The Irish in America


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Riding the Rails

So pleased to welcome Ellie Kelly as a contributor to The Irish in America. Before we get to her delightful piece in which a subway ride in Toronto triggers memories of riding shot-gun with her dad on another subway, in Boston, Ellie takes a moment to introduce herself. I like what Ellie has to say about her Irish heritage and identity. It is not always about knowing the entire family tree by heart or singing sentimental Irish ballads. For many of us, being Irish American is just a way of life, growing up surrounded by “the lilting laughing Irish voices”. I look forward to learning more about Ellie and her thoughts on being Irish in America!

Meet Ellie

I am a first generation American. My mother, Joan Teahan, came to this country in November, 1947, with her sister, Maureen. Their first day in New York City included the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, which is described in Maureen’s blog, along with various other adventures they had with their sisters growing up. I truly enjoyed my Aunt Maureen’s blog over the years. My father’s parents also came from Ireland, so the lilting laughing Irish voices were such a part of my entire childhood. Funny how as I have moved all over the country, I often get homesick for that very sound.

Most people know I am Irish by looking at me, as I have the usual white skin, freckles and blond hair. I love my Irish heritage and yet I have not fully embraced it. I see myself as a proud American coming from immigrants seeking a better life. I am honored to have been asked to blog for the Irish in America, and yet I feel almost like a fraud in many ways. My siblings know so much more Irish history than I do, are so much more involved in everything Irish, while I am not. I feel I disappoint them at times when they mention names and dates that are meaningful to the Irish and I stare blankly. I cannot figure out who is related to who in my extended family as I moved away years ago and lost touch with so many. I am fully assimilated….and so in some ways I guess I maybe do represent some of the Irish in America. I plan to write from the heart about my life and times and hope that the stories reach people and touch a heart here and there.

I currently live in Fort Myers, Florida with my wife, Terri, and I am a few years from retirement and I travel from home to various locations weekly for work projects.

From 2011 riding the subway again after over 30 years away

So here I am working in Toronto 4 days a week and happy that spring is arriving. Instead of a daily drive commute from home, I now use airplanes, taxis and the subway to get to work. The subway is now a regular part of my life – and for so many years I have not been in a city with a subway. As a child being raised in Boston, Massachusetts, the world revolved around using the subway to get from point A to point B. I grew up riding the Boston subway – but not like most people rode it. No, I rode in the next best spot in the car – the driver had the best – but I stood right beside the driver 99% of the time I rode. How did I manage that? My dad was the driver. In fact, the Boston subway was a part of my family, with Poppa joining the Boston street car union in 1916. He was known as “Sandwich Kelly” as every day his wife would meet his street car at the end of their street and hand his lunch through the window to him. My father followed in his footsteps and then the Boston transit system went from a Sunday dinner discussion event at Nana’s house to a daily over dinner discussion at our own dinner table. My brother made it a multi-generational affair by also joining the “T”.

Countless times I would ride with my dad, simply for the pleasure of it. He would pick me up at the top of our street (back when the street cars ran instead of the buses) and I would travel one or more loops through town with him. He would always teach me something about the subway on our rides. It wasn’t until now that I realized how much I learned about the subway, and how much I loved those rides. Back then, I learned the signal-light patterns in the tunnels. I remember where the secret doors in the walls were. Heck, I even knew where every cross-track was, and could prepare myself for the accompanying sway, and was ready for the exact moment that the car wheels would begin screeching as it rounded that Boylston Street curve. Outside of the tunnels, back in the car barn, I learned how to reseat the wire on top of the car if it came off the line. How to open the closed car door from the outside. Once, I even drove a street car around the yard one time – that was a thrill! Most of all, I just loved riding those rails with him at my side. Many times as a child I also had the privilege of riding in the same spot with my Dad’s friends when I boarded the car by myself, something a child could safely do in the 60’s in Boston. I had extended “T” family all over the city.

