Welcome (Céad Míle Fáilte!) to Small-leaved Shamrock

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Celtic blessing: food for the soul

This year, in the midst of a very busy month, my birthday came and went without the traditional celebration. It was certainly not an ordinary day. In fact, it was a little too exciting. I spent the day at an out-of-town event and for some reason ran into several minor crises and unpleasantries along the way. In the midst of all the hubbub, the occasion of my birthday was lost and the turning of another year occurred without much commemoration.

In the time since this birthday had passed, I had reflected on its absence as a missed friend, sorry that I had not had a chance to spend time with it while it was near.

Time went on yet this sentiment remained with me as another year of my life was unfolding when I picked up a new book of blessings written by the Irish poet John O'Donohue. Interestingly enough, the first page that I opened to was entitled For Your Birthday. I looked again closely to be sure of what I was reading, and then read on.

Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth...

"How beautiful," I thought as I read. And what a gift.

There was more. I kept reading. As I came to the end I found:

...Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world's waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echo-ing day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul:
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

Reading these poetic words, in the form of a blessing, gave food to my soul - the soul that had been harried and rushed through a milestone of life meant to be counted and tasted and treasured.

In the process of learning about the history of my family, I have often made a point to remember the birth and death dates of family members who have passed before me. Yet, here I had not taken the time to commemorate my own birthday properly. What a gift these words were which reminded me to do so, and to open my eyes to the "gifts that I never notice" and to the possibility of "harvesting the memory of vanished days", as John O'Donohue put it.

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings is the concrete result (if poetic sentiments such as these can be considered concrete) of his belief in the importance of stopping and recognizing the meaning behind each of life's thresholds and journeys. O'Donohue provides food for the soul for those facing various crossroads in life: beginnings (such as starting a new day), desires (for friendship, for love...), thresholds (for a new father, for old age...), states of heart (for grief, for failure, for loneliness), callings (for marriage, for work...) and more. Special blessings that I thought interesting were "For the Artist at the Start of the Day", "For Love in a Time of Conflict", and "For Someone Awakening to the Trauma of His or Her Past".

Perhaps my favorite is O'Donohue's soul-touching blessing "For a Mother-to-Be". I don't believe that I have ever read words that describe the experience of motherhood so perfectly as these do. Now just how did he know? Here is an excerpt:

Nothing could have prepared
Your heart to open like this.

From beyond the skies and the stars
This echo arrived inside you
And started to pulse with life,
Each beat a tiny act of growth,
Traversing all our ancient shapes
On its way home to itself.

What an amazing look at the gift of a child's new life and his or her tie with their own mother, father and ancestors. O'Donohue's blessing to the new mother goes on:

Once it began, you were no longer your own.
A new, more courageous you, offering itself
In a new way to a presence you can sense
But you have not seen or known...


...May the emerging spirit of your child
Imbibe encouragement and joy

From the continuous music of your heart,
So that it can grow with ease,
Expectant of wonder and welcome

When its form is fully filled

And it makes its journey out
To see you and settle at last
Relieved, and glad in your arms.

The tremendously insightful words of O'Donohue's To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings have broadened my understanding of the importance of the Celtic tradition of offering blessing. Almost everyone who knows anything about Irish culture is familiar with common Irish blessings. Probably the most famous is:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

John O'Donohue, by renewing the tradition of the Celtic blessing through his new book, has given us a fresh reason to remember to take time to mark and savor the thresholds on the journey of life.

Now for me to get this new day, threshold that it is, off to the right start.

Sadly, John O'Donohue passed away unexpectedly in January 2008. The loss of this fine Irish poet will be felt sorely throughout the world and in his home of Connemara in the west of Ireland.

For more information about O'Donohue's life and other writings, see
his official website.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A joyful Easter Monday to you!

In Ireland of long ago (at least as far back as the early 19th-century) Easter Monday was a day of fun and festivity along with an additional day to attend Mass in celebration of Easter. Unfortunately, many of the special traditions carried out on Easter Monday are no longer followed.

