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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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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Day Two of Irish American Favorites: F.Scott Fitzgerald

F_Scott_Fitzgerald

He may not have identified himself as Irish American, but that’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald was, and since he is one of my favorite writers, it stands to reason that he  would make my list of favorite things about Irish America.

So, did Fitzgerald have a problem with his Irish heritage? He was a complicated man. I may live up the street from Fitzgerald’s birthplace in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but that does not qualify me to analyze his personality and motivations. I will leave that to Fitzgerald experts who say his denial of his Irish ancestry rested in the fact he was embarrassed by his mother and her Famine-era immigrant Irish roots. His father’s genealogy was preferable – an established Maryland family and distant cousin to Francis Scott Key, Star Spangled Banner lyricist. Much less ethnic, much more American.

The climate in America was different in the early twentieth century. Americans didn’t often celebrate their heritage like we do today. They just wanted to be American. And if they had aspirations of joining the élite in American society, like Fitzgerald did, then it would be prudent to down-play your ethnicity – and your religion. Funny isn’t it, how things change? Just look at how Tom Cruise embraced his Irish heritage while doing press in Ireland a couple of months ago. Seemed like a bit of a stretch to me.

Fitzgerald wrote novels (The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise) and many short stories, but I think one of the best things he wrote was a letter to his eleven-year-old daughter in 1933, instructing her on what to worry about, what not to worry about, and what to think about. Click here to read the letter.

 Of all Fitzgerald’s witty observations, this is my favorite quote:  Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck. 

Fitzgerald birthplace

Fitzgerald birthplace


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DAY 18: Guinness

Looks good, huh?

Looks good, huh?

I love Guinness. Back in the 1990s when I started drinking it, there were only a few bars in the Twin Cities that served a decent pint. Lucky for me, Regan worked at one of them – Molly Malone’s in Minneapolis.

I had my first taste of Guinness in Ireland in 1995. It was so, so good. That year we visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, saw the multi-media presentation, learned the fascinating history of the black stuff, and enjoyed our free pints at the end of the tour.

Over the past twenty years, the Guinness at home has improved tremendously as it has grown in popularity. Bars sell more of it so it doesn’t sit around as long. Still, it is tough to beat a pint in Ireland.

It may not be Ireland, but I suspect I will manage to force down a couple pints of Guinness tonight at The Liffey in Saint Paul. Happy Birthday to me…

Aine_Guinness


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A Candle for Louie

Waterford's Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Waterford’s Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Regan and I looked forward to our visit to County Waterford last September. On previous trips to Ireland we had visited Lismore and Ardmore in Waterford, but didn’t tour the rest of the county. Our real introduction to Waterford came during the past year, through the entertaining tweets from Dungarvan’s Waterford County Museum. The museum shares beautiful photographs and historical items from their collection on Twitter. Regan and I were eager to see Dungarvan and the museum in person, as well as explore more of County Waterford.

But when we arrived in Dungarvan, the sightseeing would have to wait. Regan and I had to attend to some business.

Our dad’s good friend Lou Bader passed away on June 27, 2012. Louie and Dad played a lot of golf together, which probably says it all about their relationship. Louie shared my dad’s competitive streak and sense of humor, as well as his love for a few hours spent on the golf course. But there was something else the two men shared.

About fifteen years ago, my dad began to explore his family history. He traced his roots back to Ballyedmond, County Laois, and found cousins living on the farm his grandfather left in the late 1880s. Louie had also been researching his family tree and had learned about his Irish grandfather through his mother’s stories.

Dungarvan (2)

Dungarvan Street (photo by Regan McCormack)

I wish I could say that Louie and my dad discovered they shared a grandfather –  that would make a great story! No, Louie and my dad only shared similar questions about their  family history and the wish to find out where they came from. Both men  researched their family trees, traveled to their grandfathers’ birthplaces in Ireland, and made lasting connections with their Irish cousins. Several trips followed for Louie, my dad, and their families.

In light of our autumn trip to Ireland, Dad asked Regan and I to do him a favor and deliver Louie’s memorial card to his cousin in Dungarvan. This was an “old-school” request and my dad’s directions (“Stop in at the cleaners in town and ask for Anne-Marie”) only added to the feeling that we were characters in a Victorian novel. But of course, anything for Louie. He was a good man and a great friend to my dad.

Louie’s maternal grandfather, Matthew O’Rourke, was born in 1869, the youngest son of Patrick and Margaret. The O’Rourke family lived in the townland of Carrigcastle, near the village of Ballylaneen, about five miles from Dungarvan, County Waterford. In her delightful memoir, Love and Oatmeal (2006), Louie’s mother, Madeline O’Rourke Bader, lovingly recounts when she would ask her father why he left Ireland and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. A smile came over his face when he told her his sister-in-law encouraged him to go to America. Madeline writes in the memoir:

The way he smiled when he said that, though, always made me think there was something more to the story. A few years ago when I visited Ireland for the first time and saw how beautiful the land he left behind is, I understood a little better that his smile must have covered up a lot of pain and longing. (Love and Oatmeal, p.4)

Anne-Marie wasn’t in at the cleaners, but Mary told us how sad they all were when they heard of Louie’s passing this summer. She said how much they enjoyed his frequent telephone calls (just to check in with his Irish cousins), as well as his visits to Dungarvan. In a few short years Louie had made an impact on his Irish relatives. They really missed him.

Regan and I decided we needed to do something special for Louie, so we found the little church in Ballylaneen where his grandfather was baptized, lit a candle and said a prayer. We thought of Louie and all the O’Rourkes – the ones who stayed in Ireland, those who emigrated, and the few who made it back.

St. Anne's Church - Ballylaneen, Waterford

St. Anne’s Church – Ballylaneen, Waterford (photo Regan McCormack)

For more information about Dungarvan and Waterford County history, please visit Waterford County Museum. Click here to read about the new Dungarvan guide book.