The Irish in America

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Belfast City {more than just} Sightseeing Tours

Have you traced your Irish roots to Belfast, Northern Ireland and are now planning a visit to the old homestead? Aidan McCormack and Belfast City Tours are at your service!


Belfast City Tours is much more than a sight-seeing bus, circulating through Belfast, providing entertaining commentary, and pointing out historic buildings. Of course they do those things very well, but Aidan and his team also create personal genealogy-based itineraries. Aidan says:

We have an intimate knowledge of our local areas and already work closely with local genealogists and PRONI to deliver bespoke tours to families and small groups.

Simply go to and take a look at what they offer. An impressive range of tours are listed on the website, in addition to some unique options which will make planning a trip to Northern Ireland a breeze:

  • Day trips to Derry, Giant’s Causeway, and more
  • Airport pick-ups
  • Hotel reservations
  • Boat cruises
  • Walking tours
  • Group activities

Belfast City Tours is a great option for all of your travel needs in Belfast and beyond. Their comprehensive services are unique and their attention to detail is fantastic. They would love to hear from you and get started making your visit to Northern Ireland one you will never forget.






Latest Irish American “Discovery”: Victory Cakes


Deborah’s and her cakes

Two things attracted me to this article on mention of QVC (I am not ashamed – I love the home shopping channel) and the photograph of the friendly woman holding a platter of adorable mini Bundt cakes. MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes? Never heard of them, but I definitely needed to learn more…

Deborah Streeter-Davitt bakes delicious cakes using an old family recipe. Deborah’s great-grandfather, James MacDowell, was a native of Belfast.  Known by his family as “Dassie”, he was a baker by trade who became well-known for his exquisite butter cakes. Dassie created his cakes from a special recipe (which remains secret today) for the rich and famous throughout the British Isles. Dassie may have become  the most sought-after baker by royalty and the elite, but he gave it all up to follow his dream of a better life for his family in America. Dassie moved to Syracuse, New York where he worked in a modest bakery for the man who sponsored his immigration.

MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes is definitely a family affair. Deborah’s parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews all come together to help her create the rich, buttery cakes, available throughout the Philadelphia area at farmer’s markets, specialty stores, and festivals. You can even order the cakes online – both the sweet butter cake and a “dressed-up” version are available. Here’s how they describe Dassie’s Traditional cake:

Dassie’s award-winning sweet butter pound cake (Massie’s Sweet Butter) is adorned with wonderful rich and velvety Wilbur Chocolate and Butterscotch ~ a perfect and delicious compliment to Great Great Dad’s recipe. These creamy confections are both baked inside and lovenly drizzled on top of each golden cake, along with sprinkles of tiny kelly green shamrocks and wee orange nonpareils. Dassie’s Traditional is perfect for EVERY occasion and mostly just for YOU to celebrate YOU!

Sounds heavenly! I can’t wait to track down one of Dassie’s cakes when I am in Philadelphia at the end of the month. I bet that Dassie would be very proud that his great-granddaughter was carrying on the baking tradition and sharing his Irish cakes with the “sweet-teeth” of America.

Click image for history of MacDougall's Irish Victory Cakes.

Click image for history of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes.

  • Click here  for a nice article on Deborah and the Victory cakes.
  • “Like” MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes on Facebook – click here.
  • Order your very own cake – click here to visit website.


Day 17 of Irish American Favorites: Vince Vaughn

I’ve been struggling to choose a favorite Irish American actor. It’s difficult to settle on just one. There are classic movie stars like Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck. Then there is the “newcomer” Bradley Cooper, who has been rather vocal about his heritage, mentioning his Irish American father in more than one recent interview. And, of course, George Clooney would be an obvious choice – I have loved him since his stint on The Facts of Life in the 1980s.

VinceVaughnThe other day I saw this blog post from the always-lovely Emeralds, and I began to think a little outside the box. She told us about Irish American actor Vince Vaughn’s project, The Art of Conflict, a documentary exploring the political murals of Northern Ireland. The documentary is a Vaughn family affair: Vince produces and narrates the film and his sister, Valeri, directs.

After reading a few articles about the documentary and an interview with Vince and Valeri, I began to appreciate Vince Vaughn in a new way. Sure, I loved him in the 1996 film Swingers, and I laughed my way through many of his other efforts (including Old School, Wedding Crashers, and Anchorman), but I never considered Vince Vaughn one of my favorite actors. The way he explained his interest in the murals and the artists who create them makes me think Vince is right up there with my favorite Irish Americans in Hollywood.