Today, I found myself migrating to the front of the Toronto train, standing again at the front, looking out, right beside the driver’s booth. There was a familiarity about looking ahead into the dark, feeling the car grab as it crossed another line, adjusting to the sway, and watching those familiar (even though I was in a foreign city) gray walls with the power lines running along them. It was a warm, welcoming feeling. There are many things in life to be thankful to a parent for, and most people remember the bigger things in life when remembering their own father. I have those memories, too. But this small piece of comfort, when I am so far away from my own home, is what stands out for me today. My dad was not the person in the driver’s seat today – he was standing right beside me enjoying the ride……and I will be in that same spot tomorrow morning, too.

 

Thanks, Ellie! Couldn’t help but think of this song…

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Remembering Maureen

For nearly four years, Maureen shared her memories of growing up in Ireland with the readers of The Irish in America. When Maureen’s daughter, Mary, contacted me just before Thanksgiving 2012, I immediately fell in love with Maureen’s story and eagerly awaited each new, beautifully written vignette. Maureen’s life is one which people with Irish heritage can relate to, whether their mother came from Ireland or the connection goes back several generations.

Thank you to Mary and Will for being so generous with their mother’s words. They are treasures. The following is a lovely tribute to Maureen written by her son, Will Murray.

 

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan & Patrick Murray Wedding with Norman Dooley and Dolly Teahan Johnson, 1952. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

 

 

Maureen Murray, author of the popular “Maureen’s Memories” memoirs, passed away peacefully in her sleep on August 19, 2016. She departed this earth exactly the way she wished to, in the comfort of her own home, which she shared with her son and daughter.

Maureen was born Mary Angela Teahan on September 3, 1928 in Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. The oldest of four sisters and two brothers, she experienced a number of health issues growing up, These were so severe that her doctor told the family that she was unlikely to live long enough to bear children.

Despite this dire prediction, Maureen survived childhood, coming to the United States in November 1947 in time to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. She was accompanied by her younger sister Joan. Her other sisters followed in short order. All four were sponsored by their uncle, Daniel O’Meara.

Moving to Massachusetts, she worked in the mill town of Lawrence, and eventually met her future husband, Patrick M. Murray. They were wed in 1952. Three children resulted: William, Daniel and Mary Ellen.

Settling in Boston, Maureen lived in Brighton, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. The family later relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts.

Over her lifetime, Maureen accumulated numerous friends and was a comfort and wise counsel to family and acquaintances alike. She loved to read and read widely. Calls coming to her home meant for other family members were often intercepted, and Maureen always captivated the caller. She made friends with several celebrities this way, all of whom were charmed by her Irish lilt and caring personality.

She made friends easily. Once, while walking her dog, Maureen encountered a gentleman of her generation, also walking his dog. When she asked if the individual was retired, the man laughed and said, “From bank robbing.” Perhaps attracted by her Irish accent the “retired” robber from South Boston took a shine to her.

Once when he boasted of roughing up his then girlfriend, Maureen admonished him by saying, “If you ever do that again, I’ll break your arm!”

That was probably the only time the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger ever took such backtalk from anyone without reprisal. They remained friends for several years, discovering that they shared the same birthday, although the unlikely friends were born a year apart.

Maureen returned to Ireland only once, in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the planned two-week stay was cut short when the smoky environment created by peat fires triggered an asthma attack, forcing Maureen to fly home on an emergency basis, and was briefly hospitalized. She brought home with her an old cast-iron cooking pot salvaged from the family homestead, a rusting relic of her rustic youth.

Although Maureen experienced health struggles throughout her life, she remained determined and optimistic. She rarely complained when the loss of her mobility put her in a wheelchair in 2009. Unfortunately, on going vision problems gradually diminished her sight, robbing Maureen of her main pleasure in life, which was reading.

The loss of her vision in March, 2015 proved to be a turning point and subsequent operations tested her optimism. But she remained outwardly positive, and if she ever complained, no one seems to recall it. She remained strong, determined and clear of mind to the very end. Maureen died just two weeks before she would have celebrated her 88th birthday on September 3, a testimony to her indomitable Irish-America spirit.

It was during this period of diminishing vision that Maureen decided to originate the “Maureen’s Memories” series. These were dictated to her daughter and edited by her son. But the words were all hers. Her final installment was posted a week before she expired.

Maureen is survived by a son, William, her daughter, Mary Ellen, and two brothers, Donal of Ireland and John of London. Sadly, yet ironically, she outlived almost all of her generation of friends and relatives who looked to her for inspiration over the course of a very long life.

