The Irish in America


1 Comment

If You Build It…

Actually, they were already in Clontarf, they just needed a better church. Parishioners were filling up the small 1878 church building every Sunday and Holy Day, and for baptisms, weddings, and funerals in between. Clontarf needed a church to reflect the success of the growing community that began as a small colony just twenty years earlier.

Clontarf is an Irish place name and St. Malachy is the first Irish-born saint to be formally canonized, but the parish was built by Irish and French-Canadian residents. The two groups did not always get along, but they were united in faith by Father Anatole Oster, a native of France.

There are LOTS of names listed below…if you see one you recognize, let me know about your connection to Clontarf, Minnesota.

Wouldn’t you love to know who those people are on the front steps of St. Malachy Catholic Church?

PLEDGES AND PAYMENTS: CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH

So much can be learned from looking through the account books. Sure, we see how much folks contributed to the construction, but we also gain an understanding of how important the church was to the residents of Clontarf and the surrounding townships. They were invested in the church and the community, they had a stake in its success. This can be seen in the money pledged and the hours of donated labor.

Letting Go of the Old

Part of the preparations for the new church was dealing with the old one. They would need the old church for mass while the new one was constructed and they wanted the new building in the same spot, so…move the church!

 On July 3, 1893, Nels Erickson was paid $82.00 for “moving the church 117 feet east @ 70 cents per foot…” Later that year on October 14th, Erickson was paid $26.00 for “wages at mason work.” An entry dated November 2, 1895, reads: “On Nov. 2 the following men worked banking old church 3 hrs: Wm. Shinnick Jr., Rich. Bulger, Wm. Purcell.”

Pledged Donations (noted in account book)

1892 – D. F. McDermott $100, H. Ernst $20, Edward Mockler $20, J.W. Flynn $25

1893 – Charles Axier $25, J. O’Donnell $50, R. O’Brian $5, John Kent $10, Father Oster $345 (“to bldg. fund”),  Louis Chamberlain $5

1894 – Michael Donovan $100

1895 – Frank Casey $10, Andrew Riordon $20, Thomas O’Brian $10, Michael Halloran $5, Sam Daugherty $20, John Gosson $25, Joseph Daugherty $5, Henry Riorden Jr. $10, P.A. McCarthy $5, John Hanlon $5, Richard McGraw $60

1896 – James Kent $10, Patrick Chenery $50, Mrs. Reen $25, Jane Kenna $25., John Sullivan $25, Edward McGinley $20

1897 – Ernest Goulet $20, Napoleon Camiri $20, William Kenna $10., Patrick Foley $25, Martin McAndrew $10, James McDonald $5, John McDonald $5, Patrick Langan $10

(See below for a list of pledges recorded June 8 – 10, 1896 as received and recorded at the Bank of Benson.)

Everyone Pitched In

Much of the construction was completed by the men of Clontarf. They helped with digging foundations, hauling, framing, and finishing. Although they were not paid, the labor is accounted for in the financial records. Various individuals appear throughout the records listed by name, date, hours worked, and type of work they contributed.

 Payments to Contractor

  • 7/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $100 (Contractor/builder on the project)
  • 8/7/1896 – L. F. Young for drawing contract and bond $5.00
  • 8/7/1896 – Simon Conaty payment 1st part of contract $400
  • 8/29/1896 – Simon Conaty Part payment on $500.00 (from D. F. McDermott note to St Malachy?) $300
  • 9/24/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $294
  • 10/5/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $206
  • 12/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment of $220 “For rails and wainscoting”
  • 1/18/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $600
  • 6/28/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $876.01

Specialist Work

  • Thomas Beagan – foundation/concrete & mason work, in 7/10/1896 entry is a listing of work in the basement with measurements
  • Prendergast Bros. – 12/30/1896: furnace & delivery payment $223.26

The following list of pledged donations to the building fund may show some duplicates from the above list. Beware of spelling inconsistencies – all names are transcribed directly from account book.

