The Irish in America

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Wexford – The American Connection

Readers of this blog may be aware of President John F. Kennedy’s Dunganstown, County Wexford roots. President Kennedy went home to Wexford for a visit in 1963. But Wexford’s connection to America does not begin and end with Kennedy. The Father of the American Navy, Commodore John Barry was a Wexford native. A new book exploring these connections, and more, was recently published by the Wexford Borough Council. Please read the following press release for more information. Click here for a sample of the great photography in the book and to read the forward by the Mayor of Wexford, Councillor Jim Allen.

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Ireland Celebrates America’s Independence Day

Wouldn’t you know that even the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest held every year on the Fourth of July on New York’s Coney Island has an Irish connection?

Legend has it that on July 4, 1916 Irish immigrant James Mullan consumed 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes during a hot dog eating competition. The contest was set up by hot dog stand owner Nathan Handwerker when he witnessed four immigrant men arguing over who was the most American of the group.

How do you prove your American-ness? Naturally, eat the most hot dogs in a single sitting! At least this was Nathans’s solution – he didn’t want the disagreement to turn into a brawl and if they were busy eating hot dogs, they couldn’t fight.

Nathan was a genius. His effort at conflict resolution turned into one of the best marketing gimmicks ever. The contest is still going strong, nearly one-hundred years later. Read the full story here. In case you are wondering, Joey Chesnut won last year’s contest – 62 hot dogs in ten minutes. Only in America?

Thankfully we don’t need to gorge ourselves with hot dogs to prove our patriotism or to celebrate the Fourth of July. The McCormack family has typically taken a low-key approach to the holiday – usually just fireworks by the Mississippi and burgers on the grill – nothing too extravagant.

I think that is why I am so impressed by the Fourth of July festivities planned by the folks in Wexford and Limerick this year. Wexford’s Irish America Day features a parade, Mark Twain readings, a performance by comedian Des Bishop, American-style BBQ, fireworks, and much, much more.

The Prom Night being held July 2nd at the Brandon House Hotel and Spa is especially creative. They are even crowning an Prom King and Prom Queen. This is a trip down memory lane for anyone who attended high school in the USA. There will also be the posthumous induction of Liam Clancy to the Irish American Hall of Fame at the Dunbrody Emigration Centre on Wednesday. Visit the Irish America Day website for the full schedule of events!

It is the inaugural year for the 4th of July Limerick celebration as well. Limerick has an entire slate of events stretching out to the weekend following the Fourth (I know a lot of Americans who are also stretching the holiday out!) A couple of the events that look particularly interesting are the Hip Hop Festival (all weekend) and the Cookie Making demonstration on Saturday.

It looks like Dolan’s is the place to be for music with Brian McCann singing Billy Joel favorites on Wednesday, the Hot 8 Brass Band on Thursday, and the Last Waltz Tribute on Saturday. Limerick restaurants, bars, hotels, and retailers will also run special offers through the weekend. Don’t forget the Treasure Hunt on Sunday. I had a sneak peek at the questions and it is a fantastic hunt!

To top it all off, there will be fireworks over the Shannon on Sunday night. Click here for the complete list of events. I suspect there will be plenty of oooohs and aaaahs in both Wexford and Limerick over the Fourth of July.

If you are an American in Ireland, how fun to experience the Irish take on the American holiday. And if you are Irish, try to make it to either Wexford or Limerick next week to experience something a little different. The Fourth of July is the perfect time to think about your family and friends who have emigrated over the years and became Americans themselves. Plus, who doesn’t like to celebrate gaining independence from the British?

Where ever you are this Fourth of July, I hope you have a wonderful time. Enjoy!

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Wexford: Maps, Oral Histories, and an American President

In addition to the usual information on household and water charges there are a couple of surprises on the Wexford County Council website (they also tweet – check out the latest info here.)

Click on the Interactive Maps link to see a list of maps for nearly every aspect of life in County Wexford – great for visitors and locals alike. Looking for a beach? There are over thirty on this map. Or perhaps a day at a museum is more your style, or even a round of golf. These maps have you covered. Hopefully you will not require medical attention, but if you do, a map of local hospitals is right here.

I love the map of Wexford area attractions. All of the sites I mentioned last time are included, plus a few more. An easy tool for planning a visit to County Wexford!

