The Irish in America


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Quarantine at Tess’s

Apparently it takes a pandemic to get me to write a new blog post…

I should be wrapping up a family trip to Ireland right now. The whole gang had synchronized our calendars. My dad’s eternal question, “When are we all going to Ireland?” finally had an answer. That was until COVID-19 seeped into our lives.

Given where things are now, it is strange to think that just a month ago we were on the phone with Jimmy and Helen, our Irish cousins, planning day trips and nights out. I couldn’t wait for my brother Matt and his family to finally meet Jimmy and Helen. COVID-19 was in the news, we even joked about the need to quarantine while we were there. Helen quipped, “Ah sure, that’s no problem. Ye can stay at Tess’s place.”

Two Jimmy McCormacks at the ancestral home, the old house on Ballyedmond farm – or “Tess’s Place” – not inhabited for decades. (Photo: Regan McCormack, 2009)

Eleven days after that phone call, Trump announced travel bans and overnight the idea of a pleasure trip became ridiculous. Helen reported panic-buying and growing fear in Ireland. They were told that they were on pace to be the next Italy. Museums and historic sites closed, pubs closed. I waited for Aer Lingus to cancel our flight so I could get a refund. That happened on St. Patrick’s Day.

We will get there later this year, I say now. In a few months, that statement could seem as naive as our light-hearted discussion of minibus tours, pints at Tuohy’s, and quarantines seem today. Right now, all I want is for there to be enough ventilators and for everyone I love, here and there, to stay safe and sound.

Tuohy’s Bar, Rathdowney (Photo: Regan McCormack, 2017)


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Donaghmore Workhouse Museum

Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum Donaghmore, County Laois

The Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum provides a fascinating “two-in-one”  museum experience. It seems odd at first – agricultural artifacts displayed in a nineteenth century workhouse?

Names etched into walls by Black&Tan soldiers at Donaghmore Workhouse

But in the case of Donaghmore, it makes perfect sense. The workhouse opened in 1853. By that time many of the Irish who suffered the effects of the Great Famine (1845-59) had already died or emigrated. The workhouse remained open until 1886. The Black and Tans (British soldiers in Ireland) used the workhouse as a barracks in the early 1920s before the Donaghmore Co-operative Society established the Donaghmore Creamery in the workhouse buildings in 1927.

Butter label

The Co-operative donated two workhouse buildings to the community, and in 1988 a committee of volunteers was formed to renovate, interpret, and manage the buildings.

Liam Phelan

Our tour guide in October was Liam Phelan who explained that the workhouse buildings were so well-preserved because they were used, but not altered, for so long by the creamery and the Co-operative Society. This also explains why the displays of farm machinery and implements fit right in at the workhouse.

Original door to the girls' dormitory

There are several panels throughout the museum that address specific topics related to the workhouse. The one below discusses emigration.

click image to enlarge

Trivia Question

What longtime Donaghmore Creamery employee and current Rathdowney resident was also a member of the 1949 All-Ireland Leinster Hurling Championship and All-Ireland runner-up teams?

The first person to leave a comment with the correct answer will win a special prize!

For more information on workhouses:

All photographs taken by Regan McCormack, October 2011.