The Irish in America


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A Wedding and a Funeral

Eighty years ago today my grandparents tied the knot. April 26th, 1941 Agnes McMahon and John Regan were married at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in South Minneapolis, Minnesota. Margaret McMahon Nelson (bride’s sister) and John Foley (bride’s cousin, groom’s good friend) were maid of honor and best man, respectively, and the bride’s niece Rosaleen (Dody) Fuchs was the flower girl.

Photo from private family collection.

The wedding reception was held at Grandma’s house on East 22nd Street in Minneapolis where the McMahon clan had been based for a few years. This house had originally belonged to another John Foley, then later his daughter, Catherine. Grandma’s mother was a Foley, but she always referred to this branch of the Foley family as “shirttail relations,” and brushed it off as a relationship too distant to really consider. But in this age of Ancestry.com and DNA matches, it seems somewhat closer: Grandma’s grandfather Foley and Catherine’s father were first cousins. Both men were immigrants to the USA from Kilmichael, County Cork and lived in Fisherville, New Hampshire before coming to Minnesota. Further connection: John Regan’s grandfather was good friends with Patrick Foley and also came here from Kilmichael.

Wedding cake on dining room chair out in the yard…not something you see too often these days! (Photo from private family collection)

April 26th was also the day of my grandma’s funeral. The year was 2004, sixty-three years after her wedding day and seventeen years ago. I can’t believe seventeen years have passed since that sunny day in April when we said goodbye to her. I know she would have appreciated the coincidence of the two anniversaries. She loved thinking about numbers and playing with dates. She would point out palindrome dates and come up with (often convoluted) tricks for remembering a number for a combination or door entry system. I still remember the code to access her apartment building: 8278. I also remember her trick for remembering these four digits: “The code begins and ends in an 8 and the first two numbers add up to 10 and the second two add up to 15.”

Like I said, convoluted. But I’ve remembered it all of these years. And I think about her every day, not just on April 26th.


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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

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!