Archive for the ‘Irish American’ Category

My cousin’s wife lost her grandmother the other day. She was, as they say, a good age. Ninety four.

But still. When I read it my eyes filled up.

With all the nastiness in the world that I could cry about this is the thing that finally gets me. Although I only teared up. No fits or anything. I’m just saying.

Grandmothers are special.

My paternal grandparents lived in Ireland (and I did not) so I never really knew them. There wasn’t the money to go back and forth. My maternal grandparents were also from Ireland but lived in the U.S. so I knew them very well.

I was close to my grandmother. I am her namesake.

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She was a gorgeous woman. With auburn hair and green eyes. And a lovely peaches and cream complexion as a young woman according to her cousin Tom Creaney.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Not exactly sure why she keeps creeping into my thoughts. But I have some clues.

We bought that new house in Rhode Island during the winter so I still really have no idea what the landscaping will look like in the spring. But I did ask the previous owner if they planted lilacs. She said that there were some bushes in the backyard.

Yay! I love purple lilacs. We had them when I was growing up. So it’s a part of the grand scheme.

It made me remember my Nana. She was allergic to them. And there was a bush right outside her kitchen window. Where she sat a good portion of the day. Doing her puzzles, scanning the newspaper, reading letters, cutting out photos with “The Fonz” or “Donny Osmond” for me and eating her meals.

She did not own the house so she suffered instead of requesting the bush be removed.

Wish I could sit and commiserate with her until the allergy season passed.

I now walk every day in Delhi parks. I goof around on the gym equipment that the Lion’s Club has generously provided.

One day, I see a lady who looks like an expat. Maybe I will strike up a conversation. See what we have in common.

Ummm. She’s got banana curls. I cannot remember the last time I saw anyone with banana curls.

My first thought? Friendship might be a tad difficult if she is on the high maintenance side. That’s totally not my thing. I’m thinking banana curls take a bit o’ time.

I envision, “Hey, want to grab a coffee or a drink?”

Response, “Sure! In four to six hours. Gotta curl my hair!”

Okay, totally being unfair to this woman. Plus I am sure they’ve perfected that banana curl look with a simple tool.

Nancy, my Canadian friend said, “You never know!”

But it made me think of my grandmother once again.

I, too, had banana curls. My mom has the photos to prove it. Pictures documenting the before, during and after. I’d share but they are at Mom’s house. In a different country. Plus I was probably in second grade so a bit toothless. Not a good look. Makes me seem a bit off in the photos.

In the “during” photos I am seated at my grandmother’s knees. She is setting/weaving my hair with rags. Once a cotton pillow case but torn into strips that wrapped up my hair.

Wish I could sit at her knee now.

My husband and I would always invite her to join us. Even for a drive. She would say, “No thanks, you kids go on.”

I think the last time she said “Yes” was a trip to La Salette Shrine during the Christmas season. A place where there are tons of Christmas lights. That was many years ago.

Wish I could take her for a drive.

My brothers and I were reminiscing recently and talking about her. My little brother got in trouble with my Dad one day. After Nana had been babysitting us. Nothing to do with Nana. LOL. She just came up in the memory hashing.

Wish she was here to validate the childhood memories.

Anyway, she’s obviously been on my mind.

A grandmother is truly a special gift. If you still have one give her a call. Take her out. Cherish her.

You will never regret the time spent and I can pretty much guarantee that you will always miss her once she is gone.

 

 

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When I visit Rhode Island it’s usually for the summer and a haircut/coloring always ends up being a thing. To be honest the thing is actually coloring more than the cut.

I always call the East Side stylist, M., who I’ve known for more than thirty years. I’ll just call her M. since I view going to a trusted salon and swapping life experiences as sort of a sacred thing. Like bookclub.

Anyway, my husband found her when he was a college student. When we married I hopped on board.

So we go way back. Probably still have the present M. sent when my first daughter was born.

M. always fits me in during my summer holidays.

Rhode Island is a small place. My father knew her parents from the Irish circles. We knew some of the same people.

Every time I visit she’s got a mixed bag of clients.

I could meet an older woman going on a trip to Syria or a woman who says my cousin Francis roomed with her husband. Back in the day.

Love it. Usually fun and light hearted. M. and I discuss books, restaurants, travel destinations, politics and family.

This summer day was also about politics, restaurants and family.

M. was talking about her sister. Probably because the previous week was the seventeenth anniversary of her sister’s death.

