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

Monday, November 30, 2009

The story of the Irish from the heart of Pennsylvania

Irish-American coal miners, railroad engineers, brakemen and firemen: these were the men in my family in the 19th and 20th centuries whose hard work made Pennsylvania and the nation what it is today. Their lives and the times in which they lived must not be forgotten.

I am thrilled to be able to help announce the world premiere of The Irish: Two Nations - One Heart, a three-part documentary series created by PBS station WVIA in Pittston, Pennsylvania. The newest installment of The Extraordinary Journey series which is working to document the rich history of various cultural heritages within Pennsylvania, The Irish is "a unique documentary that for the first time comprehensively chronicles this remarkable regional story." As the WVIA website states, "It is our history, and it serves as an indispensable tool to understand the dramatic past of northeastern Pennsylvania’s vibrant Irish culture and its future in both Pennsylvania and America."

As the introduction to the series states so well, "The industrial revolution in 19th century America produced social and political tumult that forever changed the world. Nowhere would those conflicts resonate more dramatically than in northeastern Pennsylvania, whose immense anthracite coal reserves and rich woodlands fueled America’s ascent as the world’s preeminent superpower. The tide of Irish immigrants that washed ashore clinging to despair and anguish over their own embattled Ireland found no safe harbor. Instead, these people would become girdled by some of the most dramatic social conflicts in American history."

This documentary series works to tell the story of those Irish immigrants, providing "compelling testimony of an extraordinary journey that continues to this day. It explores this region's rich Irish heritage and the obstacles it had to overcome to help build this state and nation."

Although at this time the series is only being broadcast within Pennsylvania, I look forward to seeing it make its way to other states and viewers. It looks to be a well-researched, meaningful look at the complex history of the Irish people in Pennsylvania.

If you are in northeastern Pennsylvania, you can view the premiere of the three-part WVIA original documentary film The Irish: Two Nations - One Heart on Tuesday, December 1 at 8 p.m., followed by part two on Wednesday, December 2 and part three on Thursday, December 3 at 8 p.m. on WVIA-TV. Encore presentations of the documentary will broadcast in its entirety on Saturday, December 5 at 2:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 6 at 12 p.m. on WVIA-TV. I am hoping that this series will also make it way quickly to other PBS stations across the nation.

Note: If you cannot view the film trailer above, you can also view it here or here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"As I light this flame...": the season of Advent

“As I light this flame I lay myself before Thee.”
~ Celtic prayer from the Book of Kells

The time of Advent is an invitation to introspection - a time to look at our hearts and prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Christ Child as so many in previous generations have done for two-thousand years. It is a time of preparation of our souls and of our homes during the coming joyful season of Christmas.

As you prepare for Christmas this year, you might enjoy reading about some of the Irish Christmas traditions that I highlighted previously during Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. In the nine articles here at Small-leaved Shamrock and seven articles at A light that shines again, I hope you'll find inspiration during your Christmas preparations in the wonderful traditions of the Irish people as they have historically celebrated this glorious season.

Happy Advent!

You might also enjoy reading Bridget Haggerty's An Advent Memory and a little lesson on Irish Gaelic for the Advent and Christmas season, both on the Irish Culture & Customs website

Image of the Celtic Advent wreath courtesy of Catholic Supply of St. Louis.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cóbh: The last goodbye to Ireland

This article originally originally appeared here at Small-leaved Shamrock on January 26, 2008. I've reposted it here in honor of Geography Awareness Week.

I am one of 12% of Americans who are reported to have Irish blood in their genes. (I'm sure this number would be higher if more Americans looked a few generations back into their genealogy.) In fact, Irish heritage may come in 2nd only to German heritage in sheer numbers when you look at the genealogy of modern day Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey.

Considering how much the Irish were tied to their homeland, it is incredible to realize the numbers of people that emigrated, most leaving the green land of Eire never to return again.

Many of them said their last goodbyes to their home country at the port city of Queenstown in County Cork (now called Cóbh, pronounced cove). Queenstown was the predominant emigration port for the Irish. According to the Cóbh Heritage Centre, “From 1848 to 1950 over 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland – over 2.5 million departed from Cóbh, making it the single most important port of emigration.”

The website gives a brief summary of the causes of this enormous departure from Ireland:

“This exodus from Ireland was largely as a result of poverty, crop failures, the land system and a lack of opportunity. Irish emigration reached unprecedented proportions during the famine as people fled from hunger and disease… Escape was seen by many as the only chance of survival: between 1845 and 1851 over 1,500,000 people emigrated from Ireland. This was more than had left the country in the previous half century.”

