The Irish in America


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Maureen’s Memories: Haunting Halloween

Maureen’s Memories takes a spooky turn with this Halloween offering. Get ready for goosebumps – Maureen shares ghosts stories from her native Milltown, County Kerry and her present home in Massachusetts. The origins of our Halloween celebrations can be traced to Ireland. Maureen tells us about Irish traditions at Halloween such as barnbrack and bobbing for apples. Harry Houdini even gets a mention! Do you believe in ghosts?

Sunset, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Sunset in New Hampshire

Haunting Halloween

 

When I was child in Milltown, Halloween was very much a time of religious observance. We attended daily Mass but All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day were when we remembered all those who had passed away.

I don’t think we carved turnips, the original Jack-o-Lanterns, but “bobbing for apples” was one of the traditional children’s games we played.  A favorite Halloween treat was the chestnuts that we gathered from the nearby Kilderry Woods. Our Mam would roast the nuts in the hot coals of the hearth-fire.  We always ate Barnbrack, a fruit bread with a tacky gold ring baked inside. Legend was whoever got the ring would be married within the year.  As young children, that struck us as funny, being too young to be wed. We bought the brack from Miss Hannah Sugrue’s shop on Church Street, but it was probably baked at Larkin’s Bakery on Main Street.

A friend recently told me that when she was in her pram, over 80 years ago, her Mam wheeled her along the Killarney Road and up to the entrance where Billy Whelan’s Boreen stood. Right there, they came upon the apparition of a priest in old-fashioned cassocks, reading his breviary. But he never looked up to acknowledge them. Her brothers and sisters were so frightened they ran home, screaming all the way.  Their mother followed frantically, pushing the pram close behind.were so terrified of the ghost that they didn’t look up that road for over a month.

I once read a story of a parish priest who was so loved in Milltown that he was buried a total of three times. He was transferred to and died in North Kerry, but was beloved by the parishioners of Milltown because he was so good to the poor. They clandestinely disinterred and reburied him in Milltown, but the people of North Kerry came and took his remains back to North Kerry and reinterred him there.

Another friend tells the story of the haunting of her family farmhouse just outside of town. Her sister lived alone and, almost every night, while she sat by the fire, she saw a ghostly figure in the kitchen window. Sometimes she even heard the sound of horse-hooves when she saw the spooky specter. This went on for quite a while before the culprit was finally caught and literally uncovered. It turned out it was a neighbor wearing a white sheet who wanted to scare her off and buy the land. He wore bed-sheets and stood at the window every night trying to scare the living daylights out of her––and very nearly succeeded.

Halloween_MaryPowerOnce, when my son, Will, was visiting a friend in upstate New York I was home alone. In the morning, I went downstairs only to find that the front door that I’m certain I locked was wide open. Will’s friend was Walter Gibson, the creator of the pulp-fiction character, “The Shadow” a fellow magician and friend of the famous Harry Houdini. Walter also ghost-wrote some of Houdini’s books.  Gibson was known to attempt to contact his friend Harry by séance on Halloween, but never made after-life contact. But  there I was, home alone and on the next morning I calmly started down the stairs, this time certain I’d once again find the door open. Two days in a row the front door was not only unlocked but opened-wide when I was certain I’d locked it up tight, being by myself for a few days.

The man who sold us that house was the only remaining member of his family. He told us that he was happy to sell to a family with children and that he had turned down better offers from single people. The first night we lived there was a very hot August night, with barely a breeze of fresh air to be found in the old house. However, we hardly slept a wink as the doors kept slamming all night long! Later, we often would hear footsteps during the night no matter what floor we slept on. Neighbors subsequently told us that the 1880s-era home had been vacant for several years before we moved in, and that it had a reputation of being haunted.

We kept in touch with the previous owner throughout the years, so I knew that his brother, Warren, died in the hospital from heart disease as a young man. Once, in the 1970’s I picked up my phone to make a call and heard an exceptionally clear “crossed-line” conversation. As distinct as a bell, I heard Warren and his parents talking. The call ended when both of his parents said, “Good-bye. I love you, Warren.” Warren replied: “I love you too, Mom and Dad.”

 

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories…


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Maureen’s Memories: Dancing in the Dark

Maureen is back with another delightful story, tying together her childhood in Milltown, County Kerry and her life and family in the United States. Enjoy! And make sure you check out Maureen’s other stories, links are at the end of this story.

Dancing in the Dark

Our family spent the dark winter nights sitting cozily by the kitchen hearth with oil lamps and candles our only sources of light. We happily passed the time on cold evenings telling tales, singing and reading. When a neighbor dropped by, they were always offered tea and home-baked goodies which were readily accepted. They in turn eagerly shared their own tune or story.

