The Irish in America


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Remembering Maureen

For nearly four years, Maureen shared her memories of growing up in Ireland with the readers of The Irish in America. When Maureen’s daughter, Mary, contacted me just before Thanksgiving 2012, I immediately fell in love with Maureen’s story and eagerly awaited each new, beautifully written vignette. Maureen’s life is one which people with Irish heritage can relate to, whether their mother came from Ireland or the connection goes back several generations.

Thank you to Mary and Will for being so generous with their mother’s words. They are treasures. The following is a lovely tribute to Maureen written by her son, Will Murray.

 

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

 

 

Maureen Murray, author of the popular “Maureen’s Memories” memoirs, passed away peacefully in her sleep on August 19, 2016. She departed this earth exactly the way she wished to, in the comfort of her own home, which she shared with her son and daughter.

Maureen was born Mary Angela Teahan on September 3, 1928 in Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. The oldest of four sisters and two brothers, she experienced a number of health issues growing up, These were so severe that her doctor told the family that she was unlikely to live long enough to bear children.

Despite this dire prediction, Maureen survived childhood, coming to the United States in November 1947 in time to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. She was accompanied by her younger sister Joan. Her other sisters followed in short order. All four were sponsored by their uncle, Daniel O’Meara.

Moving to Massachusetts, she worked in the mill town of Lawrence, and eventually met her future husband, Patrick M. Murray. They were wed in 1952. Three children resulted: William, Daniel and Mary Ellen.

Settling in Boston, Maureen lived in Brighton, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. The family later relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts.

Over her lifetime, Maureen accumulated numerous friends and was a comfort and wise counsel to family and acquaintances alike. She loved to read and read widely. Calls coming to her home meant for other family members were often intercepted, and Maureen always captivated the caller. She made friends with several celebrities this way, all of whom were charmed by her Irish lilt and caring personality.

She made friends easily. Once, while walking her dog, Maureen encountered a gentleman of her generation, also walking his dog. When she asked if the individual was retired, the man laughed and said, “From bank robbing.” Perhaps attracted by her Irish accent the “retired” robber from South Boston took a shine to her.

Once when he boasted of roughing up his then girlfriend, Maureen admonished him by saying, “If you ever do that again, I’ll break your arm!”

That was probably the only time the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger ever took such backtalk from anyone without reprisal. They remained friends for several years, discovering that they shared the same birthday, although the unlikely friends were born a year apart.

Maureen returned to Ireland only once, in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the planned two-week stay was cut short when the smoky environment created by peat fires triggered an asthma attack, forcing Maureen to fly home on an emergency basis, and was briefly hospitalized. She brought home with her an old cast-iron cooking pot salvaged from the family homestead, a rusting relic of her rustic youth.

Although Maureen experienced health struggles throughout her life, she remained determined and optimistic. She rarely complained when the loss of her mobility put her in a wheelchair in 2009. Unfortunately, on going vision problems gradually diminished her sight, robbing Maureen of her main pleasure in life, which was reading.

The loss of her vision in March, 2015 proved to be a turning point and subsequent operations tested her optimism. But she remained outwardly positive, and if she ever complained, no one seems to recall it. She remained strong, determined and clear of mind to the very end. Maureen died just two weeks before she would have celebrated her 88th birthday on September 3, a testimony to her indomitable Irish-America spirit.

It was during this period of diminishing vision that Maureen decided to originate the “Maureen’s Memories” series. These were dictated to her daughter and edited by her son. But the words were all hers. Her final installment was posted a week before she expired.

Maureen is survived by a son, William, her daughter, Mary Ellen, and two brothers, Donal of Ireland and John of London. Sadly, yet ironically, she outlived almost all of her generation of friends and relatives who looked to her for inspiration over the course of a very long life.

 

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Thanks again to Mary and Will for bringing us Maureen’s Memories and always know if you want to share more of Maureen’s stories – or your own – they are most welcome at The Irish in America.  

To read all “Maureen’s Memories” click the links below:

A few more posts about Maureen…


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Meet Maureen (Part III)

I had a few more questions for our favorite Irish American, Maureen Teahan Murray. Maureen immigrated to Lawrence Massachusetts just about sixty-six years ago this month. She and her sister Joan left Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland in November 1947 and arrived in the United States just in time for Thanksgiving. Read the story of her auspicious arrival – click here. A full list of links to earlier Meet Maureen entries, as well as her delightful stories of growing up in Milltown follows this article.

