The Story of Pat Gallagher and Mary Sheridan's Family
By their grandchildren
The decades between 1840 and 1950 were hard times for our parents,
grandparents and great-grandparents. That they not only survived, but thrived and made a
better life for each succeeding generation is a testament to their character. They would
endure famine, two pandemics, two world wars, a war for independence, a civil war and
economic depression. All whose families lived in the West of Ireland in those days
should not only be aware of the struggle and sacrifice, but be proud of the resilience.
We were too young to appreciate it at the time, but the greatest and strongest
people we would ever meet were in our own homes as we grew. They would on occasion
visit each other on holidays or other times and share wonderful stories, but we did not
then recognize the importance of what was being shared. It is only now that we are much
older and have time to reflect, that we truly cherish what wonderful people they were and
the wisdom they gave. We are writing this book so they will not be soon forgotten.
On Oct. 18, 1896, in Ballinrobe, a small market town in County Mayo, Pat
Gallagher married Mary Sheridan. Their story, however, started much earlier, when a
young farmer from Donegal leased a farm just east of town, in Cornaroya. Over the next
eight decades the family would see land disputes, deportation, robbery, untimely deaths,
and the devastation of the Great Potato Famine. The hardships of the family’s past,
tempered Pat and Mary Gallagher and made their family much stronger. They would
need that toughness. They would have 12 children, including a daughter who died in
infancy. Two more would die as young men, one of a devastating disease and the second
in a terrible accident. The Irish diaspora would continue, as six would immigrate to
America and one to England. Only two would live out their lives in their hometown.
Despite the challenges, the family maintained a closeness that has been part of
the inheritance passed down. The intimacy was usually tempered by the natural reserve
of the Irish and an instinct toward privacy, but it has proved to be a deep and lasting
bond. The family moved forward, with each generation building on the successes of the
previous. The farms in Cornaroya our ancestors worked are long gone, but the memories
created there are ours forever. Our ancestors left tracks in history that can never be
Their bonds may best be illustrated in how Pat and Mary’s youngest son, Owen,
told visitors how the deep emotional memories he had of the day his older brother John
was killed tragically in a bicycle accident were never far from his mind. Similar
emotions were undoubtedly present for his brothers, sisters and parents. Following are
the stories of the Gallaghers of Ballinrobe, in hopes that their history will continue to be
cherished for generations to come.
1. Pat and Mary Gallagher 7
The Sheridans 23
The Gallaghers Next Door 23
2. County Mayo, Ballinrobe, etc. 37
3. Michael Gallagher 53
4. Delia Gallagher 61
5. John Gallagher 95
6. Nora Gallagher 103
7. Peter Gallagher 115
8. Pat Gallagher 145
9. James Gallagher 169
10. Tom Gallagher 205
11. Owen Gallagher 221
12. Ann Gallagher 233
13. Mary Gallagher 245
1. Blue Hen Dairy – Where Uncle Pete worked.
2. St. Francis Hospital – Where Aunt Catherine and Patsy O’Brien worked as nurses.
3. Krueger Brewery – Uncle Tom, Uncle Mike and Uncle Jim all worked there.
4. Uncle Pete & Aunt May’s first home – 714 N. Clayton St.
5. Uncle Tom’s first home; Uncle Jim & Aunt Ann also lived there – 611 N. Broom St.
6. Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine’s home – 43 S. Sycamore St. (Union Park Gardens).
7. Aunt Delia and Uncle Mike’s first home – 610 N. Van Buren St.
8. Diamond State Brewery – Where Uncle Jim worked as a brew master.
9. St. Paul’s School & Church – Both Aunt Delia’s & Uncle Pete’s children attended.
10. James Tucker home (Aunt May’s sponsor & uncle) – 110 N. Franklin St.
11. Uncle Pete & Aunt May’s second home (the bar) – 101 N. Franklin St.
12. Wilmington Train Station.
13. St. Peter’s Cathedral – Where Uncle Tom was attacked.
14. St. Patrick's Church – Where Uncle Pete and Aunt May met in Wilmington.
15. Aunt Catherine Hoopes’ early home – 1720 Hancock St.
16. Fountain at Josephine Gardens – Spot of iconic photos for Aunt Delia & Uncle Jim.
17. Brandywine Zoo – Where Uncle Pete worked briefly.
18. Salesianum High School – 10 Gallagher descendants have attended.
Ballinrobe town 19
Ballinrobe area 22
Gallagher Family 2
Michael Gallagher Family 10
Ned Sheridan Family 24
Owen Gallagher Family 28
Mike O'Brien Family 85
May Tierney Family 136
Catherine Oliver Family 162
Catherine Hoopes Family 188
Highlighted locations are mentioned in book,
* Ballinrobe – Gallagher home.
* Castlebar – County town.
* Knock – Marian shrine.
* Tourmakeady – Site of 1921 IRA ambush.
* Ballynalty – Home of Tohers (Uncle Pete's
* Roundfort – Home of the McCormicks
* Westport – Home of Heratys (Uncle Pat).
* Ballindine – Home of Anthony Gallagher.
* Navan, Swords – Home of the O'Briens
(Aunt Delia's chapter).
* SixMileCross – Home of the Gormleys
* Cobh – Point of departure for many Irish
immigrants to America.
* Monaghan – Site of convent joined by
* Fastnet – The most southerly point of
“An sean Madra don bhóthar chruaidh.”
“The old dog for the hard road,
(the pup for the boreen)”
PAT GALLAGHER AND MARY SHERIDAN
Uncle Owen's dog Prince walks along the boreen in 1993. At right in this view looking toward the Convent Road are
the remains of the old Gallagher home and related buildings. The Gallaghers owned land on both sides of the boreen.
Take a walk down the boreen from the Convent
Road in the Cornaroya section of Ballinrobe and small bits
of the Gallagher family history will unfold around you.
Of course, the scenery has changed over the
decades. Today you will first pass modern developments
that have been built with the boom, bust and boom of the
Irish economy. Not too long ago, before those homes were
built, the view from the Convent Road would have been of
green fields, an old house or two and stone walls not too
dissimilar from the view a century before.
Farther down the boreen – the Irish term for a
usually unpaved country lane – the road narrows and the
contrast between modern Ireland and the past comes more
into focus. You will soon come to a home on your right
where the last of our grandparents’ children to stay in their
hometown lived out his final days. On the other side of the
boreen, is the site of the cottage where Pat and Mary
(Sheridan) Gallagher’s young family grew. Little visible
evidence of the cottage remains, but a quarter century ago,
you could still walk inside three remaining stone walls that
once surrounded the close-knit family. Walking farther, the
boreen darkens before bending past the homes of friends
and relatives of the Gallagher family before heading off
toward the town itself.
The Gallagher family was certainly more blessed
than not, but you cannot deny that the traditional expression
(or curse, depending on your point of view) “May you live
in interesting times” applied. Our grandparents, their
ancestors and their descendants lived through periods of
famine, sickness, battles over land rights and the mixed
emotions that must have come as so many people left for
America, Britain or elsewhere. Over three decades, Pat and
Mary Gallagher would see three of their first four children
die young, a world war, a continuing bloody struggle for
Irish independence from England and a civil war. Yet
through it all they raised a strong, determined family. All
the adversity just seemed to temper each member of the
family. It made them stronger for their own challenges
ahead. Like those who came before and those who would
come after, we will see in the coming chapters how they
IRELAND BEFORE THE 1800s
The Ballinrobe of the 1800s cannot be fully understood
without some knowledge of Ireland in the preceding centuries.
The phrase “beyond the pale” originated in Ireland. By the 14th
century, the Norman/English invaders of the island were
struggling. The remaining settlers had retreated to four eastern
counties around the city of Dublin: Louth, Meath, Dublin and
Kildare. The king's perimeter was marked with wooden fence
posts pounded into the Irish turf. These were called “pales,” from
the Latin palus, meaning “stake.” The English settlement fortified
its boundaries by turning the fence line into an impressive barrier:
a 10-foot-deep ditch surrounded by 8-foot banks and ringed by a
thorny hedge. Once settlers passed “The Pale,” they were outside
the authority and safety of English law, and subject to all the
“savageries” of rural Ireland. “Beyond the pale” then became a
phrase meaning "outside the limits of acceptable behavior or
In the 16th century, the Tudor monarchs Henry VIII and
his daughter Elizabeth I started the re-population of Ireland with
Protestants loyal to the crown. The Irish were treated not that
different than Native Americans would come to be. The Irish
were viewed as primitive and non-industrious. They could not be
trusted with the land. The land needed to be re-populated with
loyal British subjects.
In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell declared that the
Irish must go “to Hell or to Connacht,” the land west of the River
Shannon. Connacht was chosen as a native reservation because it
was far from mainland Europe and possible Catholic support. The
Plantations of Ireland were confiscated land granted to
“Adventurers” or “Planters,” as the new owners were known.
By the late 17th century, Ireland was sucked into
England’s civil war, the conflict between the Catholic forces of
James II and the Protestant William of Orange. The decisive
battle in Ireland took place at the River Boyne on July 1, 1690,
when William’s forces defeated James’ army. James fled to
After the Battle of the Boyne, the Penal Laws were
enacted in 1695. They were a series of edicts imposed by the
“Irish” Parliament (which was made up of the transplanted
English and Scotts). Irish Catholics were forbidden to attend
Catholic worship. They were forbidden to own land. They were
forbidden to receive an education. They were forbidden to enter a
profession or engage in trade or commerce. And they were
forbidden to keep any arms.
Our Grandfather Pat Gallagher, above in
a photo from 1931, was born in
Cornaroya in December 1864. He
married our Grandmother Mary
Sheridan on Oct. 18, 1896. She never
wanted her picture taken. Below, another
photo from 1931 shows our grandfather
in the fields behind the family home.
Pat Gallagher and son Jim in 1931 in front of their home on the boreen. Uncle Jim said he
believed the woman partially seen standing in the doorway is his mother. To the best of his
knowledge, she never was formally photographed. Father and son are wearing 'Pioneer Pins' on
their left lapels, signifying their support for the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred
Heart, a Catholic organization based in Ireland that supported abstinence from alcohol.
were all great men and women in their own ways.
Our Grandfather Pat Gallagher was born in
Cornaroya in December 1864. His birth was not registered
until January, so in some places the year is listed as 1865.
Our Grandmother Mary Sheridan was born June 16, 1877,
also in Cornaroya. They were married Oct. 18, 1896, and
lived with Pat’s father on his family farm they would
eventually call their own. Their hometown dates to the 14th
century. Its name indicates simply it was the town on the
River Robe; Baile is the Irish word for town, and the Robe
runs through it. Their house was small, with three rooms
and a thatched roof. It had three windows facing the road.
According to information from the Irish Census of 1901,
the Gallaghers also would have had a stable, cow house,
piggery, chicken coop and turf house behind their home.
Pat’s cousin Peter Gallagher’s family lived next door. In
order not to confuse this Peter with Pat’s father Peter or son
Peter, he was fondly referred to by the family as “Peter
Gallagher Next Door.”
A LITTLE HISTORY
The issue of getting confused by similar names
from different generations or branches of the family is hard
to avoid, so we’ll try to keep things as clear as possible.
For the purpose of this story, Pat and Mary Gallagher are
referred to as “our” grandparents, with their children our
aunts and uncles.
Based on often spotty church and civil records and
the memories of various family members, the family’s
history can be traced to the late 18th century. Those prefamine
days were a time of significant migration within
Ireland. Many Catholics from Ulster either chose to or were
forced by sectarian violence to leave their home counties
and resettle in Connaught. Many ended up in County
Mayo. As legend has it – and by legend we mean mainly
the story told by Uncle Owen – our Great-Great-
Grandfather Michael Gallagher and his brother came down
to County Mayo from Donegal. Michael, who was probably
born sometime in the late 1790s, settled in Ballinrobe,
while his brother went on to Westport. Uncle Owen vaguely
remembered that brother dying from being kicked in the
head by a horse he borrowed from Michael, but he said the
story could have been about another set of brothers entirely.
In any event, Michael married a local girl named Bridget,
born in 1800. We could not find documentation on
Bridget's maiden name. Michael and Bridget had at least
four children. The first, Owen, was born about 1825. Peter
came about 1831, with a daughter, Honor, around 1833. It’s
unclear when another brother, Michael, was born. Peter is
our great-grandfather. There may have been additional
children, but no records could be confirmed.
The years when this generation of Gallaghers was
born and grew were particularly difficult for Ireland in
general and County Mayo specifically. The Irish proverb
“the hard road for the old dog” was particularly
appropriate; maturity and experience were vital for
survival. By the first half of the 1800s, centuries of
conquest and rebellion had led to the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland, formally created by the Acts of
Union in 1801. The Union came just three years after the
Rebellion of 1798, which featured the Battle of Castlebar,
up the road a bit from Ballinrobe. Over the next decades,
various Poor Laws and the Catholic Relief Act of 1829
were intended, at least in name, to help the Irish. In reality,
they created a situation where poor tenant farmers faced a
greater and greater threat of losing the land they occupied.
And then came the Great Famine.
In the five years after the first potato crop failed in
1845, County Mayo lost nearly 30 percent of its almost
400,000 people to starvation, disease and emigration. Small
tenant farms disappeared dramatically, with the number
falling in the province of Connaught from 35,600 in 1847
to just 9,700 a year later, according to one report for the
British government. Newly built workhouses were
overflowing. Some people were unable to make the journey
by foot to the workhouse and died along the way; more
were so weak they walked to the graveyards rather than die
on the roadside. The English response to the famine only
made things worse. “Would to God the Government would
send us food instead of soldiers,” one Ballinrobe inhabitant
told the Freemans Journal newspaper. A PBS documentary
titled “The Great Hunger and The Irish Diaspora” quotes an
eyewitness in Ballinrobe from 1849 describing “the streets
daily thronged with moving skeletons. The fields are strewn
with the dead.” The Irish simply called the period An Droch
The home of 'Peter Gallagher Next Door' (inset) on the boreen in Cornaroya was next to Pat and Mary
Gallagher's home. The houses were on land where their fathers and Grandfather Michael farmed.
Shaol, or “The Bad Times.”
The degree of suffering is hard to imagine for
people in an area already one of Ireland's poorest, but
Michael and Bridget Gallagher were blessed to emerge
from this misery with some degree of security. Sometime
before 1854, they acquired the lease to about 50 acres in
Cornaroya from Col. Charles Knox, the leading Ballinrobe
landowner. The Griffith’s Land Valuation of 1854 shows
Michael Gallagher leasing the acres from Knox for 29
pounds a year. Many families in Cornaroya at the time
rented significantly smaller farms, many under 5 acres,
barely enough to support a family. The Gallaghers having
50 acres means they may have had additional crops to sell
and help pay rent and other expenses.
Uncle Owen at one point talked of a land dispute
between the Gallaghers and the Bourke family, another top
leasee in Cornaroya with more than 50 acres. He didn’t
know exactly when it happened but thought the clash may
have involved what he called a “stick fight.” The dispute’s
outcome was very much in doubt, Uncle Owen said, until
the Walsh family joined in on the Gallagher side. Uncle
Owen thought his Great-Grandfather Michael’s wife
Bridget may have been a Walsh (pronounced “Welch”).
Against the joint effort, the land dispute was resolved very
satisfactorily, at least for the Gallaghers. To this day, there is
a Walsh home in the middle of the Gallagher properties
along the boreen in Cornaroya.
MICHAEL AND BRIDGET’S CHILDREN
Michael Gallagher passed away sometime between
1868 and 1870. Bridget died in 1870 at age 70. Her son
Peter is listed as the “informant” (or witness) on the record
of her death. Before Michael died, he apparently found
himself brought up on some minor charges at the Ballinrobe
Petty Sessions. The Sept. 21, 1867, Ballinrobe Chronicle
mentions Michael Gallagher was fined one shilling plus
court costs for “having three pigs on the road at Cornaroya
on the 11th last.” Following in his father’s footsteps, the
newspaper reported a year later, on Nov. 28, 1868, that
Peter Gallagher was fined for having four pigs on the public
road at Cornaroya. The extra pig upped his fine to two
Property records spanning the years 1868 to 1884
show Michael and Bridget’s eldest son, Owen, by that time
occupying about 36 acres of his father’s property. His
brother Peter, our great-grandfather, is listed as the lease
holder of 12 acres that included his father's house and other
farm structures. Owen, with his wife, Catherine Hyland,
built a new home next to his father's cottage. Owen and
Records from the Valuation Office of Ireland (1868-1884) show the property transfer of the land originally leased by
our Great-Great-Grandfather Michael Gallagher to his sons. Michael's name was crossed out after he died. Peter, our
great-grandfather, inherits the lease on 12 acres on lot 9 (see map on opposite page.) Owen, the father of 'Peter
Gallagher Next Door,' gets 36 acres on lots 10, 11 and 12. Under the heading 'Description (of Tenement),' the notations
for both their properties indicate they included house and land. Peter's includes improvements, such as a shed or barn.
Peter’s sister, Honor, had moved out after marrying the
town blacksmith in the 1850s.
A third son, Michael, apparently ran into trouble
with the law and was deported by a British magistrate to
Australia. We don’t know exactly why or when. (Penal
transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in Australia ran from
1791 to 1853.) Rebellion against the Crown by the Irish was
a popular offense. But even minor charges such as stealing
a chicken could get an Irishman sent to the penal colonies.
For some, transportation seemed a better option than
poverty at home. British perceptions in the nineteenth
century were that the Irish were ignorant, superstitious,
primitive, dirty, vengeful and violent. They needed to be
managed. The magistrate apparently thought Michael
needed managing and deported him. When Uncle Owen
told his nephew Pat this story, it reminded Pat of the movie
“The Quiet Man” in which Director John Ford connotes a
sense of both pride and anger with deportation to Australia.
When first meeting Sean Thornton (John Wayne), Father
Lonergan (Ward Bond) tells him, “Ah yes, I knew your
people, Sean. Your grandfather, he died in Australia, in a
penal colony. And your father, he was a good man, too.”
Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) later proudly adds,
“I could tell you blood-curdling stories (about the deported
grandfather), but, but me throat, me throat’s gone dry!”
According to Uncle Owen, after Michael had
served his sentence, he had a doctor in Australia write his
sister to see if he should come home to Ireland. Honor did
not think this was wise. Why, we don’t know. Nor do we
know what eventually happened with Michael. He may
have married and had children. As Uncle Owen said, “He
may have become a millionaire.”
Back in Ballinrobe, Michael's three siblings were
all getting married: Honor to Pat Malley, Owen to Catherine
Hyland and Peter to Bridget McCormick.
Owen and Catherine had at least seven children.
Only the fifth of the seven was a boy, Michael, born in
1868. He may have been the first or second in the family to
come to America. He settled in the Cleveland, Ohio, area
and lived until 1954. His mother, Catherine, died Jan. 2,
1874, when she was only 45 years old, leaving Owen to
raise their children. Catherine's death record shows she
A 19th century map of Cornaroya shows the boundaries of the individual properties. The Gallaghers leased lots 9, 10, 11
and 12. They later added lot 7, at the corner of the boreen and the Convent Road. Our Great-Grandfather Peter's land
is shaded green; Owen's is in blue. Valuation records show lot 13 was leased by the Connell family; 14 was eventually
leased by the Walshes. Our maternal Great-Grandparents John and Nora Sheridan took over the lease of land in lot 17
in 1891. The 'X' marks where this book's cover photo was taken.
The cottage where Pat and Mary (Sheridan) Gallagher raised their family was where our Great-Grandfather Peter
Gallagher and Great-Great-Grandfather Michael Gallagher also lived.
suffered from consumption (tuberculosis) for five months
and passed with her husband by her side. Within the year –
on Sept. 2, 1874 – Owen re-married, to Peggy McCormick,
his brother’s sister-in-law. Peggy was only 24, 21 years
younger than Owen. They had eight children of their own.
The first four were girls. Their fifth, Patrick, may not have
lived to adulthood. Their sixth, “Peter Gallagher Next
Door,” would eventually inherit the land. Peter is the father
of Eugene Gallagher, who still lives with his family along
the boreen. He once told of how his grandmother loved to
smoke a pipe in the cool, quiet of an evening.
Meanwhile, Michael and Bridget Gallagher’s
youngest child, Honor, married blacksmith Pat Malley on
Feb. 23, 1854. They lived on Chapel Street at the northwest
end of town heading toward the old church. They had at
least seven children, though there may have been more
before the first we could confirm in 1862; those we know
were Patrick, Mary, Owen, Margaret, John, Peter and Kate.
Honor and Pat Malley were both alive at the time of the
1901 census. Patrick, Owen, Peter and Mary Kate were all
living at home at the time. Honor died in October 1906 at
age 73; her husband passed in 1912.
Which brings us back to Peter Gallagher, our
In 1861, Peter married Bridget McCormick, of
Roundfort, which is about six miles east of Ballinrobe and
two miles south of Hollymount. Her father was Thomas.
Peter and Bridget’s first born, Mary, died when she was
about a year old, on Oct. 10, 1864. Bridget so loved Mary
that she never fully got over the loss. Uncle Jim once said
of his grandmother, “She could often be heard outside at
night crying and praying for the soul of her baby daughter.”
Peter and Bridget Gallagher had two other
children. Our Grandfather Pat was born in December 1864
and Michael on Feb. 26, 1867. Michael went to America,
probably sometime around 1890. He stayed in New York
and got married, but we are not sure to whom. Tragically,
Michael would soon pass away. His wife wrote his mother
and father about the sad news and sent his silver pocket
watch with a gold chain home to Ballinrobe. It is still being
passed along to the next generations.
Before the next generation of Gallaghers began
(our aunts and uncles), those living along the boreen would
have been affected by or known about many important
events going on in the region, or Ireland in general.
In 1879, another “mini potato famine” reinforced
deep fears of starvation in the West. Many of Mayo’s
farmers were still reliant on the potato because the soil
could not support any other crop sufficiently to feed their
families. In the weeks before the 1879 harvest, the telltale
signs of browning leaves on the plants led to panic through
the county. The harvest was the lowest in a decade and
under half the previous year’s. Fortunately, the mini-famine
resulted mostly in hunger rather than death, due mainly to
changes in society, including resources sent back to “the
old country” from those who had left for America during
and after The Great Hunger.
Our Grandfather Pat Gallagher rides a cart with James Kavanaugh, the father of Martin Kavanaugh, who with
his wife Breege has run the Friarsquarter House Bed and Breakfast on the Convent Road for many years. The
photo was taken outside the Moran house, a bit farther out the Convent Road than the B&B.
Our grandfather sits with his youngest daughters Ann and Mary in 1931. He would have
been about 66 years old.
Also in 1879, less than 20 miles north of
Ballinrobe, the Blessed Mother appeared in the village of
Knock. Fifteen people recounted seeing a light coming from
the parish chapel at about 8:30 p.m. Aug. 21. The apparition,
which lasted two hours, included Our Lady, St. Joseph, St.
John the Evangelist and a lamb. It is the only reported
apparition worldwide that included the Lamb of God.
That eventful year also saw the founding of The
Irish National Land League at a meeting in Castlebar, with
Charles Stewart Parnell its president and Mayo native
Michael Davitt organizing secretary. The Land League
helped fight for the rights of farmers, who regularly suffered
the threat of eviction if they were unable to pay their rent.
The agitation led to 1885’s Ashbourne Act, which put
limited tenant land purchase in motion. Parliament passed
several Land Acts over time that addressed the push for the
so-called “Three Fs”: Fair Rent, Free Sale and Fixity of
Tenure. Fair rent would be decided by land courts instead of
landlords; Free Sale meant a tenant could sell a holding
without landlord interference; and Fixity of Tenure meant a
tenant could not be evicted if the rent was paid. The
Gallaghers were supporters of the United Irish League, a
nationalist party launched in 1898. The Ballinrobe
Chronicle of March 26, 1903, shows P. Gallagher, Mrs.
Gallagher (probably Owen's widow) and J. Sheridan, at a
shilling each, among the 10 residents of Cornaroya
contributing to the League's Ballinrobe branch.
It is unclear when the Gallaghers were able stop
renting and “own” their land in Cornaroya. By 1914, 75
percent of renters in Ireland were buying out their landlords
under various government programs. The Gallaghers
initially paid rent to Col. Charles Knox and then his son
Charles H. Knox. Payments eventually went to the Irish
Free State/Republic. The amount remained stable over the
decades, eventually being eliminated in the 1970s when it
cost the government more to collect than it was worth.
