The Irish in America


Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Annie!

Annie born August 30, 1876 in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland

Annie born August 30, 1876 in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland

Today is my great-grandmother’s birthday. I never knew Annie HIll Regan, but I’ve spent a great deal of time over the years thinking about her, wondering what she was like. For a long time, all I had to go on were a few sketchy stories (like the one where Annie was a mail-order bride), a stack of old photographs, and a cupboard full of fancy dishes and teapots that once belonged to Annie.

Several years of research and many hours of chats with two of her nephews who grew up across the railroad tracks from Annie in Clontarf, Minnesota, have given me tremendous insight into Annie’s life and personality. I have written several articles about my journey to get to know my great-grandmother – please click here, here, and here to read more.

The one thing I heard over and over was how Annie liked nice things. When this characterization came from the no-nonsense residents of Clontarf, I got the overwhelming sense that this was not an admirable trait in their eyes. But for me, it is one of the things that attracts me so strongly to Annie. I like nice things, too.

Annie and her geese

Annie and her geese

I just spotted the set of twelve delicate crystal champagne glasses in my dining room buffet. They belonged to Annie. I wonder about those glasses. They are so pretty, so elegant. Where did Annie get them? When did she use them? I can’t imagine she had many opportunities, living in the tiny town of Clontarf on the prairie of Western Minnesota, to serve champagne to her guests.

The glasses have sat on a shelf in my buffet since I put them there sixteen years ago when I moved into my place. In all of my sophisticated, urban entertaining (ahem!) I have yet to use the glasses. This is not to say I haven’t daydreamed about situations when they will come in handy. Just in case someone drops by with a bottle of Dom Perignon, I am ready, I bet that’s what Annie thought, too.

Annie with husband (Neil) and son (John)

Annie with husband (Neil) and son (John)

 

Happy Birthday, Annie!


4 Comments

DAY 26: Johnstown, County Kildare

SJJ 14

Photo by Regan McCormack

There are other Johnstowns in Ireland, but I am talking about Johnstown in County Kildare. I would love this village even if I had no connection to it. The picturesque ruins of the medieval St. John’s Church (above) are one reason the village is so appealing.

Annie Hill

Annie Hill

Another reason is the village’s sense of history. Several years ago I met Brian McCabe – Johnstown’s local historian – when I was researching my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan. Annie was born near Johnstown, and her sister lived in the village. When we visited in 2009,  Brian was a wonderful guide, telling us what Johnstown would have been like in the late nineteenth century when Annie knew it, before she left for America.

Brian shared the rich history of Johnstown. Since  the village is just 25 miles from Dublin, it is popular with people who commute to work in the city, with several large housing estates and new construction. But Brian is very knowledgeable about Johnstown’s past and place in history. He told us all about Palmerstown House and the Earls of Mayo. And of course, he covered the 6th Earl of Mayo who died in India in 1872 and is buried in the churchyard. He is known as the “Pickled Earl” since his body was preserved in a vat of rum on the long journey back to Ireland following his assassination.

Monument to the 6th Earl of Mayo

Monument to the 6th Earl of Mayo (photo by Regan McCormack)

Johnstown is a lovely, peaceful village in the midst of motorways and urban sprawl. The community values its history, and it shows with the beautifully maintained public areas and the handy signs marking buildings of interest. I am always impressed when people are truly dedicated to preserving their history, and when it happens to be a bit of my personal history, all the better!

Annie's sister Katie + family in Johnstown

Annie’s sister Katie + family in Johnstown