Remembering Donald Regan (1917-2013)

Please visit my blog The Irish in America for a tribute to Clontarf native Donald Regan who passed away last month. Click here to read…

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Happy Birthday Minnie!

Mary Foley, 1875-76

I originally posted this last year in honor of my great-grandmother’s birthday. Well, looks like that time of year is upon us, so I thought I would share this again. Happy New Year to you all!

Minnie was my great-grandmother, and according to my grandma she absolutely hated the nickname “Minnie”. Please forgive me, Great Grandmother, but I think it’s cute, and since your real name Mary is shared by about 75% of women in your family tree, I chose to call you Minnie.

Minnie Foley was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire on January 2, 1875. She was the fourth of five children born to Patrick Foley and Mary Crowley (their eldest son did not survive infancy.) She was baptized a few weeks later on January 24, 1875 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Concord, New Hampshire. John Foley and Mary Casey were her godparents.

Three years later, Minnie and her family came to Clontarf, Minnesota with several other Irish families from the Concord, New Hampshire area, including the Regan family. Minnie and Nellie Regan were best friends from a very young age.

My grandma told me that Minnie worked hard her entire life, and that included working on the family farm in Tara Township while she was growing up. Her sister Maggie worked inside, while Minnie and her younger brother Jackie worked outside. My grandma confessed, she wasn’t sure where Minnie’s older brother Tim worked!

The McMahon family lived about a mile from the Foleys in Tara. Minnie married Thomas McMahon at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf on June 28, 1904. Minnie’s sister Maggie and Tom’s brother Frank were their witnesses. I imagine Minnie and Hoosie (as Tom is referred to in Minnie’s autograph book) having secret meetings over hay bales and missing chickens during their courtship…

Wedding photo, 1904

I won’t go into the entire McMahon family history now because this is about Minnie. She and Tom raised seven children and after giving farming all they had the McMahons moved to Minneapolis in 1925.

When she died in 1945, Minnie was living with my grandma, her husband John Regan, and their new baby (and my mother) Eileen. My grandma said that Minnie was smitten with Eileen. Minnie would say that she had never known a baby to sleep as much and as well as little Eileen. Minnie marvelled at how Eileen would even fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth.

In my grandma’s recipe book are a few recipes attributed to Minnie, her “Ma” – I think I will make “Ma’s Spice Cake” in Minnie’s honor today.

Nellie Regan Byrne and Mary Foley McMahon, about 1943

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Happy Birthday to you…

Annie Hill Regan

My great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan was born on August 30, 1875 near Kill, County Kildare, Ireland. Read my latest article on Annie in the August issue of Irish Lives Remembered Genealogy Magazine…click here to view the magazine. Mail-order Mystery is near the back. I continue Annie’s story in the September issue out on September 4th. Online magazines are available free of charge on Irish Lives Remembered – a fantastic genealogy site. Check it out.

This is a postcard Annie received from the Ladies Auxilary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1901. I imagine that many of the ladies of Clontarf received this same postcard. Has anyone seen this type of item before? What about similar communications from the Ancient Order of Hibernians to the male membership?

Happy Birthday Annie!

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Views of St. Malachy’s

I recently found a few photos of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf.

 

The first one is mounted on cardboard, like the old studio photographs from around 1900. I don’t think this is that old. Any ideas? Maybe you can tell by how old the trees look?

St. Malachy Catholic Church – Clontarf, MN

 

The next photo is from the mid-1930s. It is a small snap-shot and is the same size and photo paper as other photos I have from that time. My mom thought it could have been taken from the old rectory yard. What do you think?

St. Malachy Catholic Church – Clontarf, MN – 1930s

 

And finally, this one was probably taken in the late 1940s or 1950s.

St. Malachy Catholic Church – Clontarf, MN – 1950s

 

 

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99 Years Ago Today…

Today is my grandpa John Regan’s 99th birthday. He was born in Tara Township on July 23, 1913, the only child of Neil and Annie Regan. He was baptized John William at St. Malachy Catholic Church on August 10th.

John William Regan

John lived the first eight years of his life in Tara with his mom and dad.

Neil, Annie, and John – 1915

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

John and Neil on the farm in Tara

John also kept Annie company.

Annie and John on the farm in Tara

In 1921 the family of three moved into Clontarf, and age eight-years-old John finally started school.

John – about 1921

In Clontarf my grandpa was known as “Red” Regan for his hair.  John’s life-long love for cars and driving began at a young age.