  • Wm Duggan $60
  • James Kent $50
  • Jer Riordon $20
  • Roger O’Brien $10
  • Thomas Sullivan $25
  • Peter Harrison $35
  • M J Connolly $10
  • John Hughes $50
  • Thomas Shea $40
  • Robert Riorden $20
  • John Riorden $20
  • Henry Riorden Jr. $35
  • John Regan $60
  • Timothy Galvin $60
  • John Gosson $50
  • John Gaughan $15
  • Laurence Daugherty $30
  • M. H. Mear $15
  • John Mear $15
  • P.H. Mear $15
  • James McGowan $10
  • H.W.Daley $15
  • W.H.Daley $5
  • Thomas O’Brien $35
  • M.E.Conlogue $25
  • John Gallagher $20
  • James Fleming $20
  • M. Fenton $25
  • J. Conroy $25
  • L. Doran $20
  • H. Riordan $40
  • T, Riordan$20
  • A. Maguire $10
  • J. Chevalier $25
  • George Goulet $15
  • ? Callaghan $35
  • Andrew Riordan $20
  • P. H. McCarthy $15
  • John McDonough $15
  • T.J. Purcell $15
  • J.M. McDonnell $10
  • V. Riley $10
  • John McDonnell $10
  • Dan E. McDonald $10
  • Maurice Galvin $15
  • Joseph Thornton $24.62
  • Frank Faneufsen $25

Note:

Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records from Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. The excerpts were copied by Eileen McCormack when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022


2 Comments

Family Album: Mother and Son

Catherine McAndrew McMahon sent this postcard to Tom, her oldest son, in early April 1908. She was in Rochester being treated at the Mayo Clinic for cancer, and Tom was at home in Tara Township. Catherine died on April 18th following surgery to remove a tumor.

Tom kept his mother’s obituary folded up in his wallet. His rosary, the postcard, and the obituary are the only things left behind by my great-grandfather.

Frank and Catherine McMahon Family ca. 1895 (Private Family Collection)

Tom is standing, second from the left, and Catherine is seated in front, next to her eldest daughter and namesake. The McMahon family would lose its youngest son, Johnny (standing, at far right), to tuberculosis about three years after this photograph was taken.


Leave a comment

Family Album: Your Grandpa’s People

My grandma kept a cardboard box of family photos on the closet shelf under the Monopoly game. Every once in a while I pulled the box down and we’d go through the photos. I marveled at Grandma’s ability to not only identify the people in the pictures but to recall dates and outline connections.

Once we had gone through the old photographs of her parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, we’d move on to the “modern” snapshots of Grandma and her friends in the 1930s, weddings, and outdoor groups. Finally, we’d come to the bottom of the box and a cache of unidentified photos.

“Those would be your grandpa’s people.”

My grandpa was an only child and died the year before I was born. It has taken a bit of research (and a dose of serendipity) for us to identify “Grandpa’s people” and it is definitely a work in progress!

It turned out “Grandpa’s People” referred to my grandpa’s mother’s people. Like this photo of Mary Hill O’Brien, one of my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan’s four sisters. Mary came to the United States from Kill, County Kildare, Ireland in 1892. She married a widowed farmer (Thomas O’Brien) in Tara Township, Minnesota in 1894. Annie joined her sister in Minnesota in 1899. Mary and the O’Brien family moved to Montana in 1914.

Mary Hill O’Brien – Chinook, Montana 1920 (Private Family Collection)

There were a couple of postcards in the bottom of that old box, too. Here’s one from Chinook to “Anty” Annie in Tara Township…


1 Comment

Four Nickels

Thomas Patrick McMahon was born August 30, 1907, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the third of seven children to parents Thomas and Mary (Foley) McMahon. Tom was one of my grandma’s older brothers.

 

Grandma remembered the time she complained to Tom that she had a headache. He looked at her, sighed and shook his head gently. “No, Agnes, no,” he said quietly, “You need to have brains to get a headache. What you have is rheumatism of the skull.”

McMahon siblings on the farm – Grandma is in front with hair in her eyes, Tom on the right, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

Grandma said she could feel her eyes well up, but then Tom placed a hand on her shoulder and she immediately felt better. They had a good laugh. Tom was never mean-spirited, he just had a way with words. Tom was very bright and he enjoyed working on the farm with his dad. He was always a great help, as well as great company to his dad.