Present-day Milltown, County Kerry

Present-day Milltown, County Kerry

I remember grandfather, John Teahan, telling us that on the rare occasion he went downtown to Milltown for a few pints at Shea’s Public House, he was always guided home by a mysterious light.  It was a long mile and a half trek in the pitch-black darkness of the countryside back to his farmhouse in Lyre. He never speculated about it, but we grandchildren liked to think it was our late grandmother, Mary Falvey Teahan, guiding him safely home. Many years later my sister, Kitty, thought it was just a young neighbor on the road who, concerned for his well-being, silently lit the way with his flashlight.

My brother, Donal, recalls that our sister, Helen, always said she saw the apparition/spirit of the same grandmother sitting by the fireplace at the Lyre farmhouse in the evenings. We never knew our Granny Teahan and had no idea what she looked like. She passed away in 1917 and there were no photos of her. Were we surprised when our cousin later told us his father said Helen was the spitting image of his mother, Mary Falvey! Our sister, Helen, was gorgeous, with a delicate, Grace Kelly-like beauty.

Before electricity, the only middle-of-the night excitement was the one time a man arrived by horse and frantically knocked at our door. He had ridden in from the countryside, asking directions to Dr. Sheehan’s house. My Mam assumed his wife was in labor, but we never found out just what the emergency was.

Joan Teahan Kelly

Joan Teahan Kelly

I was about eight years old when the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme finally brought power to Milltown. We couldn’t afford to light our house; it just wasn’t in the budget. So our home wasn’t on “the grid” and we never missed or felt we needed it.  Although, I’ll admit we children would stay up late into the night when we should have been sleeping watching the blinking lights in Miss Hannah’s shop across the street. Dennis Sugrue, Milltown’s Renaissance man, had installed them around the windows of his aunt’s shop. What a Christmas novelty it was as we excitedly counted the seconds in anticipation of the next blink!

We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the new electric lights. Every night, a man came in from the countryside. He never spoke a word to anyone, shopped, or went into the pubs for refreshment. He just stood silently under the lamppost, stayed there about a half hour, and then returned back the way he came. At the time we thought him eccentric, but now I think of him as a visionary who utilized light therapy before it became common.

It was an oppressively hot, humid day when my sister Joan’s youngest, Christine Kelly, married Jim Clougher on June 30, 2001. She had planned a summer wedding to avoid the disaster of a winter storm. Sadly, her Mom had passed away just two months before on May first and so didn’t live to see her daughter marry, but some say Joan was there that day!

As we sat in St. Columbkille’s Church, Brighton, Mass. that afternoon, it was clear that dark storm clouds were rolling in. The Mass and ceremony were lovely and the rain held off as the wedding party later greeted well-wishers outside the church. But as we drove to the reception at Lombardo’s in Randolph, it became apparent we couldn’t escape the thunderstorm.

Still, we were able to enjoy the cocktail hour and dinner without a hitch. The newly married couple had their first dance together as bride and groom. Christine was able to dance with her father, Joe Kelly. As the guests started dancing, the lights flickered off and on three times before they went out for the rest of the evening. The wait staff lit the candles on the tables and placed more around the hall.

Christine and Jim

Christine and Jim

People began to walk out to the hallway to see the spectacular light-show Mother Nature was putting on in front of the floor-to-ceiling picture window. Lightning reflected off the crystal chandelier above the spiral staircase as we looked out from the second-floor balcony, making for a surreal sight like out of a movie.

Back in the hall, the reception continued on without electricity, guests able to converse comfortably, not having to raise their voices above the din of blaring music. Spontaneously, a table would break out in song and people would dance and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  When I looked up at the head table during dinner, I thought I saw Joan sitting there for a moment.

Christine and Jim’s slight disappointment when the lights went out soon turned to astonishment because they felt in their hearts that Joan may have had something to do with it! And they weren’t the only ones there that strongly felt the same way! We told them some day they would laugh about it. And they have, along with their children, Kelly, Patrick and Brendan. Someday, God willing, their grandchildren will laugh at it, too.

Lombardo’s couldn’t have been more hospitable, but they just couldn’t explain how three backup generators failed. When Christine and Jim checked out the next morning, the desk clerk told them the other wedding parties left in disgust. Not surprisingly, the Clougher’s wedding reception went on until the wee hours of morning. The newlyweds were very relieved that their guests continued to enjoy themselves despite the darkness. In fact, many people told them that night was the most fun they’ve ever had at a wedding! Never underestimate the Irish, who have never needed power to have great craic.

Christine_&_Jim's_wedding

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

More Maureen’s Memories…