The Irish in America


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A Grandpa’s 100th Birthday

Today is my grandpa John William Regan’s 100th birthday. He was born on a farm in Tara Township, near Clontarf, Minnesota on July 23, 1913. John was the only child of Neil and Annie Hill Regan. Neil was a first-generation Irish American and Annie came from Kill, County Kildare. He was baptized at St. Malachy Catholic Church on August 10th.

Grandpa had red curls. Annie kept his hair in long ringlets until Grandpa had ear surgery at age four and had his hair cut.

Neil, Annie, and John – 1915

John must have had fun helping his dad on the farm.

John also kept Annie company on the farm. Annie doted on her son – you can tell by his dapper outfit!

In 1921 the family of three moved off the farm and into the town of Clontarf. The eight-year-old John finally started school and Annie had John take violin lessons from a local musician.

At school, my grandpa became known as “Red” Regan because of his hair. Soon playing ball and running around with the other boys took precedence over violin practice. Grandpa had a life-long love for cars and began driving at a young age.

Grandpa graduated from Benson High School in 1933. He was a star on the football team. I guess that stands to reason since he was nearly twenty-years-old during his senior year!

After graduation, Grandpa worked behind the bar at Bruno Perrizo’s in Clontarf. Here he is in his apron with childhood pal Leo Molony.

My grandpa moved to Minneapolis in the late 1930s. He hit it off with Agnes McMahon over a game of cribbage at his friend (and Agnes’ cousin) John Foley’s place. John and Agnes were married in 1941.

It’s strange to think of my grandpa’s 100th birthday because he didn’t even live to see his 58th. He passed away the year before I was born, but I am lucky to have learned about my grandpa through the memories and stories my grandma, mother, my grandpa’s cousins, and old friends shared with me over the years. I missed out on something really special – he would have been a fantastic grandpa!

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DAY 26: Johnstown, County Kildare

SJJ 14

Photo by Regan McCormack

There are other Johnstowns in Ireland, but I am talking about Johnstown in County Kildare. I would love this village even if I had no connection to it. The picturesque ruins of the medieval St. John’s Church (above) are one reason the village is so appealing.

Annie Hill

Annie Hill

Another reason is the village’s sense of history. Several years ago I met Brian McCabe – Johnstown’s local historian – when I was researching my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan. Annie was born near Johnstown, and her sister lived in the village. When we visited in 2009,  Brian was a wonderful guide, telling us what Johnstown would have been like in the late nineteenth century when Annie knew it, before she left for America.

Brian shared the rich history of Johnstown. Since  the village is just 25 miles from Dublin, it is popular with people who commute to work in the city, with several large housing estates and new construction. But Brian is very knowledgeable about Johnstown’s past and place in history. He told us all about Palmerstown House and the Earls of Mayo. And of course, he covered the 6th Earl of Mayo who died in India in 1872 and is buried in the churchyard. He is known as the “Pickled Earl” since his body was preserved in a vat of rum on the long journey back to Ireland following his assassination.

Monument to the 6th Earl of Mayo

Monument to the 6th Earl of Mayo (photo by Regan McCormack)

Johnstown is a lovely, peaceful village in the midst of motorways and urban sprawl. The community values its history, and it shows with the beautifully maintained public areas and the handy signs marking buildings of interest. I am always impressed when people are truly dedicated to preserving their history, and when it happens to be a bit of my personal history, all the better!

Annie's sister Katie + family in Johnstown

Annie’s sister Katie + family in Johnstown


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Book of Names: Remembering Our Irish Women

Annie Hill Regan – circa 1900

Recently I submitted my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan to Rachael Flynn’s  Irish Women of our Past – Book of Names project. Here’s how Rachael describes her very exciting project:

The BOOK OF NAMES is a project which aims to recognise the women in our past who have made the journey from Ireland to other lands.

Artist-researcher Rachael Flynn is currently working on an arts project through which people will be able to submit the names of their female Irish ancestors in order to build up a record that seeks to pay honour to their struggles and successes. 


By adding the names of their Irish mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, cousins… the people who add names to this collection will have the chance to effectively ‘light a candle’ in memory of these relatives. 

Rachael asks for some basic information in order to add a female Irish relative to the  Book of Names: name, date and port of departure, destination, and your contact information. Very simple.

I had the data about my great-grandmother’s emigration, but I wanted to revisit the passenger list I had copied from Ancestry.com ages ago. I remembered how exciting it was to locate this information because I knew for certain it was my Annie. I struggle with genealogy at times,  becoming distracted and discouraged quite easily. It always seems to me that it shouldn’t be so difficult to find the information you are looking for…

I had spent hours looking for other relatives, so I prepared myself for a long search. There was the question of her first name – would she be listed as Annie, Anne, Anna, or Ann? It had appeared in each form in some official document or anther. Then her surname – Hill can be English, Irish, Swedish, German, etc. And she emigrated to the United States around 1900, along with hundreds of thousands of other people!