Bridget Haggerty's article entitled Easter Monday Mirth & Merriment at the Market on the Irish Culture and Customs website gives a nice explanation of the ways in which the Irish used to spend this special day.

Here's hoping that your Easter Monday will be special, no matter how you spend it. If you do nothing else, the least you can do is try your hand at an Irish jig in celebration of the Easter season!

Image of the 1904 postcard from the collection of Scott Williams of St. Louis Time Portal.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Irish Easter blessing for you

"At the breaking of the Easter dawn
may the Risen Saviour bless your home
with grace and peace from above,
with joy and laughter, and with love
And when night is nigh, and day is done
Make He keep you safe from all harm."

Beannachtaí Ná Cásca oraibh!

May the blessings of Easter be upon you!

For a good article on Irish Easter traditions, see Bridget Haggerty's The dance of the Sun at dawn and a cake dance in the afternoon on the Irish Culture and Customs website. You might also enjoy Easter Saturday and Funeral for a Fish.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A blessed Good Friday

For an interesting article on the way that the Irish have traditionally kept Good Friday see Bridget Haggerty's article Good Friday Haircuts and Seaweed for Dinner on the Irish Culture and Customs website.

Illustration of cross at Glendalough, County Wicklow from the Project Gutenberg eBook An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800 by Mary Frances Cusack illustrated by Henry Doyle.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Irish Gaelic edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

No, I'm not planning to write the whole carnival out in Irish Gaelic. Now, that would be some task for one who blunders when just trying to pronounce "Céad Míle Fáilte!"

The title of this post refers to the upcoming 5th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture - which I hope you'll plan to be a part of.

There's something about the Irish Gaelic language that has such an appeal to those of us who speak English. It has a mysterious sound (and often a mysterious meaning to those of us that can't easily translate it).

The 5th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture will honor the beauty of the Irish language with a focus on Irish Gaelic names and words.
  • Has the charm of the name of a place in Ireland always called to you to visit someday?

  • As a child did you secretly wish you had the Irish name of a great-grandparent instead of the name you were born with?

  • Do you have a story to tell about someone with an Irish surname?

  • Is there an Irish proverb that you have always loved to let slide off of your tongue in its original language?

Join us for the 5th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. The only prerequisite is that your post must tie in with our focus on the Irish Gaelic language.

Posts for this edition of the carnival are due April 27. Submit your entries here. The carnival will be posted at A light that shines again on St. Ciarán's Day, April 30. (Well, one of the St. Ciarán's days - there are actually 14 in the calendar of Irish saints. Now there's one popular Irish Gaelic name!)

Hope you'll join us for a celebration of Gaeilge!

If you haven't yet done so, don't forget to read the 2008 St. Patrick's Day edition of the carnival.

Until we meet again:

Slán agus beannacht leat!

Good-bye and blessings on you!

"Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam"
(A country without a language, a country without a soul)

Image of shamrocks courtesy of Karen's Whimsy.

A St. Patrick's Day parade of posts!

St. Patrick's Day has long been honored in the land of the Emerald Isle - and is today also celebrated by the millions of "exiles" the world over who share Irish heritage or a love for Ireland's culture.

Welcome to the St. Patrick's Day edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. If you are an Irish citizen, have Irish ancestry, or just love the history and culture of Ireland, you've come to the right place this St. Patrick's Day.

Of course, you may have heard that today is not officially the feast of St. Patrick. The importance of the liturgical celebration for 2008 has been eclipsed by that of Monday of Holy Week. Yet, secular St. Patrick's Day celebrations will continue today and lovers of Ireland the world over cannot help but be sentimental about the land of Erin every March 17, this year included.

So sit back, grab a cup of Irish tea and a scone or two, and join us for a parade of posts celebrating all things Irish!

Just to get you in the mood for St. Patrick's Day, we'll begin with a tour of Irish heritage around the web.

