Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nollaig shona duit



Wishing all of you a very happy, peaceful Christmas and a healthy New Year!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

After the Voyage

      When most of my famine era ancestors arrived in America there was no immigrant processing center. They stepped off their ships and directly onto the South Street wharves in Manhattan.  I can only imagine their confusion at arriving alone in a new country, how did they know where to go and what to do first?  Many didn’t and fell prey to all sorts of con men and worse.  Since I never tire of reading even the smallest details about my ancestors and their experiences, naturally I was curious about what happened after they strolled down that gangplank, and I would imagine others are too.  This is what I found--

     Seeing the need for some sort of assistance for the new arrivals, the Irish Emigrant Society was founded in 1841 by Irishmen who had emigrated early on.  Their aim was, “to advise immigrants about routes to the interior, as well as employment on public works projects, to warn them about improper lodging houses, to save them from toilsome journeys inspired by elusive advertisements, and to preserve them from crooked contractors, dishonest prospectuses and remittance-sharpers”.  I’m not sure what a “remittance sharper” is and apparently neither is anyone else as a Google search came up empty however, I believe it was probably a person who assisted immigrants in sending funds back to Ireland and decided to help himself to some or all the funds in question.

    The city of New York also realized the flood of immigrants arriving in their port needed some sort of aid and in May of 1847 it authorized The Commissioners of Emigration.  They employed their own doctors, and accepted applications for relief from the immigrants, but still more was needed.   In May of 1855 the Commissioners leased an old fort, then being used as a public aquarium, at the tip of Manhattan to serve as an immigrant processing center.  On August 1, 1855 the doors of Castle Garden swung open.  When they closed in April of 1890, approximately 9 million immigrants had passed through.  

     Barges brought the immigrants from their ships to Castle Garden’s landing depot where they were examined for disease or defects.  Those who were thought to be a risk of becoming a burden upon the state were then and there marked for deportation.  The others were brought into the rotunda to be processed.  Clerks recorded their names, destinations and whether they were joining friends or relatives already here.  After that, they met with representatives of transportation companies who explained to them how best to get to their destinations.  They could even purchase their tickets at Castle Garden and catch a ferry to their starting point, usually across the river in New Jersey as no trains ran from the island of Manhattan.  If a wait was required they had their choice of licensed boarding houses in which to pass their stay in the city.  One immigrant account of the experience—“from Castle Garden we were bustled aboard a ferry boat and taken to the Erie station at Jersey City, and crowded into an immigrant train bound for the west. The next day we had a joyous reunion with father at Corning [NY]…”

     Clearly this was a tremendous improvement.  Immigrants no longer had to navigate streets filled with shady characters eager to take advantage of them.  In early 1890 the Federal Government took over immigrant processing and on April 19th operations moved to the Barge Office at the southeast tip of Manhattan.  It would remain the processing center until Ellis Island opened on the first day of 1892.  In June of 1897 fire destroyed the buildings on Ellis Island and processing returned to the Barge Office where it would remain until Ellis Island reopened in December of 1900.  
      I have to say, I have tremendous admiration for these ancestor immigrants of mine, they were down but not out. They persevered and carved their own unique place in America and made my life here possible.  I am so very proud of them.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grandmother's 100th

     My late Grandfather’s favorite song was The Rose Of Tralee.  I remember him singing softly, “oh no twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning, that made me love Mary the rose of Tralee… ".  This would have been his Mary’s, (my Grandmother’s), 100th birthday were she still living. 

     Mary O’Hora was part of my life from the day I was born and losing her was a terrible blow.   The call came early one cold February morning.   I watched my husband’s eyes fill with tears as he handed me the phone.  For a second I hesitated, I knew I didn’t want to hear whatever was about to be said.  It was my Mother, telling me an aneurism no one suspected was even there had ruptured and Grandma was gone.  My first act was to retreat to my bedroom to offer prayers for her soul, (those Sisters of St. Joseph taught me well), and my next was to sob.

Grandma on the far left
     Being her only granddaughter, the two of us were close and I may have been ever so slightly spoiled.  Grandma delighted in buying me dresses, shoes, my beloved Easter bonnets and little white gloves, and yes, she bought me a pony; so what, lots of kids have ponies.  She taught me to make pie crust, inadvertently taught me to enjoy Manhattans by slipping me the whiskey infused cherries from hers and made me feel completely loved.  She could be strict too; there was no excuse for missing Mass on Sunday morning, or the Stations during Lent, and woe to the shop keeper who earned her displeasure.  Once after berating one for less than stellar service she turned to my ten year old self and whispered with a twinkle in her eye, “we aren’t Irish for nothing”.