Her sister sounded so fabulous. A Rhode Island girl who was one of the leading art dealers in New York. A pioneer of the art scene in the East Village, Chelsea and Soho. Who Andy Warhol immortalized in a silk screen back in 1985.

But that is not why I’m writing this post.

I was sitting there with foil strips in my hair and my eyes filling up with tears.

Because this lady had cancer and died at the young age of forty-five.

M.’s sister decided that she wanted to die on Cape Cod and on a Friday. She did both.

This woman’s husband’s called M. the day before she died and said basically that she wasn’t doing great. Maybe something in her breathing. Maybe nothing but he just wanted to let them know.

M. says, ” Thank you.”

She thinks about it and says to herself, “I’m going to the Cape.”

It was midnight.

M. called all the family members.

They all made the decision to head to the Cape.

And that is when the tears dripped down my face.

I just had a vision of this family hopping into their cars for a trip that no one ever really wants to take. But wouldn’t have it any other way.

Surrounding their loved one as she transitioned out of this world.

The last people she saw were those who loved her most. Her husband and her family.

When we are born the first people we see are the ones who absolutely love us most.

If we are fortunate we pick up a few more as we journey through life. Siblings, partners, children or friends.

It’s only fitting that’s the way it should end.

With those who love us most.

 

 

 

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James Joyce once wrote, “The shortest way to Tara is via Holyhead.”

The Hill of Tara is in Ireland and was the seat of the High Kings of Celtic Ireland.

Holyhead is in Wales. If you look at a map of Ireland find Dublin and make a straight line with your finger across the water until you hit the first piece of land. That’s Holyhead.

Joyce’s message was that if the Irish people were to understand themselves and their country then they would have to leave the island.

Maybe there is some truth to that. I don’t know. Maybe it worked for him.

So here is the story I was going to write about the siblings of my great-great grandmother, Margaret Haughey. In my last posting I shared that she was the tenth of eleventh children born in the area of Lurgan, County Armagh.

For the record, I should note that most of them were born in Magheralin, County Down although some would later marry and live in the town of Lurgan. Magheralin borders Armagh, Down and Antrim.

There was a twenty-four year age difference between Margaret’s oldest brother Charles and her youngest sibling. Not at all uncommon in big families.

The family consisted of Charles, Henry, Mary, Luke, Arthur, James, Catherine, Edward, Rachael, Margaret and a male child born after Margaret.

Her oldest brother Charles married Mary Ann Leatham when Margaret was only five years old in 1845. She would soon become a very young auntie to Charles’ and Mary Ann’s two children, Arthur (1847)  and Maria (1849).

Sadly, Charles’ wife Mary Ann died in 1850 the year after little Maria was born. And Maria soon followed her mother to heaven when she died at the age of five in 1854.

That left Margaret’s big brother Charles on his own caring for his young son, Arthur.

But as many of them did back then. They kept on going.

Charles remarried. To a lady by the name Margaret McCusker and his sister Rachael Haughey married Andrew Pepper on the very same day, November 25, 1855 in a double wedding ceremony.

Other siblings married. The family expanded with lots of babies being born.

But when it was Margaret’s turn to hit the altar with her first husband, in 1863, she was not surrounded by all of her siblings. Her sister Rachael was not present at the wedding. Neither was her older brother Charles. Nor her brother Edward.

Because this is what happened.

Rachael and her husband Andrew Pepper boarded a ship to New Zealand in 1860.

Andrew PEPPER . Co Down a labourer aged 24 with his wife Rachael aged 23 & son, William John aged 2, arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand on board Gananoque’ (785 tons) 9 May 1860;left London 9 Feb 1860 under Capt Norris.

That’s a very, very long way from home. An eighty-five day journey. Rachael had another child in Lurgan named Andrew but he must have died just before they set sail.

Things might have been good for awhile in New Zealand. But who knows?

This is what happened the following year. A little more than a year after they made the incredible voyage.

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That’s tragic on so many levels. The newspaper article alone is blog worthy.

Rachael’s husband was dead at the age of twenty-five and Rachael was on her own with no family or means of support. At the young age of twenty-four, stuck in a strange land so very far from home. And no way to get back home.

Could you imagine?

But family is family. And good families do their best to help each other.

Her eldest brother Charles hopped on the ship “Mersey” in 1862 and made his way to sister Rachael in New Zealand. Left his wife and family in Ireland.