I enjoyed reading the fictional story of a shillelagh passed down through one family along with the tale of their immigrant ancestor's journey to America. Over at A light that shines again you can read more about this charming children's book and why "a good story never has to end...". What a nice surprise to find that Elizabeth's young daughter (of Little Bytes of Life) found a shillelagh hiding behind a door in her home and pulled it out to enjoy it! View her blog to see photos of this wee lass "walking tall" with her grandmother's shillelagh.

The book and Elizabeth's photos make me think of the many heirlooms and tales of my own family's heritage that I wish had been passed down just one more generation. Some of you have shared your family's stories for our St. Patrick's Day carnival. It is good to know that they will be passed down for posterity.

I enjoyed reading about Colleen Johnson's heritage in both Tierlaheen, County Clare and Drumlish, County Longford. Only a second generation American herself, Colleen tells of her grandmother's sad departure from Ireland and her own visits many years later with Clune cousins in her family's ancestral village. You'll enjoy the story about Colleen's love of the cliffs of Moher and her attempts at leaning over the edge and looking down to get a great photo. (Get a feel for the cliffs yourself via a video link on Colleen's post.) Colleen and her family's mistake on their visit to her grandfather's boyhood home is one that all those searching for their roots in a foreign homeland would be wise to avoid.

Not all of us can be as sure as Colleen as to where our Irish roots originated. Terry Thornton of Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi has memories of his mother's claim to Irish heritage, but as dedicated a genealogist as he is, he has not yet been able to find the paper trail back to Ireland. His post entitled Am I of Irish Descent? The Hollingsworth Connection details his research so far and his questions regarding his ancestors who may have been Irish or if not, possibly English residents of the land of Erin.

Bill West over in New England has a better grasp on his own Irish heritage. His mother even helped to get the local St. Patrick's Day parade established. Yet, his shortcoming is his inability to pronounce the language of his ancestors. Read My Mother's Mother's Mother's Mother Tongue for a humorous look at Bill's attempt to introduce a Celtic band with an Irish Gaelic name.

I, too, can relate to finding difficulty with the foreign-sounding Irish language and wishing it could have been passed down to me along with my Irish genes. If you'd like a few tips on how to pronounce some simple Irish phrases for St. Patrick's Day, take a look at Your St. Patrick's Day to-do list here at Small-leaved Shamrock.

Speaking of a "mother's mother's mother's mother tongue", I've posted a tribute to the Irish women in our family trees at Irish women in America: our grandmothers' stories. Want to learn more about the history of the tough and resilient women of Ireland and those of Irish descent who spent their lives as immigrants in a new world? This post includes a list of recommended reading to deepen our understanding of their history.

Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire, who also has Irish heritage, found herself interested in the Irish roots of N.A.S.A. Endeavor Mission Specialist Dr. Rick Linnehan. Her post about Dr. Linnehan explores his Irish ancestry in Massachusetts. Janice wonders if he'll be taking a shamrock with him on his visit into space. The current Endeavor mission, launched on March 11, will continue through March 26. Here's hoping the crew will take a break from their work to commemorate St. Patrick's Day!

Speaking of St. Patrick's Day, the holiday's long history and full meaning are not always understood by those celebrating. For a little history lesson on the meaning behind all the fuss on March 17, see my post at A light that shines again where I've written A wee bit of Irish history for ya.

Want to know more about St. Patrick himself, the man in whose name all the festivities are held? Read my post entitled The man of the hour: Pádraig of Ireland here at Small-leaved Shamrock for a little background on his life and a sample of his actual writings, which survive to the present day.

Loretta Murphy on her Girardville, Pennsylvania blog The Creek (pronounced "crick") has written a beautiful post detailing the history and significance of St. Patrick's Day as a holiday primarily in celebration of the faith of the Irish people. Loretta writes, "The significance of St. Patrick's Day for all Irish is, in the end, one of culture. It is a tradition, a symbol of our ethnic history and religious heritage. Regardless of where or how it is celebrated, it is a matter of Irish pride that the true meaning of the celebration be made known." Read about that true meaning in her post entitled St. Patrick's Day 2008.

