The Irish in America


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Jumping In: Irish in Minnesota

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.

Dakota Tribe (from Xavier University’s Quote Archive

As I started work on the Irish in Minnesota project this month, I had some trouble settling in with the research and getting organized. I’ve come to the conclusion that while I am familiar with a wide range of Minnesota history topics, I need to do some reading to get up to speed on the larger picture of nineteenth century Minnesota. That being said, I would like to get the ball rolling with a bit of background information and an introduction to a Minnesota “First.”

Irish immigration had a tremendous impact on the development of nineteenth century America. Migrating to nearly every region of the country, the Irish carved out lives in eastern cities and states, as well as established new communities throughout the West. The Irish came to America because of famine, oppression, and the lack of opportunity at home. Some were forced to emigrate, but others acted with agency and chose to come to America. Ann Regan writes in Irish in Minnesota that the experience of Irish immigrants in Minnesota “defies generalization….they have created stereotypes and broken them, held to traditions and made new ones.” This is a good point to keep in mind as we sift through the history of the Irish in Minnesota.

Irish immigrants began coming to the Minnesota region in the 1820s as soldiers at Fort Snelling and lumberjacks from Canada. Because of its location on the east bank of the Mississippi River, St. Paul grew quickly through the 1840s and 1850s. The future capital city of Minnesota, St. Paul was a town where anything seemed possible and it attracted ambitious Americans and immigrants alike. St. Paul served as a launching point for westward migration, first via steamboat and later the railroad. (More on the Irish in St. Paul to come.)

Why did the Irish come to Minnesota? The simple answer is land. The United States government signed the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux with the Dakota in 1851, which opened the territory west of the Mississippi River. This included the Minnesota River Valley, a timber-rich region accessed with relative ease from St. Paul by steamboat. With the Treaty of Mendota later in 1851, a total of 24 million acres of land became available for new settlement. (Wikipedia)

For Americans and immigrants feeling the effects of “Western Fever” the treaties came at the right time and represented opportunities for new lives. It is important to keep in mind, however, that for the Dakota, “these treaties marked another step in a process that increasingly marginalized them and dismissed them from the land that had been—and remained—their home.” (Eric W. Weber, MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society)

The U.S. government furthered its agenda of expansion with the treaties. (Did you know that the term Manifest Destiny was coined by Irish American editor John O’Sullivan in 1845?) According to the Wikipedia entry on the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, the U.S. government agreed to pay annuities to the Dakota equal to about 7.5 cents per acre. New settlers would pay about $1.25 per acre. Not a bad deal for the government, especially considering the Dakota were never fully compensated. (Wikipedia)

Patricia Johnston mentions in Minnesota’s Irish that many of the Irish in Minnesota were “two boat” migrants: One boat brought them across the Atlantic from Ireland, and a second to Minnesota. The second leg of the journey would often involve several modes of transportation, but the steamboat was important for the early arrivals in Minnesota. It wouldn’t be until later in the nineteenth century that more Irish would come directly to Minnesota from Ireland, typically joining family already established in the area. (p. 23)

McMahon Family of Tara Township, Swift County, Minnesota — Ireland, New York, Wisconsin, Civil War, love, loss…a “typical” 19th century Irish American family. (photo from private family collection)

The stages of Irish migration can be clearly seen in census data from the1850s-1890s. Patterns emerge with parents who were born in Ireland, they arrived in the U.S. and married in eastern states such as New York, Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania where their oldest children were born. Migration west resulted in middle children born in Ohio, Illinois, or Wisconsin, with the youngest born in Minnesota. Extended families, in-laws, and friends moved across the country together and in phases. As the railroad extended from Minnesota to Montana, Washington, and California, the younger generation of Irish and Irish American migrants often followed.

Claims to the “First” anything are typically controversial, especially when those claims are made at a time when events were happening quickly and record-keeping was hit-or-miss. The township of Jessenland, on the Minnesota River in present-day Sibley County, is widely accepted as the “First Irish Settlement in Minnesota.” The story goes that the Doheny Brothers (Thomas, Walter, and Dennis) took the steamboat “Black Oaks” up the Minnesota River from St. Paul and spotting a beautiful site fifty miles into the richly wooded region (part of the “Big Woods”), stopped the steamboat and made their claims. This spot would be known as Doheny’s Landing and marks the first permanent Irish farming community in Minnesota. Doheny’s Landing grew into Jessenland.

