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Remembering Maureen

For nearly four years, Maureen shared her memories of growing up in Ireland with the readers of The Irish in America. When Maureen’s daughter, Mary, contacted me just before Thanksgiving 2012, I immediately fell in love with Maureen’s story and eagerly awaited each new, beautifully written vignette. Maureen’s life is one which people with Irish heritage can relate to, whether their mother came from Ireland or the connection goes back several generations.

Thank you to Mary and Will for being so generous with their mother’s words. They are treasures. The following is a lovely tribute to Maureen written by her son, Will Murray.

 

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

 

 

Maureen Murray, author of the popular “Maureen’s Memories” memoirs, passed away peacefully in her sleep on August 19, 2016. She departed this earth exactly the way she wished to, in the comfort of her own home, which she shared with her son and daughter.

Maureen was born Mary Angela Teahan on September 3, 1928 in Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. The oldest of four sisters and two brothers, she experienced a number of health issues growing up, These were so severe that her doctor told the family that she was unlikely to live long enough to bear children.

Despite this dire prediction, Maureen survived childhood, coming to the United States in November 1947 in time to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. She was accompanied by her younger sister Joan. Her other sisters followed in short order. All four were sponsored by their uncle, Daniel O’Meara.

Moving to Massachusetts, she worked in the mill town of Lawrence, and eventually met her future husband, Patrick M. Murray. They were wed in 1952. Three children resulted: William, Daniel and Mary Ellen.

Settling in Boston, Maureen lived in Brighton, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. The family later relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts.

Over her lifetime, Maureen accumulated numerous friends and was a comfort and wise counsel to family and acquaintances alike. She loved to read and read widely. Calls coming to her home meant for other family members were often intercepted, and Maureen always captivated the caller. She made friends with several celebrities this way, all of whom were charmed by her Irish lilt and caring personality.

She made friends easily. Once, while walking her dog, Maureen encountered a gentleman of her generation, also walking his dog. When she asked if the individual was retired, the man laughed and said, “From bank robbing.” Perhaps attracted by her Irish accent the “retired” robber from South Boston took a shine to her.

Once when he boasted of roughing up his then girlfriend, Maureen admonished him by saying, “If you ever do that again, I’ll break your arm!”

That was probably the only time the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger ever took such backtalk from anyone without reprisal. They remained friends for several years, discovering that they shared the same birthday, although the unlikely friends were born a year apart.

Maureen returned to Ireland only once, in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the planned two-week stay was cut short when the smoky environment created by peat fires triggered an asthma attack, forcing Maureen to fly home on an emergency basis, and was briefly hospitalized. She brought home with her an old cast-iron cooking pot salvaged from the family homestead, a rusting relic of her rustic youth.

Although Maureen experienced health struggles throughout her life, she remained determined and optimistic. She rarely complained when the loss of her mobility put her in a wheelchair in 2009. Unfortunately, on going vision problems gradually diminished her sight, robbing Maureen of her main pleasure in life, which was reading.

The loss of her vision in March, 2015 proved to be a turning point and subsequent operations tested her optimism. But she remained outwardly positive, and if she ever complained, no one seems to recall it. She remained strong, determined and clear of mind to the very end. Maureen died just two weeks before she would have celebrated her 88th birthday on September 3, a testimony to her indomitable Irish-America spirit.

It was during this period of diminishing vision that Maureen decided to originate the “Maureen’s Memories” series. These were dictated to her daughter and edited by her son. But the words were all hers. Her final installment was posted a week before she expired.

Maureen is survived by a son, William, her daughter, Mary Ellen, and two brothers, Donal of Ireland and John of London. Sadly, yet ironically, she outlived almost all of her generation of friends and relatives who looked to her for inspiration over the course of a very long life.

 

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Thanks again to Mary and Will for bringing us Maureen’s Memories and always know if you want to share more of Maureen’s stories – or your own – they are most welcome at The Irish in America.  

To read all “Maureen’s Memories” click the links below:

A few more posts about Maureen…

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Maureen’s Memories: Puck Fair

Just in time for the annual Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, Maureen sends us her memories of the festival from the 1930s and 1940s. Maureen helps us make sense of the beloved Irish summer celebration. Enjoy!