     Grandma once asked me what I would like to have of hers after she was gone and though I didn’t want to consider such a thing, I answered," the Bible".  She bought it in 1931 when she married my Grandfather and it was massive, or so it seemed to a small child.  I would take the Bible from its place of honor on the inlaid table in her front parlor, and carefully lay it on the floor.  There I’d sit under the watchful eyes of the JFK bust on the television and Pope Paul IV’s photo on the wall,  leafing through its pages, transported as I gazed at photos of the Vatican, the far away deserts of the holy land and brightly colored illustrations of martyrs and saints.

     But there was more in the Bible.  Opening it for the first time after it came into my possession I found a newspaper clipping.  It was the obituary of Grandma’s father Edward O’Hora who died when she was a young girl.  From that obituary I learned his parent’s names.  There were memorial cards for long dead relatives and a few for people I couldn’t identify.  Tucked in way near the back was a little booklet titled, “Prayers of an Irish Mother”, compiled by Mary Dolan in 1934 and published in Dublin.  My favorite prayer in the booklet:
 St. Colmcille, who suffered pain and grief of exile, watch over the children of Ireland, scattered throughout the world.  Obtain for them solace and courage, and keep them true to God in every trial and temptation!

     What a fitting prayer to be in the bible of a woman whose every grandparent was a famine immigrant.  The famine seems so long ago, and yet my grandmother knew these people who were forced from their homes and country.  How I wish I had known them too, how I wish I had asked her more about them.  Mostly though, I just wish I could talk to herself today.
 Happy Birthday Grandma, I love you!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday/The Sad Death of Darby Hogan

   Darby Hogan was born in Tipperary in 1815 and like so many of his countrymen, came to seek his fortune in America.  I'm not sure exactly how Darby is related to my family, I suspect through marriage as a Bridget Hogan married my 3x great uncle Andrew Ryan in Palmyra, New York.  At any rate several of my Ryan ancestors are buried in Darby's cemetery plot at St. Annes's in Palmyra so I'm confident there is a relationship there.
    Darby appears to have been married twice, as his wife at the time of his violent demise was too young to have a child living on it's own in Ireland as his  obituary mentions:

April, 1861:     Darby Hogan, who had been for 8 or 9 years, employed by the Central RR as a watchman and switch tender at the Palmyra Station, was killed Friday morning last by a train of cars passing over him.  Mr. Hogan was returning home from the station where he had been on duty the night previous, when he was overtaken by the New York mail train going west.  He stepped from the track to allow the train to pass, and not knowing that the work train was a short distance in the rear on the same track, he resumed his position on the track- seeing which, the brakeman on the mail train made a motion with his hands intended as a warning that another train was close at hand; but Hogan mistaking this for a salutation, responded cordially, and remained on the track.  

     The noise made by the mail train prevented his hearing the approach of the work train – and the wind blew the smoke to the rear of the train and enveloped Hogan in smoke that he was not seen by the engineer of the work train in time even to check the speed of his engine.  As soon as the man was discovered, every means was taken to warn him, by the engineer, and a woman standing near the tracks, calling him by name and gesticulating violently with her hands, but such was the noise that he heard not and heeded not.  The engine came upon him unawares, throwing him across the track, and the entire train passing over him.  Hogan was nearly severed in twain, the heart and lungs being thrown some distance.  The men on the work train placed the mangled corpse on a board and carried it to the former home of the deceased about 6 rods from the scene of the disaster, where his wife had been awaiting his return home to breakfast.  She had seen him approaching, and had placed his breakfast upon the table – but alas, instead of her husband partaking of the goodness she had provided for him, he was ushered into her presence a mangled corpse.  The scene at the house was heartrending in the extreme, and can better be imagined than described.  

     Mr. Hogan was an honest, industrious and worthy man, an affectionate husband and kind father.  His wife and children, frantic with grief, clung to his mangled remains, unwilling to leave them to allow an inquest.  Deceased was born in County Tipperary, Ireland Dec. 10 1815.  He was faithful to his employer, his family and friends, and to his church.  He leaves a wife and 8 children to mourn his fate.  One son is yet in Ireland and is expected in this country.   Who can imagine his feelings on arrival to find his mother a widow?  By his industry and frugality, Hogan had saved means to purchase and nearly pay for a small, but comfortable house for his family. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Bold Fenian Men of Auburn New York