And now we will get to know a little bit more about Maureen and her adjustment to life in America…

 

Merrimack River in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Merrimack River in Lawrence, Massachusetts

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to life in the US?

Our biggest adjustment to life in the U.S. was waking up at 4:30 AM to eat breakfast and make our  lunch for work. We crossed the bridge in S. Lawrence, MA over the Merrimack River on bitter winter mornings. Finding it more comfortable to keep moving the 20 minutes it took to walk rather than stand waiting for the bus that would take us to the Wood Mill Factory.

Maureen worked in the “English Drawing Room” at the Wood Mill for a year-and-a-half. Here’s how she describes her job:

The men placed large wool bobbins on a frame and we pulled the wool fibre down onto smaller bobbins and secured them then started the machine. That filled even smaller bobbins of wool. Then the men removed them and we repeated the process. Someone else worked with the wool after we were finished preparing it.
Toohig Girls 1950

(photo courtesy of Fran Valcourt, Mary’s daughter)

Did you make friends with mostly other Irish/Irish Americans? Was that important to you?

Most of our new friends were Irish American-many first generation American born, but we didn’t seek them out. A few months after we settled in Lawrence I had to have an appendectomy. Dr. Frank McCarthy had a private clinic there and his receptionist was Mary Toohig. When I was in the hospital before the operation he told me he would send someone to see me. While recuperating, I was surprised to meet Mary and her sister, Ann. I expected medical professionals were coming to check on me. Still medicated at first I thought I was dreaming when I met the Toohig sisters. They were from a family of eight and their parents were both born in Skibereen, Cork. Almost sixty-five years later Mary is still one of my best friends.

Toohig Family

Toohig Family (photo courtesy of Fran Valcourt)

Early on, what/who did you miss most from Ireland?

 Family we left behind were sorely missed when we first came here. My father, and brothers and sisters, Kitty, Dolly, Helen, John and Donal. Also, our grandfather Teahan who lived on the farm in Lyre, Milltown. Eventually, Kitty, Dolly and Helen joined us in the states. Donal tried living here for a year but then went back to Limerick.

Although new friends made in America couldn’t take the place of family left behind in Ireland, friends like the Toohigs helped make Lawrence, Massachusetts feel a little bit more like home. Do you have any questions for Maureen about her immigration experience in America? Leave a comment!
Click on the following titles to read more about Maureen and her memories:


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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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Meet Maureen (Part I)

Maureen in 1953

Maureen in 1953

I think we have all enjoyed Maureen’s stories on the blog over the past several months. Her memories of growing up in Miltown, County Kerry in the 1930s and 1940s speak to an Ireland still remembered by many, but which – for good and bad – has all but disappeared. Click here, herehere, here, here, and here to read Maureen’s stories.  Based on her delightful stories and insightful recollections, I knew I had to learn more about Maureen.

So I asked Maureen and her daughter, Mary, if I could interview Maureen about her immigration and her transition to life in the United States, for the blog. What does it mean to Maureen to be Irish American? They agreed, and Mary suggested I call the post Meet Maureen. Perfect!

When I received Maureen’s responses to my initial questions, I realized that Meet Maureen required not just a single post but a series. So here goes…presenting Part I of Meet Maureen! Maureen’s responses appear in italics. My first question: “Why did you decide to come to the United States?”

We were invited to immigrate to the States by our uncles, Jack and Dan O’Meara. Both sponsored my sister Joan and me. They had to prove they had employment and assets and they said they would be able to get us employment once here. Uncle Jack had victory Bonds – it’s notarized in the attached document. (see below)

John_O'Meara_Bonds_26_Apr_1947_1

Notarized letter from Uncle John O’Meara regarding bonds he owned. (Maureen Teahan Murray Collection)

If we hadn’t come here we might have gone to England. Our friends Maura,Therese, Christine and her sister Margaret, emigrated there for nurses training in hospitals during World War II. London was constantly being bombed but the hospital never took a direct hit. Training was free but times were tough with food and other rationing. They were paid a little and they did live at the hospitals. But I never considered becoming a LPN.

Not sure how Mary ever found this list - both girls' names are altered!

Not sure how Mary ever found this on Ancestry.com with the misspelling. Maureen and Joan are on lines 14 &15.

