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Maureen’s Memories: Puck Fair

Just in time for the annual Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, Maureen sends us her memories of the festival from the 1930s and 1940s. Maureen helps us make sense of the beloved Irish summer celebration. Enjoy!

 

When I was a girl in the 1930s and ’40s, Puck Fair was a much-loved harvest festival, and always held on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August in Killorglin, County Kerry. We would go with our grandfather, Dan O’Meara, and enjoy all that the fair had to offer a child. There were savory meat pies, crubeens (boiled pig’s feet) and dillesk (a very salty, purple seaweed). O’Donoghue’s Bakery and Confectionary sold a wide variety of delicious baked goods and the best rolls around; as well as all kinds of sweets. Peggy’s Leg (a thick rock candy stick) was my favorite. The stalls sold money balls which were a round candy with red coloring that came off on your hands and sometimes, if you were lucky, a coin was hidden inside. Glendillion’s was known for their delectable, homemade ice cream.

August 10th is known as the Gathering Day, when the horse fair began. We already knew it was fair time because the Irish Travellers’ and Romani had already begun to assemble and mingle among their own people. My mam must have had a reputation as being kind-hearted because the women of both communities would knock on our door as they passed through town. Asking for a pinch of tea and sugar they, in turn, would give her a paper posy or a blessing in return. They arrived in town in their colorful horse-drawn caravans. Some made a living as horse traders and others as skilled tinsmiths.

August 11th is Fair Day since it was the time that the cattle fair was held. On this day, the Irish step-dancers performed and traditional music was heard throughout town. I don’t recall exactly when Perks Amusement’s started there, but it was certainly our first time on a mechanical ride. There were many games of chance, including card games, to be found in the stalls. You could try your luck at Find the Lady (Three-Card-Monty) other shell games with three thimbles and a pea, as well as roulette. You could have your fortune told as well.

August 12th is Scattering Day, the day the festivities began to wind down. The stand, stages and stalls are closed up and taken down, and fair goers begin leave town.

The first time we were allowed to walk to the fair alone I knew I was growing up. It was only my sister, Joan, and me, since Kitty, Dolly and Helen were still too little to walk the four-mile trek from Milltown into Killorglin. Many years later, I was describing Puck Fair to an American friend. I’ll never forget the look on her face! Then, as I thought about it, I understood how strange it all sounded. You catch a wild Billy-goat, having already found a lovely maiden who is crowned Queen Puck. Build a three-tiered wooden tower and have the young girl, resplendent in a white, Celtic gown, crown him “King Puck”. Parade them through town, as Killorglin is declared open to all. Place the puck on top of the stand where he will watch over his subjects for three days. On the third day, the August king is taken down from his royal perch where he has been fed and protected against the elements by an awning. His crown is removed by Queen Puck. Finally, he is released back into the wild.

My friend was appalled and exclaimed “Why, it’s a Pagan festival!” I had never thought about it that way, since the Catholic clergy never voiced any objection to our attending the much-loved, traditional country fair. There was the Oliver Cromwell cover story, after all: A he-goat ran out of the hills to forewarn of Cromwell’s troops approaching Killorglin. Although it did coincide with the Pre-Christian festival, Lughnasa.  One of my friends, Maura, lost her mother when she was very young, so they didn’t have much of a Yuletide celebration. She told me “Puck Fair was better than Christmas!”

 

Check out PuckFair.ie for all things related to the festival. Photos courtesy of PuckFair.ie, thank you.

About Maureen…

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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Reminder: St. Patrick’s Day Giveaway!

Just a friendly reminder to enter our St. Patrick’s Day Giveaway by 11:59pm EDT tomorrow, March 17th. The winner will be announced Wednesday, March 19th. Simply answer the Listowel trivia question below, fill in your contact information, and hit the submit button.

But first, take a look at what people have to say about the prize, a signed copy of Vincent Carmody’s Listowel – Snapshots of an Irish Market Town 1850-1950:

“A beautifully designed and executed book, wherein the discards of history are put on parade to become a treasure throve of insight into the life of an Irish Market town. Listowel is transfigured; If space allows movement; place is pause at every turn of a page.”     Dr. Patrick J. O’ Connor

“That Vincent Carmody’s Listowel, Snapshots of an Irish Market town is evocative and beautiful is not surprising, but it is also an artful history. Concisely and lucidly told, it is a mosaic of faces and the telling artifacts of everyday life.”    Richard White, Professor of American History, Stanford University

“This book is about more than the shops and the pubs. It is a reminder of the transience of life, of the way that humans move on but a streetscape remains. Beautifully presented, it will appeal to anyone from North Kerry and should give other towns reason to wish they had someone who would do the same for them.”    Frank O’Shea, Irish Echo 

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Good Luck!


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Listowel Man Remembers…

Vincent Carmody brings us a moment in history when two seemingly disparate, yet equally impactful events in his life, took place. We take a side trip to Ballybunion for this one.

