The Irish in America


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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…


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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.


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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!


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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!


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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


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Letters from North America

The New Brunswick Archive in Canada has a great collection of letters to and from Irish emigrants to the area.  You can read the actual hand-written letters, or if you prefer not to struggle with nineteenth century script, transcriptions are available for download. The collection contains items from the nineteenth century, as well as some from the early twentieth century.  Also included are a diary, family histories, and other documents.  Take a look around the site…fascinating stuff!

An example of what the New Brunswick archive has to offer…

The Laurence Hughes collection (MC2618 :: Laurence Hughes fonds) contains several letters written to Laurence Hughes of Fredricton, New Brunswick from relatives in Ireland and elsewhere in North America.  I think these letters are particularly interesting for they demonstrate the networks of Irish emigration and how that support facilitated further migration from Ireland and within North America. The letters span seventeen years (1837-1854) and see several relatives in Ireland considering emigration and dealing with the decision to stay.

In 1837 Laurence’s brother Thomas writes from Newry sharing the news from home.  Thomas encourages Laurence to move to Boston and gives him advice on how to be successful there:

Now before you go to Boston enquire of every respectable person that knows you if
they can give you a line or two of recommendations to any person they may be acquainted with…[damage]…the Catholic Priest of Fredericton…

Good advice, I would say.  Thomas provides his brother with options, outlining a plan for Laurence’s return to Ireland since, “It is only natural to expect you would prefer living in Ireland.”   Laurence stayed put in Fredricton, at least until 1854.  Thomas mentions that he had four children and was looking forward to more…”We calculate on having one every 13 or 14 months that’s not bad trade thank God.”

In the 1837 letter, Thomas mentions another brother, Edward, who had also gone to New Brunswick.  By 1852 he was living in Pennsylvania with a large family and looking to move west to Iowa:

I some times think of selling it to go live in the west. There is a fine
colony of settlers from Carlow in loway State sent out by Rev. James Heigher and they have fine schools there now for boys and girls. I think dear Lawrence if we would go there it would be a fine chance for our children but I am afraid it is not healthy there.

Read Edward’s full letter here.  I wonder if Edward ever made his way to Iowa?  Establishing Catholic colonies in the midwestern United States was popular during this time (until the mid-1880s.)  The goal of such projects was two-fold: provide opportunities for Irish immigrants to escape congested Eastern conditions and own land, farm, and raise families in a Catholic community, and to strengthen the American Catholic Church by populating the West with Catholic settlers.

These letters are full of interesting observations.  Edward comments on his fellow Irishmen who work on the railroad, a job many felt lucky to get:

There is a great deal of railroads making here but the most degrading characters work on them now. Some of this is a disgrace to the land that gave them birth.

This comment is important because it reminds us that all Irish immigrants were not treated equally in America, even by their fellow countrymen.  Clearly Edward was educated to some degree, and from his letter it is apparent he was a religious man who did not approve of drink.  Irish in America like him would have had little time for the poor, uneducated, Famine-era emigrants.  Edward and his brothers made the decision to come to North America before the worst years of the Famine hit Ireland while for many of the million who came during the Famine, the alternative was starvation.  This is not to say that conditions in Ireland were favorable at the time of the Hughes brothers emigration, but judging from the letters, it was not a case of emigrate or starve.

Research Help Requested…

Edward mentions a “Catholic Almanac” in his letter to Lawrence.  Has anyone ever heard of that before?  I would love to know where I could find 19th century copies!