The Irish in America


1 Comment

Day 15 of Irish American Favorites: “Dapper” Dan Hogan

Can you guess what Mr. Hogan’s occupation was? If the name doesn’t give it away, I bet his picture will:

DapperDannyHogan

Yeah, you guessed it. Dapper Dan was a gangster. But not just any gangster, the “Irish Godfather” of Saint Paul, Minnesota. I am in no way condoning organized crime, and it’s not like I really have a “favorite” figure of the underworld, but I think it is important to show how Irish Americans have had influence in just about every facet of life in the United States.

Dapper Dan came to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1908 and quickly connected himself to the corrupt police department and political machine. He was a major player and was both “feared and protected” by the police. Wikipedia explains how it all worked:

Known as the “Smiling Peacemaker” to local police officials, Police Chief John “The Big Fellow” O’Connor of Saint Paul allowed criminals and fugitives to operate in the city as long as they checked in with police, paid a small bribe and promised not to kill, kidnap, or rob within city limits.

The Justice Department called Dapper Dan “one of the most resourceful and keenest criminals” in the country. Armed robberies, money laundering, bootlegging, illegal gambling, and murder were some of Dapper Dan’s interests. He also owned the Green Lantern saloon on Wabasha Street in downtown Saint Paul – a saloon, casino, speakeasy during Prohibition, and more.

On December 4, 1928, Dapper Dan was the victim of a car bomb. The Streets of Saint Paul describes his lavish funeral:

The respect that Dan was shown in life was even shown during his death. It was reported that over twenty five hundred people came, along with two hundred automobiles to mourn Hogan. There were over five thousand dollars worth of flowers from Underworld bosses in New York, Chicago, and the Twin Cities adorned his casket at his funeral. A six foot high wreath was placed near the casket, with a large ribbon with the words “Our Danny” stretching across it. A who’s who of both the city official and crime world attended the funeral, with former middle-weight champion Mike O’Dowd being one of the pall bearers. Even the underworld was taken aback by his death and went dark for a short time as a tribute to Hogan. “Somehow, one would rather be in Mr. Hogan’s place than that of his murderers” preached Father Nicholas J Finn at the funeral.

This was a fascinating period in American history, and one in which Irish Americans played a role. Not one most people would be proud of, but history is not always pretty.

Next time I visit some of our family graves at Calvary Cemetery, I might have to look for Dapper Dan’s final resting place. His headstone might be tough to miss.


1 Comment

Day 14: Neil Regan

“You know, they string up the flags just for me!”

Neil circa 1890

Neil circa 1890

That’s what my great-grandfather Neil Regan used to say on Flag Day, June 14th. Cornelius “Neil” Regan was born on June 14, 1873 in Fisherville, New Hampshire, the oldest child of John and Mary (Quinn) Regan. He lived much of his life in the Clontarf area, arriving in Tara Township with his parents and siblings in 1879. After years on the farm, he moved into Clontarf in 1921 where he lived for over twenty years before moving to Minneapolis in the early 1940s to live with his son John – my grandpa. There he would stay until he passed away in 1951.

My mom, Eileen, remembers a dapper grandfather, dressed in a three-piece-suit every day and smelling of Listerine – Neil used Listerine to soothe pinching from too-tight nose pads on his glasses. Grandpa Neil read books to my mom. Her favorites were the Little Lulu comic books. Neil would say he had a genius on his hands when Eileen would take her turn and “read” these books to him. This was before she even started kindergarten. Of course, she wasn’t actually reading the books, she just memorized them!

Mom said Neil was a quiet man, very mild-mannered. Most days, weather permitting, Neil would take the streetcar downtown to play cards in the park with the other old guys. Neil was also devout. His nephew Gerald Regan recalls seeing Neil, kneeling next to a chair on the back porch early in the morning saying his rosary. He continued this practice his entire life. Mom recalled waiting for Neil to come out of his room in the morning while he finished up his prayers.

