The Irish in America


13 Comments

Book of Names: Remembering Our Irish Women

Annie Hill Regan – circa 1900

Recently I submitted my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan to Rachael Flynn’s  Irish Women of our Past – Book of Names project. Here’s how Rachael describes her very exciting project:

The BOOK OF NAMES is a project which aims to recognise the women in our past who have made the journey from Ireland to other lands.

Artist-researcher Rachael Flynn is currently working on an arts project through which people will be able to submit the names of their female Irish ancestors in order to build up a record that seeks to pay honour to their struggles and successes. 


By adding the names of their Irish mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, cousins… the people who add names to this collection will have the chance to effectively ‘light a candle’ in memory of these relatives. 

Rachael asks for some basic information in order to add a female Irish relative to the  Book of Names: name, date and port of departure, destination, and your contact information. Very simple.

I had the data about my great-grandmother’s emigration, but I wanted to revisit the passenger list I had copied from Ancestry.com ages ago. I remembered how exciting it was to locate this information because I knew for certain it was my Annie. I struggle with genealogy at times,  becoming distracted and discouraged quite easily. It always seems to me that it shouldn’t be so difficult to find the information you are looking for…

I had spent hours looking for other relatives, so I prepared myself for a long search. There was the question of her first name – would she be listed as Annie, Anne, Anna, or Ann? It had appeared in each form in some official document or anther. Then her surname – Hill can be English, Irish, Swedish, German, etc. And she emigrated to the United States around 1900, along with hundreds of thousands of other people!

I lucked out and found Annie on a passenger list not long after I began the search. I had not expected the departure port to be Glasgow, and I was a bit surprised that the list said Annie came from Kilkenny (Kildare was her home county) but I was certain I had located the right Annie when I read that her passage was paid by her brother-in-law Mr. O’Brien of Clontarf, Minnesota and her final destination was also Clontarf. Clontarf was a tiny town, this had to be my great-grandmother.

This morning I came across the following posting on a RootsWeb message board from 2008:

From the London Times of April 21, 1899 comes this ad:

ANCHOR LINE.–GLASGOW to NEW YORK.
Furnesia, 5,495 tons, April 27; Ethiopia, 4,001 tons, May 11.
Excellent accommodation. Cabin fares from £9 9s.; second cabin,
from £6.–A.H. Groves, 14, Rue du Helder, Paris; T. Cook and
Son, Paris and London; Henderson Brothers, 18, Leadenhall st. E.C.

The following comes from the NY Times shipping news:

May 13: “SS Ethiopia. (Br.,) Capt. Wadsworth.
(from Glasgow.) sld. from Moville for New York to-day.”

For days the NY Times lists her as expected on
Sunday, May 21. On May 22, however, she is listed
as expected that day. On May 23, “SS Ethiopia,
(Br.,) Wadsworth, Glasgow May 11 and Moville 12,
with mdse. and passengers to Henderson Bros.
Southest of Fire Island at 5:35 P.M.

– submitted by Marj Kohli

S.S. Ethiopia

Thank you Marj Kohli of Canada! I wonder where Annie boarded the S.S. Ethiopia? In Glasgow (she had sisters living in Manchester, England) or did she make the journey up to Moville on Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula? I don’t believe it says on the passenger list, but I will check it again.

I also wonder what held the Ethiopia up? It was supposed to arrive in New York on May 21st, but didn’t make it until May 23rd. Adventure on the high seas? Too bad Annie didn’t keep a travel diary (or if she did, too bad it didn’t survive!)

Click here to read more about Annie.

I am honored to have her name included in Rachael’s Book of Names along with all of the other incredible Irish women who made the journey to a new life. I encourage all of you with an Irish mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, cousin, or auntie to submit their name and their story to Rachael’s project. Visit her website here and follow her on Twitter for all the latest information. It is really a very easy process – take a few minutes and honor your Irish relatives!

Who will you submit? I have some more Irish ladies to get to – a couple more great-grandmothers, some great-great-grandmothers, and a few great-grand-aunts. I better get busy!

