The Irish in America


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DAY 30: Jimmy and Helen

Helen and Jimmy McCormack

Helen and Jimmy McCormack

Can’t believe the month is already over. And here I sit with a list a mile long of things I love about Ireland! What to pick for my last favorite thing…

The entire Irish branch of the McCormack family tree is the best, and their warmth, humor, and hospitality make our visits to Ireland fantastic. But Jimmy and Helen are the ones who are usually stuck with the Yanks when we visit. They live on the farm in Ballyedmond, County Laois where my great-grandfather was born, so I suppose it is the natural place for us to end up.

I could go on forever about Helen’s magnificent cooking and entertaining panache or Jimmy’s GSOH (Good Sense Of Humor for those of you who don’t read the personal ads in the Farmer’s Journal on Thursdays) but what makes them so special is their generosity. Whenever we visit, they invite us into their lives and make us feel welcome.

A couple of years ago, Jimmy and Helen even came to our rescue. There was a problem with the self-catering accommodation my mom, dad, sister, and I had booked for our two weeks in Ireland. (We will save that story for another time, this is about my favorite things in Ireland, after all.) Jimmy and Helen found us a place to stay…

Lisheen Castle, Ballingarry, County Tipperary

Lisheen Castle, County Tipperary

Yes, we actually stayed in this castle. Our vacation went from disappointing to a fairytale in less than a day, thanks to Jimmy and Helen. It was a memorable couple of weeks.

An afternoon at Birr Castle

An afternoon at Birr Castle

But even more memorable than a castle are the evenings spent at the farm in Ballyedmond, after a day of site-seeing and a glorious dinner by Helen, relaxing while Jenny or Sarah do their homework, deciding whether we will go to the pub. That is a tough decision, sometimes it even requires a vote by secret ballot. The pub usually wins.

I am so fortunate to have family in Ireland like Jimmy and Helen, and all the McCormacks. Luckier still that they are my friends. Now, if I could only get them to come visit us in the States!

Thanks for following my month of Irish favorites…hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have!

Photos by Regan McCormack

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DAY 29: Michael Quirke

It’s been too many years since I’ve made it up to Sligo for a visit with my favorite butcher-turned-woodcarver, Michael Quirke. I have a couple of Michael Quirke’s gorgeous sculptures at home, so I am reminded of him so daily but I miss seeing him in his workshop and listening to him talk. When Michael Quirke describes his pieces and sets them within the mythology of Ireland, it is pure magic. I am transported to my childhood, when I considered folk tales to be true stories. The days before I got so “smart” and realized no one lived for thousands of years and no one could ever turn me into a swan.

MichaelQuirke_sculpturesRegan and I each have a couple Quirke creations. Pictured on the right are Amhairghin (mine) and Queen Maeve (Regan’s). I love it when you walk in to the shop, inevitably just as someone else walks out, and Mr. Quirke looks up and welcomes you. He might look a bit tired, but one comment on a sculpture in the window is all it takes. He was just catching his breath. With a twinkle in his eye, he launches into a wonderful story. And when you decide on a purchase, you get to hear the story all over again – always with a new details and instructions for care – when he pulls out a piece of paper and a pencil and writes it all down for you.

Regan and I visited Mr. Quirke for the first time in 1995 on instructions from our Aunt Eeny to buy a sculpture for her to add to her collection. She had visited him several years earlier. I don’t remember at the moment which one we picked out for Eeny, but Mr. Quirke told us the story, then told us again as he wrote it out, wrapped the treasure in brown paper, and tied it with twine.

Then he asked us for our favorite animals, scrounged up a couple of scraps of wood, and carved the images of our favorites on one side, with our name on the reverse. Of course, more stories about our animals followed. I treasure this little square as much as the larger-scale sculptures. Visiting Sligo is a priority for my next visit to Ireland, and I can’t wait to take the journey through Irish folklore with Michael Quirke.

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DAY 28: Cobh

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I love Cobh. I wrote about the harbor town  in County Cork here. Cobh was the last of Ireland seen by millions of Irish leaving home for new lives in North America. For this reason, it was called the saddest town in Ireland.

068_CobhHeritageCentreToday Cobh’s streets are lined with brightly painted buildings and luxury cruise ships dock in the harbor. Housed in the Victorian train depot is the Cobh Heritage Centre which tells the story of the harbor and the people who left Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

As a visitor from America, the exhibit is a powerful reminder of the hardships endured by my ancestors, especially those who left Ireland in the years surrounding the Great Famine. I suspect it is as moving for Irish visitors, as they consider their country’s history, as well as their own personal connections to those who left.

For many Irish Americans, there is no old homestead to return to in Ireland, no family to invite them “home” for a gathering. Too many years have passed, and those who emigrated were forgotten generations ago. But this doesn’t stop us from visiting Ireland and searching for our Irish roots. In keeping the emigrant story alive, Cobh celebrates the connection between Ireland and America.

