The Irish in America


Day 30: Favorites of Irish America

Unidentified woman IIINo idea what to choose for my final Favorite of Irish America. Let’s see…I have selected sports figures, entertainers, writers, Presidents, Grandmas, one or two people who might roll over in their graves at being referred to as Irish American, my dad, a couple of nieces, a dinner, a cake, and even a wedding dress.

I think the best things about Irish America are, naturally, Irish Americans. Whether your ancestors were early colonial settlers or you are becoming a new U.S. citizen this year on the Fourth of July – and everything in between – I love the stories of how Irish immigrants become Americans. And what is even more fascinating is how the descendents of those immigrants become Irish Americans. It gets complicated.

Take this quote from Tom Hayden, an activist and politician:

“I was raised in an Irish American home in Detroit where assimilation was the uppermost priority. The price of assimilation and respectability was amnesia. Although my great-grandparents were victims of the Great Hunger of the 1840s, even though I was named Thomas Emmet Hayden IV after the radical Irish Nationalist exile Thomas Emmet, my inheritance was to be disinherited. My parents knew nothing of this past, or nothing worth passing on.”

What does it mean to identify oneself as Irish American? Why is it so important for us to remember what was forgotten by our ancestors? I guess it’s what genealogy and family history research is all about. I would love to hear what you have to say on the subject. Please leave a comment with your thoughts…

That’s it for my June Favorites of Irish America. Thanks to all the folks who have followed along, left comments, “liked” posts, and became subscribers to the blog! We will have much more on the Irish in America!


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Day 29 of Irish American Favorites: Sisters

There are so many photos in our family’s collection that I absolutely love. Here is another one of my favorites. This is three of four of the McMahon girls (from left to right) Margaret, Rose, and Agnes. Agnes was my grandma. This photo is taken in Minneapolis in the late 1930s. The sisters were second-generation Irish American. Looks like they were having a ball, huh?

Grandma and her sisters


Day 28 of Irish American Favorites: John McEnroe

Mac2With all the upsets at Wimbledon this week, I was reminded of my tennis years. In the early 1980s, I was obsessed with professional tennis. I wanted to be Chrissie Evert and was off to a promising start, winning second place among the Minneapolis Park Board eight-year-olds. I subscribed to Tennis magazine and got up early to watch all the overseas Grand Slam tournaments and always looked forward to the end of summer for the U.S. Open.

On the men’s side, I admit that I loved watching John McEnroe. His matches were always entertaining. Tennis is a dramatic sport, full of ups and downs, and quick shifts in fortune, and when you figured in McEnroe’s outbursts of completely losing his temper, then you have the perfect spectator event! McEnroe behaved just like I wanted to at times, but would never dare. I would have loved to say to my teachers, “Are you kidding me? That answer was RIGHT!”

Mac_BorgJohn Patrick McEnroe, Jr. was born February 16, 1959. His Irish heritage came from his father, John Patrick, Sr. He grew up in Queens where he started playing tennis at age eight. McEnroe was the number one ranked tennis player in the world fourteen times. In singles, he won 3 Wimbledon titles and 4 U.S. Open. His matches against Bjorn Borg were some of my favorites.

McEnroe is a fantastic doubles player and is referred to as the best doubles player, ever, by both opponents and partners. Someone also said of McEnroe that he is the best team player to not play a team sport. I contend that his outbursts on the court and bad behavior over the years simply came from his fiercely competitive nature.

I wish McEnroe’s serve-and-volley brand of tennis would come back in fashion. Although, I am not sure I can say the same  for his short-shorts and hairdo.


And by the way, that second place finish was the highlight of my tennis career. Sadly, I was not the second coming of Chrissie Evert.


Day 27 of Irish American Favorites: Lou Bader

Today is the first anniversary of Lou Bader’s death. Lou was my dad’s good friend, a proud Irish American, and an all-around great guy. Here’s a post I wrote last year after Regan and I visited the birthplace of Lou’s maternal grandfather near Dungarvan, County Waterford. Lou definitely made an impression on his Irish relatives, and he loved his frequent trips to visit them in Ireland. Lou is dearly missed – on both sides of the Atlantic.

A Candle for Louie

Waterford's Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Waterford’s Gold Coast

Regan and I looked forward to our visit to County Waterford last September. On previous trips to Ireland we had visited Lismore and Ardmore in Waterford, but didn’t tour the rest of the county. Our real introduction to Waterford came during the past year, through the entertaining tweets from Dungarvan’s Waterford County Museum. The museum shares beautiful photographs and historical items from their collection on Twitter. Regan and I were eager to see Dungarvan and the museum in person, as well as explore more of County Waterford.

But when we arrived in Dungarvan, the sightseeing would have to wait. Regan and I had to attend to some business.

Our dad’s good friend Lou Bader passed away on June 27, 2012. Louie and Dad played a lot of golf together, which probably says it all about their relationship. Louie shared my dad’s competitive streak and sense of humor, as well as his love for a few hours spent on the golf course. But there was something else the two men shared.