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Bridie Gallagher (photo from Wikipedia)

In the latter part of July 1969 my first cousin Eileen McCaffrey (nee Buckley) and husband Brian were down in Listowel from their home in Portmarnock, County Dublin, for a holiday.

Being fairly young and carefree we decided to visit the nearby seaside resort of Ballybunion to sample the nightlife.

Entering the town we saw large signs announcing that the most famous Irish female singer of the day, Bridie Gallagher, (The Girl from Donegal) was appearing at the Hibernian Ballroom on that night, for one night only.

Cousin Eileen, was beside herself with excitement, “we have to go and see Bridie” she said, ‘did you not know that she attended the same primary school in Creeslough, County Donegal, at the same time as Brian’, she told me, ‘although she was in a more senior class’.

So after socialising ‘down town’ we made our way back to the Hibernian and the Bridie Gallagher appearance. We got some good seats and enjoyed the singing as the night enfolded, during the performance; Eileen scribbled a note which was taken to the stage, asking that Bridie sing one of her most popular songs ‘Sure their cutting the corn down in Creeslough today’ and dedicate it to an old school friend.

Looking down from the stage at the enormous crowd, she said ‘ Ach, Brian, wherever you are in the crowd, don’t leave till we meet up and catch up on old times’.

NeilArmstongSo after the performance we met up and were ushered into the residents lounge.

Already in the room was quite a sizeable crowd assembled around two black and white television sets. What was being broadcast was the live telecast of the first lunar landing. The date, July 20th/ 21st 1969.

So as the century’s most famous moment unfolded and Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words, ‘one giant leap for mankind’ I and the others were in the wonderful company and sharing hospitality with probably one of the most popular Irish artistes of her time, Bridie Gallagher.

Are you getting excited for The Irish in America St. Patrick’s Day Giveaway? We will announce the details tomorrow…


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Listowel Letters

After Vincent Carmody contacted me and told me a bit about Listowel, County Kerry, I became intrigued by the town, its history, and its place in the story of the Irish in America.  I wanted to learn more, so naturally I took to the internet.

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

Listowel (courtesy of Vincent Carmody)

I was thrilled to stumble upon The Gleasure Letters blog. There is little I enjoy more than a nice collection of emigrant letters, and what better way to get to know the history of a town than through first-hand accounts? I admit, I am rather jealous of Ben Naylor, who publishes the blog with his wife, Kathleen. Ben’s family had no idea these letters existed until an uncle passed away, leaving a trunk containing the letters behind. I don’t think I am the only person engaged in family history research for whom such a discovery is a dream come true!

A description of the collection, taken from The Gleasure Letters blog:

Full transcriptions of hundreds of letters from 1897-1955. Letters are from the Gleasures of Listowel, Ireland to Frank Gleasure in Massachusetts and from Frank’s son George Gleasure (killed in D-Day) to his father during World War II.

I urge you to browse around The Gleasure Letters – you will look up at the clock and wonder how two hours could have passed. Ben and Kathleen have done all the hard work for us in transcribing the letters. You get to sit back, read, and enjoy, without getting hung up on words because of the fancy (or illegible) script. Thanks to Ben for his generosity in allowing us a glimpse into the history of the Irish in America, through his family’s experiences.

Mary Cogan is the author of the Listowel Connections blog, “…a personal take on Listowel, Co. Kerry. I am writing for anyone anywhere with a Listowel connection but especially for sons and daughters of Listowel who find themselves far from home.” Mary’s most recent post is a remarkable series of photographs she took while on her morning walk through Listowel.

In October of last year, Ben and Kathleen Naylor paid a visit to Listowel and saw many of the places mentioned in The Gleasure Letters. Mary documented their visit in a post on her blog – click here. Ben and Kathleen were treated to a tour of Listowel from Vincent Carmody, author of Listowel – Snapshots of an Irish Market Town 1850-1950. You could be treated to a copy of the book when you enter our St. Patrick’s Day giveaway – details announced next week.

  • Click here for more on Gleasure letters and photographs.
  • Click here to get to know Listowel native Kathy Buckley, twentieth-century culinary sensation.
  • Click here to learn about a Chicago man with Listowel roots who made his mark in politics, Elmer Walsh.


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Listowel Emigrant Tales: Elmer Walsh

As promised, here is the first of Vincent Carmody’s series, Listowel Emigrant Tales. Vincent tells us about “The Man Who Defeated Richard J. Daley”. With respect to Chicago politics, this was no mean feat! Elmer Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants from near Listowel, defeated Richard Daley, descendant of Famine-era immigrants from near Dungarvan, County Waterford, in the 1946 race for Cook County, Illinois sheriff.

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Listowel Man Remembers Day JFK Was Shot

Vincent Carmody of Listowel, County Kerry left the following as a comment here on the blog. I thought it deserved to be seen by all followers of The Irish in America, not just the dedicated comment-readers!

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Piccadilly Circus, 1963 (via Vintage Everyday, click on image)

I have enjoyed reading Seamus Hora’s two poems.

