The Irish in America


Leave a comment

Summer Irish American Book Club: August, already???

Indeed, it is. Another summer nearly over. But, nearly is the operative word. There is still time to knock a couple more titles off your summer reading list. Regan (my sis) and I started reading Pete Hamill’s Snow in August and I am really enjoying it so far. Order it up and join us…click here, less than $7 on Amazon.

Snow in August takes us to Brooklyn (we’ve been there a lot this summer!) For a change of pace, this novel gives us a male perspective on 20th century Irish American life. The novel opens in December 1946 with eleven-year-old Michael Devlin waking up in the apartment he shares with his mother. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t like when people give things away about books. Isn’t that why we read them? To find out what happens? Click here to read the proper New York Times review.

Regan and I are reading Snow in August at the same time so it will be nice to talk about it as we go. I missed that with the last couple of books which we read alternately.  That doesn’t make for much of a book club, now does it?

Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far this summer. You will notice a couple of non-Irish-America-related titles. I took a bit of a detour last month. This list begins with the most recently read book.

 

SUMMER 2017 BOOKS, SO FAR

 

Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe.

What I liked most about this book was that Donohoe’s characters felt real. Sometimes they bugged me and I sighed and rolled my eyes at their decisions. Other times I was surprised by their bravery, commitment, and compassion. It’s just how I feel about my family and friends. I also appreciated the way she structured the book and was very consistent in weaving the elements and generations together.  We were given a backstage pass into the world of the F.D.N.Y. and it was fascinating and heartbreaking. Really enjoyed this book.


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I loved Holden Caulfield when I read this for the first time at age fifteen, and I love him today (many years later). If you haven’t read this for a while, do it. Holden mentions that his last name is Irish and his dad used to be Catholic when he talks about how “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic.” (p.125)  So many good quotes and insightful observations from Holden. Holden is definitely near the top of my “all-time favorite characters” list.

 

At Weddings and Wakes by Alice McDermott.

When I finished this book and noticed it was published in 1992, I could not understand what took me so long to read it! I fell in love with this book on the first page. McDermott’s writing is beautifully subtle, but she doesn’t try to be mysterious. Bits and pieces of each character reminded me of some old relative in my own Irish American family (those I knew as well as those I’d only heard stories about.) So much felt familiar…like how Lucy never left her aunties without a bag of stuff.


Three Days in Damascus by Kim Schultz.

This memoir has nothing to do with Irish America, but Kim is an old friend of mine. She should be proud of herself for this book. I know I am proud of her! As I read it, I felt like it was 1994 and I was sitting at a crowded table at Chang O’Hara’s, drinking beers and listening to Kim tell us a story. Those were good times. The origin of this memoir is a one-woman play Kim produced following her experience meeting and interviewing Iraqi refugees. Kim met a special refugee and brings us along on the bumpy and confusing road of loving through language and cultural barriers. Well done, Kim. I wish Chang’s was still here…I’d buy you a beer!


Don’t Tell the Girls by Patricia Reilly Giff.

This was a delightful family memoir in which Patricia Reilly Giff explores her Irish heritage. She took the stories she had heard throughout her life and set out to learn details of the real events in her family history. I know the feeling of pouring over census records and passenger lists, looking for something – anything – familiar. What Reilly Giff learned, I will leave it for you to read. There is usually more to the story that Grandma tells…we just have to figure it out! This is currently a real bargain at Amazon…cute hardcover volume for less than $5 would make a great gift…click here.

 

 Saints for all Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan.

Please click here to see my earlier post for more on this book.

 

 

 

 

ON DECK

I just got a copy of Will Murray’s King Kong vs. Tarzan and I think that’s going to be an awesome way to close out the Summer of Irish American Reads! I’ll update you on what we thought of Snow in August

 

Let me know what you are reading and if you have any suggestions for great Irish American book. Leave a comment or send an email to TheIrishInAmerica!


3 Comments

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…