Already think you know everything there is to know about St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle? Try your luck on a few quizzes to prove it.

If you come up short on a few of those questions and need a review or if you'd like to share the history and fun of St. Patrick's Day with children, a good place to start is my post On leprechauns and other little people. You'll find a list of recommended children's books on St. Patrick's Day and Ireland in general. Here's your chance to be sure that the children in your life know that there's more to St. Patrick's Day than snacks with green food coloring.

Enough for the background on St. Patrick's Day. Eventually you just have to get down to the celebration itself!

Here, thanks to a number of bloggers, we have some ideas on many different ways that you can spend your time this St. Patrick's Day.

But before we get started, a warning from Mike O'Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe. Read his post The Crying Shamerock Awards for a few items to avoid within your St. Patrick's Day celebrations: icons that claim to be of Irish origin but are really not.

Now on to our St. Patrick's Day plans. Here is a list of activities to fit into your day this March 17 or sometime during March 2008, designated in the U.S. as Irish-American heritage month.

Start your day with some Irish tea - Thomas MacEntee of Destination: Austin Family shares some good memories of having tea at his Grandmother's home in his post The Irish Tradition of Tea. He also gives five "rules" to follow when serving your own tea. My favorite of his rules has to do with picking the right teaspoon!

Wear your green - Who knows, if you wear your green and have Irish blood, you might even see a leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day. Read about Jessica's attempt to do so as a young girl at Thoughts About Irish Heritage in America ....

Sing an old Irish folk song - What better way to celebrate March 17 than to sing an old Irish ballad or folktune? When you've done too many rounds of Danny Boy, see my post Sing of Erin for another old (but often forgotten) classic.

Read some classic Irish poetry - One of my all-time favorites has to be "The Wearin' of the Green". Read my post about the 300-year-old poem which can't help but touch the heartstrings of anyone who has a soft spot for the Irish and their sad plight during some of their most difficult struggles in history.

Write some poetry of your own - How about an Irish poetic triad? You probably know that the number three is important to the Irish. St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish people. Bill West of West in New England has a fun suggestion: try creating some poetic triads of your own. See his post Three is the number thou shalt count... for details. A little history, a lot of blarney, good poetry - a successful formula for some quality St. Patrick's Day writing!

Do some St. Patrick's Day digital scrapbooking - Jasia's Creative Genealogy blog highlights some nice (and free) kits that will call out the creative gene in you. Stop by Ooodles O'Irish! for some fun project starters to liven up your St. Patrick's Day pictures or photographs of Irish family, occasions or travel.

Give your pet a proper Irish name - Tim Agazio of Genealogy Reviews Online found an old 1893 New York Times article exposing a controversy over the appropriateness of the Irish names given to various animals at the Central Park Zoo. Today, since Irish-Americans need no longer have as much fear of ridicule, I'm sure that those names would be a source of pride. Read Tim's article and then take pride in your Irish heritage by giving your beloved pet an Irish name this Irish-American heritage month.

Prepare some Irish recipes - Your Irish celebrations need not add on the pounds, says Anne-Marie of This Mama Cooks! On a Diet and My Readable Feast. Read her post 5 ways to stay lean and green this St. Patrick's Day for some tips, including how to do your corned beef and cabbage "right". Anne-Marie's St. Patrick's Day family fun and feasting gives a nice recipe for Honey-Almond Oat Pudding, a bit of Irish cuisine that may appeal to all the little lads and lasses that you know.

Watch an old movie about the Irish - Miriam of AnceStories suggests her favorite movie. Recollections of the lush green images of Ireland and the sound of Irish voices in The Quiet Man bring back fond memories for her. Read her post to hear about this movie from her childhood in Alaska and to see a video clip. Now, as we conclude this St. Patrick's Day parade of posts for the 4th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, here are a few special tributes for you.

From Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire (and her appropriately dressed "banner cow", decked out for St. Patrick's Day): Raising Your Pint to St. Patrick...