One of the many Irish citizens who left from Queenstown became well-known for her journey, not so much because of who she was or where she came from, but because of where and when she ended her journey. Annie Moore, traveling with her two younger brothers, is now well-known as the first immigrant processed at the newly opened Ellis Island on January 1st, 1892. Her journey is memorialized in statues both at Cóbh's Heritage Centre and at New York’s Ellis Island. To many the statues represent not only the memory of this young lady's emigration from Ireland but the millions of Irish who left their home country and journeyed to America.

For more information about the two million-strong emigrant exodus that said their last goodbyes at Queenstown, see the Cóbh Heritage Centre’s website entitled Cóbh: The Queentown Story.

Image of the Cóbh waterfront thanks to J. Pollock.

Statue of Annie Moore and her brothers thanks to the Look Around Ireland website.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happy Birthday to the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture!

Please join me in celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture!

Born here at Small-leaved Shamrock on November 6, 2007, we are sixteen editions strong and looking forward to the upcoming 17th edition. A special thank-you to all of our 64 contributors thus far, particularly you regulars that frequent the carnival. (You know who you are!)

We have touched on many topics since we began two years ago.

From Irish genealogical research (and more Irish genealogical research) and our ancestral homes in Ireland to the concept of Irish identity ~

From Irish places (and Irish vacations) to Irish surnames ~

From Irish culture and tradition (even superstitions) to the Irish language ~

From recommended books (and more books) to our own stories (and more of our own stories) of Ireland and the Irish ~

We've covered many topics and had lots of fun along the way. (Make a visit to our 1st and 2nd St. Patrick's Day parade editions to join in some of the fun!)

As we celebrate this 2nd anniversary of this carnival celebrating the culture and heritage of the Emerald Isle, we hope you'll take some time to read over our previous editions and also plan to join us with your own submission for an upcoming edition.

If you have ideas for topics that you'd like to see covered here at the carnival, or are interested in hosting an edition, please let us know.

Thanks again for reading. Be sure to stop by the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture blog where you can find links to all past editions, info about the upcoming edition, links to all of our past contributors' blogs and more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Irish portraits: An "album" of stories

Welcome to the 16th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. This is a special week for the carnival as we celebrate both our 16th edition and our second anniversary on the web. A special thanks to all of our readers, our commenters, and especially our talented contributors (Irish or not) who have supported the carnival throughout the past two years!

In this Irish Portraits edition, we've chosen to focus on Irish men and women and their personal stories. Some stories include photographs; others paint only a verbal picture of part of a person's life.

Records with names, dates and other data are essential to the search for family history, yet perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this search is the discovery of the stories behind these names and dates. Some sad, some triumphant, some representative of many others of their time, some seemingly made for the movies, the stories in this edition take us on a tour of various places and centuries through the lives of those that have passed before us.

We hope you'll enjoy this "album" of "story portraits" that we've put together for you in this edition of the carnival. Happy reading!

The search for family history can sometimes be tedious as we try to make sense of data and documents from days gone by. Then there are those discoveries that shock our emotions and draw us back into time as we feel the sorrow and pain of those that have gone before us. The life of my ancestor Margaret Foley Cowhey is one such story. In Death comes in threes: The sorrows of Margaret Foley Cowhey, 1891-1895, I've shared the stories of the tragic losses of three of Margaret's loved ones in a short span of three and a half years. Although saddened, I am thankful to know the details of this heartbreaking portion of my family's history. Visit my article here at Small-leaved Shamrock to read the story and view the various documents that gave me clues into this part of my great-great-grandmother's life.

Martin Kelly, the great-great-great-grandfather of Melody LaSalle, was an enterprising man. Read the story of his life first in County Roscommon, Ireland, then in Boston, Massachusetts, and then at his final home city of San Francisco, California. From horse trader to owner of several boarding houses on Mission Road outside of San Francisco, Melody shares the story of her ancestor's "nomadic" life, including his sad demise, in Martin Kelly, My Family's First Business Owner? posted at The Research Journal.

The troubles in Ireland in the early 20th-century caused Robert Farrell of Ulster and each of his brothers to make the decision to emigrate from Ireland. All but Robert, however, headed for Australia and New Zealand. He began his new life as a Canadian farmer in Saskachewan. Visit A Portrait of my Irish Grandfather – Robert Farrell (1896-1965) by Alana Farrell posted at A Twig In My Tree for more about her grandfather's reasons for leaving Ireland and the story of the rest of his life in Canada.

Many of us researching family members have found that one discovery can open up many more questions that we hadn't known to ask before. Terri O'Connell has had that experience as she has learned about the life of her grandfather Dennis O'Connell of New York, USA and Alberta, Canada. View his photograph, read what she knows about his life, and learn the questions she still has yet to answer at My Irish Ancestor posted on her blog entitled Finding Our Ancestors.