Charles’ wife and children would arrive the following year in 1863 -along with Charles’ and Rachael’s brother Edward Haughey.

Another brother James Haughey would follow with his wife, Hannah and their very large brood.

Andrew’s untimely death prompted an influx of many members of this one clan to the shores of New Zealand. This one tragedy altered the course of their futures. Altered the history of my family.

The good news is that Rachael met a fellow from Tipperary and remarried. Had a bunch of kids. The other good news is that the Haugheys all did well on the islands. They survived, multiplied and spread across the land. Loads and loads of their descendants exist now.

Sad thing is that my great-great-great grandparents Luke and Mary had to wave goodbye not just to one daughter and a grandson in 1860. They, and the other remaining family members like their daughter, my great-great grandmother Margaret, would continue waving goodbye to loved ones for the next decade. While their countless family members boarded the ships. The numerous grandchildren. Nieces and nephews. And while they were waving they also knew they’d never see any of them again. Ever again.

Maybe James Joyce’s sentence had some truth to it. Maybe the shortest way to Tara is via Holyhead. Maybe, in the end, in order to understand themselves, their family and their country, they had to leave. I don’t know. Maybe it worked for them.

Note: A fellow by the name Lyndon Fraser wrote a book titled, “To Tara Via Holyhead: Irish Catholic Immigrants in Nineteenth-century.” Some of my family’s history is documented in the book with accompanying facts and photographs. 

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My great-great grandmother was named Margaret Haughey and was born in Lurgan, County Armagh on March 8th, 1840. She was the tenth child of eleven born to Luke Haughey and Mary McDonald.

She grew up and married a weaver by the name of Bernard McConville on February 14th, 1863.

A baby boy, named after his father, was born January 2, 1864. Margaret’s mother, Mary McDonald Haughey was present at the birth of her grandson.

Sadly, it lists his father, Bernard, as being deceased by the time the little fellow arrived into the world.

And baby Bernard appears to have died soon after-in 1865.

So Margaret was married, widowed, a new mother and a grieving parent all in a matter of two years.

My great-great grandfather was a man by the name of Charles Dornan. He was a weaver and married a woman in Lurgan by the name of Anne Skeath on May 31st, 1863.

They would have two children, Mary and Hugh. By 1866 Charles lost both his wife and his two children. Anne died in 1866 along with her little daughter, Mary. Three short years. A family of four down to a family of one.

Margaret (Haughey) McConville and Charles Dornan, a young widow and widower, married in 1869. They would have seven children together. Lost a few of their kids at young ages.

My great-grandfather, Michael Dornan was one of their children. He would later succumb to tuberculosis at the early age of thirty-five in 1912 along with his one year old daughter, Annie, who also died from general tuberculosis that same year.

He left his wife, Maggie, with three young daughters and a son. My Nana, one of their children, was just six when she lost her dad and her little sister.

This blog posting was actually going to be a story about Margaret Haughey’s siblings who left Lurgan in the 1860s to set sail on a ship to New Zealand. I tend to veer. Guess that will have to be my next posting!

 

I remember having a discussion with a fellow a couple of years ago here in K.L. He was a guy at my husband’s office and a few of us were having drinks after work. He more or less said that researching ancestors was a waste of time. It’s about who you are now. And it has nothing to do with your ancient relatives. You have nothing to do with your ancestors.

With that being said, I have to mention that even my own husband also never quite understood my fascination with the dead. But he was certainly glad to support the project because I loved it so much. Also kept me off the streets and out of trouble. Lol. He never, ever said it was a waste of my time.

My feeling was that discovering my family’s history made me more sensitive to the plight of others before me. And after me. This man claimed that I would have been sensitive anyway. That’s who I was. I disagreed. I said that I had new appreciation for my ancestors and their troubles. We went back and forth for some time. Fuelled by passion and a couple of brewskies. He didn’t buy it.

But I did.

I appreciated the economic struggles during that time. People flocking from the rural areas and neighboring counties to the mill towns that offered employment. Migrations of people. Leaving the farms to live in cramped, damp row houses with their large families. I also imagined them toiling away, at very young ages, in the crowded mills. Spreading tuberculosis and who knows what else. Being overworked. Being uneducated. Most of the birth, marriage and death certificates are signed with “his X mark” or “her X mark.”

My heart broke at the images in my head of these two young people, newly married, losing their spouses and babies in a matter of a few short years.