From footnoteMaven, giving us a little lesson in Irish Gaelic: Saol Fada Chugat

And as we say goodbye, I leave a St. Patrick's Day blessing for all of you - my Irish (and "Irish for the Day") readers of Small-leaved Shamrock and A light that shines again:

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

(Ban-ock-tee na fay-lah paw-rig ur-iv)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The man of the hour: Pádraig of Ireland

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day this year but don't know much about Pádraig himself? With all of the fun this weekend for St. Patrick's Day, I found myself wondering just how many people actual know anything about the details of the life of St. Patrick, who passed away back in the 5th century.

Did you know that some of his writings have survived to the present day? I've recently enjoyed reading The Confession of St. Patrick translated by John Skinner. It is, as Irish poet John O'Donohue puts it in his foreward to the book, "a window into a remarkable life". Patrick, who you may remember was actually born in Britain, first experienced Ireland as a captured slave boy. His call to return to Ireland many years after his escape is described in his narrative, which can also be found online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website.

Here is his story of being "Recalled to Ireland by a Dream":

And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.

The famous words of the prayer known as the "Breastplate of St. Patrick" or the "Lorica" also provide an insight into Patrick's faith and are a well-known creed for Catholics and Christians of many other denominations. Here is an excerpt:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.
May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

I have found it inspiring to learn more about the life of this holy man so revered in Ireland and throughout the world.

As we celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year, may the patron saint of Ireland smile down from Heaven and ask God's blessing on all of us as we participate in all this fun and frolic in his name!

For more on St. Patrick see the Irish Culture & Customs website's article entitled "I, Patrick, the sinner..."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Think you know your Irish trivia?

Get your thinking cap on under your green St. Patrick's Day hat and give these quizzes a try:
The last one is a doozy - you might want to study in advance if you're afraid to take a hit to your Irish pride with a low score. If not, go ahead and try your luck in the name of St. Patrick!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Your St. Patrick's Day to-do list

With St. Patrick's Day fast approaching, I hope you have gotten your plans in order for celebration.

Checked these off your list yet?
  • Something green to wear
  • Recipes and ingredients ready for a meal with Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, etc. (or plans to eat out at your favorite Irish pub)
  • Info and directions to get to your nearest St. Patrick's Day parades and celebrations
  • A few Irish Gaelic phrases - practiced and ready

What was that? You haven't been practicing your Irish Gaelic?

If you need a little help with pronunciations of a few quick phrases for St. Patrick's Day, here's just the thing. Rosetta Stone, maker of language-learning software for many native tongues the world over, is trying their hand at Irish Gaelic. As part of a promo for their new program they sent an Irish linguist out to teach everyday people on the street how to say some basic Irish phrases. The takers included a few cowboys who learned to introduce themselves in their new language. View the videos and try your hand at saying "Cheers!" in Gaelic and learning other useful phrases.

If you're really pressed for time, just start with this one-minute video below. Everyone with Irish blood runnin' through their veins should at least know how to say Happy Saint Patrick's Day in the language of their ancestors!

Have your green ready?

Only a day or so left to get ready for the St. Patrick's Day 2008 edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. (Well okay, if you're a procrastinator I'll give you a little extra time!)

Join us whether you have Irish heritage or not. An appreciation of any and all things Irish is the only prerequisite for entry.

Here are the details:

March is Irish heritage month in many places, thanks to the feast day of St. Patrick, beloved saint of Ireland. Our topic for this month will be anything and everything about Irish heritage, genealogy and culture.

Posts about St. Patrick will be appreciated, but posts related to any meaningful aspect of Ireland's heritage are welcomed.

The deadline is March 14, 2008. (If you can send me a blarney-ful excuse, I'll extend it a little in your case.) Submit your entry here. Then come join us for the celebration on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2008.

On the feast of St. Patrick, everyone likes to be Irish, at least for one day. Hope to see you wearing your green!

Update March 17: The carnival has been posted at A St. Patrick's Day parade of posts!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A whisper from St. Patrick...

A Wordless Wednesday entry (such as this one) is a picture that speaks for itself without a lot of description. I thought you might enjoy viewing this vintage St. Patrick's Day postcard.