Inspired by the lifelong creativity of her mother, Marian Joyce Neil, Earline Bradt shares a few of the many crafts and projects that she worked on throughout her life (many of which Earline dabbled in along with her). In Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture #16 - My Creator posted at Ancestral Notes, Earline tries to "paint a portrait of [her] mother" and her creative talents. Visit Earline's story to learn her father's reaction to Marian's creative whimsy when she decided to faux paint the family's dining room chairs.

Sharing about her Little/Lytle ancestors, Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski lets us in on a "little secret": this family may not be Irish after all. As Cindy states, "It has been interesting, not to mention challenging, untangling family legend and lore from facts." Read her article Carnival of Irish Heritage Irish Portraits: Little/Lytle posted at In My Life to learn about the family members within this branch of her family and to view two family portraits.

In the spirit of the recently passed Halloween holiday, Sean Lamb of Finding the Flock shares with us the story of the haunted house in his family. Sean gives readers a chronology of the life of Alexander Meharry, who emigrated from County Cavan, Ireland to Ohio in the late 18th-century. The story of his life is not quite as exciting as what happened to him after his passing. Visit Sean's blog to learn why Alexander Meharry's story brings new meaning to the phrase "skeletons in the closet".

James Hayley/Haley was an Irishman who arrived in America very early: 1675 to be exact. Within her Hayley genealogy blog, Ruth H. has chosen to share what she knows about his life for our Irish portraits edition, including the items listed within his will and estate. It's an interesting read including everything from "one cart and wheels", one-hundred-and-forty-six "head of hogs", two spinning wheels, one looking glass and more. Visit Ruth's Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, 16th Edition submission to read more.

Ruth also had another story to share with us for this edition of the carnival. In Mattie Reed ---- granddaughter of Robert Reed (Sr.) of Donegal, northern Ireland, and Mary (Polly) (Pomeroy) Reed she tells the exciting story of her ancestor who survived an Indian attack by outrunning the young warrior in pursuit of her during the year 1778. Visit Ruth's blog Genealogy is Ruthless Without Me to read about Mattie's close call and learn what became of the Indian brave who failed to capture her.
Finally, professional genealogist Donna Moughty shares the story of her search for her husband's Irish roots in her article Moughty and Lynn of Westmeath posted at Donna's Genealogy Blog. Donna shares a portrait of a cousin of her father-in-law's whom she met on a recent trip to Ireland. According to Donna, "The resemblance between my father-in-law, Bernard Moughty and Jack Moughty of County Longford is uncanny." Visit her blog to learn the story of the Moughty clan of Westmeath.

I hope you have enjoyed paging through our "album" of stories about Irish folk hailing from various times and places. Please plan to join us for the upcoming 17th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. The topic will be Genealogy treasure "show and tell". For details visit Upcoming 17th edition: Genealogy treasure "show and tell" on the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture blog. Deadline for this upcoming edition is January 3, 2010. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Death comes in threes: The sorrows of Margaret Foley Cowhey, 1891-1895

Margaret Foley Cowhey was surely no stranger to the trials of motherhood. She and her husband had ten children. Before she gave birth to those children, she had become mother to at least four children from her husband's previous marriage.

Nothing, however, could have prepared this young woman, already such a seasoned mother at age 36, for the sorrows that faced her in three and half years during the early 1890s.

Margaret and her husband William Cowhey faced the loss of their youngest child Lena, age nine months, on October 7, 1891. The Pottsville Republican told the story the next day:

It states:
Lena, the infant daughter of William and Margaret Cowhey, of Mt. Carbon, died yesterday. The family have the sympathy of their neighbors at East Mt. Carbon. The interment will take place Friday afternoon at 2 o'clock.

Only a year later, William himself, a train engineer for the Reading Railroad, died tragically in a train engine boiler explosion that made headlines even in the New York Times:

Here is the text of the article:
POTTSVILLE, Penn., Nov. 14.---On the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad at 2 o'clock this morning, at Conner's Crossing, a short distance north of Schuylkill Haven, the boiler of Mogul Engine No. 563 exploded, killing five men and probably fatally injuring another.

The killed are:
HENRY C. ALLISON, engineer, residing at Palo Alto; leaves wife.
WILLIAM MACKEY, fireman, Port Carbon; leaves wife and one child.
WILLIAM COWHEY, an engineer, on way home to Mount Carbon; leaves wife and ten children.
WILLIAM KENDRICK, conductor, of Port Carbon; leaves wife and four children.
WILLIAM MOYER, Cowhey's fireman, Palo Alto; single.
Michael Dobbins of Mount Carbon, a brakeman of Engineer Cowhey's crew, was badly scalded, and will probably die.

