The Irish in America

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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!

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Day Seven: Bing Crosby sings “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra”

Bing and Barry: Going My Way still

Bing and Barry: Going My Way still

I could listen to Bing Crosby sing just about ANYTHING. The way he slides from note to note is pure magic. Wouldn’t you know that Bing was Irish American. His Irish roots were from his mother, Kate Harrigan Crosby.

My favorite Bing Crosby movie is the 1944 Going My Way. White Christmas is a close second, but it doesn’t have Barry Fitzgerald! I love the scene when Bing sings “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra” to Barry Fitzgerald…


GoingMyWay_posterGoing My Way was based on a story by Leo McCarey, the director of the film. Another Irish American, McCarey is perhaps best remembered as writer/director/producer of An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Click here to read about the fascinating career of Leo McCarey.

I need to get my hands on a copy of Going My Way this weekend, to see the lullaby scene and one of the best scenes ever filmed, when the old priest played by Barry Fitzgerald is surprised by a visit from his dear mother from Ireland. Love it!


Day Six of Irish American Favorites: Best Friends

circa 1900

circa 1900

Nellie Regan (left) and Minnie Foley were life-long best friends. They were both born in Fisherville, New Hampshire in the mid-1870s and grew up in Tara Township, Minnesota. Their fathers immigrated from Kilmichael, County Cork together in 1864 – click here to read my latest column on page 26 of Irish Lives Remembered online genealogy magazine about the Regan and Foley families. This is one of my favorite family photographs and earns the best friends a place on my list of Irish American Favorites.

When I was young, this was one of those photos that could spark a number of great stories from my grandma, Minnie’s daughter and the master of the Boiled Dinner from Day Three. Grandma would say how her mother and Nellie were “great pals”. Even when they lived two hundred miles apart, they made a special effort to get together.

I have a couple more favorites up my sleeve related to Nellie and Minnie and their special connection. I might even share one or two recipes! I love the photo below. Nellie (left) and Minnie together again, just a bit more relaxed than the studio photo from forty-odd years earlier.

Nellie and Minnie about 1942

Nellie and Minnie, 1942

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Day Five of Irish Favorites: Harry Connick, Jr.

HCJRHarry Connick, Jr. is an amazing jazz musician, singer, and bandleader, as well as a talented actor. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Harry has a wonderful sense of humor (just check out his tweets!) He just seems like a great guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Harry also happens to be Irish American, so he is a natural for my list of favorites.

Henry Louis Gates discovers Harry’s Irish roots in a recent episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS. It is a great episode – click here to watch. It is interesting to see Harry’s reaction to revelations about his great-great-grandfather, James Connick, who came to Mobile, Alabama from Ireland during the Famine.

Harry felt better when he learned of a fifth-great-grandfather David McCulloch, an Irish immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. During the Revolutionary War he was an American privateer, capturing British ships and cargo. The British government had a sizeable bounty on McCulloch’s head, but they never did captured him.

It is good to hear the stories of Harry’s Irish immigrant ancestors, because we are reminded of the diversity of the Irish immigrant experience.

HCJR_xmasI loved Harry in the 1990 film, Memphis Belle. Click here to check out his version of Danny Boy from the movie. My favorite Christmas album ever is Harry’s 2008 effort, What a Night! And, he has a new album coming out on June 11th titled, Every Man Should Know. Can’t wait to hear it.

Keep up the good work, Harry. You make Irish America proud!


Day Four of Irish American Favorites: Maryn

Newborn Maryn

Newborn Maryn

Today is a special day. My niece, and the first member of the fourth-generation of our branch of the Andy McCormacks in America, turns six-years-old today. The world came to a halt for us on June 4, 2007 when Maryn Eileen McCormack joined the family. We all had new roles – Father, Grandpa, Grandma, Great-Aunt, and Aunts, and immediately Maryn became the sun in our solar system.

Maryn at age one

Maryn at age one

Maryn has always been really cool. She’s never let all the attention and adoration go to her head. Before Maryn started talking, you could just tell she was taking it all in and figuring things out.



Maryn is smart, generous, loving, and inquisitive. She has a mind like a steel trap and an awesome imagination. The storylines of our games of Princess continue from week to week, as the plot develops and characters evolve. Sometimes her younger sister Ainsley and I try to freelance with events in our land of make-believe, but Maryn is always on us to get us back on track and keep to the story.



Maryn is one of my two favorite Irish Americans born in the twenty-first century. It has been a privilege to share the last six years with her and I love to experience her energy and enthusiasm for life. It is amazing to see her grow up, but in this Auntie’s opinion, I wouldn’t mind if she slowed down just a little bit!