Beginning with the 1932-33 school year, upperclassmen from Clontarf went to Benson High School. Grandpa drove a car full of Clontarf students to and from class in Benson every day. Gerald Regan, Bob Mikkelson, Florence and Gertrude Reardon were his regular passengers.

1933 High School Graduation

After graduation, Grandpa worked at Bruno Perrizo’s. Here he is in his apron with childhood pal and fellow Clontarf resident Leo Molony.

Leo Molony and John Regan 1935

My grandpa moved to Minneapolis in the late 1930s.

It is strange to think of my grandpa’s 99th birthday because he didn’t even live to see his 58th. Since I never knew my grandpa, I am thankful to the relatives and old friends we have met in Clontarf who have generously shared their memories of Red.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa.

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Tara Township Autographs

Best friends Nellie Regan and Minnie Foley

I am currently working on a project involving my great-grandmother Mary Foley McMahon’s autograph book from the early 1900s. Mary, or “Minnie” as she was known, grew up in Tara Township. The autograph book includes signatures and inscriptions from friends, relatives, and neighbors. Most are from the years 1903-1905, but there are a few entries from when her children got their hands on the book in the mid-1920s.

I recognize most of the names in the book – they are either relatives of mine or I have seen the names on the Tara plat maps. Fortunately I have many photographs to correspond with the signatures as well.

But, there are several people I don’t know anything about. If you can help me out, please leave a comment. Of course, if you have a photograph you would like to share, even better! I have listed the date and location of the autographs (if given) along with the name.

  • Teresa McAuley – Tara, Minn – Aug. 13, 1904
  • Lizzie D. – Tara, Minn – Jan. 3, 1904
  • Julia Connolly – Ettrick, Wisc – Jan. 3, 1904
  • Mary McCant (?) – Feb. 15, 1894
  • Thomas Doran
  • M.V.D. – Benson, Minn – Jan. 10, 1904
  • Katie Kane – Benson, Minn – Jan. 10, 1904
  • Mary Fleming – Tara, Minn – Jan. 21, 1904
  • Annie Doran – Tara – Jan. 5, 1905
  • Celia A. VanDervoort – Tara – Jan. 10, 1904
  • J.L. Gaul – Chicago, Ill.

Anyone ever heard of someone with the nickname “Woddle”? Or “Nibbs”?

Let me know if any of this catches your eye…I’d love to hear from you!

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Noble Patriot and Irishman

Sandwiched between two legendary figures in Clontarf’s history, Father Anatole Oster and Father Patrick Kenny, was a young priest from Ireland who only served the parish for two years (1899-1901). Little attention is paid to Father McDonald in the history of Clontarf, but judging from letters written by Clontarf resident Stephen Owen, I think he deserves a closer look. (I typed the content of the letters just as it appears in the transcriptions…among other issues, Mr. Owens was not a fan of punctuation.)

Father McDonald

St. Malachy Catholic Church – Clontarf, MN

On December 4, 1899 Stephen Owens writes from Clontarf to his niece in Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland:

Dear Niece Celia I will let you know what this Parish of Ours is doing at Present Our Priest the Rev. Father McDonald is holding a three Days fair in the Town Hall. We have a nice one in the Town for the Benefit of Our Church it is a new one and there is Sixteen Hundred Dollars of a Debt on it so he expects to realize about 5 or 6 Hundred Dollars at this fair and then About two more years would wipe out the Debt on the Church. I think his fair will be a success there is great crowds here those last two nights and we expect a large attendance tonight. Our priest is a Kilkenny Man about 30 years of Age, a fine Man I like him very much he does come see us quite often I and him does have great times nights Playing Checkers he likes to get all the Games he don’t like me to Beat him at all…

This is our introduction to Father McDonald through Mr. Owens’ pen. Already we see that he was responsible for building the new church in Clontarf (the one standing today) and was working hard to pay for it by organizing events such as the fair Mr. Owens mentions. Plus, we learn that he was a competitive checkers player!

On March 19, 1900 Mr. Owens describes the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in town (I highlighted this in an earlier post – click here.) He writes that Father McDonald had been rehearsing the play since January with the young people. Mr. Owens writes, “Our Priest is a Noble Patriot and Irishman.”