 

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Maureen Teahan Murray, 1953. Photo: Mary Power/Will Murray.

Thanks again to Mary and Will for bringing us Maureen’s Memories and always know if you want to share more of Maureen’s stories – or your own – they are most welcome at The Irish in America.  

To read all “Maureen’s Memories” click the links below:

A few more posts about Maureen…


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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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Meet Maureen (Part II)

Commodore Hotel

Commodore Hotel

After a week at sea, Maureen and Joan Teahan arrived in New York City on November 26, 1947. Uncle Dan O’Meara met the girls and helped ease their transition to American life. Uncle Dan, once an immigrant himself, knew it was important that his nieces look like Americans. Their first stop was Fifth Avenue for some new outfits – click here to read Part I of Meet Maureen. Uncle Dan also wanted them to be safe, and knowing they never would have even thought of it he instructed: “Be sure to lock your hotel room door.” That room was a the Commodore Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, right next to Grand Central Station.

I asked Maureen if the decision to emigrate was a difficult one. She had this to say:

Yes, at the beginning it was for me but I recall my sister, Joan, was excited about immigrating. She was bragging to her friends and one of them told her that she would be immigrating to London, England in time for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth II to Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark – which she thought was the “next best thing”. Since we were still grieving the loss of my mother (February 1947) I didn’t think I could pull myself together to take such a big step but I didn’t want Joan to go alone, so I quickly changed my mind.

Remember Joan from Maureen’s story, The Infant’s Class Uprising? I can understand Maureen wanting to keep an eye on her younger sister in America! I imagine Joan not being too impressed by her friend’s emigration to England – royal wedding or not. Joan was ready for something bigger in America. Click here to read The Infant’s Class Uprising.

I wondered if Maureen expected to stay in the United States, or if she considered the move a temporary arrangement. Maureen said:

I realized immediately I’d be leaving for good. Being so young I was living in the day. Once I arrived I adjusted right away and found it very exciting living here. Uncle Dan and Jack were very good to us and we made good friends (still to this day) which was immensely helpful.

Maureen stayed in New York for a couple of days before making her way to Lawrence, Massachusetts – the home of her Uncles Jack and Dan and where Maureen would begin her new life in America.


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Meet Maureen (Part I)

Maureen in 1953

Maureen in 1953

I think we have all enjoyed Maureen’s stories on the blog over the past several months. Her memories of growing up in Miltown, County Kerry in the 1930s and 1940s speak to an Ireland still remembered by many, but which – for good and bad – has all but disappeared. Click here, herehere, here, here, and here to read Maureen’s stories.  Based on her delightful stories and insightful recollections, I knew I had to learn more about Maureen.

So I asked Maureen and her daughter, Mary, if I could interview Maureen about her immigration and her transition to life in the United States, for the blog. What does it mean to Maureen to be Irish American? They agreed, and Mary suggested I call the post Meet Maureen. Perfect!

When I received Maureen’s responses to my initial questions, I realized that Meet Maureen required not just a single post but a series. So here goes…presenting Part I of Meet Maureen! Maureen’s responses appear in italics. My first question: “Why did you decide to come to the United States?”

We were invited to immigrate to the States by our uncles, Jack and Dan O’Meara. Both sponsored my sister Joan and me. They had to prove they had employment and assets and they said they would be able to get us employment once here. Uncle Jack had victory Bonds – it’s notarized in the attached document. (see below)

John_O'Meara_Bonds_26_Apr_1947_1

Notarized letter from Uncle John O’Meara regarding bonds he owned. (Maureen Teahan Murray Collection)

If we hadn’t come here we might have gone to England. Our friends Maura,Therese, Christine and her sister Margaret, emigrated there for nurses training in hospitals during World War II. London was constantly being bombed but the hospital never took a direct hit. Training was free but times were tough with food and other rationing. They were paid a little and they did live at the hospitals. But I never considered becoming a LPN.

Not sure how Mary ever found this list - both girls' names are altered!

Not sure how Mary ever found this on Ancestry.com with the misspelling. Maureen and Joan are on lines 14 &15.