Annie and her chickens on her farm in Tara Township, near Clontarf, Minnesota


3 Comments

Skerries is a Great Old Town

By now you must all know how much I love letters, so let’s take another look at the Stephen Owens Collection. Discovered at the Old Skerries Historical Society in County Dublin in the late 1970s by well-known Irish Emigration historian Kerby Miller, this is a small collection of letters sent from Stephen Owens of Clontarf, Minnesota in the USA to his niece Celia Grimes in his native Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland. The letters are from the first few years of the twentieth century.

I began to look at the letters of Stephen Owens in an earlier post (click here to get caught up.) I will pick up the action with a letter dated July 20, 1900.

Mr. Owens starts right out with the weather (typical Irishman and Minnesotan!) It is the hottest and driest summer in over twenty-five years in Minnesota. No rain and scorching heat have left the farmers with little in the way of grains to cut come harvest time:

Corn and potatoes are Pretty good but the American likes to live on flowers instead of potatoes.

Mr. Owens writes of his younger cousin, a daughter of his Uncle John, who works for a family in Lynn, Massachusetts. He had a letter from her in which she describes her employer and their summer holidays in New Hampshire. She wants very much to come out West to visit her cousin which leads Mr. Owens to write, “I would like to see all my friends before I Die, God bless us all.”

The next letter to Celia is dated April 1, 1902. Mr. Owens tells her of the new priest in Clontarf and how the beloved Father McDonald died of consumption. He goes on to tell Celia that she may miss her brother who recently left home for America, “but it is 49 years last February since I seen your Mother, my sister Eliza.” All those years later, Mr. Owens still misses his sister and family. He even misses Celia, and she was not even born when he was last in Skerries!

Main Street Skerries, ca 1900 (courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland)

In a previous letter Celia must have told her uncle that there is something of an Irish language revival in Skerries because he writes:

Skerries is a great old Town. It is getting very patriotic. I am glad to hear the young People are learning their Country’s language. It is a good sign…

The last letter from Mr. Owens in the collection is dated November 10, 1903. The tone of this letter is less than up-beat. He has been ill for five weeks and sometimes is unable to stand for the pain in his back and legs.

Mr. Owens is pleased to hear that Celia was reunited with her brother who came back from America, and he comments on the latest wave of migrants from Ireland:

…you sent 11 people out from Skerries lately. Them is the kind that is wanting, Old People is only in the way here in America they don’t want them. I suppose it’s that way in every country…

Mr. Owens is clearly facing the fact that he has reached the twilight of his years and he has apparently given up the notion of returning to Ireland to see all of his old friends and family – “I think when we meet next it will be in heaven.” It was another two years before Mr. Owens passed away in December 1905.

I contacted the Skerries Historical Society to see if they had the originals of these letters – I only have copied transcripts. Maree Baker, the librarian at the Society got right back to me and said that they did not have the original letters. She sent along a couple of items from the Grimes family that are part of their collection – a photo from the late 1920s and two memorial cards. Celia’s brother James is on the left in the photo and Maree said Celia could be one of the women to the right.

Grimes Family of Skerries (courtesy of the Skerries Historical Society)


Leave a comment

Wexford: Maps, Oral Histories, and an American President

In addition to the usual information on household and water charges there are a couple of surprises on the Wexford County Council website (they also tweet – check out the latest info here.)

Click on the Interactive Maps link to see a list of maps for nearly every aspect of life in County Wexford – great for visitors and locals alike. Looking for a beach? There are over thirty on this map. Or perhaps a day at a museum is more your style, or even a round of golf. These maps have you covered. Hopefully you will not require medical attention, but if you do, a map of local hospitals is right here.

I love the map of Wexford area attractions. All of the sites I mentioned last time are included, plus a few more. An easy tool for planning a visit to County Wexford!

In the Library section of the County Council’s website, you will find the Oral History Project, complete with podcasts of 130 interviews conducted with residents of County Wexford. The project provides anyone, anywhere the opportunity to listen to Wexford residents tell their stories:

Since 2008, over 130 have been interviewed. The recordings are available here as podcasts and on cd for borrowing from all branch and mobile libraries.Wexford people here are witnesses to and practitioners of aspects of local life which are disappearing fast.Hear about school and childhood, work, trades and crafts, fairs and festivals, shopping and lots more.