Jessenland’s “origin story” is described by John Gerald Berger in the 1965 book, A History of St. Brendan’s Parish, The Village of Green Isle, and Minnesota’s First Irish Settlement:

We might imagine that it was a beautiful spring morning when the three brothers got off the boat, and that the lush green valley with its wooded bluffs and glens reminded them of their homeland. They had left the Emerald Isle, some years before, like so many others, because of the potato famine…All they carried with them, besides the clothes on their backs, were shovels, axes, and grub-hoes. That first summer they managed to clear enough land to plant a few potatoes, but they were frozen by an early frost.

(Berger, p.2)

A few pages later, Berger proposes that the “traditional” story of the Doheny Brothers may not be absolutely accurate but he asserts that, although there were concurrent arrivals to the area, a Doheny brother made the earliest claim by an Irishman, establishing the first Irish community. Edward Neill, writing in 1882, offers some clarification:

Thomas Doheny, the Irishman who came up on the Black Oak in July, 1852, and located his own and other claims, returned in the spring of 1853, bringing with him several others, who formed the nucleus of the Irish settlement. Doheny planted a few potatoes and then returned to St. Paul while Michael Grimes, Sr., remained and built himself a house, and became the first Irish settler.

(Neill, History of the Minnesota Valley, 1882 – excerpt on GenealogyTrails.com)



I was curious about Michael Grimes, Sr. since he was not mentioned by name in Berger’s account. If he was the first Irishman to build a house and spend the winter at the site, he deserves further attention. I will have access to a reprint of Neill’s book soon and will check on the Grimes story. A quick search provided that the Doheny and Grimes families both lived in Middletown in Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania prior to coming to Minnesota (more next time). Over the next few years, the Irish would fill Jessenland and spill over to Washington Lake, Faxon, and Green Isle townships: Boland, Bray, Carlin, Dunne, Egan, Mullen, Mulligan, Shaughnessy, Wilson, and Young are some of the families who joined Doheny and Grimes.

Next time I want to take a closer look at some of the individuals who established Jessenland and see how the Irish community grew from its humble beginnings at Doheny’s Landing to include four townships. If anyone out there is a descendant of (or has a connection to) the early Irish in Sibley County, please leave a comment!

Township map of Sibley County. Irish established Jessenland, Fazon, Washington Lake, and Green Isle in the northeast corner of Sibley County along the Minnesota River.

Notes and More Information:


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Irish Savannah in Pictures

Irish Savannah (1)

Just in time for the Savannah Irish Festival this weekend, Arcadia Publishing released it’s newest pictorial history, Irish Savannah, by Sheila Counihan Winders earlier this week. Irish Savannah is for sale online at arcadiapublishing.com and folks in Savannah can pick it up at local retailers.

Take a look at what the publisher has to say about this exciting new book and its author…

CLICK HERE to open the pdf of the press release.

Irish Savannah joins more than twenty volumes in Arcadia’s series highlighting the contribution and impact of the Irish on communities throughout the United States. And you know what’s really great about these books? The pictures! If you are like me and you can’t get enough of old photographs and the history of Irish America, then you have hit the jackpot with Arcadia’s Irish series. Click here to get started building your collection. (Psst…it looks like you can get 20% off when you sign up for their newsletter.)

Congratulations to Sheila Counihan Winders and the lovely city of Savannah!


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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.

Continue reading


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Meet Maureen (Part II)

Commodore Hotel

Commodore Hotel

After a week at sea, Maureen and Joan Teahan arrived in New York City on November 26, 1947. Uncle Dan O’Meara met the girls and helped ease their transition to American life. Uncle Dan, once an immigrant himself, knew it was important that his nieces look like Americans. Their first stop was Fifth Avenue for some new outfits – click here to read Part I of Meet Maureen. Uncle Dan also wanted them to be safe, and knowing they never would have even thought of it he instructed: “Be sure to lock your hotel room door.” That room was a the Commodore Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, right next to Grand Central Station.

I asked Maureen if the decision to emigrate was a difficult one. She had this to say:

Yes, at the beginning it was for me but I recall my sister, Joan, was excited about immigrating. She was bragging to her friends and one of them told her that she would be immigrating to London, England in time for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth II to Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark – which she thought was the “next best thing”. Since we were still grieving the loss of my mother (February 1947) I didn’t think I could pull myself together to take such a big step but I didn’t want Joan to go alone, so I quickly changed my mind.