I imagined how hard it was for my Nana to grow up without a Dad and what impact that had on her life.

I envisioned many who fled that life on ships for an unknown world. Because it might have been better than the one they were experiencing.

Yes, I might have been sympathetic anyway. Due to my parents raising us to care about others. But when it’s really personal you really identify with it. And you might want to do more.

I would have been totally fine if I never pursued my curiosity about the family tree. Would have a secure identity and continued community service work.

But I might work a little harder because my ancestors taught me a very valuable lesson from their graves. “It could be you. Because it was us. Not all of us survived it. But some of us did. You, mo chroi´, are the result. Make it worth our struggle.”

There are loads of quotes out there about history and the past. Most of them go something like this, “Those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it.”

I don’t want to be a part of a repetitive cycle in world history. Rather be a part of learning.

So, thank you, Margaret Haughey, mo chroi´, and the rest of you. I’m still learning and you will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace.

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When you grow up with an Irish background-even if you weren’t reared in Ireland- you grow up with a bunch of phrases your non Irish friends would never hear or would probably never even understand. We don’t even understand them so how could they?

My Nana laughingly called the little boys and/or the male dogs in my house, “McGuffin.” As in, “How’s McGuffin?” Or “McGuffin was over today.” Or “McGuffin barked all night.” You always knew who or what she was talking about and responded accordingly without missing a beat.

I had a boyfriend, S., and he liked my grandmother. All of my friends did. We went to an Irish festival one weekend and he bought something for her. She loved it. It was a coffee mug with the name “Mc Govern” on it. Nana’s mom was Maggie Mc Govern.

I asked him, “How did you know that??? That it was a family name?”

He said, “Well, I bought it for her because she’s always calling everyone McGovern.”

I laughed out loud. All this time he thought she was saying McGovern when she was actually saying McGuffin.

So you sort of had to grow up with it to really get it.

“Mother Machree!!!” was another one spewed out on a regular basis. My mom said it when she was exasperated. I suppose it’s better than swearing. Machree means “of my heart.” When I was young I just thought there once was some old lady who went by the name.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” frequented our home. The exclamation not the trio. Most everyone I knew in my neighborhood was Catholic but they weren’t Irish. Never, ever heard any of my friend’s parents utter this. Just mine.

I remember when I first started working at AT&T and sitting in the break room minding my own business. I heard this gal, Tracy, exclaim, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Probably over spilled coffee. My head instantly popped up and I thought, “I don’t know you but I know you.” It’s like when little kids notice other little kids in a crowd. You just know.

This one I never really understood when I was little. Just accepted it like all the others. They’d say, “Oh, sitting there like Lipton’s Orphan.” What?? I understood it to mean a woeful being and I was correct. But what?? Where on earth did that phrase originate? Adult research shows the origin of the phrase stemmed from a Lipton Tea marketing campaign. An Irishman, a pig, etc.

Sorry for your trouble. A phrase used for bereavement. Trouble means to agitate spiritually or mentally.  Not just as we commonly think of it when referring to that pesky neighborhood kid. But a bit more than that. One will never be more agitated spiritually or mentally than when a death occurs. So the phrase is not wordy but totally appropriate. And very Irish.

As an American kid I (and my friends) used the word “terrific” for everything. The weekend was terrific! You look terrific! The concert was terrific! My grandmother used the word in its original form. As in terrifying. She would tell me about a terrible storm the night before (she was deathly afraid of storms and would stand on the cellar stairs until it passed) and say, “It was absolutely terrific!” I have to think that was an Irish thing as I never heard anyone else’s parents or grandparents using it in that context.

Plenty more phrases and sayings were thrown around the house. Those were just a few that popped into my mind.

The truth is that I’d give anything to hear a few of those sayings. From the mouths of those who used to say them.

But still very thankful I had the opportunity to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another travel story from years ago.

We were in Brooklyn Heights for a New Year’s party at my cousin’s beautiful brownstone. Was a great night. One of my aunts was over from Ireland with her husband, daughter and son-in-law. Lots of laughter and good cheer. My Dad and his sister able to catch up with each other.

Walter singing “Colcannon” and others belting out “That’s Amore”, twinkling lights in the backyard garden with bottles chilling in mounds of snow.

Had an early flight in the morning so my girls and I left the gathering shortly after midnight.

Next morning. On the plane and seated behind a father and his two boys. Not toddlers but not teenagers either.

