When we moved my grandma from her apartment, there were dresser drawers full of neat little bundles of fabric, remnants from decades of sewing projects. Tucked into one of the drawers was an embroidery hoop holding a once-taut piece of muslin. Work had begun on the piece but was interrupted.
Mom could tell by the signature brown stitches that this was Minnie’s handiwork. Was it abandoned when she had to go to the hospital in October of 1945, where she would pass away? It is likely that is why my grandma would hold onto an unfinished embroidery project for nearly sixty years. That’s why Mom and I have kept it for twenty more years. I can picture Minnie smoothing the fabric and tightening the hoop, threading the needle, and eventually slipping the needle through the cotton and setting the work down for the last time.
This is an embroidery pattern that was also floating around in Grandma’s things:
Now, I am off to bake a spice cake. For me, molasses, nutmeg, and cloves combine to create an olfactory time machine. In a couple of hours I will be enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee and a slice of spice cake with Minnie.
My mom and I have this photo labeled “Old Foley,” but that was just a guess. I think it is time to revisit this lady in her pretty cloak.
If she is an “Old Foley” could she be related to this guy?
Or maybe she’s an “Old Crowley” and related to Patrick’s wife, Mary Crowley. I made a case for this some years ago…
The photo appears to have been taken at a studio in San Francisco. I don’t know of any Foley or Crowley connections to California. My family’s westward journey ended in Tara Township, Minnesota (at least for a couple of generations). But then there is so much we don’t know…
I need some help from my mom on this one. I know that is my great-grandpa Tom McMahon on the right, with his daughter Agnes (my grandma) standing in front of him. Who are the rest? Could they be Tom’s brother Frank (left), his wife Agnes McGraw McMahon and their children? Their oldest, Richard, was the same age as my grandma. That could be him in the cap by his dad. Three girls followed him in age: Florence, Eileen, and Gertrude, but I can’t quite tell.
And then there is the lady next to Tom. Could it be his sister Kate? She may have still been in Clontarf.
Subtract about seventeen years from the gentleman standing on the left above and do you get the one standing on the left below?
I believe this one is from the 1930s. My grandma on the left with her sister Rose and Eileen McMahon, possibly one of the little ones in the first photo.
One more, just because I noticed how my grandma was holding two fingers on her right hand with her left hand and it reminded me of this cute photo.
Mom – please set me straight on dates, identifications, etc.
Actually, they were already in Clontarf, they just needed a better church. Parishioners were filling up the small 1878 church building every Sunday and Holy Day, and for baptisms, weddings, and funerals in between. Clontarf needed a church to reflect the success of the growing community that began as a small colony just twenty years earlier.
Clontarf is an Irish place name and St. Malachy is the first Irish-born saint to be formally canonized, but the parish was built by Irish and French-Canadian residents. The two groups did not always get along, but they were united in faith by Father Anatole Oster, a native of France.
There are LOTS of names listed below…if you see one you recognize, let me know about your connection to Clontarf, Minnesota.
PLEDGES AND PAYMENTS: CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH
So much can be learned from looking through the account books. Sure, we see how much folks contributed to the construction, but we also gain an understanding of how important the church was to the residents of Clontarf and the surrounding townships. They were invested in the church and the community, they had a stake in its success. This can be seen in the money pledged and the hours of donated labor.
Letting Go of the Old
Part of the preparations for the new church was dealing with the old one. They would need the old church for mass while the new one was constructed and they wanted the new building in the same spot, so…move the church!
On July 3, 1893, Nels Erickson was paid $82.00 for “moving the church 117 feet east @ 70 cents per foot…” Later that year on October 14th, Erickson was paid $26.00 for “wages at mason work.” An entry dated November 2, 1895, reads: “On Nov. 2 the following men worked banking old church 3 hrs: Wm. Shinnick Jr., Rich. Bulger, Wm. Purcell.”