Day Three of Irish American Favorites: My Grandma’s Boiled Dinner

“Go on, have another potato…they are good for you.”

Grandma with her brother Frank, llong before she perfected her boiled dinner.

Grandma with her brother Frank, long before she perfected her boiled dinner.

Without fail, my grandma uttered those words every time she served up a delicious boiled dinner. Actually, she said this when she was feeding you anything – just make a substitution for the word potato. Everything was good for you, including chocolate chip cookies and fudge. Grandma argued that she only used good ingredients, so a second helping wouldn’t hurt you.

Like most things my grandma cooked or baked, her boiled dinner was no-nonsense and consisted of meat, cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots. Occasionally, another root vegetable might sneak into the mix, and the meat was usually country-style pork ribs. Talk about comfort food!

The reason this is one of my favorites of Irish America is because my wonderful Grandma Agnes McMahon Regan was – you guessed it – Irish American. A boiled dinner is a meal found in some form in countries the world over. My grandma’s version is a take on the traditional New England Boiled Dinner. Grandma preferred the pork to the corned beef, and the precise cut changed over the years. By the 1980s, she settled on the country-style ribs.

When I was a child, I would sit at Grandma’s kitchen table while she peeled and cut the vegetables for boiled dinner. I always wanted to help, but Grandma didn’t trust me with the vegetable peeler and knife. I remember she would give me the heart of the cabbage to eat. I think that treat may have been just to shut me up. I (used to) talk a lot.


Grandma in 2001

In America, we eat corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day. I suspect this tradition evolved as much from the traditional New England boiled dinner as from the Irish bacon and cabbage consumed in Ireland. The funny thing is, my grandma’s boiled dinner always tasted like the Irish bacon and cabbage to me.

I miss my grandma’s boiled dinner, but of course I miss my grandma more.


Day Two of Irish American Favorites: F.Scott Fitzgerald


He may not have identified himself as Irish American, but that’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald was, and since he is one of my favorite writers, it stands to reason that he  would make my list of favorite things about Irish America.

So, did Fitzgerald have a problem with his Irish heritage? He was a complicated man. I may live up the street from Fitzgerald’s birthplace in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but that does not qualify me to analyze his personality and motivations. I will leave that to Fitzgerald experts who say his denial of his Irish ancestry rested in the fact he was embarrassed by his mother and her Famine-era immigrant Irish roots. His father’s genealogy was preferable – an established Maryland family and distant cousin to Francis Scott Key, Star Spangled Banner lyricist. Much less ethnic, much more American.

The climate in America was different in the early twentieth century. Americans didn’t often celebrate their heritage like we do today. They just wanted to be American. And if they had aspirations of joining the élite in American society, like Fitzgerald did, then it would be prudent to down-play your ethnicity – and your religion. Funny isn’t it, how things change? Just look at how Tom Cruise embraced his Irish heritage while doing press in Ireland a couple of months ago. Seemed like a bit of a stretch to me.

Fitzgerald wrote novels (The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise) and many short stories, but I think one of the best things he wrote was a letter to his eleven-year-old daughter in 1933, instructing her on what to worry about, what not to worry about, and what to think about. Click here to read the letter.

 Of all Fitzgerald’s witty observations, this is my favorite quote:  Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck. 

Fitzgerald birthplace

Fitzgerald birthplace


June of Irish American Favorites: Day One

Since readers seemed to enjoy my April of Irish Favorites, I thought I would continue with the theme and highlight the things I love about Irish America this month. I see my list of favorite things about Irish America leaning heavily toward the people, places, and things associated with my own Irish American family, but I will also touch on my other favorite Irish American figures, festivals, traditions, arts, restaurants, and more! Sit back this month and enjoy what I love about Irish America!


Sean Scully, Wall of Light Red, 2002, Aquatint, spitbite, sugarlift, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist (2003.39.2)

Back in 2008, I fell in love with the work of Dublin-born, American artist Sean Scully. In conjunction with an exhibition of his prints at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Mr. Scully presented a talk on the exhibit, his work, and method. It was the only time I have heard an artist speak about what he does and why he does it and it all made sense to me.

Click to buy on!

Click to buy on!

I can’t get enough of Mr. Scully’s prints, paintings, and photographs. He published Walls of Aran in 2007. It is a collection of photographs of the stone walls on the Aran Islands. Since reading the book, I have never looked at those walls the same.

Mr. Scully has studios in Barcelona, Berlin, and New York, but he is an American citizen, so I am claiming him as my favorite Irish-born American artist. His work simply takes my breath away. I always look forward to what he does next!