We were the first to leave Milltown after the “Emergency”. Coming over on a converted troop ship, “The Marine Jumper”. We were “the talk of the town”. We had been booked for a February passage but suddenly there were two cancellations in November. Our passport visas were already issued by the American Embassy the month before when we took a train trip to Dublin. Our new clothes were also purchased in Tralee a month earlier since uncle Dan sent us money for expenses. We had to be re-vaccinated by Dr. Sheahan in Glen Ellen, Kerry and Counihand Travel Agency , Killarney made our arrangements. We packed quickly and said our good-byes. This happened over a two-day period so we had little time to be nervous.

Just like millions of Irish who emigrated before them, Maureen and Joan left from Cobh. In a few short years, immigrants would begin to come to the United States by airplane. The method of transportation was changing but some things remain constant, like the waves of Irish immigration to America with Uncles and Aunts sponsoring Nieces and Nephews in their new lives. Of course, I had a few follow-up questions for Maureen. I was curious about what sort of new clothes they purchased to pack:

We didn’t bring much because we would be buying the latest fashions in New York. Uncle Dan took us shopping on 5th Avenue when we arrived and he thought it was important we looked like Americans. We dressed almost alike with beautiful blue, long-sleeved dresses and grey military-style coats with brass buttons and stylish hats and leather gloves with new shoes. I remember those were the outfits we wore to view Macy’s Parade. Despite all that we were still freezing! We have no idea what uncle Dan paid for all the clothes but he was a bachelor and said not to worry about the cost.

Every girl should have an Uncle Dan! Click here to read about Maureen’s first days in New York City. Maureen and Joan had an auspicious welcome to America!

We will continue with Maureen’s story next time. And by the way, Maureen has a special birthday coming up on Wednesday. Feel free to leave birthday wishes in the comments…I will be sure she sees them!


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Day Eleven of Irish American Favorites: Maureen Teahan Murray

Maureen in 1953

Maureen in 1953

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, Mary contacted me through the blog. She wrote that her mother, Maureen, had a short Christmas story about her childhood in Milltown, County Kerry she wanted to share. I told Mary to send it along, and I would take a look. Click here to read Maureen’s first contribution to the blog, An Orange for Baby Jesus.

I immediately fell in love with Maureen’s writing and wanted to learn more about the woman behind the story. Mary filled me, telling me how Maureen and her sister Joan arrived in New York City on November 26, 1947, just in time for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I wrote about Maureen, Joan, and the parade here.

Maureen’s stories just keep getting better. She has a gift for framing her memories perfectly and telling us more than we may realize at first. I am a huge fan of the short story, and Maureen’s memoir essays are beautifully written and perfectly constructed. Catch up on Maureen’s Memories – here’s a list of her stories we have featured so far:

I am honored Maureen choses to share her memories through my blog. I think we make a good team – I explore the experiences of the Irish in America, Maureen recalls memories of Ireland with the perspective of an Irish American gained through over sixty-five years and three thousand miles.

In the coming weeks, I plan to introduce a series of posts which will trace Maureen’s immigration journey and life in America.  In the meantime, a huge “thank you” to Maureen and her daughter, Mary. They make The Irish in America a better place! I can’t wait for Maureen’s next story…


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Gathering Spotlight

TheGathering_logo_Blue_R

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
  • Click here to follow on Twitter
  • Click here to view listing on TheGatheringIreland.com
  • Click here for Blog

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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Maureen’s Memories: Fair Day in Milltown

As Maureen remembers the excitement of fair day in Milltown, she introduces us to a few more of the Milltown villagers, and provides another peek at Ireland in the 1930-40s

Fair Day in Milltown

When we were children, fair day was always an exciting event. Early Saturday morning the farmers drove their animals to town to be sold on the streets. Our front door was bolted securely lest a younger child should wander out. We took our places at the front window, elbowing each other for a better view. As we watched the buyers (cattle jobbers they were called), some wearing plus fours—a certain type of trousers (knickerbockers) that were a sure sign of affluence. At first, it appeared that nothing would ever happen. Would any sale take place, we wondered? Finally, a flurry of action from the out-of-town jobbers. A great deal of haggling, followed by the hand stroke that meant a deal was struck! It wasn’t a handshake as we know it; one man offered his hand held palm-out, parallel to the ground. The other met it in an upward/downward chopping motion. An actual slapping sound could be heard. There was no written contract; none was needed in a time when a man’s word was his bond.

