The Irish in America


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Meet Maureen (Part III)

I had a few more questions for our favorite Irish American, Maureen Teahan Murray. Maureen immigrated to Lawrence Massachusetts just about sixty-six years ago this month. She and her sister Joan left Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland in November 1947 and arrived in the United States just in time for Thanksgiving. Read the story of her auspicious arrival – click here. A full list of links to earlier Meet Maureen entries, as well as her delightful stories of growing up in Milltown follows this article.

And now we will get to know a little bit more about Maureen and her adjustment to life in America…

 

Merrimack River in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Merrimack River in Lawrence, Massachusetts

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to life in the US?

Our biggest adjustment to life in the U.S. was waking up at 4:30 AM to eat breakfast and make our  lunch for work. We crossed the bridge in S. Lawrence, MA over the Merrimack River on bitter winter mornings. Finding it more comfortable to keep moving the 20 minutes it took to walk rather than stand waiting for the bus that would take us to the Wood Mill Factory.

Maureen worked in the “English Drawing Room” at the Wood Mill for a year-and-a-half. Here’s how she describes her job:

The men placed large wool bobbins on a frame and we pulled the wool fibre down onto smaller bobbins and secured them then started the machine. That filled even smaller bobbins of wool. Then the men removed them and we repeated the process. Someone else worked with the wool after we were finished preparing it.
Toohig Girls 1950

(photo courtesy of Fran Valcourt, Mary’s daughter)

Did you make friends with mostly other Irish/Irish Americans? Was that important to you?

Most of our new friends were Irish American-many first generation American born, but we didn’t seek them out. A few months after we settled in Lawrence I had to have an appendectomy. Dr. Frank McCarthy had a private clinic there and his receptionist was Mary Toohig. When I was in the hospital before the operation he told me he would send someone to see me. While recuperating, I was surprised to meet Mary and her sister, Ann. I expected medical professionals were coming to check on me. Still medicated at first I thought I was dreaming when I met the Toohig sisters. They were from a family of eight and their parents were both born in Skibereen, Cork. Almost sixty-five years later Mary is still one of my best friends.

Toohig Family

Toohig Family (photo courtesy of Fran Valcourt)

Early on, what/who did you miss most from Ireland?

 Family we left behind were sorely missed when we first came here. My father, and brothers and sisters, Kitty, Dolly, Helen, John and Donal. Also, our grandfather Teahan who lived on the farm in Lyre, Milltown. Eventually, Kitty, Dolly and Helen joined us in the states. Donal tried living here for a year but then went back to Limerick.

Although new friends made in America couldn’t take the place of family left behind in Ireland, friends like the Toohigs helped make Lawrence, Massachusetts feel a little bit more like home. Do you have any questions for Maureen about her immigration experience in America? Leave a comment!
Click on the following titles to read more about Maureen and her memories:


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Meet Maureen (Part II)

Commodore Hotel

Commodore Hotel

After a week at sea, Maureen and Joan Teahan arrived in New York City on November 26, 1947. Uncle Dan O’Meara met the girls and helped ease their transition to American life. Uncle Dan, once an immigrant himself, knew it was important that his nieces look like Americans. Their first stop was Fifth Avenue for some new outfits – click here to read Part I of Meet Maureen. Uncle Dan also wanted them to be safe, and knowing they never would have even thought of it he instructed: “Be sure to lock your hotel room door.” That room was a the Commodore Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, right next to Grand Central Station.

I asked Maureen if the decision to emigrate was a difficult one. She had this to say:

Yes, at the beginning it was for me but I recall my sister, Joan, was excited about immigrating. She was bragging to her friends and one of them told her that she would be immigrating to London, England in time for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth II to Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark – which she thought was the “next best thing”. Since we were still grieving the loss of my mother (February 1947) I didn’t think I could pull myself together to take such a big step but I didn’t want Joan to go alone, so I quickly changed my mind.

Remember Joan from Maureen’s story, The Infant’s Class Uprising? I can understand Maureen wanting to keep an eye on her younger sister in America! I imagine Joan not being too impressed by her friend’s emigration to England – royal wedding or not. Joan was ready for something bigger in America. Click here to read The Infant’s Class Uprising.

I wondered if Maureen expected to stay in the United States, or if she considered the move a temporary arrangement. Maureen said:

I realized immediately I’d be leaving for good. Being so young I was living in the day. Once I arrived I adjusted right away and found it very exciting living here. Uncle Dan and Jack were very good to us and we made good friends (still to this day) which was immensely helpful.

Maureen stayed in New York for a couple of days before making her way to Lawrence, Massachusetts – the home of her Uncles Jack and Dan and where Maureen would begin her new life in America.


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Meet Maureen (Part I)

Maureen in 1953

Maureen in 1953

I think we have all enjoyed Maureen’s stories on the blog over the past several months. Her memories of growing up in Miltown, County Kerry in the 1930s and 1940s speak to an Ireland still remembered by many, but which – for good and bad – has all but disappeared. Click here, herehere, here, here, and here to read Maureen’s stories.  Based on her delightful stories and insightful recollections, I knew I had to learn more about Maureen.

So I asked Maureen and her daughter, Mary, if I could interview Maureen about her immigration and her transition to life in the United States, for the blog. What does it mean to Maureen to be Irish American? They agreed, and Mary suggested I call the post Meet Maureen. Perfect!

When I received Maureen’s responses to my initial questions, I realized that Meet Maureen required not just a single post but a series. So here goes…presenting Part I of Meet Maureen! Maureen’s responses appear in italics. My first question: “Why did you decide to come to the United States?”

We were invited to immigrate to the States by our uncles, Jack and Dan O’Meara. Both sponsored my sister Joan and me. They had to prove they had employment and assets and they said they would be able to get us employment once here. Uncle Jack had victory Bonds – it’s notarized in the attached document. (see below)

John_O'Meara_Bonds_26_Apr_1947_1

Notarized letter from Uncle John O’Meara regarding bonds he owned. (Maureen Teahan Murray Collection)

If we hadn’t come here we might have gone to England. Our friends Maura,Therese, Christine and her sister Margaret, emigrated there for nurses training in hospitals during World War II. London was constantly being bombed but the hospital never took a direct hit. Training was free but times were tough with food and other rationing. They were paid a little and they did live at the hospitals. But I never considered becoming a LPN.

Not sure how Mary ever found this list - both girls' names are altered!

Not sure how Mary ever found this on Ancestry.com with the misspelling. Maureen and Joan are on lines 14 &15.

We were the first to leave Milltown after the “Emergency”. Coming over on a converted troop ship, “The Marine Jumper”. We were “the talk of the town”. We had been booked for a February passage but suddenly there were two cancellations in November. Our passport visas were already issued by the American Embassy the month before when we took a train trip to Dublin. Our new clothes were also purchased in Tralee a month earlier since uncle Dan sent us money for expenses. We had to be re-vaccinated by Dr. Sheahan in Glen Ellen, Kerry and Counihand Travel Agency , Killarney made our arrangements. We packed quickly and said our good-byes. This happened over a two-day period so we had little time to be nervous.

Just like millions of Irish who emigrated before them, Maureen and Joan left from Cobh. In a few short years, immigrants would begin to come to the United States by airplane. The method of transportation was changing but some things remain constant, like the waves of Irish immigration to America with Uncles and Aunts sponsoring Nieces and Nephews in their new lives. Of course, I had a few follow-up questions for Maureen. I was curious about what sort of new clothes they purchased to pack:

We didn’t bring much because we would be buying the latest fashions in New York. Uncle Dan took us shopping on 5th Avenue when we arrived and he thought it was important we looked like Americans. We dressed almost alike with beautiful blue, long-sleeved dresses and grey military-style coats with brass buttons and stylish hats and leather gloves with new shoes. I remember those were the outfits we wore to view Macy’s Parade. Despite all that we were still freezing! We have no idea what uncle Dan paid for all the clothes but he was a bachelor and said not to worry about the cost.

Every girl should have an Uncle Dan! Click here to read about Maureen’s first days in New York City. Maureen and Joan had an auspicious welcome to America!

We will continue with Maureen’s story next time. And by the way, Maureen has a special birthday coming up on Wednesday. Feel free to leave birthday wishes in the comments…I will be sure she sees them!