The Irish in America


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St. Malachy’s in the News

On Saturday, they are holding an auction at the former St. Malachy Catholic Church building in Clontarf, Minnesota. They are selling pews, windows, plant stands, and anything else that lacks “religious significance.”

I was interested in the half of the old confessional that was stored in the sacristy. They removed it from near the entrance when more room was needed to accommodate the new, larger caskets. I am out of luck; they aren’t selling it. Not sure how it is more religiously significant than the pews which held the devout parishioners week in and week out for over a century…

A report of the Dedication of the “new” St. Malachy’s Church appeared in the December 15, 1896, edition of the Benson Times. The event was a big deal, not just for Clontarf Catholics, but the pomp and ceremony must have intrigued everyone in the area. I wonder if it is the most people who have ever been in Clontarf at the same time? I’ve included a copy of the newspaper article, but it’s not great, so I also added a transcription below.

According to the article, the builders left the plaster ready for fresco painting. I wonder if it was ever done? Did Tim Reardon tell us that there was some painting on the ceiling that was covered up by the 1960s remodeling? My memory fails at the moment. Does anyone know if they ever got a bell?

Here’s a transcription of the newspaper article:

Benson Times — Dec. 15, 1896

IT IS DEDICATED.

THE NEW CATHOLIC CHURCH AT CLONTARF BLESSED.

BISHOP COTTER OFFICIATES.

The Beautiful and Impressive Ceremonies Witnessed by a Large Crowd Tuesday Morning.

Tuesday was a gala day for the Catholics of Clontarf in particular, and of Swift County in general. It brings the occasion of the dedication of the new church at that place. For a number of years the members of St. Malachi’s [sic] parish have had in contemplation the erection of a new edifice of worship, but owing to the stringency of the times, it has yearly been deferred, until early last spring when the contract was let and the work pushed until there now stands in the little town a church which is a credit to the congregation and a standing monument to the untiring efforts of its beloved and respected pastor, Rev. Father Oster.

The building is a substantial frame one, 40×100 in the main with a 20 foot ceiling, with a large and well-arranged sanctuary and sacristy in the rear end. There is a seven foot basement under the entire building, in which is located the heating plant, which is of the latest improved pattern. A very noticeable feature in the church is an alcove just back and above the main altar, in which are placed the statues of the Sacred Heart and adoring angels, the opening being beautifully draped with rich curtains. The roof of the alcove is of colored glass which throws mellow light upon the figures, giving the whole a beautiful appearance. In the front end of the building is located a gallery, which reaches across the entire width, and about 20 feet deep. This will be for the use of the choir and is reached by a winding staircase from the front entry. The plastering has been left in what is known as the “floated” condition, so that at some future time it may be frescoed. Besides the main altar, there are two side ones, which stand on either side of the building inside of the communion railing. The windows are of beautiful colored leaded glass and are the fights of individuals or societies, the names of the donator appearing on each window. Taken as a whole the interior presents a pleasing appearance. On the exterior rises a gracefully modeled steeple, the top of which towers high above the building. In this, provisions have been made for a large bell, which no doubt, will be placed therein at no great distant day. The accompanying cut gives a much better idea of the appearance of the building than words could convey. The church will comfortably seat 500 persons, and will accommodate this congregation for years to come.

 The Dedication

The day of the dedication of this building to the purposes for which it was erected was an ideal one, and an early hour delegations from Murdock, DeGraff, Benson, Danvers, Hancock, and in fact from the entire surrounding country, began arriving, and by 10:30 fully 1,000 persons were gathered in and about the building. At the time stated the dedication procession started from the main altar, headed by Father O’Connor of DeGraff who acted as master of ceremonies for the day, followed by six altar boys, Bishop Cotter, of Winona, and a number of priests coming next. A tour of the outside of the church was made and the regular ritual work of the church for such occasions gone through with. On returning, the litany was recited and the interior of the building blessed. 

