The Irish in America


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Old Glory and Tiger Lilies

Neil Regan circa 1935

Neil Regan circa 1935

Today is the 141st anniversary of my great-grandfather Cornelius “Neil” Regan’s birth. He was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire to John Regan of Kilmichael, County Cork and Mary Quinn of County Clare, Ireland.

I paid tribute to Neil on his birthday last year – click here to read the post.

My mom, Eileen, remembers her grandpa looking out the front window of their South Minneapolis home on June 14th, smiling, and saying, “Well, how nice of everyone to raise the flag for my birthday!” Those were the days when nearly every house on your block would proudly hang Old Glory on her special day.

My grandma told me that after she married Neil’s son, John, the couple lived alone for less than one year before Neil moved in with the newlyweds. I commented that must have been a pain, but Grandma shook her head. “Oh not at all. Neil was such a kind man, so agreeable. He kept to himself and never caused me any trouble. And once Eileen was born, he was such a good grandpa. We were lucky to have him.”

Grandma remembered the one time Neil got upset. Just one time. A neighbor dropped by with a big bunch of tiger lilies from her garden. Grandma was ao pleased with the stunning orange blooms. She filled a large vase and set it on the dining room table. Something to really brighten up the house.

When Neil came home from an afternoon of cards with his cronies in the park and saw the flowers, he immediately swiped them from the table and threw them outside.

In a stern tone Grandma had never heard pass from Neil’s lips he instructed, “I never want to see those orange flowers in my house again!” Neil went in his room and closed the door.

Grandma could not believe the scene she had witnessed. She had never seen someone react that way to a beautiful bouquet. And stranger still was that gentle, mild-mannered Neil would display such outrage.

tiger lilyTurned out it wasn’t really the flowers he objected to, it was the color of the flowers. Grandpa explained to Grandma that his father had inherited a distaste for the color orange from his Cork-born father, John Regan, who never allowed anything orange in his house. By all accounts, John Regan was a feisty man who did not stand for anyone telling him what he could do or where he could do it. And to this Catholic Irish immigrant, that is precisely what the color orange symbolized.

I like that John Regan’s oldest son was born on Flag Day. Flag Day commemorates the day in 1777 when some other people who didn’t like the British government telling them what they could do and where they could do it adopted the primary symbol of the United States of America: Stars and Stripes. Old Glory. Our flag.

Old Glory

I suppose there is always a chance that Neil just didn’t cared for tiger lilies, but I like this story better. Happy Flag Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Day 14: Neil Regan

“You know, they string up the flags just for me!”

Neil circa 1890

Neil circa 1890

That’s what my great-grandfather Neil Regan used to say on Flag Day, June 14th. Cornelius “Neil” Regan was born on June 14, 1873 in Fisherville, New Hampshire, the oldest child of John and Mary (Quinn) Regan. He lived much of his life in the Clontarf area, arriving in Tara Township with his parents and siblings in 1879. After years on the farm, he moved into Clontarf in 1921 where he lived for over twenty years before moving to Minneapolis in the early 1940s to live with his son John – my grandpa. There he would stay until he passed away in 1951.

My mom, Eileen, remembers a dapper grandfather, dressed in a three-piece-suit every day and smelling of Listerine – Neil used Listerine to soothe pinching from too-tight nose pads on his glasses. Grandpa Neil read books to my mom. Her favorites were the Little Lulu comic books. Neil would say he had a genius on his hands when Eileen would take her turn and “read” these books to him. This was before she even started kindergarten. Of course, she wasn’t actually reading the books, she just memorized them!

Mom said Neil was a quiet man, very mild-mannered. Most days, weather permitting, Neil would take the streetcar downtown to play cards in the park with the other old guys. Neil was also devout. His nephew Gerald Regan recalls seeing Neil, kneeling next to a chair on the back porch early in the morning saying his rosary. He continued this practice his entire life. Mom recalled waiting for Neil to come out of his room in the morning while he finished up his prayers.