About fifteen years ago, my dad began to explore his family history. He traced his roots back to Ballyedmond, County Laois, and found cousins living on the farm his grandfather left in the late 1880s. Louie had also been researching his family tree and had learned about his Irish grandfather through his mother’s stories.

Dungarvan (2)

Street in Dungarvan

I wish I could say that Louie and my dad discovered they shared a grandfather –  that would make a great story! No, Louie and my dad only shared similar questions about their  family history and the wish to find out where they came from. Both men  researched their family trees, traveled to their grandfathers’ birthplaces in Ireland, and made lasting connections with their Irish cousins. Several trips followed for Louie, my dad, and their families.

In light of our autumn trip to Ireland, Dad asked Regan and me to do him a favor and deliver Louie’s memorial card to his cousin in Dungarvan. This was an “old-school” request and my dad’s directions (“Stop in at the cleaners in town and ask for Anne-Marie”) only added to the feeling that we were characters in a Victorian novel. But of course, anything for Louie. He was a good man and a great friend to my dad.

Louie’s maternal grandfather, Matthew O’Rourke, was born in 1869, the youngest son of Patrick and Margaret. The O’Rourke family lived in the townland of Carrigcastle, near the village of Ballylaneen, about five miles from Dungarvan, County Waterford. In her delightful memoir, Love and Oatmeal (2006), Louie’s mother, Madeline O’Rourke Bader, lovingly recounts when she would ask her father why he left Ireland and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. A smile came over his face when he told her his sister-in-law encouraged him to go to America. Madeline writes in the memoir:

The way he smiled when he said that, though, always made me think there was something more to the story. A few years ago when I visited Ireland for the first time and saw how beautiful the land he left behind is, I understood a little better that his smile must have covered up a lot of pain and longing. (Love and Oatmeal, p.4)

Anne-Marie wasn’t in at the cleaners, but Mary told us how sad they all were when they heard of Louie’s passing this summer. She said how much they enjoyed his frequent telephone calls (just to check in with his Irish cousins), as well as his visits to Dungarvan. In a few short years Louie had made an impact on his Irish relatives. They really missed him.

Regan and I decided we needed to do something special for Louie, so we found the little church in Ballylaneen where his grandfather was baptized, lit a candle and said a prayer. We thought of Louie and all the O’Rourkes – the ones who stayed in Ireland, those who emigrated, and the few who’ve made it back for a visit.

St. Anne's Church - Ballylaneen, Waterford

St. Anne’s Church, Ballylaneen

For more information about Dungarvan and Waterford County history, please visit Waterford County Museum. Click here to read about the new Dungarvan guide book.


Day 26 of Irish American Favorites: Derek Jeter

JeterNothing can change my mind faster about a celebrity than the 60 Minutes (weekly television news magazine) profile. Whenever an actor or sports figure is too popular, when everyone is talking about them, I want nothing to do with them. This was the case with Derek Jeter – today’s Irish American favorite.

Derek Jeter is the shortstop for the New York Yankees. Before I saw the legendary Ed Bradley’s 60 Minutes profile in 2006, I never paid much attention to Derek Jeter, beyond annoyance that his team always beat my team, the Minnesota Twins.

Very early in Bradley’s  piece, Jeter described his first season in the minor league when he committed 52 errors. He said he would think to himself, “Maybe they won’t hit it to me again.” But of course, the very next ball was hit to him. He played shortstop; he was going to see a lot of balls. This comment immediately endeared Jeter to me.

Bradley introduced Jeter’s parents. His Irish roots come from his mother, Dorothy, who had high standards for Derek, insisting he never use the word can’t. His parents required him to sign a contract each year, outlining what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior.


Clearly, his parents gave him the foundation necessary to become a successful man and a great ballplayer.  I learned all about his work ethic, dedication, and focus, attributes which make Derek Jeter one of the best baseball players in the game. He is a true professional and a great teammate.

Derek Jeter is the real deal. Many people knew that long before I jumped on the bandwagon, but I just needed 60 Minutes to open my eyes.

Today is Derek Jeter’s birthday – Happy Birthday and I hope you are back on the diamond soon!


Day 25 of Irish American Favorites: Our Presidents


The American Presidents (just add Barack Obama)

Did you know that 22 of the 43 American Presidents could claim some Irish heritage? And nine of the last ten Commanders-In-Chief have been Irish American? Lyndon Johnson was the spoiler there. Of course, President Kennedy is the only Irish Catholic President, ever. Click here to see the full list of our Irish American Presidents.

JamesKPolkI have always been partial to our 11th president, James K. Polk (1844-1849). In the fifth grade I did an oral report on him. His Irish roots were on his father’s side. Two more things I remember about President Polk: he established the Smithsonian Museum and he issued the first postal stamp. Look at what he had to say about Congress back in 1847:

“There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of, before I became President of the U.S.”

Funny, isn’t it, how little things change?

As an Irish American, I am proud of all our American Presidents with Irish heritage, aren’t you?