Remember Joan from Maureen’s story, The Infant’s Class Uprising? I can understand Maureen wanting to keep an eye on her younger sister in America! I imagine Joan not being too impressed by her friend’s emigration to England – royal wedding or not. Joan was ready for something bigger in America. Click here to read The Infant’s Class Uprising.

I wondered if Maureen expected to stay in the United States, or if she considered the move a temporary arrangement. Maureen said:

I realized immediately I’d be leaving for good. Being so young I was living in the day. Once I arrived I adjusted right away and found it very exciting living here. Uncle Dan and Jack were very good to us and we made good friends (still to this day) which was immensely helpful.

Maureen stayed in New York for a couple of days before making her way to Lawrence, Massachusetts – the home of her Uncles Jack and Dan and where Maureen would begin her new life in America.


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Up Close and Personal with Philadelphia’s Irish Memorial

Philadelphia is full of things which photographs (and words) do not do justice – the Liberty Bell, the seventeenth-century residential street Elfreth’s Alley, and the steps scaled by the iconic film character Rocky Balboa are just a few of the sights one really needs to experience in person to fully appreciate.

But, until you all can get to Philly, I will share some of the photos from our trip last week. Let’s begin with a few of Regan’s snaps at the Irish Memorial.

The story of the Irish Memorial.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

Memorial with Benjamin Franklin Bridge in background.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

Another view.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

I love this poem by Peter Quinn, located at the memorial.

photo credit: Regan McCormack

photo credit: Regan McCormack

The Irish Memorial is a beautiful tribute to our Irish ancestors and a poignant reminder of their struggles, tragedies, and triumphs.

Click here for more details on the memorial.

Next time I will share some more about the wonderful city of Philadelphia – a city it only took me a few days to fall in love with!


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Philadelphia Irish Memorial

 

Regan and I are heading to Philadelphia for a few days later this month. I have never been to the City of Brotherly Love, and I can’t wait!

 

So much to see and do …the Liberty Bell, the Barnes Collection, Betsy Ross House, and Rocky’s steps are some of the attractions I think of initially, but there is much more to Philadelphia. Over the next week, on the blog and on our Facebook page, I will feature some of what Philly has to offer for those of us interested in the Irish in America.

I already told you about McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the longest continuously operating tavern in the city, established by the Irish immigrant McGillin family. And last week I shared MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes – delicious cakes created using a family recipe straight from early twentieth century Belfast.

We’ve covered food and drink, so it seems somehow fitting (or maybe it’s ironic?) to highlight the Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. The Irish Memorial is a National Monument, opened to the public on October 25, 2003. The thirty-foot bronze sculpture commemorates the Great Famine of Ireland of the 1840s and was created by artist Glenna Goodacre.

The memorial tells both sides of the story as it remembers both those who suffered and died in Ireland as a result of the Famine, as well as those who escaped the starvation and came to America. The Irish Memorial website says:

The Irish Memorial is dedicated to the memory of more than one million innocent men, women and children who perished during the years 1845 to 1850 and to the millions of Irish immigrants who found here in the United States of America the freedom, liberty and prosperity denied to their ancestors in Ireland.

I look forward to seeing the Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing. Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook for photos and posts when we visit Philly next week! Please leave comments with your suggestions for things not to be missed in Philadelphia…would love to hear from you!

For more information on the Philadelphia Irish Memorial visit http://www.irishmemorial.org


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Day Five of Irish Favorites: Harry Connick, Jr.

HCJRHarry Connick, Jr. is an amazing jazz musician, singer, and bandleader, as well as a talented actor. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Harry has a wonderful sense of humor (just check out his tweets!) He just seems like a great guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Harry also happens to be Irish American, so he is a natural for my list of favorites.

Henry Louis Gates discovers Harry’s Irish roots in a recent episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS. It is a great episode – click here to watch. It is interesting to see Harry’s reaction to revelations about his great-great-grandfather, James Connick, who came to Mobile, Alabama from Ireland during the Famine.

Harry felt better when he learned of a fifth-great-grandfather David McCulloch, an Irish immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. During the Revolutionary War he was an American privateer, capturing British ships and cargo. The British government had a sizeable bounty on McCulloch’s head, but they never did captured him.