I lucked out and found Annie on a passenger list not long after I began the search. I had not expected the departure port to be Glasgow, and I was a bit surprised that the list said Annie came from Kilkenny (Kildare was her home county) but I was certain I had located the right Annie when I read that her passage was paid by her brother-in-law Mr. O’Brien of Clontarf, Minnesota and her final destination was also Clontarf. Clontarf was a tiny town, this had to be my great-grandmother.

This morning I came across the following posting on a RootsWeb message board from 2008:

From the London Times of April 21, 1899 comes this ad:

ANCHOR LINE.–GLASGOW to NEW YORK.
Furnesia, 5,495 tons, April 27; Ethiopia, 4,001 tons, May 11.
Excellent accommodation. Cabin fares from £9 9s.; second cabin,
from £6.–A.H. Groves, 14, Rue du Helder, Paris; T. Cook and
Son, Paris and London; Henderson Brothers, 18, Leadenhall st. E.C.

The following comes from the NY Times shipping news:

May 13: “SS Ethiopia. (Br.,) Capt. Wadsworth.
(from Glasgow.) sld. from Moville for New York to-day.”

For days the NY Times lists her as expected on
Sunday, May 21. On May 22, however, she is listed
as expected that day. On May 23, “SS Ethiopia,
(Br.,) Wadsworth, Glasgow May 11 and Moville 12,
with mdse. and passengers to Henderson Bros.
Southest of Fire Island at 5:35 P.M.

– submitted by Marj Kohli

S.S. Ethiopia

Thank you Marj Kohli of Canada! I wonder where Annie boarded the S.S. Ethiopia? In Glasgow (she had sisters living in Manchester, England) or did she make the journey up to Moville on Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula? I don’t believe it says on the passenger list, but I will check it again.

I also wonder what held the Ethiopia up? It was supposed to arrive in New York on May 21st, but didn’t make it until May 23rd. Adventure on the high seas? Too bad Annie didn’t keep a travel diary (or if she did, too bad it didn’t survive!)

Click here to read more about Annie.

I am honored to have her name included in Rachael’s Book of Names along with all of the other incredible Irish women who made the journey to a new life. I encourage all of you with an Irish mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, cousin, or auntie to submit their name and their story to Rachael’s project. Visit her website here and follow her on Twitter for all the latest information. It is really a very easy process – take a few minutes and honor your Irish relatives!

Who will you submit? I have some more Irish ladies to get to – a couple more great-grandmothers, some great-great-grandmothers, and a few great-grand-aunts. I better get busy!

Annie and her chickens on her farm in Tara Township, near Clontarf, Minnesota


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She Liked Nice Things

Over the past several months, I have used the items left behind by my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan to help tell the story of an Irish woman who came to the United States at the turn of the last century.

Items have included a sweet Christmas card from a sister in Ireland, a small photo-pin of a priest, some memorial cards, and a Whitsun postcard.

I find these remnants from Annie’s life fascinating, and they have provided tiny, yet invaluable peeks into her life.  They have also complicated my vision of Annie, creating new questions and contributing to ongoing mysteries.  This is especially the case with the photographs.

Nearly all of Annie’s photographs are unidentified.  There is ONE photo with the label, John’s Aunt Mary.

John's Aunt Mary

Initially I was so excited to find an identification that I forgot I had no idea who this Aunt Mary was!  I assumed the “John” was my grandpa, and he had an Aunt Mary Regan, but she died when she was thirty-years-old.  This Aunt Mary appeared older than thirty.  And the photo was one of Annie’s, so this Aunt Mary must have come from her side.  I knew so little about Annie’s family, so I set the photo aside and I would think about it later.

Later turned out to be seven years ago my mother and I began looking into our family history.  When we learned that Annie had a sister named Mary Hill O’Brien who lived in Montana, I remembered the photo.  Some lucky timing brought me in contact with Mary’s grandson who still lived in Montana.  Jack O’Brien has this same photograph of his grandmother, Mary.

Here is one last postcard that was among Annie’s things.  This is from Mary to Annie:

Lucille O'Brien amongst the sheep

from Mary to Annie

Annie, ca. 1900

Click here to read my story in the current issue of Irish America magazine about how meeting two of my great-grandmother’s nephews has brought me closer to developing an understanding of the woman Annie was.


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What’s Whit Week?

Whit Week Procession (postcard sent to Annie Hill Regan)

Whit Week is here and that can mean only one thing…hmmmm…I wonder what that could be?  If this was the early twentieth-century in Manchester, England, odds are it would mean donning a new white dress and marching in a Whit week procession like the ladies pictured above.

Since the demise of the Whit Monday bank holiday in the UK in 1967 and Ireland in 1973, I am not sure how much attention is  paid to the week following Pentecost (read more about Whitsun by clicking here.)

This photo of a Whit Week parade appears on a postcard from the early twentieth century, and survives in a small collection of photos and cards that belonged to my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan (born in Kildare, emigrated to Minnesota 1899.)  With no postmark, no address, and rather ambiguous greeting and signature (both are Push), this little card is a bit puzzling.  My best guess is that the card came to Annie from her younger sister Bridget Hill Reynolds of Manchester, England.  From what I have read, processions like this were more popular in England, and the postcard mentions “our Maggie” – Bridget had a daughter named Maggie, who eventually emigrated to America joining her Aunt Annie in Minnesota.