If you trace your roots to County Wexford, you may just find a cousin on the alphabetical list of interviews. Select a name from the list and a photograph and a short biography are displayed. It is also possible to browse the interviews by region and townland – another way to learn something new about life in your ancestor’s Ireland.

There were no interviews from Dunganstown, the site of the John F. Kennedy Homestead. Dunganstown is the birthplace of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick, who emigrated to America in 1849. President Kennedy returned to the small cottage during his 1963 tour of Ireland. This is the speech President Kennedy delivered in Wexford:

It would be interesting to learn if anyone mentioned JFK’s 1963 visit in the Wexford interviews…

It looks like the homestead is closed until 2013 while a modern visitor’s center is built. It will be ready just in time to mark the fifty-year anniversary of Kennedy’s visit. The JFK Park and Arboretum, a beautiful place to visit, is also located in Wexford (it’s on the map!)

President Kennedy’s Irish roots spread across Ireland beyond County Wexford  – his maternal Fitzgerald great-grandfather came from County Limerick. Click here to read more about President Kennedy’s Irish connections.

This is a great video of President Kennedy in Galway and Limerick in 1963. Enjoy!


2 Comments

Limerick City Archives + A Fourth of July in Ireland

Last time I wrote about the great collections at the Limerick City Library and the great tweets by the Local Studies Team. Next I would like to take a look at another member of the Limerick City Council Family – the Limerick City Archives.

Of its extensive digital collection, the City Archives website says:

Limerick City Council is the first local authority in Ireland to make archive collections available online. The digitised collections are freely available to the public to promote research into the history of Limerick City via a virtual archive.

The Digital Archive Collection is divided into two categories: the Limerick City Council and Local Government Collection and the Private Papers and Business Collection.  

The City Council and Local Government Collection contains:

Want to know who registered the first car in Limerick City? Look no further than the Registration of Motor Vehicles 1904-1982. You will also find out the type of vehicle, how much it weighed, what it used for, and the address of the registrant. Maybe public health is more up your alley? Well, take a look at the Public Health Services Pre-1960: Limerick City Council. Clicking on any item in the list above will bring you directly to that section of the City Archives website.

I was excited to look at the Limerick Union Board of Guardian Minute Books, 1842-1922. A few months ago I featured the Board of Guardians Minute Books from the Killarney Union workhouse, so I was interested to see how these books compared.

The Killarney books represented just four years of meetings, while the Limerick collection spans nearly eighty years and the entire life of the Limerick Workhouse. The minutes from Killarney are transcribed which makes them easier to “browse” through, but if you have some time, the Limerick books are fascinating. The main page of this section includes extensive description as to what the various years contain which is very helpful in guiding researchers.

The Private Papers and Business Collection contains these items:

This is a lot to take in, I know. When I stop and think of the hours it took to complete this digitization project, it boggles my mind! I browsed in the Christian Brothers school records, the Lloyd Family Papers, and the Limerick Bakers Society. Great stuff for anyone tracing their roots to Limerick City or with general interest in Irish history. All of these historic documents are literally right at your fingertips! Just click on any item in the list above to get started. You will need to download special software to view this virtual archive, but it only takes a minute – just follow the directions.

Thanks to the folks at the Limerick City Archive for their dedication and hard work! You might also like to check out the Limerick City Museum.

Before we leave Limerick, I wanted to introduce you to a fun event happening this July 4th…in Ireland.  Visit the 4th of July Limerick website for more information on the festivities planned to mark America’s big day. Here’s what they have to say:

The 4th of July is all about celebrating America and everything the dream of America’s founders stands for. Summed up best in the second sentence of the US “Declaration of Independence”.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So celebrating the 4th of July is about casting off the shackles of everyday life and for at least one day a year using the freedoms you have to pursue happiness to the fullest.

This year we want to celebrate Ireland’s connections with the US and our nations shared heritage by celebrating America’s Independence day on the 4th of July in a way never done before in Ireland. Not only that but we want to do it in true American style and that means doing it BIG.

I love it!  If you are on Twitter, check out their tweets by following @4thjulylimerick – click here!


1 Comment

The Next Best Thing

I know I am not the only family historian with dreams of discovering a cache of old letters, hidden away in a dusty attic. These letters would answer all my questions and lead me to finally solve the mysteries I have pondered about my ancestors’ lives.