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Day 24 of Irish American Favorites: Vince Flynn

vinnieThis morning, at the Cathedral of Saint Paul just up the street, is the funeral of Irish American writer Vince Flynn. I’ve purchased many of Flynn’s political thrillers over the years, but never read one. Since the late 1990s, Vince Flynn provided me with a “sure thing” when it came to buying gifts for my dad. Dad would always offer the book to me when he was finished. I declined every time – not a big fan of thrillers.

My dad knew “Vinnie” since the mid-1980s. Dad was an assistant football coach at the College of Saint Thomas when Vinnie was on the team.  Since I didn’t really like football, anytime I went to the games, I found other ways to pass the time. One way was to look at the game program. As I perused throster,  I paid special attention to the players with Irish last names. And there certainly were lots of them!

At one time, I could have told you what number any given player wore during the period my dad coached at St. Thomas, but that was a long time ago. Vinnie could have been #89…not sure.

So many people I know love Flynn’s books. They rave about his story-telling and great characters. Even my mom, whose literary preferences lean heavily toward Jane Austen, jumped on the Vince Flynn bandwagon. I guess it is about time I see what all the fuss is about this Mitch Rapp…

Click here to read more about Vince Flynn’s life and career.

When I hear the Cathedral bells ring later this morning, I will think of the Flynn family. The world may have lost a great writer and the Irish American community is less one proud member, but his family lost a beloved son, brother, uncle, husband, and father.

Rest in peace, Vinnie.



Day 23 of Irish American Favorites: Caroline’s Wedding Dress


Caroline Kennedy wore the most beautiful dress on July 19, 1986 when she married Ed Schlossberg at Hyannis Pork, Massachusetts. I was  never the kind of girl who cared much about weddings or wedding dresses, but when I was fourteen-years-old I fell in love Caroline’s dress. Just gorgeous. You can see the embroidered shamrocks covering the bodice in the photo above.


I am following Caroline Kennedy as she travels in Ireland with her family to commemorate her father’s 1963 Irish visit. Caroline is so eloquent, polished, and classy.


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Day 22 of Irish American Favorites: Ainsley



It’s time for me to gush over my other favorite Irish American niece, Ainsley Marie McCormack. I told you about Ainsley’s older sister, Maryn, on her birthday earlier this month – click here to read the post. You and Ainsley will get along just fine if you understand a couple of things: yellow is her favorite color and she is always Belle when you play Princess.



When she was a baby, Ainsley liked to build towers of blocks and knock them down. Now, at nearly five, Ainsley LOVES crafts. Pretty much anything that involves coloring, cutting, and taping paper is big in Ainsley’s book. Flowers and kites are her favorite things to create right now. Ainsley has an awesome imagination and she uses it when she tells you one of her stories. Mom and Dad might need to watch out for this talent in years to come!



It is so cool to see Ainsley grow up, and because Maryn is just fifteen months older than she, it seems to be happening quickly as she tries to keep up with her big sister. The way her mind works is fascinating to me. She explores complex themes, such as crime and punishment (“Will I go to jail if I…?) and scientific processes (“You see, metamorphosis is when things change…) Ainsley loves dancing, hopping, running, and showing me how strong she is when we go to the gym. She loves to swing high on the swing-set, and says she will go sky-diving and on hot-air balloon rides with me when she is old enough, “But,” she told me, “we will have to get outfits first.” Looking good is always a priority for Ainsley – she is very stylish.

2012 Dance Recital with Maryn

2012 Dance Recital with Maryn

My favorite Ainsley quote? Once I picked up a hairbrush and told her I would fix her hair. Ainsley stared at me, slowly blinked her big blue eyes, and said, “This hair doesn’t get brushed,” as she shook her red curls back from her face. Well, well, well…

Ainsley (and her hair) baking with Maryn at my house

Ainsley (and her hair) baking with Maryn at my house

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Day 21 of Irish American Favorites: Flannery O’Connor

“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

Flannery O’Connor

FlanneryO'ConnorFlannery O’Connor is my favorite American writer, and lucky for my list, she was Irish American! Born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, Mary Flannery O’Connor dropped the “Mary” when she decided to be a writer. She said her name sounded like that of an Irish washerwoman. She wasn’t denying her Irish heritage completely, though. A name like Flannery O’Connor couldn’t be mistaken for anything but Irish.

Mark from the Andalusia Foundation, Inc. (Andalusia was O’Connor’s ancestral home to which she returned and lived from 1951 to her death in 1964) describes O’Connor and her Irish roots in a great blog post – click here. O’Connor’s Irish roots were on both her paternal and maternal sides, and the name Flannery came from neither. It was the name of a cousin’s hued Confederate Army officer, John Flannery.

“If you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you.”

O’Connor’s short stories are the best I’ve ever read. She draws us into an often unfamiliar and violent world inhabited by peculiar, wonderful, and humorous characters as O’Connor explores the complexities of human nature. I just love those characters. O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus and given five years to live in 1951. She wrote over two dozen short stories, two novels, and many essays and died in 1964, nearly fourteen years later.

“In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”

I have learned a great deal from reading Flannery O’Connor, and that’s why she is one of my favorites of Irish America!

Happy Summer Folks!