SHERIDANS, ROONEYS, GALLAGHERS
In the last half of the nineteenth century, Ned
Sheridan was also building a family in Ballinaya, just south
of Ballinrobe. They were the ancestors of our grandmother.
Ned Sheridan married Mary Hamrogue around 1840. They
had at least six children: Edward, Mary, Patrick, twins
James and John, and Honor. John is our maternal greatgrandfather.
Meanwhile, laborer Michael Rooney and his wife
gave birth to a daughter Honor (Nora) around 1845
somewhere in Cornaroya. Nora would go on to marry John
Sheridan on Feb. 16, 1870, at St. Mary’s in Ballinrobe.
After the marriage, John and Nora lived with an
aunt and uncle in Cornaroya to the east of the Gallagher
properties. John and Nora had 10 children: Catherine
(1871), Edward (1873), Annie (1875), our Grandmother
Mary (1877), John (1879), James (1881), Patrick (1882),
Hanna (1884) and Maggie (1887). They lost their first
child, Mary, in infancy.
John and Nora’s fourth child was born June 16,
1877. Mary and her brothers and sisters all would attend
school and learn to read and write. Mary was only 19 when
she married Pat Gallagher on Oct. 18, 1896. The witnesses
were listed as Pat Malley, the groom's first cousin, and
Mary Walshe; the Rev. Andrew Judge presided. The
newlyweds lived with Pat’s father and mother in the small
cottage along the boreen.
STONE WALLS, FARMING AND LOTS OF MUD
An unmistakable feature of the landscape around
the boreen, and throughout the West of Ireland, are the
stone walls that line many roads and separate fields from
one another. Our grandfather had a reputation of being
highly skilled at working with stone. According to Jim
Four generations of
Gallaghers lived on the
family farm in Cornaroya.
The walls of the old home,
shown in 1993, have
finally disappeared, but
plenty of memories
remain. The metal bars
are a cattle chute added
after the structure was no
longer used as a home.
Grandfather Pat Gallagher was
known for his ability to build stone
walls. He may or may not have had
a hand in erecting these examples
near Connell's gate. Inset is a pipe
Uncle Owen found when repairing
one of the walls around the old
house. He believed it belonged to his
father or grandfather. According to
the book 'Old Days and Old Ways,'
the clay pipe was 'the countryman's
constant companion.' Traditionally,
the shank of the pipe was dipped
into some Guinness or whiskey to
seal the mouthpiece and impart a
pleasant flavor to the clay.
Tierney (Eugene Gallagher’s brother in-law), Pat Gallagher
was one of the best rock-wall builders in Ballinrobe. “He
could square off a stone with just several whacks of a
chisel; he always had a chisel in his pocket,” Jim Tierney
said. Many of the walls he built were still standing at the
end of the twentieth century, and Uncle Owen could point
out various walls his father constructed. Aunt Delia
remembered her father’s hands being very rough from all
the stone and farm work.
Our grandfather and the grandfather of
Philadelphia’s own Princess Grace Kelly were two of the
best stone builders in County Mayo. They worked together
on occasion when Pat Gallagher was young. According to
the website BeyondGraceKelly.com, John Peter Kelly was a
bricklayer from Newport in South Mayo, which is just north
of Westport. He was born in 1857 in Drimurla but left
Ireland in 1887 for Philadelphia.
When not building walls, there would have been
constant work for Pat Gallagher (as well as his wife and
children) to keep their farm going. A family farm in Ireland
at the time may have been small compared with sprawling
American examples, but the tasks were still plentiful. They
would grow much of their own food and tend to animals
that provided many of the basics needed for survival. Items
that later generations may take for granted – butter, bread,
milk – were the product of hours of chores. Meanwhile,
extracting the turf, which was the main source of fuel, was
another job essential to any home. The cutting, stacking and
hauling in spring and summer would be vital to sustaining a
family through the winter months. Each family would have
their own section to work in the bogs around Ballinrobe.
Our grandfather also often went to England to find
additional employment, most likely as a laborer. But he
would be back in December. Aunt Delia remembered her
father would always be home to help “bring in the
Christmas.” She could recall her mother saying, “God is
good and Father is coming tomorrow.”
There was, of course, more to Pat Gallagher than
farming and wall-building. Interest in saving the Irish
language saw a resurgence with the growth of Irish
nationalism in the 19th century. Gaelic had been dying out
except in some isolated areas of the West. Jim Tierney
remembered “Pat Gallagher spoke the old Irish very well
and that a professor had actually come to talk with him and
study the pronunciation and dialect” of Connaught.
Our grandfather probably was familiar with the
language from native-speakers around him. But he may
have received help from his education by the Christian
Brothers, which apparently lasted all of one year. Pat
Gallagher may have attended either an "underground"
Catholic school or a British-government-sanctioned
National School before he turned 12. But records from
Ballinrobe’s Christian Brothers School, which opened in
1876, show Pat and his younger brother Michael among the
school’s initial class. Records show the pair ended their
tenure a year later; the reason given is “At Work.”
Beginning in 1802, the Christian Brothers began founding
schools all around Ireland to offer an alternative to the
National Schools, where Catholic symbols and teachings
were banned, along with lessons on Gaelic and Irish history.
The Christian Brothers, who came to Ballinrobe in 1868,
got around those rules by refusing any government funding,
instead relying on community donations. The school finally
opened after a decade-long search for a location. In 1876,
A colorized photo shows Ballinrobe's Abbey Street around 1900 on what appears to be a market
day. The view is looking north from the spot marked with a red dot on the map opposite. The
road leads to the old Abbey and Abbey Cemetery.
Prints, including the three above on this page, hang
in Uncle Jim's son Pat's basement. They show
Ireland around the year 1900. Above left is the
Cornmarket, with the view looking west from the
map's green dot. The building under the blue arrow
was the jail and the red arrow the weighbridge, used
for measuring large loads at the market. Above right
is Glebe Street, looking west from the map's blue
dot; come 1960, Margaret Burke’s store would be on
the left. The photo at right, from the Wikimedia
Commons website, shows Bridge Street from
between 1880 and 1900. The street leads out of
town toward Chapel Road, where Honor
(Gallagher) Malley lived.
Below is a photo from the Maggieblanck.com website
showing Market/Main Street, with St. Mary's in the
distance on the left. The location is the red dot on the map.
Above is another photo from
Pat's basement. It shows the
inside of a typical cottage,
featuring the dish cupboard,
spinning wheel and a pot
hanging from a crane in the
Charles H. Knox agreed to lease to the Brothers the
building and grounds of an old National School near the
Cornmarket. It was the same school Pat Gallagher’s sons
would attend decades later. His wife, Mary Sheridan, and
their daughters would have been taught by the nuns at the
Convent of Mercy.
Pat Gallagher knew his way around town, but he
wasn't always ready to embrace the latest technology to get
where he needed to go. Aunt Delia recalled one such
occasion. Her father was out walking when a neighbor
pulled up in a new motorcar and offered him a lift. “No
thanks,” our grandfather said. “I'm in a hurry.” Apparently,
walking was more reliable ... and often quicker. A little
impatience also may have led to a nickname our
grandfather had from his wife. She would worry about him
walking the narrow roads to neighboring towns and
frequently referred to him as “The Wrong of the Road.”
As our grandfather worked to provide for his
family, his wife would have had to work, work, work to
keep up a house filling with children. Cows needed milking,
butter needed churning, chickens and pigs needed feeding,
gardens tending, clothes mending, bread baking, meals
fixing ... and the washing was done by hand. Then there
were the men and the mud they tracked in. It’s no wonder
one fond memory from Uncle Tom was of his mother
having to hurry off to Mass at the last minute, “with her
shawl flowing behind her as she went over the wall and
through the fields toward church.”
THE NEXT GENERATION
For our grandparents, children started arriving in
1897 with the birth of Michael. A daughter, Mary, arrived
about a year and a half later, in 1899. Sadly, Mary died
almost immediately. Fortunately, our grandmother would
have had her mother-in-law, Bridget, to help console her.
She had suffered so much from the same experience with
the death of her first child as an infant. That emotional
support ended with Bridget Gallagher's death March 14,
1909, of bronchitis at age 69. When her husband, Peter,
died March 7, 1912, at age 81, our grandfather inherited the
farm and about 12 acres.
The new century brought 10 more children for Pat
and Mary Gallagher, beginning with Delia (1901), then
John (1903), Nora (1906), Peter (1908), Patrick (1909),
James (1911), Thomas (1914), Owen (1916), Ann (1921)
and, finally, a second Mary, born in 1922.
Over the course of about 20 years, the children
would live through World War I, the Easter Rising, the
Spanish Influenza, the Irish War of Independence, the
Construction began on the Convent of Mercy in
Ballinrobe in 1853. Over the years it would provide
employment for a number of Gallaghers, who lived a
short walk away. The building is now privately owned
after the relocation of the remaining nuns to Castlebar.
emergence of the Irish Free State and the Irish Civil War. It
was a time when the decades-long struggle for Ireland to
govern itself, known as Home Rule, concluded. The House
of Lords had vetoed Home Rule for years, but eventually
lost that power in 1911, an event that had some significance
to the Gallaghers. Uncle Jim told his son Pat that “you can
always remember the year I was born, because it was the
year the House of Lords lost the veto power.”
Implementation of Home Rule, which was granted
in 1914, was suspended with the outbreak of World War I.
Irish rebels interested in an independent republic soon lost
any patience they had and staged the Easter Rising in 1916,
the year Uncle Owen was born. The initial rising in Dublin
failed, but it was followed by the Irish War of Independence
(1919-1921), culminating with the establishment of the
Irish Free State through a Treaty negotiated with England.
Aunt Delia said her father favored the Home Rule efforts
and was a fan of Lloyd George, the British prime minister
from 1916 to 1922, who negotiated the Treaty. Controversy
over the Treaty resulted in the Irish Civil War (1922-23),
with the Free State side prevailing.
Aunt Delia was the first of Pat and Mary
Gallagher’s children to move to America, with five others
following and settling in the Philadelphia and Wilmington,
Del., areas. Aunt Nora married and died in Ballinrobe.
Uncle Owen, who died in 1999, lived out his years as a
bachelor in his home across the boreen from the old cottage.
Aunt Mary moved to Leeds, England. Before she died in
2006, she was the last surviving of the brothers and sisters.
The family may not have had much money, but
they were rich in other ways. They were not famous or
powerful but thrived on the faith, friendship and small joys
that were typical of many other families of their time.
There are no available pictures of our
grandmother, with the possible exception of a partial view
of her dress and lower legs in a photo of her husband and
son Uncle Jim outside their home in 1931. Aunt Delia took
the photo when she returned home after Uncle John’s death.
“Mother never wanted her picture taken,” Uncle Jim said
once when examining the photo. “I think that could be her
in the doorway.” Only a few stories about Mary Gallagher
have come down through the years. But one exception tells
it all. Uncle Pat would often tell his daughter, “My mother
was a saint.” He would often tear up when talking about her.
The Convent of Mercy had a significant
connection with the Gallaghers. It was located between the
Gallagher property and the town on what came to be known
as the Convent Road. You could get to the convent by
crossing the field in front of the old cottage. That field
would one day hold Uncle Owen’s new house. Construction
began on the convent in 1853 in a field rented from Col.
Knox. Over the years it would provide employment for a
number of Gallaghers. Some of the nuns would eventually
help keep an eye on Uncle Owen as he grew old. He left a
generous portion of his estate to the sisters when he died.
A story that at first sounds more serious than it
turns out is one involving Honnie Burke, a cousin of our
grandfather and good friend and neighbor of our
grandmother. She sued Pat Gallagher and his cousin “Peter
Gallagher Next Door” over a right of passage for her geese
to get to water. It sounds as though this could have caused
friction, but Aunt Ann always said it did not. “That was just
what was done,” she would say.
Among the possible explanations is that some
people had no direct access to water or to some of their own
fields without crossing someone else's property. Arguments
over access were common, especially when fields were
changing ownership in the first decades of the twentieth
century. It may have been at this point that Honnie Burke’s
geese were threatened with the loss of access to the water.
The proper recourse would have been to take the matter to
court and have the judge grant the access that would be
legal, permanent and transferable from owner to owner.
This may also be the origin of “Connell’s Gate,” a right of
passage that sat just to the right of the old Gallagher cottage
and connected with the Connells’ fields. It is likely the most
photographed spot on the property.
Honnie Burke was born Honor McCormick in
Caherforte around 1874. Her father was John McCormick
and Mother Honor Hyland. John McCormick was probably
a brother of Bridget and Peggy McCormick’s father,
The view from a room at the Friarsquarter House Bed
and Breakfast in 1993 offers a view of Cornaroya fields
that would not have been too different a century earlier.
Cornaroya translates as 'hill of the red cow.'
Thomas. Another brother appears to have been Pat
McCormick, great-grandfather of current Caherforte
resident Michael (Mick) and Claremorris resident Seamus
McCormick. Honnie Burke’s granddaughter Marium
Greeney believes the father of John, Thomas and Pat
McCormick may have been named John. Honnie
McCormick married Richard Burke in 1917 and moved to
NOT AN ENDING
A deep sadness would visit the boreen several
times. In 1921, the Gallaghers’ oldest son, Uncle Michael,
died of tuberculosis. The loss would hit the family very
hard, especially his father. Less than a decade later, on a
dark road between Kilmaine and Ballinrobe, Pat and
Mary’s second son, John, would be killed while riding his
bike toward home.
A dozen years later, on July 29, 1942, our
grandfather died of a carcinoma at age 76. He was sick for
three weeks, and Uncle Jim and Uncle Owen took turns
sitting with him so he would not be alone. Our cousin
Eugene Gallagher described the day Pat Gallagher died as
the day he became a man. Eugene and his father, “Peter
Gallagher Next Door,” were working in the fields coating
the potatoes with a blight protection when word came his
uncle had passed away. Eugene’s father told him he had to
leave and asked Eugene if he was man enough to finish the
job by himself. Eugene assured him he was.
Six months later, on Dec. 19, our grandmother
died from colon cancer after suffering from Parkinson’s
disease for many years. Parkinson’s is a debilitating illness
that can last as many as 20 years. Uncle Pat, who would
himself die from Parkinson's, thought his mother was
showing the first signs of the illness as early as 1920. Aunt
Ann remembered that when her mother died, it was Honnie
Burke who closed her eyes and stood on a rickety old chair
to light a paraffin lamp as people came to pay their respects.
In the years after their parents died, Uncle Jim and
Aunt Ann would follow Delia, Peter, Pat and Tom in
coming to America. They would carry with them the
memories and bonds built over the years by their
remarkable family. Their story continues today.
See THE SHERIDANS, Page 25
The bonds between the Gallaghers and Sheridans
span two continents and more than 125 years.
Their beginnings can be traced to the latter part of
the nineteenth century. The connections grew through a
marriage and as the families spread from Ireland to
America. The ties matured into powerful friendships in
Philadelphia and beyond.
Around 1840, Ned Sheridan married Mary
Hamrogue and raised a family on their farm just south of
Ballinrobe, in the area identified in some records as
Ballinaya and others as Lissanisky. They had at least six
children: Edward, Mary, Patrick, twins James and John, and
Honor. All but Honor were born in the 1840s.
Meanwhile, in Cornaroya, Michael Rooney and
his wife gave birth to a daughter Honor (Nora) around
1845. The location of their home is unclear; it may have
been one of the numerous laborers' cottages in town. Nora
was 25 years old when in 1870 she married one of Ned and
Mary (Hamrogue) Sheridan’s sons, John. They are our
THE GALLAGHERS NEXT DOOR
Living alongside the “Gallaghers of Ballinrobe”
for whom this book is named was another family with
claim to the same title. Maybe even a stronger one. There
are numerous descendants of that family who still call
Cornaroya, Ballinrobe and County Mayo home.
They are part of the family tree of Owen
Gallagher, the brother of our Great-Grandfather Peter
Gallagher. The brothers each inherited part of the 50 or so
acres their father Michael had leased along the boreen in
Cornaroya. Sometime in the late 19th century a new home
was built next to the existing cottage. The brothers ended
up married to sisters Bridget and Peggy McCormick. Owen
Gallagher, born around 1825, originally married Catherine
Hyland, but she died of consumption in 1874, having given
birth to seven children.
The two brothers' families grew side by side. By
the time our aunts and uncles were growing up, their first
and second cousins next door were like part of one huge
family. The eight additional children Owen Gallagher had
with Peggy McCormick included Aunt Delia’s closest
See THE GALLAGHERS NEXT DOOR, Page 29
Uncle Pete, from left, his cousin Francis Sheridan and one of the three Duffy
brothers are well-dressed for an unknown occasion, probably sometime in
the late 1920s. The location is Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.
Above, the young family of Uncle Jim and Catherine Gallagher is
joined by Francis Sheridan at Uncle Tom and Aunt Ann's Champlain
Avenue home in the mid-1960s. In the picture at left, Uncle Pete, right,
is with a cousin, either John Sheridan or George Mitchel.
The young couple lived on the farm in Cornaroya
that had been leased by John's Uncle James Murphy since
at least 1850. The couple took over the lease of the almost
2-acre property and several other small plots when James
Murphy died in 1891 when he was 90 years old. Honor
Sheridan, identified as a niece-in-law, is listed on the death
record as being present when widower James Murphy died
after six days of "senile decay." The farm was located in lot
17 in Cornaroya (See map earlier in this chapter). It is there
that Aunt Delia lived with her maternal grandfather when
she was a young girl.
James Murphy was born in 1801. His wife,
Bridget, died in 1873 at 75. James may have had a wee bit
of a temper, at least in his later years. A court record from
when he was nearly 80 years old indicates he was accused
of throwing a bottle of ink at a Ballinrobe man by the name
of John Noon. The resolution of the case is unknown, as is
what would drive a man to toss an ink bottle.
In any event, John and Nora Sheridan had at least
10 children. Their first, Mary, died in infancy in February
1871. It was, tragically, not an uncommon fate in Ireland at
the time. On the Gallagher side, the first daughters of both
our grandparents and great-grandparents died at or soon
after birth. Both children also were named Mary.
Later in 1871, John and Nora had their second
child, Catherine, followed by Ed (1873), Annie (1875), our
Grandmother Mary (1877), John (1879), James (1881), Pat
(1882), Honor, or “Hanna,” (1884) and Maggie (1887).
James and Patrick both died young: James of
“convulsions” when he was only six days old; Patrick when
he was a year old in August 1883.
SHERIDANS IN AMERICA
Four of John and Nora's children immigrated to
America when they were quite young:
* Catherine Sheridan, born Dec. 2, 1871, may have arrived
in the U.S. as early as 1880. She married Francis
"Frederick" Mitchel, also of Ireland, in Philadelphia in
1892. Before Frederick died on May 26, 1903, at age 41,
they had three children: Frances, George and Anna. Frances
married Carl Zeisberg, a 30-year writer and editor for the
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and member of the U.S. Table
Tennis Hall of Fame. It’s unclear if George or Anna ever
married. Catherine died Nov. 24, 1961.
* Annie, born in May 1875, immigrated young, but it's
unclear exactly when. She made a return visit to Ballinrobe
with her nephews John and Francis sometime after the turn
of the century. During the visit, she developed a close
affection for one of her sister Mary’s daughters, our Aunt
Nora. Annie also paid for the ticket that brought Nora’s
sister Delia to America in 1924. She worked for Lit Brothers
Department Store at Seventh and Market streets in
Philadelphia and also managed a gift shop for a time. Annie
never married. She died May 7, 1953, at St. Mary’s
Hospital in Philadelphia.
* Hanna, born May 25, 1884, emigrated May 26, 1900, one
day after her 16th birthday. She was slight, standing only 5
feet 5 inches tall and weighing 100 pounds. Aunt Hanna
lived most of her life with her sister Catherine in
Philadelphia. She worked as a buyer and saleswoman for
Snellenburg's Department Store at 11th and Market streets.
Later in life, she moved to Ambler, Montgomery County,
and died in January 1969.
* Ed Sheridan, born Nov. 8, 1873, probably immigrated to
America in 1892. His family was an important part of the
connection with the Gallaghers in America. In 1901, he
married Esther Larner, who had been born March 17, 1877,
in Lancashire County, England. They had three sons in
Philadelphia: John (1902), Francis (1903) and Edward
(1904). By 1910, census records show Ed Sheridan Sr. was
a bartender renting a home for the family on Stillman
Street. By 1920, the family lived above the bar he owned
on North Front Street. He died Oct. 4, 1921. In 1930, the
family lived on Mount Vernon Street. By 1940, they had
moved to Roselyn Street. At that point, Esther’s sister Anna
and her husband, Michael Duffy, lived directly behind the
Sheridans, at 423 Champlost Ave., with their four children:
Thomas (1900), Ed (1902), Esther (1906) and Joe (1912).
Only an alley separated the families. Also close by was
Aunt Catherine (Sheridan) Mitchel’s home at 1740 Green
St. She was living there with two of her children, George
and Anna, and Aunt Hanna.
Sadly, Ed and Esther Sheridan’s youngest son,
Edward, did not live to see his 15th birthday. He died as
part of the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918. As World
War I raged, the city of Philadelphia hosted a parade to
promote Liberty Loans, bonds issued to pay for the war and
bolster morale. On Sept. 28, as many as 200,000 people
jammed Broad Street to watch the marching bands,
uniformed troops and various floats. Within 72 hours, every
bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. Within a few
weeks, some 4,500 people in Philadelphia had died from
the flu or its complications. Ed Sheridan died Oct. 8,
officially of pneumonia. He had suffered from an
underlying problem with his heart for three years. He was
only 14 years and six months old.
Over the years, Aunt Esther and her two surviving
sons strengthened the Sheridan and Gallagher connection.
Our Uncle Pete stayed with them after arriving in
America in 1927. Uncle Pat was very close to the Sheridans
and Duffys when he settled in Philadelphia. They would
often travel together to visit the Gallaghers in Delaware on
holidays or for weddings, graduations and funerals. Aunt
Delia lived with the Sheridans on Mount Vernon Street while
she resided in Philadelphia in the 1930s. And her son, John,
stayed with the family when he attended LaSalle University.
Aunt Esther’s oldest son, John, was born July 12,
1902. He attended Drexel University and worked for Collins
& Aikman Inc. in the textile industry. He married Florence
“Flossy” Kane in 1936. After WWII, John relocated with his
company to North Carolina. He died Aug. 17, 1971, at age
69 in Ocean City, N.J. Florence died in 2000. Francis, was
born Oct. 14, 1903. Like his brother, he attended Drexel and
worked for Collins & Aikman but did not relocate. Instead,
he went into the floor-covering industry. Patsy DeAscanis
remembers her mother and Uncle Pat were impressed with
his position. Francis never married and died June 25, 1990.
BACK IN IRELAND
Three other children of John and Nora Sheridan
lived out their adult lives around Ballinrobe.
* Mary, our grandmother, married Pat Gallagher in October
1896 and raised our aunts and uncles along the boreen in
Cornaroya, not far from her parents’ farm.
* Maggie lived with her parents until they died, her mother
of liver cancer in 1905 and father in 1917. She wrote a letter,
shortly before her death, to Uncle Owen asking if he would
dig her grave in the Abbey cemetery. He complied.
* John was still single and living on the family farm with his
father and sister Maggie when a young Aunt Delia began
living there to help the family. He was known to the
Gallaghers as Uncle Johnny; Aunt Ann remembered his “oldfashioned
visits” that he ended with a quick goodbye and a
“God bless.” He eventually married and inherited the farm.
He and his wife had two daughters. One of them, Mary,
married William Duffy and they had two boys, John and
Liam. Liam, a carpenter, lives on the family farm, where he
has a workshop.
'KNOCKING THE GAP'
There is no one around to confirm the story, but
John Sheridan, our great-grandfather, was involved in a legal
dispute that made the local newspaper in September 1896.
It’s a story that offers a glimpse into what daily life was
occasionally like at that time, fertilized with a bit of land
dispute, some harmless violence and not a little humor.
That September, John Sheridan was the
complainant during a petty court session in Ballinrobe. The
case involved a dispute over the right to transport a cart of
manure through a gate in a field owned by the Sullivan
family. That day, John Sheridan, who lived two miles away,
Leon and Patsy
Aunt Ann are
together for the
wedding of Uncle
Mary Kathryn, in
Philadelphia in the
was among those hired to do the work for Michael Malley
of Lissanisky, who was ill. Hauling another cart of manure
was John’s twin brother, James.