Well, this has not happened. In fact, my research seems to lead to all sorts of letters from and to everyone but my family! Reading these letters is fascinating, and they provide a ton of contextual information, but can they really be as good as the real thing?

For example, I came across several letters from Stephen Owens , a nineteenth-century Irish immigrant to Clontarf, Minnesota, to a niece back home in Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland.  The letters are in a file at the Swift County Historical Society. The letters were shared by Kerby Miller, professor of History at the University of Missouri and the preeminent authority on Irish emigration (see his book Emigrants and Exiles.)

The first letter in the collection is dated December 4, 1899. Mr. Owens is about seventy-years-old, has been in the United States for over fifty years and is very happy to have received a letter from his niece back home in Skerries. He writes, “I Thought I would never hear from my friends in Skerries again…”

Mr. Owens goes on to describe his family and his community. Here’s an excerpt:

I am pretty smart on the foot yet thanks be to God. Your Aunt don’t hear so well as I do, She is Pretty Old Looking. She is Able yet to do our Cooking and washing. We had to give up farming we were to old to work the farm any Longer So I sold it and moved to the Little Town of Clontarf near the Church…

Main Street of Clontarf, Minnesota - 1920

More than fifty years have passed since Mr. Owens left Ireland, but he still asks about old school friends, neighbors, and family:

When you write again Let me know iff your Uncle Michael Owens wife is living in Skerries or Daughter. Remember me to John Baulf and to James Russel the Shoemaker and his Brother Mathew and their sister Margret iff Living. All my Old School Mates I suppose are nearly all Dead, iff I landed in Skerries now i would hardly no one Person in the Town the would all be new People to me  my Generation are all Passed away Well Dear Niece Ceila I wont forget you night & morning in my Poor Prayers and I hope you wont forget your Old Uncle…

On March 19, 1900 Mr. Owens writes to his niece and thanks her for the shamrock she sent him. He goes on to describe the large St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Clontarf, and wagers that, “yous did not celebrate like this in Skerries.”

Mr. Owens has this to say about the Boer War taking place in South Africa:

We are all Irish to the Back bone out here and all Boer sympathizers out here. We are sorrow to hear of so many of our countrymen being slain in the war…the English will give them the Post of honor on the Battle field, but won’t give Home Rule.

In the letters Mr. Owens shares much with his niece about his American hometown of Clontarf, Minnesota. He talks about Church activities, the priest, and building projects in the town. When Mr. Owens says “We are all Irish to the Back bone out here and all Boer sympathizers…” I realize he is speaking of my ancestors – his neighbors in Clontarf and all fellow Irishmen who helped establish the community twenty-five years earlier.

So maybe my great-great-grandfathers Patrick Foley, John Regan, and Francis McMahon were Boer supporters, too? Clontarf was a small town, I imagine they all ran in the same circle – St. Malachy Catholic Church, the Hibernian Hall, McDermott General Store…actually there probably was just the one circle!

So, these letters were not found in a relative’s dusty old attic, nor do they even directly reference my ancestors. But they are the next best thing to finding my own family’s letters. It is often the small discoveries that keep family historians and genealogists going.

I will feature a few more excerpts from the Owens Letters in a future post. There are plenty more insights to the Irish experience in America that this nineteenth century Irish immigrant has to share!


Leave a comment

Heritage Pie Chart

Several years ago, the following essay won second prize in the Kansas City Irish Fest writing competition. I think there were three entries…

With Saint Patrick’s Day fast approaching, I know I think about my Irish heritage a bit more than usual. How about you? How do you define your Irish-ness? Complete the form at the end of the post or add a comment. I would love to hear from you!

It was usually around Thanksgiving when the teacher would tell us to sit down in a circle and we would take turns sharing our ethnic background with the class. The goal was to show how America had welcomed people from all over the world to form the great melting pot.  As my classmates struggled to piece together their intricate heritage pie charts (“I’m one-eighth French, one-eighth German, one-half Swedish, one-fourth Norwegian…”), I waited patiently for my turn.  I had it easy.

“I am 100% Irish.”