Pledged Donations (noted in account book)
1892 – D. F. McDermott $100, H. Ernst $20, Edward Mockler $20, J.W. Flynn $25
1893 – Charles Axier $25, J. O’Donnell $50, R. O’Brian $5, John Kent $10, Father Oster $345 (“to bldg. fund”), Louis Chamberlain $5
1894 – Michael Donovan $100
1895 – Frank Casey $10, Andrew Riordon $20, Thomas O’Brian $10, Michael Halloran $5, Sam Daugherty $20, John Gosson $25, Joseph Daugherty $5, Henry Riorden Jr. $10, P.A. McCarthy $5, John Hanlon $5, Richard McGraw $60
1896 – James Kent $10, Patrick Chenery $50, Mrs. Reen $25, Jane Kenna $25., John Sullivan $25, Edward McGinley $20
1897 – Ernest Goulet $20, Napoleon Camiri $20, William Kenna $10., Patrick Foley $25, Martin McAndrew $10, James McDonald $5, John McDonald $5, Patrick Langan $10
(See below for a list of pledges recorded June 8 – 10, 1896 as received and recorded at the Bank of Benson.)
Everyone Pitched In
Much of the construction was completed by the men of Clontarf. They helped with digging foundations, hauling, framing, and finishing. Although they were not paid, the labor is accounted for in the financial records. Various individuals appear throughout the records listed by name, date, hours worked, and type of work they contributed.
Payments to Contractor
7/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $100 (Contractor/builder on the project)
8/7/1896 – L. F. Young for drawing contract and bond $5.00
8/7/1896 – Simon Conaty payment 1st part of contract $400
8/29/1896 – Simon Conaty Part payment on $500.00 (from D. F. McDermott note to St Malachy?) $300
9/24/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $294
10/5/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $206
12/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment of $220 “For rails and wainscoting”
1/18/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $600
6/28/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $876.01
Thomas Beagan – foundation/concrete & mason work, in 7/10/1896 entry is a listing of work in the basement with measurements
The following list of pledged donations to the building fund may show some duplicates from the above list. Beware of spelling inconsistencies – all names are transcribed directly from account book.
Wm Duggan $60
James Kent $50
Jer Riordon $20
Roger O’Brien $10
Thomas Sullivan $25
Peter Harrison $35
M J Connolly $10
John Hughes $50
Thomas Shea $40
Robert Riorden $20
John Riorden $20
Henry Riorden Jr. $35
John Regan $60
Timothy Galvin $60
John Gosson $50
John Gaughan $15
Laurence Daugherty $30
M. H. Mear $15
John Mear $15
P.H. Mear $15
James McGowan $10
Thomas O’Brien $35
John Gallagher $20
James Fleming $20
M. Fenton $25
J. Conroy $25
L. Doran $20
H. Riordan $40
A. Maguire $10
J. Chevalier $25
George Goulet $15
? Callaghan $35
Andrew Riordan $20
P. H. McCarthy $15
John McDonough $15
T.J. Purcell $15
J.M. McDonnell $10
V. Riley $10
John McDonnell $10
Dan E. McDonald $10
Maurice Galvin $15
Joseph Thornton $24.62
Frank Faneufsen $25
Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records from Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. The excerpts were copied by Eileen McCormack when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.
Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022
The Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota plans to demolish the recently deconsecrated St. Malachy Church building, but not before they auction off “St. Malachy’s Memorabilia.”
Memorabilia makes me think of my brother’s Don Mattingly baseball cards or a jersey worn by Joe Mauer. Remember how people bought sets of the iconic blue plastic seats from the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome when it was taken down? They put them in their “man caves,” ice houses, and basements all over Minnesota. Will the St. Malachy’s church pews have the same appeal? Maybe, but the word memorabilia seems to cheapen what the pews and stained glass windows of St. Malachy’s represent.
Years ago when my mother, Eileen, and I began looking into family history in the Clontarf area, she had copies made of pages from the St. Malachy’s account books. Pages were chosen because they pertained to our families – the Regans, the Foleys, and the McMahons – as well as known neighbors and associates. The copies by no means represent the full fiscal picture of the building of St. Malachy’s, but they clearly shows how the people of Clontarf paid for the building, a building whose elements will be auctioned off as memorabilia and will soon be demolished by the Diocese of New Ulm.
The following narrative is the first installment on the building of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, based on the original financial records.
FUNDRAISING AND THE BUILDING OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH
By 1896, it was clear to most that the parish of St. Malachy’s had outgrown the original building constructed in 1878. Children of the original settlers were marrying and starting families of their own as new residents joined the community and the town grew. The financial record books indicate that raising money for the new St. Malachy Church was every bit a community effort – “all hands on deck!”