In the Library section of the County Council’s website, you will find the Oral History Project, complete with podcasts of 130 interviews conducted with residents of County Wexford. The project provides anyone, anywhere the opportunity to listen to Wexford residents tell their stories:

Since 2008, over 130 have been interviewed. The recordings are available here as podcasts and on cd for borrowing from all branch and mobile libraries.Wexford people here are witnesses to and practitioners of aspects of local life which are disappearing fast.Hear about school and childhood, work, trades and crafts, fairs and festivals, shopping and lots more.

If you trace your roots to County Wexford, you may just find a cousin on the alphabetical list of interviews. Select a name from the list and a photograph and a short biography are displayed. It is also possible to browse the interviews by region and townland – another way to learn something new about life in your ancestor’s Ireland.

There were no interviews from Dunganstown, the site of the John F. Kennedy Homestead. Dunganstown is the birthplace of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick, who emigrated to America in 1849. President Kennedy returned to the small cottage during his 1963 tour of Ireland. This is the speech President Kennedy delivered in Wexford:

It would be interesting to learn if anyone mentioned JFK’s 1963 visit in the Wexford interviews…

It looks like the homestead is closed until 2013 while a modern visitor’s center is built. It will be ready just in time to mark the fifty-year anniversary of Kennedy’s visit. The JFK Park and Arboretum, a beautiful place to visit, is also located in Wexford (it’s on the map!)

President Kennedy’s Irish roots spread across Ireland beyond County Wexford  – his maternal Fitzgerald great-grandfather came from County Limerick. Click here to read more about President Kennedy’s Irish connections.

This is a great video of President Kennedy in Galway and Limerick in 1963. Enjoy!


Wexford Celebrates Ties to America

The folks in New Ross, County Wexford are going all-out this Fourth of July with an Irish America Day celebration. Tons of activities are planned: re-enactments of the Boston Tea Party at the Dunbrody Famine Ship, an American-style BBQ, a performance by comedian Des Bishop, and much more. Visit the official Irish America Day website and follow them on Twitter for all the latest information. Sheila Langan from Irish America Magazine highlights the festivities here. Judging from the slate of events, Irish America Day looks better than most Fourth of July celebrations in the States! One thing…will there be fireworks?

That Wexford is pulling out the stops for a Fourth of July celebration should come as no surprise. The county does a great job of embracing its ties to America and honoring emigrants, both past and present.

The website for the Dunbrody Famine Ship is a fine example of Wexford’s commitment to preserving the memory of Ireland’s emigrants. There is the ship itself – a replica of the original three-masted cargo ship commissioned by the Graves family of New Ross. The ship was intended to transport timber, cotton, and other goods from North America, but from 1845 to 1851 the ship also carried thousands of Irish escaping the Famine on each outbound journey to Canada and the United States. The ship provides a concrete reminder of what our ancestors endured.

Many of the passengers aboard the Dunbrody were tenants evicted from Lord Fitzwilliam’s estates in County Wicklow, as well as tenants evicted from Viscount de Vesci’s Portlaoise estates. Click here to learn more about the Fitzwilliam Emigration Books available online from the New Brunswick Archive in Canada. So, when you locate the name of your ancestor in the list of tenants evicted from Lord Fitzwilliam’s estates and then visit the Dunbrody Famine Ship, you will come closer to understanding your ancestor’s experience more than one-hundred-fifty years ago. That is pretty amazing.

Also included on is an Irish Emigration Database which allows you to search thousands of passenger lists, an opportunity to add an ancestor’s name to the Irish Emigrant Wall of Honor, and information on how to Sponsor a Tree in Ireland.

Turning our attention to present-day emigrants, the Spring 2012 issue of Wexford Worldwide has a great profile on expat John Murphy, a native of Ramsgrange, New Ross Wexford and current resident of Manhattan. Mr. Murphy is the Director and Legal Counsel at UBS Investment Bank. He shares memories of growing up in Wexford, what he misses most, Wexford sightseeing tips, and even his favorite beach.

The Wexford Worldwide newsletter provides a way for Wexford natives to keep in touch with the happenings of their home county – a sort of digital letter from home. It is a terrific effort by Wexford to reach out and keep the diaspora close. Events for the entire year are listed, and coming up later this month is Wexford Day, a celebration of the county’s rich heritage:

Top of the list is a relative newcomer to the calendar – Wexford Day. Sunday, 24 June 2012 will see attractions and tourist sites open for free for visitors and locals to enjoy right throughout the county. Locals and visitors to the county are encouraged to wear Wexford’s county colours while enjoying free access to the gems of Wexford town and county.

