The Irish in America


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Day Eight of Irish American Favorites: Family Photo

First Communion of Margaret McCormack - 1951

I know, I know…you’ve seen this photograph before. It’s right up there on the top of the website, and I have used it on my business cards and other materials. I think it is a great photo – maybe even the quintessential Irish-America family photograph.

Andy&Mary; Mike&Katie

Andy&Mary; Mike&Katie

Three generations of McCormacks gathered (with in-laws) to celebrate the 1951 First Communion of my Aunt Maggie – Margaret Mary McCormack. The “old guys” are in the back row – my great-grandfather Andy McCormack in the classic trench coat and his brother Mike, standing a couple of people over on Andy’s right. The brothers immigrated to the United States from Ballyedmond, County Laois in the latter part of the 1800s.

Can you spot the native Irish speaker in the photo? That would be Mike’s wife, standing behind Maggie. Katie Hannon hailed from Gorumna Island, Connemara, Galway. Mike and Andy married sisters, but Andy’s wife, Mary, passed away years before this photo was taken.

My Aunt Eeny is with her Auntie Nellie (seated in front of Andy), while my dad is kneeling in the corner, looking exactly like I always imagined he would in the 1950s, in jeans and a striped t-shirt. My Grandma Agnes sits next to Maggie, pregnant with my Aunt Mary. My Grandpa Bill is on the far left, with his hand on his niece Martha’s shoulder.

Aunts, uncles, and cousins round out the group. It is incredible to see these people together, looking so happy and healthy.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of the people in this photo surface later this month as favorites all on their own.


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DAY 19: Cows

Cows at Castleview House, County Laois

Cows at Castleview House, County Laois

I love Irish cows. They are all over the Irish countryside – peeking over stone walls, lounging in pastures, and sharing the road with you as they are being moved from one field to another.

More cows at Castletown House

More cows at Castleview House

Our cousin Jimmy has cows. I guess technically he has cattle, but they are all cows to me…

I don't get too attached to Jimmy's cows...

I don’t get too attached to Jimmy’s cows.

When Regan and I were in Ireland in 1995, we fell in love with Irish butter and decided that it was so tasty because the cows were so big. We may have come to that conclusion over a few pints of yesterday’s favorite, but it made perfect sense to us. When I returned to Saint Paul, Minnesota after those three weeks in Ireland, I realized I never saw cows at home, so how did I know if Irish cows were any larger than American cows? Our theory had a few holes…


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Gathering Spotlight VI

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Some exciting events are just around the corner, so take note! Love trees? Interested in Wicklow genealogy? Two great events are coming up in May. You have a bit more time to get organized if you are a Brosnan from County Kerry – your Gathering isn’t until July!

I know we included it last time, but make sure you check out the video near the end of the post. This video just makes us smile!

The Gathering of Tree Lovers

Laois_treesOur friends at the Laois Gathering want to share a fun event for all you tree-lovers out there…

The Irish Forestry, Woodland & Bio Energy Show 10 & 11 May 2013 is joining the Gathering by hosting ‘The Gathering of Tree Lovers’ – a wonderful chance for tree and environmental enthusiasts to meet and share knowledge in the setting of an idyllic and beautiful wooded parkland Irish estate.

The Show takes place on Friday 10 & Saturday 11 May at Stradbally Hall Estate. Show Hours: 9.30 am to 5.30 pm. Admission: €15; Students/OAPs; €10; accompanied children free.

  • Click here to see event on Facebook
  • Click here to view listing on TheGatheringIreland.com
  • Click here to follow the Laois Gathering on Twitter

Continue reading


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Lovely Laois

Erke, Co. Laois (R. McCormack)

I am extremely excited for my trip to Ireland next month. We have quite a bit on the agenda, but will be wrapping the trip up with a week in the heart of Ireland, County Laois.

My great-grandfather Andrew McCormack came from Ballyedmond, County Laois in the late 1880s and settled in Minnesota. My father has done extensive research on his McCormack lineage over the past fifteen years.

