“You know, Jim, my brother Paddy met you before. It was in the early Seventies at Nellie Marrin’s home in Minneapolis,” Michael Kelly told my dad one afternoon last month shortly after we arrived in Ireland.
“I don’t think so…he must have me confused with someone else…I really don’t remember that at all,” my dad replied shaking his head.
Regardless of whether Paddy met my dad, I was curious how Paddy Kelly found himself at my grand-aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin’s house in South Minneapolis. I had heard my dad mention the Kelly name when he referenced his genealogy work in recent years, but this was the first time I had met a Kelly.
Paddy and Michael’s mother, Katie Loughman Kelly, was a first cousin of my grandfather Bill McCormack and his sister Nellie McCormack Marrin. This makes my dad, Paddy and Michael second cousins.
Michael shared a number of entertaining stories with us that afternoon. Over the years, he collected stories from his mother Katie, and passed her memories on to us with keen understanding and insight.
Katie considered her American cousins Nellie and Bill “kindred spirits” and enjoyed a life-long correspondence with Nellie. Katie never met Nellie in person, but Bill visited Ireland in 1934-35 and the two of them became good friends.
Michael invited us to dinner the following Sunday. We had a great time at their lovely home. Michael’s wife Moira is known for her culinary and hosting skills and the entire Kelly family was delightful.
Paddy Kelly stopped by and after introductions were made, Michael mentioned to Paddy that my dad didn’t remember meeting him. Paddy stood his ground – indeed they had met – and he went on to tell us how Nellie sat in her rocking chair, closed her eyes and recounted the name of every family on the road from Ballyedmond (County Laois, where her father’s home) to Rathdowney. This was truly a stroll down her father’s memory lane – the families Nellie listed were her father Andy McCormack’s neighbors before leaving for America. Nellie must have heard her father’s litany often enough for her to commit it to her own memory.
Paddy turned to my sister, mom, and me and said that he also met the three of us that day at Nellie’s.
Paddy let us stew a few minutes before pulling out a photograph taken at Nellie Marrin’s in 1972:
Jim, Eileen, Regan, and Aine McCormack - 1972
Sure enough…the four of us posed for a photograph for an Irish cousin (I am the camera-shy one on the right!) We had all met a Kelly before.
I don’t blame my dad for not remembering. After all he was twenty-seven-years-old, busy with his young family and his life.
So often people lament not talking to older relatives about family history or not asking more questions when they were young and there were people still around who could answer them. I say don’t be so hard on yourselves! As young people, most of us don’t care that much about what old people have to say, and sometimes the old people don’t want to talk anyway.
The photograph Paddy produced reminded me of the dozens of old, unidentified photos in my family collection. I think I will begin labelling them all as “cousins” of whichever relative they most closely resemble!
Next time I will take a look at the other side of the family history obstacle – when no one wants to talk about it. When we were in Ireland I finally learned a few things about my grandfather.