The Irish in America


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Three Sisters

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (early 1930s)

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (mid 1930s) ATMR Family Collection

When I think of the Irish in America, snapshots like this one come to mind. My grandma Agnes with two of her three older sisters, young and happy in the midst of the Great Depression.

The McMahon sisters were second generation Irish Americans. However, my grandma told me they didn’t spend any time thinking about their heritage when they were young. She made up for it when she grew older and had a highly inquisitive granddaughter. She shared with me stories and songs, old sayings and recipes, passed down to her from her parents and Irish-born grandparents. Grandma was my link to our family history.

I am not sure if this is at the house in Columbia Heights where the McMahons lived, or if it is in south Minneapolis at the Foley house. Maybe my mom will help us out and leave a comment!

I am currently scanning and organizing my grandma’s collection of photographs and ephemera. Moving forward I will share some of my favorite items.


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Monica Wood: Irish American from Mexico (Maine)

WWWTK

From the moment she began reading When We Were the Kennedys, my sister, Regan, could not stop talking about the book. Regan reads a lot, but we don’t usually share what we read. I think it’s because our literary tastes differ quite a bit. But that all changed when Regan read, When We Were the Kennedys.  As she finished the book and handed it off to me, she said, “Hurry up now and finish it so we can talk all about it!” (Please keep reading to learn about your chance to win a copy for yourself!)

The Kennedy name surely caught Regan’s eye initially – the iconic Irish American family has always intrigued her – but the blurb on the back sold her. The story begins in 1963 with the close-knit Wood family living in Mexico, Maine. Mexico is a town physically, psychologically, and fiscally dominated by the Oxford Paper Company. The author’s father dies suddenly on his way to work at the Mill one day and life for the Wood family changes forever. We see how the family mourns (at one point with the entire country) and how they begin to make their way back.

Poignant, but never sappy, it is a truly a beautiful memoir. One reviewer said he had never pulled as hard for a family. That is exactly how I felt, and I wanted to learn more about its author, Monica Wood. She mentioned in an interview that both her parents’ families came from an Irish enclave on Prince Edward Island, Canada and that her father was a natural storyteller with a gift for language, but I wondered how else she felt her heritage as an Irish American.

Monica Wood - click photo to learn more about the author!

Monica Wood

Monica was gracious enough to chat a bit and answer a few questions. I began by asking Monica if growing up she was aware of her Irish roots. Monica said very much so and went on to describe the lilting accents of her grandparents and the “many, many Irish expressions that were built into our family lexicon. Lots of colorful expressions.”

I asked if she remembered any and Monica came up with: “Arriving with one arm as long as the other.” Meaning? “You brought nothing to the table.” That’s one I can definitely hear my Irish American relatives saying!

Monica also remembered songs such as “Whiskey You’re the Devil” and “Danny Boy” filling the air of her childhood.

I was interested if Monica ever felt she was treated differently as an American of Irish descent. Mexico, Maine was a town of immigrants and the children of immigrants, so she never felt out-of-place because of her heritage. Monica was proud of it: “…I remember as a child in my town, we still identified by our families’ roots. When a kid asked, ‘What are you?’, my answer was ‘Irish.'”

Monica recently visited Ireland for the first time, spending part of her visit on a houseboat on the Shannon. She was amazed at how, although many generations removed from Ireland, she felt at home in Ireland. The Irish embrace their history and their folklore in such a way that a common ground emerges when descendants of those who left, return. This is why it can feel like coming home for many Irish Americans.

I’d like to share what Monica told me about her visit to Ireland:

My sister Cathe had been there just last year and told me it would feel like coming home. I didn’t think that would be true. But it was. For one thing, so many people reminded me of aunts and uncles and cousins! And they are so very warm, and they LOVE to talk, and sing, and lift a glass to almost anything. The night before we left (I was there with my husband) we ended up singing for 100 people in a pub in Ennis. By the time I got to the final chorus, everyone had learned the song (“Hard Times” by Stephen Foster) and was singing with me. I got the chills, literally, and realized: This is my tribe.

I can imagine that Monica was a big hit with the people of Ennis that night – they do love when you bring a song!

I am so happy to have read When We Were the Kennedys, and if you don’t win the Author-Signed Copy in our little competition here at The Irish in America, you will just have to go out and buy one for yourself, but it probably won’t be signed. Monica even agreed to personalize the inscription (actually it was her idea!)

So, how do you win? It’s easy! Just “like” this post – either click the button below on the blog or like it on Facebook (click here) – and your name will be entered in a drawing to win. Only one entry per person, please. You only have until 11:59pm (EST) Sunday, January 26th. We will announce the winner here on the blog early next week. For more information on the contest, please visit our CONTEST page.

Good luck!

Take a look at this short video and hear Monica talk about When We Were the Kennedys:

Click here to read reviews of When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood.


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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Welcomes Two Girls From Milltown

I wanted to take the opportunity to share my Thanksgiving post from last year with you again. This was the first time I introduced Maureen Teahan Murray (of Meet Maureen and Maureen’s Memories fame). Maureen’s daughter  Mary had emailed me a day or so before Thanksgiving and shared the story of Maureen’s arrival in America just in time for the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuted in 1924. Macy’s began the parade in order to promote their department store for the Christmas season. Most of the participants in the parade were Macy’s employees who donned costumes, marched, and rode on floats pulled by horses, tracing the route from Harlem to Macy’s Herald Square store. Over 250.000 people watched the parade that first year and it became an annual event.