Although I was proud to be Irish-American and liked the ease of being 100% something, I had never given it much thought.

I was not cognizant of it, but early in my life, my dad defined Irish for me.  He was passionate about Ireland– from the history and the music to the legends and the poetry.  He would sing along to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem as he worked at his desk.  I can remember his favorites like “Roddy McCorley” blaring from the stereo speakers in his den.

My dad is a bit of a romantic with a flair for the dramatic.  He gets misty-eyed when reciting a poem by Yeats or when recounting the struggles the Irish have faced throughout history.  Sometimes the music was a little loud and my dad a little sappy, but this is what I knew of being Irish.

One Spring day in 1981, I came home to find an Irish flag draped across our front porch.  I could only imagine what my dad was up to, but when I went inside, he was not home. I found my mom and asked her why Dad put up the flag.  She told me it was to show support for Bobby Sands and his hunger strike in Northern Ireland.  My mom explained the situation to me – the IRA, Sands, and the unjust treatment of the prisoners.  Sands just wanted to be recognized and treated as a political prisoner.

Well, that certainly sounded like something my dad would get behind.

“But, Aine, your dad didn’t put up the flag.  I did.”

Now this was a surprise.  I had not even considered that my mom would do something so bold, so dramatic.  She barely hummed “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra”.  It seemed my mom was just as Irish as my dad, just in a different way.  I began to pay attention to what it meant to be Irish-American, and I realized there is not one neat definition.  I have embraced the complexities of my heritage and thankful for such a rich and diverse background.

Looking back, it was the other kids who had it easy.  I doubt many of them spent time wondering what it meant to be Franco-German-Swedish-Norwegian-American.  They could quantify their heritage. They had a pie chart.


7 Comments

This Old Farmhouse

The first time I visited Ireland in 1988, I was struck by the number of derelict farmhouses dotting the countryside. “Why doesn’t someone just tear those old houses down?” I wondered. “That’s what we do in the good ol’ USA…we don’t leave houses to fall down on themselves. If we don’t want or need them, we get rid of them and build something new and better…”

Abandoned house near Ballyedmond, County Laois (all photos by Regan McCormack)

This sentiment came from a teenage girl from the city who spent more time in the countryside during six weeks in Ireland than she had in sixteen years back home – in the “good ol’ USA”. I thought I was so smart…

Fast-forward twenty years and I am closer to home, driving the country roads of Tara Township, crisscrossing its thirty-six square miles in Swift County, Minnesota. My maternal great-great-grandparents were among the pioneer 1870s settlers of this township on the vast prairie of Western Minnesota. This was my first visit to Tara. I had traveled three thousand miles from home on a number of occasions to visit Ireland, my “ancestral homeland”, yet I had never bothered to drive a few hours west to see where my people settled when they came to Minnesota.

Granted, as far as vacation destinations are concerned, Ireland is a bit more attractive than Western Minnesota, but it turns out, the two places have some things in common.

There are the obvious similarities in place names in this part of Minnesota. Bishop John Ireland established several colonies of Irish Catholic settlers with names like Avoca, Kildare, Tara, and Clontarf. Hundreds of Irish families from cities and communities in the Eastern United States seized the opportunity to own land and live in a community with its own church and priest, surrounded by fellow Irish Catholics.

The Depression came early to rural communities and persistent crop failures and changing farming practices combined to make farming unviable for most small farmers. My relatives moved to Minneapolis, as did several other Tara families. Some of the original Irish settlers had left Tara even earlier, moving further West, always in search of better land.

So, I wonder why I was surprised to find this in Tara Township?

Section 22 of Tara Township – the McMahon place

On nearly every section of land in the township stands an abandoned farmhouse, or at least a grove of trees planted by the original settlers to protect a house. And this in the “good ol’ USA” where we tear things down!

Folks in Ireland and Tara Township have the same reaction when I ask them why they don’t simply tear down the abandoned houses. They shrug and say that they are no bother and they can be used for storage. That is the practical response, but I wonder if there is something a bit more sentimental lurking beneath?

The abandoned houses got me thinking…A similar hopelessness that drove millions of Irish to America during the 19th and 20th centuries could be seen in rural Americans who fled the farm for the city in the 1920s. Major difference, of course, is there was not a famine like Ireland experienced, however there was tremendous poverty, crops failed miserably, families were split up, and life changed permanently and dramatically.

