The Irish in America


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Meant to Be

 

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

 

John Foley and my grandpa John Regan were good friends. They spent their early childhood together in Clontarf, Minnesota.  John Foley moved to Minneapolis with his family in the mid 1920s.

It was only natural that the two boys were friends. Their paternal grandfathers (Patrick Foley and John Regan) were friends in their native Kilmichael, County Cork, and they came to America together, settling in Fisherville, New Hampshire before venturing to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.

I don’t know if “the Johns'” fathers (Tim Foley and Neil Regan) were friends when they were young. Clontarf was (and is) a small place, but from what I have heard, the two had little in common. If I consider as evidence my grandma’s collection of studio portraits of many of the young men of Clontarf, Tim and Neil were not close. – there are no photos of the two of them together. However, the evidence does show that John’s uncle John Foley and Neil were friends (see below and click here to read about it).

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated (ATMR Family Collection)

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated, around 1900 (ATMR Family Collection)

As I mentioned earlier, Clontarf’s a very small place so even when folks moved to Minneapolis, as so many did in the 1920s and 1930s, families remained close, supporting one another as they made their ways in the big city. The community was strong whether it was in the rural west or the largest city in the state. It was sometimes difficult to see where family ended and neighbors and friends picked up. It could all get very complicated…

For example:

One day in late 1930s Minneapolis, my grandma’s Aunt Bid Foley (John Foley’s mom) invited her over for cards. Have I mentioned yet that John Foley and my grandma, Agnes McMahon were first cousins? How about that they were double first cousins?

John Regan was staying with his old friend John Foley at the time of the invitation. Agnes and John Regan had crossed paths over the years, but it wasn’t until Uncle Tim asked Agnes to take his place in a cribbage game with John Regan, that sparks flew.

I don’t know who won that game, but I bet it was fiercely contested. They fell in love over a cribbage board and were married in 1941. They were a perfect couple.

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man...

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man…

Agnes’ maternal grandfather was Patrick Foley and John Regan’s paternal grandfather was….John Regan. The two friends from Kilmichael, County Cork.

When we visited Kilmichael Parish in Cork, Ireland several years ago, we learned that the connection between Patrick Foley and John Regan may have been stronger than we thought. John Regan’s mother was Ellen Foley. Patrick and John were cousins.

I thought this was very cool. Then my sister mentioned how that would have made grandma and grandpa some sort of cousins, too. Distant, of course, going back to their great-grandparents generation. In 19th century rural Ireland that must have happened a lot…right?

Distant cousins, yes, but friendship connected the Foley and Regan families through the generations, across an ocean and into a new world.

And I didn’t even tell you how my grandma’s mom and grandpa’s aunt were life-long besties….

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

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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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Old Glory and Tiger Lilies

Neil Regan circa 1935

Neil Regan circa 1935

Today is the 141st anniversary of my great-grandfather Cornelius “Neil” Regan’s birth. He was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire to John Regan of Kilmichael, County Cork and Mary Quinn of County Clare, Ireland.

I paid tribute to Neil on his birthday last year – click here to read the post.

My mom, Eileen, remembers her grandpa looking out the front window of their South Minneapolis home on June 14th, smiling, and saying, “Well, how nice of everyone to raise the flag for my birthday!” Those were the days when nearly every house on your block would proudly hang Old Glory on her special day.

My grandma told me that after she married Neil’s son, John, the couple lived alone for less than one year before Neil moved in with the newlyweds. I commented that must have been a pain, but Grandma shook her head. “Oh not at all. Neil was such a kind man, so agreeable. He kept to himself and never caused me any trouble. And once Eileen was born, he was such a good grandpa. We were lucky to have him.”

Grandma remembered the one time Neil got upset. Just one time. A neighbor dropped by with a big bunch of tiger lilies from her garden. Grandma was ao pleased with the stunning orange blooms. She filled a large vase and set it on the dining room table. Something to really brighten up the house.

When Neil came home from an afternoon of cards with his cronies in the park and saw the flowers, he immediately swiped them from the table and threw them outside.