Postcard image courtesy of Karen's Whimsy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sing of Erin

One of the resources that I wrote about earlier for sharing history with kids is the Library of Congress kids' website entitled America's Story from America's Library. The site has pages on many segments of American history, including a nice little entry on Irish-Americans and St. Patrick's Day. Visit the webpage for a link to a very, very short audio version of a simple little ditty celebrating Irish family heritage: My Father and Mother Were Irish.

There are certainly songs of Ireland that are very well-known. Danny Boy is probably the most famous of them. I was searching, however, for old Irish folksongs that might not be as easily recognized by most music listeners.

In looking for some of those obscure Irish-American folk songs, I found the words to the song Erin is Calling, whose sheet music cover is displayed on the America's Story website. So many songs written by the Irish, those that left and those that remained, have such a sadness to them. Erin is Calling is no different. Here are the words:

Erin is Calling

by William Jerome & Milton Ager, 1916

Can't you hear poor Erin sadly calling you?
Erin, alone, calls to her own
And her grief I'm sharin,' you must share it too:
Erin is calling you.

Fair Killarney's waters ebb and flow along
Fed by her tears all these long years
Erin's sons and daughters must right every wrong.
Erin, sweet land of song.

Shannon flowing;
Erin's tears have kept the shamrock growing.
You can hear a tear in every breeze that is blowing,
Erin is calling you.

Don't those words just make you want to go back to Ireland and comfort those poor sad rivers and breezes?

Barbelle, Albert, illustrator. "Erin Is Calling." Milton Ager, music. William Jerome, words. New York, William Jerome, 1916. Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 (from Duke University), American Memory collections, Library of Congress.

On leprechauns and other little people

If you read my post entitled Ready for battle: history for kids you probably know how much I value sharing history and heritage with children. As we approach St. Patrick's Day, I've been wondering about what the average American child thinks about the holiday. Often those with Irish heritage know as little as those without it.

I wasn't encouraged when I went looking for children's books about St. Patrick's Day. Craft books on the holiday were harder to come by than I had hoped, and when I did find them I was often dismayed. Potato sock puppets, shamrock-shaped mice, and stuffed leprechauns just don't do St. Patrick justice. Nor do snacks-of-all-sorts dolled up with green food coloring.

Is that the primary exposure that American children are getting to the history and culture of Ireland?

In my search for ideas to share with children on St. Patricks' Day, I did find a few appealing resources.

Gail Gibbons' book St. Patrick's Day' is a simply illustrated introduction to St. Patrick, the holiday which carries his name, and various Irish cultural icons. The reader meets the brave young boy who was kidnapped and forced to work as a shepherd across the sea in Ireland, whose people he would some day shepherd in faith. The book's simple introduction to St. Patrick, a few of the legends surrounding him, and to shillelaghs, harps and modern St. Patrick's Day celebrations is a good start.

St. Patrick's Day: Parades, Shamrocks, and Leprechauns by Elaine Landau is another nice resource to share with children regarding all the fuss on each March 17. It gives a much more detailed story of Patrick and his road to sainthood, and covers various legends and symbols of Ireland in detail.

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick's Day Symbols by Edna Barth is one of a series of books for kids on holiday celebrations. It's a fun look at St. Patrick's Day and the origin of some well-known Irish traditions and symbols.

S Is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet by Eve Bunting is a creative look at Ireland's culture via the ABCs. You can also find a fun teachers' guide to the book online. My favorite activity is writing "Fairy Ring poetry".

Along similar lines is Look What Came From Ireland by Miles Harvey. Using photographs and illustrations the book introduces children to the geography and culture of the Emerald Isle.

I hope this post has inspired you to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the children in your life. Why not share a few cookies together while wearing your green and reading a good book on Irish culture? I guess it wouldn't hurt if you iced the cookies the right color.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Irish women in America: our grandmothers' stories

I have observed that in various branches of my family the daughters often have had better collections of family photographs, heirlooms and keepsakes than the sons. To me (the eager family historian looking for clues to the lives of my ancestors several generations back) these collections have been a treasure trove of information: drawers and boxes full of items giving me glimpses into a history that would otherwise have been lost.