Tom on the farm outside Benson, Minnesota, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis from the farm in 1924. Life completely changed for the McMahons. They all eventually adapted to life in the city, finding their ways, except for Tom. He never quite fit in. There was no place for farmers in the city and treating telephone poles in the pole yard with his dad wasn’t quite the same as working on the farm with him. Tom started drinking, started missing work and eventually stopped coming home.

Mary McMahon and her son Tom, 1939 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

My grandma had a currency collection – buffalo head nickels, Barr dollars, drummer boy quarters, and “wheat pennies” – the penny minted in the US from 1909-1956 (see picture at left). I was at Grandma’s one day when I was about fifteen-years-old. I had found a couple of wheat pennies for Grandma to add to her collection.

As Grandma pulled the plastic bread bag of wheat-backed pennies from the drop-down desk, a small envelope fell to the floor. It was one of those tiny manilla envelopes, the kind a landlord might give you with the key to your new apartment.

“What’s this?” I asked Grandma as I bent to pick up the envelope. It looked old.

She took the envelope from my hand, pushed back the flap and poured the contents into her hand. “Four nickels. Twenty cents. This was what my brother Tom had in his pocket when they found his body. Four nickels. It was all he had in the world.” Grandma clasped the nickels in her hand and motioned for me to sit. Then she told me all about Tom, how smart and funny and kind he was and how that all disappeared when they moved to the city and he began drinking.

Tom died on September 5, 1949, or at least that’s when they found his body down by the Mississippi River. He drowned. No foul play, most likely slipped and fell, they said. Tom had no ID, no home, no possessions. The police knew who to call when they found him. They had picked Tom up many times over the years, and it was my grandpa who’d come pick him up. Tom would stay for a day or two – he could have stayed with Grandma forever – but then he’d move on. When my grandpa went to identify the body, the envelope was the only thing he came home with. It was all Tom had.

My grandma kept the envelope tucked up among her collection of bills and coins. I am sure it fell out from time to time and I can see her opening the flap and pouring the nickels into her hand as she did with me that day. My grandma was never one to dwell on the past, on the sadness of life, but I bet she allowed herself a moment to hold on to those coins and remember her brother Tom.


3 Comments

Gimme the Butter

A version of the following article first appeared in Irish Lives Remembered Genealogy Magazine (July 2013 issue).

Tom McMahon, 1895

Tom McMahon, 1895

“I’ve never heard that! Why didn’t grandma ever tell me that story?”

I have to admit, when my older sister Regan says this, as she does from time-to-time, I feel a tinge of satisfaction. Younger sisters will understand how years of childhood rivalry can spill over into adulthood and we briefly allow ourselves to revel in the tiniest of victories. A card game won, a promotion at work, or in my case, a story my grandma told me.

But, as the ever-modest younger sibling, I shrug and tell Regan it’s simple. She never heard the story because she never asked. I was constantly asking my grandma to tell me all about the “old days”, and a question like, “What was your dad like?” (and a few key follow-ups) often lead to an afternoon of unearthing memories and revealing truths. Like this…

Thomas Edward McMahon, my great-grandfather, was born on June 13, 1879, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the second child and eldest son of Francis and Catherine (McAndrew) McMahon. His father was a native of County Fermanagh and his mother was born in New York – her parents came from County Mayo in the 1850s.

1904

1904

My grandma was Agnes McMahon Regan, Tom’s youngest daughter. Grandma said her dad was warm and generous. His family and friends could depend on Tom to be there when they needed him. No one was better in a crisis. Grandma smiled when she said that in the end, her dad was at heart, a big kid. He loved to play with his children and his easy manner lead to lots of jokes and laughter. Tom enjoyed nothing more than sitting in his chair in the evening, surrounded by his family as his wife, Mary, read aloud from Treasure Island or Little Women or whatever novel the mobile library offered that month.

Tom wed Mary Foley on June 9, 1904, at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, Minnesota. The couple grew up a mile apart on farms in Tara Township and were childhood friends. Tom’s nickname was “Hoosie” and Mary was “Minnie”. They had seven children – four girls and three boys.

Grandma said her dad was so good-natured, he never raised his voice.

“Never?” I asked. A natural question.

“Well…there was one time…” And we’re off.

The family was at the table for dinner when my grandma (who was about four-years-old at the time) said to her dad, seated next to her, “Gimme the butter!”