After the dedication ceremonies had finished, the Blessed Sacrament was brought from the old church to its new abode in solemn procession. This was one of the most imposing events of the day: the bishop clad in his purple robes, the priest in vestments, surrounded by altar boys in bright gowns carrying colored lanterns and candles, made a scene which will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

After this came the solemn high mass, which was celebrated by Rev. Oster, Father Kane acting as deacon, Father Egan as subdeacon and Father O’Connor as master of ceremonies. The music was furnished by the combined choirs of Clontarf, Benson and Murdock; Chas. Maginnis presiding at the organ, and assisted by a string orchestra. The fact that the day was the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Father Oster made this mass the more impressive, and many a silent prayer was offered, asking that the life of the “grand old man” might be yet spared for many years. The following priests, in addition to those mentioned above, assisted at the mass: Rev. Gauvreau, of Beardsley; Rev. McDavitt, of Mannanah; Rev. Boland, of Litchfield; and Rev. O’Brien, of Graceville. 

At the close of the mass Bishop Cotter took the pulpit and read the 83rd Psalm, which he used as his text. On opening, he paid a glowing tribute to the life and work of Father Oster. He told of his work in the pioneer days of Minnesota, how he had visited and ministered to the sick and those in want when such services called for long tiresome rides over unsettled country, and that he had never been wanting where duty called. The bishop congratulated the members

 Of the parish in their good fortune of having such a man as Father Oster to lead and teach them. Assuring them that if they would but follow his counsel they would certainly reach the goal for which all christians are striving. After further congratulating the congregation on the completion of their beautiful house of worship, he proceeded with his sermon, and for over an hour held the vast audience spell-bound and all were loath to have the discourse come to a close. Bishop Cotter is a sound reasoner, a profound scholar and a finished orator, and it is indeed a treat to hear him. At the close of the sermon he gave a few words of advice in regard to the financial management of the church affairs. The services of the day then closed with a solemn benediction.

While the bishop and priests were administering to the spiritual needs of the congregation, the ladies were busy preparing for their temporal needs, and by the time services were over, they had a bountiful dinner in readiness in the old church, and to this place a grand rush was made. The sum of 25 cents was charged and it is needless to say that the ladies realized a neat sum for their efforts. 

It was expected that Arch-bishop Ireland would be present, but just at the last moment he was called to Chicago.

Sketch of Rev. Oster.

This article would be incomplete without giving something of the life and work of the pastor who has spent so many years in building up the Clontarf parish.

Rev. Anatole Oster, the senior pastor in charge of the Clontarf parish and also the Benson Catholic church is very favorably known to most of our readers. He is highly esteemed, not only by the members of his several parishes, but by all who know him regardless of religious affiliations, for his many estimable qualities and deep religious convictions, He was born in Alsace Lorraine about 63 years ago. He spent his early childhood in France, where he commenced his studies for the priesthood. He came to this country in early manhood and finished his studies under the venerable Bishop Creaton [sic], the first Catholic bishop of St. Paul, by whom he was ordained to the priesthood 40 years ago; the festivities of the dedication of this new church being the 40th anniversary of the celebration of this first mass. He has spent all the years of his ministry in Minnesota and was identified with the growth and development of the early settlement of the territory as well as the state since its organization. He shared in the privations of the early settlers and missionaries, and has seen and rejoiced at the development and growth of the state as well as the church of which he is a conspicuous member. He has seen the latter institution grow from a society of only three priests to minister the religious wants of its members in Minnesota and the Dakotas, to the proportions it now assumes, viz: An archbishopric at St. Paul, with five suffragan bishoprics located at Duluth, Winona, St. Cloud, Sioux Falls and Jamestown, N.D., respectively, and a working corps of nearly 500 priests, besides numerous hospitals, houses of refuge, and institutions of learning, two of which latter institutions are located at St. Paul, being St. Thomas college and the HIll seminary, which ranks with the best in the country.

In all of the work incident to this tremendous growth and development, Rev. Oster has taken a very conspicuous part, and always with great credit to himself and his church. He is a man of deep and scholarly attainments, and an exemplary citizen as well as a model minister of the gospel. He has been located at several different points in this state during his ministry, and has built a number of other churches as well as the dedicated one on Tuesday. He came to Swift county in the early part of 1878 and has since resided at Clontarf, also having charge of the Catholic Church in Benson, and those at Danvers and Hegbert.