In a stern tone Grandma had never heard pass from Neil’s lips he instructed, “I never want to see those orange flowers in my house again!” Neil went in his room and closed the door.

Grandma could not believe the scene she had witnessed. She had never seen someone react that way to a beautiful bouquet. And stranger still was that gentle, mild-mannered Neil would display such outrage.

tiger lilyTurned out it wasn’t really the flowers he objected to, it was the color of the flowers. Grandpa explained to Grandma that his father had inherited a distaste for the color orange from his Cork-born father, John Regan, who never allowed anything orange in his house. By all accounts, John Regan was a feisty man who did not stand for anyone telling him what he could do or where he could do it. And to this Catholic Irish immigrant, that is precisely what the color orange symbolized.

I like that John Regan’s oldest son was born on Flag Day. Flag Day commemorates the day in 1777 when some other people who didn’t like the British government telling them what they could do and where they could do it adopted the primary symbol of the United States of America: Stars and Stripes. Old Glory. Our flag.

Old Glory

I suppose there is always a chance that Neil just didn’t cared for tiger lilies, but I like this story better. Happy Flag Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Francis S. Byrne (1913-2014)

Francis (baby) with brother John and sister Winifred

Francis (baby) with brother John and sister Winifred

My grandma and I were chatting one afternoon in the Fall of 2003, just like we always did when I came for a visit on Sundays. She pulled a postcard from the pile of mail on the window sill by her chair and handed it to me.

“Francis Byrne will be 90 on December 12th,” she said. “You know, when we were small, he used to try to tell me we were the same age because we were both born in 1913. I’d say, ‘No way, Francis. I am almost a whole year older than you – my birthday is on January 12th!’ You know how kids are. I suppose I tried to boss him around because I was older or something…”

I jotted the anecdote on the postcard and we sent it back to Peggy, Francis’ daughter, for a book of memories she was putting together for his 90th birthday. I was trying to sort through the family tree in my head and I had to ask Grandma, “So, exactly who is Francis Byrne?”

Grandma smiled and told me he was Nell Regan Byrnes’s youngest son, my grandpa’s first cousin. Nell Byrne,w as also best friends with Grandma’s mom, Mary Foley. We spent the rest of the afternoon doing what I liked best: talking about family connections and the “old days”. Grandma reminded me that the banana bread recipe we all used came from Nell Byrne. (That’s a cute story that I will share soon.)

It was six months before I thought about Francis Byrne again. My Grandma died on April 23, 2004. Her death was hard on me and like most grieving family members, I felt like I was just going through the motions on the day of the funeral. I remember little of that day until the luncheon which followed the service when Gene Regan (another of my grandpa’s cousins) introduced me to the man sitting next to him.

NB,JB, FB 1942

Francis with his parents, Jack and Nell.

Francis Byrne. Francis flashed warm smile and said, “Your grandmother was a wonderful woman.” It took me a moment to realize this was Francis, son of Nell. We got to talking and for the first time in days, I forgot that I felt empty and sad and I missed my grandma. I asked Francis if he remembered his mother’s banana bread. His eyes lit up and he chuckled, “Why, yes, of course…she made delicious banana bread. I haven’t had it in years.”

I told him I made his mother’s banana bread on a regular basis – his mother had given my grandma the recipe years ago. I offered to bring him a loaf next time I made some.

“Ohhhh, that would be great. I look forward to it!”

Initially, my visits with Francis helped fill the void left by my grandma’s passing. I missed her so much. There was something that seemed so right about getting to know the son of my great-grandmother’s best friend. I liked the continuity of it. But as I got to know Francis, I thought less and less about the family connections and more about what a great man Francis was.

Francis was sharp and funny and a fantastic storyteller. He had one of those enviable, outgoing manners and could talk to anyone about anything. Francis was loyal, dedicated to his family and friends. He was concerned for the well-being of those around him. He was tough – not tough like he was mean or beat people up – tough like he dealt with the crap life threw at him, came out on the right side, and carried on.

Francis was a great friend. I miss him very much, but am thankful for the last ten years.