I was a young man just over in London from Ireland in 1963. I went over in October, the following 22nd of November a work colleague and myself attended a showing of the film, Tom Jones, at the Odeon in Leicester Square. During the showing some people who had come in and sat nearby mentioned that they had heard rumours of President Kennedy been shot.

After the film we were in a pub, Wards of Piccadilly.  At this time news of the shooting was both on Television and in everyone’s conversation. Leaving the pub, the news vendors were selling their first edition with the news of the shooting.
As we rode down the second escalator to the Piccadilly tube platform, we came across a woman who had fainted, her boyfriend who was with her asked us to help. Together we moved her to a bench on the platform, by this time she had recovered, her boyfriend (Jack Shaefer?) told us that he was a marine working at the US. Embassy and that she had been overcome and upset when she heard of the shooting.

We traveled home together and they spoke of Jack’s tour of duty ending and of their return to Pittsburgh. The next I heard of them was nearly a year later when I received a small packet from them  which contained 4 Kennedy Dollar coins. After that we corresponded  for some time, however when I returned to Ireland a couple of years later we lost touch. All of that was over 50 years ago but the memories remain.

Impressive memory, Vincent! I wonder what ever happened to Jack Shaefer and his girl? Maybe someone from Pittsburgh knows????

Vincent also had this to say:

Some of your readers might be interested in looking up the website of a book which I had published last year, it is a social history of my hometown of Listowel. It has got some great reviews. The book’s name is, Listowel, Snapshots of an Irish Market Town, 1850-1950,  the books website address is, www.listoweloriginals.com.

This is not the last we will hear from Vincent. In the coming weeks, he will share a couple of excellent articles with The Irish in AmericaVincent has written about relatives and Listowel natives, and their experiences in America – Chicago politics, US Presidents, and more. Great stuff!

And stay tuned for another great giveaway in March, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!


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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Welcomes Two Girls From Milltown

I wanted to take the opportunity to share my Thanksgiving post from last year with you again. This was the first time I introduced Maureen Teahan Murray (of Meet Maureen and Maureen’s Memories fame). Maureen’s daughter  Mary had emailed me a day or so before Thanksgiving and shared the story of Maureen’s arrival in America just in time for the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuted in 1924. Macy’s began the parade in order to promote their department store for the Christmas season. Most of the participants in the parade were Macy’s employees who donned costumes, marched, and rode on floats pulled by horses, tracing the route from Harlem to Macy’s Herald Square store. Over 250.000 people watched the parade that first year and it became an annual event.

1940 Hippo balloon at Macy’s parade (photo from theweek.com)

The famous helium-filled balloons of animals first appeared in 1927, replacing the real animals that were sprung from the Central Park Zoo to march in the parade. By 1942, the rubber and helium from the balloons became necessary for the war effort and the parade was called off until 1945.

The November 28, 1947 s New York Times article describes the parade in great detail. The parade had clearly hit its pre-World War II stride with crowds, bands, floats, and the return of the giant balloons. The headline reads:

2,000,000 THRILLED BY MACY’S PARADE

Gas-Filled Giants Prance Again to Delight of Throngs Who Forget Cold

CLOWNS ADD TO THE FUN

Three Little Pigs, Peter Rabbit in the Line — Santa Bestows a Greeting.

What a line-up! The two million spectators lined the sidewalks of the parade route and “peered from open windows, crowded roof-tops, and marquees” to catch a glimpse of Humpty-Dumpty, the Pumpkin Float, and a gigantic panda balloon. Five-year-old Katharine had this to say about the parade: “I like the Jack O’ Lantern, I like the Funny Cop, I like loud music, I like the dancers, I like everything.”

Among the two million people gathered that Thanksgiving morning in 1947 were Maureen and Joan Teahan. Maureen and Joan were sisters who had just arrived in New York the previous day, November 26th. The sisters left their home in Milltown, County Kerry about a week earlier to begin new lives in the United States. Milltown’s population? About 100 people.

The girls experienced just a bit of culture shock upon arrival in New York City. Their Uncle Dan sponsored the sisters’ passage to the United States and made a point of telling them to lock the hotel room door. Maureen recalls that this was something she and Joan had not even considered.

So, what did Maureen think of the two million people plus a rocket ship from Mars full of blue invaders who were “mocked” by Peter Rabbit and the Mad Hatter while the Three Little Pigs “sang the praises of Thanksgiving” and the steady pounding of drums filled the air? Maureen admits she was overwhelmed.

What an introduction to the United States for Maureen and Joan. They walked right into one of the most cherished Thanksgiving traditions for families all over the United States – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on a day that is uniquely American. That is a lot to process within the first forty-eight hours in a country.

Maureen and Joan stayed in New York for a week – shopping and seeing the sights – before settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

In a couple of weeks, I will publish a lovely story written by Maureen. It’s a Christmas story. But for now, a Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy the parade!

Special thanks to Mary Power for sharing the New York Times article, as well as her mother Maureen’s memories of the 1947 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

Click on the following links to learn more about Maureen and read her delightful stories: