The Irish in America

Leave a comment

Family Album: Your Grandpa’s People

My grandma kept a cardboard box of family photos on the closet shelf under the Monopoly game. Every once in a while I pulled the box down and we’d go through the photos. I marveled at Grandma’s ability to not only identify the people in the pictures but to recall dates and outline connections.

Once we had gone through the old photographs of her parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, we’d move on to the “modern” snapshots of Grandma and her friends in the 1930s, weddings, and outdoor groups. Finally, we’d come to the bottom of the box and a cache of unidentified photos.

“Those would be your grandpa’s people.”

My grandpa was an only child and died the year before I was born. It has taken a bit of research (and a dose of serendipity) for us to identify “Grandpa’s people” and it is definitely a work in progress!

It turned out “Grandpa’s People” referred to my grandpa’s mother’s people. Like this photo of Mary Hill O’Brien, one of my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan’s four sisters. Mary came to the United States from Kill, County Kildare, Ireland in 1892. She married a widowed farmer (Thomas O’Brien) in Tara Township, Minnesota in 1894. Annie joined her sister in Minnesota in 1899. Mary and the O’Brien family moved to Montana in 1914.

Mary Hill O’Brien – Chinook, Montana 1920 (Private Family Collection)

There were a couple of postcards in the bottom of that old box, too. Here’s one from Chinook to “Anty” Annie in Tara Township…



Clontarf Goes Green in 1899

Clontarf History

These days it seems everyone celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. Target’s shelves are stocked with strings of  shamrock lights, pot of gold window decals, sparkly green headbands, and leprechaun costumes complete with a long red beard and top hat. Bars put up tents to accommodate the revelers, while the restaurants add corned beef and cabbage specials to their menus. The fountain at the White House is turning green, and I heard even Niagara Falls will be dyed green (is that even possible?)

Let’s put aside the more commercial side of St. Patrick’s Day for a moment and take a look at the March 17, 1899 celebration in Clontarf – the last St. Patrick’s Day of the nineteenth century. By 1899, the children of the original Irish settlers in Clontarf were beginning to marry and start families of their own. Most of this first generation of Clontarf Irish-Americans married fellow Irish-Americans, thus Clontarf’s…

View original post 305 more words


Meant to Be


John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)


John Foley and my grandpa John Regan were good friends. They spent their early childhood together in Clontarf, Minnesota.  John Foley moved to Minneapolis with his family in the mid 1920s.

It was only natural that the two boys were friends. Their paternal grandfathers (Patrick Foley and John Regan) were friends in their native Kilmichael, County Cork, and they came to America together, settling in Fisherville, New Hampshire before venturing to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.

I don’t know if “the Johns'” fathers (Tim Foley and Neil Regan) were friends when they were young. Clontarf was (and is) a small place, but from what I have heard, the two had little in common. If I consider as evidence my grandma’s collection of studio portraits of many of the young men of Clontarf, Tim and Neil were not close. – there are no photos of the two of them together. However, the evidence does show that John’s uncle John Foley and Neil were friends (see below and click here to read about it).

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated (ATMR Family Collection)

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated, around 1900 (ATMR Family Collection)

As I mentioned earlier, Clontarf’s a very small place so even when folks moved to Minneapolis, as so many did in the 1920s and 1930s, families remained close, supporting one another as they made their ways in the big city. The community was strong whether it was in the rural west or the largest city in the state. It was sometimes difficult to see where family ended and neighbors and friends picked up. It could all get very complicated…

For example:

One day in late 1930s Minneapolis, my grandma’s Aunt Bid Foley (John Foley’s mom) invited her over for cards. Have I mentioned yet that John Foley and my grandma, Agnes McMahon were first cousins? How about that they were double first cousins?

John Regan was staying with his old friend John Foley at the time of the invitation. Agnes and John Regan had crossed paths over the years, but it wasn’t until Uncle Tim asked Agnes to take his place in a cribbage game with John Regan, that sparks flew.

I don’t know who won that game, but I bet it was fiercely contested. They fell in love over a cribbage board and were married in 1941. They were a perfect couple.

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man...

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man…

Agnes’ maternal grandfather was Patrick Foley and John Regan’s paternal grandfather was….John Regan. The two friends from Kilmichael, County Cork.

When we visited Kilmichael Parish in Cork, Ireland several years ago, we learned that the connection between Patrick Foley and John Regan may have been stronger than we thought. John Regan’s mother was Ellen Foley. Patrick and John were cousins.

I thought this was very cool. Then my sister mentioned how that would have made grandma and grandpa some sort of cousins, too. Distant, of course, going back to their great-grandparents generation. In 19th century rural Ireland that must have happened a lot…right?

Distant cousins, yes, but friendship connected the Foley and Regan families through the generations, across an ocean and into a new world.

And I didn’t even tell you how my grandma’s mom and grandpa’s aunt were life-long besties….

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)


Get to Know Listowel

Beautiful Listowel, serenaded night and day

By the gentle waters of the River Feale.