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Behind the Windows

The inscriptions on two of the windows at St. Malachy’s were a mystery to my mom and me. We wondered about Axier and Milmoe. We know so many of the old Irish family names from our research into Tara Township, the village of Clontarf, and the railroad, but are much less familiar with the non-Irish families and those from Hoff Township.

Following are short profiles on the Axier and Milmoe families, based on some general Ancestry.com info and the St. Malachy’s account books. If anyone has anything to add to this, or has information on any of the other window donors, please leave a comment and let me know!

Photo by Anne Schirmer, 2021

THE FAMILIES BEHIND THE WINDOWS

Charles Axier Family

The Axier family called the Clontarf, Minnesota area home for less than twenty years, but, like so many families, they made their mark on the town, the Church, and the community. The most visible contribution is the stained glass window at the “new” St. Malachy Catholic Church (1896).

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AXIER FAMILY IN THE UNITED STATES

Charles and Marie Axier were born in France in about 1830 and 1836 respectively. They came to the United States around 1849 and were married in 1856. In 1865, Charles is in the Illinois State Census living in Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County. Information is limited from this census, but the Axier family consists of three people and their livestock has a value of $25. Swift County records indicate that Charles Axier was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War.

In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, the Axier family lives in Hoff Township, Pope County, Minnesota. Charles is 51 years old and Marie is listed at 35 years old. Their daughter, Julia (21) is listed in the household of Father Oster in Clontarf working as a domestic servant. The 1885 Minnesota State Census list Charles (age 55) and Marie (age 40) still in Hoff Township in Pope County

Charles and Marie moved to town, appearing in Clontarf in the 1895 Minnesota State Census living near the Church and rectory. Charles (64) and Marie (55) are employed as gardeners (due to their location and close association, likely for St. Malachy’s).

By 1900, like Father Oster, the Axiers are no longer living in the Clontarf area. Julia married August Boucher on May 8, 1900, in Swift County and the couple shows up in the 1900 Census in Otsego Township in Wright County. Julia is the stepmother to August’s two children – Emma (7) and Arthur (18).  Charles (70) and Marie (60) live with the Boucher family in Otsego.

In 1905, Charles 64) and Marie (55) have relocated to Anoka in Anoka County (per Minnesota State Census). Charles is employed as a laborer and Marie has no occupation listed. Charles dies in 1909 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Anoka, Minnesota. His gravestone states that Charles was born in 1835. (Note on the accuracy of ages: Census data is sometimes unreliable due to family members reporting information who don’t know the correct age, language barriers, mistrust of the census-taker, and simply individuals not wishing to reveal their age.)

Marie moves back to Julia’s home in Otsego. Julia’s husband, August, passes away on September 13, 1916 and by the 1920 Census, Marie (84) and Julia (64) are living alone at the house. Marie died on January 31, 1927, and is buried next to her husband in Anoka’s Calvary Cemetery. The date of birth given on her stone is January 13, 1936.

STAINED GLASS WINDOW

  • 8/8/1896 – Charles Axier partial due to window fund $10.00
  • 10/12/1896 – $5.00

SAMPLES OF OTHER AXIER FAMILY CONTRIBUTIONS

  • 10/25/1879 – Grave Yard Fund C. Axier $1.00
  • 6/15/1886 – Peter Pence collection Mrs. Axier $.15
  • 6/16/1886 – Charles Axier Church dues $29.00
  • 7/3/1887 – Dues Charles Axier $5.00
  • 6/2/1896 – To friend’s (Mrs. Axier) offering $.50

Milmoe and Mockler Families

John MIlmoe was born in Ireland about 1830. In 1870, he appears in the US Federal Census living in ward two of Oshkosh, Wisconsin with his wife Anna and family. John is employed as a blacksmith. Anna Angel was also born in Ireland around 1828 and after coming to the US, married Daniel McCarthy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1845. McCarthy passed away in 1851. John and Anna married about 1855, creating a family of children from Anna’s first marriage and children of their own.

By 1880, the family has relocated to Hoff Township in Pope County near the village of Clontarf, where John is now a farmer. Anna Milmoe passed away in 1890 at the age of 62. Her death may have inspired the lovely stained-glass window at St. Malachy simply inscribed, Milmoe.