1940 Hippo balloon at Macy’s parade (photo from theweek.com)

The famous helium-filled balloons of animals first appeared in 1927, replacing the real animals that were sprung from the Central Park Zoo to march in the parade. By 1942, the rubber and helium from the balloons became necessary for the war effort and the parade was called off until 1945.

The November 28, 1947 s New York Times article describes the parade in great detail. The parade had clearly hit its pre-World War II stride with crowds, bands, floats, and the return of the giant balloons. The headline reads:

2,000,000 THRILLED BY MACY’S PARADE

Gas-Filled Giants Prance Again to Delight of Throngs Who Forget Cold

CLOWNS ADD TO THE FUN

Three Little Pigs, Peter Rabbit in the Line — Santa Bestows a Greeting.

What a line-up! The two million spectators lined the sidewalks of the parade route and “peered from open windows, crowded roof-tops, and marquees” to catch a glimpse of Humpty-Dumpty, the Pumpkin Float, and a gigantic panda balloon. Five-year-old Katharine had this to say about the parade: “I like the Jack O’ Lantern, I like the Funny Cop, I like loud music, I like the dancers, I like everything.”

Among the two million people gathered that Thanksgiving morning in 1947 were Maureen and Joan Teahan. Maureen and Joan were sisters who had just arrived in New York the previous day, November 26th. The sisters left their home in Milltown, County Kerry about a week earlier to begin new lives in the United States. Milltown’s population? About 100 people.

The girls experienced just a bit of culture shock upon arrival in New York City. Their Uncle Dan sponsored the sisters’ passage to the United States and made a point of telling them to lock the hotel room door. Maureen recalls that this was something she and Joan had not even considered.

So, what did Maureen think of the two million people plus a rocket ship from Mars full of blue invaders who were “mocked” by Peter Rabbit and the Mad Hatter while the Three Little Pigs “sang the praises of Thanksgiving” and the steady pounding of drums filled the air? Maureen admits she was overwhelmed.

What an introduction to the United States for Maureen and Joan. They walked right into one of the most cherished Thanksgiving traditions for families all over the United States – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on a day that is uniquely American. That is a lot to process within the first forty-eight hours in a country.

Maureen and Joan stayed in New York for a week – shopping and seeing the sights – before settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

In a couple of weeks, I will publish a lovely story written by Maureen. It’s a Christmas story. But for now, a Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy the parade!

Special thanks to Mary Power for sharing the New York Times article, as well as her mother Maureen’s memories of the 1947 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

Click on the following links to learn more about Maureen and read her delightful stories:


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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Welcomes Two Girls From Milltown

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuted in 1924. Macy’s began the parade in order to promote their department store for the Christmas season. Most of the participants in the parade were Macy’s employees who donned costumes, marched, and rode on floats pulled by horses, tracing the route from Harlem to Macy’s Herald Square store. Over 250.000 people watched the parade that first year and it became an annual event.

1940 Hippo balloon at Macy’s parade (photo from theweek.com)

The famous helium-filled balloons of animals first appeared in 1927, replacing the real animals that were sprung from the Central Park Zoo to march in the parade. By 1942, the rubber and helium from the balloons became necessary for the war effort and the parade was called off until 1945.

The November 28, 1947 s New York Times article describes the parade in great detail. The parade had clearly hit its pre-World War II stride with crowds, bands, floats, and the return of the giant balloons. The headline reads:

2,000,000 THRILLED BY MACY’S PARADE

Gas-Filled Giants Prance Again to Delight of Throngs Who Forget Cold

CLOWNS ADD TO THE FUN

Three Little Pigs, Peter Rabbit in the Line — Santa Bestows a Greeting.

What a line-up! The two million spectators lined the sidewalks of the parade route and “peered from open windows, crowded roof-tops, and marquees” to catch a glimpse of Humpty-Dumpty, the Pumpkin Float, and a gigantic panda balloon. Five-year-old Katharine had this to say about the parade: “I like the Jack O’ Lantern, I like the Funny Cop, I like loud music, I like the dancers, I like everything.”

Among the two million people gathered that Thanksgiving morning in 1947 were Maureen and Joan Teahan. Maureen and Joan were sisters who had just arrived in New York the previous day, November 26th. The sisters left their home in Milltown, County Kerry about a week earlier to begin new lives in the United States. Milltown’s population? About 100 people.

The girls experienced just a bit of culture shock upon arrival in New York City. Their Uncle Dan sponsored the sisters’ passage to the United States and made a point of telling them to lock the hotel room door. Maureen recalls that this was something she and Joan had not even considered.

So, what did Maureen think of the two million people plus a rocket ship from Mars full of blue invaders who were “mocked” by Peter Rabbit and the Mad Hatter while the Three Little Pigs “sang the praises of Thanksgiving” and the steady pounding of drums filled the air? Maureen admits she was overwhelmed.

What an introduction to the United States for Maureen and Joan. They walked right into one of the most cherished Thanksgiving traditions for families all over the United States – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on a day that is uniquely American. That is a lot to process within the first forty-eight hours in a country.

Maureen and Joan stayed in New York for a week – shopping and seeing the sights – before settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

In a couple of weeks, I will publish a lovely story written by Maureen. It’s a Christmas story. But for now, a Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy the parade!

Special thanks to Mary Power for sharing the New York Times article, as well as her mother Maureen’s memories of the 1947 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.