The Irish in America


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Four Nickels

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.

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Meant to Be

 

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

 

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 (ATMR Family Collection)

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…

For example:

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 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….

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)


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Three Sisters

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (early 1930s)

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (mid 1930s) ATMR Family Collection

When I think of the Irish in America, snapshots like this one come to mind. My grandma Agnes with two of her three older sisters, young and happy in the midst of the Great Depression.

The McMahon sisters were second generation Irish Americans. However, my grandma told me they didn’t spend any time thinking about their heritage when they were young. She made up for it when she grew older and had a highly inquisitive granddaughter. She shared with me stories and songs, old sayings and recipes, passed down to her from her parents and Irish-born grandparents. Grandma was my link to our family history.

I am not sure if this is at the house in Columbia Heights where the McMahons lived, or if it is in south Minneapolis at the Foley house. Maybe my mom will help us out and leave a comment!

I am currently scanning and organizing my grandma’s collection of photographs and ephemera. Moving forward I will share some of my favorite items.


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That’s Pretty Old!

John Regan, circa 1872

John Regan, circa 1872

October 24th is the 185th anniversary of my great-great-grandfather John Regan’s birth.

John Regan was born in the townland of Clashbredane, Kilmichael, County Cork, Ireland on October 24, 1829. His parents were Cornelius and Ellen (Foley) Regan, and his godparents John Connor and Johanna Regan. John was the fourth of ten children, the second son.

When I first looked into John’s story, I was struck by how he never provided an accurate age when asked for it. Be it a ship’s officer, a census-taker, a priest, or a city clerk – never did John report his real age. John did not know how to read or write. English wasn’t even his native language. He could have not understood the question, but I have a hunch John thought his age was his own business.(I will always note his real age.)

In 1864, John arrived at New York harbor aboard the City of Baltimore. He is listed as a 24-year-old laborer (34). The names John Regan, Patrick Foley, and Timothy Galvin appear consecutively on the ship’s manifest. My grandma Agnes McMahon Regan always told me that John Regan and Patrick Foley came to America together from County Cork, that their families were close in the old country. According to John’s birth record, they were more than friends, they were cousins. Was Timothy Galvin an old friend from Ireland or a new friend from the ship? We will never know.

Once in the United States, Regan and Foley made their way north to find work in the jobs-rich industrialized Concord, New Hampshire, while Galvin went west and farmed in Illinois. Thirteen years later the three Irishmen would be reunited and among the pioneer settlers of Tara Township in Minnesota.

The 1870 United States Federal census lists an unmarried laborer John Regan, age twenty-five (40). He is living with seventy-year-old Ellen Regan, his mother. I wonder when Ellen joined John? Maybe she came with his younger brother Jeremiah, who also settled in New Hampshire? The 1870 census record is the only mention I have found of Ellen Regan in America.

The photo above is an old tintype and the only one I have of John Regan. I believe it was taken about the time of his marriage to Mary Quinn on May 19, 1872. The couple was united in Concord, New Hampshire. John was twenty-eight (42) and Mary was twenty-five.

Three children were born to John and Mary in New Hampshire – Cornelius, Ellen, and Patrick – while John worked at a local machine shop. By 1878, the Regans had saved enough money to move from the crowded city of Concord, west to Minnesota. On August 17, 1878 John Regan purchased 240 acres in section 7 of Tara Township near Clontarf, Minnesota for $1,745.24.

John added to his family and his land holdings over the next ten years. Three more children were born – John, Jeremiah, and Mary. John’s wife Mary died of consumption on June 17, 1895 at the age of forty-nine. Their youngest daughter Mary was just eight years old and John was fifty-six. By this time John had amassed over 600 acres in Tara Township.

Tara Twp 9 Oct 2007 Sec. 10 Jer. Regan place

Regan House – Tara Township

John continued to work hard on the farm until he sold his holdings for $31,650 on April 1, 1913. John must have seen his son Jerry as most likely to succeed him in farming, or perhaps most in need of his help. He purchased a section of land once owned by his old friend Timothy Galvin. John built a lovely two-story home which dominates the flat landscape of Tara Township to this day. John spent the rest of his life in this house. He died on January 21, 1924 of pneumonia. His death certificate says birth date was unknown, but age estimated at ninety-years-old (94).