      On St. Patrick’s Day of 1858, a group of Irish patriots calling themselves the Irish Republican Brotherhood, popularly known as The Fenian Movement, met in Ireland.  A branch was organized at the same time in America and having less need for secrecy than their counterparts in Ireland, the American Brotherhood grew rapidly.  Indeed, their activities and fund raisers were often mentioned in the local newspapers.  Though resettled in the United States the Irish had never abandoned their dreams of a free Ireland and Auburn, where my McGarr and O’Hora families first put down roots upon immigrating, was very much a part of the movement.
     The Fenians organized themselves into local cells called circles; each circle had a head man called the center.  Likewise, each state had a center.  The center of New York State was Daniel O’Sullivan of Auburn.  Their nine man Executive Council included M. J. Cunningham, also of Auburn.   Another notable Fenian from Auburn was Civil War Captain Owen Gavigan, a respected, educated man who organized an Irish literature study group in that city.  Captain Gavigan was a delegate to the 2nd National Congress of the Fenian Brotherhood held in Cincinnati in 1865.  There with him were fellow Auburnians John Barrett Dunkirk and P.N. Madigan. 
      Another prominent member was General T. W. Sweeney, a well known Union officer.  Eager to strike at England, he spent the winter of 1865 devising a plan to invade Canada, the closest outpost of the British government.  During the Civil War the Brotherhood had been permitted to purchase surplus arms and even several warships from the United States Army itself!  This tolerance was in large part due to Washington’s resentment over Britain's aid to the Confederacy.  General Sweeney spent the months prior to the invasion finalizing his strategy and organizing his officers and equipment.  A letter from Major W.M. O’Reilly to General Sweeney concerning the distribution of muskets states that forty of those muskets were delivered into the hands of none other than Owen Gavigan at Auburn.
      Their preparations made, at 3 a.m. on the first day of June in 1866, cavalry colonel Owen Starr gave the signal and led his men across the river at Buffalo onto Canadian soil.  They proceeded to the village of Fort Erie, captured a railroad depot there, and by 5 a.m. the Irish tri-color flew above the crumbling walls of the old fort.  Two hundred fifty men had followed him at dawn under Civil War lieutenant John O’Neill, and later more than one thousand men crossed the river.  They moved on to Ridgeway where they defeated the British defenders.  Unfortunately for the Brotherhood, the American government stepped in at the last minute and prevented reinforcements from crossing into Canada.  By the 3rd of June, British reinforcements had arrived, and the Fenians were forced to retreat. 
      Most of them escaped back across the border to a hero’s welcome.  After a short hearing the United States government declined to press any charges against them and they were released and given rail passage home.  Those captured in Canada were tried and seven, including Catholic priest Father John McMahon, were sentenced to death.  None of the executions were carried out, and later they were released.   But the Brotherhood was far from done.
      In May of 1870 they again attempted to invade Canada and again, Colonel Starr was there.  This time they didn’t get off so easily.  Starr, along with Colonel William Thompson and Captain Edward Mannix were arrested and tried at Canandaigua, New York in July of 1870 for violation of the federal Neutrality Laws.  After their convictions they were taken to Auburn prison and held there until their pardons in October of 1870.  An excerpt from that pardon reads, Whereas, many good citizens of the United States who condemn the criminal acts aforesaid, have interceded for the pardon of said offenders…, and said offenders have thoroughly repented of their offence and intend to live in strict obedience to the laws, Now therefore be it known that I, Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States of America, do hereby grant to the said Owen Starr, Wm. L. Thompson, and Edw'd J. Mannix a full and unconditional pardon.  
      The speeches made to an admiring crowd upon their release however, were anything but repentant.  All three men thanked the citizens of Auburn for the visits and many kindnesses shown them during their imprisonment,  then Colonel Thompson remarked, “I am an adopted citizen of America, I have fought, yes, I have bled for the Stars and Stripes, [cheers] and I will fight again to uphold freedom and the republic.  Most of you are aware that I am a Scotchman; many may wonder why I fight for Ireland.  But I love any nation that fights for her liberty. If tomorrow, my services are required, I am with Ireland again. [Loud applause] When the time comes to strike the decisive blow my friends, do as you did in May. I shall be there, if I am in the land of the living, by the help of God.”

     Captain Mannix declared, “We are free tonight, thanks to the people of the country. It was the people, who, without regard to party… demanded our release, and we thank the people only. But let us not forget tonight that across the St. Lawrence, our brethren are in prison, and away over the Atlantic, near the land of our fathers, in the prison pens, are also our brethren.”

     While the Brotherhood was active for many more years, they never again attempted an invasion.  While I’ve found an ancestor who was hanged during the 1798 rising in Ireland, I’ve found nothing to tie my ancestors in Auburn to the Brotherhood, though I do like to think some of them were in that cheering crowd.