The Irish in America


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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!


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Day 15 of Irish American Favorites: “Dapper” Dan Hogan

Can you guess what Mr. Hogan’s occupation was? If the name doesn’t give it away, I bet his picture will:

DapperDannyHogan

Yeah, you guessed it. Dapper Dan was a gangster. But not just any gangster, the “Irish Godfather” of Saint Paul, Minnesota. I am in no way condoning organized crime, and it’s not like I really have a “favorite” figure of the underworld, but I think it is important to show how Irish Americans have had influence in just about every facet of life in the United States.

Dapper Dan came to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1908 and quickly connected himself to the corrupt police department and political machine. He was a major player and was both “feared and protected” by the police. Wikipedia explains how it all worked:

Known as the “Smiling Peacemaker” to local police officials, Police Chief John “The Big Fellow” O’Connor of Saint Paul allowed criminals and fugitives to operate in the city as long as they checked in with police, paid a small bribe and promised not to kill, kidnap, or rob within city limits.

The Justice Department called Dapper Dan “one of the most resourceful and keenest criminals” in the country. Armed robberies, money laundering, bootlegging, illegal gambling, and murder were some of Dapper Dan’s interests. He also owned the Green Lantern saloon on Wabasha Street in downtown Saint Paul – a saloon, casino, speakeasy during Prohibition, and more.

On December 4, 1928, Dapper Dan was the victim of a car bomb. The Streets of Saint Paul describes his lavish funeral:

The respect that Dan was shown in life was even shown during his death. It was reported that over twenty five hundred people came, along with two hundred automobiles to mourn Hogan. There were over five thousand dollars worth of flowers from Underworld bosses in New York, Chicago, and the Twin Cities adorned his casket at his funeral. A six foot high wreath was placed near the casket, with a large ribbon with the words “Our Danny” stretching across it. A who’s who of both the city official and crime world attended the funeral, with former middle-weight champion Mike O’Dowd being one of the pall bearers. Even the underworld was taken aback by his death and went dark for a short time as a tribute to Hogan. “Somehow, one would rather be in Mr. Hogan’s place than that of his murderers” preached Father Nicholas J Finn at the funeral.

This was a fascinating period in American history, and one in which Irish Americans played a role. Not one most people would be proud of, but history is not always pretty.

Next time I visit some of our family graves at Calvary Cemetery, I might have to look for Dapper Dan’s final resting place. His headstone might be tough to miss.


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Anything sound familiar?

Jennie Johnston Famine Ship, Dublin (photo by Regan McCormack)

Jennie Johnston Famine Ship, Dublin (photo Regan McCormack)

On occasion, a reader of the blog will leave a comment wondering if anyone has information on a specific Irish ancestor or family or even an Irish relative or friend who made their way to America.

These comments quickly become buried as new posts move to the top of the page. I would like to give a few recent comments a bit more attention here…take a look, and if anything strikes a chord, leave a comment. I will put you in touch with the source!

MULLIGAN: FROM SLIGO TO CHICAGO

J.C. writes: “Hi there, What a great website, Doing a little research myself and am trying to find any details on an Anthony Mulligan who emigrated from Sligo through Queenstown, Cork Ireland in Oct 1914 on The Cedric and settled in Chicago and I think he worked for Armour Stock Yards.He signed a Reg Card No 2038 in 1940/41 and lived in 425-W-60 Street. Dont know whether he married , family, or anything else about him . He had a brother James who also lived in Chicago and a sister ” Sr Martin Mulligan ” a Sinsinawa Dominican nun but I have traced these two family members. Any help out there would be appreciated.”

FAMILY NAMES JACOB, PIERCE, WALTON FROM COUNTY CARLOW

Carol’s interested in these names from County Carlow.

1920s BOSTON 

This is an interesting one. I did a quick search, but I was unable to find Meg. Brenda writes: “I am looking for a Meg Reidy who lived in Clinton Ave. in Boston in the early twenties, as a tiny child. My husband’s mother was her nurse/housekeeper, and spoke of her all her life, she loved that baby. Anybody know her, or her descendants or family?”