Gerald also remembers when my grandpa John would ask for money when he was young, Neil would get up, walk away, and pull out his wallet, inspecting its contents carefully before selecting the bills and handing them to John. Gerald always thought this a bit odd, but Neil was a very deliberate man, so he didn’t think too much about it. Only later did Gerald realize that Neil was not being circumspect at all, but rather the cataracts on his eyes made it impossible for him to see the bills in his wallet unless he had the light from the window.

Neil with his wife Annie and her nieces

Neil with his wife Annie and her nieces

Shortly after Neil moved to Minneapolis he had the cataracts removed at the University of Minnesota. My grandma remembered how Neil exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! I can see!” Apparently all those early morning rosaries paid off!

When Neil passed away on June 30, 1951, his wake was held at home. This was the only wake my mom ever remembered being in a home – by the 1950s the convention was to hold wakes at the funeral home. The front bedroom was cleared of furniture to make room for his casket and after waking for two nights, Neil returned to Clontarf, where he was buried next to his wife, Annie.

When I see the flags decorating the porches and the boulevards in my neighborhood today, I will smile to myself and think it is all for my great-grandfather Neil. Another of my Irish American favorites.

Happy Flag Day everyone and Happy Birthday Neil!

Neil is on bottom. left

Neil is on bottom. left


5 Comments

Day 13 of Irish American Favorites: Tom McMahon

circa 1895

circa 1895

My great-grandfather, Thomas Edward McMahon, 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.

His youngest daughter was my grandma, Agnes McMahon Regan. She loved her dad and shared her memories with me over the years. Grandma said her dad was like a big kid. He loved to play with his children and joke around, and enjoyed nothing more than sitting in his chair on a winter’s evening with the family as his wife, Mary Foley McMahon, read stories aloud to them all.

Tom wed Mary Foley on June 9, 1904 at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, Minnesota. The couple grew up about a mile apart on farms in Tara Township. They had seven children – four girls and three boys.

4 1904 Thomas and Mary McMahon wedding with Francis McMahon and Margaret Foley

Tom and Mary, seated.

Grandma said her dad was extremely good-natured and soft-spoken. She only remembered one occassion when he raised his voice at her. 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 and replied, “Pardon me?”

Grandma said it again, this time louder, since he 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 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, and her dad just brushed the black curls from her forehead and comforted her, “There, now, that’s the girl. It’s alright…”

Grandma said she could tell her dad felt as bad about the situation as she did. The two of them sat on the buggy while Grandma finished her dinner. Grandma learned her lesson, and this was the first and last time Tom raised his voice.

According to my 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.

Tom worked in the pole yard (telephone poles) for several years before he retired. A neighbor let Tom use a plot of vacant land nearby. Tom grew “every vegetable known to man” on that piece of land. My grandma said he never seemed happier. Tom had a nifty little trade set up whereby he exchanged fresh produce for groceries at the local shop. Grandma admitted that her dad gave away a lot of produce to neighbors throughout the 1930s. She said everyone did what they could to help each other out during the Depression.

Tom McMahon died on May 6, 1937. His wife, Mary, went out that day with a friend. When she returned home, she found her husband of nearly thirty-three years slumped in his favorite chair. One thing that Mary always said was that no one should be alone when they die, and she felt terrible she was not home for Tom – she was always home.

Because my grandma shared her memories of her loved ones with me, these relatives I never had the privilege to meet came to life for me. This is how a great-grandfather who passed away thirty-five years before I was born can be one of my Irish American favorites. I feel like I knew him and  now it is my job to keep his memory alive, for my grandma.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOM!

Tom is seated on the left, pictured with his sisters and brother.

Tom is seated on the left, pictured with his sisters and brother.


Leave a comment

Day Twelve of Irish American Favorites: Jimmy Fallon

JimmyFallon

Jimmy Fallon, of NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallonis the funniest person on TV. And he is a proud Irish American. A list of Irish American Favorites would not be complete without Jimmy.

