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