The Irish in America


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!


Day 20 of Irish American Favorites: Ma’s Spice Cake

I don't claim to be a food stylist!

I don’t claim to be a food stylist!

It may not look like much, but boy, nothing beats Ma’s Spice Cake. It was one of the few recipes in my grandma’s book attributed to a specific individual. “Ma” was my great-grandmother Mary “Minnie” Foley McMahon, first generation Irish American. If you follow the blog, you have met her before – click here to learn more about Minnie.

One bite of this cake and I become a time traveler. I imagine myself in Minnie’s kitchen about 100 years ago, sitting at the big farmhouse table enjoying a a piece of her spice cake warm from the oven. The combination of cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice taste like the “old days” to me. The cake is dense and moist, made with molasses and buttermilk. It is chock-full of nuts and raisins (Grandma said Minnie sometimes included or substituted dates) and finished simply with a sprinkle of sugar, Ma’s Spice Cake is perfect for dessert or with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon. It is delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whip cream, or if you are my grandma, a spoonful of Cool-Whip.

Over the years, my mom and I struggled to recreate several of my grandma’s recipes. Don’t get me started on the “soft ball” stage! There are a few items that just never quite turn out. When Grandma was still with us, we were forever trying to get her to get her recipes down on paper. She was vague about measurements, temperatures, and times. “Add enough milk until you can handle the dough” and “Cool until you can bear your hands on the pan” and “Bake until golden” are typical instructions from Grandma. We wanted so much to learn her secrets and bake just like her.

The funny thing is, I bet my grandma did the same thing with her mom. The recipe for Ma’s Spice Cake is written in my grandma younger hand and is so precise. I can hear her asking Minnie, “But how much ginger, Ma? A teaspoon? More? Less?” I am sure Grandma faced the same challenges as my mom and I did in trying to get accurate recipes in order to make beloved items on her own.

Minnie and her children, 1915

Minnie and her children, 1915

Ma’s Spice Cake is one of my favorite recipes from of my Irish American family. It’s amazing to think about all of my relatives who have loved it as much as I do. Click here for pdf of Ma’s Spice Cake.

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Day 18 of Irish American Favorites: Photo

I love this photo of three young Irish American men, taken in the early 1940s. From left to right: my grandpa Bill McCormack, his brother-in-law Jimmy Flannery, and his brother Jim McCormack.

Out on the porch, shooting the breeze, having a smoke and a laugh. It reminds me of summertime…

Bill McCormack, Jim Flannery, Jim McCormack


Day 17 of Irish American Favorites: Vince Vaughn

I’ve been struggling to choose a favorite Irish American actor. It’s difficult to settle on just one. There are classic movie stars like Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck. Then there is the “newcomer” Bradley Cooper, who has been rather vocal about his heritage, mentioning his Irish American father in more than one recent interview. And, of course, George Clooney would be an obvious choice – I have loved him since his stint on The Facts of Life in the 1980s.

VinceVaughnThe other day I saw this blog post from the always-lovely Emeralds, and I began to think a little outside the box. She told us about Irish American actor Vince Vaughn’s project, The Art of Conflict, a documentary exploring the political murals of Northern Ireland. The documentary is a Vaughn family affair: Vince produces and narrates the film and his sister, Valeri, directs.

After reading a few articles about the documentary and an interview with Vince and Valeri, I began to appreciate Vince Vaughn in a new way. Sure, I loved him in the 1996 film Swingers, and I laughed my way through many of his other efforts (including Old School, Wedding Crashers, and Anchorman), but I never considered Vince Vaughn one of my favorite actors. The way he explained his interest in the murals and the artists who create them makes me think Vince is right up there with my favorite Irish Americans in Hollywood.

What’s cool is that when Vince visited Ireland, just like thousands of other Irish Americans do every year, he came away with an appreciation of the entire island, with its complexities and contradictions. I think few tourists do that. He  was struck by the gorgeous countryside and the friendly people, but became fascinated by what he saw in the art and the murals of Northern Ireland. Vince was intrigued and wanted to learn more about the people, the conflict, and the art.

It is always refreshing to see a Hollywood figure pursue something he or she is interested in, not for the fame or the attention. I am reminded of the hub-bub about Tom Cruise’s Irish ancestry several months ago. I know I need to let that one go, but there are so many other people in the entertainment business over here who feel a strong connection to their Irish roots in an authentic way. Like Vince Vaughn.

The Art of Conflict is available exclusively on Netflix. Here’s a clip:


Day 16 of Irish American Favorites: My Dad


Dad with his first born, Regan, in December 1971.

Dad with his first-born, Regan, in December 1971.

Aine was next - photo taken in November 1972.

Aine was next – photo taken in November 1972.

And Matt arrived in 1978.

And Matt arrived in 1978.

Thanks, Dad, for always making sure we were aware of our heritage and teaching us to be proud Irish Americans. I am very lucky to have a great Dad like you! Have a fabulous day!

Wishing all dads a very happy day!