I had no hand in this research, but I have enjoyed all the fruits of my father’s labors. Click here and here to read about the fun we have had connecting with our McCormack relations.

My dad won’t be along on this trip, so I may need to don the family historian cap – if only to keep my sister straight on who’s who! I had better review my dad’s printouts…

While in Laois I am planning a visit to the County Archives and Local History Department in Portlaoise. It may have taken a while, but I have learned that a good first step when looking into the history of your Irish ancestors is to go to the County Council website.

The council website for any given county in Ireland will have all the information necessary to live in that county – from where you should dump your trash to the operation hours of the local branch of the library. But they are a great resource for visitors as well. Often these websites provide extensive history and heritage information, including details on genealogy, archives, and special collections.

A couple of clicks into the Laois County Council site, I landed on the Local Research page. Once there I found these useful links: 

Like any good researcher, I plan to do my homework before showing up on the archive’s doorstep in September. It looks like they have quite a bit to offer. Maybe I will even find some emigrant letters in some of the personal collections listed on the Laois Archives page.

The Local History Online link brings you to the Ask About Ireland website. This is a very cool site, a must-visit for anyone interested in what the libraries, museums, and archives of Ireland have to offer.

AskAboutIreland and the Cultural Heritage Project is an initiative of public libraries together with local museums and archives in the digitisation and online publication of the original, the unusual and the unique material from their local studies’ collections to create a national Internet resource for culture. (from http://www.askaboutireland.ie)

Ask About Ireland also features Griffith’s Valuation, the first valuation of property in Ireland, published from 1847 to 1864. You are able to search the Valuation, and of course the more information you have, the better.

Returning to the Local Studies Department, we find an extensive collection of newspapers, cemetery records, photographs, maps, local files, and folklore. All are available to view by appointment. Bridget told me that the microfilm machine is a much sought-after appliance, so set your appointment early to ensure you will have access to the newspapers and records available on microfilm.

I am definitely looking forward to my visit to Portlaoise and the Laois County archives and local studies department. Can’t wait to see what I can dig up!


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The Gathering 2013

The Gathering 2013 initiative was launched earlier this year by the Irish government. The Gathering 2013 website introduces the project:

It’s about asking anyone who has Irish blood, a link to Ireland, or even just a love of our country – to join us for a series of amazing and diverse events throughout 2013.

Sounds good to me! Any excuse to go to Ireland is a good one. The Navy-Notre Dame Emerald Isle Football Classic on September 1, 2012 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium is sponsored by The Gathering 2013 and will serve as an unofficial kick-off (no pun intended) to the 2013 festivities.

Sponsoring this event is a great move by The Gathering. The U.S. Naval Academy Director of Athletics had this to say:

We are delighted for The Gathering Ireland to be the Presenting Sponsor of the Emerald Isle Classic. This game represents exactly what The Gathering Ireland is all about, a unique coming together in Ireland of Navy and Notre Dame college football fans, some returning to their ancestral home and some travelling for the first time to Ireland. The Emerald Isle Classic presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase Ireland to this group and also to the many millions of Americans watching the game through the broadcast.

Stay tuned to The Gathering 2013 for all the latest news.

People all over Ireland have begun planning for the 2013 Gathering. A number of local community meetings have already taken place in Roscommon, Mayo, Clare, Kerry, Cavan, Leitrim, Carlow, Meath, and Wicklow, with meetings in Monaghan and North Tipperary later this week. A meeting in Limerick is coming up in early September. Click on the county names for more information.

This is what is so exciting about The Gathering 2013 – get the counties involved on a local level. Residents of any given county or town will know best what their home community has to offer, as well as what visitors have enjoyed in the past. It is fantastic to see the enthusiasm throughout Ireland for The Gathering.