The gate in dispute was along a boreen off the
main road from Ballinrobe to Cong, according to the story
in the Ballinrobe Chronicle. Accompanying John Sheridan
on his task was Mrs. Malley. Witnesses to the event
included Pat Leonard, who was loading another cart, and
Mary Sheridan. She may have been John's daughter (our
grandmother) or John's niece (James Sheridan's daughter).
A confrontation happened when John was
“knocking the gap” in a stone wall on the Sullivans’
property to get to the Malleys’ field and pick up the manure.
The passage was the only access to the Malley field; John
Sheridan testified the gap was there for the past 300 years.
But Pat Sullivan, the defendant in the case, objected.
“(John Sheridan) said Mrs. Malley and he were
about knocking the gap in the field to admit the horse and
cart when Pat Sullivan came up,” the story reads. “He
carried a large stone and grasping it in his hand, he struck
witness on the forehead; he put up his hand to guard
himself from the blow. Defendant then caught hold of two
of the fingers of his upraised hand and commenced to eat
his hand ‘like a dog.’ Mrs. Malley rescued him by taking
Sullivan tightly by the nose and thus ‘smothering him.’”
Sullivan testified he was at the scene to witness a
formal objection by his family to the Malleys’ use of the
passage. He admitted hitting John Sheridan’s clenched hand
across the wall, but nothing else. He said Sheridan then hit
him several times in the face.
John Sheridan denied he hit Pat Sullivan during
the confrontation. Sullivan’s own mother testified she had
beseeched her son to go home before he ever struck a blow.
As part of the case, Mrs. Sullivan had accused
James Sheridan of assaulting her during the confrontation.
Asked to point out her assailant in court, she hesitated. The
newspaper account says she looked back and forth from
John to James with some confusion because they “are twins
and are as alike as two peas.” She eventually identified
James as the one who hit her.
The case ended with acknowledgment that local
prominent landowner Charles H. Knox should rule on the
right to use the passage. Pat Sullivan was fined 5s and 10s
court costs. All other summonses were dismissed.
John Sheridan’s twin brother, James, was listed in
the 1901 Census as the head of a household of mainly
women and girls. The listing says they lived in Lissanisky,
but other records indicate the family considered themselves
residents of Ballinaya.
In 1901, James lived with: his wife, Bridget,
whom he married in 1884; Mother-in-law Mary O'Brien;
four daughters, Mary, Catherine, Bridget and Annie; and a
son, Michael. A fifth daughter, Maggie, would be born
within the year. A son Ned, named for his grandfather, died
of convulsions at five days old in 1890. James himself died
of pneumonia in 1903.
By the 1911 Census, Mary O'Brien is listed as the
head of the household, which also included her daughter
and Bridget's three youngest children, Michael, Annie and
Maggie. Mary O'Brien died in 1913. Bridget's oldest
daughter, Mary, who was 16 in 1901, immigrated to
America. She lived there with her uncle and aunt Ed and
Esther (Larner) Sheridan in Philadelphia before marrying a
Thomas Brown. Mary's sister Annie also immigrated to
America but never married. Their sister Bridget came to
America in 1910 but returned to Ballinrobe and married a
John Walsh in 1921.
THE GALLAGHERS NEXT DOOR
Margaret (Gallagher) -- one of Peter Gallagher Next
Door’s sisters -- and her husband, Thomas Mellet, pose
with four of their children in this photo from the early
1930s. Front center is Bridie (later Butler); in back, from
left, are Thomas, who died in 1936, Martin and Harry.
CONTINUED from Page 23
friend, Sarah Gallagher (later Connell/O'Connell), as well
as “Peter Gallagher Next Door,” who got his nickname to
distinguish him from the too many other Peter Gallaghers
around at the time. The six other brothers and sisters were
Bridget (b. 1876), Margaret (1878), Annie (1881), Winifred
(1884), Patrick (1887) and Owen (1897). Peter was born in
1890, Sarah in 1893.
“Peter Gallagher Next Door” married Maggie
McDermott in 1926, with our Uncle John serving as best
man. (It was four years before John died in a tragic bicycle
incident.) Peter and Maggie had seven children: Eugene,
Jack, Margaret, Peter, Philomena, Tommy and Delma.
Those children went forth and multiplied, as have their
children, who are now raising the latest Gallaghers of
Ballinrobe. Maggie died in 1977, seven years after her
The family has, of course, expanded beyond the
borders of “the old country” and the name Gallagher. There
'Peter Gallagher Next Door' was a first cousin of our
Grandfather Pat Gallagher. He and his wife Maggie
(McDermott) lived in the home of his parents Owen and
Peggy (McCormick) Gallagher next door to our aunts
and uncles. His children included current boreen
residents Eugene and, of course, another Peter.
are Kings, Mellets, Connells, Burkes, Butlers and others
who share bonds with Peter and Owen Gallagher from 170
From Peter Gallagher Next Door’s generation, we
know Margaret married Thomas Mellet and had 10 children
between 1902 and 1919. (As with many names, the spelling
can vary from source to source, including Mellot or
Mellett.) By whatever spelling, they lived on New Street in
Ballinrobe. Their oldest daughter, Katie, met Aunt Delia
when she arrived by ship in New York in 1924. Peter's
sister Anne married Thomas King in 1906. They had seven
children by 1918; two daughters, Mamie and Bridget, came
to America. Peter himself raised his family in his father's
holding a cigarette,
gathers with at least six
cousins, including Aunt
Nora, probably sometime
in the 1970s. In front,
from left, are Bridie
(Mellet) Butler, Bridie
(King) Mullin, Aunt Nora
and Annie (King) Clancy.
Bridie Mullin's son the
Rev. Thomas Mullin is at
the far left and son Bobby
is behind Eugene. The tall
man in the white shirt
could not be identified.
home, until he built a new bungalow, probably in the late
1950s, on the boreen slightly closer to the Convent Road.
That bungalow has given way to modern developments.
Among Peter’s children, Delma, who married
Andy Derhen, would go on to hold various jobs at the
United Nations. She died in 1998, leaving two children,
Brian and Vanessa. Tommy moved to Virginia, married
Sharon Slaughter in 1968 and raised a family there while
keeping in touch with his Gallagher cousins in the
Wilmington, Del., area. He died in 2006; his children are
Kara and Kelly.
Eugene and Peter raised their own families next
door to each other along the boreen in Cornaroya. They
moved from the original cottage where they were raised to
a pair of plots around a bend in the road at different times.
Memory and Valuation Office records indicate their homes
were under construction around 1970/71. We owe a debt of
gratitude to Peter’s wife, Maureen, for how she was among
those who helped Uncle Owen as his health failed in the
Peter Gallagher Next Door’s oldest son, Eugene,
had a way of standing out to his relatives in the U.S. Maybe
it was because he came to America and served in the
Korean War. Maybe because two of his daughters stayed
for a while with Uncle Jim’s son Pat in Wilmington. Or
maybe it was simply because his personality exuded the
graciousness, humor and love of family we think of as
typical for an Irish gentleman farmer. "All the nice things
we say about the Gallaghers we say for only one reason,"
he once reflected, before pausing in the way he would
when making a profound declaration. Prodded for the
reason, he finally added, "Because they're true."
Eugene’s service in the military in the 1950s
earned him U.S. citizenship. And after returning to
Ballinrobe and starting his family, he often traveled to
America for reunions with Army buddies or to visit his
many relatives. On one such visit he came for a World Cup
soccer game and ended up at the funeral of his cousin, our
Uncle Tom. On another visit, he charmed the mother-inlaw
of Uncle Jim’s son Owen by serenading her with a
favorite song at the kitchen table. He also insisted that
Owen and Lynn take him to an arena inside the Trump
Plaza casino in Atlantic City from where he had watched so
many televised boxing broadcasts over the years. He
At left, Delma Gallagher, front, her sister Philomena, back, Mary Moran, right, and John Moran, left, are together
for John's First Communion. Shown in front of his home, center, and with his bike, right, is Delma's brother Jack
Gallagher, who raised a family with his wife, Mary, on New Street. He worked for the Post Office for 35 years.
charmed a security guard into letting the three of them into
the then-closed hall.
Eugene's travels also took him to Africa and the
Middle East. He had his picture taken at the former jail cell
of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. And he walked 100
miles in Jordan to raise money for charity. For the latter
excursion, he got sponsors to pledge money for his effort to
support the Irish Heart Foundation in February/March
2001. At one point, the walk took him to the Israeli border,
but he was cautioned not to cross over. Eugene, however,
figuring he was so close, took a quick step into Israel and
back. He was so close, he couldn't resist.
Back in Cornaroya, Eugene could be counted on
to welcome visitors – “Yanks,” he called them – when they
arrived from America. He married Ann Tierney of Glebe
Street in Ballinrobe in 1971 at Ballintubber Abbey. Their
crowded home often hosted visitors who were treated to a
bit of rhubarb pie and tea – or maybe a drop of something
stronger. Eugene and his family would often get a mention
in local newspaper accounts of the winners of livestock and
other competitions at area fairs. You can also find the latest
generation active in efforts promoting social issues. Eugene
and Ann’s children are Maria, Claire, Patrick, Angela and
Louise. Ann's brother James Tierney eventually bought the
fields along the boreen where the original Gallagher
cottages were located.
Tommy Gallagher sits with Aunt Mary, center, and his
sister Delma in the 1940s on the wall at the Cornaroya
home of Tommy's father, Peter.
Below left are three Peter Gallaghers in 1992; they are Peter Gallagher Next Door's son, with bike, flanked by Uncle
Pete's son and that Pete's own son. The photo above shows the oldest of the trio with his father's old home seen above
his right shoulder. The home of Pat and Mary Gallagher would have been to his left, just outside the picture.
Above is yet another Peter Gallagher, a son of our Great-
Uncle Owen Gallagher. Peter lived next door to the home
of our aunts and uncles, hence his nickname. In the
background is a side window of that old Gallagher cottage
along the boreen. The woman is unidentified.
At left, Peter Gallagher and wife Maureen (Hennelly) celebrate their
wedding in Partry and their 50th anniversary in 2018. Above, Peter's
brother Eugene and wife Ann (Tierney) share a toast after their 1971
wedding at Ballintubber Abbey.
Eugene’s brother Jack married Mary McDonald,
of Aughoose, in 1967. They lived on New Street while Jack
worked at the Post Office, retiring in 1994 after 35 years.
He died in August 1998. His obituary noted: “His easy
manner endeared him to everyone who made his
acquaintance and the large crowds at the funeral, including
many former colleagues from An Post, reflected the high
regard in which he was held.” Jack was survived by his
wife, son Allan and daughter Nollaig.
Peter Gallagher married Maureen Hennelly of
Tooreen, Partry, in 1968. They have four children, Eithne,
Linda, Peter (of course) and Tres. All but Eithne lived for a
while in Uncle Owen’s old home along the boreen after he
died in 1999. Today, the home is rented to a nice, but
Peter, Jack and Eugene’s sister Philomena moved
to England and married Ray Haughton. She was a nurse
and had five children (Caroline, Alison, Claire, Andrew and
Peter) before dying of cancer.
Another sister, Margaret, lived on Glebe Street.
She married Jim/Seamus Burke, an ardent nationalist who
was part of several key moments in the struggle to unite the
counties of Ireland. In the late 1930s, he won a famous
habeas corpus challenge against the government on the
grounds that political prisoners should not be held in
custody without trial. He was released but soon arrested
again in 1940, spending the rest of World War II in custody.
Margaret and Jim were married in 1960. They opened a
grocery/hardware store on the first floor of their Glebe
Sreet home that operated for 20 years. When Jim died in
Above, Mary Mellet wears her
Communion dress while holding
a doll given to her by sister
Katie. Mary died at age 8. Below
is their sister Nelly in New York.
Above are Uncle Jim's
daughter Margaret and Peter
Gallagher Next Door's
daughter Margaret Burke at
her Ballinrobe home during a
visit in July 1997. At right, a
very young Eugene is with
cousins Margaret and Nora
Connell, two daughters of his
1967, his Mayo comrades and other members of the Old
IRA formed a guard of honor at his funeral. Margaret
passed away in 2002. They had one daughter, Breege.
As mentioned, Peter Gallagher’s sister Maggie
married Thomas Mellet around 1902. They had 10 children,
four of whom died early: a daughter as an infant, Sarah at
age 3, Mary at 8, and Thomas at 27. Three of their older
girls – Katie, Margaret (Mog), and Eileen, (Nelly) – all
came to New York. Katie and Mog married brothers Pete
and Tom. Tom was a commandant in the old IRA and
probably entered the U.S. through Canada. A picture that
Aunt Delia had shows Mary in her First Communion dress
holding a doll given to her for Christmas by sister Katie.
Another daughter of Maggie and Thomas, Bridie,
stayed in Ballinrobe and married Tom Butler. They had
three children: Gerard and his family are still in Ballinrobe;
Collette is in County Kildare; and Tommy lived in Balla.
Maggie and Thomas’ son Martin moved to Ballynew with
his family. Son Harry was the subject of a chapter in “Itchy
Feet and Thirsty Work.” The 1990 book by Bridie Mulloy
detailed Harry’s work as a carpenter and wheelwright. He
was known for his skills making doors, windows, carts and
Breege Burke came across this photo among the possessions of her Grandmother Maggie (McDermott)
Gallagher. Our best guess is all five are cousins. The two at center are our Uncle Jim and his cousin Annie
King, who married Manus Clancy and moved to England. With help from the Butler family, the others,
from left, appear to be Bridie (Mellet) Butler, Richard O’Connell (at least he looks like his brother and
nephew) and Martin Mellet, who moved to Ballinew.
coffins. For decades, he also was responsible for
maintenance at St. Mary’s Church.
In the past few years in Cornaroya, Peter and
Maureen Gallagher celebrated their 50th wedding
anniversary (in 2018) and extended family gathered as
Eugene marked his 90th birthday (in 2017). Eugene and
Ann celebrated their 50th year of marriage this June. They
are still surrounded by loved ones, in person and in spirit,
with connections new and old to their small corner of
Brothers Eugene and Tommy Gallagher are together in Eugene's Cornaroya backyard in the 1990s.
At right is their mother, Maggie (McDermott) Gallagher, with Mary, the wife of her son Jack.
“Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen
and she smiled as she passed me by.”
“Star of The County Down”
COUNTY MAYO, BALLINROBE ...
The Robe River, a welcome sign
and the County Mayo flag.
A Catholic pastor in South Jersey, himself from County Longford,
once pointed out the phrase commonly used in Ireland by those meeting
someone from our home county: “Mayo, God help us!”
It is a phrase that may have survived from famine times, with
people acknowledging the severity of what the people from the western
county had gone through in those dark days. It may also have a less
sympathetic meaning, as a comment on one characteristic or another
attributed, rightly or wrongly, to a typical Mayo man or woman. Stubbornly
independent? Often wrong but never in doubt? We prefer to think of it as a
simple prayer for all the people, and their descendants, who have ever
called Mayo home.
The following are some brief, hopefully interesting, amusing or
helpful looks at the county, the town of Ballinrobe, our family names and
other aspects of life our ancestors would have been familiar with.
THE COUNTY (UP MAYO!)
Mayo belongs to the Province of Connaught in the West of
Ireland. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, County
Galway to the south, County Roscommon to the east, with County Sligo a
bit to the northeast. The current population is about 130,000. In 1841, the
census showed there were 388,887 people living in Mayo, a number that
had fallen by 1901 to 199,166. Emigration had driven the population to a
low of 109,525 in 1971. The county town is Castlebar.
Establishment of the county dates to the shiring of
Connaught around 1570. The county’s name comes from
the Irish words “Maigh Eo,” meaning “plain of the yew
trees,” and originates from the village of Mayo, now known
as Mayo Abbey. The yew is among the longest-living trees
and once was thought to be immortal.
Mayo is one of the most picturesque parts of
Ireland. Its Lake District includes Lough Carra, Lough
Mask and Lough Corrib. The county is also known for its
salmon fishing, bogland and heather, as well as some of the
most beautiful islands, in Clew Bay. Ireland’s largest island,
Achill, lies off Mayo's west coast. It may have been one of
these islands (if not the Aran Islands off Galway) that
Uncle Jim was referring to when he shared some Irish
wisdom about the weather. He said if you stood along the
coast and could see the island, you knew it was going to
rain. If you couldn’t see the island, it was already raining.
Some other Mayo facts:
* Mayo is home to the town of Lahardane, which was hit
hard when the Titanic sank in 1912, with 14 people from
the village lost.
* The county is the setting of John Millington Synge’s “The
Playboy of the Western World.”
* Pilgrims flock to Mayo’s Marian shrine in Knock and to
Croagh Patrick, a mountain where St. Patrick is said to
have fasted for 40 days and nights.
* Mayo natives include Grace Kelly’s grandfather; U.S.
First Lady Pat Nixon’s paternal grandparents; highwayman/
folk hero Capt. Anthony Gallagher (no relation known);
and Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland.
* In addition to our family, another Mayo-Delaware
connection involves a great-great-great-grandfather of
newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden. Edward Blewitt
was from the north Mayo town of Ballina.
* As a sailor in the U.S. Navy, John King, born in Currabee,
Ballinrobe, became one of only 19 in history to be awarded
the Medal of Honor twice. Both occasions, one in 1901, the
second in 1909, involved heroic actions after a boiler
explosion. The destroyer USS John King was named in his
honor, and a statue stands in his memory in the Cornmarket
in his hometown. He was a cousin of John King, who
married Annie Gallagher in 1906.
* In July 1894, American boxer James “Gentleman Jim”
Corbett visited Ballinrobe. His father, Patrick, was born at
nearby Ballycusheen. Corbett gave a performance in
Ballinrobe town hall to benefit the church in Partry, where
his uncle, the Rev. James Corbett, was a parish priest. Years
later, a newspaper remembered the big reception in Mayo
"... with tar-barrels, processions and bon fires illuminating
Tradition says St. Patrick prayed and fasted on County
Mayo's Croagh Patrick for 40 days in the year 440.
the hills around Ballinrobe, the slogan being: "Then fill up
your glasses right up to the brim. And drink to the health of
bold Gentleman Jim."
In 1902, Samuel Bayne published a book titled
“On an Irish Jaunting-Car through Donegal and
Connemara.” Bayne was born to a Presbyterian merchant in
County Donegal, immigrated to the U.S. in 1869 and made
his fortune in banking. His book spends a lot of time
discussing castles, gardens and various lords and ladies.
Chapter 12 is titled “Ballinrobe to Leenane.” After detailing
his visit to Sligo, he writes: “Our next points were
Claremorris and Ballinrobe. They were not interesting, so
we took a car to Cong.”
With apologies to Mr. Bayne, there are a few
interesting aspects to the town that gets its name from the
River Robe and is one of the oldest in County Mayo. There
is evidence the area has been continuously inhabited since
about 1000 B.C. Ballinrobe was established as a borough in
the wake of the Norman conquest of the thirteenth century.
Archaeologists have found evidence of early Christian and
medieval times in the remains of various local churches and
townhouses. A monastery for friars of the order of St.
Augustine was founded sometime prior to 1337. The ruins
of the Abbey are the present-day location of an old
At least 15 people reported that on Aug. 21, 1879, the Blessed Mother, Joseph, St. John the Evangelist and
a lamb appeared to them at the parish church in Knock, located about 20 miles northeast of Ballinrobe.
cemetery, home to the remains of numerous Gallaghers and
Ballinrobe was one of County Mayo’s major
market towns of the 19th century and was a garrison town
Well into the mid-1900s, market day in Ballinrobe
was Monday, with each commodity having its special
place. Turf, hay, potatoes, turnips and cabbage were sold on
Abbey Street; poultry on Glebe Street; calves on Bridge
Street; and cloth, flannel, woolen socks, lace, wheat, oats
and barley outside the Market House. Perishable goods
such as butter, meat and bread were sold in the lower part
of the Market House. Among the biggest events were
special livestock fairs held in June, on Whit (or Pentecost)
Monday, and in December.
By the 1830s, a chief constabulary police station
had been established. Petty court sessions, often wellattended,
were held every Monday, with general sessions in
June and December. “The courthouse,” an 1837 report said,
“is a neat building well adapted to the purpose, and
affording also accommodation for the market. The
bridewell (jail) contains four cells, three day-rooms, and
two airing yards, with other requisite accommodation.”
In more recent years, Ballinrobe’s growth has
been attributable to a national construction boom and the
town’s proximity to Galway and Castlebar. It is home to
many immigrants from other EU member states.
SHERIDANS AND GALLAGHERS
Sheridan is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic
O’Sirideain. The “O” indicates “male descendant or son
of,” with “siride” meaning “elf.” In Irish mythology, the elf
was usually looked upon as a mischievous creature. The
motto on the family coat of arms reads, “Cervus lacessitus
Leo,” which translates to “The stag at bay becomes a lion.”
The family originated in County Longford, where
they held church properties as well as the hereditary
position of Erenagh of Granard, or lay lords of the church.
They later moved to County Cavan, the county in which the
name is most common today.
The first recorded current spelling of the family
name, dated 1612, is of the Rev. Denis Sheridan, of County
Cavan. He assisted in translating the Bible into Irish.
Gallagher is an Irish Gaelic clan based most
prominently in what is today County Donegal. The name
originated in the 10th century as a derivative of its founder
Gallchobhair mac Rorcan. The name Gallagher is of
ancient Gaelic origin and is derived from the word
“gallchobhar,” meaning “foreign help.”
For nearly 100 years after the arrival of the
Normans in 1169 AD, the old world of Gaelic Ireland was
in retreat. To halt the Norman onslaught, the remaining
independent Irish chieftains needed a new weapon, and
they found it in the mercenary warriors from the Western
Isles of Scotland. These Galloglass, or “foreign Gaels,” had
served as elite warriors in Scotland for over 100 years prior
to their arrival in Ireland. They had intermarried with the
Gaels in Scotland and adopted their Gaelic language and
customs, but had retained the fearlessness and fighting
prowess of their Viking forebears. The Galloglass fought
like the Normans, protected in mail coats and iron helmets.
They were notable for two-handed axes and Claymores, a
large two-handed sword. With the aid of the Galloglass, the
Irish chiefs rolled back the Normans. The English
authorities were pushed back to a small area within about
Ballinrobe was a garrison town until the last soldiers departed in 1926. British troops withdrew in
1922 after the signing of the Treaty that created the Irish Free State. The land where the ruins of the
cavalry barracks stand at the south end of Main Street was once the home of Lord Tyrawley. He sold
the property to the War Office in 1821. The infantry barracks were located off High Street.
four miles of Dublin known as “The Pale.”
These Scots-Galloglass can be readily
distinguished from the later Scottish settlers that flooded
Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries. The later arrivals
were Protestant and spoke English, in contrast to the
Catholic faith and Gaelic language of the native Gaels and
Galloglass. Today, Gallaghers are part and parcel of Irish
society and can be found throughout the country. They have
been a part of Ireland for over a thousand years and more
than 30 generations.
An army barracks was built in Ballinrobe around
1700 on the site of the 14th century Ballinrobe Castle. It
was located just south of the current intersection of Bridge
and High streets. By 1831, Ballinrobe had barracks for
cavalry and infantry. The former accommodated eight
officers and 106 non-commissioned officers and privates,
with stabling for 84 horses. The latter housed six officers
and 96 non-commissioned officers and men, with a hospital
for 20 patients.
The military had an unpopular presence in and
around the town for many years, including in times of
famine and evictions. In the later 19th century, soldiers and
members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the quasimilitary
police force in Ireland from 1822 until 1922, were
out in force as various factions asserted the rights of tenant
farmers against unfair landlords.
The situation turned violent in October 1898, two
years after our grandparents were married and 10 months
after their first child was born. Police had learned of a
planned mass rally in Ballinrobe for the recently launched
United Irish League, a nationalist party seeking land
reform. The sought-after changes included compelling
larger grazier farmers to surrender their lands for
redistribution. Authorities issued a proclamation forbidding
the meeting, set for that Sunday evening. Public roads
leading into town were blocked, but supporters by the
thousands found their way into town by that Saturday
evening. The police responded with force.