We were the first to leave Milltown after the “Emergency”. Coming over on a converted troop ship, “The Marine Jumper”. We were “the talk of the town”. We had been booked for a February passage but suddenly there were two cancellations in November. Our passport visas were already issued by the American Embassy the month before when we took a train trip to Dublin. Our new clothes were also purchased in Tralee a month earlier since uncle Dan sent us money for expenses. We had to be re-vaccinated by Dr. Sheahan in Glen Ellen, Kerry and Counihand Travel Agency , Killarney made our arrangements. We packed quickly and said our good-byes. This happened over a two-day period so we had little time to be nervous.

Just like millions of Irish who emigrated before them, Maureen and Joan left from Cobh. In a few short years, immigrants would begin to come to the United States by airplane. The method of transportation was changing but some things remain constant, like the waves of Irish immigration to America with Uncles and Aunts sponsoring Nieces and Nephews in their new lives. Of course, I had a few follow-up questions for Maureen. I was curious about what sort of new clothes they purchased to pack:

We didn’t bring much because we would be buying the latest fashions in New York. Uncle Dan took us shopping on 5th Avenue when we arrived and he thought it was important we looked like Americans. We dressed almost alike with beautiful blue, long-sleeved dresses and grey military-style coats with brass buttons and stylish hats and leather gloves with new shoes. I remember those were the outfits we wore to view Macy’s Parade. Despite all that we were still freezing! We have no idea what uncle Dan paid for all the clothes but he was a bachelor and said not to worry about the cost.

Every girl should have an Uncle Dan! Click here to read about Maureen’s first days in New York City. Maureen and Joan had an auspicious welcome to America!

We will continue with Maureen’s story next time. And by the way, Maureen has a special birthday coming up on Wednesday. Feel free to leave birthday wishes in the comments…I will be sure she sees them!


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Maureen’s Memories: Fair Day in Milltown

As Maureen remembers the excitement of fair day in Milltown, she introduces us to a few more of the Milltown villagers, and provides another peek at Ireland in the 1930-40s

Fair Day in Milltown

When we were children, fair day was always an exciting event. Early Saturday morning the farmers drove their animals to town to be sold on the streets. Our front door was bolted securely lest a younger child should wander out. We took our places at the front window, elbowing each other for a better view. As we watched the buyers (cattle jobbers they were called), some wearing plus fours—a certain type of trousers (knickerbockers) that were a sure sign of affluence. At first, it appeared that nothing would ever happen. Would any sale take place, we wondered? Finally, a flurry of action from the out-of-town jobbers. A great deal of haggling, followed by the hand stroke that meant a deal was struck! It wasn’t a handshake as we know it; one man offered his hand held palm-out, parallel to the ground. The other met it in an upward/downward chopping motion. An actual slapping sound could be heard. There was no written contract; none was needed in a time when a man’s word was his bond.

Among all the men stood one lone woman, Miss Emma. She was an old, grey-haired lady walking with a cane. Although she was about 70 years of age, she did not seem out of place to us young children, selling her few head of cattle at the temporary mart. Fair day was the rare time when her beloved dog, Laddie, wasn’t at her side. Emma Eager of Ivy Lodge—a quaint, old two-story house with an orchard and beautiful, lush garden–sold the flowers for funerals to make ends meet. She may have also supplied some of the lovely white lilies that always adorned our Church of the Sacred Heart. It’s said Miss Emma and her sister, Miss Millicent (a retired nurse) inherited the Lodge when their brother was disowned for marrying a Catholic. Their Aunt, Nano Eager, was the first wife of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, born 1831 Rosscarbery, Co. Cork. He was the famous “Fenian” of the (IRB) Irish Republican Brotherhood.

As the pace picked up and all the sales were concluded, the cattle were driven off. Our door was opened and the streets were ours once again. Somehow Main and Church streets were washed down of all signs of what had just transpired. Later, modernity came to Milltown; they tore down Ivy Lodge with a wrecking ball and put the cattle mart in its place. Now, no child will experience the simple pleasure that we did gazing out our window at the fair some eighty years ago!

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.

 

For more of Maureen’s Memories…

Click here for Nono Goes to the Circus

Click here for An Orange for Baby Jesus

Click here to read about Maureen’s first days in America