The card mentions looking forward to a visit “next year.”  I wonder if Annie ever did travel from Minnesota to Manchester, England to visit her sister’s family?  Did she return home to Ireland on this visit?  I have searched for possible documentation of such a journey, but so far have come up empty.  I will have to keep at it and see what I can find.

Reverse of postcard

Maybe you can help me figure this photo out…

  • Have you seen Push as a nickname or slang in correspondence from the early 20th century?
  • Do the dresses provide a more concrete date to this photo?
  • Is Whitsun or Whit Week still observed in Ireland and England?

Any ideas?  Please leave a comment!

Have a good week!


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In Loving Memory

On several occasions I have mentioned my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan and the small collection of photographs and greeting cards she left behind.   Among the mysterious photographs from Manchester England, a photo-pin of a priest, and a charming Christmas card from a sister, are two memorial cards.  Below is the card for her father who passed away the year before Annie came to the United States.

William Hill memorial card, 1898 (click to enlarge)

In 2009 I visited Rathmore Churchyard.  I was unable to locate William’s grave, but I suspect it rests hidden in the overgrown grass, somewhere amidst the gravestones of Hill relatives of whom I am not familiar.

Rathmore Churchyard, County Kildare (2009 Regan McCormack)

The other card is for James Hill.  I assume James was a nephew, and one can imagine this loss was felt deeply by the entire family.

James Hill memorial card, 1895 (click to enlarge)

Memorial cards can provide great information to the genealogist or family historian.  In the case of Annie’s father, I knew his name from her birth certificate, but I learned his birth year, date of death, and place of burial only from this memorial card tucked into a stack of old photographs.  But memorial cards can also raise more questions than they answer, and prove to be as frustrating as an album full of unidentified photographs or a postcard with faded text.

Because they are so portable, I am sure a great many memorial cards crossed the Atlantic, mailed to emigrant daughters and sons in America, accompanying letters detailing all the latest news from home.

Share your stories about how items like memorial cards have assisted you in the search for your family history.  Perhaps a memorial card is all that is left to tell of an emigrant relative’s life in America?  I would love to hear your stories, so please, leave a comment!


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Oops…was it a mystery or memory block?

Father John J. Molloy

The “mystery” from last time was actually solved a few years back.  My mom reminded me that we confirmed the identity of the priest when we compared the photo-pin to a photograph of Father John J. Molloy that we found in the book Meet Shieldsville, by Mary L. Hagerty.  I spaced this discovery out, and I must admit that this was not entirely an accident.  At times I become overwhelmed with my own family history research, and when a discovery opens up a new can of worms and I don’t have the time or energy to deal with it, I will slip the cover back on and vow to deal with it at a later date.  This is precisely what happened with good old Father Molloy.

Priest Pin

Above is a reproduction of the photo of Father Molloy.  It is not of the highest quality, but I think you can appreciate the resemblance to the photo-pin on the right.  My great-grandmother worked as Father Molloy’s housekeeper (1905-1910) before she was married.  While I was pleased to learn the identity of the priest, it meant that there was even more to learn about Father Molloy.  The first thing I wanted to know was how Annie came to know Father Molloy.

John J. Molloy was born in County Mayo, Ireland and educated at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, County Kildare.  He was ordained in 1891 and arrived in Minnesota later that year.  Father Molloy served as an assistant pastor for a number of parishes throughout Minnesota before settling at St. Patrick’s in Shieldsville.  He served the community for fifty-two years.

All of that was well and good, but I couldn’t find anything in the biographical information on Father Molloy that could point to a connection to my great-grandmother.  That was until I read in his obituary that he was survived by one sister named Delia in Manchester, England.  Immediately I  thought of the dozen or so photographs taken in the studios of Manchester, England that Annie had saved.  Of course, none of the photographs were identified, but I assumed they were of family members.  Annie had one sister who moved to Manchester and raised a family (Bridget) and another sister who lived there for a few years before returning home to Kildare (Catherine, who I have mentioned before.)  Manchester could be the connection, but it made my head hurt and I told myself I would tackle this another day.

I believe the day has come.  It is time to dust off my Manchester file and see if I can’t figure this one out.  A wonderful book, The Reynolds Letters, provides considerable insight into the lives of Irish emigrants living and working in Manchester during the 19th and early-20th centuries.  I will use the resources available on ancestry.com and elsewhere on the internet to see if I can learn anything more about a possible Molloy-Hill connection in Manchester. 

Here are some of my of mystery Manchester photographs…

 

Probably one of the Hill girls...

Unknown Couple from Manchester

Perhaps Annie's sister and family?

The Hill sisters that I believe spent time in Manchester are:

Margaret (Maggie)

b. 1866

Catherine (Katie)

b. 1872

m. John Howe

Bridget (Delia)

b. 1876

If anyone has experience researching Irish emigrants in England, specifically Manchester, please let me know.  I will keep you posted…