Gerald also remembers when my grandpa John would ask for money when he was young, Neil would get up, walk away, and pull out his wallet, inspecting its contents carefully before selecting the bills and handing them to John. Gerald always thought this a bit odd, but Neil was a very deliberate man, so he didn’t think too much about it. Only later did Gerald realize that Neil was not being circumspect at all, but rather the cataracts on his eyes made it impossible for him to see the bills in his wallet unless he had the light from the window.

Neil with his wife Annie and her nieces

Neil with his wife Annie and her nieces

Shortly after Neil moved to Minneapolis he had the cataracts removed at the University of Minnesota. My grandma remembered how Neil exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! I can see!” Apparently all those early morning rosaries paid off!

When Neil passed away on June 30, 1951, his wake was held at home. This was the only wake my mom ever remembered being in a home – by the 1950s the convention was to hold wakes at the funeral home. The front bedroom was cleared of furniture to make room for his casket and after waking for two nights, Neil returned to Clontarf, where he was buried next to his wife, Annie.

When I see the flags decorating the porches and the boulevards in my neighborhood today, I will smile to myself and think it is all for my great-grandfather Neil. Another of my Irish American favorites.

Happy Flag Day everyone and Happy Birthday Neil!

Neil is on bottom. left

Neil is on bottom. left


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The Gathering 2013

The Gathering 2013 initiative was launched earlier this year by the Irish government. The Gathering 2013 website introduces the project:

It’s about asking anyone who has Irish blood, a link to Ireland, or even just a love of our country – to join us for a series of amazing and diverse events throughout 2013.

Sounds good to me! Any excuse to go to Ireland is a good one. The Navy-Notre Dame Emerald Isle Football Classic on September 1, 2012 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium is sponsored by The Gathering 2013 and will serve as an unofficial kick-off (no pun intended) to the 2013 festivities.

Sponsoring this event is a great move by The Gathering. The U.S. Naval Academy Director of Athletics had this to say:

We are delighted for The Gathering Ireland to be the Presenting Sponsor of the Emerald Isle Classic. This game represents exactly what The Gathering Ireland is all about, a unique coming together in Ireland of Navy and Notre Dame college football fans, some returning to their ancestral home and some travelling for the first time to Ireland. The Emerald Isle Classic presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase Ireland to this group and also to the many millions of Americans watching the game through the broadcast.

Stay tuned to The Gathering 2013 for all the latest news.

People all over Ireland have begun planning for the 2013 Gathering. A number of local community meetings have already taken place in Roscommon, Mayo, Clare, Kerry, Cavan, Leitrim, Carlow, Meath, and Wicklow, with meetings in Monaghan and North Tipperary later this week. A meeting in Limerick is coming up in early September. Click on the county names for more information.

This is what is so exciting about The Gathering 2013 – get the counties involved on a local level. Residents of any given county or town will know best what their home community has to offer, as well as what visitors have enjoyed in the past. It is fantastic to see the enthusiasm throughout Ireland for The Gathering.

Of course The Gathering 2013 is about more than tourists visiting monastic ruins and tracing their roots, it is about business. The first Gathering event will take place in January 2013:

A two-day meeting of top executives, entrepreneurs and venture capital investors operating in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the US east coast will travel to Cork…

Read the full article here.

For an Arts focus on The Gathering, look no further than Irish Gathering 2013 – “Ancestry Research, Stories from the Irish and The 2013 Festivities of the Gathering in Ireland!” Christine and Sabrina Joyce (great-grand-nieces of James Joyce) want to help visitors make the most of the time they spend in Ireland in 2013. They are working closely with a variety of artists to bring out the best of Ireland for The Gathering.

Waterford wants people with ties to the county to register on their website, while Galway has a plan for a Gathering of the Tribes. Don’t see your county anywhere in this post? Visit the County Council website for information on what the county has planned.

If you live in Ireland, what’s happening in your home county for The Gathering 2013? Leave a comment, I would love to share your plans.

Do you live outside of Ireland and are thinking about paying a visit next year? Anything special you would like to see or do while you are in Ireland?

Enjoy this Gathering video for Abbeyleix, County Laois. I wonder what my McCormack relatives have planned for us next year?