I have appreciated collections saved lovingly by dear great aunts and beloved grandmothers (and sometimes not so much saved lovingly as just stored deep enough down so as not to become the victim of the trash can!). I have often wished that the men in the family had the same interest in collecting - or that I could find the long lost women relations who did collect items for that side of the family.

These wishes can only go back so far, however. I know for a fact that the chances of finding a photograph of a family member taken in the 19th century get slimmer and slimmer the further back I go with my family tree. And what are the odds that family letters or mementos, even if they were saved by a nostalgic great-aunt, would have survived the wear and tear of more than a century?

So, sadly, for the stories of the lives of many of my family members over a century ago, I must turn to government documents and other records (when I can find them). More often than not, these focus on the male members of the family. Information on the lives of the women in my family is often harder to come by.

That's where works of social history come in. Pondering the lives of many of the women who came before me, I was looking for insights into the world of Irish immigrant women in America when I came across an interesting list of titles. As far back as 1996, Helen Fallon compiled and placed on the web a list of books dealing with 19th-century Irish emigrant women. Her assortment of annotated bibliographical references includes not only full books dealing with Irish emigrant women, but references to specific chapters of interest in more general volumes.

Here are a few titles that I plan to look further into:

Irish Women & Irish Migration edited by Patrick O'Sullivan - Two chapters of particular interest to women's history include Dymphna McLoughlin's essay Superfluous and Unwanted Deadweight: The Emigration of 19th-century Pauper Women and Miller, Doyle and Kelleher's For Love & Liberty: Irish Women, Migration and Domesticity in Ireland and America, 1815-1920.

Ourselves Alone: Women's Emigration from Ireland 1885-1920 by Janet Nolan - According to Fallon's annotated bibliography, the book includes descripions of the life of Irish women in the United States during this period.

The Irish in America: A Guide to the Literature and Manuscript Collections by Patrick Blessing - This resource includes twelve pages of sources focused on women in addition to many pages of other interesting topics on Irish-American history.

Erin's Daughters in America by Hasia Diner - This is a book that I had actually begun to read but had not yet finished. Diner's book, which attempts to cover many aspects of the lives of Irish-American women, often negatively focuses on the failures of the Irish but is interesting reading.

Immigrant Women in the United States: A Selectively Annotated Multidisciplinary Bibliography by Donna Gabaccia - A reference work for serious students of women's history, this book's country of origin index lists over 200 entries for Ireland.

Check out Helen Fallon's full annotated bibliography entitled The Emigration of Irish Women in the Nineteenth Century.

Another book not noted on the list that I found while searching for Irish women's history is Women in Ireland 1800-1919: A Documentary History. Using actual letters and documents of the time period (the kind I would like to discover handed down in my family) the book gives a glimpse into the world and lives of Irish women within the last two centuries.

In light of my search for the stories of my great-grandmothers and mothers many generations back I particularly enjoyed reading the admonishments to women written by Margaret Cusack (known as the Nun of Kenmare) as reprinted in Women in Ireland 1800-1918. She wrote in 1874:

"...Every mother is forming the future generation,...every mother is affixing her stamp and seal to the society which will be when she perhaps has gone to her account.

It is an awful thing to think how far we can control and influence the destinies of an entire race, of a race preparing for its future life.

Mothers! arise in the greatness of your power, in the splendour of your strength, and be the regenerators of the world. You have in your hands the making or marring of immortal destinies; do not, I beg you, be content with anything less."

In this month with its focus both on Irish-American heritage and women's history, Small-leaved Shamrock remembers and honors the life of each daughter of Erin who has gone before us and "affixed her stamp and seal" on her society and her family.

Though I may never learn the details of the life stories of many of my women ancestors, I know that they will always be a part of me and that their influence on the history of my family has helped to make me who I am today.