 Listowel where it is easier to write than not to write,

Where first love never dies, and the tall streets hide the loveliness, 

The heartbreak and the moods, great and small,

Of all the gentle souls of a great and good community.

Sweet, incomparable hometown that shaped and made me.

John B. Keane (1928-2002) 

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Leading up to our St. Patrick’s Day Giveaway of a signed copy of Vincent Carmody’s Listowel – Snapshots of an Irish Market Town 1850-1950, we would like to spotlight this County Kerry town on The Irish in America over the next couple weeks.

We will look at the rich literary tradition of Listowel, as well as the town’s history and people. Naturally, since this is The Irish in America, we  are interested in the stories of those who left Listowel for America. Vincent Carmody has already got us started with essays on Elmer Walsh – the Chicago man with Listowel roots who defeated Richard Daly and Kathy Buckley – the Listowel woman who impressed the likes of J.P. Morgan with her culinary skills and made it all the way to the White House.

To begin your journey to Listowel, listen to this Radio Kerry podcast. Presenter Frank Lewis brings listeners on a tour of Listowel, and is joined by our friend Vincent Carmody. Sit back, listen to the program, and get acquainted with Listowel, County Kerry.


1 Comment

The Thumbers: A poem from Seamus Hora

Seamus Hora shares another great poem with the readers of The Irish in America. We’ll let Seamus tell you what it’s about…

“It is difficult to believe that the following poem describes an Ireland of 40 years ago. I am delighted to have been a part of that era and feel I owe so much to those people. It is only as you grow older you appreciate the value of their advise and remember each individual sense of humour. Thumbing was the word used to describe a signal from people who waited on the road for  a car to take them to their destination. Even in today’s modern times there is still no public transportation this route. The journey describes the 5 miles between Gorthaganny  and Ballyhaunis.”


Quiet rural road in Ireland (source:

The Thumbers


The practice of thumbing in the seventies was rife

Cars they were scarce it was part of our life.

Friday is one of the day’s I recall

People seeking a lift; for post office to call.

First on the road, Summer Light. –Winter Dark.

Problem with hearing, this was Mrs Clarke.

The ball alley stood out on the hill up ahead

In winter this part of the road I did dread

A picturesque cottage my next port of call –

Where colourful roses adorned the wall.

Doors painted brightly, lime on each stone

Mod’ lady called Sally stood waiting alone

At this time the car was beginning to fill

A couple of regulars awaited me still.

Pat Hoban was next-with a strange point of view.

To let air circulate cut vent holes in his shoe

The three in the back were not very pleased –

Let in Mrs Ganley crush became squeeze

Sadly, the last one mobility did lack.

Surname was Kenny either Jimmy or Jack

Each day of the week things were much the same.

So many thumbers! Too numerous to name.

Some are still with us. Some laid to rest.

Relaxed eyes closed tightly – I can picture them best.

Seamus Hora

A bit about the poet…

Seamus Hora was born in Gorthaganny, County Roscommon. He has been employed by same company, Delaneys Ltd in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, for 44 years. He has lived in Ballyhaunis for the past 20 years. Seamus is married to Rosaleen and the couple has one daughter, Sandra. Seamus only recently started to write poetry. and he bases his poems on his life experience. He values feedback and would like to hear what people think of his poem. Please leave a comment!

For more poetry from Seamus, click here and here. Enjoy!


Winter Reminiscing

Seamus Hora is so kind as to share another lovely poem with The Irish in America. This time he remembers winter evenings of days gone by, the 1950s when all you needed was a radio for company and a turf fire for warmth. Seamus thought there might be a few TIIA readers out there who also remember the “old days” in rural Ireland and might care to reminisce along with him…

Photo courtesy of the fantastic blog - That Curious Love of Green - check it out by clicking on the image.

Photo courtesy of the fantastic blog – That Curious Love of Green – check it out by clicking on the image.



Tonight I am reminiscing

I have turned back the years

Removed the locks from both the doors

And forgot about my fears.


Removed the TV from the shelf

And put it out of sight

Replaced it with a radio

Commentating on a fight.


Put the mobile phone on silent

Took the handset off the wall

Tonight-The only interruption

Neighbours foot steps in the hall.


Reached up to the fuse board

Reversed the on off handle

Got an empty bottle from the press

And placed in it a candle.


Replaced the coal and briquettes

With a seasoned wooden log

And a couple sods of well dried turf

Harvest from the local bog.


The lid from off the oven

I will heat until just right

Wrap in a woollen sweater

Place in the bed tonight.


Stare out through the window

Watch the snowflakes as they fall

Pretend its Christmas Eve again

And Santa’s sure to call.


Will I read a passage from the book

Or the rosary instead?

Then go outside – melt a little snow

Before I go to bed.


Seamus Hora

Click here to learn more about poet, Seamus Hora, and to read his poem on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.


DAY 14: Studio Donegal

I had to drag my heavy black wool jacket out of the closet this week. Snow and cold reappeared in Minnesota. I thought I was done with winter coats, scarves, and hats – it is April for goodness sake!

