The Irish in America


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Family Album: McMahons (mostly, maybe)

I need some help from my mom on this one. I know that is my great-grandpa Tom McMahon on the right, with his daughter Agnes (my grandma) standing in front of him. Who are the rest? Could they be Tom’s brother Frank (left), his wife Agnes McGraw McMahon and their children? Their oldest, Richard, was the same age as my grandma. That could be him in the cap by his dad. Three girls followed him in age: Florence, Eileen, and Gertrude, but I can’t quite tell.

And then there is the lady next to Tom. Could it be his sister Kate? She may have still been in Clontarf.

McMahons in Clontarf, Minnesota, ca. 1921 (Private Family Collection)

Subtract about seventeen years from the gentleman standing on the left above and do you get the one standing on the left below?

Tom and Mary Foley McMahon wedding (seated), with Frank McMahon and Margaret Foley (standing), 1904 (Private Family Collection)

I believe this one is from the 1930s. My grandma on the left with her sister Rose and Eileen McMahon, possibly one of the little ones in the first photo.

McMahon Cousins (Private Family Collection)

One more, just because I noticed how my grandma was holding two fingers on her right hand with her left hand and it reminded me of this cute photo.

Agnes and her brother Frank McMahon, 1919 (Private Family Collection)

Mom – please set me straight on dates, identifications, etc.


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Irish in Minnesota

I remember when Patricia Johnston’s book, Minnesota’s Irish first appeared at our house. It was 1984 and Ireland was my new obsession. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about Ireland or written by someone with an Irish name. I listened to nothing but U2 and poured over Mom’s Ireland of the Welcomes magazines, dreaming of living in a dramatic coastal castle or a quaint village cottage.

When I cracked open the book, I assumed it would mostly be about my family. We were the most Irish people I knew in Minnesota. I looked at the index first, expecting to see significant entries for my family names, McCormack, Regan, Foley, Flannery, McMahon. Imagine my surprise when there was nothing.

That is not entirely true. There was one photo of St. Malachy’s Church in Clontarf, the Swift County town where my maternal relatives lived. The people in the photo were all so tiny, there was no chance of identifying any individuals. I was disappointed. I thought my Irish family deserved at least a mention. I also thought Ms. Johnston should have called my grandma for some better material.

The book opened my twelve-year-old eyes to the idea that there were a lot of Irish people who made Minnesota home. I was not as unique as I believed. The experiences of the Irish in Minnesota were more diverse than I had been aware. Now, all these years later, my mom and I are taking a dive into the history of the Irish experience in Minnesota, beyond our own family’s history in Swift County and Minneapolis.

Unidentified Town Scene — private collection

My mom and I love to do research. We are great at identifying resources, following leads, discovering connections, uncovering hidden nuggets, and accumulating information. We find it difficult to stop researching, to feel like we are ever finished. This project has “work in progress” written all over it. There is so much to discover and the research is too much fun.

I would love to hear from you about where your Irish and Irish American relatives put down roots in Minnesota. Is there a township or a village in Minnesota you would like to learn more about? Need some help with research? I think of this as part genealogy, part local history, with some folklore and oral history thrown in the mix. I will share what Mom and I are finding here on the blog. Leave a comment below to get in touch!

The Irish in Minnesota came from every county in Ireland (I actually don’t know that for sure, but I will find out!), endured hardships and celebrated successes at every stage of their migration. Minnesota was the last stop for some Irish immigrants and their families, others pushed further west, and a few even returned to previous homes. Regardless, they all made contributions to the social, cultural, and political fabric of Minnesota.