The list of Wexford attractions open, free of charge on June 24th is quite impressive: the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross;Duncannon Fort; Europe’s oldest working lighthouse at Hook Heritage; The Irish Agriculture Museum at the 19th centuryJohnstown Castle; the Irish National Heritage Park and its 35-acre heritage trail; the National 1798 Centre at Enniscorthy; and the immaculately refurbished Enniscorthy Castle. A great day to get out and see Wexford!

If you are unable to attend this year, Wexford natives and those who trace their roots to the area are reminded in the newsletter to mark their calendars for Wexford Day 2013 – this would be a great time to visit Wexford as part of the larger Gathering Ireland 2013, a country-wide initiative to welcome visitors to Ireland.

If you are planning a trip to Wexford, why not stay at the gorgeous Dunbrody Country House Hotel? From the Dunbrody House website:

Located on the dramatic Hook Peninsula and set in 200 acres of beautiful parkland, Dunbrody Country House is an enchanting and intimate 1830s Georgian manor.  Ancestral home to the Chichester Family, the house has a long and well-established tradition of hospitality.  A warm reception awaits you here at Dunbrody, an oasis of tranquility where you can escape to crackling turf fires, fresh flowers, romantic walks, explore our kitchen and herb gardens or maybe just feed the chickens or visit our pot-bellied pig Delago…

Sounds perfect to me. Follow Dunbrody House on Twitter – that is how I learned about it!

Next time we will take a look at one of the most famous Americans whose ancestry is traced to Wexford (care to guess…leave a comment!) and we will see what the Archive and Library of Wexford County Council have to offer.


The Famine: Views from Ireland and Abroad

“The Coffin trade is the most flourishing one at present here.”

This quote appeared in the January 8, 1847 edition of the Cork Examiner.  Steve Taylor of Vassar College has compiled a fascinating collection of newspapers, illustrations, and other items from Irish and British sources pertaining to the Great Famine.  The collection, Views of the Famine, is available online and provides a glimpse into how the press was reporting the crisis, and what people were doing (or not doing) to cope with the disaster.

"The causes of emigration in Ireland." 13 January 1849 (from Views of the Famine)

The collection includes excerpts from the Cork Examiner during 1846-47.  The weekly reports of death by starvation and disease and a pervasive sense of hopelessness can be difficult to read.  Entire families perished, their lifeless bodies found on the dirt floors of make-shift huts, post-mortem exams showing not even a trace of food in their stomachs and intestines.  Columns reporting over-capacity in the workhouses appear alongside advertisements for steerage passage to North America costing more than most Irish could ever afford.

On September 1, 1847, a column Emigrant Disasters ran in the Cork Examiner.  The column explains why the journeys of emigrants bound for the United States were more “successful” than those destined for Canada.  The major difference was the ships used to transport emigrants to Canada were timber ships, vessels utterly unsuitable for passengers.  The Examiner explains: “…less attention to be paid to their [ship’s] sea-worthiness, since they are laden half the way with what can’t sink, and the other with a freight, which is thought no loss if it do.”

The passage to Canada (British America) was cheaper and the preferred route for much of the “assisted emigration” that took place during the Famine years.  Owners of the large estates in Ireland who favored a more “humane” method of getting rid of tenants, chose to send them to Canada rather than merely evict them from the land.

The destination for many of these emigrant ships was New Brunswick, Canada.  The New Brunswick Archive offers a collection of online databases pertaining to the Irish who came to Canada.  Specifically, there are some useful resources related to assisted emigration.

The Fitzwilliam Estate Emigration Books 1848-1856 lists the tenants evicted from the Coolattin estate of Lord Fitzwilliam in County Wicklow, Ireland.  The archive provides an informative introduction, a narrative by Jim Rees providing context, a finding aid, and a transcript, complete with genealogical information.  Quite an interesting and useful tool.

The New Brunswick Archive also has a collection of letters, transcribed and available online.  I will address some of these letters in my next post, but I would like to turn your attention to a group of letters, Letters from Irish Emigrants and others, put in by Sir Robert Gore Booth Bart: [1846-1849].  Click here and scroll to the last group to read these letters.  Sir Robert owned an estate in Sligo.  These letters speak to the conditions and challenges faced by the Irish in the New World.

For more information on the Famine Irish in New Brunswick, read this essay by Dr. Stewart Donovan of St. Thomas University, In the Wake of Dark Passage: Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick.

Just a couple more examples of the resources available online to help us better understand the Irish experience in America (and Canada, too!)


Views of the Famine

New Brunswick Irish Portal

Irish Canadian Cultural Association