Francis Sylvanus Byrne

Byrne, Francis Sylvanus age 100, of Hopkins, formerly of St. Louis Park. Born 12/12/ 1913, passed away 1/1/2014. Francis was proud of being 100% Irish. lifetime member of the NARFE, and longtime worker for the Mpls Postal Service. He was a proud member of the American Legion, VFW, and Knights of Columbus in both Hopkins and St. Louis Park. Preceded in death by wife, Marie; and siblings, Edwin, John, Mary, Winifred and Shirley. Survived by daughter, Peggy (Peter) Julius; granddaughter, Breanna Julius; and friends and family. In lieu of flowers, memorials preferred to the family. Mass of Christian Burial Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 10:30 AM with visitation 10 AM at Holy Family Catholic Church, 5900 W. Lake St., St. Louis Park. Visitation also Tuesday, Jan. 7, 5-8 PM with prayer service 7 PM at: www.Washburn-McReavy.com Strobeck Johnson Chapel 1400 Mainstreet, Hopkins 952 938-9020
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Published in Star Tribune on Jan. 5, 2014


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Remembering Donald

They say that one of the first steps to learning about your family history is to talk to your oldest living relatives. They actually knew the people behind the names in your family tree print-out. These relatives have stories to tell, memories to share.

Nearly ten years ago my mom and I set out to learn more about our family and arranged to meet two of my grandpa’s cousins – Donald and Gerald Regan. The brothers taught us much more than we thought possible about my grandpa, the entire Regan family, and growing up in Clontarf, Minnesota .

Donald passed away last month, one day shy of his 96th birthday. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, a proud Navy veteran of World War II, a successful businessman, and a former mayor of DeGraff, Minnesota. Donald was friendly, outgoing, and charming. He loved to be in the mix and hear the latest news. Donald’s brother Gerald said he inherited these traits from the “Regan side” of the family. I will miss Donald’s delightful gift for storytelling and am grateful I had the chance to listen.

Donald and his sister, Kathryn.

Donald and his sister, Kathryn.

The first time I met Donald in early 2004*, he brought my mom and me on a driving tour of Tara Township. As we drove out from Clontarf, with what seemed to me to be an endless expanse of land on either side of the road, Donald began telling us who lived and farmed each section, beginning with the original nineteenth century settlers through the present-day owners. From the front seat, his brother Gerald filled in the gaps. I was in awe – I didn’t even know the names of the forty other residents of my condominium!

As we slowly rounded a corner, Donald pointed out a grove of trees set off from the road, and he stopped the car.

“Can you see a house in there? That’s where John was born. Let’s see if we can’t get closer.”

John was my grandpa and Donald’s first cousin. Donald and Gerald grew up across the railroad tracks from my grandpa in Clontarf. Donald took a sharp turn into the “driveway” – a muddy springtime mess of rocks and decaying twigs. I was certain we would get stuck, but Donald knew what he was doing. We got out of the car and walked up to the house. Donald made sure we didn’t get too close, it wasn’t safe. There was my grandpa’s birthplace, glass gone from the windows and walls gently caving in, but still standing thanks to that grove of trees.

Several years later, when Donald had moved into the Manor in Benson, he navigated his scooter down to the Whistle Stop Cafe to meet us for lunch, with the same purpose and confidence with which he drove up to Grandpa’s house that Spring day. I liked how Donald maintained his independence – with a touch of determination. Mom and I came to town a couple of times a year, meeting Donald and Gerald for lunch and a chat about “old times”. Without fail, Donald and Gerald dazzled us with entertaining tales of life in Clontarf.

At each meeting with the brothers, I waited patiently for Donald to break out his “Annie voice”. In a high-pitched tone he would say, “Oh, Sonny!” mimicking my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan’s chastising her son for some transgression or another. I simply loved how Donald scrunched up his nose and exclaimed this phrase with a twinkle in his eye. This meant the world to me, and I think Donald got a kick out of it as well.

