Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Speeding to the front" in defense of the nation

Once more war's alarm is heard - the Government is shaken to its foundation, and now General Scott is called upon to save the Capital. Will the men of the North arise? Will they come to protect the nation? Yes, they spring forward to the fray and the veteran chieftain knows that thousands are rushing to his aid. The flower of the country are speeding to the front - but the first to meet his sight, the First Defenders appear, and two of the five companies are from Pottsville! Should any ask what town this is whose men have passed all others in the race, he would learn of a people who have already made history enough to fill a folio, and the story of whose energetic career would be the story of the anthracite coal trade.

This glowing description of the citizens of Pottsville was written in 1876 by George Chambers. His Historical Sketch of Pottsville: Schuylkill County, Pa. is interesting reading, particularly when you understand that Pottsville as a town had been in existence for less than a century at the time this history was written.

Among the First Defenders mentioned by Chambers, were two from the Cowhey family: William and Thomas. Part of their volunteer tour of duty (which lasted only three months) was a turn guarding the nation's capital.

Here is a partial description of the movements of Company I-16 according to Samuel P. Bates' History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5:

Joining in the general forward movement, which commenced about the middle of June, the regiment proceeded to the Potomac, and on the 16th, crossed with the advance Division; but soon after returned and remained encamped near the river until the 2nd day of July.

Getting across the Potomac seems to have been quite an ordeal for the brothers. Having read Thomas' handwritten account of their crossing, I was very happy to find E.G. Arnold's 1862 map of the District of Columbia and the defenses surrounding and protecting it at the time.

Its official title is Topographical Map of the Original District of Columbia and Environs: Showing the Fortifications around the City of Washington. The publication of the map has an interesting story. The Alexandria Library website states that:

According to the Spring/Summer 2003 (Vol. 15, No. 1) issue of Washington History, two days after the map went on sale in various shops in 1862, the War Department confiscated most copies, as was the copper plate that was used to print the original maps. In addition, the Department obtained the names of purchasers and seized the maps from the homes of private citizens to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands insofar as the map identifies and locates 51 forts that defended Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.

Surviving copies of the map can now be found at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland (Cartographic & Architectural Section) in addition to the Alexandria Library in Virginia.

E.G. Arnold's pastel map is quite a work of art. It shows Washington, D.C.'s wards, watercourses and original boundary in addition to its various defenses circa 1862. It is a fascinating look back at a time when the nation's capital faced not armies of hot, summer tourists, but a more threatening force. Thanks to the defense of volunteers like the Cowhey brothers, the nation's capital remains as we know it today.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge!

Ireland has a long tradition of literature, both in the Irish and English languages. In fact, after Greek and Latin, the Irish language itself has the oldest literature in Europe. The land is known for both its ancient bards and its more modern poetry and epic works of fiction. Today there are also innumerable non-fiction books touching on subjects related to Irish history and culture.

In the hope that you have some time on your hands this summer to do a little reading, here is a challenge for you:

Read a book of Irish fiction, a selection of Irish poetry or a work of non-fiction about Irish history and/or culture, and share it with us for the 7th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. Submissions are due Friday, July 25. The carnival will be published Monday, July 28. (This is a slight change from the original deadline.)
If you don't have a blog of your own, read along with us and share your "book reviews" by leaving a comment here.

Hope you'll join us! Better get off to the bookstore or the library and make your summer reading selections right away!

Speaking of reading, if you haven't yet done so check out the 6th edition of the carnival: The many faces of Irish identity. Scroll down to the end to find a summary of the carnival's previous editions. Happy reading!

The many faces of Irish identity

Beyond wearing green on St. Patrick's Day...

Beyond appreciating the sound of your Irish surname as it rolls off of your tongue (or wishing that you had one)...

What does "being Irish" mean to you?

That was the question posed to the contributors of this, the 6th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

The answer: many things to many people.

Here are the responses of this edition's contributors, a group that includes a wide range of people: a well-traveled citizen of Ireland, a Pennsylvania town's "unofficial ambassador" for its Irish heritage, a few descendants of proud Irish grandmothers, some family historians who have just begun to learn about their Irish ancestry, and others.