It is good to hear the stories of Harry’s Irish immigrant ancestors, because we are reminded of the diversity of the Irish immigrant experience.

HCJR_xmasI loved Harry in the 1990 film, Memphis Belle. Click here to check out his version of Danny Boy from the movie. My favorite Christmas album ever is Harry’s 2008 effort, What a Night! And, he has a new album coming out on June 11th titled, Every Man Should Know. Can’t wait to hear it.

Keep up the good work, Harry. You make Irish America proud!


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Immigrants and Airplanes

After reading my post, From Sheepshead to Casper, a reader told me a story about her brush with a soon-to-be Casper, Wyoming sheep rancher.

In 1949, Katie Tierney was one of a new breed of Irish immigrant. Unlike the millions of Irish who came to the United States before her, Katie traveled by air, not water. An airplane trip back in 1949 was exciting enough, but factor in that this was a 3,000-mile journey from home to a new life in a foreign country, and you can imagine how Katie felt.

From AmericasHeartland.com.

From AmericasHeartland.com.

Katie was anxious as she stepped on the plane, but was soon distracted by a handsome man seated next to her. Richard Thornton was on his way to Casper, Wyoming to work on his uncle’s sheep ranch. Katie and Richard got to talking and hit it off, sharing their life stories and dreams for the future. When the plane landed, Katie and Richard exchanged addresses and went their separate ways.

Quickly, Katie settled into her new American life, and after about a month she received a letter from Richard. It wasn’t just any letter, it was a proposal. Richard laid it all out for Katie, telling her they would live on the ranch, but she wouldn’t be too isolated since they would go to town once a month. Richard assured Katie that he could not be drafted since he was engaged in the vital service of food production.

Although Katie was flattered, she turned Richard down. She didn’t see herself as a rancher’s wife. Richard was disappointed, but he soon recovered, married, and had a family. Katie went to work in Boston, met and married an Irish American man, raised three children, and had a happy life. Katie never forgot Richard Thornton, and from time to time thought about how different her life would have turned out had she accepted his proposal. Katie had something else in mind for her American life, and she worked to achieve her dreams.

Katie may have arrived in 1949 America in an airplane, but she was part of the tradition of single Irish women who left home in search of a future, since Ireland had so little to offer them, economically or socially. I admire these women so much.

Diner_bookIf you are interested in learning more about the lives of Irish women immigrants, you must read Hasia Diner’s Erin’s Daughters in America. It focuses on the nineteenth century female immigrant experience, but is important to understanding the larger theme of Irish immigration. Excellent book.


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Will the Real Annie Moore Please Stand Up?

Annie Moore with brothers Anthony and Philip, Ellis Island, 1892

Annie Moore with brothers Anthony and Philip, Ellis Island, 1892

Megan Smolenyak is on a mission. She wants the world to know the real Annie Moore. You have probably heard of her – Annie Moore was the first immigrant to arrive at Ellis Island when it opened on January 1, 1892. Annie became an instant celebrity that day, but just as quickly as the gold and silver coins were distributed and attention enveloped this girl from County Cork, Annie melted into the masses and another Annie Moore took her place in history.

AnnieMoore_EllisIsland

Annie Moore sculpture at Ellis Island

We didn’t know of Annie’s identity crisis until 2005 when Megan Smolenyak decided to pitch a story idea to PBS for a documentary on American immigrants. Megan had always been fascinated with Ellis Island and the immigration story, and why not explore the genealogy of Ellis Island’s first immigrant, Annie Moore? 

Megan is a well-known and respected genealogist, author, blogger, lecturer, finder of President Obama’s Irish roots, contributor to TV programs (Who Do You Think You Are?) and documentaries. Megan didn’t set out to bust any myths, she simply saw that little was known about Annie Moore and she wanted to see what information she could find on this important figure in American history.

As she began to trace Annie Moore, Megan came across one inconsistency after another. It wasn’t long before Megan realized that the Annie Moore everyone accepted as THE Annie Moore was born in Illinois, not the first immigrant on Ellis Island. And there is more…click here to see the proof Megan has compiled showing that the wrong Annie Moore had become the heroine of the story. Megan was determined to set history straight.

