The Irish in America


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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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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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Old Glory and Tiger Lilies

Neil Regan circa 1935

Neil Regan circa 1935

Today is the 141st anniversary of my great-grandfather Cornelius “Neil” Regan’s birth. He was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire to John Regan of Kilmichael, County Cork and Mary Quinn of County Clare, Ireland.

I paid tribute to Neil on his birthday last year – click here to read the post.

My mom, Eileen, remembers her grandpa looking out the front window of their South Minneapolis home on June 14th, smiling, and saying, “Well, how nice of everyone to raise the flag for my birthday!” Those were the days when nearly every house on your block would proudly hang Old Glory on her special day.

My grandma told me that after she married Neil’s son, John, the couple lived alone for less than one year before Neil moved in with the newlyweds. I commented that must have been a pain, but Grandma shook her head. “Oh not at all. Neil was such a kind man, so agreeable. He kept to himself and never caused me any trouble. And once Eileen was born, he was such a good grandpa. We were lucky to have him.”

Grandma remembered the one time Neil got upset. Just one time. A neighbor dropped by with a big bunch of tiger lilies from her garden. Grandma was ao pleased with the stunning orange blooms. She filled a large vase and set it on the dining room table. Something to really brighten up the house.

When Neil came home from an afternoon of cards with his cronies in the park and saw the flowers, he immediately swiped them from the table and threw them outside.

In a stern tone Grandma had never heard pass from Neil’s lips he instructed, “I never want to see those orange flowers in my house again!” Neil went in his room and closed the door.

Grandma could not believe the scene she had witnessed. She had never seen someone react that way to a beautiful bouquet. And stranger still was that gentle, mild-mannered Neil would display such outrage.

tiger lilyTurned out it wasn’t really the flowers he objected to, it was the color of the flowers. Grandpa explained to Grandma that his father had inherited a distaste for the color orange from his Cork-born father, John Regan, who never allowed anything orange in his house. By all accounts, John Regan was a feisty man who did not stand for anyone telling him what he could do or where he could do it. And to this Catholic Irish immigrant, that is precisely what the color orange symbolized.

I like that John Regan’s oldest son was born on Flag Day. Flag Day commemorates the day in 1777 when some other people who didn’t like the British government telling them what they could do and where they could do it adopted the primary symbol of the United States of America: Stars and Stripes. Old Glory. Our flag.

Old Glory

I suppose there is always a chance that Neil just didn’t cared for tiger lilies, but I like this story better. Happy Flag Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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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Interested in County Cork? Check out CCCA!

Bells of Shandon, Cork City (photo by R. McCormack)

The Cork City and County Archives (CCCA) is home to an impressive collection of manuscripts, government records, business archives, and family papers pertaining to Cork City and county. If you trace your Irish ancestry to County Cork and are interested in learning more about the place from which your family came, a visit to the CCCA website is definitely in order.

Warning: Once you begin browsing the collections you might not be able to stop!

The Online Exhibitions page is a great place to start your tour of the CCCA collections, with a sampling of images of documents spanning over four-hundred years. On the right side of the home page you will find a Document Spotlight section, click on it and a description of the document and its collection is provided.

The Collections page is well-organized, making it easy to search the collections either alphabetically or by archive category. I was interested in looking up the Hurley Family Emigrant Letters, a collection my sister had told me about. The letters were written by brothers Denis and Michael Hurley to their family in Tawnies, Cork. Michael and Denis emigrated in 1870, settling in Nevada.

I easily located a description of the letters through the alphabetical list. The descriptive list of the Hurley Letters provides all the information you would want to see – biographical history, scope and content of the collection, how it is arranged, and detailed descriptions of the 122 letters from the brothers, as well as a few other items included in the collection. (Note that the descriptive lists for each collection are PDFs which can be easily downloaded or printed by the researcher.)

Fascinating collection of letters, shedding light on the experiences of Irish immigrants in the Western United States. Too often when people think about the Irish in America, they focus only on New York City and Boston, forgetting that Irish immigrants were among the pioneer settlers of the American West during the nineteenth century.