I am rather ashamed of my sixteen-year-old self for not being as smart as she thought she was. She should have realized that the same reason this stands today in Ireland…

Near Ballyedmond, County Laois – 2011

might be why this…

Cahir Castle, Tipperary – 2011

and this…

Rock of Dunamase, County Laois – 2011

and this…

Johnstown, County Kildare – 2009

are still here today. I doubt that the farmhouse ruins will have the staying power of the castles and abbeys of centuries gone by, but in the meantime they can remind us from where we came. Whether it is a farmhouse in Ireland or Tara Township, Minnesota.

Now, if I could only get Jimmy to fix up this old house…

Two Jimmy McCormacks at old family house in Ballyedmond – 2009


6 Comments

Happy Birthday Minnie!

Mary “Minnie” Foley, 1875-76

Minnie was my great-grandmother, and according to my grandma she absolutely hated the nickname “Minnie”. Please forgive me, Great Grandmother, but I think it is a cute name, and since your real name Mary is shared by at least 75% of the women in your family tree, I chose to call you Minnie.

Minnie Foley was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire on January 2, 1875. She was the fourth of five children born to Patrick Foley and Mary Crowley (their eldest son did not survive infancy.) Patrick emigrated to the United States from Kilmichael, County Cork in 1864. Mary came a year earlier in 1863, also from County Cork.

Minnie was baptized on January 24, 1875 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Concord, New Hampshire. John Foley and Mary Casey were her godparents.

Three years later, Minnie and her family moved west to Clontarf, Minnesota with several other Irish families from the Concord, New Hampshire area, including the Regan family. John Regan and Patrick Foley emigrated together in 1864 from Kilmichael. The families settled on farms in Tara township. Minnie and Nellie Regan were best friends from a very young age.

First-Generation American Girls: Minnie and Nellie in about 1886

My grandma told me that Minnie worked hard her entire life, and that included working on the family farm in Tara Township while she was growing up. Her sister Maggie worked inside, while Minnie and her younger brother Jackie worked outside. My grandma confessed, she wasn’t sure where Minnie’s older brother Tim worked!

The McMahons, an Irish family from County Fermanagh, lived about a mile from the Foleys in Tara. Minnie married Thomas McMahon at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf on June 28, 1904. Minnie’s sister Maggie and Tom’s brother Frank were their witnesses. I imagine Minnie and Hoosie (as Tom is referred to in Minnie’s autograph book) having secret meetings over hay bales and missing chickens during their courtship…

Minnie and Tom raised seven children and after giving farming all they had the McMahons moved to Minneapolis in 1925.

When she died in 1945, Minnie was living with my grandma, her husband John Regan, and their new baby (and my mother) Eileen. My grandma said that Minnie was smitten with Eileen. Minnie would say that she had never known a baby to sleep as much and as well as little Eileen. Minnie marvelled at how Eileen would even fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth.

In many ways things came full circle for Minnie. Also living with my grandma in 1945 was Neil Regan, Nellie’s older brother and my grandpa’s father. Eighty years earlier Patrick Foley and John Regan had journeyed to the United States. After Fisherville, New Hampshire and Clontarf, Minnesota, the families came together again in Minneapolis…a long way from Kilmichael.

In my grandma’s recipe book are a few recipes attributed to Minnie, her “Ma” – I think I will make “Ma’s Spice Cake” in Minnie’s honor today.

Nellie Regan Byrne and Minnie Foley McMahon, 1942


2 Comments

The Proof is in the Picture

“You know, Jim, my brother Paddy met you before. It was in the early Seventies at Nellie Marrin’s home in Minneapolis,” Michael Kelly told my dad one afternoon last month shortly after we arrived in Ireland.

“I don’t think so…he must have me confused with someone else…I really don’t remember that at all,” my dad replied shaking his head.

Regardless of whether Paddy met my dad, I was curious how Paddy Kelly found himself at my grand-aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin’s house in South Minneapolis. I had heard my dad mention the Kelly name when he referenced his genealogy work in recent years, but this was the first time I had met a Kelly.