 

When I was a girl in the 1930s and ’40s, Puck Fair was a much-loved harvest festival, and always held on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August in Killorglin, County Kerry. We would go with our grandfather, Dan O’Meara, and enjoy all that the fair had to offer a child. There were savory meat pies, crubeens (boiled pig’s feet) and dillesk (a very salty, purple seaweed). O’Donoghue’s Bakery and Confectionary sold a wide variety of delicious baked goods and the best rolls around; as well as all kinds of sweets. Peggy’s Leg (a thick rock candy stick) was my favorite. The stalls sold money balls which were a round candy with red coloring that came off on your hands and sometimes, if you were lucky, a coin was hidden inside. Glendillion’s was known for their delectable, homemade ice cream.

August 10th is known as the Gathering Day, when the horse fair began. We already knew it was fair time because the Irish Travellers’ and Romani had already begun to assemble and mingle among their own people. My mam must have had a reputation as being kind-hearted because the women of both communities would knock on our door as they passed through town. Asking for a pinch of tea and sugar they, in turn, would give her a paper posy or a blessing in return. They arrived in town in their colorful horse-drawn caravans. Some made a living as horse traders and others as skilled tinsmiths.

August 11th is Fair Day since it was the time that the cattle fair was held. On this day, the Irish step-dancers performed and traditional music was heard throughout town. I don’t recall exactly when Perks Amusement’s started there, but it was certainly our first time on a mechanical ride. There were many games of chance, including card games, to be found in the stalls. You could try your luck at Find the Lady (Three-Card-Monty) other shell games with three thimbles and a pea, as well as roulette. You could have your fortune told as well.

August 12th is Scattering Day, the day the festivities began to wind down. The stand, stages and stalls are closed up and taken down, and fair goers begin leave town.

The first time we were allowed to walk to the fair alone I knew I was growing up. It was only my sister, Joan, and me, since Kitty, Dolly and Helen were still too little to walk the four-mile trek from Milltown into Killorglin. Many years later, I was describing Puck Fair to an American friend. I’ll never forget the look on her face! Then, as I thought about it, I understood how strange it all sounded. You catch a wild Billy-goat, having already found a lovely maiden who is crowned Queen Puck. Build a three-tiered wooden tower and have the young girl, resplendent in a white, Celtic gown, crown him “King Puck”. Parade them through town, as Killorglin is declared open to all. Place the puck on top of the stand where he will watch over his subjects for three days. On the third day, the August king is taken down from his royal perch where he has been fed and protected against the elements by an awning. His crown is removed by Queen Puck. Finally, he is released back into the wild.

My friend was appalled and exclaimed “Why, it’s a Pagan festival!” I had never thought about it that way, since the Catholic clergy never voiced any objection to our attending the much-loved, traditional country fair. There was the Oliver Cromwell cover story, after all: A he-goat ran out of the hills to forewarn of Cromwell’s troops approaching Killorglin. Although it did coincide with the Pre-Christian festival, Lughnasa.  One of my friends, Maura, lost her mother when she was very young, so they didn’t have much of a Yuletide celebration. She told me “Puck Fair was better than Christmas!”

 

Check out PuckFair.ie for all things related to the festival. Photos courtesy of PuckFair.ie, thank you.

About Maureen…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories


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Maureen’s Memories: Haunting Halloween

Maureen’s Memories takes a spooky turn with this Halloween offering. Get ready for goosebumps – Maureen shares ghosts stories from her native Milltown, County Kerry and her present home in Massachusetts. The origins of our Halloween celebrations can be traced to Ireland. Maureen tells us about Irish traditions at Halloween such as barnbrack and bobbing for apples. Harry Houdini even gets a mention! Do you believe in ghosts?

Sunset, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Sunset in New Hampshire

Haunting Halloween

 

When I was child in Milltown, Halloween was very much a time of religious observance. We attended daily Mass but All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day were when we remembered all those who had passed away.

I don’t think we carved turnips, the original Jack-o-Lanterns, but “bobbing for apples” was one of the traditional children’s games we played.  A favorite Halloween treat was the chestnuts that we gathered from the nearby Kilderry Woods. Our Mam would roast the nuts in the hot coals of the hearth-fire.  We always ate Barnbrack, a fruit bread with a tacky gold ring baked inside. Legend was whoever got the ring would be married within the year.  As young children, that struck us as funny, being too young to be wed. We bought the brack from Miss Hannah Sugrue’s shop on Church Street, but it was probably baked at Larkin’s Bakery on Main Street.