Francis Byrne, a grandson of John, remembered only a gruff old man nearly blind with cataracts, but his mother told him stories of “Old Johnny”. He was tough as nails and fiercely independent. When the local postmaster and general store proprietor tried to tell Old Johnny how to vote, he defiantly went the other way. He was a determined man who kept to himself.

Even in the end, John’s age was not recorded correctly. After years of claiming to be younger than his real age, John’s gravestone says he is two years older.

 

John’s obituary is near the bottom

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Day Six of Irish American Favorites: Best Friends

circa 1900

circa 1900

Nellie Regan (left) and Minnie Foley were life-long best friends. They were both born in Fisherville, New Hampshire in the mid-1870s and grew up in Tara Township, Minnesota. Their fathers immigrated from Kilmichael, County Cork together in 1864 – click here to read my latest column on page 26 of Irish Lives Remembered online genealogy magazine about the Regan and Foley families. This is one of my favorite family photographs and earns the best friends a place on my list of Irish American Favorites.

When I was young, this was one of those photos that could spark a number of great stories from my grandma, Minnie’s daughter and the master of the Boiled Dinner from Day Three. Grandma would say how her mother and Nellie were “great pals”. Even when they lived two hundred miles apart, they made a special effort to get together.

I have a couple more favorites up my sleeve related to Nellie and Minnie and their special connection. I might even share one or two recipes! I love the photo below. Nellie (left) and Minnie together again, just a bit more relaxed than the studio photo from forty-odd years earlier.

Nellie and Minnie about 1942

Nellie and Minnie, 1942


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DAY 22: Kilmichael

View from Kilmichael Ambush memorial

View from Kilmichael Ambush memorial

Several of my great-great-grandparents were born in Kilmichael Parish, County Cork. I first visited the area in 2009, and I fell in love with the rugged landscape. The photo above is one of my favorites. It is taken from the Kilmichael Ambush Memorial. The memorial is on the site of the 1920 confrontation during the War of Independence where seventeen RIC soldiers were killed by IRA forces led by Tom Barry. Read more about it here.

Ambush Memorial

Ambush Memorial

Father Jerry Cremin, then Kilmichael parish priest, guided us around the parish on a drizzly October day. We walked through the thick, wet grass in the cemetery full of ancient gravestones. Fr. Cremin pointed out the grave markers without inscriptions. He said some had eroded, but others were never marked. What good was an inscription when the deceased’s loved ones could not read? They identified the graves by the stones themselves and their placement.

Kilmichael Cemetery

Kilmichael photos by Regan McCormack

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My ancestors left Kilmichael a long, long time ago. I am attracted to the place for its stunning landscape, but also because it is the birthplace of these brave individuals. Ultimately Patrick Foley, his wife Mary Crowley Foley, and John Regan settled on the prairie of Western Minnesota. I just wonder what they thought when they arrived on that flat, treeless expanse..just a little different from Kilmichael!

Patrick T. Foley

Patrick T. Foley

Mary Crowley Foley

Mary Crowley Foley

John Regan

John Regan

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Gathering Spotlight

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In case you haven’t heard, 2013 is the year of The Gathering in Ireland. Hundreds of reunions, festivals, and celebrations are on the books, and more are planned every day. From time to time, I will turn the spotlight on Gathering attempting to trace and invite American relatives. And sometimes I will feature Gatherings that just look like a good time! Email me if you would like to have your gathering featured on The Irish in America.

Power Family Gathering

Power_crestThe Power Clan Gathering is a weekend of events for all the Power families across the world to celebrate their ancestral homeland and to meet with your family members and friends – new and old – in your historic homeland.

This is an opportunity to visit major landmarks throughout Tír Paorach and there will be lots of entertainment including traditional Irish music, song, dance, storytelling and folklore.

  • Click here to visit Facebook page
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  • Click here to view listing on TheGatheringIreland.com
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Stradbally Girls School

StradballyConventSchoolThe Convent School, Stradbally, has been in existance since 1885. We are inviting parents, pupils and past-pupils to a School Gathering to celebrate the educational heritage of this small Waterford community. Bígí linn.

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