You may find yourself pondering your own answer to the question as you read the responses of our contributors.

What does it mean to be Irish?

"Stubborn tenacity, undaunting hope and joy in the very simple things in life"

To be born Irish (in my experience, at least) is to be born into the family of a proud people. Whether born on Irish soil or born the child of Irish-American immigrants, the various generations on the Irish side of my family tree faced challenges, sufferings and sometimes almost insurmountable odds. Leaving Ireland did not free them from their struggles, but brought new trials along with new opportunities. In my post here at Small-leaved Shamrock entitled To be born Irish, I share my memories of time spent at my grandparents' home as a young girl and my understanding of the mixed feelings that they may have had about their Irish heritage. For an understanding of "the unmistakable tug of remembrance" of Ireland shared by those whose "roots have grown in her rich soil", see my post entitled "Are you ancestoring, dear?" over at A light that shines again.

"Pride in my ancestors for what they overcame"

Bill West (in New England) summed up his response to this edition's question with a simple title that tells it all: PRIDE. His post gives us a little background on the first Irishman on the Boston police force (way back in 1851) and the man's personal encounter with the reality of the "No Irish Need Apply" attitude. Bill goes on to share the story of his own great-grandfather's Irish-American success story in Boston and articulates his personal pride in his Irish heritage. He also expresses his own feelings about the echoes of history that he sees in the current debates on modern immigration issues and the American trend toward identifying individuals as "hyphenated Americans".

"It is often the exile who knows patriotism best"

Loretta Murphy of The Creek answers the question Do You Know What it Means to be Irish? in several ways. First, she tells us a little bit about her hometown of Girardville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Resident population with known Irish heritage: 28.5%. Loretta gives us a short list of what "being Irish" doesn't mean before sharing a poem that she wrote a few years ago after a trip to Ireland. As she states in the introduction to her poem, "it is often the exile who knows patriotism the best". (Not to mention the exile's great-grandchildren.) For more from Loretta on Girardville's population of Irish-Americans, along with a list of the American communities with the most Irish background today, see The Girardville Irish.

"A pot of shamrocks" and "a golden thread connecting generations"

Often told about her grandmother's "100% Irish" heritage, Elizabeth O'Neal of Little Bytes of Life did the math on her own Irish pedigree. Read To Be 100% Irish to learn how her Irish ancestry figures into her family tree. Although it includes only sparse family information, Elizabeth feels that the knowledge that she has about her own Irish heritage is "a golden thread connecting generations". Elizabeth also shares the beautiful story of her grandmother's pot of green shamrocks and how they kept a little bit of Ireland alive for her in her own yard, though far from the Emerald Isle.

"The map of Ireland is on your face"

It seems that Irish grandmothers often deserve the credit for successfully passing down a love for Ireland within the hearts of their grandchildren. Like Elizabeth's grandmother, Janice's wanted to be sure that her granddaughter knew that she was Irish and felt pride in her Irish roots. Janice Brown shares What My Irish Heritage Means to Me and gives us a little glimpse into the life of "Gram", who has a special place in Janice's heart and may find one in yours as well.

Janice also gives us a little American history lesson - from a different perspective than American students may receive in school. Want to know the impact that the Irish had on the settlement of New Hampshire, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil War? Read Janice's The Patriotic New Hampshire Men from the "Old Sod" to learn more.

"To never forget the ancestral homeland"

Barbara Joly of Our Carroll Family Genealogy is a fourth-generation Irish-American living in France. In a way, her family has come full circle with her residency in Europe, although she has not yet visited Ireland. Barbara tells us the story of another part of her family who made the circle from Philadelphia back to Ireland and then again back to Philadelphia. The story of Mary Hansen's illness and then her recovery at the hands of family back in Ireland portrays Barbara's love for the stories of our Irish heritage, which she encourages us all to never be ashamed of or forget.