A friend recently told me that when she was in her pram, over 80 years ago, her Mam wheeled her along the Killarney Road and up to the entrance where Billy Whelan’s Boreen stood. Right there, they came upon the apparition of a priest in old-fashioned cassocks, reading his breviary. But he never looked up to acknowledge them. Her brothers and sisters were so frightened they ran home, screaming all the way.  Their mother followed frantically, pushing the pram close behind.were so terrified of the ghost that they didn’t look up that road for over a month.

I once read a story of a parish priest who was so loved in Milltown that he was buried a total of three times. He was transferred to and died in North Kerry, but was beloved by the parishioners of Milltown because he was so good to the poor. They clandestinely disinterred and reburied him in Milltown, but the people of North Kerry came and took his remains back to North Kerry and reinterred him there.

Another friend tells the story of the haunting of her family farmhouse just outside of town. Her sister lived alone and, almost every night, while she sat by the fire, she saw a ghostly figure in the kitchen window. Sometimes she even heard the sound of horse-hooves when she saw the spooky specter. This went on for quite a while before the culprit was finally caught and literally uncovered. It turned out it was a neighbor wearing a white sheet who wanted to scare her off and buy the land. He wore bed-sheets and stood at the window every night trying to scare the living daylights out of her––and very nearly succeeded.

Halloween_MaryPowerOnce, when my son, Will, was visiting a friend in upstate New York I was home alone. In the morning, I went downstairs only to find that the front door that I’m certain I locked was wide open. Will’s friend was Walter Gibson, the creator of the pulp-fiction character, “The Shadow” a fellow magician and friend of the famous Harry Houdini. Walter also ghost-wrote some of Houdini’s books.  Gibson was known to attempt to contact his friend Harry by séance on Halloween, but never made after-life contact. But  there I was, home alone and on the next morning I calmly started down the stairs, this time certain I’d once again find the door open. Two days in a row the front door was not only unlocked but opened-wide when I was certain I’d locked it up tight, being by myself for a few days.

The man who sold us that house was the only remaining member of his family. He told us that he was happy to sell to a family with children and that he had turned down better offers from single people. The first night we lived there was a very hot August night, with barely a breeze of fresh air to be found in the old house. However, we hardly slept a wink as the doors kept slamming all night long! Later, we often would hear footsteps during the night no matter what floor we slept on. Neighbors subsequently told us that the 1880s-era home had been vacant for several years before we moved in, and that it had a reputation of being haunted.

We kept in touch with the previous owner throughout the years, so I knew that his brother, Warren, died in the hospital from heart disease as a young man. Once, in the 1970’s I picked up my phone to make a call and heard an exceptionally clear “crossed-line” conversation. As distinct as a bell, I heard Warren and his parents talking. The call ended when both of his parents said, “Good-bye. I love you, Warren.” Warren replied: “I love you too, Mom and Dad.”

 

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories…


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Maureen’s Memories: Dancing in the Dark

Maureen is back with another delightful story, tying together her childhood in Milltown, County Kerry and her life and family in the United States. Enjoy! And make sure you check out Maureen’s other stories, links are at the end of this story.

Dancing in the Dark

Our family spent the dark winter nights sitting cozily by the kitchen hearth with oil lamps and candles our only sources of light. We happily passed the time on cold evenings telling tales, singing and reading. When a neighbor dropped by, they were always offered tea and home-baked goodies which were readily accepted. They in turn eagerly shared their own tune or story.

Present-day Milltown, County Kerry

Present-day Milltown, County Kerry

I remember grandfather, John Teahan, telling us that on the rare occasion he went downtown to Milltown for a few pints at Shea’s Public House, he was always guided home by a mysterious light.  It was a long mile and a half trek in the pitch-black darkness of the countryside back to his farmhouse in Lyre. He never speculated about it, but we grandchildren liked to think it was our late grandmother, Mary Falvey Teahan, guiding him safely home. Many years later my sister, Kitty, thought it was just a young neighbor on the road who, concerned for his well-being, silently lit the way with his flashlight.

My brother, Donal, recalls that our sister, Helen, always said she saw the apparition/spirit of the same grandmother sitting by the fireplace at the Lyre farmhouse in the evenings. We never knew our Granny Teahan and had no idea what she looked like. She passed away in 1917 and there were no photos of her. Were we surprised when our cousin later told us his father said Helen was the spitting image of his mother, Mary Falvey! Our sister, Helen, was gorgeous, with a delicate, Grace Kelly-like beauty.

Before electricity, the only middle-of-the night excitement was the one time a man arrived by horse and frantically knocked at our door. He had ridden in from the countryside, asking directions to Dr. Sheehan’s house. My Mam assumed his wife was in labor, but we never found out just what the emergency was.