John and Anna’s daughter Mary married William Mockler of Hoff Township in 1886. The couple lived near the Milmoe farm, as well as other active St. Malachy’s parishioners – Goulets, Chamberlains, Chevaliers, Daniels, Axiers, and Milmoes. The ladies of these families are among those responsible for a second window donated by the Ladies of Pope County. Mary Milmoe Mockler was mentioned a number of times in the financial records of the church. She organized her friends and family in raising funds for multiple windows at Saint Malachy’s Church.

In 1900, John Milmoe is living with his daughter Mary Mockler, who is widowed with three small children aged 8-13. John Milmoe died in 1911. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Hayward, Sawyer County, Wisconsin amongst Mockler family members.

MILMOE IN THE EARLY ACCOUNTS BOOK

9/17/1878 – Collection/pew rent – $5 James

MOCKLER IN THE ACCOUNTS BOOKS

10/6/1878 – Collection/pew rent – $2.00 John

4/13/1886 – C/P – $5.00 Edward

7/9/1887 – C/P – $15.00 Edward (T. Goulet and Isidore Daniel each gave $5.00)

Note:

Information in this article is from census data from Ancestry.com and the St. Malachy Financial Records, copies in Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record.          Eileen McCormack made the copies when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The books are now located at St. Francis Catholic Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022

Anne Schirmer, the local Clontarf historian, has put together a book of St. Malachy’s photos and Clontarf history. Let me know if you would like to purchase a copy! Last time I checked, they were $15 – shipping may be extra. Anne organized a “History Open House” in Clontarf in March and is planning on hosting another event soon. Leave a comment and I will get in touch. Thank you!


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If You Build It…

Actually, they were already in Clontarf, they just needed a better church. Parishioners were filling up the small 1878 church building every Sunday and Holy Day, and for baptisms, weddings, and funerals in between. Clontarf needed a church to reflect the success of the growing community that began as a small colony just twenty years earlier.

Clontarf is an Irish place name and St. Malachy is the first Irish-born saint to be formally canonized, but the parish was built by Irish and French-Canadian residents. The two groups did not always get along, but they were united in faith by Father Anatole Oster, a native of France.

There are LOTS of names listed below…if you see one you recognize, let me know about your connection to Clontarf, Minnesota.

Wouldn’t you love to know who those people are on the front steps of St. Malachy Catholic Church?

PLEDGES AND PAYMENTS: CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH

So much can be learned from looking through the account books. Sure, we see how much folks contributed to the construction, but we also gain an understanding of how important the church was to the residents of Clontarf and the surrounding townships. They were invested in the church and the community, they had a stake in its success. This can be seen in the money pledged and the hours of donated labor.

Letting Go of the Old

Part of the preparations for the new church was dealing with the old one. They would need the old church for mass while the new one was constructed and they wanted the new building in the same spot, so…move the church!

 On July 3, 1893, Nels Erickson was paid $82.00 for “moving the church 117 feet east @ 70 cents per foot…” Later that year on October 14th, Erickson was paid $26.00 for “wages at mason work.” An entry dated November 2, 1895, reads: “On Nov. 2 the following men worked banking old church 3 hrs: Wm. Shinnick Jr., Rich. Bulger, Wm. Purcell.”

Pledged Donations (noted in account book)

1892 – D. F. McDermott $100, H. Ernst $20, Edward Mockler $20, J.W. Flynn $25

1893 – Charles Axier $25, J. O’Donnell $50, R. O’Brian $5, John Kent $10, Father Oster $345 (“to bldg. fund”),  Louis Chamberlain $5

1894 – Michael Donovan $100

1895 – Frank Casey $10, Andrew Riordon $20, Thomas O’Brian $10, Michael Halloran $5, Sam Daugherty $20, John Gosson $25, Joseph Daugherty $5, Henry Riorden Jr. $10, P.A. McCarthy $5, John Hanlon $5, Richard McGraw $60

1896 – James Kent $10, Patrick Chenery $50, Mrs. Reen $25, Jane Kenna $25., John Sullivan $25, Edward McGinley $20

1897 – Ernest Goulet $20, Napoleon Camiri $20, William Kenna $10., Patrick Foley $25, Martin McAndrew $10, James McDonald $5, John McDonald $5, Patrick Langan $10

(See below for a list of pledges recorded June 8 – 10, 1896 as received and recorded at the Bank of Benson.)