"I may never be able to feel what it means to be Irish"

It was only a few years ago that Tim Agazio, who grew up with a strong Italian-American identity, had any clue that he had Irish heritage. His discovery of his great-great-grandfather's birth in Dublin in the early 19th-century was a surprise to him, and changed his notions about his roots. As Tim shares in his post My Irish Heritage, very little obvious clues to that side of his family's heritage were passed down in the family except perhaps his family's Catholic faith. Read more about his surprise at discovering his Irish roots on his blog Genealogy Reviews Online.

"My sojourn into my Irish history has just begun"

Based on genealogical research thus far, footnoteMaven has found strong ties to Ireland, yet no definitive proof that she herself shares Irish roots. Were her ancestors just passing through Ireland from Scotland (for a century or so) before moving on to America? Read the story of the Campbell clan, and the couple who left Ireland for America circa 1790: "...a new start and a new life for them both; a life from which they would never return to County Tyrone." As their descendant, footnoteMaven is quite far removed from her Irish roots, if indeed she has any. We'll have to stay tuned as she works through her research plan to determine the truth about her possible Irish heritage.

"You can take me out of the country but you can't take the country out of me"

Born and raised in Ireland, Colm Doyle is currently residing in Estonia - his fifth country of residence. As a frequent traveler, he has looked at his Irish nationality from both the inside and the outside. In his post entitled What does it mean to be Irish he shares his perspective on his Irish identity and his thoughts on the complexities that surround the ideas that others have of "Irishness". Colm bemoans the fact that many are "perfectly comfortable in their Irishness sans the Irish language" and makes the realization that "...in essence identity is a personal matter and shouldn't be mixed up in borders, politics or passports." Read more of his thoughts on his own Irish identity at his blog Corcaighist: Musings from the Cork Republic.

As Colm stated in his post, "...at the end of the day there is no one or right way to define Irishness or test someone's Irishness. Afterall a sense of national identity is not a nationality." As we've seen by the response to this edition's question, those that feel a connection to Ireland do so on many different levels and many different ways.

I hope that you've enjoyed joining our various contributors as they've pondered the question of their own connection to Ireland and its culture and heritage.

If you liked what you read, you might enjoy the "back issues" of our Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Thanks for reading this, the 6th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. Please plan to join us for the upcoming 7th edition. See The Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge! for the details. (Warning: there's homework involved!)

Thanks to Jordan McClements for the use of the beautiful photographs of the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.

Shamrocks courtesy of Karen's Whimsy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Small-leaved Shamrock!

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my series of family history blogs.

Small-leaved Shamrock, 100 Years in America and A light that shines again are one year old!

I had known that it was coming, but yesterday in the midst of busy daily activities, it slipped my mind that the one-year mark had arrived. Somehow my inattention to the date seems very appropriate. One of the joys of writing and publishing via blog is just how beautifully that it has allowed me to fit in writing on subjects that I enjoy within the confines of a busy life. Daily life continues to keep up its busy pace around me, yet ideas flow and when I find a quiet moment, I make a short visit to the computer to log my thoughts and to eventually share them with readers like you.

The year has flown, yet somehow I can't imagine life now now without sharing a part of my world and my family history with family, friends and other readers via blog. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience to have this avenue to share information and stories that I have been collecting for many years, and at the same time to find that in the sharing I am inspired to learn more.

In celebration of this one year anniversary of my entry into the world of the weblog, I've done a little counting. Here's the tally thus far:

Small-leaved Shamrock - 116 posts
100 Years in America - 112 posts
A light that shines again - 77 posts

Grand total - 305 posts for my first year of blogging!

This number does not include mention of innumerable drafts that I have started and not quite finished yet. Nor does it really mean too much in the way of importance. What is significant to me is that I've written about things that are meaningful and interesting to me in the realm of my personal family history. I hope that you'll agree and that you've enjoyed sharing a little bit in the story of my family and my Irish, Hungarian and Croatian heritage. If so, please continue the journey along with me as reader as I begin my second year publishing via the web.