The clash was one of the few times news from
Ballinrobe appeared in the New York Times. The paper ran
a brief account about what it called the “great excitement”
in Ballinrobe. It reported: “About twenty-thousand people
assembled and Messrs. Michael Davitt and William
O’Brien, who were to be the speakers, were met outside of
town by a detachment of 200 police, and were prevented
from entering the place. The police were forced to charge
the crowds frequently during the night, and many persons
Speaking at an alternate rally at a private home
outside town, William O’Brien questioned whether Dublin
Castle was abandoning its strategy of killing the Home
Rule effort by kindness and “going to bark back upon the
brutally candid old English system of killing Home Rule
with the bludgeon and the bayonet.”
Some years earlier, in November 1880, the term
“boycott” was coined via the struggle against Charles
Boycott, a ruthless land agent in the Lough Mask area.
Activists from the Land League encouraged Boycott’s
employees to withdraw their labor and began a campaign
of isolation against him, including shops in nearby
Ballinrobe refusing to serve him. Ballinrobe and
Claremorris were swamped with as many as 750 soldiers,
led by officers of the Royal Artillery and 19th Hussars,
ready to break the “boycott.” Charles Boycott would leave
Ireland in disgrace by the end of the year. Soon there were
reports of “boycotting” all over Ireland. The mostly
nonviolent pressure was one of the most successful tactics
ever used against the British in Ireland.
Hostilities between the two countries eventually
abated with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on Dec.
26, 1921, which led to the Irish Free State. However, fierce
disagreements about the Treaty split Ireland into Civil War.
Michael Collins was a key figure on the pro-Treaty side. He
gave a speech in Castlebar in June 1922 that became a
target of anti-treaty forces. Railroad tracks were torn up in
an unsuccessful try keep him away. His speech was cut
short due to agitators in the crowd, and a woman was shot
in the ensuing panic. Less than five months later, Collins
was assassinated in an ambush in County Cork. The pro-
Treaty side prevailed in the war, which ended in April/May
There are few aspects of rural Irish life more
romanticized than the wee, humble cottage. The people
who actually lived in them – often families of 10 or more –
probably had a more realistic view of their
accommodations than what is portrayed in many a song or
A most notable characteristic of the cottage is the
half door, an ingenious device that kept the children in and
the animals out. A secondary use was to allow in light and
fresh air; most cottages were damp and stuffy as a result of
small windows and smoke from the fireplace. A third use
was as a prop to lean on while smoking the pipe, gossiping
with neighbors or shouting that the dinner was ready.
The size and number of windows in a house were
curtailed by practicality – and to a lesser extent window
taxes. From 1799 until 1851 taxes were levied on houses
with more than six windows. The levies became known as
the “typhus tax” because of the resulting respiratory
problems caused by poor ventilation. However the main
reason for small windows was to retain heat in the winter
and keep things cool in the summer. The walls of a cottage
were typically about 2 feet thick to support the roof and
beams, leading to the attractive deep window reveals found
in most cottages. Roofs were usually constructed of
coupled rafters, then stuffed with turf for insulation, with
the exterior usually thatched.
In the mid-19th century, as far as the parish of
The thatched-roof cottage, such as this one preserved
near Ballinrobe, is a symbol of simpler times in the Irish
Ballinrobe was concerned, the cabins of the poor were
“built with dry walls of limestone generally” and plastered
inside with mortar or clay. Their size was commonly about
16 feet wide and from 20 to 30 feet long.
The fireplace was the heart and soul of the
cottage, around which daily life revolved – cooking,
drying, heating and social gatherings. The fire was never
allowed to extinguish, with ashes strewn over it at night to
keep the embers alive for morning. The importance of the
hearth in cottage life is illustrated in the famous saying
loosely translated as “There’s no place like home.” The
literal translation is “There’s no hearth like your own
hearth” (níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin).
There is no smell
associated with the West of
Ireland more than the sweet
aroma of a turf fire burning in a
poorly ventilated home. Turf,
known in other parts of the world
as peat, fueled homes in Ireland
for centuries. It is a byproduct of
fallen trees from a time when the
country was covered by forests.
In our parents' time, and
much further back, the turf was
cut from the bog using a slean, a
sort of specialized, two-sided
spade. This was hard, backbreaking
work. One man
would dig into the plot of bog
The sleane, used for
with the slean and take up a brick of turf. He would then
throw it to another person standing close by. That man
would catch the turf and place it gently on the ground. At
this stage, the turf would be very moist and could easily
break in your hands. The bricks were allowed to dry on both
sides, until a crust was formed. They were then footed, with
four or more in an upright position, to continue drying. It
was very important the stack got a strong breeze and
sunshine. This procedure would continue for days or weeks,
until it was decided enough turf was cut for the winter.
Finally, the dried turf was brought home by sack or donkey
and cart. Each farm was given a plot of bog, so the
Gallaghers would have had their own section, possibly in
Derryfad near Claremorris.
A typical diet in 19th century Ballinrobe would
have consisted mostly of potatoes, eggs, oat bread,
buttermilk, maybe some Indian meal and bacon. Other
meats were generally reserved for special occasions such as
Easter and Christmas.
In the first half of the 1800s, the ballooning
population of County Mayo had become dangerously reliant
on the potato crop. When the crop failed, starting in 1845, it
led to the utter devastation of The Great Famine. After the
loss of so many people to starvation, disease and
emigration, the food situation slowly improved. Farms, in
general, became larger, and different food became more
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the
website Dochara.com, the development of processed food
industries, the expansion of retail outlets into even small
towns and villages, and more efficient distribution via
railway and roads, brought a significant shift to “shop
bought” goods. This sort of food was looked on as superior
and the ability to buy it as a measure of affluence. Bread,
potatoes and porridge still formed the staple diet of the
poor, but there was greatly increased consumption of dairy
products and meats. More affluent people took to having
bacon and eggs at breakfast. The main meal was taken in
the middle of the day.
During our grandparents’ time, farmers in rural
Ireland would have had what today might be called an allorganic
diet – almost exclusively the result of their own
labor. They would have sown potatoes, cabbage, turnips,
kale and rhubarb. One thing people would buy was Indian
meal, which was readily available and could be used in
“stir-about,” a type of porridge. Indian meal is similar to
oatmeal, but a little less refined. Made from corn and
Turf cut from the bog was the source of heat in Irish
homes. The drying process included footing (stacking)
bricks of the damp sod. The stacks can still be found in
the bogs outside Ballinrobe today.
'The Sheaf' sculpture by Jackie McKenna stands in the
Cornmarket, a central focus for Ballinrobe where
markets and fairs were once held. In the past it was
known as 'The Fair Place' or 'The Common.'
A photo from July 1992 shows the remains of the old Gallagher homes and farm buildings along the boreen in
Cornaroya. The load of hay is heading toward the Convent Road. In the foreground right is Connell's gate.
imported from America, it was introduced during the
Great Famine as a dietary supplement to the potato. The
old folks say it came from the native Americans. At any
rate, it was readily available.
Bernadette Cafferky, a niece of Aunt May, still
has the books from the store her Grandfather Michael Mohan
operated in Lecarrow, a few miles east of Ballinrobe. In the
mid-1800s, her paternal grandfather went to England to find
work. He also was able to attend school after work and used
the knowledge he gained to open a store when he returned to
Ireland. The store was attached to the house, and Michael’s
wife assisted in the day-to-day running of things. An entry
from the books for 1890 is typical for the time. The page
details what one customer obtained from the store over a
period of months. The items were usually bought on credit,
which would be paid off when cash was available, typically
when a farmer sold his crops or animals at a local fair. The
items are mostly things that couldn't be produced on a local
farm: tea, tobacco, flour and Indian meal. Two pounds of
sugar cost 4.5 pence; an ounce of tobacco 3 pence. This
particular customer had recently made a payment of 2 pounds
toward a total credit of 5 pounds, 6 shillings, 8.5 pence.
LIFE ON THE FARM
A page from the books of the Mohan store in
Lecarrow lists the purchases and payments of one
customer in 1890.
A typical kitchen in rural Ireland had a large, open
fireplace where all the cooking would take place. The doors
to the bedrooms would be left open to allow some heat to
pass through. Inside the large fireplace hung a cast-iron
crane, which had a hinge that allowed it to swing back and
forth. On the crane was an arm with holes for hooks that
allowed other appliances to be attached, such as pots for
boiling the spuds. For the animals, lesser-quality potatoes
were boiled, strained and cooled, then mashed with a wooden
“ponder” (similar to a thick handle). Indian meal and any
spare milk was added, and – voila! – the pigs feed for
another day was done.
Pigs were a source of income for people living in
Items that helped ease the workload on the Irish farm included a hand-cranked butter churn, left, shown open at
center. Another useful tool, at right, was a knapsack for spraying blight protection on the potato crop.
Now used as a lawn decoration, the crane and pot were
once a mainstay of the Irish kitchen.
the country. Farmers would keep a sow (the female) to have
the bonhams, or piglets. When the bonhams were old
enough and in good condition they would be taken to
market in Ballinrobe and sold. One or two were kept on the
farm; when the time was right, a butcher would call and the
pig would be slaughtered, providing plenty of bacon for the
family. The butcher would cut up the carcass. It was put
into a large wooden barrel with layers of salt between each
piece to create a brine to preserve the bacon. More bacon
would hang from the kitchen ceiling, getting a distinctive
flavor from the smoke of the open fire. On a day when
bacon was on the menu, it was there waiting to be used. In
the meantime, the sow may have had more bonhams and
the cycle started again.
Eggs were good for feeding the family and
bartering with the shopkeeper or neighbors. Farming was a
communal affair, and neighbors needed to pull together.
What one neighbor had in surplus could be traded with
another. Men, women and children all contributed.
The cow was only the beginning of the dairy
process. Once the cow was milked, the milk was poured
into a container through a wire strainer and piece of muslin
cloth to prevent any dirt from getting into the mix. The next
day the cream would be removed from the top and placed
into a cream jug until there was enough to put in the churn
to make the butter. The churn's handle would be cranked
and cranked until, eventually, the butter started to form.
Inside the churn was a gadget called a dash; it's the friction
of the milk or cream against the dash that makes the butter.
After the butter was removed from the churn, salt was
added and the butter rolled, as if kneading bread, to
remove the excess milk. The liquid left in the churn was
The buttermilk was used to make the caiscin, the
brown bread, that was baked every day. The shape of a
cross typically was made on top of the cake before it was
baked. Some say the step was included so God would bless
the cake; “heathens” might say it was simply to allow the
cake to rise equally.
WETTING THE SHAMROCK
Until more recent times, there was, in general, a
significant difference between how St. Patrick’s Day was
celebrated in, say, America, and in Ireland itself.
Boisterous, sometimes well-lubricated parades
and other celebrations were common in Philadelphia,
Wilmington and other outposts of the Irish diaspora.
Conventional wisdom held that Ireland marked the day
with a more reverent observance of the island’s patron
But reality is not so black (or green) and white.
A debate from the quarterly meeting of the
Ballinrobe District Council in March 1906 shows there was
not complete agreement on how the saint’s feast day was or
'Since I was born I heard it said on St. Patrick's Day –
Did you wet the shamrock yet?' – From 1906 debate
recounted in the Western People.
should be observed. It touches on a broad range of issues,
from drinking and the law to Home Rule and free
commerce. The unnamed reporter/informant recounting the
meeting for The Western People helpfully includes a sort of
Greek chorus to set the mood.
The meeting started with a report on the condition
of public roads, which were said to be in a “reasonable
condition of repair.” However, the contractor for the road
from Ballinrobe to Roundfort (as far as Gallows Hill) came
in for criticism about owing a large balance of material.
The meeting then proceeded with council’s
ordinary business, including the reading of a “circular”
letter from the Executive Gaelic League, Dublin, asking the
council to secure the observance of St. Patrick’s Day as a
A Mr. Costello approved the suggestion, opening
the debate, which was reported as follows:
Mr. J. Walsh – It’s a very proper suggestion and I
think we should call on all publicans to close that day.
Mr. T. Conroy – Well, I think not.
Mr. Walsh – It is a most disgraceful thing to see
drunken people on St. Patrick’s Day.
Mr. Heveran – That is the day they all wet the
Mr. Joyce – Since I was born I heard it said on St.
Patrick’s Day – Did you wet the shamrock yet? And sure if
the public houses are closed we cannot wet it.
Mr. Casey – Can’t you wet it as much as you like
in your own home? (laughter)
Mr. Walsh – I propose you ask the shopkeepers to
close their shops on St. Patrick’s Day.
Mr. Costello seconded the motion.
Mr. P. Conroy – We will have a fair in Headford
A cross is often found on the brown bread common to
Irish homes. This loaf is from the kitchen of Aunt
Delia's daughter, Patsy DeAscanis.
that day. (Headford is a town along the Mayo, Galway
Mr. Casey – If you travel to Headford that day
you’ll be entitled to a drink; you’ll be a bona fide traveller,
that’s the law. All the same, I’d be for making the publicans
close that day. (laughter)
Mr. Diskin said that without that resolution at all,
he would close on St. Patrick’s Day. (Hear, hear)
Mr. T. Conroy – I would like to see business in
general suspended that day. Now I myself am a teetotaler,
but I know there are a few publicans in town that want to
earn a few shillings that day, and why should we interfere
with them? What is the use in our making new rules until
we have Home Rule?
Mr. J Walsh – Let me tell you. Home Rule is not
worth a jot if the people won’t keep sober.
Mr. Casey – Hear, hear.
Mr. Costello – Adopt the resolution. It will not be
binding on the publicans.
Clerk – No. You are only asking them to close and
they can do as they like.
A poll was taken, when all except Messrs.
Heveran and T. Conroy voted in favor of the resolution.
Mr. T. Conroy – Now I suppose that each
councilor is sworn to act on St. Patrick’s Day in accordance
with his vote. (Laughter)
The Convent of Mercy in Ballinrobe, also known
as St. Joseph’s Convent, was a significant presence for the
Gallagher family for more than 150 years. The building
adjacent to the family’s fields provided jobs for many in the
The St. Joseph
Convent of Mercy in
located behind the
fields of the
many of the
and schooling for
their sisters. The
convent was founded
family when other employment was scarce and comfort to
others, including Uncle Owen in his later years. He left a
portion of his estate to the Sisters of Mercy when he died in
The convent was founded from Westport in 1851.
Its mission included the education of children, visitation
and care of the sick, and helping the poor.
The following account comes from the 1970
Convent of Mercy School Magazine by way of the website
On Feb. 19, 1851, Mother Gertrude O’Brien, Sr.
M. de Pazzi, Sr. M. de Sales and Sr. M. Veronica came
from Westport to Ballinrobe to start a new foundation. The
Rev. Tom Hardiman, of Ballinrobe, and Mother M. Paul
Cullen, superior in Westport, accompanied them.
The Catholics of Ballinrobe were very poor at the
time and unable to adequately provide for the foundation.
The Rev. Dr. McHale gave considerable financial aid, and a
solicitor, Mr. Blake, vacated his house on Main Street,
opposite the main gates to St. Mary’s Church, to provide
the sisters a temporary convent dedicated to St. Joseph. In
1853, steps were taken to secure a site for a permanent
convent. A field was rented from Col. Knox and
construction began. The sisters took up residence in their
new home in 1854. Classes were organized more fully and
a Sunday School for adults was started. In 1861 the funds
of the convent were very low, and the superior, Mother M.
Gertrude, opened a boarding school for young girls.
Bazaars became a yearly event, raising the then-substantial
sum of as much as £130.
In 1862, civil authorities requested that the sisters
assist in the Workhouse Hospital and four of them took up
duty there. In the following year, the schools were
connected with the National Board and the building of a
new National School was commenced in 1899.
In 1918, a Secondary School was opened at the
request of Canon Edward Alfred D’Alton, who had become
pastor in Ballinrobe in 1911. Within a short time, there
were 60 pupils enrolled. Later, a Commercial School was
opened and pupils were prepared for secretarial and other
posts. The centenary of the foundation of the convent was
celebrated during Easter Week 1951. On April 22, 1956, the
Rev. T. Gunnigan formally opened and blessed a new
Secondary School. In 1970, the building was being
extended and a new Primary School was also under
By 2008, however, the Convent of Mercy had run
its course. The 12 aging nuns who remained at the 34-
bedroom building were relocated to the order’s home in
Castlebar. But before they left, more than 500 people
attended a ceremony on the convent grounds to thank the
sisters for their 16 decades of ministry to the people of
Ballinrobe. According to an account in The Mayo News,
Monsignor Tom Shannon told the gathering: “The pupils
who passed through these schools will, to this day, testify to
the worth of the education they received at the hands of the
Sisters of Mercy.”
In 2015, a story in The Mayo News reported the
old convent was opening its doors to children once again. A
portion of the building was restored by new, private owners
to provide pre-school and after-school services.
THE ‘OLD CHURCH’
The Catholic Church in Ireland dates to St. Patrick
and the fifth century. Following his preaching, many
monasteries and other churches were founded in the West
of Ireland. There were several abbeys in the area around
Ballinrobe, including Ballintubber and Burriscarra, several
miles north of town; Inismaine Abbey on the shores of
Lough Mask; and Cong Abbey (in ruins), to the south. All
date to the sixth and seventh centuries.
Later monastic establishments in or near
Ballinrobe were the Killeentreva Church and the Augustine
Abbey. The Killeentreva Church, which is on the road to
Creagh Demesne, was possibly established in the 12th
century by a small settlement of nuns. The Augustine
Abbey was built in the early 1300s. Mass was celebrated in
the Abbey as late as 1692, but it was deserted by the end of
that century. In the 1400s, the Knights Hospitallers had a
house and chapel, St. John the Baptist Church, near the
The book “How The Irish Saved Civilization”
makes the case the dedication and scholarship found in
Irish monasteries preserved much of Western learning
during the Dark Ages. But Catholics in Ireland began their
own dark ages when the church and its sacraments were
outlawed after the Tudor conquest. For several centuries,
the English Crown attempted to suppress Ireland’s Catholic
majority, but that only led to Irish nationalism coalescing
around the faith.
Dismantling of the penal laws targeting Catholics
began slowly in 1766. They were finally removed by the
Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. Among the changes were
The 'Old Church' in Ballinrobe, seen today, above, and,
below, in a postcard kept by Uncle Jim, was built in the
first half of the nineteenth century on the road to
Castlebar. The inside of the ruins are seen at left.
The foundation for St. Mary's Catholic Church in Ballinrobe was laid in 1851. The church wasn't dedicated until
1863. The structure now features a collection of Harry Clarke stained-glass windows, commissioned in 1924.
that Masses no longer had to be celebrated in secret.
In Ballinrobe, Masses were apparently held in the
19th century for a while in a chapel on Bridge Street,
located at the back of Willie Jennings’ butcher shop.
Eventually, the reforms opened the way for construction of
the “old church” on the road to Partry and Castlebar. An
1837 account says the chapel, “a large slated building with
a lofty square tower, was erected in 1815 by subscription.”
A plaque above the entrance indicates the church opened in
MDCCCXIX (1819). Its tower may have been a later
addition, c. 1827. The tower, visible from a great distance,
allowed the church to compete in status with the Church of
Ireland structure within town on higher ground. The
Protestant Church was eventually converted into the public
library off Main Street.
The relatively short-lived Catholic church’s layout
was “a free standing cruciform-plan,” also called a “Latin
Cross.” The original slated roof and timber joists were
removed and relocated to the boy’s secondary school
behind the current Parish Center. The ruins of the church
It was probably at this church on the Castlebar
Road that an incident of vandalism happened that was
reported in the Baptist Magazine and Literary Review of
1854. It occurred during a huge mission in Ballinrobe.
Overnight, vandals broke into the church and carried away
altar vessels, including a ciborium containing the Blessed
Sacrament and a massive silver monstrance. Stunned
parishioners took part in an elaborate procession the
following Sunday and commenced with a Forty Hours
Adoration. An impressive total of 60 pounds was raised to
replace the stolen items.
ST. MARY’S CHURCH
The inconvenient location of the “old church”
outside town probably was a factor in the decision to soon
build the new Church of St. Mary’s in the heart of
Ballinrobe. Its foundation stone was laid in 1851.
The Rev. Peter Conway was appointed the first
curate of Ballinrobe in 1847. He was responsible for
negotiating permission from prominent landowner Col.
Knox to construct St. Mary’s on Main Street. Construction
started in 1853. But due to a lack of funding through the
post-famine times, the building was not dedicated until
Pentecost Sunday 1863.
Saint Mary’s is now home to one of the largest
collections of panels by renowned stained-glass artist Harry
Clarke. Monsignor Edward Alfred D’Alton commissioned
them in the autumn of 1924. The first windows were
installed that year and depict scenes from the life of Jesus
and Mary. Twelve panels were added in 1925 depicting the
lives of eight Irish saints, including Brigid, Patrick and
There have been numerous additions and
renovations over the years, and St. Mary’s remains an
integral part of the community.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Electricity was first introduced to Ireland in 1880
with a streetlamp outside the Dublin office of The
Freemans Journal newspaper. By 1927, County Mayo had
10 local electricity providers, including the Ballinrobe
Electric and Woolen Co. Ltd. Records show that provider,
founded in 1920 and located on Bridge Street, supplied
power to 136 homes and businesses in Ballinrobe in 1929.
It was awarded a £100 per year contract to light the town’s
streets in 1936. But electricity for rural Ireland, through the
national Electric Supply Board, did not begin in earnest
Rural “electrification” was touted as the greatest
social revolution since the land reforms of the 1880s and
’90s. It was promoted as a way to provide unlimited
opportunities for rural development. The ESB took over the
Ballinrobe Electric and Woolen Co. in March 1947.
Overall, the results did not live up to the dramatic
expectations, but it did create excitement in Cornaroya. The
poles erected to run wires out of town were enough of an
attraction to be used as a backdrop for photos of Aunt Ann
and others. Ann's cousin from next door Tommy was part
of the rural electrification efforts before he left for America
in the mid-1950s. Relatives from Ballinrobe remember
most of the work he was involved with was “back the
mountains” in areas such as Cornamona.
In 1704, a new law required the registration of
Catholic priests. One was Fr. Duffy, who ministered in
Ballinrobe from 1696 until 1712. He was eventually
captured and deported to Spain, where he died.
It was this persecution of priests that is at the heart
of a legend from Ballintubber Abbey. The story is that a
man named John Mallowney – also known as Seán na
Sagart, or John of the priest – was about to be hung for
Poles used in the electrification of rural areas are the
backdrop for this 1949 photo of Aunt Ann and her
cousins Eugene and Jack Gallagher.
stealing a horse when he worked out a deal with the sheriff
of Mayo. He would keep his life in exchange for the “rent”
of a priest’s head each year.
He made good on the rent and killed many priests.
But there were two he had trouble tracking. Finally, he
decided to pretend he was about to die and had his sister
summon the older of the two priests to hear the confession
of his many crimes. When the priest leaned close to listen,
Seán na Sagart stabbed the cleric in the heart. At the burial
the next day, the younger of the two priests wore a disguise
but was recognized by the priest hunter. The young priest
fled but was soon stabbed in the leg. As he was about to be
killed, a peddler caught up to Seán na Sagart and killed
him with his own dagger. Soldiers buried his body, but it
was soon dug up and tossed in a local lake. But the young
priest had the people drag the lake and rebury the body. An
ash sapling at the site is said to have grown into a tree and
split his grave in two. That tree on the grounds of
Ballintubber Abbey is known as the “Seán na Sagart tree.”
Workhouses were the last resort of the destitute in
Ireland into the 20th century. It was an often brutal system
of social welfare in which entire families had to enter the
workhouse together. To qualify for admission, people had
to give up any land they had.
The Ballinrobe Poor Law Union built a
workhouse around 1840 on a six-acre site on the Kilmaine
Road to the southeast of town. It was designed to hold 800.
But with famine just ahead, the workhouse soon became
woefully inadequate. It tried to admit as many as three
times the number it could care for. Hundreds ended their
last days there weekly, and many were turned away. Troops
were sent to town to deal with the resulting unrest.
An article in the Mayo Constitution in March
1847 reported: “In Ballinrobe, the workhouse is in the most
awfully deplorable state, pestilence having attacked
paupers, officers, and all. In fact, this building is one
horrible charnel house … every officer swept away, while
the number of deaths among the inmates is unknown.”