March 17, 1896 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT
The parishioners of St. Malachy’s assembled an event to raise money for the new church building while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. With attractions that included a watch drawing, Pidgeon target shooting, a cigar and candy stand, play performance, dinner, and fireworks, the fundraiser would certainly have been popular with the wider community.
Margaret Duggan of Tara Township and Mary Purcell of Clontarf donated the watch and the drawing raised $256.50, over half of the total funds raised at the event ($470.05). Expenses for the festivities were listed as $52.00, but most were covered by donations.
November 1896 – FALL FAIR
Later in the year, once the crops were in, Clontarf area residents held a Fall Fair to celebrate and raise more funds for the building of the new church. Records provide no final numbers for funds raised by organizers, but it appears to have been quite an affair.
Spanning two days, with dinner served on both Saturday and Sunday, Fair events included a horse raffle, another watch drawing, a fishpond, a play, and a cigar and candy stand. There were raffles for a kettle and a cigar box, as well as three “Fancy Tables” organized by Mrs. Moore, Mary Hurley, Miss Riley, and Mary Purcell.
The records note that Patrick Freeman of Clontarf donated the horse for the raffle and Frank McMahon of Tara and Eugene Daniel of Hoff went out ahead of the raffle to sell tickets to area residents.
Examples of funds raised:
Fancy Tables – $50.00
Play tickets – $14.35 (95 tickets sold @ 15 cents each)
Dinners – $68.00 (“at least”)
Watch Drawing – $92.00
March 17, 1897 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT
Limited information exists in the record books for this event, but undoubtedly there were the usual nineteenth-century fundraiser staples: raffles, cigars, candy, dinner, and a play.
Included in the March 17, 1897, financial records entry are a few details on the Dramatic Club of Clontarf. Sixty-four tickets were sold to the performance for total sales of $16.00. The ticket prices rose to 25 cents a seat. After renting wigs ($1.85) and purchasing a “tableau fire” and “sundries” ($2.15) and paying printing costs ($4.36), the records indicate they contributed $10.60 toward the window fund. They must have received a discount on some of their props.
Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records and copies are located in Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. Eileen McCormack copied specific pages when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.
Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022
For more information on Clontarf history, please visit here and here.
It might not look like much to you, but this somewhat crudely fashioned checkerboard has always been a treasured relic of my family history.
I grew up in a house full of family heirlooms. My mom liked to incorporate them into her overall decorative scheme. She framed her grandparents’ wedding certificate and put it on the wall amongst old family photographs and used her great-grandmother’s china pitcher as a vase for lilacs and lilies of the valley in the springtime. Mom also lulled us to sleep in the same rocking chair her grandmother once rocked my grandpa. Old stuff and family history were all around the place.
But the checkerboard always intrigued me. It was tucked discretely in the space between a tall radiator and the dining room wall. When I was young I assumed that my mom intentionally put it there to hide it from potential thieves and jealous relatives. In my mind, the checkerboard was an extremely valuable antique.
The checkerboard (we always called it “the checkerboard” but I suppose it could be a chessboard) belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Patrick Foley. Patrick died the year my grandma was born (1913), but she shared what she had heard about her grandpa.
Grandma didn’t have stories about her grandpa, as much as she recounted some random details of a man’s life that survived the generations. My grandma was proud to say that Patrick was able to read and write (a rarity among her grandparents). Patrick was educated in a hedge school in County Cork, Ireland. He came to the United States as a young man with his friend John Regan and settled in Fisherville, NH. When Bishop Ireland started his colonies in Minnesota, Patrick moved west, bought a farm, and raised his family in Tara Township. Patrick was known as “Grandpa Petey” (or P.T. for his initials). He was a prosperous farmer in Tara and eventually moved into a nice house in the nearby larger town of Benson, Minnesota.
I grew up in the 1970s, before the genealogy craze, Ancestry.com, and DNA matches, and was grateful for my grandma’s information, but I did want to learn more about Patrick. What did he do in Fisherville and where did he come from in Ireland? The checkerboard stirred my imagination and inspired me to learn more about my family history. I’ve visited Fisherville (Concord), New Hampshire and Kilmichael, County Cork and I have learned many more random details of Patrick Foley’s life. I guess it is my job to piece it all together and tell the story.