Cobh will always be there to welcome us back, and that is why it is a special place for me.

Photos by Regan McCormack

Photos by Regan McCormack


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DAY 27: I LOVE MAYO

I saw this beautiful print on a website a couple of years ago and fell in love with I Love Mayo – the company owned by talented artist Jane Steger-Lewis. Jane is based in the west of Ireland, on County Mayo’s Achill Island.

irelandmapImage from www.ILoveMayo.com – click to visit the website!

I sent out I Love Mayo Christmas cards in 2011. I have never received more compliments on a Christmas card. Click here to see the whimsical and very special cards. I am a huge fan of her “Irish Blessing” series of prints – they are a beautiful and super versatile for gift-giving. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, retirements…you name it. Click here to see the full selection prints. Someday I hope to own a Jane Steger-Lewis original painting…I have my eye on BeakyDozy, or LaToya! I’m not posting pictures of these items here on purpose – I want you to go straight to Jane’s website and see all of her gorgeous work.

Jane is as delightful as her artwork. She is truly a pleasure to do business with. I think everyone should have a little piece of Ireland in their home, and ILoveMayo.com makes this possible. Thanks, Jane, for making my world a bit brighter!


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DAY 26: Johnstown, County Kildare

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Photo by Regan McCormack

There are other Johnstowns in Ireland, but I am talking about Johnstown in County Kildare. I would love this village even if I had no connection to it. The picturesque ruins of the medieval St. John’s Church (above) are one reason the village is so appealing.

Annie Hill

Annie Hill

Another reason is the village’s sense of history. Several years ago I met Brian McCabe – Johnstown’s local historian – when I was researching my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan. Annie was born near Johnstown, and her sister lived in the village. When we visited in 2009,  Brian was a wonderful guide, telling us what Johnstown would have been like in the late nineteenth century when Annie knew it, before she left for America.

Brian shared the rich history of Johnstown. Since  the village is just 25 miles from Dublin, it is popular with people who commute to work in the city, with several large housing estates and new construction. But Brian is very knowledgeable about Johnstown’s past and place in history. He told us all about Palmerstown House and the Earls of Mayo. And of course, he covered the 6th Earl of Mayo who died in India in 1872 and is buried in the churchyard. He is known as the “Pickled Earl” since his body was preserved in a vat of rum on the long journey back to Ireland following his assassination.

Monument to the 6th Earl of Mayo

Monument to the 6th Earl of Mayo (photo by Regan McCormack)

Johnstown is a lovely, peaceful village in the midst of motorways and urban sprawl. The community values its history, and it shows with the beautifully maintained public areas and the handy signs marking buildings of interest. I am always impressed when people are truly dedicated to preserving their history, and when it happens to be a bit of my personal history, all the better!

Annie's sister Katie + family in Johnstown

Annie’s sister Katie + family in Johnstown


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DAY 25: Ardmore Pottery & Gallery

View from Ardmore Pottery

View from Ardmore Pottery

I love Ardmore Pottery & Gallery. It’s a pottery studio and stylish craft shop rolled into one. From www.ArdmorePottery.com:

Mary Lincoln established Ardmore Pottery and Gallery in 1983 out of her home in Ardmore, Co. Waterford. The premises, having expanded over the years, has maintained its original location. Ardmore Pottery and Gallery is proud to have sustained its founding ethos: to house under one roof the best of Irish craftwork alongside a working pottery studio.

ardmorepotteryThe pottery is gorgeous. Regan and I picked up a sweet milk jug for our mom last September when we visited, and I bought an adorable cream and sugar set – one polka dots, the other stripes – for Regan’s birthday. Someday I am going to get an entire set of Ardmore pottery dishes.

Ardmore Pottery has a great selection of unique Irish crafts. This is the kind of shop where you feel like each item was hand-picked just for you, which means I usually want one of everything!

Regan snapped the photo on the right of some of her favorite Ardmore Pottery items. Her photo-styling skills may need a little work, but she has good taste. The leather bag is beautiful!

Next time you are in Ireland’s “Sunny Southeast” be sure to visit lovely Ardmore and the exquisite Ardmore Pottery & Gallery!

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DAY 24: W.B. Yeats

Think I am running out of favorite things? Not a chance! I have saved the best for the last seven days.

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William Butler Yeats has been my favorite Irish poet for a long time. I guess I am not very original in my love for Yeats, but I don’t care. It just does not get any better.

In college I had to memorize and recite a poem in a literature course. This assignment mortified me, but I chose this poem, and everything was fine.

For Anne Gregory

by William Butler Yeats

“Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.”

“But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.”

“I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.”

Yeats' Grave at Drumcliff churchyard, Sligo

Yeats’ Grave at Drumcliff churchyard, Sligo