Their mother was on other side of the aisle-one row up from them.

She kept turning back and smiling at me. Not sure why.

Dad had the aisle seat with one boy in the middle. Other child had the window.

The fun started when they kept poking at each other, wrestling, kicking, etc.

Dad was ineffective with his half-hearted attempts to put it to a stop. So the seats kept banging and moving in front of us.

I am not a confrontational person. But felt like I had to say something.

Plenty of folks don’t want anyone giving them advice. Sensitive territory. I get that. I’m a parent.

So I thought about how I could stop the seats and our tray tables from shaking. Without getting into a fight.

When the Mom turned to smile at me (yet again) I seized the opportunity. I leaned in and quietly said to her, “My brothers and I were the same when we were young.”

Okay, that was a big fat lie. My parents would never have put up with that sort of nonsense.

I continued, “Know what my parents would do? They’d separate us. And put a parent in between each kid.”

There is a shred of truth to this. Sunday Mass. Bored kids. You get the picture. One poke (just one poke) at each other and the seating arrangements quickly shifted in our pew. Kid, parent, kid, parent, kid.

It was a rare occurrence but it was the only thing I could come up with to demonstrate understanding.

She said, “They’re tired. They were up late last night for New Year’s.”

I said, “Totally understand.”

While thinking, “So were we!”

Anyway, she actually took my advice. Had her husband sit between the boys.

Lo’ and behold, a miracle occurred!

The kids never moved a muscle the rest of the plane ride.

My kids and I were finally able to relax.

Weird thing is that the woman never smiled at me again. Not sure why.

 

 

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Once you go Mac you never go back.

Or do you?

What happens if your Mac goes kaput? Like mine did. Nothing. Not a light. Not a whir. Not a gasp.

Well, I gasped. Possibly shed a tear.

I wasn’t expecting a Mac to die.

Here’s the thing.

I didn’t want the laptop in the first place. I am not first in line when it comes to new technology. That would be my husband. I’m about four years behind him.

If I didn’t get the iPhone finally shoved down my throat I would still be happily using the flip phone. You’d get a phone call from me and not a text.

Now, I text and the only phone calls I make (where I actually have to speak to someone besides my Mom) or receive are wrong numbers, the unbearable conversations with repairmen which end up with me enunciating very clearly and the odd call from the school.

In this case the iPhone is a blessing. Laptop gone and phone to the rescue. I can do most things on it. But it’s not the same.

So I went and found the old laptop. The beloved one that put up with my hammering away on it for years. So much so that the letter “S” is non existent. Faded away because of me and my writing.

As an aside, “S” is very popular. I am not a yes girl but I am most definitely an “S” girl. Hangman, crossword puzzles and Scrabble. “S” always comes in handy. As in SOS! What would happen if you got a distress call “O”??

Anyway, back to the ThinkPad. I fired that baby up and was back in business.Except this bad boy literally heats up like nobody’s business. Could end up with third degree burns on your lap if not careful. I could rename it “lap-top layer of skin.”

Took getting used to again. I was trying to use my finger tips to move things around the screen to no avail. Kept deleting things. And getting frustrated.

Now here is the very cool thing.

When I opened up the laptop I discovered a file titled “Papa.” It contained photos and four videos that I hadn’t seen in a few years. Forgot they existed. They were sent to me by one of my cousins. Taken at my father’s surprise party when he turned eighty.

It was me, at my cousin’s Irish Social Club, giving the speeches in honor of my Dad. Was a great day.

I came up with a game “How well do you know Pat Lennon?” followed with fun facts.

Then poked fun at him for his phrases in my growing up years. About how he never pronounced “th” only the “t” Like how my kids would ask the gas price (on purpose to hear his answer) and he would reply, “Tree-tirty-tree a gallon.”

I told him my memories of him would last a lifetime.

And then I thanked him. Not just for creating me and acknowledging that I was his best work ever. LOL. But I also told him I was grateful he was my Dad and that I was always aware I was one of the lucky ones.

At the end of the speech I told him I loved him.

You know what?

I was absolutely right that day.

My memories of him will last a lifetime.

And I was reminded of this by my Mac biting the dust and me having to figure out something else.

My Nana used to say, “Light from another window.”

One could also say that one door closes and another opens.

Sometimes that’s hard to believe.

But sometimes it is so true. Even if we don’t know it at the time.

 

 

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