Have additional suggested reading that might open our eyes to the lives and times of the women in our Irish family trees? Please post a comment or send an email to Small-leaved Shamrock.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

All Cowheys on the steps for a family portrait!

Cowhey gathering, early 1940s: Home of John & Frances Owens Cowhey, 75 Main Street, Mount Carbon, PA

Well, maybe not all the Cowheys...

By the date of this photograph, the gathering of even a partial group of the descendants of William Cowhey and his two wives made for quite a party. William's first wife (who is listed as Catherine on some records but was known to the family as Anne) bore him at least five children before she died from "consumption in the lungs" in 1876, according to the physician's affidavit in William's Civil War pension file. His second wife, Margaret (Foley) Cowhey, whom he married in 1878, bore William ten more children.

I know of several family members that are most certainly missing from this portrait. I am currently trying to identify and label everyone in this picture. If you have any information that might help, please email or post a comment.

This photograph is also on the sidebar of Small-leaved Shamrock and at the post entitled One big happy family.

William Cowhey (Pvt., Co. I., 16th Pa. Inf., Civil War), pension no. 700,145, certificates no. 565,914 and 376459; Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

A Wordless Wednesday entry (such as this one) is a picture that speaks for itself without a lot of description. The picture may be one whose subjects are not yet identified or whose story is not fully understood. If you have any information about the subjects, date or location pertaining to the above photograph, please post a comment or send an email and share what you know.

The New York Times - November 15, 1892

There's just something about seeing the actual newspaper article...

In my earlier post entitled November 1892: PA train explosion makes NYC headlines I included the transcription of the New York Times article describing the boiler explosion that killed my great-great-grandfather William Cowhey and his fellow railroad men. The transcription was placed on the GenDisasters website by a kind volunteer.

Now, thanks to James Cowhey, another descendant of William, I have a copy of the actual article the way it appeared in the newspaper. Here is the way that New York Times readers would have viewed the story way back in 1892:

View the original article (full size) at The New York Times online archives.

“Five Killed by an Explosion: Engine on the Reading Railroad Torn to Pieces,” The New York Times, New York, New York, November 14, 1892, <
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9E05E3DE1638E233A25756C1A9679D94639ED7CF&oref=slogin> or <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E05E3DE1638E233A25756C1A9679D94639ED7CF>, accessed March 5, 2008.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cowhey family reunion - online!

Are you a descendant of Patrick & Anne Cowhey of Ireland, New York and Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania? If not, are you related to the Cowhey family by marriage? If so, join us for discussion via our new email list: cowheyhistory.

The email list will be a forum for cousins to communicate with eachother and share memories of family and old times in Mount Carbon and Pottsville. Never been to Schuylkill County? Join us anyway. We'll also share new discoveries about our family's shared history: trains, coal mines, Civil War stories and faith that kept the family going during hard times.

If you're a Cowhey cousin, come join us!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Reading engine no. 563: the lone survivor?

It was Reading engine no. 563 on which William Cowhey, engineer, and his fireman William Moyer were traveling home after their shift one November night in 1892. They had hopped on the train after their own shift ended on engine no. 73, and were headed to their respective homes in Mount Carbon and Palo Alto after a long day's work. Along with the crew of the no. 563, Cowhey and Moyer went to their deaths when a powerful boiler explosion ripped through the engine.

One of the men, Michael Dobbins, survived the explosion, but was badly injured and unconscious, according to the Pottsville Republican's November 14, 1892 account of the event.

If Dobbins' injuries were indeed fatal, that would leave only one survivor of the explosion of Reading engine 562 on November 14, 1892: the train itself.

Although badly damaged, the train appears to have been rebuilt. It's wooden cab was replaced by a "modern" metal cab. Here she is, circa 1930's, more than likely the lone survivor of the fateful accident that day:

This image of Reading engine no. 563 is from the archives of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Much thanks to Ronald Bailey, President of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania Advisory Council, an avid railroad historian, and licensed steam locomotive engineer, for finding and sharing this photograph.


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