The Irish in America


6 Comments

Summer Reading: The Irish in America

Memorial Day is in the rearview mirror, the school year is winding down and the air has turned heavy and warm…summer has arrived in Saint Paul! It’s time to assemble your summer reading list, hit the pool/beach/lake/air-conditioned living room, and start reading!

I plan on doing a lot of reading this summer so I thought it might be fun to start an Irish American Book Club here on the blog. I’ve never been much for the traditional book club. I like to discuss books as I am reading them. It’s hard for me to save up all my key points and insights for the monthly club meeting. I also don’t like the pressure involved in the typical book club – I don’t like people telling me what book to read and when to read it.

This will be a different kind of book club. I am not exactly sure how it will take shape, but for starters, I would like to hear what Irish American books have been on your radar lately. I need some suggestions as to what I should read this summer and I would like to hear what people think about what they’re reading.

Make suggestions, give feedback. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Books should be by an Irish-American author or have a subject involving the Irish in America, but needn’t be both.
  • Readers will share what they are reading and will be honest with their critiques and praise.
  • We will have fun reading!

Regan (my sis) and I got a head start and read Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. It is a novel about two Irish sisters who move to Boston in the 1950’s. Immediately I thought of Maureen Teahan Murray, the lovely contributor to the blog who passed away last summer. Maureen came to Boston from Milltown, County Kerry in 1947. She and her sister landed in New York just in time for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before heading north to Boston to begin their new lives. (Click here for more about Maureen and links to her delightful essays.)

I also thought about Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, a book I loved. The movie was great as well, but the book was better. However, I put all of this out of my mind when I began reading Saints for All Occasions because I wanted to have an open mind. I didn’t want to compare it to a real-life situation or another novel.

Has anyone else read Saints for All Occasions? I would love to hear what you thought of it. I think it is a perfect summertime “beach read.” It is just over 300 pages and it goes pretty quickly. Regan and I discussed it as we read, carefully monitoring where the other was in the story as to not spoil anything. Leave a comment and let us know what you thought!

If you have book ideas or thoughts on Saints for All Occasions, tweet me @ainemccormack1…I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Summer!!!!


2 Comments

Riding the Rails

So pleased to welcome Ellie Kelly as a contributor to The Irish in America. Before we get to her delightful piece in which a subway ride in Toronto triggers memories of riding shot-gun with her dad on another subway, in Boston, Ellie takes a moment to introduce herself. I like what Ellie has to say about her Irish heritage and identity. It is not always about knowing the entire family tree by heart or singing sentimental Irish ballads. For many of us, being Irish American is just a way of life, growing up surrounded by “the lilting laughing Irish voices”. I look forward to learning more about Ellie and her thoughts on being Irish in America!

Meet Ellie

I am a first generation American. My mother, Joan Teahan, came to this country in November, 1947, with her sister, Maureen. Their first day in New York City included the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, which is described in Maureen’s blog, along with various other adventures they had with their sisters growing up. I truly enjoyed my Aunt Maureen’s blog over the years. My father’s parents also came from Ireland, so the lilting laughing Irish voices were such a part of my entire childhood. Funny how as I have moved all over the country, I often get homesick for that very sound.

Most people know I am Irish by looking at me, as I have the usual white skin, freckles and blond hair. I love my Irish heritage and yet I have not fully embraced it. I see myself as a proud American coming from immigrants seeking a better life. I am honored to have been asked to blog for the Irish in America, and yet I feel almost like a fraud in many ways. My siblings know so much more Irish history than I do, are so much more involved in everything Irish, while I am not. I feel I disappoint them at times when they mention names and dates that are meaningful to the Irish and I stare blankly. I cannot figure out who is related to who in my extended family as I moved away years ago and lost touch with so many. I am fully assimilated….and so in some ways I guess I maybe do represent some of the Irish in America. I plan to write from the heart about my life and times and hope that the stories reach people and touch a heart here and there.

I currently live in Fort Myers, Florida with my wife, Terri, and I am a few years from retirement and I travel from home to various locations weekly for work projects.

From 2011 riding the subway again after over 30 years away

So here I am working in Toronto 4 days a week and happy that spring is arriving. Instead of a daily drive commute from home, I now use airplanes, taxis and the subway to get to work. The subway is now a regular part of my life – and for so many years I have not been in a city with a subway. As a child being raised in Boston, Massachusetts, the world revolved around using the subway to get from point A to point B. I grew up riding the Boston subway – but not like most people rode it. No, I rode in the next best spot in the car – the driver had the best – but I stood right beside the driver 99% of the time I rode. How did I manage that? My dad was the driver. In fact, the Boston subway was a part of my family, with Poppa joining the Boston street car union in 1916. He was known as “Sandwich Kelly” as every day his wife would meet his street car at the end of their street and hand his lunch through the window to him. My father followed in his footsteps and then the Boston transit system went from a Sunday dinner discussion event at Nana’s house to a daily over dinner discussion at our own dinner table. My brother made it a multi-generational affair by also joining the “T”.