In case you are interested, here are the details of the checkerboard. Maybe you’ve seen something similar hidden in the nooks and crannies of your family home? Let me know!
The checkerboard measures about 20.5 inches (wide) by 19.5 inches (deep) and is about 3 inches thick. This is a substantial piece, I’d say it weighs nearly four pounds. Alternating stained and dark green painted squares create the playing surface (squares range in size 1.5 to 2 inches). In spite of these irregularities, I thought it was quite fancy because it was personalized. “Patrick Foley” is stenciled on one end and “Fisherville” on the other.
When I see this photo, I think about Neil and Mary, both born in Fisherville, New Hampshire to Irish immigrants from Kilmichael, County Cork. The connection between the Foley and Regan families survived a transatlantic journey to America followed by a move half-way across the county to central Minnesota for Mary and Neil, a generation later, to grow old under the same roof in Minneapolis.
I wonder where they were going, anyway?
I hope my mom comments on this post and fills us in on the location and date of the photo!
Eighty years ago today my grandparents tied the knot. April 26th, 1941 Agnes McMahon and John Regan were married at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in South Minneapolis, Minnesota. Margaret McMahon Nelson (bride’s sister) and John Foley (bride’s cousin, groom’s good friend) were maid of honor and best man, respectively, and the bride’s niece Rosaleen (Dody) Fuchs was the flower girl.
The wedding reception was held at Grandma’s house on East 22nd Street in Minneapolis where the McMahon clan had been based for a few years. This house had originally belonged to another John Foley, then later his daughter, Catherine. Grandma’s mother was a Foley, but she always referred to this branch of the Foley family as “shirttail relations,” and brushed it off as a relationship too distant to really consider. But in this age of Ancestry.com and DNA matches, it seems somewhat closer: Grandma’s grandfather Foley and Catherine’s father were first cousins. Both men were immigrants to the USA from Kilmichael, County Cork and lived in Fisherville, New Hampshire before coming to Minnesota. Further connection: John Regan’s grandfather was good friends with Patrick Foley and also came here from Kilmichael.
April 26th was also the day of my grandma’s funeral. The year was 2004, sixty-three years after her wedding day and seventeen years ago. I can’t believe seventeen years have passed since that sunny day in April when we said goodbye to her. I know she would have appreciated the coincidence of the two anniversaries. She loved thinking about numbers and playing with dates. She would point out palindrome dates and come up with (often convoluted) tricks for remembering a number for a combination or door entry system. I still remember the code to access her apartment building: 8278. I also remember her trick for remembering these four digits: “The code begins and ends in an 8 and the first two numbers add up to 10 and the second two add up to 15.”
Like I said, convoluted. But I’ve remembered it all of these years. And I think about her every day, not just on April 26th.
Thomas Patrick McMahon was born August 30, 1907, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the third of seven children to parents Thomas and Mary (Foley) McMahon. Tom was one of my grandma’s older brothers.
Grandma remembered the time she complained to Tom that she had a headache. He looked at her, sighed and shook his head gently. “No, Agnes, no,” he said quietly, “You need to have brains to get a headache. What you have is rheumatism of the skull.”
McMahon siblings on the farm – Grandma is in front with hair in her eyes, Tom on the right, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)
Grandma said she could feel her eyes well up, but then Tom placed a hand on her shoulder and she immediately felt better. They had a good laugh. Tom was never mean-spirited, he just had a way with words. Tom was very bright and he enjoyed working on the farm with his dad. He was always a great help, as well as great company to his dad.
Tom on the farm outside Benson, Minnesota, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)
The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis from the farm in 1924. Life completely changed for the McMahons. They all eventually adapted to life in the city, finding their ways, except for Tom. He never quite fit in. There was no place for farmers in the city and treating telephone poles in the pole yard with his dad wasn’t quite the same as working on the farm with him. Tom started drinking, started missing work and eventually stopped coming home.