I love my black jacket. I bought it at Studio Donegal in 2000. It was definitely a splurge then, but for thirteen years (and counting) of wear, I’d say it was a good purchase.

Regan and I were a little obsessed with Studio Donegal – located in Kilcar, County Donegal – during the fist five years of the twenty-first century. We visited three times and stocked up on throws, scarves, hats, and Regan even bought some wool for her own creations.

Visitors are invited to tour the workshop (upstairs from the showroom) and see how the beautifully hand-woven items are made. Definitely worth a visit if you are in that neck of the woods. Gorgeous part of the country – can’t wait to get back to both County and Studio Donegal. It may be time for another splurge. I like the looks of this handbag…



And the winner is…

Judge Maryn choosing the winner...

Judge Maryn choosing the winner…


SPD_winnerAngela, you are the winner of our St. Patrick’s Day drawing for this gorgeous print by I Love Mayo’s Jane Steger-Lewis. The print is signed and numbered by the artist, and it is now all yours!

Angela’s favorite thing about Ireland? “The FABULOUS scenery” Angela entered the contest via Twitter.

Send us your address, so we can send you your print! Click here to send us an email.


Congratulations, Angela!

Visit I Love Mayo for more of Jane’s beautiful work:

Leave a comment

Out from Moylough: The Clancy Family in America

Over the past several months I have had the pleasure to exchange emails with Margaret from County Galway.  Margaret has shared memories and stories about relatives who emigrated to America in the early twentieth century.  I would like to show you how we were able to take Margaret’s memories, add some Irish Census evidence, throw in, and put it all in the hands of an experienced researcher to identify the American branch of Margaret’s family tree.

In the pursuit of family history research, there are times when every path seems to lead to a dead-end.  Other times the bits and pieces of information fit together effortlessly to tell a wonderful story of your history.  Luckily for us, the data slid right into place.  To get up to speed on Margaret’s research quest, click here.

Moylough Church, Galway - compliments of

When Margaret first told me about the Clancy siblings, her relatives who left Ireland for America, she shared some memories – Trimmings after the Rosary for the “boys in the war”, an old letter that mentioned debris from the Lusitania scattered in the sea as a young woman sailed to America, a generous wedding present from an American relative in New York.  Great stories that provide priceless clues for the researcher, but a few dates will always make the research process easier.

Margaret delivered again and gave us the birth dates and places for the five Clancy siblings.  She was unsure of exact emigration, but she provided information from the Irish Census – whether or not someone appeared on the 1901 or 1911 census helped us narrow our search and make positive identifications.

And did we make identifications!  Margaret may well learn more about her Clancy relatives than she ever wanted to know!

Jim, a senior research associate from Archival Solutions , stepped in and began to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Jim told me that this project was made much easier by the information Margaret provided, and he said that the information he gathered is just the tip of the iceberg – there is much more out there, on both sides of the Atlantic and in cyber space.  This brings up a key point to remember: When you begin family research of any kind, gather all known information at your disposal – the more you have, the easier your search will be.

Over the next week, I will highlight examples from this project that will illustrate the types of information you can expect to find when you embark on researching your family history in America.  I will begin with a story with its foundations in the once-popular and treasured item, the emigrant’s letter home.

Margaret recalled an old letter belonging to her aunt.  It was from her father’s cousin Nellie Clancy who went to America.  In the letter, Margaret remembered a vivid description of the debris from the Lusitania floating in the sea as Nellie’s ship sailed for America.  Margaret believed this letter was sent when Nellie returned to America after a holiday in Ireland.  The letter is long gone, but the image of Lusitania wreckage stayed with Margaret.

Panoramic view of the Lusitania - 1907

Jim found Nellie Clancy on S.S. St. Paul ship’s manifest right away.  She sailed from Liverpool on May 8, 1915 – the day after the Lusitania was sunk on May 7, 1915.  Nellie was not returning from a holiday in Ireland as Margaret believed, but rather this was her first voyage to America.  Nellie didn’t travel alone – she was accompanied by her younger brother and the youngest of the Clancy siblings, James.  James is listed as an eighteen-year-old farmer,  and the twenty-year-old Nellie’s occupation was listed as teacher.  Their closest relative in Ireland is given as,  father Theo. Clancy, Moylough, Ireland.  All of this information is included in the Ship Passenger Manifest.  What a way to start your new life, amongst the wreckage of a torpedoed ship!

The 1920 U.S. Federal Census shows Nellie and James living in a rooming house in Brooklyn, and the 1930 U.S. Census has Nellie married and living in New York, while a James Clancy is shown living in a house with two new Clancys – Teddy and Anna.  Margaret will have to let us know if there were a couple more Clancys hanging around.  Remember back to the ship’s manifest?  The Clancy father was named Theo., so there is a chance James wasn’t the youngest Clancy after all.

Next time we will look at the “Boys in the War”: the American soldiers remembered in the nightly prayers of a family in Galway.