about the process – preparing the soil, planting, growing crops, harvesting them, and sharing the fruits of his labor. Unfortunately, the 1910s and 1920s were tough on many farmers on the prairie of Western Minnesota. Tom tried to make a go of it several times. He sold the homestead and moved to rented land, farming until 1926 when he gave it up for the last time. The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis to begin life anew.

In the city, Tom worked at the pole yard, treating and preparing new telephone poles.  When he retired, a neighbor allowed Tom to use a nearby vacant lot for a garden. Tom returned to what he loved. He grew enough produce to trade with the local shop for groceries and feed his family and neighbors. He had never been happier.

Tom McMahon died on May 6, 1937. His wife, Mary, came home after a rare afternoon away from home to find him peacefully in his chair, rosary entwined in his fingers. A heart attack took him quickly.

Listening to Grandma’s memories of her loved ones brought them to life for me, and at the same time allowed me a glimpse at my grandma. I never had the privilege to meet my great-grandfather, but I feel like I know him. I was lucky to know my grandma. Now it’s my job to keep and share my grandma’s memories and her stories for the rest of the family. You just have to ask.

 

If you aren’t by nature as nosy as I am, these sites might help you think of what questions to ask…

 

 


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Riding the Rails

So pleased to welcome Ellie Kelly as a contributor to The Irish in America. Before we get to her delightful piece in which a subway ride in Toronto triggers memories of riding shot-gun with her dad on another subway, in Boston, Ellie takes a moment to introduce herself. I like what Ellie has to say about her Irish heritage and identity. It is not always about knowing the entire family tree by heart or singing sentimental Irish ballads. For many of us, being Irish American is just a way of life, growing up surrounded by “the lilting laughing Irish voices”. I look forward to learning more about Ellie and her thoughts on being Irish in America!

Meet Ellie

I am a first generation American. My mother, Joan Teahan, came to this country in November, 1947, with her sister, Maureen. Their first day in New York City included the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, which is described in Maureen’s blog, along with various other adventures they had with their sisters growing up. I truly enjoyed my Aunt Maureen’s blog over the years. My father’s parents also came from Ireland, so the lilting laughing Irish voices were such a part of my entire childhood. Funny how as I have moved all over the country, I often get homesick for that very sound.

Most people know I am Irish by looking at me, as I have the usual white skin, freckles and blond hair. I love my Irish heritage and yet I have not fully embraced it. I see myself as a proud American coming from immigrants seeking a better life. I am honored to have been asked to blog for the Irish in America, and yet I feel almost like a fraud in many ways. My siblings know so much more Irish history than I do, are so much more involved in everything Irish, while I am not. I feel I disappoint them at times when they mention names and dates that are meaningful to the Irish and I stare blankly. I cannot figure out who is related to who in my extended family as I moved away years ago and lost touch with so many. I am fully assimilated….and so in some ways I guess I maybe do represent some of the Irish in America. I plan to write from the heart about my life and times and hope that the stories reach people and touch a heart here and there.

I currently live in Fort Myers, Florida with my wife, Terri, and I am a few years from retirement and I travel from home to various locations weekly for work projects.

From 2011 riding the subway again after over 30 years away

So here I am working in Toronto 4 days a week and happy that spring is arriving. Instead of a daily drive commute from home, I now use airplanes, taxis and the subway to get to work. The subway is now a regular part of my life – and for so many years I have not been in a city with a subway. As a child being raised in Boston, Massachusetts, the world revolved around using the subway to get from point A to point B. I grew up riding the Boston subway – but not like most people rode it. No, I rode in the next best spot in the car – the driver had the best – but I stood right beside the driver 99% of the time I rode. How did I manage that? My dad was the driver. In fact, the Boston subway was a part of my family, with Poppa joining the Boston street car union in 1916. He was known as “Sandwich Kelly” as every day his wife would meet his street car at the end of their street and hand his lunch through the window to him. My father followed in his footsteps and then the Boston transit system went from a Sunday dinner discussion event at Nana’s house to a daily over dinner discussion at our own dinner table. My brother made it a multi-generational affair by also joining the “T”.

Countless times I would ride with my dad, simply for the pleasure of it. He would pick me up at the top of our street (back when the street cars ran instead of the buses) and I would travel one or more loops through town with him. He would always teach me something about the subway on our rides. It wasn’t until now that I realized how much I learned about the subway, and how much I loved those rides. Back then, I learned the signal-light patterns in the tunnels. I remember where the secret doors in the walls were. Heck, I even knew where every cross-track was, and could prepare myself for the accompanying sway, and was ready for the exact moment that the car wheels would begin screeching as it rounded that Boylston Street curve. Outside of the tunnels, back in the car barn, I learned how to reseat the wire on top of the car if it came off the line. How to open the closed car door from the outside. Once, I even drove a street car around the yard one time – that was a thrill! Most of all, I just loved riding those rails with him at my side. Many times as a child I also had the privilege of riding in the same spot with my Dad’s friends when I boarded the car by myself, something a child could safely do in the 60’s in Boston. I had extended “T” family all over the city.

