The Irish in America


A Time to Remember Irish American War Heroes

MemorialDayNext Monday, May 27th, is Memorial Day in the United States. Memorial Day occurs on the last Monday in May each year, and while the long weekend has come to signal the kick-off to summer, traditionally it is a day set aside to remember those members of the Armed Forces whom have died in service to the United States.

For many Americans, the meaning of Memorial Day has broadened to include remembrance of all deceased loved ones – those who served in the military and not. In my book, Memorial Day is a perfect holiday – we get together with family and friends to celebrated the beginning of summer, while keeping in mind those who have gone before us.

When Irish people contact us for help learning more about their relatives who came to America, so often they mention the relatives military service. They say with a sense of pride that their grand-uncle served in World War II after emigration. One woman from Galway shared with me how her family would say an extra rosary at night for “the boys in the war” – American cousins she had never met – during the Korean War in the 1950s.

The Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan makes a special effort to remember the contributions of Irish emigrants to their adopted homelands, and they pay tribute to Ballinroad, County Waterford native John Mansfield. John Mansfield (1906-1965) emigrated to America in 1927 and served in World War II. An exhibit case at the museum contains Mansfield’s medals and honors, photographs, and a biography outlining his service. Read about John Mansfield on the museum’s blog here.

An account of Mansfield’s 4th Armored Division on indicates that the division trained in England for six months before landing on Utah Beach in Normandy on July 11, 1944. I wonder what it felt like for John to be so close to home?

Since John Mansfield’s medals made their way to County Waterford, it’s probably safe to say he had no children or “next of kin” in the United States. There may be no one left today to remember his service and sacrifice, so I plan to keep him in my thoughts this weekend.

Click here to view a photo of John and Bridget (Power) Mansfield, John’s parents. Waterford County Museum Image Archive has a fully searchable database of all the fabulous photographs in the collection. Plus, if you see something you like, you can buy it for your own collection!



A Candle for Louie

Waterford's Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Waterford’s Gold Coast (photo Regan McCormack)

Regan and I looked forward to our visit to County Waterford last September. On previous trips to Ireland we had visited Lismore and Ardmore in Waterford, but didn’t tour the rest of the county. Our real introduction to Waterford came during the past year, through the entertaining tweets from Dungarvan’s Waterford County Museum. The museum shares beautiful photographs and historical items from their collection on Twitter. Regan and I were eager to see Dungarvan and the museum in person, as well as explore more of County Waterford.

But when we arrived in Dungarvan, the sightseeing would have to wait. Regan and I had to attend to some business.

Our dad’s good friend Lou Bader passed away on June 27, 2012. Louie and Dad played a lot of golf together, which probably says it all about their relationship. Louie shared my dad’s competitive streak and sense of humor, as well as his love for a few hours spent on the golf course. But there was something else the two men shared.

About fifteen years ago, my dad began to explore his family history. He traced his roots back to Ballyedmond, County Laois, and found cousins living on the farm his grandfather left in the late 1880s. Louie had also been researching his family tree and had learned about his Irish grandfather through his mother’s stories.

Dungarvan (2)

Dungarvan Street (photo by Regan McCormack)

I wish I could say that Louie and my dad discovered they shared a grandfather –  that would make a great story! No, Louie and my dad only shared similar questions about their  family history and the wish to find out where they came from. Both men  researched their family trees, traveled to their grandfathers’ birthplaces in Ireland, and made lasting connections with their Irish cousins. Several trips followed for Louie, my dad, and their families.

In light of our autumn trip to Ireland, Dad asked Regan and I to do him a favor and deliver Louie’s memorial card to his cousin in Dungarvan. This was an “old-school” request and my dad’s directions (“Stop in at the cleaners in town and ask for Anne-Marie”) only added to the feeling that we were characters in a Victorian novel. But of course, anything for Louie. He was a good man and a great friend to my dad.

Louie’s maternal grandfather, Matthew O’Rourke, was born in 1869, the youngest son of Patrick and Margaret. The O’Rourke family lived in the townland of Carrigcastle, near the village of Ballylaneen, about five miles from Dungarvan, County Waterford. In her delightful memoir, Love and Oatmeal (2006), Louie’s mother, Madeline O’Rourke Bader, lovingly recounts when she would ask her father why he left Ireland and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. A smile came over his face when he told her his sister-in-law encouraged him to go to America. Madeline writes in the memoir:

The way he smiled when he said that, though, always made me think there was something more to the story. A few years ago when I visited Ireland for the first time and saw how beautiful the land he left behind is, I understood a little better that his smile must have covered up a lot of pain and longing. (Love and Oatmeal, p.4)

Anne-Marie wasn’t in at the cleaners, but Mary told us how sad they all were when they heard of Louie’s passing this summer. She said how much they enjoyed his frequent telephone calls (just to check in with his Irish cousins), as well as his visits to Dungarvan. In a few short years Louie had made an impact on his Irish relatives. They really missed him.

Regan and I decided we needed to do something special for Louie, so we found the little church in Ballylaneen where his grandfather was baptized, lit a candle and said a prayer. We thought of Louie and all the O’Rourkes – the ones who stayed in Ireland, those who emigrated, and the few who made it back.

St. Anne's Church - Ballylaneen, Waterford

St. Anne’s Church – Ballylaneen, Waterford (photo Regan McCormack)

For more information about Dungarvan and Waterford County history, please visit Waterford County Museum. Click here to read about the new Dungarvan guide book.