On April 1, 1902 Mr. Owens has some sad news to share with his niece. He thanks her for the shamrock she sent him for St. Patrick’s Day and said he gave a sprig to the Priest, but it is a new Priest:

…his name is Rev. Patrick Kenny our beloved Father McDonnoll (sic) was Buried last friday in Calvary Cemetery in the City of Saint Paul. I am awfull sorry to have to tell you this news we will never get the like off him again he was so friendly and sociable I will miss him very much we use to Play so much Checkers in our House Lord have mercy on his soul He dies off Consumption he got a Cough and did not doctor for it until it was to Late he left here last September and went out to the State of Arizona the Doctors sent him there it is a fine climate and thought he would come Back Cured of his Complaint but failed to get his Health he was a fine strong healthy young man I never thought he could be taken away so quick…

I hope Mr. Owens gave Father Kenny a chance. By all accounts he was also a very sociable Priest – he was extremely popular with the Irish families in Tara and Clontarf. He visited folks frequently in their homes and was always ready for a game of cards. Not sure if he played checkers, however.

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“They string up the flags just for me!”

Or so my great-grandfather Neil Regan used to say. Cornelius “Neil” Regan was born on June 14, 1873 in Fisherville, New Hampshire, the oldest child of John and Mary (Quinn) Regan. He lived much of his life in the Clontarf area, arriving in Tara Township with his parents and siblings in 1879. After years on the farm, he moved into Clontarf in 1921 where he lived for over twenty years before moving to Minneapolis in the early 1940s to live with his son John – my grandpa. There he would stay until he passed away in 1951.

Earliest photograph we have of Neil, about 1888

My mom remembers a dapper grandfather, dressed in a three-piece-suit every day and smelling of Listerine (she said he used to put it on the nose-pads of his glasses each morning – she has no idea why!) Grandpa Neil read books to my mom and thought he had a genius on his hands when she read them back to him. This was before she even started kindergarten – she wasn’t actually reading the books, she just memorized them!

Mom said Neil was very mild-mannered. The only time he would show any kind of frustration would be when he left his hat on a chair and her younger brother Johnny would toddle over, grab the hat, and pull the lining out of it. That seemed to frazzle Neil.

Neil was a quietly devout man. His nephew Gerald Regan recalls seeing Neil, kneeling next to a chair on the back porch saying the rosary. He did this every morning.

Gerald also remembers how when my grandpa John would ask for money when he was young, Neil would get up and walk away. Neil would pull out his wallet, inspecting the money carefully, and give some to John. Gerald always though this a bit odd, but Neil was a very deliberate man, so he didn’t think too much about it. Only later did Gerald realize that Neil was not being circumspect at all, but rather the cataracts on his eyes made it impossible for him to see the bills in his wallet unless he went to the window.

Shortly after Neil moved to Minneapolis he had the cataracts removed at the University of Minnesota. My grandma remembered how Neil exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! I can see!” Apparently all those early morning rosaries paid off!

Neil and Annie Regan, with two unknown women, 1936

When I see the flags decorating the porches in my neighborhood today, I will smile to myself and think of my great-grandfather Neil. Happy Flag Day everyone and Happy Birthday Neil!

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No Place for Gentlemen

Last St. Patrick’s Day I posted a clipping from the Swift County Monitor which provided the slate of events for Clontarf’s celebration in 1899 – click here to read the article.

Clontarf resident Stephen Owens provides a first-hand account of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities the next year in a letter dated March 19, 1900 to his niece Celia Grimes of Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland. After thanking Celia for the shamrock she sent, Mr. Owens begins to tell Celia of “the grand time we had in the Parish this St. Patrick’s Day”:

First thing in the Morning all the Hibernians mett in their Hall at ten O clock in the morning Put on there Badges and marched in a Body to the Church…the Stars and Stripes on one side of the men and the Harp in the middle off the Green Flag off Ireland on the other side…the Band of Musick in the front as they Marched in to the Church, the Band Played Patrick’s Day in Style. Our Priest is a Noble Patriot and Irishman, at 5 O Clock in the evening we had a grand Oration on the life of St. Patrick in our Town Hall by a Lawyer from St. Paul a City in Minnesota Capitol of the State his name was McDermot very smart orator…

Mr. Owens then goes on to describe the evening’s entertainment. The play sounds like the same one from the year before – I believe the title mentioned in the newspaper was Shaun Aroon:

After that we all went to Supper…we went to the Hall it was then we had the time there was a Grand Irish Play by the young Local Talent, of the Parish…called itShan Rue in Seven Acts it was just splended the Priest was Training the young folks since the middle of January the Hall was crowded with Irish, and some Americans and Norwegians I bet youse did not Celebrate like that in Skerries. We are all Irish to the Back bone out here…

In the last part of the letter, Mr. Owens talks farming, explaining to his niece when farmers in the area will start putting crops in and when they will be harvested. Mr. Owens describes the kind of work that is available in towns such as Clontarf:

…there is no work here only in Summer and Harvest time and Thrashing in the Fall there is months in winter there is no work in summer a man gets one Dollar and a half per day and Board…in harvest time a Man gets from one seventy five and Board to 2 Dollars per day…this is not a good Place for a Labouring man Only for men that is Able to buy a farm and work it himself it is a good Country…for any one that wants to Play Gentleman, it is no place for him…

Good advice from old Uncle Stephen!

