Tag Archives: Foley

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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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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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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Clontarf Goes Green in 1899

These days it seems everyone celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. Target’s shelves are stocked with strings of  shamrock lights, pot of gold window decals, sparkly green headbands, and leprechaun costumes complete with a long red beard and top hat. Bars put up tents to accommodate the revelers, while the restaurants add corned beef and cabbage specials to their menus. The fountain at the White House is turning green, and I heard even Niagara Falls will be dyed green (is that even possible?)

Let’s put aside the more commercial side of St. Patrick’s Day for a moment and take a look at the March 17, 1899 celebration in Clontarf – the last St. Patrick’s Day of the nineteenth century. By 1899, the children of the original Irish settlers in Clontarf were beginning to marry and start families of their own. Most of this first generation of Clontarf Irish-Americans married fellow Irish-Americans, thus Clontarf’s Irish identity remained strong. A new Ancient Order of Hibernians hall had just been completed in 1899 and would be the venue for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

The March 10, 1899 edition of the Swift County Monitor outlined the events planned in Clontarf for Friday March 17th:

It is fitting the day began with High Mass, since the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, was a holy day in Ireland where attendance at Mass was obligatory. Dinner followed in the Hall. Corned beef and cabbage? Perhaps, or maybe roast turkey or chicken. I am sure there were plenty of potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables as well.

Outdoor sports and listening to a lecture by Father Cahill (anyone know who he was?) must have worked up an appetite. The ladies of Clontarf were back in the kitchen to put on a supper before the dramatic presentation hit the stage. I was interested in learning more about the play, “Shaun Aroon” and a Google search brought me to a newspaper article from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada from 1896. Click here to take a look – it provides a bit more background on the play. It seems “Shaun Aroon” was a popular play by American Charles Townsend. The article says it was considered a “new Irish play” in that it avoids perpetuating stereotypes of the Irish that prevailed in American culture (inebriation, forever fighting the British, etc.)

The cast features familiar names from Clontarf and Tara: Kent, Foley, Hurley, McDonald, Purcell, O’Neill, Maguire, and Donohue. When the play was over, “the floor will be cleared and a dance given.”

I imagine the people of Clontarf had a great time in 1899. How does this St. Patrick’s celebration compare to ones you remember in Clontarf? Any plans for this year?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Remembering Julia

Julia Duggan Regan passed away 35 years ago today, February 22nd.

Julia was born on the Duggan family farm in Tara Township on July 15, 1885. She was baptized on August 2nd at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, with James Kenna and Margaret Duggan as sponsors.  Julia was the youngest child of William and Julia (Creedan) Duggan. The Duggans were among the pioneer Irish settlers of Tara Township who traveled west from Concord, New Hampshire in response to Bishop John Ireland’s Catholic colonization efforts.

Over the past eight years, I have had the pleasure to get to know two of Julia’s sons, Donald and Gerald Regan. Donald and Gerald have shared many stories of growing up in Clontarf. Individually, their memories are sharp, but when you get them together, the brothers play off of one another’s recollections, with amazing results. Without Donald and Gerald I never would have gotten to know my great-grandmother (and their aunt) Annie Hill Regan (click here to read what I learned about Annie.)

From what I have heard about Julia, she was practical, hardworking, and devoted to her children. For all intents and purposes, Julia raised her seven children on her own, and it was an ongoing struggle to provide for the family. But with determination and resourcefulness, Julia did just that…and more. Julia wanted the best for her children, and did what was necessary to provide them with every opportunity. Her children were educated, served in the military, became teachers, and a mayor. Gerald got his start in a railroad career in part on account of his beautiful penmanship – that surely is a sign of a good mother!

Julia was always trying to improve her home, make it more efficient and more comfortable. Apparently, Julia could not bear to see a good outbuilding go to waste and sent Donald and Gerald out to rescue countless unused structures from family and neighbors in the area. Julia had vision – her brother’s old chicken coop would make a perfect garage and that shed from her parent’s place in Tara would be the ideal addition to the hay barn. Like the good sons they were, Donald and Gerald carried out her plans, moving the buildings and setting them up for their new purpose at Julia’s.

Julia Duggan Regan

And to top it off, Julia made delicious doughnuts. I would say she was quite a woman!

Her grandson John Conroy of Hancock has shared a number of historical items with my mom and me over the years. Julia’s older sister Catherine had put together a fantastic postcard collection and a photo album. Most of the people in the album are unknown to me, but there are some great photographs I assume are of Catherine’s sisters and friends. Like this one…

Duggan Family Album, courtesy of John Conroy

The woman on the right resembles Nell Regan (Julia’s future sister-in-law) and the other two could be Margaret and Catherine Duggan. The only photo with anything written on the back is of my great-grandmother’s brother. It says, “To Kate”.

Tim Foley, courtesy of John Conroy

But of all the photographs in this collection, my favorite is a little snapshot that was tucked at the back of the album.