Donald helped fill in the gaps in our family history left by my grandpa’s early passing. My mom and I were a captive audience as Donald and Gerald reminisced about old times. As Donald helped me get to know my grandpa through his memories, he gave me a special glimpse into his own life. The Donald who was a protective older brother to Kathryn, a boy earning a little extra money sweeping out the furnace at McDermott’s in Clontarf with his brother Gerald, and Julia’s youngest son. We were lucky that Donald was so generous with his memories, his time, and his friendship. Rest in peace, Donald.

*I am sure I met Donald in the 1980s at a Regan Family picnic, but I didn’t get to know him until Spring of 2004 when my mom and I first visited Clontarf together.

Donald W. Regan

Benson
September 14, 1917 – September 13, 2013

Donald W. Regan, 95 of Benson died Friday, September 13, 2013 at Meadow Lane Nursing Home in Benson.  Mass of Christian burial will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday, October 5, 2013 at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in DeGraff.  Burial will be in the church cemetery.  Visitation will be held from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Friday at the church with a rosary at 4:30 p.m.  Visitation will continue on Saturday for one hour prior to the service.  Funeral arrangements are with the Harvey Anderson Funeral Home in Willmar.

Don_0Donald William Regan was born on September 14, 1917 in Clontarf, the son of Patrick and Julia (Duggan) Regan.  He attended Clontarf Elementary and Benson High School, graduating in 1936. After his schooling he entered the U.S. Navy where he served his country during WWII.   On December 27, 1945, Don was united in marriage to Margaret Helen Coy at the Catholic Church of Visitation in Danvers. They made their home in DeGraff where Don managed the DeGraff Lumber Company. They were able to share in 57 years of marriage before Margaret’s death on July 27,2002. Don enjoyed traveling, dancing, watching sports, especially Notre Dame football, Vikings and Twins.  He was the Commander of the Hughes-McCormack Post of the American Legion until his death, was a member of Knights of Columbus and had served on the school board, city council and was mayor of DeGraff.

Donald W. Regan died Friday, September 13, 2013 at Meadow Lane Nursing Home in Benson at the age of 95. He is survived by his children, William Regan of Benson, Julia (Everett) Richardson of Surprise, AZ, Dr.Timothy (Michelle) Regan of Santa Rosa, CA, Patrick Regan of Mpls, Duggan (Cindy) Regan of DeGraff and Daniel Regan of Blaine;  7 grandchildren; 3 step-grandchildren and 6 step-great-grandchildren.  Don was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret; son, Bruce; siblings, Clarence, Howard, Catherine, Agnes and Marjorie.

– from Harvey, Anderson & Johnson Funeral Home


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Day 16 of Irish American Favorites: My Dad

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO MY DAD, JAMES ANDREW MC CORMACK!

Dad with his first born, Regan, in December 1971.

Dad with his first-born, Regan, in December 1971.

Aine was next - photo taken in November 1972.

Aine was next – photo taken in November 1972.

And Matt arrived in 1978.

And Matt arrived in 1978.

Thanks, Dad, for always making sure we were aware of our heritage and teaching us to be proud Irish Americans. I am very lucky to have a great Dad like you! Have a fabulous day!

Wishing all dads a very happy day!


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Day Six of Irish American Favorites: Best Friends

circa 1900

circa 1900

Nellie Regan (left) and Minnie Foley were life-long best friends. They were both born in Fisherville, New Hampshire in the mid-1870s and grew up in Tara Township, Minnesota. Their fathers immigrated from Kilmichael, County Cork together in 1864 – click here to read my latest column on page 26 of Irish Lives Remembered online genealogy magazine about the Regan and Foley families. This is one of my favorite family photographs and earns the best friends a place on my list of Irish American Favorites.

When I was young, this was one of those photos that could spark a number of great stories from my grandma, Minnie’s daughter and the master of the Boiled Dinner from Day Three. Grandma would say how her mother and Nellie were “great pals”. Even when they lived two hundred miles apart, they made a special effort to get together.

I have a couple more favorites up my sleeve related to Nellie and Minnie and their special connection. I might even share one or two recipes! I love the photo below. Nellie (left) and Minnie together again, just a bit more relaxed than the studio photo from forty-odd years earlier.

Nellie and Minnie about 1942

Nellie and Minnie, 1942