It’s hard to believe that Memorial Day Weekend is nearly upon us. Will there be a program at the Clontarf cemetery this year? What are your memories from Memorial Days of the past? Share your thoughts…leave a comment!

excerpts taken from a letter from the Stephen Owens collection at the Swift County Historical Society

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The Little Town of Clontarf

Have you ever wondered what life was really like in Clontarf around the turn of the last century? Apart from time travel, the  best way to learn about daily life would be from a diary kept by a local resident. I bet many Clontarfians wrote in a diary , unfortunately these items don’t often survive. Sometimes they are intentionally destroyed, and other times they simply get “lost in the shuffle” of a move or a death.

Another way to find out about life in a town such as Clontarf would be to refer to the newspaper. Clontarf never had a newspaper of its own, so we must rely on the intermittent columns in other area papers which refer to the Clontarf vicinity. Even if there had been a newspaper, that would only provide us with the editor’s perspective of Clontarf, complete with political and social bias, not that of an “ordinary” resident.

So how then are we to learn about the day-to-day happenings of Clontarf? Why letters, of course! Letters written by Clontarf residents to their friends and family all over the United States and the world! But, locating these letters presents a major challenge, which makes the Stephen Owens Collection of letters at the Swift County Historical Society truly a treasure for anyone researching the history of Clontarf during the years 1899-1903.

This small collection of letters made their way back to Swift County when Professor Kirby Miller forwarded them to the museum while he was researching Irish immigration. He had obtained the letters from the Old Skerries Historical Society in County Dublin, Ireland. Swift County has photocopies of the transcribed letters from Stephen Owens to his niece Celia Grimes who lives in Skerries.

In a letter from December 4, 1899 Mr. Owens begins by sharing his thoughts on getting older:

26th of this month I will be 70 years of Age and I am Pretty Smart on the foot yet thanks to God. Your Aunt don’t hear so well as I do, She is Pretty Old Looking She is Able yet to do our Cooking and washing. We had to give up farming we were to Old to work the farm any Longer So I sold it and moved to the Little Town of Clontarf near the Church. About 10 Perches from the Church…we are as comfortable as Old People Can Be. We can go to Mass nearly every Day in the Week…

I guess Mr. Owens is able to forgive his wife’s diminished looks and hearing as long as she is still able to do all the cooking and cleaning! Mr. Owens goes on to tell his niece about an event at St. Malachy’s:

Our Priest the Rev. Father McDonald is holding a three Days fair in the Town Hall We have a nice one in this Town…Our Church it is a New One and there is sixteen Hundred Dollars of a Debt on it so he expects to realize About 5 or 6 Hundred Dollars at this fair and then About two more years would wipe out the Debt on the Church I think his fair will be a success there is great crowds here those Last to Nights and we Expect a Large Attendance to Night.

I have never been able to find any information on Father McDonald, only that he served St. Malachy’s for a couple of years and died of TB. Mr. Owens sheds a bit of light on Father McDonald in the letter:

Our Priest is a Kilkenny Man about 30 years of Age, a fine Man I like him very much he does come see us quite often I and him does have great times nights Playing Checkers he likes to get all the Games he don’t like me to Beat him at all…

Father McDonald

Mr. Owens mentions the weather (“Winter is Just Begin the thermometer goes as far as 35 below Zero”), before asking his niece to pass on his greetings to people he used to know in Skerries. This section is particularly poignant because you can tell that he still misses his friends and family in Ireland, even though he has been in the United States for almost fifty years:

Remember me to John Baulf and to James Russel the Shoemaker and his Brother Mathew…All my  Old School Mates I suppose are nearly all Dead, if I landed in Skerries now I would hardley no one Person in the Town…I won’t forget you night & morning in my Poor Prayers…I hope you won’t forget your Old Uncle…

Next time we will look at a letter from March 1900 where Mr. Owens describes the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Clontarf.

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