Today, I found myself migrating to the front of the Toronto train, standing again at the front, looking out, right beside the driver’s booth. There was a familiarity about looking ahead into the dark, feeling the car grab as it crossed another line, adjusting to the sway, and watching those familiar (even though I was in a foreign city) gray walls with the power lines running along them. It was a warm, welcoming feeling. There are many things in life to be thankful to a parent for, and most people remember the bigger things in life when remembering their own father. I have those memories, too. But this small piece of comfort, when I am so far away from my own home, is what stands out for me today. My dad was not the person in the driver’s seat today – he was standing right beside me enjoying the ride……and I will be in that same spot tomorrow morning, too.

 

Thanks, Ellie! Couldn’t help but think of this song…


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Remembering Maureen

For nearly four years, Maureen shared her memories of growing up in Ireland with the readers of The Irish in America. When Maureen’s daughter, Mary, contacted me just before Thanksgiving 2012, I immediately fell in love with Maureen’s story and eagerly awaited each new, beautifully written vignette. Maureen’s life is one which people with Irish heritage can relate to, whether their mother came from Ireland or the connection goes back several generations.

Thank you to Mary and Will for being so generous with their mother’s words. They are treasures. The following is a lovely tribute to Maureen written by her son, Will Murray.

 

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

 

 

Maureen Murray, author of the popular “Maureen’s Memories” memoirs, passed away peacefully in her sleep on August 19, 2016. She departed this earth exactly the way she wished to, in the comfort of her own home, which she shared with her son and daughter.

Maureen was born Mary Angela Teahan on September 3, 1928 in Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. The oldest of four sisters and two brothers, she experienced a number of health issues growing up, These were so severe that her doctor told the family that she was unlikely to live long enough to bear children.

Despite this dire prediction, Maureen survived childhood, coming to the United States in November 1947 in time to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. She was accompanied by her younger sister Joan. Her other sisters followed in short order. All four were sponsored by their uncle, Daniel O’Meara.

Moving to Massachusetts, she worked in the mill town of Lawrence, and eventually met her future husband, Patrick M. Murray. They were wed in 1952. Three children resulted: William, Daniel and Mary Ellen.

Settling in Boston, Maureen lived in Brighton, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. The family later relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts.

Over her lifetime, Maureen accumulated numerous friends and was a comfort and wise counsel to family and acquaintances alike. She loved to read and read widely. Calls coming to her home meant for other family members were often intercepted, and Maureen always captivated the caller. She made friends with several celebrities this way, all of whom were charmed by her Irish lilt and caring personality.

She made friends easily. Once, while walking her dog, Maureen encountered a gentleman of her generation, also walking his dog. When she asked if the individual was retired, the man laughed and said, “From bank robbing.” Perhaps attracted by her Irish accent the “retired” robber from South Boston took a shine to her.

Once when he boasted of roughing up his then girlfriend, Maureen admonished him by saying, “If you ever do that again, I’ll break your arm!”

That was probably the only time the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger ever took such backtalk from anyone without reprisal. They remained friends for several years, discovering that they shared the same birthday, although the unlikely friends were born a year apart.

Maureen returned to Ireland only once, in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the planned two-week stay was cut short when the smoky environment created by peat fires triggered an asthma attack, forcing Maureen to fly home on an emergency basis, and was briefly hospitalized. She brought home with her an old cast-iron cooking pot salvaged from the family homestead, a rusting relic of her rustic youth.

Although Maureen experienced health struggles throughout her life, she remained determined and optimistic. She rarely complained when the loss of her mobility put her in a wheelchair in 2009. Unfortunately, on going vision problems gradually diminished her sight, robbing Maureen of her main pleasure in life, which was reading.

The loss of her vision in March, 2015 proved to be a turning point and subsequent operations tested her optimism. But she remained outwardly positive, and if she ever complained, no one seems to recall it. She remained strong, determined and clear of mind to the very end. Maureen died just two weeks before she would have celebrated her 88th birthday on September 3, a testimony to her indomitable Irish-America spirit.

It was during this period of diminishing vision that Maureen decided to originate the “Maureen’s Memories” series. These were dictated to her daughter and edited by her son. But the words were all hers. Her final installment was posted a week before she expired.

Maureen is survived by a son, William, her daughter, Mary Ellen, and two brothers, Donal of Ireland and John of London. Sadly, yet ironically, she outlived almost all of her generation of friends and relatives who looked to her for inspiration over the course of a very long life.

 

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Thanks again to Mary and Will for bringing us Maureen’s Memories and always know if you want to share more of Maureen’s stories – or your own – they are most welcome at The Irish in America.  

To read all “Maureen’s Memories” click the links below:

A few more posts about Maureen…


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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)