Everyone Pitched In

Much of the construction was completed by the men of Clontarf. They helped with digging foundations, hauling, framing, and finishing. Although they were not paid, the labor is accounted for in the financial records. Various individuals appear throughout the records listed by name, date, hours worked, and type of work they contributed.

 Payments to Contractor

  • 7/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $100 (Contractor/builder on the project)
  • 8/7/1896 – L. F. Young for drawing contract and bond $5.00
  • 8/7/1896 – Simon Conaty payment 1st part of contract $400
  • 8/29/1896 – Simon Conaty Part payment on $500.00 (from D. F. McDermott note to St Malachy?) $300
  • 9/24/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $294
  • 10/5/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $206
  • 12/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment of $220 “For rails and wainscoting”
  • 1/18/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $600
  • 6/28/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $876.01

Specialist Work

  • Thomas Beagan – foundation/concrete & mason work, in 7/10/1896 entry is a listing of work in the basement with measurements
  • Prendergast Bros. – 12/30/1896: furnace & delivery payment $223.26

The following list of pledged donations to the building fund may show some duplicates from the above list. Beware of spelling inconsistencies – all names are transcribed directly from account book.

  • Wm Duggan $60
  • James Kent $50
  • Jer Riordon $20
  • Roger O’Brien $10
  • Thomas Sullivan $25
  • Peter Harrison $35
  • M J Connolly $10
  • John Hughes $50
  • Thomas Shea $40
  • Robert Riorden $20
  • John Riorden $20
  • Henry Riorden Jr. $35
  • John Regan $60
  • Timothy Galvin $60
  • John Gosson $50
  • John Gaughan $15
  • Laurence Daugherty $30
  • M. H. Mear $15
  • John Mear $15
  • P.H. Mear $15
  • James McGowan $10
  • H.W.Daley $15
  • W.H.Daley $5
  • Thomas O’Brien $35
  • M.E.Conlogue $25
  • John Gallagher $20
  • James Fleming $20
  • M. Fenton $25
  • J. Conroy $25
  • L. Doran $20
  • H. Riordan $40
  • T, Riordan$20
  • A. Maguire $10
  • J. Chevalier $25
  • George Goulet $15
  • ? Callaghan $35
  • Andrew Riordan $20
  • P. H. McCarthy $15
  • John McDonough $15
  • T.J. Purcell $15
  • J.M. McDonnell $10
  • V. Riley $10
  • John McDonnell $10
  • Dan E. McDonald $10
  • Maurice Galvin $15
  • Joseph Thornton $24.62
  • Frank Faneufsen $25

Note:

Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records from Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. The excerpts were copied by Eileen McCormack when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022


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Does History Go to the Highest Bidder?

Letter from late April 2022

The Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota plans to demolish the recently deconsecrated St. Malachy Church building, but not before they auction off “St. Malachy’s Memorabilia.”

Memorabilia makes me think of my brother’s Don Mattingly baseball cards or a jersey worn by Joe Mauer. Remember how people bought sets of the iconic blue plastic seats from the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome when it was taken down? They put them in their “man caves,” ice houses, and basements all over Minnesota. Will the St. Malachy’s church pews have the same appeal? Maybe, but the word memorabilia seems to cheapen what the pews and stained glass windows of St. Malachy’s represent.

Years ago when my mother, Eileen, and I began looking into family history in the Clontarf area, she had copies made of pages from the St. Malachy’s account books. Pages were chosen because they pertained to our families – the Regans, the Foleys, and the McMahons – as well as known neighbors and associates. The copies by no means represent the full fiscal picture of the building of St. Malachy’s, but they clearly shows how the people of Clontarf paid for the building, a building whose elements will be auctioned off as memorabilia and will soon be demolished by the Diocese of New Ulm.

The following narrative is the first installment on the building of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, based on the original financial records.