Countless times I would ride with my dad, simply for the pleasure of it. He would pick me up at the top of our street (back when the street cars ran instead of the buses) and I would travel one or more loops through town with him. He would always teach me something about the subway on our rides. It wasn’t until now that I realized how much I learned about the subway, and how much I loved those rides. Back then, I learned the signal-light patterns in the tunnels. I remember where the secret doors in the walls were. Heck, I even knew where every cross-track was, and could prepare myself for the accompanying sway, and was ready for the exact moment that the car wheels would begin screeching as it rounded that Boylston Street curve. Outside of the tunnels, back in the car barn, I learned how to reseat the wire on top of the car if it came off the line. How to open the closed car door from the outside. Once, I even drove a street car around the yard one time – that was a thrill! Most of all, I just loved riding those rails with him at my side. Many times as a child I also had the privilege of riding in the same spot with my Dad’s friends when I boarded the car by myself, something a child could safely do in the 60’s in Boston. I had extended “T” family all over the city.

Today, I found myself migrating to the front of the Toronto train, standing again at the front, looking out, right beside the driver’s booth. There was a familiarity about looking ahead into the dark, feeling the car grab as it crossed another line, adjusting to the sway, and watching those familiar (even though I was in a foreign city) gray walls with the power lines running along them. It was a warm, welcoming feeling. There are many things in life to be thankful to a parent for, and most people remember the bigger things in life when remembering their own father. I have those memories, too. But this small piece of comfort, when I am so far away from my own home, is what stands out for me today. My dad was not the person in the driver’s seat today – he was standing right beside me enjoying the ride……and I will be in that same spot tomorrow morning, too.

 

Thanks, Ellie! Couldn’t help but think of this song…


1 Comment

One of Our Own

Detroit Tigers v Washington Senators

I received an email yesterday from Mary – Maureen Teahan Murray’s (Meet Maureen and Maureen’s Memories) daughter and collaborator – sharing their memories of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In recent days people all over the world are remembering that fateful day, November 22, 1963.

Nearly everyone (at least in this country, but elsewhere as well) remembers where they were when they learned that someone shot President Kennedy. I have heard many people say there have been two days like that in their lives: November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001. Mary writes:

I had just turned eight when JFK was assassinated and like many people I remember the day vividly. That Friday I was in Miss Murphy’s second grade class at the Francis Parkman School, Jamaica Plain (Boston) . Although very young Miss Murphy was an extremely strict teacher so I was surprised that afternoon when she abruptly announced she was leaving us alone in the classroom. She told us to do our vocabulary homework which we usually would have done over the weekend.  It was so out of character for her I knew something was very wrong but I had no idea what it was and could never imagine the awful truth. When she finally returned she dismissed us without saying a word about the tragedy. I suppose they thought we were too young to be told and left that difficult task  to our parents.


4 Comments

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!


6 Comments

Anything sound familiar?

Jennie Johnston Famine Ship, Dublin (photo by Regan McCormack)

Jennie Johnston Famine Ship, Dublin (photo Regan McCormack)

On occasion, a reader of the blog will leave a comment wondering if anyone has information on a specific Irish ancestor or family or even an Irish relative or friend who made their way to America.

These comments quickly become buried as new posts move to the top of the page. I would like to give a few recent comments a bit more attention here…take a look, and if anything strikes a chord, leave a comment. I will put you in touch with the source!

MULLIGAN: FROM SLIGO TO CHICAGO

J.C. writes: “Hi there, What a great website, Doing a little research myself and am trying to find any details on an Anthony Mulligan who emigrated from Sligo through Queenstown, Cork Ireland in Oct 1914 on The Cedric and settled in Chicago and I think he worked for Armour Stock Yards.He signed a Reg Card No 2038 in 1940/41 and lived in 425-W-60 Street. Dont know whether he married , family, or anything else about him . He had a brother James who also lived in Chicago and a sister ” Sr Martin Mulligan ” a Sinsinawa Dominican nun but I have traced these two family members. Any help out there would be appreciated.”

FAMILY NAMES JACOB, PIERCE, WALTON FROM COUNTY CARLOW

Carol’s interested in these names from County Carlow.

1920s BOSTON 

This is an interesting one. I did a quick search, but I was unable to find Meg. Brenda writes: “I am looking for a Meg Reidy who lived in Clinton Ave. in Boston in the early twenties, as a tiny child. My husband’s mother was her nurse/housekeeper, and spoke of her all her life, she loved that baby. Anybody know her, or her descendants or family?”

County Waterford Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

County Waterford Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

EMIGRANTS FROM BUNMAHON, COUNTY WATERFORD

I just learned from a comment on another blog I write that the Kavanaugh family who settled in the railroad town of Clontarf in Western Minnesota came from Bunmahon in County Waterford. This caught my eye since I actually drove through Bunmahon while visiting Waterford this autumn.

John commented that he had heard that several families who settled in Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 19th century had come from Bunmahon. This was news to me. Anybody out there know anything about emigration from Bunmahon, County Waterford?

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and if any of the names or places on this page sound familiar, please drop me a line!


8 Comments

An Orange for Baby Jesus

Maureen Teahan Murray helped us kick off the holiday season by sharing her Thanksgiving memories a couple of weeks ago, and she is back with a special story, just in time for the first Sunday of Advent…enjoy!

Continue reading