The Irish in America

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Mystery Priest

Photograph pin, ca. 1890-1900

This “photo-pin” belonged to my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan.  Annie passed away in 1937, and this pin was among a small collection of cards, photographs, and memorial cards that made their way to my mom.  Click here to see a 1930s Christmas card from Annie’s sister Katie in Ireland.

I remember seeing this pin as a child and being puzzled as to why my great-grandmother had such a thing.  Who wore a pin with someone’s picture on it, especially a picture of a priest?  I didn’t get it, but I was relieved that the fad of priest-photo-pins didn’t carry over to the 1980s – the thought of wearing a picture of my parish priest Father O’Sullivan stuck to my cardigan gave me goosebumps!

Several years ago I became curious about the identity of the priest in the photo-pin, and I started to ask questions…

  • Could this be Annie’s brother, or maybe an uncle or a nephew?
  • When Annie came to the US, she worked as a housekeeper for Father Molloy.  Maybe this is him?
  • Were pins like this common or did she have this specially made?

I have never been able to answer these questions.  I know Annie had one brother, John, but I know nothing about his life, and I have seen photos of Father Molloy, but only as an older man and there isn’t a strong resemblance.

Maybe you can help me with the third question.  Has anyone come across an item like this, maybe in an old box of your great-grandmother’s treasures or at an antique shop?  The pin measures about two inches in diameter with a coppery, scalloped edge.  Leave me a comment if you have any ideas…

Check out this website for more on photo jewelry.





Family and Emigration

While reading up on Irish emigration, I found an interesting article by County Fermanagh historian John Cunningham on the Cassidy family website.  In the article Mr. Cunningham considers the effects emigration has had on Ireland and the Irish people.  Click here to read the article, which is actually a lecture given by Mr. Cunningham.

Mr. Cunningham uses his own experiences to show how family members who stayed in Ireland felt about emigration.  He tackles the often complex and emotional issue of emigration in a straightforward manner with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.  I found the account of his mother’s visit to America particularly insightful, as well as the description of the parcels and letters from America.

As his mother learned firsthand, letters home to Ireland often didn’t tell the whole story of the emigrant’s experience in their new home.  Regardless of their accuracy, letters are one of the best resources for learning about your emigrant relative by providing tangible evidence as to where the relative lived, possibly where they worked, or names of spouse and children.  Consider yourself lucky if you have an emigrant letter!

My great-grandmother came to the United States in 1899, joining an older sister who had arrived six years earlier.  A sister and a brother remained in Ireland, and one sister has previously emigrated to Manchester, England.  Unfortunately, no letters survive (on the American side) from relatives at home, but there are a few postcards, greeting cards, and photographs that were sent to my great-grandmother and her sister.  The following photograph was included in an album belonging to a niece of my great-grandmother who lived in Montana, USA.

John and Catherine (Hill) Howe Family, Johnstown Co. Kildare

John and Catherine (Hill) Howe Family - Johnstown, Co. Kildare (courtesy of M. Jeffrey Harshman)

Among the few items belonging to my great-grandmother is a sweet little Christmas card from her sister Katie (Catherine, pictured above), as well as a torn and tattered photo postcard depicting a Whitsunday parade.  It is intriguing to see what pieces of someone’s life survive for later generations.  These bits and pieces have helped us learn a great deal about my great-grandmother’s life before she came to America.

So, if you don’t have a letter, all is not lost in your quest for information about your emigrant relative.  Letters can make the initial search easier, but other information can prove to be as useful.

I invite you to share your family’s emigrant stories by leaving a comment!  Let me know what clues you have, and I will help you begin your search for information on your relative.  If you think you don’t have any information to go on, but really want to learn about what may have happened to a relative, you should leave a comment, too.  We never know what we will find when we start looking!