Of course The Gathering 2013 is about more than tourists visiting monastic ruins and tracing their roots, it is about business. The first Gathering event will take place in January 2013:

A two-day meeting of top executives, entrepreneurs and venture capital investors operating in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the US east coast will travel to Cork…

Read the full article here.

For an Arts focus on The Gathering, look no further than Irish Gathering 2013 – “Ancestry Research, Stories from the Irish and The 2013 Festivities of the Gathering in Ireland!” Christine and Sabrina Joyce (great-grand-nieces of James Joyce) want to help visitors make the most of the time they spend in Ireland in 2013. They are working closely with a variety of artists to bring out the best of Ireland for The Gathering.

Waterford wants people with ties to the county to register on their website, while Galway has a plan for a Gathering of the Tribes. Don’t see your county anywhere in this post? Visit the County Council website for information on what the county has planned.

If you live in Ireland, what’s happening in your home county for The Gathering 2013? Leave a comment, I would love to share your plans.

Do you live outside of Ireland and are thinking about paying a visit next year? Anything special you would like to see or do while you are in Ireland?

Enjoy this Gathering video for Abbeyleix, County Laois. I wonder what my McCormack relatives have planned for us next year?


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This Old Farmhouse

The first time I visited Ireland in 1988, I was struck by the number of derelict farmhouses dotting the countryside. “Why doesn’t someone just tear those old houses down?” I wondered. “That’s what we do in the good ol’ USA…we don’t leave houses to fall down on themselves. If we don’t want or need them, we get rid of them and build something new and better…”

Abandoned house near Ballyedmond, County Laois (all photos by Regan McCormack)

This sentiment came from a teenage girl from the city who spent more time in the countryside during six weeks in Ireland than she had in sixteen years back home – in the “good ol’ USA”. I thought I was so smart…

Fast-forward twenty years and I am closer to home, driving the country roads of Tara Township, crisscrossing its thirty-six square miles in Swift County, Minnesota. My maternal great-great-grandparents were among the pioneer 1870s settlers of this township on the vast prairie of Western Minnesota. This was my first visit to Tara. I had traveled three thousand miles from home on a number of occasions to visit Ireland, my “ancestral homeland”, yet I had never bothered to drive a few hours west to see where my people settled when they came to Minnesota.

Granted, as far as vacation destinations are concerned, Ireland is a bit more attractive than Western Minnesota, but it turns out, the two places have some things in common.

There are the obvious similarities in place names in this part of Minnesota. Bishop John Ireland established several colonies of Irish Catholic settlers with names like Avoca, Kildare, Tara, and Clontarf. Hundreds of Irish families from cities and communities in the Eastern United States seized the opportunity to own land and live in a community with its own church and priest, surrounded by fellow Irish Catholics.

The Depression came early to rural communities and persistent crop failures and changing farming practices combined to make farming unviable for most small farmers. My relatives moved to Minneapolis, as did several other Tara families. Some of the original Irish settlers had left Tara even earlier, moving further West, always in search of better land.

So, I wonder why I was surprised to find this in Tara Township?

Section 22 of Tara Township – the McMahon place

On nearly every section of land in the township stands an abandoned farmhouse, or at least a grove of trees planted by the original settlers to protect a house. And this in the “good ol’ USA” where we tear things down!

Folks in Ireland and Tara Township have the same reaction when I ask them why they don’t simply tear down the abandoned houses. They shrug and say that they are no bother and they can be used for storage. That is the practical response, but I wonder if there is something a bit more sentimental lurking beneath?

The abandoned houses got me thinking…A similar hopelessness that drove millions of Irish to America during the 19th and 20th centuries could be seen in rural Americans who fled the farm for the city in the 1920s. Major difference, of course, is there was not a famine like Ireland experienced, however there was tremendous poverty, crops failed miserably, families were split up, and life changed permanently and dramatically.