Below are a couple dozen highlights from Small-leaved Shamrock over the past year. If you're just being introduced to Small-leaved Shamrock, these are some of my favorite posts and might be good starting places for you to begin reading. If you joined me fairly recently, you might enjoy going back to read some of the oldies but goodies.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, which was born here at Small-leaved Shamrock. Thus far the carnival has seen five editions. The sixth will be published here next week on June 9.

Topics have covered "all things Irish". The carnivals have been a wonderful collection of various writers from an interesting assortment of blogs sharing their stories and feelings about Ireland and the Irish. Following is a summary of the various editions of the carnival so far:
Thanks to all of you who have been contributing writers to the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture thus far. I look forward to more good reading material from you in the year to come!

Speaking of carnivals, the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories edited by Thomas MacEntee inspired me last December to write my largest number of articles in any one month. Prompted by various holiday themes, I wrote ten articles on Irish traditions of the Christmas season here at Small-leaved Shamrock (not including a number at my other two blogs), for a grand total of 19 posts that month on this blog. (No wonder I never finished my Christmas cards last year!)

Inspired to celebrate some Irish traditions yourself and to dig further into your own Irish family history? You might enjoy reading a couple of my contributions to our 2nd carnival edition on Irish research:
If you make any exciting discoveries, please share them with me. I always love to hear about long-lost family history that has been newly rediscovered and can then be passed on down through the generations. Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to start writing your own family history blog!

Once again as I celebrate my one year blogging anniversary, I send a special thank-you to you, my readers, and particularly to those of you that have taken the time to send comments or emails. Thanks for reading and I look forward to continuing this journey with you for another year.

For more highlights from the world of Lisa's blogs, you might enjoy reading Happy Anniversary, 100 Years in America! and Happy Anniversary, A light that shines again!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

To be born Irish

We made frequent visits to my grandparents' houses when I was a child. Both of their homes were special places, with different types of things to see and touch, different cousins and aunts and uncles to meet there, and different wonderful places in which to play "hide and go seek".

At the home of my grandparents with Irish heritage, I don't remember much talk of the Irish or Ireland. But just as I learned later in life how very Hungarian my Hungarian grandmother was, so it took me reaching adulthood to realize the true Irish character of my other pair of grandparents.

Oh, I knew that they were Irish. With the prevalence of St. Patrick's Day celebrations each year at school, I had asked early whether or not I had any Irish in me. Each year I wore my green and proudly replied (in response to would-be pinchers) that "Yes!" I was "half Irish", thank-you!

Yet, somehow, the pride in our Irish heritage never seemed to be something that was passed down from my grandparents' generation, yet was something that my generation and the previous generation had insisted upon, possibly thanks to the modern American popularity of celebrating St. Patrick's Day as it rolled around each year.

It may have been that my grandparents were just too close generationally-speaking to those family members who had suffered somehow for being Irish.

The poor Irish coal miner who may have died in the mines, the Irish railroad engineer not always supported by the company he worked his life to serve, the immigrant Irish laborer and his wife who had survived the famine as children and never wanted to return to Ireland again...

These were my grandparents' grandparents - they knew them and they had seen some of the hardship of their lives. It wasn't always so good to be Irish. That may be why they had mixed feelings about talking too much with their own grandchildren about what it meant to be Irish. It was sometimes too painful.

My grandfather went on to graduate from Harvard business school and made a career for himself as a retail marketing executive. The grandson of two poor Irish immigrant laborers, he was the first to get a college education and the first to truly break out of the cycle of near-poverty and manual labor that had been the reality of so many generations before him.

When I wear my green today, particularly on St. Patrick's Day each year, I feel pride in my grandfather's accomplishments and in the accomplishments of those before him. The perseverance they each showed against almost insurmountable odds, the strength they exhibited by having to face situations and suffering that should not be required of a human being, this is what it means to me to be Irish.

My hope is that I have inherited at least a small portion of their stubborn tenacity, their undaunting hope and the joy in the very simple things in life that got them through the obstacles that they faced because God had ordained that they were to be born Irish.

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