Among all the men stood one lone woman, Miss Emma. She was an old, grey-haired lady walking with a cane. Although she was about 70 years of age, she did not seem out of place to us young children, selling her few head of cattle at the temporary mart. Fair day was the rare time when her beloved dog, Laddie, wasn’t at her side. Emma Eager of Ivy Lodge—a quaint, old two-story house with an orchard and beautiful, lush garden–sold the flowers for funerals to make ends meet. She may have also supplied some of the lovely white lilies that always adorned our Church of the Sacred Heart. It’s said Miss Emma and her sister, Miss Millicent (a retired nurse) inherited the Lodge when their brother was disowned for marrying a Catholic. Their Aunt, Nano Eager, was the first wife of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, born 1831 Rosscarbery, Co. Cork. He was the famous “Fenian” of the (IRB) Irish Republican Brotherhood.

As the pace picked up and all the sales were concluded, the cattle were driven off. Our door was opened and the streets were ours once again. Somehow Main and Church streets were washed down of all signs of what had just transpired. Later, modernity came to Milltown; they tore down Ivy Lodge with a wrecking ball and put the cattle mart in its place. Now, no child will experience the simple pleasure that we did gazing out our window at the fair some eighty years ago!

About the author…

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.

 

For more of Maureen’s Memories…

Click here for Nono Goes to the Circus

Click here for An Orange for Baby Jesus

Click here to read about Maureen’s first days in America


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Maureen’s Memories: Nono Goes to the Circus

Maureen takes us back to 1930s Milltown, County Kerry, when the circus came to town. She recalls the excitement surrounding the circus, as well as the kindness of her neighbors.

Nono Goes to the Circus

To give you an idea of how small the children were, here is a photo of Maureen's sister Helen (blond, third from left on bottom) and the infants' class in the early 1940s. (You must receive author's written permission to reproduce photo.)

To give you an idea of how small the children were, here is a photo of Maureen’s sister Helen (blond, third from left on bottom) and the infants’ class in the early 1940s. (You must receive author’s written permission to reproduce photo.)

Duffy & Sons Circus was coming to Milltown! I knew I would be going as grandfather (who lived with us) would always take my sisters, Joan and Kitty, and me. We were all very young—toddlers, six and under. This was in the early 1930s. In those days, if you could walk, you were encouraged to attend school.  Any student below first class attended the infant’s room (kindergarten) in our school, Presentation Convent. Our whole class was abuzz. More importantly, the nuns approved. When they asked, “Hands-up, who is going to the circus?” the only child who didn’t raise their hand was little Nora, who was called “ Nono”. Our Sister asked, “Why not?” and she replied childishly, “Me no tickee”. Children’s tickets cost about four old pence. The following day the Doctor’s daughter announced that her mother would buy Nono’s ticket. The Nun gushed to all of us what a great act of Christian charity the Doctor’s wife had performed.

Nono was asked the next day, “Was your mother delighted that you are going to the circus”? She replied in her usual manner, “Me no coatee”. The following day Nono was given a coat from a schoolmate’s mother. She may not have been well spoken, yet she was going to the circus in a nice, new coat.

I’ll always remember that each afternoon before going to the circus my Mammy cooked home fries. She had the knack for making the simplest dishes delicious. After relishing the tasty meal, we were off to see the many exciting acts. Grandfather always dressed in his best blue serge suit. I no longer recalled if the great circus tent was set up in town, or in a field. I do recall the pungent smells, a mix of sawdust and animals, the colorful costumes and the bright fabric of the ring around which we sat, my little sisters and Nono.  My favorite entertainers were the barebacked riders. Out they rode in their shimmering pink outfits, and I decided right then and there what I wanted to be when I grew up! Luckily, I didn’t run away with the circus, and I’m content with the way my life turned out.

I have fond memories of Nora and her baby brother, Patrick Joseph (called “Packy Joe”), always walking hand-in-hand. Not long afterward Nora and Patrick Joseph, along with their entire family, who lived by the river, left County Kerry. The father had a hard time finding work, and was forced to do odd jobs. Their mother took in washing and cared for the ill in their homes. Talk was that they left to find better work in England, and we hoped they did well and could go on to afford to buy Nono and Packy Joe many fine things in life.

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

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.

 

Did you know that Duffy&Sons Circus is still in operation? Now it is Tom Duffy’s Circus, but it is the same family who put on the circus that came to Milltown. Click here to visit the website and read about the history of the circus.


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An Orange for Baby Jesus

Maureen Teahan Murray helped us kick off the holiday season by sharing her Thanksgiving memories a couple of weeks ago, and she is back with a special story, just in time for the first Sunday of Advent…enjoy!

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