FUNDRAISING AND THE BUILDING OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH

By 1896, it was clear to most that the parish of St. Malachy’s had outgrown the original building constructed in 1878. Children of the original settlers were marrying and starting families of their own as new residents joined the community and the town grew. The financial record books indicate that raising money for the new St. Malachy Church was every bit a community effort – “all hands on deck!”

March 17, 1896 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT

The parishioners of St. Malachy’s assembled an event to raise money for the new church building while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. With attractions that included a watch drawing, Pidgeon target shooting, a cigar and candy stand, play performance, dinner, and fireworks, the fundraiser would certainly have been popular with the wider community.

Margaret Duggan of Tara Township and Mary Purcell of Clontarf donated the watch and the drawing raised $256.50, over half of the total funds raised at the event ($470.05). Expenses for the festivities were listed as $52.00, but most were covered by donations.

November 1896 – FALL FAIR

Later in the year, once the crops were in, Clontarf area residents held a Fall Fair to celebrate and raise more funds for the building of the new church. Records provide no final numbers for funds raised by organizers, but it appears to have been quite an affair.

Spanning two days, with dinner served on both Saturday and Sunday, Fair events included a horse raffle, another watch drawing, a fishpond, a play, and a cigar and candy stand. There were raffles for a kettle and a cigar box, as well as three “Fancy Tables” organized by Mrs. Moore, Mary Hurley, Miss Riley, and Mary Purcell.

The records note that Patrick Freeman of Clontarf donated the horse for the raffle and Frank McMahon of Tara and Eugene Daniel of Hoff went out ahead of the raffle to sell tickets to area residents.

Examples of funds raised:

  • Fancy Tables – $50.00
  • Play tickets – $14.35 (95 tickets sold @ 15 cents each)
  • Dinners – $68.00 (“at least”)
  • Watch Drawing – $92.00

March 17, 1897 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT

Limited information exists in the record books for this event, but undoubtedly there were the usual nineteenth-century fundraiser staples: raffles, cigars, candy, dinner, and a play.

Included in the March 17, 1897, financial records entry are a few details on the Dramatic Club of Clontarf. Sixty-four tickets were sold to the performance for total sales of $16.00. The ticket prices rose to 25 cents a seat. After renting wigs ($1.85) and purchasing a “tableau fire” and “sundries” ($2.15) and paying printing costs ($4.36), the records indicate they contributed $10.60 toward the window fund. They must have received a discount on some of their props.

Note:

Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records and copies are located in Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. Eileen McCormack copied specific pages when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022

For more information on Clontarf history, please visit here and here.


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Family Album: Brothers-in-Law

We have many of this style of photo in our family collection: studio portraits of people in their twenties and early thirties, taken circa 1900. This is a favorite because it reminds me of one of our first meetings with my grandpa’s cousins Donald and Gerald Regan.

I remember showing them this photo and Donald saying, “Ah, yes, that is Pat on the left and that would be Uncle Jim on the right. Isn’t that right, Gerald?”

Gerald nodded in agreement.

You could just about see the memory wheels turning in the brothers’ heads as the smiles crept across their faces. Chatting with Donald and Gerald about the old days was always a treat.

“Pat” was their father, Patrick Regan, and “Uncle Jim” was James Duggan, their mom Julia’s oldest brother.

Patrick Regan (left) and James Duggan, about 1900 (Private Family Collection)


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Family Album: Your Grandpa’s People

My grandma kept a cardboard box of family photos on the closet shelf under the Monopoly game. Every once in a while I pulled the box down and we’d go through the photos. I marveled at Grandma’s ability to not only identify the people in the pictures but to recall dates and outline connections.

Once we had gone through the old photographs of her parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, we’d move on to the “modern” snapshots of Grandma and her friends in the 1930s, weddings, and outdoor groups. Finally, we’d come to the bottom of the box and a cache of unidentified photos.

“Those would be your grandpa’s people.”

My grandpa was an only child and died the year before I was born. It has taken a bit of research (and a dose of serendipity) for us to identify “Grandpa’s people” and it is definitely a work in progress!

It turned out “Grandpa’s People” referred to my grandpa’s mother’s people. Like this photo of Mary Hill O’Brien, one of my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan’s four sisters. Mary came to the United States from Kill, County Kildare, Ireland in 1892. She married a widowed farmer (Thomas O’Brien) in Tara Township, Minnesota in 1894. Annie joined her sister in Minnesota in 1899. Mary and the O’Brien family moved to Montana in 1914.