What’s cool is that when Vince visited Ireland, just like thousands of other Irish Americans do every year, he came away with an appreciation of the entire island, with its complexities and contradictions. I think few tourists do that. He  was struck by the gorgeous countryside and the friendly people, but became fascinated by what he saw in the art and the murals of Northern Ireland. Vince was intrigued and wanted to learn more about the people, the conflict, and the art.

It is always refreshing to see a Hollywood figure pursue something he or she is interested in, not for the fame or the attention. I am reminded of the hub-bub about Tom Cruise’s Irish ancestry several months ago. I know I need to let that one go, but there are so many other people in the entertainment business over here who feel a strong connection to their Irish roots in an authentic way. Like Vince Vaughn.

The Art of Conflict is available exclusively on Netflix. Here’s a clip:

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Diaries and letters and newspapers…oh my!

Where can you find these treasures, in addition to many other historic research sources? Online at DIPPAM – Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People, and Migration.  This is one of the coolest websites out there for anyone interested in Irish studies, emigration, and history.  DIPPAM is a project of Queen’s University, Belfast and several other entities.  They describe themselves like this:

DIPPAM is an online virtual archive of documents and sources relating to the history of Ireland, and its migration experience from the 18th to the late 20th centuries.

DIPPAM consists of three databases – Enhanced Parliamentary Papers on Ireland-EPPI, Voices of Migration and Return-VMR, and Irish Emigration Database-IED.  Let’s take a closer look at the IED.

The IED is a collection of over 33,000 documents (with new material added regularly) covering the 32 counties of Ireland, with the majority dated from 1820 to 1920.  If you relish the thrill of perusing old archived collections in person, browsing this virtual archive could become a new favorite destination.  Why not take advantage of the neatly transcribed diaries and letters, and set aside the microfilm reader for a bit – all the documents in this collection are available to view online.

Click here to read the general guidelines for searching the IED.  You are able to search for a specific term, or use the categories on the left side to define parameters and browse the fascinating collection of documents.

Here is an example of a search I did on the emigrant letters in the collection.  I began by restricting the “Document Types” to Letters (Emigrants).  Next I entered Minnesota in the “Search” field.  This search resulted in 14 emigrant letters with some mention of Minnesota.

I selected the following return:

18-10-1884    Thomas McCann, Minneapolis, Minnesota to Mary McKeown, Belfast.

Mr. McCann is writing to his sister in Ireland from Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is located in the north central portion of the United States.  Most of the letter talks about the McCann siblings who are scattered throughout the US and Ireland.  The pattern of Irish emigration is evident in this letter; one at a time the siblings made their way to the US, some via Scotland, joining relatives already established in American cities.  Once in the US, some stayed in New York while others moved west to Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN, and beyond.

…dear sister
Maggie is well and likes this
country she would not go back to old
ireland for any money she came to
Uncle James from New York and stoped [stopped?]
there last winter so she do not think
of the old Country any more she sayes [says?]
she had to work to [too?] hard when she
was there and had nothing for it
she is now working in a hotel in
Madison near my uncles house but
I am 2 hundred and fifty miles furder [further?]
west I left my uncles last spring and
came west I am now 7 hundred miles
from New York so you may think I am quite
away from the place I was Born in
old Ireland but I am quite happey [happy?]
sometimes I never think I was in old
Ireland still I never think of it
sometimes for I do not entend [intend?] ever
to see it I am still working at my
trade and always has plenty to do
I spent quite a little some [sum?] on maggie
to take her here she cost me forty
seven dollers [dollars?] to take her from
Ireland to here but I do not care
for that it makes me happey [happy?] to
hear from her and that is all I want
from her sometimes she do not think
worth her while to write me a few
lines to let me know how she is getting
along well…

Click here for the full text from

Maybe I am cynical, but I note a hint of a passive-aggressive tone when Mr. McCann refers to his sister Maggie.  Glad to see that was alive and well in the 19th century.  Also interesting are the attitudes he expresses toward his homeland – more practical than sentimental, but rather sad.  Reading this letter we can understand a bit more about how it must have felt to have to leave home and have your family dismantled.

Start browsing: click here to go directly to the Irish Emigration Database.  What else do you have to do this weekend?