Mary McMahon and her son Tom, 1939 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)
My grandma had a currency collection – buffalo head nickels, Barr dollars, drummer boy quarters, and “wheat pennies” – the penny minted in the US from 1909-1956 (see picture at left). I was at Grandma’s one day when I was about fifteen-years-old. I had found a couple of wheat pennies for Grandma to add to her collection.
As Grandma pulled the plastic bread bag of wheat-backed pennies from the drop-down desk, a small envelope fell to the floor. It was one of those tiny manilla envelopes, the kind a landlord might give you with the key to your new apartment.
“What’s this?” I asked Grandma as I bent to pick up the envelope. It looked old.
She took the envelope from my hand, pushed back the flap and poured the contents into her hand. “Four nickels. Twenty cents. This was what my brother Tom had in his pocket when they found his body. Four nickels. It was all he had in the world.” Grandma clasped the nickels in her hand and motioned for me to sit. Then she told me all about Tom, how smart and funny and kind he was and how that all disappeared when they moved to the city and he began drinking.
Tom died on September 5, 1949, or at least that’s when they found his body down by the Mississippi River. He drowned. No foul play, most likely slipped and fell, they said. Tom had no ID, no home, no possessions. The police knew who to call when they found him. They had picked Tom up many times over the years, and it was my grandpa who’d come pick him up. Tom would stay for a day or two – he could have stayed with Grandma forever – but then he’d move on. When my grandpa went to identify the body, the envelope was the only thing he came home with. It was all Tom had.
My grandma kept the envelope tucked up among her collection of bills and coins. I am sure it fell out from time to time and I can see her opening the flap and pouring the nickels into her hand as she did with me that day. My grandma was never one to dwell on the past, on the sadness of life, but I bet she allowed herself a moment to hold on to those coins and remember her brother Tom.
John Foley and my grandpa John Regan were good friends. They spent their early childhood together in Clontarf, Minnesota. John Foley moved to Minneapolis with his family in the mid 1920s.
It was only natural that the two boys were friends. Their paternal grandfathers (Patrick Foley and John Regan) were friends in their native Kilmichael, County Cork, and they came to America together, settling in Fisherville, New Hampshire before venturing to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.
I don’t know if “the Johns'” fathers (Tim Foley and Neil Regan) were friends when they were young. Clontarf was (and is) a small place, but from what I have heard, the two had little in common. If I consider as evidence my grandma’s collection of studio portraits of many of the young men of Clontarf, Tim and Neil were not close. – there are no photos of the two of them together. However, the evidence does show that John’s uncle John Foley and Neil were friends (see below and click here to read about it).
Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated, around 1900 (ATMR Family Collection)
As I mentioned earlier, Clontarf’s a very small place so even when folks moved to Minneapolis, as so many did in the 1920s and 1930s, families remained close, supporting one another as they made their ways in the big city. The community was strong whether it was in the rural west or the largest city in the state. It was sometimes difficult to see where family ended and neighbors and friends picked up. It could all get very complicated…
One day in late 1930s Minneapolis, my grandma’s Aunt Bid Foley (John Foley’s mom) invited her over for cards. Have I mentioned yet that John Foley and my grandma, Agnes McMahon were first cousins? How about that they were double first cousins?
John Regan was staying with his old friend John Foley at the time of the invitation. Agnes and John Regan had crossed paths over the years, but it wasn’t until Uncle Tim asked Agnes to take his place in a cribbage game with John Regan, that sparks flew.
I don’t know who won that game, but I bet it was fiercely contested. They fell in love over a cribbage board and were married in 1941. They were a perfect couple.
Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man…
Agnes’ maternal grandfather was Patrick Foley and John Regan’s paternal grandfather was….John Regan. The two friends from Kilmichael, County Cork.
When we visited Kilmichael Parish in Cork, Ireland several years ago, we learned that the connection between Patrick Foley and John Regan may have been stronger than we thought. John Regan’s mother was Ellen Foley. Patrick and John were cousins.
I thought this was very cool. Then my sister mentioned how that would have made grandma and grandpa some sort of cousins, too. Distant, of course, going back to their great-grandparents generation. In 19th century rural Ireland that must have happened a lot…right?
Distant cousins, yes, but friendship connected the Foley and Regan families through the generations, across an ocean and into a new world.
And I didn’t even tell you how my grandma’s mom and grandpa’s aunt were life-long besties….