Tag Archives: McMahon

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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These Old Houses

I posted this article on my other blog –http://www.theirishinamerica.com – earlier this week. Hope you enjoy it…

The first time I visited Ireland in 1988, I was struck by the number of derelict farmhouses dotting the countryside. “Why doesn’t someone just tear those old houses down?” I wondered. “That’s what we do in the good ol’ USA…we don’t leave houses to fall down on themselves. If we don’t want or need them, we get rid of them and build something new and better…”

Abandoned house near Ballyedmond, County Laois (all photos by Regan McCormack)

This sentiment came from a teenage girl from the city who spent more time in the countryside during six weeks in Ireland than she had in sixteen years back home – in the “good ol’ USA”. I thought I was so smart…

Fast-forward twenty years and I am closer to home, driving the country roads of Tara Township, crisscrossing its thirty-six square miles in Swift County, Minnesota. My maternal great-great-grandparents were among the pioneer 1870s settlers of this township on the vast prairie of Western Minnesota. This was my first visit to Tara. I had traveled three thousand miles from home on a number of occasions to visit Ireland, my “ancestral homeland”, yet I had never bothered to drive a few hours west to see where my people settled when they came to Minnesota.

Granted, as far as vacation destinations are concerned, Ireland is a bit more attractive than Western Minnesota, but it turns out, the two places have some things in common.

There are the obvious similarities in place names in this part of Minnesota. Bishop John Ireland established several colonies of Irish Catholic settlers with names like Avoca, Kildare, Tara, and Clontarf. Hundreds of Irish families from cities and communities in the Eastern United States seized the opportunity to own land and live in a community with its own church and priest, surrounded by fellow Irish Catholics.

The Depression came early to rural communities and persistent crop failures and changing farming practices combined to make farming unviable for most small farmers. My relatives moved to Minneapolis, as did several other Tara families. Some of the original Irish settlers had left Tara even earlier, moving further West, always in search of better land.

So, I wonder why I was surprised to find this in Tara Township?

Section 22 of Tara Township – the McMahon place

On nearly every section of land in the township stands an abandoned farmhouse, or at least a grove of trees planted by the original settlers to protect a house. And this in the “good ol’ USA” where we tear things down!

Folks in Ireland and Tara Township have the same reaction when I ask them why they don’t simply tear down the abandoned houses. They shrug and say that they are no bother and they can be used for storage. That is the practical response, but I wonder if there is something a bit more sentimental lurking beneath?

The abandoned houses got me thinking…A similar hopelessness that drove millions of Irish to America during the 19th and 20th centuries could be seen in rural Americans who fled the farm for the city in the 1920s. Major difference, of course, is there was not a famine like Ireland experienced, however there was tremendous poverty, crops failed miserably, families were split up, and life changed permanently and dramatically.

I am rather ashamed of my sixteen-year-old self for not being as smart as she thought she was. She should have realized that the same reason this stands today in Ireland…

Near Ballyedmond, County Laois – 2011

might be why this…

Cahir Castle, Tipperary – 2011

and this…

Rock of Dunamase, County Laois – 2011

and this…

Johnstown, County Kildare – 2009

are still here today. I doubt that the farmhouse ruins will have the staying power of the castles and abbeys of centuries gone by, but in the meantime they can remind us from where we came. Whether it is a farmhouse in Ireland or Tara Township, Minnesota.

Now, if I could only get Jimmy to fix up this old house…

Two Jimmy McCormacks at old family house in Ballyedmond – 2009
Have a great weekend and please visit http://www.theirishinamerica.com!

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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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Made in Clontarf (or Tara, to be precise)

My grandma Agnes (bottom) and her sister Margaret - 1919

This photograph was taken on a farm in Benson shortly after the Thomas McMahon family had moved from Clontarf. My grandma Agnes is about six-years-old and is pictured with her older sister Margaret. The only snapshots taken of my grandma as a child are from this one day. I suspect a visitor to the farm had a camera!

Today is my grandma’s birthday. Agnes McMahon (no middle name, much to her disgust) was born in Tara Township on January 12, 1913, the sixth child of Mary Foley (Minnie from the last post) and Thomas McMahon. Minnie milked the cows in the morning, came back inside and had my grandma. Although she was only six when the McMahons left Clontarf for Benson, and twelve when the family left Swift County for good and moved to Minneapolis, my grandma’s fond memories of life on the farm stayed with her until she died.

 

Agnes McMahon and John Regan - 1941 - my grandparents

 

Without my grandma’s stories of her family, the farm, and Clontarf, I doubt I would have become so interested in the history of this little town on the prairie. (I must confess, growing up I pictured Clontarf just like Walnut Grove from Little House on the Prairie.) Nearly every story my grandma told me has “checked out”. It has been fascinating to see her tales come to life in property deeds, sacrament registers, and general store records.

Grandma was misguided on one point, which was her insistence that her Grandpa Bushey – pioneer Tara settler Francis McMahon – was a drummer boy in the Civil War. In fact, he was an enlisted man. I can’t really fault her for this because Grandpa Bushey died when my grandma was only five-years-old and he was a tiny little man with a twinkle in his eye, I am sure she could not imagine him as a soldier.

My grandma enjoyed nothing better than a good puzzle (unless it was a competitive game of cards) and she would be interested in all the little “mysteries” my mom and I have solved in the last eight years of Clontarf research. She was the all-around best person I have ever known, and in my opinion, the best Grandma ever.

And it all started in Tara…

Grandpa Bushey's Tara homestead in 2007

 

The folks at Archival Solutions, LLP have transcribed a couple of items of my grandma’s that I would like to share with you…stay tuned…

 

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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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