“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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Anne Says: An April Round-Up

I want to make certain everyone sees Anne’s great comments, so from time to time I will compile her thoughts in a new feature…”Anne Says”.

On April 8th, Anne checked in with some local news. I bet the cake was wonderful:

Beth with one of her fabulous creations - visit http://www.beth'scakes.biz

Mary (Reardon) Langan ordered a cake from Beth for her coffee party Tues. March 13, 2012, and Beth made it that morning and delivered it to Mary in Benson at noon, and it was cut and served by 3 pm. Red velvet cake with white frosting and a shamrock in green on it! Mary’s guests were Mary (Manney) Chamberlain, Geneva (Ascheman) Cameron, Donna (Ascheman) Chevalier, Gert (Collins) Bouta, Donna (Fennell) Gode, Cele (Becker) Kent, Clara (Bouta) Brandt, Bonnie (Benham) Smith, and “yours truely”…. Thanks Mary L. We all enjoyed the afternoon. See Pg 3 of the Swift County Monitor this week! (April 4, 2012)
P.S. Bonnie & Ray have a new grandson from their son Justin and wife Lindsay. Nolan Thomas Smith was born Sat. March 24 at RIce Hospital in Willmar. (Justin has an older brother, Thomas). Bonnie’s mother, Bernice (Fennell) Benham lives in Benson. Ray’s mother, Laverne Bouta Smith, passed away just a few years ago.

Also on April 8th, Anne shared a bit about the priests of Clontarf and promises more in the future:

Fr. King was priest at St. Malachy in Clontarf for 33 years. I’ll find his obit and photo for June, okay? Fr. Cooney had grandparents buried at Clontarf so when he was assigned here, he got into the genealogy aspect of things and started planning our 90th celebration (1968) and then the 100th anniversary celebration (1978). Both priests are buried here at Clontarf.

In response to my post on the Reardon family (click here for original entry):

Great idea! More people/families should have their photo taken with the church in the background! I love it! Even after a baptism!….Speaking of babies, Ryan James Beyer was born recently and his mommie’s dad is the son of Marge (Reardon) Klucas.

And lastly, Anne’s reply to a question as to the age of the Clontarf depot. (View the original post here):

Clontarf Depot

Good question! You will see a shadow of a tall structure cast onto the depot…that was another elevator just to the south of the depot! Wayne Klucas answered my question about the two elevators when he said Peavey Elevator (the shadow caster) bought out the other (Cargill or Northwestern by name) and had it moved closer and attached to the Peavey. When the Elevator had spontaneous combustion occur, and the Elevator burned to the ground Sept. 28, 1948, it was a huge fire since it was actually two structures on fire. It was never rebuilt… Marge (Reardon) Klucas, Mel’s wife, told me there was a third smaller elevator to the north of the crossing at Clontarf and it was called the Monarch Elevator. I’m hoping to come across some documentation somewhere sometime that validates this.. Wayne didn’t give me a year when the two elevators were joined, but he remembered watching it, I believe. Wayne just passed away 3 yrs. ago or so. I’ll ask around to see if someone can answer your question. When we were gathering pictures for the 125th celebration here in 2003, we found a picture of the two elevators from the opposite angle(!) in Anna Shinnick’s collection (loaned to us by Tom Connolly’s family).We also have an aerial shot of the town of Clontarf from an airplane(!) and we can see the cattle pen where cattle were held till the train came to take them to market.. May I ask who were your relatives?

Thanks Anne!

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Message from Canada

Last week a reader from Montreal, Canada with ties to the Hughes Family left a comment. Can anyone help a neighbor to the North?

What a surprise. I am living in Montreal but I’am born in Gaspesie, in the province of Québec. I do genealogic research for many years but I can’t find information about the family of my great grand-mother family in Ireland. Her name was Rosann Martin and her father Patrick Martin and mother Mary Arthur. Rosann is born in Caplan but her father and mother in Ireland. They came in Bathurst NB around 1828 where an other daughter Helen, was born in 1829. The Martin family was with the Hughes and Hamilton. They move all in Caplan around 1830. They were close of William Hughes and Mary Martin and also Margaret Campbell. Do you have more information about them ? I’ll like very much to be in relation with some members of the Hughes Family. It’is possible? Thanks.

This comment was in response to a post from 2010 – click here to read the entry. For more, click here.

Please add a comment to this post with any information you might have. Thanks for your help!

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A Wedding, A Funeral, and A Banana Bread Recipe

My grandma was the best “figure-outer” I have ever known. She completed the crossword puzzle every day, was a fiercely competitive card player, and always got the maximum number of cookies cut out of a rolling of the dough. Grandma was a meticulous seamstress who could alter any pattern for the perfect fit.

She never used a calculator to balance her checkbook. Often, the number associations Grandma would think up seemed convoluted to others, like the code to get into her building (“The first and last numbers are eight and the first two numbers add up to ten, while the second two add up to fifteen…” – it was easier to memorize the four digits out-right), but she loved to solve problems and see connections between numbers, letters, and people.

Eight years ago today I was sitting in the chapel at my grandma’s funeral. As the service began, I remember I tried to think about anything that would not make me cry. This would be a challenge, but the first thing that came to mind was how there was a pretty good crowd for the funeral that Monday morning in April. Not that Grandma would have been too concerned with how many people turned out, but she would have liked to see the family all together and old friends there to pay their respects.

Next, it dawned on me that April 26th was my grandparent’s wedding anniversary. I immediately thought of their wedding photograph:

Agnes McMahon and John Regan - April 26, 1941

Grandma would have liked this over-lapping of important dates. I wrote about my grandparents and their 70th wedding anniversary last year – click here to read more.

At the luncheon following the service, I met Francis Byrne, my grandpa’s cousin. After an adorable story about my grandma helping him out of a bind in the 1960s when his daughter was stung by a bee, Francis said, “You know, Agnes and John came to visit my mom and dad in Pine River while on their honeymoon. I remember I brought them out to the sanatorium where I was working. I think I took a picture of the two of them…”

Honeymooners - 1941

As I chatted with Francis, I began to piece a few things together. My grandma always told me how on their honeymoon, my grandpa’s Aunt Nellie Byrne gave my grandma a recipe for banana bread. It was the recipe Grandma always used and passed on to my mom and me. When I asked Francis if he remembered his mother’s banana bread, his eyes lit up and he said, “Oh, it was delicious!”

I made a new friend that day in Francis. Whenever I see him, I remember how much he helped me get through that difficult day and subsequent years, and I always bring him a couple of loaves of his mother’s banana bread. I think my grandma would have appreciated this connection as well.

Thinking back, my grandma was a total perfectionist (maybe with a little OCD!) but to me she was just the perfect grandma. We all miss her very much.

Agnes Regan is buried in Clontarf, with her husband John W. Regan and Cornelius and Annie Regan, her in-laws.

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Oops…I didn’t mean to do that yet!

To Clontarf History Blog Subscribers:

I apologize for the typo-filled and incomplete post you received in your email. Only excuse is operator error! I just got a new computer and am still getting used to the keyboard.

Please go to the blog to read the complete post on the James Reardon family. 

http://www.clontarhistory.com

Thanks so much and I apologize!

 

Aine 

 

 

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