Donald and his sister Kathryn, courtesy of John Conroy

Take a minute today to remember Julia, and if you live in the Clontarf area, you might just run into someone who could tell you a thing or two about the woman who made Clontarf her home for over seventy years.

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It might not look like much…

My sister and I were browsing through my grandma’s old recipe book the other day and came across this little gem:

Mary to Agnes - page 1 - click to enlarge

Mary to Agnes - page 2 - click to enlarge

This letter was written to my grandma Agnes McMahon Regan by her older sister Mary McMahon Fuchs. When the McMahon family moved to Minneapolis in 1924, Mary stayed behind in Benson and lived with her Aunt Maggie Foley.

My grandma told me that growing up, Mary was often needed to help out at the Foley house in Benson. Aunt Maggie worked as housekeeper for Father Shea and took care of her parents, pioneer Tara settlers Patrick and Mary Foley, in their old age. My grandma never understood why Mary had to go to the Foleys all of the time, since her own mother could have used her help on the farm. Plus, my grandma would point out, her mother would also have enjoyed the company of her eldest daughter.

Let’s take a closer look at the letter…

The folks at Archival Solutions were kind enough to transcribe the letter for me so I could bypass the step of deciphering mid-century cursive writing and get right to the good stuff: the content. I find with transcribed letters, I am better able to appreciate the flow and nuances of the text that I sometimes miss when I am struggling with spelling and punctuation errors in the original documents.

My grandma would tell me how she and Mary were “great pals” and this is clear in the first part of the letter:

So you and Margaret (their sister) are doing your Christmas baking together. That sure is nice. I sure miss you…I have made some cookies and candy. Wish you were here and would make coffee and we could munch. Ha, Ha!

When I was a kid, I don’t think I really got the “great pals” thing…they were both old. Of course, I grew to understand that even old people had pals, but I don’t think I realized how close Mary and my grandma were until I read this letter.

A Fuchs, several Regans, a McMahon, and a couple of Byrnes

Mary talks a bit about family and friends, commenting, “Poor Jack Byrne. Does he suffer much?” Jack Byrne had roots in Tara Township and was married to Nellie Regan. Jack died in February 1954, which is one clue for my dating the letter to 1953. The photo at the left shows Mary’s daughter Franny, my grandma, their sister Rose, Nell & Jack Byrne, with my mom and her brother Johnny in front.

On page 2, Mary expresses her disappointment that they will not be going to Minneapolis for Christmas. We also get a glimpse into her feelings for her Aunt Maggie:

Well Agg, as things look now, we won’t be able to come down for Christmas – sure are sorry about that – but her nibs was in the hospital for 8 days and they gave her some drug and they gave her too much of it – took her appetite and she still doesn’t eat…

“Her nibs” was a slang term meaning a self-important person. It was used much like we might say “her majesty”, and not to refer to actual royalty. This was Aunt Maggie to whom Mary was referring… I will talk about Maggie Foley in a future post with some insight from my grandma as to why she might have been referenced in such a manner!

Mary inquires on Eileen’s (my mom’s) Christmas vacation and hopes the family will come to Benson for a visit: “Let us know when you can come and stay as long as you can…” My mom says they went out to Benson often, and she has fond memories of the visits. She said she could always tell Mary was so pleased when they would come for a visit, but was especially pleased to see her sister.

Mary ends her letter asking my grandma for several addresses – cousins, aunts, and uncles who lived in the Cities. And finally, the reason the letter was saved in the first place…a recipe. Mary doesn’t indicate what the recipe is for, but my mom says it is definitely a Christmas favorite – spritz cookies. When these McMahon women baked, they meant business! The recipe calls for 10 cups of flour and four cups of shortening!

My grandma kept the letter initially because the recipe was something she only made once a year – otherwise she would have committed it to memory like so many of her other recipes. After years of making the cookies, she didn’t need to look at that letter for the ingredients or baking instructions. I suspect that she kept it and looked at it for the exact same reasons I treasure the letter today.

When I first read the letter, I immediately remember the year we all made Christmas cookies together. When she was done mixing the dough by hand, I had the task of scraping my Great-Aunt Mary’s fingers with the dull edge of a knife to make sure not one scrap was wasted. That memory leads to how much I miss my grandma and love my own family and great-pal-older-sister.

Each time my grandma unfolded that piece of paper, long after her days of baking 10 cup cookie recipes had passed, I can only imagine what memories filled her heart, but I know she never forgot the love she had for her sister and pal, Mary.

************************

If you would like to see an example of what the transcribed letter looks like, please email me clontarfhistory@gmail.com.

Please visit the Archival Solutions website for more information on transcription and other services. They believe that history matters and we must preserve our history in order to keep the stories alive for future generations.


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Happy Birthday Minnie!

Mary Foley, 1875-76

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 is a cute name, 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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