After the Great Famine, life improved in the
Ballinrobe workhouse. The appointment of the Sisters of
Mercy as nurses saw a dramatic improvement in the
medical care provided to the sick, according to the website
ballinrobeworkhouse.weebly.com. Discipline became more
relaxed and food improved. Some recreational time was
allowed and outings were organized for the children.
Newspapers and books were permitted, and an allowance
of tobacco and snuff was provided for the elderly. In the
ensuing decades, the workhouse became a place for the
sick, the old, the homeless and unmarried mothers and less
of a prison for the poor. But not everything improved. The
full story of the horrors suffered by many of the young
mothers and their children is still being uncovered.
Most of the workhouse buildings were burned
down during the Irish Civil War. A simple headstone now
marks the resting place of thousands of Ballinrobe’s poor.
CONGESTED DISTRICTS BOARD
The Congested Districts Board for Ireland was
established in 1891 to alleviate poverty and crowded living
conditions in the West. Its scope ranged from building a
The legendary 'Sean na Sagart tree' at Ballintubber
Abbey has a complicated and dark history.
small stone wall to purchasing the entirety of Clare island
in Clew Bay.
The board sought to improve transportation,
especially roads and railways, and to provide better
facilities for local industries. By 1903, the CDB was
authorized to purchase extra land from large estates to
increase the small holdings of tenants. In 1909, it was
granted compulsory powers of purchase and began
redistributing over 1,000 estates totaling 2 million acres.
This allowed the CDB to relocate farmers with small land
holdings to 20-acre plots, with contiguous fields, and a new
One example was the CDB relocating the family
of Uncle Pete’s eventual wife May Tierney from
Carrowmore to Gallows Hill. The Tierneys traded in their
single-story cottage and nine acres for a new two-story
home, 20 acres with adjacent fields, and a new horse and
cart. The family apparently had the option of the two-story
house at 75 pounds or a single-story cottage for 50 pounds.
The cost was spread over about 66 years, with the rent
initially paid to the British Government then the Irish Free
The Tierney home after they relocated to Gallows Hill is a typical example of a two-story
home built with plans from the Congested Districts Board.
State. Some farmers were not as lucky and got land in the
Midlands, such as County Meath, where they were not
always pleasantly welcomed. One cousin remembers a time
when the issue came up as Meath and Mayo were
competing for the All-Ireland Gaelic football trophy. Signs
erected around Meath said: “You took our land, but you
won't take our Sam (the trophy).”
The CDB had its successes, but it is generally
thought its promise far exceeded its performance. The
board invested heavily in projects in the West that
floundered once subsidies ended. As a result, the hoped-for
goal to spur emigration from the crowded West to the moredeveloped
East failed. The board was dissolved in 1923,
although some of its functions continued under the Land
A recent addition to the landscape around
Ballinrobe involves a small sculpture and bench on the road
into town from the Neale. The sculpture is of a pair of
boots. It pays tribute to a time when country folk, who
would have walked that far in their bare feet, would stop to
put on their shoes before they headed into town. The streets
of stone there would not have been easy on bare feet, even
those used to the local rocky fields.
A plaque with the statue reads: “In the past,
people from the countryside put on their shoes/boots at this
spot before walking into Ballinrobe; this saved wear and
A sculpture heading into Ballinrobe pays tribute to the
barefoot country folk who would put on their shoes as
they approached town.
tear. Children did not use footwear until they were 16 years
or more. And from St. Patrick’s Day to October 1 women
frequently wore no shoes. On occasions, a pair of shoes
was shared in rotation, by different members of a family.”
For more on footwear in Ballinrobe, see Chapter 4
where Aunt Delia is asked, “Is it your brown shoes you’d
Sources for this chapter include Irish Origins,
Historical Ballinrobe, Cottageology, Wickapedia,
Surnamedb.com, Irishnewsarchive.com and Mayo-
“He is dead,” Greta Conroy said of Michael
Furey. “He died when he was only seventeen.
Isn’t it a terrible thing to die so young as that?”
For both Ireland in general and along the boreen
in Cornaroya, everything was different after 1921.
On that July 9, a truce was declared between the
IRA and the British military in the War for Irish
Independence. On Dec. 6, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was
signed in London, opening the way for establishment of the
Irish Free State.
But the excitement of those developments was
muted by a terrible grief for the family of Pat and Mary
Gallagher in Ballinrobe. Their first-born child, Michael,
died that March 21.
When Uncle Michael was born, the future looked
bright. He was the pride of both parents and grandparents.
He was to inherit the farm and lands. He would be the one
to lead his family into the next century. Instead, Michael
Gallagher would not see his 25th birthday, struck down by
a deadly disease that had plagued Ireland for more than a
When he died from tuberculosis, Uncle Michael
was six years older than John, his closest brother. He had
five more brothers younger than John, all still teenagers or
younger. Michael was so much bigger and stronger than the
rest. It seemed inconceivable he could be the one struck
down. Uncle Jim said Michael was extremely close to their
father. His death, he added, was a tragedy for the whole
family, but it affected his father the most. In his despair, Pat
Gallagher wondered why Michael had to die.
Uncle Michael is buried in the cemetery located among
the ruins of the old Augustine Abbey in Ballinrobe. The
family plot there includes several generations of
St. Theresa’s Sanatorium for TB patients opened in Ballinrobe in 1924 on
the old Creagh Estate. It was out of operation for two years after a fire in
1939, but otherwise operated until it was sold in 1959.
TUBERCULOSIS IN IRELAND
An estimated 7,000 Irish people died from
the dreaded “consumption” in 1921, Uncle Michael
Suggestions about treatment for tuberculosis
were plentiful at the time, but none were proven
effective. Many lacked any scientific backing and
others were useless – or worse. Some doctors insisted
it was absolutely necessary that bad teeth be attended
to. Others focused on cleanliness. One ad from the
early 1900s touted the popular product Chlorodyne as
the best-known remedy for a number of ailments,
including consumption. Its principal ingredients were
a mixture of laudanum (an alcoholic solution of
opium), tincture of cannabis and chloroform. It lived
up to its claim of relieving pain, if not as a TB cure.
It was not until the 1950s that an antibiotic
treatment became available that would eventually
ease the scourge of the bacterial infection of the
lungs. The disease was passed on when someone
breathed in droplets containing the bacteria sent
airborne when an infected person coughed, sneezed,
sang or spoke loudly.
The Tuberculosis Prevention Act of 1908
had given power to county councils to provide clinics
for the treatment of the disease, but County Mayo
was still without a tuberculosis officer in 1923. That
August, the County Council’s Finance Committee
approved advertising to hire such an officer. By
October 1924, Dr. James G. Thornton had filled the
post and was visiting towns on a regular basis to
An ad from 1903 calls Chlorodyne the most
wonderful and valuable remedy ever discovered.
provide examinations. He held clinics in Ballinrobe
for two hours on the first Friday of the month,
according to a notice in the Connaught Telegraph.
A sanatorium opened in Ballinrobe in 1924,
after the Creagh Estate was handed over to the
County Mayo Board of Health. Until 1954, 40 or 50
patients at a time were treated at Creagh, then known
as St. Theresa’s Sanatorium. At their outset, many
sanatoriums in Ireland were dismal places, giving rise
to the description “coughin’ in, coffin out.” Mortality
remained high through the 1930s, but sanatoriums
eventually became more like hospitals that could
provide relative relief to the suffering. The constant
battle to defeat the disease eventually proved a
success, and by the 1970s, consumption had all but
vanished from Ireland.
In his few short years, Michael had lived up to
many of the expectations his family held for their first child
back in 1897. He was the godfather when his brother Jim
was born in 1911. When Michael’s Grandfather Peter
Gallagher died in 1912, it was up to Michael, then 15, and
his father to work the farm. Even if still a boy at heart, he
would now be engaged in a man’s work. Uncle Michael
would have been the first to help his father in the fields, the
first to help his father build or repair stone walls, and the
first to help cut turf in the bog. He would have been a great
aid and comfort.
Aunt Delia was the only one really close in age to
Michael. But there was three years difference between
them, and Delia would spend time as a child living with her
maternal grandfather. She did remember her brother as fair
and attractive, describing him as “comely.” Standing 6 feet
tall, Michael was looked up to – both literally and
figuratively – by his younger siblings. Everyone wanted to
be like Mike. Michael’s closest friends likely included his
cousins next door, Peter and Owen Gallagher. Michael and
Owen were the same age; Peter was seven years older.
Michael Gallagher’s grandparents would have proudly
pushed him around town in the family's pram.
Uncle Michael was given a pocket watch sent home to
Ireland after his father’s brother Michael died in
America. It was later given to Uncle John, Uncle Jim,
Uncle Owen and, finally, Uncle Jim’s son Pat.
A DIFFERENT TIME
It wasn’t until three years after Michael Gallagher
died that a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis was
opened in Ballinrobe. A “cure” was still decades away. For
Michael, there would have been no reliable treatment. His
care likely would have been up to the family carrying out a
doctor’s advice, which typically involved having the patient
rest, eat well and exercise outdoors. Isolation would also be
important. Somehow, the Gallagher family of Cornaroya
avoided having the highly contagious disease spread to
Uncle Michael was probably born in 1897,
although his birth was not officially registered until Jan. 4,
1898. Uncle Jim said civil registrations would occur only
when the mother was well enough to travel into town. But
the Baptism couldn’t wait. In those times, it was the most
important task after a Catholic birth. Infant mortality rates
were very high, and Catholic cemeteries were consecrated
ground. In general, an unbaptized person could neither be
buried there, nor enter into Heaven.
Though never a matter of doctrine, the Catholic
Church had re-emphasized this traditional teaching through
strict reforms implemented during the 17th century's
A monument marks the area northwest of town where Felix Waitkus crash-landed in 1935 as he
attempted to fly from New York to Lithuania.
Counter-Reformation. The Cillín (pronounced Killeen), a
cemetery for unbaptized babies, was Ireland’s answer. But
it was an answer that a Catholic family would do its best to
avoid. It is difficult to imagine the depth of grief a bereaved
family underwent when an infant died. It would be made
worse by being denied the comfort of the normal funeral
rite and burial with family in consecrated ground. When
such situations were unavoidable, fathers would sometimes
take care of the burial themselves, often outlining the grave
with small, white quartz stones. Many such infants were
buried on the family farm to be close to the mother. By the
end of the 19th century, changes were happening with the
practice, though it continued into the 1950s in Ireland
before being discarded after The Second Vatican Council.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church from 1992 no longer
mentions Limbo. Rather, it teaches that infants who die
without Baptism are entrusted to the mercy of God.
The importance of having a baby baptized would
not have been theoretical for Michael Gallagher’s parents.
He would not have been 2 years old when the family’s next
child, Mary, died soon after she was born. Although there is
no civil record of Mary’s birth, the rectory at St. Mary’s in
Ballinrobe shows she was baptized in 1899. Mary was
buried in the Abbey Cemetery, along with her Great-
Grandparents Michael and Bridget Gallagher.
A PROUD FAMILY
Mary’s death left Michael as an only child until
his sister Delia came along after three or four years. In the
meantime, Michael’s Grandmother Bridget (McCormick)
Gallagher, who would have been in her late 50s, was left to
dote on him. She would have been proud to show him off to
neighbors and others as she pushed her grandson around in
a pram, or perambulator, the Irish/British term for a baby
carriage. By the late Victorian era, more people could
afford such a carriage, and they were becoming very
popular. Still, it’s hard to imagine there were too many in
the town of Ballinrobe.
As he grew, Michael apparently showed the same
quick, dry sense of humor that was common to Uncle Tom,
Uncle Jim and the others. The story goes that one day
Michael was walking down the road when a person he met
offered him a penny. Michael declined the offer. “No
thanks,” he said. “I have one of those at home.”
At some point, Michael was the recipient of his
uncle’s pocket watch, a prized possession that was
presented to him by his grandparents. His father’s brother
Michael had immigrated to New York, probably around
1890. When that Michael died, his widow sent his watch
home to his parents, Peter and Bridget Gallagher, in
Ballinrobe. It was a very nice watch, with a silver case and
gold chain, made in the late 1800s in Lochel, Switzerland,
The settle bed was a
common item in
Irish homes. It
could be extended
into a bed or pulled
up to provide extra
seating. Uncle Tom
that the dark, damp
location where the
settle bed was kept
by Louis Jacot. The watch would eventually pass to the
next oldest son, Uncle John, then Uncle Jim (who promptly
lost the gold chain on a trip to Dublin), Uncle Owen and
eventually to Uncle Jim’s son Pat.
The family has no known pictures of Michael.
However, Uncle Owen said he could remember two
occasions when his brother’s photo appeared in a
newspaper. The first incident occurred when a biplane
crash-landed in a field close to Ballinrobe. Michael was
among a group who went to assist the pilot. The local
newspaper published a photo of the group, Uncle Owen
recalled. The specific incident is unclear, but there would
have been at least a few planes down in the area at the time,
often flying from temporary aerodromes, or airports, set up
by the British military. There was one such facility near
Castlebar. The second published picture involved the
Ballinrobe horse races. There was a photo of the stands,
with Michael among the crowd. Uncle Owen said he
remembered looking at the picture and trying to identify
Michael. He specifically remembered Uncle Pete bragging
that he could identify any Gallagher anywhere. That day's
races would have been at a different location than the
modern Ballinrobe Race Course, which didn’t hold its first
race meeting at Rathcarreen until 1921.
In addition to the downed plane Uncle Owen
remembered Michael seeing, there was an incident
involving a pilot crash-landing in 1935 that made both local
and international headlines. This crash occurred in
Cloongowla, just northwest of town, where Felix Waitkus’
planned flight from New York to Lithuania came up a little
short. An account on the front page of The New York Times
reported: “Country folk raced to the field where the
American aviator landed. He stepped from the plane
uninjured and was taken to the thatched cottage of a
resident named Paddy Walsh. There the cottagers prepared
breakfast for him; following which he borrowed a bicycle
on which he rode to the town of Ballinrobe, a mile away, to
report his arrival to local police authorities.” (The incident
was the first of only two times in the twentieth century
Ballinrobe was mentioned in a news story in the New York
Times archive. The other was a visit by U.S. First Lady Pat
Nixon in 1970. Landlord-tenant farmer clashes made the
paper a few times in the late 1800s.)
Another memory of Uncle Michael comes from
his brother Tom. “Michael used to love sleeping in the
settle bed,” Uncle Tom recalled, referring to the Irish
version of a modern sofa bed. They were common in Irish
cottages in the 1800s. A settle bed was typically a large,
heavy piece of wooden furniture that would extend to form
a bed. In the Gallagher cottage, it sat in a nook in the wall
next to the fireplace. “At Christmas and other occasions
when they would have several guests,” Aunt Nora said,
“the settle bed would be folded back into a bench for more
room and extra seating.”
A page from the 1901 Census of Ireland shows then-3-year-old Michael living with his newborn sister Delia, Parents
Patrick and Mary Gallagher, and Grandparents Peter and Bridget Gallagher in their Cornaroya home.
Uncle Tom was a deep thinker and well-read.
With better opportunities, he could have made a great
philosopher or fine doctor. So you cannot entirely dismiss
his wondering years later if the settle bed may have played
a part in Michael contracting TB. A visitor contagious with
the disease could have coughed on the bench where
Michael might have slept that evening. The poor ventilation
in the nook where the bed was kept wouldn’t have helped.
In general, ventilation issues contributed to
unhealthy environments in many rural Irish homes, if not
specifically the Gallagher cottage. The origins can be traced
to the late 18th century and taxes imposed based on the
number of windows in a home. The system came to be
referred to as the “typhus tax” for how it contributed to
epidemics of that and other diseases. It is also the origin of
the term “daylight robbery,” related to the number of
windows bricked or boarded up to avoid higher taxes. The
window tax was abolished in Ireland in 1851, but the 1911
Irish Census was still classifying homes based on, among
other factors, the number of windows.
In any case, how or when Uncle Michael
contracted TB is unknown. We also don’t know if Michael
was treated only at home, but there is no evidence to the
Uncle Tom, who would have been only 7 years
old at the time, was so affected by his brother’s death that
he never stopped thinking about the incident. Some 60 years
after the fact, he shared how his parents sacrificed and
saved just to afford a bit of lamb for their son. He wondered
if there was anything more nutritious his parents could have
bought with their limited money.
Consumption was the countryman’s descriptive
term for tuberculosis, which would “consume” its victims
by weight loss and breathlessness. It consumed the lives of
many thousands in Ireland. It is believed 12,000 young Irish
adults died of TB in 1904 alone. The number may have
been even higher. Tuberculosis was considered a poor
person’s disease, and some in Ireland would be reluctant to
list it as the cause of a death, fearing it would reflect poorly
on the family. Mortality rates remained high in the 1920s
and 1930s. Barely a family in the country remained
untouched. It was a disease that could kill in a few months
or ravage a victim for a number of years, slowly eating
away at the lungs from the inside. For many decades,
tuberculosis was often a death sentence. It was not until
1949 that the first human patient was cured with a treatment
involving the antibiotic streptomycin. Advancements have
continued since. We think Michael’s illness was not
Aunt Mary, Uncle Owen and their niece Mary Kathryn explore the
Abbey Cemetery, where Uncle Michael and others are buried.
prolonged, perhaps only a few months. Michael was not the
first in the family to succumb to the illness. On Jan. 2,
1874, our great-grandfather’s sister-in-law, Catherine
Hyland, died after a five-month fight with consumption. As
far as we know, no other members of either side of the
Gallagher family ever contracted the disease.
A force in the fight against TB was Dr. Noel
Browne, who lived for a while in Ballinrobe and had more
than a few family members die from the disease. He
himself survived TB as a child. In 1924, Dr. Browne had
the TB sanatorium built in Ballinrobe on the estate of
Creagh House, which was originally constructed in 1875 by
Col. Charles Knox. It was one in a series of sanatoriums
Browne inspired up and down the country. He would
eventually become Minister of Health for Ireland.
All that progress, however, came too late for
Uncle Michael. He died March 21, 1921. It was a great
blow to the family. Uncle John would then become the
oldest son, but he would die tragically nine years later. In
the meantime, Delia, Pat and Pete would all pursue their
futures in America, with each departure leaving another
void along the boreen in Cornaroya. But life had to go on,
and the remaining family turned to their affairs.
At the time of Michael’s funeral, his mother
would have had 2-month old Ann to care for. Mary, the
family’s final child, would be born 11 months later. The
family was changed utterly in 1921, but they would go on.
Hard times make strong people.
“There are four corners on my bed.
There are four angels at my head --
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Bless this bed that I lie on.
Keep us all safe over the night,
as you did through the day,
from all danger and harm.”
Aunt Delia's nightly prayer, which she must have
been taught by her mother in Ireland
In the early hours of that October morning,
brilliant moonlight brightened Cork Harbor. The sun
would rise a few hours later to a warm autumn day
with moderate winds from the southeast.
In 1924, most days were busy in the Irish port
city of Cobh, but this Sunday would be particularly
bustling. Within 16 hours, three of the newest ships
from the Cunard line would anchor in the harbor, the
point of departure for countless Irish heading for a
different life in America.
One of those steamers was the SS Aurania, an
impressive 14,000-ton vessel with accommodation for
400 to 500 passengers in Cabin Class and another
thousand in Third Class. She had made her maiden
voyage, from Liverpool to New York, the previous
The Irish Examiner reported that on this
Sunday, the Aurania arrived from Liverpool at 11:40
a.m. and dropped anchor close to the Spit Lighthouse,
from where she attracted the admiration of spectators
Among those watching was young Delia
Gallagher from the boreen in Cornaroya. Just 24 years
old, she was now on her own. She apparently would
have arrived by train from Ballinrobe after a stop that
Friday in Dublin to obtain her visa. Along with her
luggage and papers, she would have brought what
remained from a basket of apples her best friend and
cousin Sarah (Gallagher) Connell had given her as she
left her hometown. In addition, she carried a gold
sovereign from her father, which she saved all her life.
Her son would eventually have it turned into a ring.
Also among her few possessions, Aunt Delia
carried her prayer book. It would have been a treasured
item for a young woman strong in her Catholic faith.
Because of that faith, she would have been looking to
attend Mass that Sunday morning before becoming the
first of her generation to sail for a new country she
longed to embrace. An obvious option would have
been the Cathedral Church of St. Colman, commonly
known as Cobh Cathedral. The Gothic Revival
Aunt Delia, who left Ballinrobe for America in 1924,
eventually found her way to Wilmington, Del., where she
raised a family with Uncle Mike O'Brien, who emigrated
from County Meath.
The Cunard ocean liner that brought Aunt Delia to
America made headlines as it readied for its maiden
voyage in 1924. News accounts touted the Aurania’s
size (538 feet long) and very latest engineering and
architectural designs. Staterooms were said to be
“furnished with careful thought for the passengers’
comfort and equipped with every modern convenience
found in the finest hotels and best regulated homes.”
Aunt Delia’s October voyage was apparently
uneventful. But that could not be said of an Atlantic
crossing by the vessel a month later. Despite the ship’s
size and accommodations, four passengers were hurt
(including two broken noses) during a cyclone that
lasted for 21 hours with winds up to 90 mph.
Passengers declared it was impossible to sleep during
the storm and its “confused and terrific sea.” The vessel
did not “ship a gallon of water,” the captain boasted.
From the Victoria Daily (British Columbia) Times,
Aug. 29, 1924.
structure and its 300-foot tower took a half-century to build
and has stood watch over the harbor since it was
consecrated in 1919. Finishing touches were still being
done when the Titanic sailed from Cobh, then known as
Queenstown, in April 1912. Survivors and the dead from
the Lusitania were brought to the harbor three years later.
In 1924, the cathedral loomed prominently as a
“tender” quickly ferried Delia and 250 other passengers
anxious to join those already aboard the anchored Aurania.
The liner was “full up” when she sailed soon after noon
past Roche’s Point at the entrance to the harbor and on for
New York City. They were not far behind the largest ship in
the Cunard fleet, the SS Adriatic, which had just sailed to
great fanfare, with the Lord Mayor of Cork among those
bidding adieu to friends returning to The States.
That week, seas were reported as “rather rough”
from the English Channel to Southwest Ireland, with strong
winds and some rain. Whatever the conditions, by that
Monday, Aunt Delia and the Aurania were reported 273
miles west of Fastnet Rock, a small islet in the Atlantic that
is the most southern point of Ireland.
The date of Aunt Delia’s departure was Oct. 12,
1924. She was leaving for the U.S. on the anniversary of
Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas in 1492.
Columbus was at sea for 70 days. It took the Aurania nine.
BORN IN BALLINROBE
Aunt Delia was a generous woman.
She was opinionated, as were the rest of her
brothers and sisters, and she was dedicated to her family,
maybe to a fault, if such a thing is possible.
Delia was born in Ballinrobe on Aug. 24, 1901.
By the time she left for America, she was the oldest
surviving child of Pat and Mary (Sheridan) Gallagher. Her
birth came a year or so after the couple’s first daughter,
Mary, had died in infancy. Their first-born son, Michael,
died of tuberculosis in 1921, at age 24.
Such sorrows were balanced by the closeness of
the family, which for Aunt Delia grew into a fierce loyalty
over the years.
Chores around the family home would have been
a large part of Aunt Delia’s life growing up – and not just
what might be thought of as women’s work, such as
cleaning, cooking, churning butter, etc. She was required to
work in the fields along with her father and brothers.
However, she was still a child of about 10 when, rather than
being at home, she was living with her maternal
grandfather, John Sheridan, after his wife died. John
Sheridan had only one grown daughter, Maggie, at home to
take care of him. Whatever the reason Aunt Delia ended up
St. Colman's Cathedral rises over Cobh Harbor in County Cork, Ireland, in this photo from a postcard. The
cathedral would have been standing sentinel when Aunt Delia boarded the Aurania on Oct. 12, 1924. Cobh was
known as Queenstown from 1849 to 1920.
at the nearby property, our grandmother’s very capable
young daughter was there to help her relatives with
household chores, maybe freeing Maggie to care for her
aging father. Delia's mother would have had three young
children at home in 1911 – Nora, 4, Peter, 3, and Pat, 2. But
she also had her husband and two oldest sons, Michael and
John. Delia's grandfather had only Maggie and a son, John,
at home. Her grandfather would die in 1917, and ”Uncle
Johnny” would take over the farm and marry two years
later. The hurt that our grandmother felt from Delia’s
absence would have been balanced by the comfort of
knowing that while her father lived, he had Delia to help
where she could.