Paddy and Michael’s mother, Katie Loughman Kelly, was a first cousin of my grandfather Bill McCormack and his sister Nellie McCormack Marrin. This makes my dad, Paddy and Michael second cousins.

Michael shared a number of entertaining stories with us that afternoon. Over the years, he collected stories from his mother Katie, and passed her memories on to us with keen understanding and insight.

Katie considered her American cousins Nellie and Bill “kindred spirits” and enjoyed a life-long correspondence with Nellie. Katie never met Nellie in person, but Bill visited Ireland in 1934-35 and the two of them became good friends.

Michael invited us to dinner the following Sunday. We had a great time at their lovely home. Michael’s wife Moira is known for her culinary and hosting skills and the entire Kelly family was delightful.

Paddy Kelly stopped by and after introductions were made, Michael mentioned to Paddy that my dad didn’t remember meeting him. Paddy stood his ground – indeed they had met – and he went on to tell us how Nellie sat in her rocking chair, closed her eyes and recounted the name of every family on the road from Ballyedmond (County Laois, where her father’s home) to Rathdowney. This was truly a stroll down her father’s memory lane – the families Nellie listed were her father Andy McCormack’s neighbors before leaving for America. Nellie must have heard her father’s litany often enough for her to commit it to her own memory.

Paddy turned to my sister, mom, and me and said that he also met the three of us that day at Nellie’s.

Paddy let us stew a few minutes before pulling out a photograph taken at Nellie Marrin’s in 1972:

Jim, Eileen, Regan, and Aine McCormack - 1972

Sure enough…the four of us posed for a photograph for an Irish cousin (I am the camera-shy one on the right!) We had all met a Kelly before.

I don’t blame my dad for not remembering. After all he was twenty-seven-years-old, busy with his young family and his life.

So often people lament not talking to older relatives about family history or not asking more questions when they were young and there were people still around who could answer them. I say don’t be so hard on yourselves! As young people, most of us don’t care that much about what old people have to say, and sometimes the old people don’t want to talk anyway.

The photograph Paddy produced reminded me of the dozens of old, unidentified photos in my family collection. I think I will begin labelling them all as “cousins” of whichever relative they most closely resemble!

Next time I will take a look at the other side of the family history obstacle – when no one wants to talk about it. When we were in Ireland I finally learned a few things about my grandfather.


2 Comments

Mick Moloney and the Music of Irish America

Yesterday I heard a re-broadcast of an  Arts Tonight interview with folklorist and musician Mick Moloney on RTÉ Radio1.  Here is a little bit about Mick from his website:

Mick Moloney is the author of “Far From the Shamrock Shore: The story of Irish American History Through Song” released by Crown Publications in February of 2002 with an accompanying CD on Shanachie Records. He holds a Ph.D. in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught ethnomusicology, folklore and Irish studies courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, and Villanova Universities, and currently teaches at New York University in the Irish Studies program.

Mick has also recorded and produced more than forty albums, organized and performed countless concerts and productions, consulted on American Public Media programs, and earned a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The interview was very interesting because it reminded me that I can look to music as a historical resource for furthering my understanding of the Irish American experience.  When Mick was asked what he encountered when he came to the United States looking for Irish music, he said that he was amazed by the number of songs about the Irish that existed in America…songs about Irish railroad workers and Irish canal workers, Irish anthracite miners in Pennsylvania and Irish coal miners in Montana, big-city Irish politicians and pioneer Irish farmers, Irish activists and Irish gold-rushers  in California.  Songs covering most of the Irish experiences in America.  Mick’s conclusion?  The Irish “speak of our personal lives and our history as a people through music and song.”

Mick was impressed by the quality of the Irish music being played in American cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, and Chicago.  From the mid-1970s, Mick documented the music he found as he traveled all over the United States.  The result is a collection of recordings housed at the Taminent Library and Wagner Archives of New York University.  Click here to visit the library’s detailed guide to the Mick Moloney collection.

 

This looks like a great book.  It was published by Mick Moloney in 2002 and is accompanied by a sixteen song CD.  It is available from Amazon.com – click here to take a closer look.  I will be ordering myself a copy soon…can’t wait to read and listen to it!

I will leave you with a song…