Mary Hill O’Brien – Chinook, Montana 1920 (Private Family Collection)

There were a couple of postcards in the bottom of that old box, too. Here’s one from Chinook to “Anty” Annie in Tara Township…


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They’re Coming to America

Not to stay, just for a visit. For the first time since I was just a squirming, bald-headed baby, members of the Irish branch of the McCormack family are coming to the Twin Cities.

Jim, Eileen, Regan, and Aine McCormack – Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1972 (photo by Paddy Kelly)

Paddy Kelly was on a GAA tour of the States in 1972 when he swung my great-aunt Nellie Marrin’s home in South Minneapolis. That’s where he snapped this photo. The photo resurfaced in 2011 when the four of us in this photo had dinner with our cousins the Kelly family in County Laois.  I kind of like the idea that this snapshot of us had been in Ireland for most of my life. Even in the years I was not aware or relatives in Ireland, that photo sat in some album or box, like the old photographs of my great-grandfather who left Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century.

But in less than a month, Martin and Marian McCormack will be joining us in Saint Paul. We’ve met up with them in Ireland when we visit, but I can’t wait to see them on our turf.

A bunch of McCormacks in 2011 at Lisheen Castle County Tipperary (Martin and Marian are on left end, front and back)

This is not their first time to the States, but it will be their first trip to Minnesota. I think the Twin Cities will show off pretty well in the September weather. Marian said she wasn’t interested in shopping, so I think we will skip the Mall of America. Several years ago Martin expressed that he didn’t need to see another pyramid or temple so I won’t suggest a tour of the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

Luckily, there are plenty of other things to do and see here, so I am not worried. I wonder, though, what other Irish people who visit the United States like to do while they are here? Or what do they find unique about America? I know what I like to do in Ireland, but I wonder what Irish people like to do when they are here?

I will let you know how the visit goes…


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Gimme the Butter

A version of the following article first appeared in Irish Lives Remembered Genealogy Magazine (July 2013 issue).

Tom McMahon, 1895

Tom McMahon, 1895

“I’ve never heard that! Why didn’t grandma ever tell me that story?”

I have to admit, when my older sister Regan says this, as she does from time-to-time, I feel a tinge of satisfaction. Younger sisters will understand how years of childhood rivalry can spill over into adulthood and we briefly allow ourselves to revel in the tiniest of victories. A card game won, a promotion at work, or in my case, a story my grandma told me.

But, as the ever-modest younger sibling, I shrug and tell Regan it’s simple. She never heard the story because she never asked. I was constantly asking my grandma to tell me all about the “old days”, and a question like, “What was your dad like?” (and a few key follow-ups) often lead to an afternoon of unearthing memories and revealing truths. Like this…

Thomas Edward McMahon, my great-grandfather, was born on June 13, 1879, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the second child and eldest son of Francis and Catherine (McAndrew) McMahon. His father was a native of County Fermanagh and his mother was born in New York – her parents came from County Mayo in the 1850s.

1904

1904

My grandma was Agnes McMahon Regan, Tom’s youngest daughter. Grandma said her dad was warm and generous. His family and friends could depend on Tom to be there when they needed him. No one was better in a crisis. Grandma smiled when she said that in the end, her dad was at heart, a big kid. He loved to play with his children and his easy manner lead to lots of jokes and laughter. Tom enjoyed nothing more than sitting in his chair in the evening, surrounded by his family as his wife, Mary, read aloud from Treasure Island or Little Women or whatever novel the mobile library offered that month.

Tom wed Mary Foley on June 9, 1904, at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, Minnesota. The couple grew up a mile apart on farms in Tara Township and were childhood friends. Tom’s nickname was “Hoosie” and Mary was “Minnie”. They had seven children – four girls and three boys.

Grandma said her dad was so good-natured, he never raised his voice.

“Never?” I asked. A natural question.

“Well…there was one time…” And we’re off.

The family was at the table for dinner when my grandma (who was about four-years-old at the time) said to her dad, seated next to her, “Gimme the butter!”