Patsy DeAscanis said her mother always looked at
things positively and never gave a negative impression
about her time living away from home at such a young age.
She would only state a positive pleasure about the situation,
such as what a joy it was when her father would come to
visit on a Sunday. She would hang on the gate to watch for
him. Cornaroya, where both the Gallaghers and Sheridans
lived, is only a little more than a half square mile, so Delia
was only a fairly short walk from home.
Despite Aunt Delia’s willingness to work hard,
there was one chore she particularly dreaded from her time
with her relatives. That was when she had to go down to the
edge of the “dark water” to gather duck eggs among the
reeds in the mornings. She had an understandable fear of
the mother duck and would close her eyes and turn away as
she reached out to pick up the eggs. The water where the
eggs were found was likely a spring feeding into the
Bulkhaun River or the river itself, which runs along the
southern boundary of Cornaroya as it flows toward town
and into the Robe River.
In any case, Aunt Delia survived the ducks and
eventually returned to the family home on the boreen.
It was from there that another story has been
handed down. It involves Aunt Delia’s cousin and dear
friend Sarah Gallagher, later Sarah Connell. Sarah was a
sister of “Peter Gallagher Next Door,” two of the eight
children of Owen and Peggy (McCormick) Gallagher. On
this particular day, Delia and Sarah were leaving on a trip
to the Marian Shrine in nearby Knock. The friends wanted
to look their finest for the excursion. They took great care
to choose the best from their few simple outfits. Sarah
came to the cottage door and called in to Delia – to the
never-ending amusement of her brothers at home at the
time – “Is it your brown shoes you’d be wearing, Delia?”
She, of course, had no shoes other than her brown ones.
On another occasion, the two friends were
together behind a wall as they watched a group of soldiers
march by, likely on their way to the infantry barracks,
located across the Robe River along High Street. The
soldiers may have been among the usual British forces
stationed in the garrison town or possibly local recruits who
volunteered to fight at the beginning of World War I. By
March 1915, more than 100 men from Ballinrobe had
enlisted in the army, tempted maybe by the promise of
Home Rule for Ireland or a quick victory over the
aggression of the German kaiser. Enthusiasm faded as the
horrors of war dragged on. It was gone by the time of the
1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. Politics aside, Aunt Delia
and Sarah thought the boys quite handsome and swore to
tell no one of their escapade. Oh well.
In 1920, when Sarah married Richard Connell, a
farmer from Glebe Street in Ballinrobe, the two witnesses
listed on the marriage record were John Tierney and Delia
Sarah Connell’s daughter, herself named Delia,
wrote to Patsy DeAscanis when Aunt Delia died to make
sure she knew of their mothers’ friendship.
The early 1920s were an eventful time for the
Gallaghers in Ballinrobe and Ireland in general. With the
birth of Mary in 1922, less than a year after Michael’s
death, Patrick and Mary Gallagher had 10 children,
including four less than 10 years old. Young Mary was born
into a country about to plunge into a civil war that split the
country after the approval that January of the Treaty that
created the Irish Free State.
In reflecting on her mother’s motivation for
leaving Ireland, Patsy said it was clearly escape. Not that
Aunt Delia would ever have anything disparaging to say
about Ireland. But the lure of the land of opportunity in
America was overwhelming. The sentimental idea of
longing to return across the sea to the Emerald Isle was not
something Aunt Delia dwelt on. She never complained
about the hard work that was required to get by in Ireland,
either while living with her grandfather, aunt and uncle or
back at home. But Aunt Delia was ready to embrace a new
The Bulkaun River flows along the southern boundary
of Cornaroya before joining the Robe River. It was
likely somewhere along the Bulkaun, or a stream feeding
into it, where Aunt Delia had to overcome her fears of a
mother duck to collect eggs in the mornings while living
in the home of her maternal Grandfather John
life in a new land.
“She just put her arms around this country and
taught Johnny and I to love it,” Patsy said of her mother
and America. “Of all the people I’ve encountered in my
life, I never met someone who loved this country more than
Playing an important role in this longing for
change was Aunt Annie Sheridan, who had immigrated to
America years before. On an early return visit to
Ballinrobe, she brought along her two young nephews from
Philadelphia, John and Francis Sheridan. Aunt Annie made
the boys wear new, wide-brimmed sailor hats she had
bought them with blue ribbons hanging down the back.
“You can just imagine the Gallagher boys when
they saw those hats,” Patsy said in re-telling the story of the
visit, which also involved Annie Sheridan developing a
strong affection for Aunt Nora. After a number of years had
passed, Annie offered to sponsor Nora if she wanted to
come to America. But Nora apparently had other plans or
obligations and was reluctant to take the chance.
I’ll go, said Aunt Delia.
ARRIVAL IN AMERICA
On Oct. 21, 1924, incumbent Republican U.S.
President Calvin Coolidge was headed toward an easy reelection,
with the American economy booming and no
visible crises abroad. Prohibition had begun three years
previous, but you can’t have everything.
On that Tuesday, the weather was cool with a
strong northwest wind as the SS Aurania entered New York
Harbor and approached the Statue of Liberty and Ellis
Island. Prodded by shipmates to rise early that day, Aunt
Delia was standing at the ship's railing when Lady Liberty
came into view out of the morning mist. She couldn't help
but proudly proclaim, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
as she slowly passed by the statue. The ship soon docked
around noon at Pier 56 on the west side of Manhattan.
For the ocean liner’s many immigrants aboard, this
was a life-changing moment. But at least they would have
spent their more than a week at sea in relative comfort.
Theirs was not one of the “coffin ships” that saw thousands
of Irish perish while trying to escape the Great Famine in
the nineteenth century. According to a brochure from the
Cunard line, even third-class passengers aboard the brandnew
Aurania were well catered for in their two- and fourberth
cabins. They had access to a lounge, smoking room
and dining room, which had 20 or so tables. Each was set
with a linen tablecloth and full service for six people.
But the voyage was now over, and the passengers,
rich and poor, soon began to disembark from the Aurania
and head into New York and beyond. All but a few got off
immediately. Among the 43 detained was Aunt Delia. But
Just a few months previous, immigrants detained
after crossing the Atlantic had many reasons to worry as
they awaited a decision on their fate at Ellis Island and
other entry points. But the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924
formalized dramatic changes. Instead of traveling to the
United States with uncertainty about being admitted,
hopeful immigrants now applied for permission at U.S.
consulate offices overseas. It was at that point officials
decided if a person was healthy enough to enter the U.S.
Aunt Delia relaxes in a photo from her early years in
America. She was with a friend that day, Peggy
Newell, with whom she lost touch over the years. It
was recently discovered that Peggy, as with her dear
friend, eventually moved to Delaware. They are buried
two rows apart in Cathedral Cemetery.
and if he or she fit into strict new quotas imposed on
So Aunt Delia’s problem upon arrival in New
York was not a visa or physical exam. The reason she was
detained at 1:50 p.m., according to a page of the Aurania’s
manifest titled “Record of Detained Aliens,” was “to call.”
That was apparently bureaucratic shorthand meaning no
one was there to greet her. By 4:10 p.m., Aunt Delia was
“discharged” with the arrival of cousin Katie Mellet. Katie
herself had arrived in New York only a month earlier,
aboard the SS Scythia. She was about two years younger
The Aurania’s manifest indicates: Aunt Delia had
$88 with her (more than most steerage passengers; her
At left is an older Katie Mellet,
who met Aunt Delia in America
in 1924. At right, Aunt Delia is
in the background at center
with a group of passengers
returning from Ireland in 1931.
She helped arrange a
monument for the grave of her
brothers John and Michael
during the trip.
sovereign was worth about $5.37); that her ticket was paid
for by her Aunt Annie Sheridan; and that she planned to stay
with her aunt in Bryn Mawr, just outside Philadelphia.
However, plans had apparently changed. When she arrived,
the first place Aunt Delia stayed was with Katie Mellet’s
Aunt Agnes (Gallagher) Stevens at 1453 Amsterdam Ave. in
New York. The five-story apartment building was in Upper
Manhattan near Grant’s Tomb and the Hudson River.
“Aunt Aggie” was born in Ireland, one of the
children of our great-grandfather's brother Owen and his
first wife, Catherine Hyland. By 1924 she was a widow in
New York with three children: Andrew (12), Evelyn (9) and
Alice (7). Her niece Katie, a first cousin of Eugene
Gallagher, had joined the family there that September. She
was the older daughter of Margaret Gallagher (Peter
Gallagher Next Door’s sister) and Thomas Mellet, of New
Street in Ballinrobe.
It’s not hard to imagine Aunt Delia and Katie
Mellet would have discussed their impending journeys that
late summer back in Ballinrobe. They likely would have
shared many of the same apprehensions and dreams as they
waited for their ships to sail. Now, as Aunt Delia awoke on
her first morning in America, a new adventure was about to
begin. She may well have opened her Sacred Heart prayer
book and turned to the morning prayer. It would have laid
out ambitious goals for that or any other day:
“Remember, O Christian soul, that you have this
day, and every day of your life, God to glorify, Jesus to
imitate, the angels and saints to invoke, a soul to save, a
body to mortify, sins to expiate, virtues to acquire, Hell to
avoid, Heaven to gain, Eternity to pray for, time to profit by,
your neighbor to edify, passions to subdue, devils to
combat, the world to despise, death, perhaps, to encounter,
judgment to undergo.”
A NEW LIFE
The 1925 New York Census shows Agnes Stevens
still on Amsterdam Avenue, but not Aunt Delia or Katie
Mellet. Delia Gallagher, 25, is listed as a lodger/servant
with a Blake family on Saint James Place in Brooklyn. She
apparently was not there long. She soon got a job helping
take care of the children of a German family in upstate
But before Aunt Delia left the city, she apparently
had a memorable experience at Coney Island, which had
become more accessible to recent immigrants with the
completion of the New York City subway in 1920. She was
impressed with how her Aunt Aggie was able to afford
bringing her along for the excursion with the three children,
at some point ducking under a gate, probably at the subway,
to avoid the full adult fee. For the outing to the amusement
park, Aunt Delia bought herself a new bonnet. It survived
any gate-ducking, but fared less well on a roller coaster.
The year 1924 was the beginning of the golden age of
coasters at Coney Island. Luna's Mile Sky Chaser, with 80-
foot drops, debuted that year, followed soon by The Limit,
The Thunderbolt, The Tornado and The Cyclone. It's
unclear which one Aunt Delia rode that day. But as she was
settling into her seat, she noticed a big sign that warned:
"HOLD ON TO YOUR HAT!" No way, thought Aunt
Delia, who kept both hands tightly gripped to the car's rail.
Her new bonnet soon flew off into the Coney Island crowd.
As for working, Aunt Delia did not like the
negative connotation of “domestic work.” She was proud to
be able to earn a living by working in the big homes of
richer people. And she always felt that her employers
treated her very well. Times could be bad everywhere, she
knew, but she never felt she had a hard time being
responsible for herself. Or her family. As the first in her
immediate family to come to America, she made a point of
Uncle Mike O'Brien had a lifelong connection with horse racing. He is the trainer at right in the fedora in this
photo from his days in Ireland. He would tell his grandchildren the story of how he once finished third as a jockey
in the Grand National steeplechase race at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England.
sending American-style clothes back to Ireland for Ann and
Mary. Their big sister wanted to make sure they looked upto-date
when going to school. Her dedication to family also
showed as she met her brother Pete at the train when he
emigrated in May 1927.
Aunt Delia worked for the German family in
upstate New York for a year or so and would always hold
onto photos of the children she cared for there. But she
eventually joined Sheridan family members in the
Philadelphia area and later moved to Delaware. A passbook
from The Berks Building and Loan Association of
Philadelphia indicates she was in the City of Brotherly
Love by February 1927 through at least December 1934.
Before moving to Wilmington, tragedy struck the
family back in Ballinrobe. On Sept. 15, 1930, Delia’s
brother John was killed while cycling home from a fair in
nearby Kilmaine. The family sent her a newspaper clipping
detailing the inquest into John's death.
It took almost a year, but Aunt Delia made a trip
back to Cornaroya to join the grieving family, probably
leaving on the journey in mid-August 1931. While in
Ballinrobe, she helped arrange for a monument to mark the
graves of John and Michael at the Gallagher burial plot in
the Abbey Cemetery. The monument, topped by a Celtic
Cross, would eventually include their parents’ names, and
in time those of Uncle Owen and Aunt Mary. Aunt Delia
returned to America on Sept. 20, 1931, aboard the Stuttgart,
which sailed from Galway. The ship’s manifest lists her as a
waitress with the last known address in America of 2105
Mount Vernon St., the Philadelphia home of her Aunt
Esther Sheridan and her sons Francis and John. Her
immigration visa, issued that May 19, lists her as 5 feet 9
inches tall with brown hair and gray eyes.
Michael O’Brien was born in the townland of
Simonstown, just north of Navan, County Meath, Ireland,
on Dec. 15, 1897. He was baptized that Dec. 20, with
Uncle Mike was born Dec. 15, 1897, in the townland of Simonstown, just north of Navan, County
Meath, Ireland. He was always working himself or helping friends and relatives find a job.
Michael and Margaret Brady as sponsors, according to a
copy of his Baptismal certificate from May 24, 1930. Uncle
Mike was a middle child in a family of 11 children born to
Owen (Eugene) and Anne (Flannigan) O’Brien. Just three
years later, the 1901 Census shows Uncle Mike, his parents
and his five older siblings living as boarders in the home of
a 70-year-old widow, Marie McLaughlin, and her son
Thomas, a soldier, on Flower Hill in Navan. This was a
temporary situation, as the family moved to their own home
in Milestown by 1904, at the latest. Milestown is another
townland just north of Simonstown. Navan, itself, sits at the
confluence of the Rivers Boyne and Blackwater, less than
30 miles northwest of Dublin.
Details of Uncle Mike’s young days are limited,
but he grew to be a friendly, affable and congenial young
man. He was quick with a joke and fond of a good story …
the bigger the better. Throughout his life he was always
willing to help someone in need. This virtue served him
well in both personal relationships and in the working
world. In its most sincere sense, Uncle Mike fit the greeting
of a “hail fellow well met.”
Whatever schooling Uncle Mike received, it
would have been enhanced by what he learned following
his passion for horse racing. It was a love that ran through
the family. His sister Bridget married a jockey, Joseph
Norris. Joseph’s son Paddy went on to become a renowned
horse trainer, whose winning entries included Kilballyowen
in the 1957 Jameson Irish Grand National. A column in the
Irish Press written on Paddy Norris’ death in 1990
described him in a way that could easily be said of his
Uncle Mike: “One of the great extroverts and one of the
true humorists in Irish racing.”
Uncle Mike had some racing success himself. He
was proud of telling his family how he once finished third
in the Grand National steeplechase race, which is held
annually at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England.
The exact year could not be determined, but there was a
jockey named O’Brien (identified variously as M., Major
or John) who, technically, finished third on the horse
Amberwave in the 1928 Aintree running. He tied for the
distinction with 39 others. Only two mounts actually
finished that particularly crowded and rough race without
stumbling over a fence, hedge or other horse. A jockey
named J.C. O’Brien, identified in newspaper accounts as an
“amateur pilot,” rode Amberwave to a second-place finish
in the 1927 Irish Grand National steeplechase race, held
each Easter Monday at Fairyhouse Racecourse in County
Meath. Whenever it was that Uncle Mike made his ride at
His passport photo shows Mike O'Brien when he came
to America in September 1930.
Aintree, he told his family the trip across the choppy Irish
Sea was not a pleasant one. He was seasick the whole way.
His horse apparently fared much better.
Uncle Mike’s love of racing probably started
small as a way to earn a few extra pence for the family. He
would have quickly realized he had more talent than a
humble stable boy and became a jockey around the time he
finished school. Navan provided plenty of opportunity, with
its numerous stables and horse-breeding locations. The city
had its own racecourse, with a brand-new facility built in
1921 at Proudstown, the townland just to the east of
At some point, Uncle Mike and some of his
family moved to Swords, where he had even more
opportunity to work as a trainer and jockey, a calling he
gave up when he “got too big.” Swords is situated just
north of Dublin and the modern Dublin Airport. The town’s
origins date to 560 AD when legend says it was founded by
St. Colmcille (521–567). The story is that the saint (for
whom one of Uncle Mike’s grandchildren is named)
blessed a local well, giving the settlement its name, Sord,
meaning “clear” or “pure.” St. Colmcille’s Well is located
on Well Road off Main Street.
Eventually, as with many of his Irish
contemporaries, Uncle Mike decided to make his future in
America. The story of how he got there has a distinct
parallel with the experience of his future wife. Both got the
chance when a relative declined the opportunity. For Aunt
Delia, it was her sister Nora. In Uncle Mike’s case, it was
his cousin James. Around 1930, Uncle Thomas Byrne and
Aunt Mary (O’Brien) reached out to their nephew James in
Navan asking him to join them in Medford, Mass. James,
however, had other plans and very graciously offered the
ticket to his cousin. Much like Aunt Delia had done six
years earlier, Uncle Mike quickly agreed to take the ticket
and join his relatives across the ocean. Cousin James even
helped subsidize Uncle Mike's trip by selling a pig and
giving him the proceeds.
Uncle Mike obtained his visa in Dublin on Aug 7,
1930. He set sail from Cobh on Sept. 21, 1930, with the
ship manifest listing Uncle Mike as 5 feet 7 inches tall with
a fair complexion and gray hair and eyes. He was aboard
the Scythia, the same ship that would carry Uncle Tom
Gallagher to America a decade later. The ocean liner sailed
into Boston Harbor on Sunday, Sept. 28, 1930, before
heading on to Pier 54 in New York the following day.
If things had gone as planned, Uncle Mike was to
head to the home of his Uncle Thomas and Aunt Mary in
Medford. But the plan did not work out, at least
immediately. Uncle Mike somehow ended up not
disembarking in Boston, instead sailing on to New York.
Inconveniently, his luggage did disembark in Boston. The
situation left the new immigrant worried and confused in a
strange place. To the rescue came a friendly stranger who
helped Uncle Mike figure out exactly where he was and
calmed his nerves by offering him “some ice cream
wrapped in a bit of paper.” “Everything fell into place piece
by piece after that,” his daughter Patsy remembered when
retelling the story. Uncle Mike soon was able to join his
luggage and relatives in Massachusetts. The stranger who
helped Uncle Mike may have been one of the first African
American men he had ever come across. It would have
made for a great first impression.
Thomas Byrne and Mary O’Brien had each come
to America in the mid-1890s. By 1930, they had been
married for 33 years, with five children. Only John (who
was 25) was still living at 49 Mystic Ave. by that time.
Annie, Elizabeth and Thomas were all married, and Mary
had died as an infant. The house must have been sizable,
and the family was used to taking in boarders. When Uncle
Mike finally arrived, there was already one boarder. It
doesn’t appear Uncle Mike stayed long.
By 1943, Aunt Delia, Uncle Mike and their children, Patsy and John, had moved to 611 N. Van Buren St. in
Wilmington. Occasionally, a man would come around offering to take photos of children on his pony.
Shortly after arriving, he moved to Pennsylvania
to work on a farm with race horses and, as in Ireland,
became involved with the racing circuit, now up and down
the East Coast. Stops included Saratoga, N.Y., Maryland
and, of course, Delaware Park. His first two jobs – not
simple to find during the Depression – were as an assistant
horse trainer for Andrew Mellon in Latrobe, Pa., and James
Ryan in Wilmington, Del. He traveled to Sarasota, Fla. each
winter for the race season there.
A NEW FAMILY
When Aunt Delia moved from Philadelphia to
Wilmington, she got work taking care of a family's
children, through the help of a friend. In addition to
employment, Aunt Delia would have found at least one
friendly face in Wilmington. Her brother Pete had moved
there a year or so earlier for a job at the William Sellers’
Estate. Over the next two decades, Uncles Tom and Jim and
Aunt Ann would join their brother and sister to form a new
core of family in Wilmington. But first, Delia and Pete
would each find the person they would marry and raise
families with in Delaware.
In the early 1930s, Uncle Pete met and married
May Tierney, who grew up about two miles from the
Gallaghers in Ballinrobe. Through Irish friends, Aunt Delia
met recent County Meath emigre Mike O’Brien.
They were married on the evening of Dec. 4,
1937, at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Wilmington. Because
it was Advent, there was no Mass and the small ceremony
with Father Bolen was performed outside the altar rails.
The wedding happened in December because Uncle Mike
wanted the couple to take their vows before his work sent
him off on his next extended racing trip. He soon went to
Boston for work, bringing Aunt Delia along for their
honeymoon. They stayed with the family of Mary Byrne,
known to Uncle Mike simply as “Aunt.”
For a while after their marriage, Aunt Delia and
Uncle Mike would travel from racetrack to racetrack on the
schedule set by his employer. But the lifestyle became too
much once their first child arrived. Their daughter says a
scene involving diapers being hung on a clothes line in
Young John O'Brien served as an altar boy at St. Paul's Church. At right, he and Patsy are with their mother, sitting
on the ledge of the fountain at the Josephine Gardens in Wilmington's Brandywine Park.
Florida signaled the end of their travels. Soon after Patsy
was born in 1939, Aunt Delia had had enough of moving,
and the family settled briefly in Stanton, Del. Patsy was
baptized in the nearby Josephite mission church. A son
John was born on Christmas Eve in 1940, by which time
the young family had moved to an apartment in a house on
Fourth Street in Wilmington.
A very early memory from Patsy comes from
when she was walking home from Mass at St. Anthony's in
Wilmington with her father. As they passed a nursing home,
there were bells ringing and 3-year-old Patsy asked why.
“Oh, they're just angels ringing the bells in Heaven,” Uncle
Mike explained. When they got home, they found Aunt
Delia in tears. She told them she had just gotten word that
one of her parents had died back in Ireland. (Patsy is not
sure if it was her grandfather or grandmother, but both
passed in 1942.) Right away, Patsy says, she connected the
death with the angels' bells and shared that with Aunt Delia.
“I remember my mother picking me up and hugging me,”
she says. It was a comfort for Aunt Delia.
In 1943, the O’Brien family bought a splendid
three-story house at 610 N. Van Buren St. The home would
become at least a temporary residence for Uncle Tom, who
initially stayed with Uncle Pete after arriving from Ireland
in 1940, and Aunt Ann in 1949. It is possible Uncle Jim
lived across the street, at 611 N. Van Buren, in late 1949 or
early 1950. That was the home of Mary Mahan, another
native of County Mayo. She lived there with her brother
Thomas, a blacksmith’s helper, and rented rooms to
augment their income. Plenty of Irish immigrants settled in
In those early days of the Gallagher family
reuniting in Delaware, Aunt Delia eagerly welcomed each
new arrival at her home. Patsy can remember sharing a
room with Aunt Ann. She also recalls Uncle Jim visiting
frequently and often sitting on the porch with her father.
Uncle Jim was there that first Christmas looking on in
amused wonder as Patsy played with a rag-doll gift from
her mother that was as big as the 10-year-old recipient.
“I think my mother was so good,” Patsy
remembered about those days on Van Buren Street. “She
never got excited about things. She was steady at the helm.
Aunt Delia is surrounded by cousins at Uncle Pete's home in 1951 for Mary
Theresa's First Communion. They are Mary, with her Toni doll; Pete, at
top; Patsy, next to her mother; Mary Kathryn; and John, petting Lassie.
It was never a fuss about when everybody was living with
us. I never remember any angst or any ‘Aunt Ann’s coming
tomorrow’ or ‘Uncle Jim’s coming.’ … It was just we all
assimilated things in the natural order. That’s my
impression as a child. It was the right and proper thing to
do. … It was just very ordinary.”
Another ordinary thing for the family was the
intimacy of the neighborhood. It was a time when your
milk and cream would be delivered to a box on the
doorstep. A “huckster” would come down the street from
time to time selling fresh produce from his aging truck.
(The call of “STRAAAAW-bereezz” is still vivid.) The
neighborhood even had a man who would occasionally
come around with a pony, offering to take and then sell
photos of neighborhood children to their parents. There is a
picture of a very young Patsy O’Brien sitting happily in the
Patsy also remembers that a trip from Wilmington
to New Jersey when she was young had to be done by ferry,
which left the Delaware side of the river from New Castle.