More great items in the CCCA collections are the Poor Law Union, Board of Guardians records. You will find detailed descriptions of the records for fourteen Poor Law Unions in County Cork under the Local Government Archives section. A couple of my maternal great-great-grandfathers emigrated from Kilmichael Parish, Cork in the Dumanway Poor Law Union. A click of the mouse brings me to the descriptive list of the Board of Guardians minute books for Dumanway, allowing me a glimpse at life in my ancestor’s home place at the time they were born.

Kilmichael Parish, County Cork (photo by R. McCormack)

The Genealogy page presents guidance and resources for family historians and genealogists interested in using the archive, pointing to the Digital Archive for those unable to make the trip to Cork.

Take a look around the Cork City and County Archives – terrific website and fabulous collections. But don’t say I didn’t warn you…you might be there a while!

Cobh, County Cork (photo by R. McCormack)


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One of the Foleys: What do you think?

Unidentified from the Foley family collection

Several years ago, my mother received a trio of photographs from her cousin Lorna.  Lorna knew that two of the photos were her great-grandparents (see below), but she had no idea about the identity of the woman pictured above.  All that Lorna could offer was, “Well, I am sure she’s one of the Foleys…”

Do you think she could be this guy’s mother?

Patrick T. Foley

This is my great-great-grandfather Patrick Foley who arrived in America in 1864.  He came from Kilmichael Parish, County Cork and settled in Fisherville, New Hampshire before heading West to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.

Or, could the caped woman be this lady’s mother?

Mary Crowley Foley

Mary Crowley married Patrick Foley on November 13, 1869 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Providence, Rhode Island.  Mary also came from County Cork.  Patrick and Mary’s photographs are tin-types.

I really can’t tell who she is, nor do I know where the photo was taken.  If anyone has input or information regarding these photos, please leave a comment.  I would love to know more about the costume in the first photograph, and if you see any resemblance.


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Kilmichael Roots

In 2009 I visited with Father Jerry Cremin of Kilmichael Parish in County Cork.  He shared some records he had on my family.  Two of my great-great-grandfathers (John Regan and Patrick Foley) left the parish in 1864 and came to the United States.  Father Cremin’s descriptions of the history and the landscape of Kilmichael were enlightening and entertaining.

View from Kilmichael Ambush memorial, County Cork (2009, Regan McCormack)

When I saw this search topic that brought someone to The Irish in America –  Irish immigrants able to read and write? – I immediately thought of my visit with Father Cremin.  Census data from when John Regan settled in the U.S. shows that he was unable to read or write.  Father Cremin told me that this was not unusual for a man from Kilmichael in the mid-19th century.  He continued to say that John Regan most likely didn’t even speak English, let alone read or write it, when he left Kilmichael.

John Regan

I am a bit embarrassed admit that I had not even considered that any of my ancestors were Irish speakers, but it stands to reason.  Perhaps John Regan never gained command of the English language.  “Old Johnny Regan” is remembered by his grandchildren as a somewhat gruff man, who didn’t seem that interested in young children.

Patrick Foley, who also came from Kilmichael, was literate.  My grandma always told me that her grandfather Foley received his education in a hedge school in County Cork.  In the U.S., Patrick Foley was active in township government and held offices in the Ancient Order of Hibernians and St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society.  My grandma seemed proud of her grandfather, but she would say that the Foleys thought they were better than everyone else.

Patrick Foley

I have a book with Patrick Foley’s  name in gold on the cover, O’Halloran’s History of Ireland.  I am not sure of the exact origin of the book, but I suspect he acquired it while living in New Hampshire, after emigration.  Perhaps it was connected to his participation with the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society or AOH.  Has anyone else seen this book?  Let me know by leaving a comment!

Last week a couple more search topics appeared on the list:

  • Regan family Kilmichael
  • Foley Macroom

I wish the person who searched for these items would have left a comment…maybe we are talking about the same families!  Click here to read about the first generation of Foleys and Regans born in the United States.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!