County Waterford Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

County Waterford Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

EMIGRANTS FROM BUNMAHON, COUNTY WATERFORD

I just learned from a comment on another blog I write that the Kavanaugh family who settled in the railroad town of Clontarf in Western Minnesota came from Bunmahon in County Waterford. This caught my eye since I actually drove through Bunmahon while visiting Waterford this autumn.

John commented that he had heard that several families who settled in Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 19th century had come from Bunmahon. This was news to me. Anybody out there know anything about emigration from Bunmahon, County Waterford?

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and if any of the names or places on this page sound familiar, please drop me a line!


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Life is a Game of Cards

Agnes, with her younger brother, Frank McMahon -- ca 1920

Agnes, with her younger brother, Frank McMahon , about 1920.

This is my favorite photograph of my all-time favorite person – my maternal grandmother, Agnes McMahon Regan.

Today is the 100th anniversary of my grandma’s birth. Agnes  was born in Tara Township near Clontarf, Minnesota on January 12, 1913 on the farm her Fermanagh-born, American Civil War veteran grandfather, Francis McMahon, homesteaded in 1876. Agnes was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Thomas and Mary “Minnie” (Foley) McMahon.

McMahon Family ca.1914

Grandma is standing on the chair, surrounded by her siblings and her mom in 1914.

One of my grandma’s favorite pastimes was playing cards. From Bridge and 500 with her card clubs, to Crazy Eights and Go Fish with her grandchildren, and everything in between, Grandma loved a game of cards. No visit to Grandma’s was complete without at least one game. Not sure if it was an addiction or not, but we can safely blame/credit her Irish Grandpa McMahon, or Grandpa Bushy, as he was known, for her life-long love of cards.

Grandpa Bushy, years before he would teach little Agnes to play cards.

Grandpa Bushy, years before he would teach little Agnes to play cards. Does it look like he is twiddling his thumbs? Something else my grandma got from him!

Grandpa Bushy lived with grandma’s family for a couple of years when she was small. While her older brothers and sisters were at school, Grandpa Bushy taught Grandma the finer points of rummy. She was just four-years-old, but Grandma caught on right away and  never looked back.

Grandma lived her life much like she played cards. Grandma always played the cards that were dealt her. She never complained, really never. Grandma handled tragedy, heart-break, illness, and pain with grace. She believed that her problems were no more devastating than those of the next person.

The coolest thing about Grandma was that she rarely gave her opinion unsolicited, and when it was asked for, she was very careful in what she said. Grandma never gossiped. All that being said, Grandma did not hesitate to stand up for the underdog, or seek justice when someone was treated badly or unfairly. Grandma was very competitive, but she figured out how to win by following the rules.

Grandma didn’t need to tell everyone, everything. She kept things to herself. Odds are if someone told Grandma a secret, she took it to the grave. I managed to get a couple of minor secrets about people long dead out of her over the years, but I gave her my word that I wouldn’t tell a soul. Grandma never showed her hand, and she was the most widely liked person I have ever known.

I know it wasn’t just cards. Life experience is a great teacher. But I can’t help but think that her sweet little Grandpa Bushy, with his big beard and a gleam in his eye, knew that he was instructing his granddaughter on more than just rummy.

Grandma was always teaching us – her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews – just by living her life and asking us to stay for a game of cards. Much more effective than lectures! And by most accounts, we all picked up on these more subtle life lessons.

I remember asking Grandma (when she was the advanced age of about sixty-six) to what age she hoped to live. She never gave me a number, instead she said, “I want to live as long as I have my wits about me.” When she died in 2004, she definitely still had her wits about her, it was her heart that didn’t cooperate. She passed away just like she lived: quietly, on her own terms, with dignity and class.

We miss you a lot, Grandma, and we are sure that at the “big card game in the sky” (as my sister,Regan, and I like to think about it) you are taking all the tricks.

Grandma's on the left. Does she look like a card shark?

Grandma’s on the left. Does she look like a card shark?

Throughout the year I will revisit my grandma’s life as a second-generation Irish American, growing up in Minnesota.