Jimmy has cracked me up for years, first it was once a week on Saturday Night Live, and now I get to watch him all week ong on his nightly show. I love everything about Jimmy’s show – awesome music with The Roots, great interviews, hilarious comedy, and the quintessential (I suspect also Irish American) side-kick, Steve Higgins. On Friday nights, Jimmy gets caught up on his correspondence with his “Thank You Notes” segment. Here’s a sample…so funny:

In October 2012, Jimmy received a Spirit of Ireland award at the 13th annual Irish Arts Centre gala. Check out his performance following his acceptance:

Continue reading


1 Comment

Day Eleven of Irish American Favorites: Maureen Teahan Murray

Maureen in 1953

Maureen in 1953

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, Mary contacted me through the blog. She wrote that her mother, Maureen, had a short Christmas story about her childhood in Milltown, County Kerry she wanted to share. I told Mary to send it along, and I would take a look. Click here to read Maureen’s first contribution to the blog, An Orange for Baby Jesus.

I immediately fell in love with Maureen’s writing and wanted to learn more about the woman behind the story. Mary filled me, telling me how Maureen and her sister Joan arrived in New York City on November 26, 1947, just in time for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I wrote about Maureen, Joan, and the parade here.

Maureen’s stories just keep getting better. She has a gift for framing her memories perfectly and telling us more than we may realize at first. I am a huge fan of the short story, and Maureen’s memoir essays are beautifully written and perfectly constructed. Catch up on Maureen’s Memories – here’s a list of her stories we have featured so far:

I am honored Maureen choses to share her memories through my blog. I think we make a good team – I explore the experiences of the Irish in America, Maureen recalls memories of Ireland with the perspective of an Irish American gained through over sixty-five years and three thousand miles.

In the coming weeks, I plan to introduce a series of posts which will trace Maureen’s immigration journey and life in America.  In the meantime, a huge “thank you” to Maureen and her daughter, Mary. They make The Irish in America a better place! I can’t wait for Maureen’s next story…


5 Comments

Day Ten of Irish American Favorites: Grandma McCormack

Agnes McCormack, High School Graduation 1932

Agnes Flannery, High School Graduation, 1932

I always considered my dad’s mother, my Grandma McCormack, to be my fancy grandma. Compared to the other “old people” in my life, Agnes Anastasia Celestine Flannery McCormack seemed more modern, more sophisticated. Just look at her name and that photo above…pretty fancy! But, there was more to it than that.

She had jewelry boxes full of treasures that she actually wore. She had a stereo and listened to classical music and opera. Grandma took French classes and watched British comedy and the soap EastEnders on PBS. In the 1970s and 1980s she wore pantsuits, and when we went to her house she served us artistically arranged platters of veggies and dip.

Two Grandmas: McCormack is in foreground

Two Grandmas: McCormack is in foreground

Grandma was very social. She often entertained her friends, and they reciprocated. Grandma always had beer in the fridge for her best friend, Jane, who visited almost daily. The two women sat on the porch, chatting and laughing for hours. Grandma always had great office supplies – especially brand-new pads of paper.

 

Grandma_and_Regan_Duluth

Grandma and Regan

Every time I hear the EastEnders theme song, I think of Grandma and I miss her. The older I get, the more I appreciate her. Grandma never stopped learning, she kept up her friendships and interests, and always tried to stay current. These are some of the lessons I learned from Grandma McCormack.

I would love to be able to stop by her place, sit on the porch with a beer, and have a nice long chat and a laugh.


Leave a comment

Day Nine: Natalie Merchant

NatalieMerchantI have some music for you this lovely Sunday. I was taking a trip down memory lane last night and remembered how much I love Natalie Merchant. She was in the band 10,000 Maniacs in the 1980s-1990s and has had a great solo career.

Wikipedia tells me that Natalie Merchant’s maternal grandfather was Irish. I was glad to read that because it gives me an excuse to share a few of my favorite tunes today and include Natalie Merchant on my list of Irish American Favorites!

The first time I heard Natalie was when Regan brought a couple of 10,000 Maniacs cassette tapes home from college at Christmas. Yeah, cassette tapes, I am that old!

Continue reading