The Irish in America


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She was never much for having her picture taken…

Margaret and Frank McMahon, 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

My grandma was meant to be in this photograph, but she wouldn’t sit still. Every time the photographer carefully posed the three youngest McMahon children and turned his back to go to the camera, my grandma would get up and run to her mom.

Grandma was just under two-years-old at the time of this photo. She claimed she could walk from the age of nine months, telling me, with a chuckle, that she was so short that she could walk clear under the kitchen table, with room to spare.

Grandma managed to stay put for this photo, up on a chair with mom right behind her.

McMahon Family 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

McMahon Family 1914 (ATMR Family Collection)

 


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Diaries and letters and newspapers…oh my!

Where can you find these treasures, in addition to many other historic research sources? Online at DIPPAM – Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People, and Migration.  This is one of the coolest websites out there for anyone interested in Irish studies, emigration, and history.  DIPPAM is a project of Queen’s University, Belfast and several other entities.  They describe themselves like this:

DIPPAM is an online virtual archive of documents and sources relating to the history of Ireland, and its migration experience from the 18th to the late 20th centuries.

DIPPAM consists of three databases – Enhanced Parliamentary Papers on Ireland-EPPI, Voices of Migration and Return-VMR, and Irish Emigration Database-IED.  Let’s take a closer look at the IED.

The IED is a collection of over 33,000 documents (with new material added regularly) covering the 32 counties of Ireland, with the majority dated from 1820 to 1920.  If you relish the thrill of perusing old archived collections in person, browsing this virtual archive could become a new favorite destination.  Why not take advantage of the neatly transcribed diaries and letters, and set aside the microfilm reader for a bit – all the documents in this collection are available to view online.

Click here to read the general guidelines for searching the IED.  You are able to search for a specific term, or use the categories on the left side to define parameters and browse the fascinating collection of documents.

Here is an example of a search I did on the emigrant letters in the collection.  I began by restricting the “Document Types” to Letters (Emigrants).  Next I entered Minnesota in the “Search” field.  This search resulted in 14 emigrant letters with some mention of Minnesota.

I selected the following return:

18-10-1884    Thomas McCann, Minneapolis, Minnesota to Mary McKeown, Belfast.

Mr. McCann is writing to his sister in Ireland from Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is located in the north central portion of the United States.  Most of the letter talks about the McCann siblings who are scattered throughout the US and Ireland.  The pattern of Irish emigration is evident in this letter; one at a time the siblings made their way to the US, some via Scotland, joining relatives already established in American cities.  Once in the US, some stayed in New York while others moved west to Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN, and beyond.

…dear sister
Maggie is well and likes this
country she would not go back to old
ireland for any money she came to
Uncle James from New York and stoped [stopped?]
there last winter so she do not think
of the old Country any more she sayes [says?]
she had to work to [too?] hard when she
was there and had nothing for it
she is now working in a hotel in
Madison near my uncles house but
I am 2 hundred and fifty miles furder [further?]
west I left my uncles last spring and
came west I am now 7 hundred miles
from New York so you may think I am quite
away from the place I was Born in
old Ireland but I am quite happey [happy?]
sometimes I never think I was in old
Ireland still I never think of it
sometimes for I do not entend [intend?] ever
to see it I am still working at my
trade and always has plenty to do
I spent quite a little some [sum?] on maggie
to take her here she cost me forty
seven dollers [dollars?] to take her from
Ireland to here but I do not care
for that it makes me happey [happy?] to
hear from her and that is all I want
from her sometimes she do not think
worth her while to write me a few
lines to let me know how she is getting
along well…

Click here for the full text from ied.dippam.ac.uk

Maybe I am cynical, but I note a hint of a passive-aggressive tone when Mr. McCann refers to his sister Maggie.  Glad to see that was alive and well in the 19th century.  Also interesting are the attitudes he expresses toward his homeland – more practical than sentimental, but rather sad.  Reading this letter we can understand a bit more about how it must have felt to have to leave home and have your family dismantled.

Start browsing: click here to go directly to the Irish Emigration Database.  What else do you have to do this weekend?