Tom was startled by his daughter’s demand. “Pardon me?”

Grandma said it again, this time louder, since he obviously didn’t hear her, “GIMME THE BUTTER!”

Tom was taken aback. None of his children behaved so rudely, not even his spirited middle child, Rose. But he was especially surprised by the outburst from Agnes. Tom told her she could have the butter if she asked for it nicely.

Grandma thought about it for a moment and said, “Gimme the butter!”

Tom had heard enough. He stood up and ordered Agnes to leave the table immediately. Grandma stormed out of the kitchen and threw herself on the seat of the buggy outside. She cried like she had never cried before. A short time later, Tom came out to Grandma. He set her dinner on her lap and placed his arm around her shoulders. Grandma said she apologized profusely. Her dad brushed the black curls from her forehead and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “There, now, that’s the girl. You’re alright…”

The two of them sat on the buggy while Grandma ate her dinner. She still felt terrible, but she had learned her lesson. Looking back, Grandma thought her dad felt as bad as she did that he raised his voice. He never did it again. And Grandma learned some table manners.

More I learned about Tom McMahon…

1921

1921

According to Grandma, her dad was a true farmer. He loved everything about the process – preparing the soil, planting, growing crops, harvesting them, and sharing the fruits of his labor. Unfortunately, the 1910s and 1920s were tough on many farmers on the prairie of Western Minnesota. Tom tried to make a go of it several times. He sold the homestead and moved to rented land, farming until 1926 when he gave it up for the last time. The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis to begin life anew.

In the city, Tom worked at the pole yard, treating and preparing new telephone poles.  When he retired, a neighbor allowed Tom to use a nearby vacant lot for a garden. Tom returned to what he loved. He grew enough produce to trade with the local shop for groceries and feed his family and neighbors. He had never been happier.

Tom McMahon died on May 6, 1937. His wife, Mary, came home after a rare afternoon away from home to find him peacefully in his chair, rosary entwined in his fingers. A heart attack took him quickly.

Listening to Grandma’s memories of her loved ones brought them to life for me, and at the same time allowed me a glimpse at my grandma. I never had the privilege to meet my great-grandfather, but I feel like I know him. I was lucky to know my grandma. Now it’s my job to keep and share my grandma’s memories and her stories for the rest of the family. You just have to ask.

 

If you aren’t by nature as nosy as I am, these sites might help you think of what questions to ask…

 

 


6 Comments

A Grandpa’s 100th Birthday

Today is my grandpa John William Regan’s 100th birthday. He was born on a farm in Tara Township, near Clontarf, Minnesota on July 23, 1913. John was the only child of Neil and Annie Hill Regan. Neil was a first-generation Irish American and Annie came from Kill, County Kildare. He was baptized at St. Malachy Catholic Church on August 10th.

Grandpa had red curls. Annie kept his hair in long ringlets until Grandpa had ear surgery at age four and had his hair cut.

Neil, Annie, and John – 1915

John must have had fun helping his dad on the farm.

John also kept Annie company on the farm. Annie doted on her son – you can tell by his dapper outfit!

In 1921 the family of three moved off the farm and into the town of Clontarf. The eight-year-old John finally started school and Annie had John take violin lessons from a local musician.

At school, my grandpa became known as “Red” Regan because of his hair. Soon playing ball and running around with the other boys took precedence over violin practice. Grandpa had a life-long love for cars and began driving at a young age.

Grandpa graduated from Benson High School in 1933. He was a star on the football team. I guess that stands to reason since he was nearly twenty-years-old during his senior year!

After graduation, Grandpa worked behind the bar at Bruno Perrizo’s in Clontarf. Here he is in his apron with childhood pal Leo Molony.

My grandpa moved to Minneapolis in the late 1930s. He hit it off with Agnes McMahon over a game of cribbage at his friend (and Agnes’ cousin) John Foley’s place. John and Agnes were married in 1941.

It’s strange to think of my grandpa’s 100th birthday because he didn’t even live to see his 58th. He passed away the year before I was born, but I am lucky to have learned about my grandpa through the memories and stories my grandma, mother, my grandpa’s cousins, and old friends shared with me over the years. I missed out on something really special – he would have been a fantastic grandpa!