Joan Teahan Kelly

Joan Teahan Kelly

I was about eight years old when the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme finally brought power to Milltown. We couldn’t afford to light our house; it just wasn’t in the budget. So our home wasn’t on “the grid” and we never missed or felt we needed it.  Although, I’ll admit we children would stay up late into the night when we should have been sleeping watching the blinking lights in Miss Hannah’s shop across the street. Dennis Sugrue, Milltown’s Renaissance man, had installed them around the windows of his aunt’s shop. What a Christmas novelty it was as we excitedly counted the seconds in anticipation of the next blink!

We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the new electric lights. Every night, a man came in from the countryside. He never spoke a word to anyone, shopped, or went into the pubs for refreshment. He just stood silently under the lamppost, stayed there about a half hour, and then returned back the way he came. At the time we thought him eccentric, but now I think of him as a visionary who utilized light therapy before it became common.

It was an oppressively hot, humid day when my sister Joan’s youngest, Christine Kelly, married Jim Clougher on June 30, 2001. She had planned a summer wedding to avoid the disaster of a winter storm. Sadly, her Mom had passed away just two months before on May first and so didn’t live to see her daughter marry, but some say Joan was there that day!

As we sat in St. Columbkille’s Church, Brighton, Mass. that afternoon, it was clear that dark storm clouds were rolling in. The Mass and ceremony were lovely and the rain held off as the wedding party later greeted well-wishers outside the church. But as we drove to the reception at Lombardo’s in Randolph, it became apparent we couldn’t escape the thunderstorm.

Still, we were able to enjoy the cocktail hour and dinner without a hitch. The newly married couple had their first dance together as bride and groom. Christine was able to dance with her father, Joe Kelly. As the guests started dancing, the lights flickered off and on three times before they went out for the rest of the evening. The wait staff lit the candles on the tables and placed more around the hall.

Christine and Jim

Christine and Jim

People began to walk out to the hallway to see the spectacular light-show Mother Nature was putting on in front of the floor-to-ceiling picture window. Lightning reflected off the crystal chandelier above the spiral staircase as we looked out from the second-floor balcony, making for a surreal sight like out of a movie.

Back in the hall, the reception continued on without electricity, guests able to converse comfortably, not having to raise their voices above the din of blaring music. Spontaneously, a table would break out in song and people would dance and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  When I looked up at the head table during dinner, I thought I saw Joan sitting there for a moment.

Christine and Jim’s slight disappointment when the lights went out soon turned to astonishment because they felt in their hearts that Joan may have had something to do with it! And they weren’t the only ones there that strongly felt the same way! We told them some day they would laugh about it. And they have, along with their children, Kelly, Patrick and Brendan. Someday, God willing, their grandchildren will laugh at it, too.

Lombardo’s couldn’t have been more hospitable, but they just couldn’t explain how three backup generators failed. When Christine and Jim checked out the next morning, the desk clerk told them the other wedding parties left in disgust. Not surprisingly, the Clougher’s wedding reception went on until the wee hours of morning. The newlyweds were very relieved that their guests continued to enjoy themselves despite the darkness. In fact, many people told them that night was the most fun they’ve ever had at a wedding! Never underestimate the Irish, who have never needed power to have great craic.

Christine_&_Jim's_wedding

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories…


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One of Our Own

Detroit Tigers v Washington Senators

I received an email yesterday from Mary – Maureen Teahan Murray’s (Meet Maureen and Maureen’s Memories) daughter and collaborator – sharing their memories of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In recent days people all over the world are remembering that fateful day, November 22, 1963.

Nearly everyone (at least in this country, but elsewhere as well) remembers where they were when they learned that someone shot President Kennedy. I have heard many people say there have been two days like that in their lives: November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001. Mary writes:

I had just turned eight when JFK was assassinated and like many people I remember the day vividly. That Friday I was in Miss Murphy’s second grade class at the Francis Parkman School, Jamaica Plain (Boston) . Although very young Miss Murphy was an extremely strict teacher so I was surprised that afternoon when she abruptly announced she was leaving us alone in the classroom. She told us to do our vocabulary homework which we usually would have done over the weekend.  It was so out of character for her I knew something was very wrong but I had no idea what it was and could never imagine the awful truth. When she finally returned she dismissed us without saying a word about the tragedy. I suppose they thought we were too young to be told and left that difficult task  to our parents.