Tom was startled by his daughter’s demand. “Pardon me?”

Grandma said it again, this time louder, since he obviously didn’t hear her, “GIMME THE BUTTER!”

Tom was taken aback. None of his children behaved so rudely, not even his spirited middle child, Rose. But he was especially surprised by the outburst from Agnes. Tom told her she could have the butter if she asked for it nicely.

Grandma thought about it for a moment and said, “Gimme the butter!”

Tom had heard enough. He stood up and ordered Agnes to leave the table immediately. Grandma stormed out of the kitchen and threw herself on the seat of the buggy outside. She cried like she had never cried before. A short time later, Tom came out to Grandma. He set her dinner on her lap and placed his arm around her shoulders. Grandma said she apologized profusely. Her dad brushed the black curls from her forehead and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “There, now, that’s the girl. You’re alright…”

The two of them sat on the buggy while Grandma ate her dinner. She still felt terrible, but she had learned her lesson. Looking back, Grandma thought her dad felt as bad as she did that he raised his voice. He never did it again. And Grandma learned some table manners.

More I learned about Tom McMahon…

1921

1921

According to Grandma, her dad was a true farmer. He loved everything about the process – preparing the soil, planting, growing crops, harvesting them, and sharing the fruits of his labor. Unfortunately, the 1910s and 1920s were tough on many farmers on the prairie of Western Minnesota. Tom tried to make a go of it several times. He sold the homestead and moved to rented land, farming until 1926 when he gave it up for the last time. The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis to begin life anew.

In the city, Tom worked at the pole yard, treating and preparing new telephone poles.  When he retired, a neighbor allowed Tom to use a nearby vacant lot for a garden. Tom returned to what he loved. He grew enough produce to trade with the local shop for groceries and feed his family and neighbors. He had never been happier.

Tom McMahon died on May 6, 1937. His wife, Mary, came home after a rare afternoon away from home to find him peacefully in his chair, rosary entwined in his fingers. A heart attack took him quickly.

Listening to Grandma’s memories of her loved ones brought them to life for me, and at the same time allowed me a glimpse at my grandma. I never had the privilege to meet my great-grandfather, but I feel like I know him. I was lucky to know my grandma. Now it’s my job to keep and share my grandma’s memories and her stories for the rest of the family. You just have to ask.

 

If you aren’t by nature as nosy as I am, these sites might help you think of what questions to ask…

 

 


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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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A Grandpa’s 100th Birthday

Today is my grandpa John William Regan’s 100th birthday. He was born on a farm in Tara Township, near Clontarf, Minnesota on July 23, 1913. John was the only child of Neil and Annie Hill Regan. Neil was a first-generation Irish American and Annie came from Kill, County Kildare. He was baptized at St. Malachy Catholic Church on August 10th.

Grandpa had red curls. Annie kept his hair in long ringlets until Grandpa had ear surgery at age four and had his hair cut.

Neil, Annie, and John – 1915

John must have had fun helping his dad on the farm.

John also kept Annie company on the farm. Annie doted on her son – you can tell by his dapper outfit!

In 1921 the family of three moved off the farm and into the town of Clontarf. The eight-year-old John finally started school and Annie had John take violin lessons from a local musician.

At school, my grandpa became known as “Red” Regan because of his hair. Soon playing ball and running around with the other boys took precedence over violin practice. Grandpa had a life-long love for cars and began driving at a young age.

Grandpa graduated from Benson High School in 1933. He was a star on the football team. I guess that stands to reason since he was nearly twenty-years-old during his senior year!

After graduation, Grandpa worked behind the bar at Bruno Perrizo’s in Clontarf. Here he is in his apron with childhood pal Leo Molony.

My grandpa moved to Minneapolis in the late 1930s. He hit it off with Agnes McMahon over a game of cribbage at his friend (and Agnes’ cousin) John Foley’s place. John and Agnes were married in 1941.

It’s strange to think of my grandpa’s 100th birthday because he didn’t even live to see his 58th. He passed away the year before I was born, but I am lucky to have learned about my grandpa through the memories and stories my grandma, mother, my grandpa’s cousins, and old friends shared with me over the years. I missed out on something really special – he would have been a fantastic grandpa!