Last month I had the pleasure of listening as Megan shared her Annie Moore research journey via her wonderful Legacy Family History webinar, Annie Moore of Ellis Island – A Case of Historical Identity Theft. Megan explained the process of making things right – finding evidence of the real Annie Moore, contacting Annie’s descendants, bringing them together for a reunion, and even helping to get a headstone for Annie’s previously unmarked grave.

The real Annie Moore didn’t go West. In fact, she never made it out of New York’s lower east side tenements. You can follow Megan’s research here. Megan has put together links, videos, audio clips, and photos to tell this fascinating story. It amazes me that so many people could be so wrong about Annie’s identity for so long. No one even thought to look into Annie’s story…until Megan. Thank you, Megan, for your persistence and dedication to learning the truth.

Annie Moore with brothers, Cobh, County Cork

Annie Moore with brothers at Cobh, County Cork

Megan’s discoveries have tremendous impact on how each of us views our genealogy research and the lives of our immigrant ancestors. It is important that we do not simply accept stories we hear as the truth because, “That’s what Grandma always said…” Family lore is priceless, but it can be useful to back those stories up with research. That’s how we turn the stories into history.

This case of mistaken identity reminds us to value all the experiences of our Irish immigrant ancestors. They didn’t all come to America and follow the path of dreams, adventure, and success that read like a Hollywood film script. But neither did all immigrants struggle in poverty-stricken urban slums. Many fell somewhere between; there is great diversity to the Irish immigrant experience and it is important to keep an open mind when researching your family’s history.

I can’t wait to see what Megan finds out about Annie’s life in Ireland, before she became the first immigrant at Ellis Island. Stay tuned…

You might know that Irish artist Jeanne Rynhart is responsible for the bronze sculpture of Annie and her brothers at Cobh, as well as Annie at Ellis Island. What other famous sculpture in Ireland is also the work of Ms. Rynhart? Another trivia question…who actually cast the bronze statues? Leave a comment if you have either answer!


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Gathering Spotlight: Loughman Family of Tipperary

Gorgeous Tipperary -- from TheGatheringIreland.com

Gorgeous Tipperary — from TheGatheringIreland.com

So, the LOUGHMAN FAMILY is getting together this summer for a gathering, and they are inviting ALL DESCENDANTS OF MICHAEL LOUGHMAN born about 1790 in COUNTY TIPPERARY, IRELAND to join them.

The Loughman Gathering organizers would be thrilled to hear from the American branch of the Loughman family tree. They know you’re out there, so get in touch! Please email them, even if you are unable to attend the reunion this summer. But, really, who could pass up an invitation like this? Read on to learn more about the Loughman Family and their Gathering!

The following appears on The Gathering Ireland website:

 The Loughman Gathering is seeking to reunite the descendants of Michael Loughman (born c.1790) & his son, William Loughman (1828-1899) of Foilmacduff, Hollyford, Co. Tipperary. William married Mary Ryan (1836-1943) who lived to be 107 and was said to remember the night of the “Big Wind”. They had fourteen children in all, a number of whom did not survive beyond infancy, and there were two “double” marriages, i.e. brother and sister married brother and sister with the Harringtons of Milleen, Ailihies in Cork and the Tuohys of Knockroe, Annacarty, Co. Tipperary.

The US branch of the family is well-documented with a large family tree on the internet and reunions have taken place in Butte, Montana but never in Ireland….so now in the year of The Gathering, it is time to invite all the Loughmans worldwide (and all branches of the family: Harringtons, Touhys, Butlers etc.) to come back to Co. Tipperary.

TheGathering_logo_Blue_RWHAT: Loughman Family Gathering

WHEN: Friday, August 23rd – Sunday, August 25th 2013

WHERE: Dundrum House Hotel, Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland

GATHERING IRELAND: Click here for event listing

ORGANIZERS: Dolores O’Shea, Larry Cooney, Liam Loughman

FAMILY TREE: Click here and here

FACEBOOK: Loughman Gathering Page

EMAIL: Loughman2013@outlook.com

TELEPHONE: dial (011) 353 90 9741308 from the USA  

OFFICIAL INVITATION: Click here to view the full agenda and details for the weekend 

For information on The Irish in America’s genealogy and family history tour services, click here. We can help you plan your visit to Ireland around your family gathering. We absolutely love County Tipperary! In 2011 our family had a magical experience staying at Tipperary’s luxurious Lisheen Castle.