I am rather ashamed of my sixteen-year-old self for not being as smart as she thought she was. She should have realized that the same reason this stands today in Ireland…

Near Ballyedmond, County Laois – 2011

might be why this…

Cahir Castle, Tipperary – 2011

and this…

Rock of Dunamase, County Laois – 2011

and this…

Johnstown, County Kildare – 2009

are still here today. I doubt that the farmhouse ruins will have the staying power of the castles and abbeys of centuries gone by, but in the meantime they can remind us from where we came. Whether it is a farmhouse in Ireland or Tara Township, Minnesota.

Now, if I could only get Jimmy to fix up this old house…

Two Jimmy McCormacks at old family house in Ballyedmond – 2009


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Ireland is a Small Country

Jim takes a moment to reflect on family, genealogy, and Ireland…

Ireland occupies 27,136 square miles of Mother Earth’s surface. As of 2011 about 4,581,269 people inhabit that area. As a comparison Minnesota, where I live in the United States has about 5,200,000 folks spread over about 86,934 square miles. Just how small was illustrated by an encounter I had on a recent trip to the homeland.

One of my goals on that trip was to meet the members of the Loughman/Kelly branch of my McCormack family tree. My grandfather’s youngest sibling Johanna McCormack who was born at Ballyedmond, Queens County (now Co. Laois) in 1874 married James Loughman from Killadooley in 1904. For many years Aunt Johanna, as she was called, corresponded with my aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin in Minneapolis. Johanna’s daughter Catherine Loughman, who would later marry Tom Kelly, continued the correspondence with my Aunt Nellie. As part of my search I had acquired several photos taken of family in Ireland when my cousin Eileen Hamm Garding had visited in the mid 1970’s. I had already identified the people in most of the photos. I was however stumped by a photo in which the only two of seven people pictured that I knew were Eileen and our cousin Kate Loughman Kelly. On my second day in Ireland I met Michael Kelly, Kate and Tom Kelly’s oldest son. The way that meeting came about is a story to be told another day. For our purposes today let it suffice to say that Michael was easily able to identify the other people in the mystery photo.

They were Nan Loughman Wall, Kate’s stepsister, Nan’s son Mick, his wife, and their two daughters. The names are only important because of what happened next.

Regan McCormack, Johnny Delaney, and the cup

Two nights later my family and I were attending a victory celebration in a pub in Clogh. It just so happened that the Hurling team from Clogh/Ballacolla had recently won the County Laois Championship. The reason we were at the party is that another cousin Johnny Delaney was the captain and star of the team.

While enjoying the celebration at the pub I was introduced to a fellow named Mick Wall. The name sounded familiar but I could not place it. I do have about 1700 names in my family tree. After a few minutes it started to come to me. I asked him if his parents were Mick and Madge. Sure enough he was the son of the family in the mystery photo that had just been identified two days earlier. Where but in Ireland could a Yank from St. Paul Minnesota be celebrating with the team captained by a cousin in one of the smallest hamlets in the County run into the son of a man on the mystery photo?


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Grandfather

Years ago I resigned myself to the fact that I would never knew much about my paternal grandfather, Bill McCormack. He died of a massive heart attack in 1957 and so much sadness surrounded this event and its implications, that people rarely spoke of him. I understood why this was so, but at the same time I wanted to know what kind of man was my grandfather. I had a couple of reasons for my curiosity: 1) I never had a grandpa and I felt like I was really missing out, and 2) I loved to ask questions and get to the bottom of things (What, are you writing a book or something? is the question my dad frequently asks me.)

My dad has thoroughly researched the family tree, and several years ago, he learned that his first-generation Irish American father had visited Ireland as a young man in the 1930s. My grandpa’s first cousin Paddy McCormack (of Rathdowney, County Laois) was a boy at the time and recalled the visit. This intrigued me and of course I had a bunch of questions that no one could answer. By default, my imagination took over and I created a dramatic tale surrounding my grandpa’s return to his father’s birthplace in Ireland.

Last month while in Ireland, my dad and I were chatting with Michael Kelly (see previous post). One of the first things out of Michael’s mouth that afternoon was, “The day my mother received word that Bill McCormack had passed away was a sad day indeed…” I had heard such sentiments over the years, but what made this different was what followed.