Sandwiches were available for the travelers at a concession
stand. But Aunt Delia would not let her children buy them,
because “you never knew who made them,” she would
caution. Sometime later, Patsy remembers talking about the
sandwiches with a life-long friend from New Castle, Betsy
Klingmeyer. Betsy informed Patsy how her mother would
Uncle Pat's wife Aunt Catherine is with her daughter Mary Kathryn and niece and nephew Patsy and John O'Brien
as the family was about to head home from a trip to Riverview Park in New Jersey in the late 1940s. The O'Brien
children rode home on the ferry to New Castle. The Gallaghers took the train back to Philadelphia.
always wake her up early so Betsy and her brothers and
sisters could help make those very sandwiches. Turns out,
Patsy did, eventually, know who made the sandwiches.
Aunt Delia would do what she could to make sure
her growing children had the chance to experience the fun
of a trip down the shore to Wildwood, N.J. The ocean-pier
amusement rides must have reminded her of her own trip to
Coney Island. But that earlier experience with a roller
coaster left its mark. She would get Patsy and John on a
ride but would then walk away up the Boardwalk. Other
kids would get a wave from their watching parents when
the ride passed, but not the O'Briens. Patsy thinks her
mother was just a little too scared to see them flying by,
bonnet or no bonnet.
Catholic children from the O’Briens’
neighborhood attended St. Paul’s Elementary School at
Third and North Van Buren streets. Uncle Pete’s son Peter,
two years older than Patsy, was a student there. He would
often visit the O’Brien home with his dog Lassie. When
Patsy arrived for first grade, she went into the classroom of
a familiar nun, who had to tell Patsy she was in the wrong
first-grade room. When Patsy balked, the nun explained
there was no desk for her. Still not discouraged, Patsy told
the friendly teacher that was OK, she would stand. That
nun did end up teaching Johnny O’Brien in first grade, and
many years later recognized Patsy when she was working
the “white elephant” table at a Christmas bazaar. “That
can’t be you, Sister,” Patsy told her, based on her memory
from St. Paul’s. “You were much taller.”
When it came time for eighth grade, the O’Briens
moved to 508 W. 27th St. and Christ Our King Parish.
Patsy, however, convinced her mother and father to let her
finish grade school at St. Paul’s. That year, because home
was too far away, she would frequently go for lunch to her
Uncle Pete and Aunt May’s bar at Front and Franklin
For high school, Patsy passed on opportunities to
attend Ursuline Academy or St. Elizabeth’s in Wilmington.
Instead, she chose the newly opened St. Peter’s High
School in New Castle. She graduated in 1956 and entered
the school for nursing with the Franciscan Sisters at St.
Francis Hospital in Wilmington. She trained at St. Elizabeth
Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Children’s Hospital in
Philadelphia. From 1960 until 1967 she served at St.
Patsy O'Brien attended St. Peter's High School in New Castle after finishing grade school at St. Paul's despite the
family's move to Christ Our King Parish before eighth grade. At left she is with friends Judy Birnbaum, top left, and
Joan Cochran, seated next to Johnny. The porch is their neighbor's on Van Buren Street.
Francis in the emergency room for three years and
operating room for four years.
John O’Brien made friends for life at Christ Our
King, where he was known in the school yard as one of the
“Big People.” He graduated in the Class of 1958 from
Salesianum High School in Wilmington. Before college, he
enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Eglin
Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. His sister
remembers family worries about John serving in Florida
when news would unfold about events such as the Bay of
Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles in April 1961 and the Cuban
Missile Crisis of October 1962. Patsy herself was working
in the Operating Room at St. Francis when news broke
about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
John once got into a discussion about his time in
the military with Uncle Jim’s son Pat and Eugene
Gallagher, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean
War. The talk eventually turned to the military equipment
John had given to his younger cousins Pat and his brother,
Owen, including his gas mask and bag, canteen, utility belt
and blue, two-point dress hat.
“Back in my day, you weren’t allowed to take
U.S. military material home with you,” Eugene observed.
“Yeah, that’s my recollection, too,” John said.
After his honorable discharge from the Air Force,
John attended LaSalle University if Philadelphia (living for
the time with the Sheridans) and law school at Catholic
University in Washington. When someone would ask him
what sort of lawyer he was, his answer would invariably be
“a damn good one.”
As Patsy and John grew, it was not uncommon for
their mother to fix meals for visiting family members,
including Uncle Pat, his wife Catherine and the Sheridans
from Philadelphia. As always, Aunt Delia was the
welcoming matriarch of the extended Gallagher family in
America. As with so many married women of her time,
Aunt Delia’s days of employment came to an end when she
had her children. But her work never stopped. She was a
full-time mother, grandmother, friend and giver to the end.
‘A TRUE GENTLEMAN’
While never abandoning his love of racing, Uncle
Mike found employment in the early 1940s at the Coca-
Cola bottling plant near the western edge of Wilmington, at
Lancaster and Gray avenues. He would walk the 20 or so
blocks to work every day from the family’s home on North
Van Buren. He then worked for the Krueger Brewery at
Fifth and Dupont streets in Wilmington until the brewery
moved to Newark, N.J., around 1951, the year the family
At left, Patsy, center, is with her cousins Mary Theresa, left, and Mary Kathryn in 1951. At right, Patsy and John
are at the beach as children, probably in Wildwood.
moved to 27th Street. Until retiring in 1968, Uncle Mike
worked for North Hill Cleaners on the Philadelphia Pike.
Uncle Mike registered for the U.S. Selective Service during
World War II but was not called to serve. He would have
been 45 when he registered in 1943, but possibly looking to
increase his chances of serving, he shaved two years off his
age on his draft application, giving his birthday as Dec. 15,
1899. When he became a naturalized citizen on March 19,
1945, his birth year was back to 1897.
During his years at Krueger, Uncle Mike would
have been familiar with a number of the staff at nearby St.
Francis Hospital. More than once, Krueger employees
would end up at the hospital’s ER after an accident on the
job. People Uncle Mike knew included ER nurse Cathy
Hoopes, the future wife of Uncle Jim, and the head of
maintenance, Jack Tierney, Aunt May's brother. Jack
Tierney was succeeded in the job by Pat Hannon, who was
married to Aunt May’s sister Delia. For the story of how
those characters fit together, see Chapter 9. Uncle Jim and
Uncle Tom both also worked at Krueger.
Uncle Mike did not let little things like brewery
closings or retirement slow him down. It was not in his
nature. What did come natural was a genuine talent for
making people feel at ease. He also had a reputation for
being able to find jobs for immigrants newly arrived from
Ireland. Whatever work he was doing, he was more than a
driver, a bartender, a valet or racetrack host. He so
impressed the family of Richard G. Elliott, for whom he
worked as a male companion, that when Uncle Mike passed
away, the family wrote a letter trying to express their
appreciation for what he meant to them. “He was always a
true gentleman,” Richard Elliott Jr. wrote. “He was
courteous and went out of his way to be helpful. When we
were trying to sell Dad’s house, Mike so impressed
Patsy worked for many years as a
nurse at St. Francis Hospital. John
was a lawyer in the Delaware
Attorney General's Office and in
private practice. He made the
front page of the Wilmington
paper in January 1979 when
things went wrong at his office.
potential buyers with his helpfulness that I was asked on a
number of occasions whether Mike came with the house.”
Patsy remembers her father getting a boost in his
varied career when St. Francis Hospital was planning an
August 1964 gathering to show off its new addition to
doctors and other important individuals before the official
opening. A supervising nun knew Patsy's father had some
experience tending bar and asked if he might be able to
help. She said they had a bottle of B&B liqueur and one of
Irish whiskey and wondered if that would be enough.
Hardly. The call for assistance came on Saturday afternoon,
with the event set for Sunday. In a Homeric effort, Uncle
Mike used all his ingenuity and charm to drive around town
gathering all that was needed, including cleaning out a
friendly local bar before closing time. He drafted his son
John, nephew Pete and soon-to-be son-in-law Leon to help.
St. Francis Administrator Sister St. Kevin was delighted
with the outcome. A doctor told Patsy that Monday that
despite Sister's pleading with the crowd to get on with the
tour, no one wanted to budge. “They all wanted to stay and
have a party,” he said. The party was a big hit with the
doctors, Duponts and future Mayor Hal Haskell “two
fingers at a time.”
Uncle Mike's employers would go on to include
prominent Delawareans Caesar Grasselli and Aaron
Handloff, as well as the Clubhouse at Delaware Park. He
worked as an independent agent for institutions including
the Ingleside retirement home on North Franklin Street in
Wilmington, The Mendenhall Inn, and the Vicmead and
University and Whist clubs. For those roles, Uncle Mike
would often be impeccably dressed in a tuxedo. He knew
that the apparel oft proclaims the man.
One occasion when Uncle Mike was in his tux
was when his wife and daughter visited him at Delaware
Park. Patsy remembers the exuberance her father showed
while rooting on the entry he had backed as the horses
came down the stretch in the day's final race. He was not
happy when his horse lost. He raged about how anyone
could have bet on the poor excuse for a racehorse that had
won the race. Aunt Delia, with a quiet smile and some
satisfaction, slowly held up her winning ticket for her
husband to see. A shoe may have been tossed.
FAMILY AND GOODBYES
Through the decades, Aunt Delia could rely on the
bonds with her brothers and sisters. They would have
shared the sorrow of the passing of both their parents in
1942, and worries about the safety of Tom and Pat as they
served in the military during World War II. But they also
Mary Juliana was the first grandchild for
Aunt Delia and Uncle Mike. There are
now eight grandchildren already raising
the next generation.
would have shared the joys as the Gallaghers of Ballinrobe
celebrated marriages, births and graduations in their
Simple things such as a favorite little tale from
Uncle Tom would always bring pleasure for Aunt Delia. It
was a story about an Irishman who, though he was only in
America for a short time, acts as though all things Irish are
but a distant memory. Everything in America is
exaggerated, and everything in Ireland is diminished. It was
Uncle Tom’s telling of the story that drew the laughs. “A
Yank came home to Ireland after visiting America for only
a few months,” Uncle Tom would recount, often at the
urging of Aunt Delia’s daughter. “He was in Ireland for the
planting and home again to help with the harvest. And as he
stepped into the house he said, ‘Well, Father, you look dang
old! Mother, is that the same old bonnet still?” (Even the
family cat was not spared.) “And who’s the long-tailed
bugger in the corner?” Things in America would be
exaggerated the other way, “Buildings in New York are so
tall, they have to lower the chimneys just to let the moon
pass by,” the story would continue. Each re-telling would
result in fits of laughter.
There would be plenty of shared family
experiences through the years. They ranged from Uncle
Jim getting into a precedent-setting legal predicament as a
juror due to his relationship with John O’Brien, then a
deputy attorney general in Delaware, to the unfortunate
demise of a duck named Gallagher in the driveway of the
DeAscanis home in New Castle.
A theme that is part of many a Gallagher story is
that no one in the family would tolerate being taken
advantage of. It violated their sense of justice, held
especially strong by Irish women. It’s a key part of a story
about a particular trip to Atlantic City. As part of the outing,
Aunt Ann, Aunt Delia and her daughter stopped at several
auction booths on the Boardwalk and noticed something
wasn’t quite right. Aunt Delia eventually was interested in
making an offer on an item. However, she noticed two
people had been bidding up prices but never actually
buying anything. Aunt Delia and Aunt Ann realized the pair
must be in cahoots with the auctioneer. The conspirators
unfortunately tried to bid up the price on the item Aunt
Uncle Mike knew how to
enjoy himself, whether
he was at work, resting
at home or finally
making a return trip to
Ireland in the late 1970s.
In the photo above he is
at the door of what
appears to be the former
home of 'Peter Gallagher
Next Door' in Ballinrobe.
Aunt Delia and Uncle Mike O'Brien join Uncle Jim and
Aunt Catherine at their 1958 wedding.
Delia had targeted. Big mistake. It was hard to cheat one
Gallagher, let alone two of them. They knew of
Shakespeare’s advice to beware of entrance to a quarrel.
But they also knew that “being in, bear it that the opposed
may beware of thee.” Aunt Delia jumped up and started
yelling and pointing at the culprits. As Aunt Ann egged her
on, Delia’s daughter may have been a little mortified, but a
little proud, too.
There are some other colorful stories of Uncle Jim
and other Gallaghers turning the tables on people trying to
take advantage of them. The trait may be traced to the
family having so little in the way of possessions growing
up along the boreen in Cornaroya. Patsy said her mother,
indeed, had a very strong idea of property, which she had to
get from Ballinrobe. “I think they all had it,” she said.
“They were all infused with an idea of ownership and ‘what
belongs to me’ that we don’t have today.”
The Gallaghers were also infused with their own
ideas on the best way to say goodbye. In a 1984 letter from
Aunt Ann to Patsy, she ends with a memory of Uncle
Johnny, our grandmother's brother. She fondly recalls her
uncle’s parting “God bless” “… while his hand was still on
the door latch and he not quite visible making one of his
old-fashioned visits.” The best kind, Aunt Ann adds.
A common understanding of the phrase “an Irish
goodbye” involves leaving a party or other gathering
without telling the host. In theory, it eliminates a potentially
awkward exchange halfway out the door. The Gallaghers
had slightly different takes. Many times Uncle Jim would
send off those heading home after a visit with the simple
expression “Safe home.” It is a common phrase of farewell
Uncle Mike holds his nephew Pat Gallagher in this
photo from 1959. With him are Aunt Delia and Pat's
mother, Aunt Catherine.
in Ireland – slán abhaile in the Irish. Aunt Delia, however,
had a different custom, perhaps born of a heart that wanted
to delay as long as possible the parting from someone close
to her. When a visitor would leave Aunt Delia’s home, she
would refrain from saying goodbye until the person was out
of sight. It is a practice her daughter has adopted.
NOT AN ENDING
When Aunt Delia passed away suddenly from a
heart attack in her home on June 19, 1975, she was the first
person on the Gallagher side of her immediate family to die
since her parents in 1942. It was a sad day for her brothers
and sisters with her in America and for those back in
Ireland and England. But Aunt Delia had lived a full life.
She had seen the first four of her grandchildren born after
her daughter’s July 10, 1965, marriage to Galileo Leon
DeAscanis: Mary Juliana, Michael, Galileo and Colmcille.
The DeAscanises would see two more children, Delia and
Antonio, grow up in the years to come. John O’Brien
Near right are
Aunt Delia and
Uncle Mike. At
off on their
the Hotel Dupont
in July 1965.
A 1970s gathering at Patsy's New Castle home includes, from left, Uncle Jim, Aunt May, Uncle Pete, Uncle Tom,
Margaret and Mary Juliana, Aunt Ann, Mary Theresa, John, Aunt Catherine and Leon. In the background at right
are two of Patsy's boys, Michael and Galileo.
Aunt Delia works in the garden at her home on West 27th
Street in Wilmington. The family moved there from Van
Buren Street in the early 1950s.
married Cindy McClafferty on Nov. 10, 1976, and they
raised two children of their own, Casey and Michael. Aunt
Nora wrote to Patsy once when she was expecting,
mentioning how Aunt Delia loved little girls. “God love
you,” she told Patsy. “I remember, every time you were
expecting a child when Mom was alive she used to always
write me and she would say, ‘I hope it’s a girl.’ … (But)
Patsy, if it’s a boy, love him. After all, they don’t grow on
Aunt Delia had been diagnosed with cancer about
eight years before she died. Uncle Jim remembered that
news as the impetus for his finally quitting smoking. At the
time, the prognosis for Aunt Delia was not good. Family
members were summoned to the hospital and she was given
the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, then known as
Extreme Unction. Uncle Jim joined Uncle Tom, Aunt Ann
and the family in the hospital room. There was naturally a
somber mood. But with others around him crying, Uncle
Jim found a way to brighten Aunt Delia’s day. As he was
leaving – with his hand still on the door latch – Uncle Jim
looked back at his sister and told her he expected to see that
John and Cindy McClafferty were married in November
1976. Cindy was a graduate of McKean High School in
Wilmington and worked as a legal secretary. John, at the
time, was a deputy attorney general for Delaware.
familiar twinkle in her eye when he saw her again at the
next race season at Delaware Park.
At the time, Patsy had made the decision not to
tell her mother how serious her illness was. She knew her
mother was a strong woman and could beat the cancer but
that the bad news would only make things harder. Patsy
turned out to be right, and five years later, the doctor was
able to tell Aunt Delia she was cancer-free.
When Aunt Delia eventually died in 1975, Aunt
Nora sent a letter from Ballinrobe to Uncle Mike and John.
She offered words of comfort – “She is gone home to a
better place with God” – and told her brother-in-law, whom
she had never met, that if he ever came to Ireland again,
“don’t forget to give us a call.” Nora’s letters to Patsy
would frequently ask about her father, praising him for
constantly working hard and as “one of the greatest.” She
said Uncle Mike gave her great hope because age seems no
bother to him. “Wherever he wants to go or whatever he
wants to do, he just does that.”
It took some time, but John O’Brien finally
convinced his widowed father to accompany him on a trip
to Ireland. It was a great time for both, with Uncle Mike
enjoying time spent with the O’Briens and the Gallaghers.
John also developed close relationships with the O’Brien
Aunt Delia's father gave
her a gold sovereign when
she left Ireland. After she
died, her son had it made
into the ring shown below.
Minted in 1893, the coin
features St. George slaying
the dragon. On the other
side is Queen Victoria.
A mixture of families gathers for John O'Brien's wedding in 1976. Clockwise from top
left are Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine, Francis Sheridan, Uncle Tom, Uncle Jim,
Uncle Mike's niece Jane Kerrigan, Aunt Ann, Uncle Mike and his niece Beno Norris.
side of the family. The year before the 1977 trip, Irish
cousins on the O'Brien side Beno Norris and Jane Kerrigan
had come to America for John's wedding.
After Aunt Delia’s death, more grandchildren
would come, each a blessing for Uncle Mike. The children
used to love their visits with Pop-Pop, and not only because
they would get to watch TV (“Sanford and Son”) or eat
treats (Entenmann’s or a sort of raisin bread heated in the
microwave) they never had the chance to enjoy at home.
Uncle Mike was with Antonio when he took his first steps
and encouraged a talent for dancing in his young grandson.
Colm remembers his grandfather sitting him up
behind the wheel of his huge, old white car and letting him
steer along the road. Uncle Mike used to treat the family to
a meal at Denny’s after attending the Latin Mass on a
Sunday. Pigs in a blanket (sausage rolled in a pancake with
syrup and cinnamon) was a favorite. On one occasion, there
was an incident over a parking spot that caused some
concern. As Uncle Mike was preparing to pull into a spot,
another car jumped in ahead of him. Uncle Mike would
have none of it. He went up to that driver – an imposing
fellow with a big mustache and powder-blue suit, if
memory serves – and started giving him a piece of his
agitated Irish mind. The grandchildren were cringing in the
car, worried what might happen to their Pop-Pop. But he
prevailed unscathed and got the parking spot.
All but one of Uncle Mike and Aunt Delia’s
grandchildren were born by the time he passed away.
Michael John O’Brien came along not too long after Uncle
Mike died while summering with Richard Elliott in Mystic
Seaport, Conn., on July 16, 1984. The name of the town
sounds a symmetrical echo of the name of the
Massachusetts street where Uncle Mike lived when he
arrived in America. From Mystic Seaport, Uncle Mike was
preparing for a trip to England with Mr. Elliott. He died
while walking in the garden, after his usual attendance at
daily Mass. He had two tickets in one pocket and a Rosary
in the other. As was the case some 30 years later – as noted
in his son John’s obituary – the lilt of Irish laughter was
silenced a bit that day, the feast day of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel. Uncle Mike was buried alongside Aunt Delia in
Cathedral Cemetery in Wilmington. Delia, Pete, Jim, Tom
and Ann bought the plots years earlier when Pat Hannon
alerted them to a newspaper ad saying space in the Catholic
graveyard was disappearing fast.
After his mother's funeral, John got a surprise
when he went to clean up at her home. He called his sister
to say she'd never guess what he found under a rug. It was
Uncle Mike walks along the banks of the Delaware River in New Castle with his granddaughter Mary Juliana
DeAscanis in the late 1960s.
money – and a gold sovereign. The sovereign was, of
course, the coin Aunt Delia had kept since her father gave it
to her when she left Ireland in 1924. In her honor, John had
it fashioned into a ring, of significant size, he was often
John O'Brien shared many traits with his father,
chief among them his love of a good story and a great joke.
One of those stories made the Wilmington newspaper,
when John recounted how he lost “about every important
paper I ever owned” when his boxed-up possessions were
mistakenly taken away as trash overnight when he was
switching offices with a colleague at his law firm. John
tracked down where the trash was dumped, had it taken to a
garage at a concrete factory, and spent hours sifting through
tons of paper to find what was his. Items eventually
recovered included his marriage license, a notary seal and
even a gold ring Cindy had given him. The News Journal
story included a picture of a smiling John in an Irish tweed
cap holding up a $100 savings bond that was among the
John passed away in March 2015. His sister
remembers the funeral at St. Joseph’s on The Brandywine
as one she imagines would have been familiar to anyone
from Ballinrobe. She recalls a procession from the
Greenville church to the grave over ground lightly covered
in snow with flakes still falling softly. An Air Force Honor
Guard bag-piper, silhouetted in the mist, led the casket,
hauntingly playing the Mayo hymn “Our Lady of Knock.”
Patsy DeAscanis recalls her father as the more
outgoing of her parents, with her mother the one who
inspired a higher level of thought in her two children. She
remembers her brother asking her one time after he had
spent a night playing the game Trivial Pursuit, who was the
source of the quote “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
Hesitantly, Pat told her brother it was Shakespeare.
“Damn,” John answered. “I thought it was Mom!” You
shouldn’t be too hard on John for not knowing literature’s
most famous speech on parental advice came from
“Hamlet” and not straight from his mother’s lips. She, in
fact, did often quote the lines. And she was, above all else,
true to herself and her family.
MIKE O'BRIEN'S FAMILY
Father Michael, Patsy DeAscanis' oldest son, visits his grandfather's family in County Meath, Ireland, in
2004. With Father, from left, are Beno's husband Phil Newport and Uncle Mike's nephew James Kerrigan.
County Meath is home to the Hill of Tara, the
seat of the legendary High Kings of Ireland. It is claimed
the view from the top of the hill offers views of half the
counties of Ireland. But you only need a range of seven
or eight miles to see the county town of Navan to the
northwest. Let your eyes follow the flow of the River
It is Navan and the surrounding townlands that
were home to the ancestors of our Uncle Mike O’Brien.
His paternal grandfather was John Brien, a
laborer from Newtown a few miles south of Navan, near
the town of Trim. In those times, the “O” prefix in front
of Brien was often omitted from official records. The
“O” generally stood for “son of,” while “Mac” or “Mc”
stood for “grandson of” or “descendent of.” Uncle
Mike’s maternal grandfather was Daniel Flannigan from
Athlumney, a townland just east of Navan. We don’t
know how Daniel Flannigan made a living, but unlike
the Gallaghers of County Mayo, neither of Uncle Mike’s
grandfathers nor his father were farmers.
The Boyne Valley is Ireland’s ancient capital
and has a sacred and mythical landscape. It also is one
of Ireland’s most renowned centers for equestrian sports
and horse breeding. The Irish Grand National is
regularly held at Fairyhouse, and Navan’s own
racecourse is one of the finest tests for National Hunt
horses. The two main rivers in County Meath, the
Boyne and the Blackwater, join at Navan, and continue
east to the Irish Sea. Both waterways are rich in
aquatic life, and the salmon and trout are recognized as
among the finest in Ireland.
According to the Navan Historical Society,
Navan in the 1840s was comparable to what we today
might call a Third World Town. Chief among the
causes for the local economic collapse was the end of
the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Farmers once vital to the
war efforts fell into poverty. Young men no longer had
the (admittedly dangerous) option of going off to
battle. Then came the Great Famine. The population of
County Meath declined from 183,000 in 1841 to
67,000 by 1900. Royal Meath always had been a
center for Irish nationalism. The Battle of the Boyne
was fought there in 1690. Those anti-British
sentiments grew deeper as times grew harder. Daniel
“The Liberator” O’Connell had held a “monster” rally
on the Hill of Tara in August 1843 that was attended by
as many as a million people. And Charles Stewart
Parnell was first elected to the House of Commons as a
Home Rule League MP for County Meath in 1875.