Engine No. 563 was north bound with a heavy train of empty cars. William Cowhey with his crew had brought up a train of empties, and, after running them into the Cressona yards, boarded Engine No. 563 at the Mine Hill Crossing with the intention of reaching their homes in that way, and as is customary took possession of the cab. Dobbins, who escaped instant death, was sitting on the tender.

The men had been on the engine barely two minutes when, without any warning, the terrible explosion occurred. The boiler and firebox were blown off the tracks, and the tracks were so badly damaged that traffic was considerably delayed. The north and south bound midnight Buffalo trains were compelled to run via the Little Schuylkill branch from Tamaqua to Port Clinton.

It is learned that the train had come to a standstill because of the lowness of steam and the blower had been on. It was during this process that the boiler exploded.

Company officials thoroughly examined into the cause of the accident, and this was made plain this afternoon when they loaded up the crown sheet and sent it to Palo Alto. On the crown sheet is unmistakable evidence that the explosion was caused by low water, as the iron is badly burned a deep blue color and the marks show just how high the water was. All railroad men after seeing this acknowledged that there was no other cause.
The New York Times, New York, NY 15 Nov 1892
(View the original article full size at The New York Times online archives.)


William's untimely death left his 37-year-old wife Margaret a widow and the sole caretaker for eight children, according to Margaret's application for pension as widow of a Civil War veteran. The Record Proof of Births of Surviving Children of Soldier Under Sixteen Years of Age in William Cowhey's pension file (this document can be seen below - click to enlarge) includes the list of Margaret's living children from age fourteen down to eight months along with their birth and Baptism dates. (There were also two older children not covered by the pension.)

The children listed are Mary, Elizabeth, Thomas, Ambrose, Clara, Charles, Blanche and Isabella. The youngest was little Isabella, nicknamed Bella, whose death would bring great sorrow to her mother only two and a half years following William's death. 


I was shocked when I read the death register listing Bella's death that was sent to me at my request by the Schuylkill County Office of the Register of Wills. According to a handwritten family tree sent to me by a family member, I already had the estimated date of her death. When I read the information by Bella's name on the death register it took me a few moments to make sense of what I was reading.

Young Bella Cowhey had died on April 25, 1895 at the age of three years and two months. Cause of death according to the records: Burned. Duration of illness: Three days.

Not only had Margaret's youngest daughter suffered such a tragic and painful death, but her suffering and that of her family had been drawn out for three days - possibly the longest days of her poor mother's life. Below are copies of the death register. The information about Bella's death is highlighted in yellow and transcribed below. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Date of death: Apr 25, 1895
Place of death: N.E. Mannheim
Cause of death: Burned
Duration of illness: 3 days
Place of interment: No. 3 Cemetery
Date: Apr 27, 1895
Name of father: Wm Cowhey
Name of mother: Margaret Cowhey

Date of record: June 10, 1895
Name of deceased: Isabella Cowhey

Color: White
Sex: Female
Age: 3 yrs 3 mo
Place of birth: N.E. Mannheim

The document does not indicate additional details surrounding her death, besides Bella's place of burial. I can only imagine the circumstances that might have led to it. With so many children to care for and no longer a breadwinner in the family since her husband's death, Margaret must have been stretched incredibly thin as she struggled for the survival of her family.

Was one of her other children "on duty" at the time and tasked with watching young Bella? If so, how they must have been scarred for life as they relived the moment over the years. Regardless of how she was injured, the family suffered much, particularly Margaret, who had so recently grieved for her baby daughter Lena and for her husband William, and was struggling to provide for her family.

During the search for family history, there are those discoveries that provide a little bit of information, yet require much additional research to be made meaningful to the researcher. Then there are those documents or discoveries that shock our emotions and draw us back into time as we feel the sorrow and pain of those that have gone before us.

As a mother myself, I'm inspired by the story of my great-great-grandmother Margaret's life. Her sufferings help me to be thankful for the often overlooked blessings that each day holds, and inspire me to find strength for my own trials which pale in comparison to those that she suffered a little over one-hundred years ago.

Lena Cowhey obituary, “Deaths and Funerals,” Pottsville Daily Republican, October 8, 1891, p. 4, col. 2.

“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.

William Cowhey, (Pvt., Co. I., 16th Pa. Inf. Civil War), pension no. 700,145, certificates no. 565,914 and 376,459 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.

Pennsylvania. Schuylkill County. Record of Deaths, 1895. "Isabella Cowhey". Schuylkill County Office of the Register of Wills, Pottsville.


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