Michael went on to say that when my grandfather came to Ireland in 1934, his mother (and Bill’s first cousin) Katie Loughman showed my grandfather all around the area and introduced him to neighbors and relatives. Stories of horse races and touring, nights out and singing – it sounded like they had a fabulous time and Katie and Bill became great friends. Katie also corresponded with Bill’s sister Nellie for many years.

I was thrilled to hear Michael tell the stories of my grandfather’s Irish visit. For the first time I could associate joy, humor, and fun with my grandfather – things I always suspected about him, but I was unable to get past the sorrow of his untimely death.

My grandpa Bill McCormack, great-uncles Jimmy Flannery and Jim McCormack, early 1940s

Thanks for the stories, Michael Kelly. I am that much closer to learning about my grandfather.

Next time, guest blogger Jim with his observations on family history and his recent trip to Ireland.


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The Proof is in the Picture

“You know, Jim, my brother Paddy met you before. It was in the early Seventies at Nellie Marrin’s home in Minneapolis,” Michael Kelly told my dad one afternoon last month shortly after we arrived in Ireland.

“I don’t think so…he must have me confused with someone else…I really don’t remember that at all,” my dad replied shaking his head.

Regardless of whether Paddy met my dad, I was curious how Paddy Kelly found himself at my grand-aunt Nellie McCormack Marrin’s house in South Minneapolis. I had heard my dad mention the Kelly name when he referenced his genealogy work in recent years, but this was the first time I had met a Kelly.

Paddy and Michael’s mother, Katie Loughman Kelly, was a first cousin of my grandfather Bill McCormack and his sister Nellie McCormack Marrin. This makes my dad, Paddy and Michael second cousins.

Michael shared a number of entertaining stories with us that afternoon. Over the years, he collected stories from his mother Katie, and passed her memories on to us with keen understanding and insight.

Katie considered her American cousins Nellie and Bill “kindred spirits” and enjoyed a life-long correspondence with Nellie. Katie never met Nellie in person, but Bill visited Ireland in 1934-35 and the two of them became good friends.

Michael invited us to dinner the following Sunday. We had a great time at their lovely home. Michael’s wife Moira is known for her culinary and hosting skills and the entire Kelly family was delightful.

Paddy Kelly stopped by and after introductions were made, Michael mentioned to Paddy that my dad didn’t remember meeting him. Paddy stood his ground – indeed they had met – and he went on to tell us how Nellie sat in her rocking chair, closed her eyes and recounted the name of every family on the road from Ballyedmond (County Laois, where her father’s home) to Rathdowney. This was truly a stroll down her father’s memory lane – the families Nellie listed were her father Andy McCormack’s neighbors before leaving for America. Nellie must have heard her father’s litany often enough for her to commit it to her own memory.

Paddy turned to my sister, mom, and me and said that he also met the three of us that day at Nellie’s.

Paddy let us stew a few minutes before pulling out a photograph taken at Nellie Marrin’s in 1972:

Jim, Eileen, Regan, and Aine McCormack - 1972

Sure enough…the four of us posed for a photograph for an Irish cousin (I am the camera-shy one on the right!) We had all met a Kelly before.

I don’t blame my dad for not remembering. After all he was twenty-seven-years-old, busy with his young family and his life.

So often people lament not talking to older relatives about family history or not asking more questions when they were young and there were people still around who could answer them. I say don’t be so hard on yourselves! As young people, most of us don’t care that much about what old people have to say, and sometimes the old people don’t want to talk anyway.

The photograph Paddy produced reminded me of the dozens of old, unidentified photos in my family collection. I think I will begin labelling them all as “cousins” of whichever relative they most closely resemble!

Next time I will take a look at the other side of the family history obstacle – when no one wants to talk about it. When we were in Ireland I finally learned a few things about my grandfather.