It was in the midst of this 19th century life
that Uncle Mike’s grandparents raised their families.
They did their best. Uncle Mike’s parents were Owen
and Anne (Flannigan) Brien. (The spelling of
Flannigan, as well as many other names, varies from
source to source.) They were married May 19, 1887, in
the chapel at Johnstown. Anne was 17 at the time,
having been born in 1871. She worked at the local
Athlumney Flour Mill, which was originally built in
1808. It employed more than 250 locals well into the
last quarter of the 1800s. Like his own father, Owen
was a laborer.
Owen and Anne had 11 children: Anne
(1888), Mary “Molly” (1890), John (1891), Hugh
(1893), Rose Ann (1895), Michael (1897), Catherine
(1900), Bridget (1901), Julia (1904), Theresa “Tess”
(1906), and Elizabeth “Lilly” (1909). By the time the
younger children were born, the state of the local
economy had improved, with the vast majority of
citizens experiencing life as a more or less endurable
and pleasant thing, according to the Navan Historical
The O’Brien family moved a number of
times. Their first six children were born in the
townland of Simonstown. Catherine was born during a
short stay at rented accommodations in Navan itself,
with the last four children born in the townland of
Milestown. It was there that Uncle Mike’s father is
listed as living when his son left for America in 1930.
While he was still in Ireland, Uncle Mike moved at
some point to Swords outside Dublin. It’s unknown
how many family members joined him, but at least two
of his sisters were married there.
Troubled times for the family included
Catherine’s death at only five months old in 1900 and
the passing of her sister Lilly in her mid-20s in 1936.
Perhaps the hardest blow came when Uncle Mike’s
mother fell victim to the Spanish Influenza on March
23, 1919, at the age of only 48. She was one of an
estimated 23,000 victims in Ireland. Uncle Mike’s
father lived until Nov. 30, 1945. Anne and Owen are
both buried at the family plot in the Blackcastle
What we know of Uncle Mike’s other
brothers and sisters includes:
* Ann married James Kerrigan and had seven children:
James, Jane, Phyllis, Willy, Ann, Kathleen (died
young) and Noeline;
* Mary married Bernard McCabe; information about
any children is unclear;
* Hugh married twice, with his first wife dying young.
The O'Brien family burial plot in Blackcastle
includes the graves of Uncle Mike's parents, Owen
and Anne (Flannigan).
He and his second wife, Ann, had four children: Nan,
Brigid, Sean and Eugene;
* Rose married Thomas Stapleton and they had four
children: Patrick, Eugene, Frances and Thomas;
* Bridget married Joseph Norris and had six children:
Beno, Pauli, Nancy, Marion, Patrick and Melda. Her
son Paddy became a horse trainer, like his Uncle Mike;
* Julia married Peter O’Brien (no relation) and they
had four children: Lauri, Finbar, Albert and Theodora
* John and Tess never married; both are buried with
their parents in Blackcastle.
Likely the first time Uncle Mike saw
DeAscanis gets a
taste of very hot
Irish tea during his
2004 visit to
Sipping with him
is James Kerrigan,
a brother of Jane,
who hosted the
gathering in the
family home in
someone from the family he left behind in Ireland
came when his niece Beno, the daughter of Bridget and
Joe Norris, visited America in the late 1950s. She
would eventually attend both Patsy's and John's
weddings. Her cousin Jane, the daughter of Ann and
James Kerrigan, joined her for John's wedding in 1976.
In a letter the following March, Jane told Patsy she
wished she could visit again and regrets living so far
away. She jokes it is just as well she doesn't have a
Leprechaun's gold, or else she would be at the house so
often “you would get fed up with us.”
When Uncle Mike and John traveled to
Ireland after Aunt Delia's death, he rekindled many
more family relationships that had been constrained by
the years and distance. Those relationships have
continued with many subsequent visits from family
members on both sides of the Atlantic. Patsy
DeAscanis says she has always been grateful for the
hospitality her father, as well as his grandchildren,
enjoyed when they have visited County Meath. The
Kerrigan family and Lauri and Joe Ross have been
particularly welcoming. Lauri is the daughter of Uncle
Mike's sister Julia and her husband, Peter O'Brien.
Julia, Patsy says, may have been her father's favorite.
Tom Kerrigan, who worked for Aer Lingus, came to
the rescue of Patsy's son Colm when his party came
close to missing their return flight to America after a
visit to attend a college football game in Dublin
between Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy.
The following letter from cousin Beno to
Patsy illustrates how close all the families grew. They
include O’Brien descendants in County Meath and
elsewhere in Ireland. The letter is dated Aug. 1, 1984,
but not finished and sent until the new year in the wake
of Uncle Mike’s death in July 1984:
“At last the long overdue letter. Pat, I don’t
have to tell you how sad I am for you and how sorry I
am for not being in touch. But I just could not put pen
“It is true Uncle had a long and very fulfilling
life. But the longer you have them the harder it is to
part. As for me, I just always wanted to have a Mom
and Dad and never felt so lately out of as when Mike
left us, as he was my last link, the very last one I had,
and I know he understood that very well. He knew the
great love and need we had for him. Thank God we
had all got together for so many years. Pat, you see, in
Ireland family is, as all over the world, very close. But
here, I think, we tend to be very clannish and cling to
each other and hate to let go. But that is life. And as
your Dad would say, sure it is great.
“I spoke to Johnny on the phone last night. It
Father Michael is with Beno (Norris) Newport, a daughter of Uncle Mike's sister Bridget, and Jane Kerrigan, a
daughter of his sister Ann, at Jane's home in Swords.
was lovely to hear his voice. And he understood my lack of
letter writing. His little girl (Casey Storm) sounds (great)
and he is looking forward to the little baby so much. It
would be exciting if it was a boy, although a little girl will
be a nice pal for the little one they have already. You know
the O’Briens have come to an end, so Johnny will have to
keep trying for the boy to keep the name going.
“Pat, how is Leon and all the family? I am sure
they are all starting to grow into young men and women.
No doubt, sometime some of them will come to visit the
land of their Grand Pop – and won’t we be delighted to
have them. The day of Mike’s month’s mind was my 50th
birthday. So there was Mass … for himself and myself (as
the girls put it, the past and the present). I did not know if I
should laugh … and into the bargain I was a half century
old. I would say your Dad would have got a good laugh out
of that. The Kerrigans (Ann, Uncle Mike’s sister, and
family) are great. I would be lost without them. I see them
every week, but we are in touch most days. The Norris(es)
and Kerrigans are like one family.
“All my men are in great form, thank God, doing
all sorts of exciting things with their lives. Paul loves
his flying (as an Aer Lingus pilot) and Colm (was)
made Master of his (tall) ship in August. P.G. he will
be one of the youngest Masters on the high seas.
Kieran fixes boat engines and Garret is finished school
this year and setting out in the world. They’re all still
at home with Phil and myself. Sure, I love them all
around me. Paul built a beautiful old car. Uncle knew
he was building it from all the old parts he collected
from all over the world. I had a letter written to Mike
with the pictures enclosed in it, so I am sending it to
“… Well, Pat, it is the new year and it always
fills me full of hope and excitement: I traveled a lot in
October of ’84; I went with Phil to San Diego in
California. We had a lovely time. I am still in my little
shop (in Dublin) but I am expanding and making it
much bigger. I am eight years here now. Time flies. I
am writing this letter in the shop as I know you will
excuse the scribble. Please keep in touch, as we all
need each other and love you.”
Lots of love, Beno
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
John O'Brien and his wife, Cindy, had a daughter
and son, Casey and Michael. Above is the family
in 2006 with dog Duke. Below are John and Cindy
with Casey, and John with Michael.
Aunt Delia and Uncle Mike's two children gave them eight
grandchildren. Above, Patsy and husband Leon DeAscanis are
surrounded in 1985 by their six children, clockwise from top,
Michael, Mary Juliana, Galileo, Delia, Antonio and Colmcille.
Above, Patsy is with her
children and their spouses.
From left are Galileo and wife
Mary; Antonio and wife Kelly;
Father Michael; Maryjuliana
and husband Dan; Colm and
wife Stephanie; and Delia and
At left, Dan Lehane
and his brothers-inlaw
and Father Michael
take a cigar break
outside Hendlers ice
cream shop in
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
John O'Brien's daughter, Casey, and her husband, John Melson, have two children, Luke
and Logan. They were married in 2008.
enjoys a meal with
his Uncle Michael
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Then-Deacon Michael DeAscanis prepares to raise the chalice during the Christmas 2003 Midnight Mass at St.
Peter's in Rome. Mass was celebrated by Pope John Paul II, at Michael's left, and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI
(then Cardinal Ratzinger), to Michael's right. At right, Michael is in Rome with John Paul and in Ballinrobe with
cousin Eugene Gallagher. Michael, who studied for the priesthood in Rome, was ordained in Baltimore in 2004.
Aunt Delia's second-youngest child, Delia,
above and at right, married Kapil Tyagi in
2015. Above top, Delia and Father Michael
are with James and Margaret Kerrigan at
Dublin's St. Mary's Cathedral in 2012. James
is a nephew of their grandfather Uncle Mike.
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Flowers in 2004. They
have four daughters,
Alessandra, Lidia and
Radulski in 2014. They
have three children,
below right, Leon,
Giuseppe and Felicity,
shown with her
brothers and mother.
Above are Colm
girls on the
At right are
Teresina from a
few years earlier.
From left at Delia
Leon, Patricia and
Kelly, holding Felicity, wears a
shirt promoting BlkOps Fitness,
the gym she and Antonio, a former
Marine, own in Wilmington.
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Dan Lehane in
1998. They have
below left, Liam,
Finbar, Grace and
Gott in 2005. They
From the top of the staircase at the home of Antonio
and Kelly on St. Stephen's Day: Liam, Finbar, Galileo,
Grace holding Felicity, Edwin, Alessandra with Lidia,
Saveria, Teresina with Leon (holding Elmers box),
Brendan, and, at bottom, Patricia with Giuseppe.
Galileo marches with his son
Edwin and brothers Antonio and
Colm in a St. Anthony's Feast Day
procession in old New Castle.
“Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
remembers me of all his gracious parts,
stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.”
Shakespeare's “King John”
John Gallagher was known as a fashionable dresser. At his midsection in this photo
you can see a bit of the watch chain that had belonged to his Uncle Michael, who
died in America. The photo is from outside the Moran house on the Convent Road.
John Gallagher was born Nov. 13, 1903, the third
surviving child of Patrick and Mary Gallagher. Not a lot is
known about John, with the sad exception of how he died in
He was apparently a fashionable young man,
known to be a great dresser, probably not the easiest
reputation to earn as a member of a growing family
working a small farm on the outskirts of a town
unaccustomed to financial security. The lone surviving
photo of Uncle John shows a confident young man with a
broad smile, broad ears, hair neatly styled and parted. His
right hand is tucked into the pants pocket of his three-piece
suit. You can see the gold chain from the watch the family
was given by the widow of his Uncle Michael, who died in
Uncle John, as was the case with his brother
Michael, would have been close to the youngest of his
cousins next door, Peter and Owen Gallagher. He served as
A newspaper article from
Sept. 27, 1930, in The Western
People told the story of the
inquest into John Gallagher's
death earlier that month. It
reported the jury concluded
the cause of death was a head
injury as the result of the
victim's fall from his bicycle.
"Old man found dead in
bed" refers to a completely
different case the jury
handled the same day.
best man at Peter’s 1926 wedding to Maggie McDermott.
Uncle John became the oldest son in his family,
assuming all the related responsibilities, when brother
Michael died of tuberculosis in 1921. John would then see
three siblings leave for America, starting with Aunt Delia in
1924. Uncle Pete left in 1927, with Uncle Pat following a
few months before John’s death.
That sad day came in the late-night and earlymorning
hours of Sept. 18-19, 1930. During a 1993 visit by
Owen and Lynn, Uncle Jim's son and daughter-in-law,
Uncle Owen said he recalled the day as the last time he and
his brother "Jimmy" would work together in the bogs.
Uncle Owen said they had been working for
hours, with Jimmy carrying the dry turf along in a bag
slung over his shoulder, when he suddenly decided they
had done enough for the day. They dropped the turf they
were carrying and went home. Later, they heard the news
of John being killed while returning on his bike from
Kilmaine, which is about 6 miles from Ballinrobe. After
that day, Jimmy went to work in the neighboring Convent
of Mercy (where John had worked as a gardener) and never
returned to the bogs. He was now the oldest son at home.
During a walk to that convent in 1993, Uncle
Owen said he could remember the details about John’s
death as though they had just happened. He told how John
was found slumped against a wall on one side of the road
while his new bicycle was propped against the wall or
hedge on the opposite side. Owen was unsure whether what
happened that day was a simple accident or if something
more sinister may have happened. In any event, Owen said
there wasn’t much of an investigation and nothing was ever
Focusing on how the bike had been stood up,
Owen surmised a car came along at some point and
someone from the car either propped the bike up or that car
caused the accident. He said he had suspicions that a police
officer may have been in the car; he also wondered why
authorities did not spend more time questioning a witness
who was near John's body when another car came upon the
Owen said he remembered hearing that John had
been offered a ride home from Kilmaine by his friends. He
refused. Owen thought he may have been afraid his father
would suspect he had been drinking and left his bike
behind. The family rejected the possibility that alcohol was
a factor. Uncle Jim, the oldest brother still living at home,
served as the family spokesman at the time of the inquest
into John’s death by doctor C.O. Maguire, coroner in
Ballinrobe. An account in The Western People newspaper
from Sept. 27, 1930, quotes Uncle Jim as testifying:
“(John) was a strong, healthy boy. And he never had any
fits or weaknesses. He was well used to cycling, and was
not in the habit of getting drunk or taking too much drink.”
Uncle Jim testified that his brother had left for
Kilmaine on his bicycle with friend Willie Walsh. He told
the inquest he did not see John again until he was brought
home dead by the Civic Guards. He further testified John
was 25 years old.
Members of the jury at the inquest in Cornaroya
(identified as Michael Burke (foreman), Richard Burke,
senr.; Martin Flannery, Thos. King, James Kavanagh,
James Walsh, John J. Moran, and Richard Burke, junr.)
were reported to agree with the testimony of two doctors
who said the cause of death was a hemorrhage, or bleeding
into the brain, caused by a fall from the bike. One doctor
testified the injury was not the result of “great violence.”
Still, Uncle Owen and others would never dismiss the
possibility the full story was never told. Sixty years after
the incident, Uncle Owen would still become angry. He
insisted, “John was too good of a rider and knew the road
very well; someone hit him or got in his way.” He thought
because of skid marks the bicycle made in the road
someone may have unexpectedly stepped in front of the
bike. Cousins Eugene and Peter Gallagher would not
The following are excerpts from The Western
People account, which appeared on Page 10 of the
newspaper. The multi-deck headline reads:
TWO BALLINROBE INQUESTS.
YOUNG MAN’S FATAL FALL AFTER KILMAINE SHOW.
OLD MAN FOUND DEAD IN BED
WITNESS COMMENDED FOR PROMPTITUDE.
FALL FROM A BICYCLE.
“... Peter Paul Connell said he went to the show on
the bus, and arrived about 1 p.m. He stayed in Kilmaine till
about half 10 that night. He (Connell) had a cup of tea in
Murtagh Philbin's forge on the way home, and left about 11
o’clock. From that he went to Vean’s, and stayed about an
hour. When he was about one and a half miles from
Kilmaine on the Ballinrobe road a motor car came along.
As it came up, he was watching it to try and get a lift when
something tripped him. The car pulled up, and in the light
he saw a man lying in the road. A bicycle was on the road,
and he got into the car and told the driver. The driver said
he should get out and someone got out and looked at the
man. Then they drove back to Kilmaine, and he walked on
to Ballinrobe. At Ballynew boreen another car passed. He
stopped to rest for 15 minutes or so, and then went and
slept in a hayshed at the back of the house he lodged in.
(Superintendent Dunphy asked Connell:) Did any
Family friend and neighbor Willie Walsh is shown outside the
Gallaghers' Cornaroya home. In 1930, he traveled to
Kilmaine with John Gallagher. He told the inquest that when
he was leaving Kilmaine, he talked with John, who said to
head home without him. Walsh said his friend appeared quite
sober. He added John did not have a light on his bicycle.
bicycle or car pass you or meet you on the way home? -- No.
I don't remember anything (Connell responded).”
LYING ON THE ROAD.
“William Walsh said that when he got to Kilmaine
on Thursday evening he parted with Gallagher, who went up
(to) the village to see some friends. He met Gallagher again
about 9 o’clock, when there was another young man with
him. When asking Gallagher if he would come home, he
replied that he would go in about 10 minutes. About 15
minutes later, he met Gallagher again, and (Gallagher) said,
“You can be going home; don't be waiting for me.” Then he
said to go quietly by (the Gallagher) house and not disturb
his parents. He was quite sober. (The Walsh house was a
hundred yards or so farther along the boreen from the
Witness said he left word with Paddy O’Donnell
that he had gone home at about 10 o’clock. He was home
before 11 o’clock. Gallagher, he said, had no lamp on his
Michael Garvey said he was going home from
Galway about 1 o’clock on Friday morning by motor car. He
was driving and in the back were Jack Connor and Willie
Hughes. About a mile on the Ballinrobe side of Kilmaine, he
saw a man lying on the road, with another man (Connell)
standing beside him. He, seeing that the man was injured,
decided to go back and report to the Guards. As he was
opening the door, Peter Connell (the story sometimes refers
to him as O'Connell) tried to get into the car, and witness
(Garvey) told him to wait until they saw who or what was on
the road. Connell said he thought it was something like an
old stick he tripped over.”
“Continuing, the witness said he saw that the man
lying on the road was injured, and he went back at once to
tell the Guards about it. When he had the car turned, Connell
tried to get in again, and he (Garvey ) told him to wait until
they came back. Returning with Sergeant Reynolds and
Guard Kiernan, Connell was not there. Connell had some
drink taken, and the witness thought he did not appreciate
the fact that Gallagher was injured. He (Garvey) brought the
injured man and the Guards to Dr. Hawkshaw, where they
were told he was dead. They then brought him home. Before
leaving Doctor Hawkshaw’s door, he got the priest. They did
not (see) Connell anymore that night.
(Quote from coroner to Garvey:) I must
compliment you on your promptness. You acted very well
towards the injured man, and I'm sure the jury appreciate it
HAD NO LIGHT
“Paddy O’Donnell, a hackney motor driver at
Ballinrobe, said he went to Kilmaine Thursday evening
about half nine. (Note: Uncle Jim referred to O’Donnell as
the “town chauffeur”; he was also the driver who ferried
John Ford back and forth from Ashford Castle to the site of
the filming of “The Quiet Man.” O’Donnell appears in
numerous scenes of the 1952 film. He plays a porter and is
the first actor to appear in the opening scene.) When he
(O’Donnell ) went to Murphy's house in Kilmaine, he saw
the deceased there with 10 or 12 young men. They had a
Mass cards for John Gallagher.
A headstone in the Abbey Cemetery in Ballinrobe
includes the names of six family members. (Aunt Mary
was added after she died in 2006.) It was erected after
John Gallagher died while bicycling home from a
show in Kilmaine in 1930. At left is the monument
after Uncle Owen had it cleaned in the 1990s.
drink -- he stood Gallagher a bottle of stout. And he had
another bottle of stout with him before he left. Altogether
they were about two hours in each other's company, and
left together about midnight. Gallagher seemed quite
sober, and he saw him get on his bicycle and cycle off in
the direction of Ballinrobe. There was no light on the
machine. He offered to carry him home. He said he would
come, but changed his mind on finding that the bicycle
could not be brought. A few minutes after he left, witness
followed and passed him about a half mile from Kilmaine.
(O’Donnell said Uncle John) was going quite steady and
straight. Witness added he did not stop until he reached
“Sergeant P. Reynolds, Kilmaine, said that on
receiving the report from Michael Garvey about half-past
one he went to the place and found Gallagher there, lying
on his back with his head towards the fence. He was
breathing heavily and was unconscious. About two yards
away the bicycle was lying against the ditch, and appeared
to have been placed there normally. He could not find any
track, but there was a small mark on the road as if the brake
of the bicycle was put on suddenly. Gallagher died on his
way to Dr. Hawkshaw.”
The Connaught Tribune features pictures of the horse-jumping competition at the Kilmaine Show in September
1929, a year before Uncle John died on the way home from attending that town's fair.
“Dr. M.J. Hawkshaw gave evidence that the
deceased was brought to his house at 2 a.m. on Friday
morning by Sergt. Reynolds and another Guard. He was
dead when he saw him. He was told he met with injuries
and was found on the road. Without making a post-mortem
examination he was unable to say the precise cause of
death. He could not make this examination by himself and
required another doctor.
When the taking of his evidence was resumed, he
said he had been assisted by Dr. George Mcguire. He found
that there was a large blood clot on the brain. There was no
fracture, and only one slight mark over the lower part of the
forehead and nose. He would say that this was not the result
of great violence. In his opinion, the cause of death was
hemorrhage, due to the fall from the bicycle. The body was
healthy and well-nourished.
He thought it quite possible that the youth was
conscious for about half an hour after the fall, and could
have moved about and placed his bicycle in the position in
which it was found. If the deceased had been struck by a
motor (car), he would expect to find marks.
Dr. George McGuire made a deposition agreeing
with Doctor Hawkshaw as to the injuries and the cause of
SYMPATHY AND COMPLIMENTS.
“This having concluded the evidence, the Coroner
addressed the jury, who decided to return a verdict in
accordance with the medical evidence.
The Coroner said he felt sure the jury would like
to record their commendation of Mr. Michael Garvey. He
had done everything he could for the deceased, and it was
no fault of his that the efforts were unavailing.
The foreman of the jury and Supt. Dunphy having
concurred, a vote of sympathy was passed with the family
of deceased in their loss. Those present associated
themselves with the coroner's sympathetic references.”
* * *
Uncle John was buried Sept. 20. A brief item in a
local newspaper noted he had been popular with the young
men of the town, “who paid their tribute to him at the
funeral on Saturday, when affecting scenes were witnessed
at the Old Abbey Cemetery.” A High Mass was celebrated
the following Monday, with five priests participating,
including St. Mary's Pastor Monsgr. E.A. D'Alton and the
Rev. Eaton as the main celebrant.
Within the year, Uncle John's sister Delia returned
home for a short time from America to be with the grieving
family. Using her own resources and those from her
brothers Pete and Pat in America, she helped pay for a
monument that was erected at the Gallagher burial plot in
the Abbey Cemetery. The granite memorial, topped with a
Celtic Cross, still stands, asking for The Lord to have
mercy on the souls of Michael and John Gallagher. Their
parents, brother Owen and sister Mary were added after
their deaths. John’s age on the monument and in his
brother’s testimony at the inquest was given as 25 years.
Judging from his known birth date and the date of the
accident, he would have been about to turn 27. It is just
Above is the registration from Ballinrobe of John Gallagher's birth on Nov. 13, 1903. It notes he was baptized on
Jan. 12, 1904. Below is the record of his death. It lists his occupation as a farmer.
another detail about his life that is probably beyond
knowing for sure.
In 1993, Uncle Owen became emotional as he
reflected on the death of his brother and their father 12 years
later. He slowly shook his head and said certain things will
change you forever. You can’t come back from them. He
said he felt John’s death deeply affected his brother Jimmy,
and he believed Jimmy took it with him to the grave.
Another who was undoubtedly impacted was their
mother. Within the decade, she had seen her two eldest sons
buried, three other children leave for America, and she was
already feeling the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Our
grandmother must have been worried about what the future
held for her family. Uncle Jim remembered how John’s
death affected his mother. For a short time after the
accident, the bike itself was stored in a shed behind the
house. However, his mother was in such grief she insisted it
be removed. She could not bear to know the bicycle was on
the property or the thought that one of her three remaining
sons might someday ride it.
Uncle Jim further remembered that for years, on
nights not unlike that horrible evening in September, his
mother would see her beloved John riding his bicycle down
the boreen from the Convent Road toward their cottage. It
is hoped that our grandmother found some peace knowing
her son had come home and was now safe in God's arms.
Included in Uncle
Jim's possessions was a
about the funeral for
his brother John. It
notes that John had
been a gardener at the
Convent of Mercy and
during the ceremony
at the Abbey
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.”
George Bernard Shaw
Aunt Nora, left, with Aunt Ann around 1940, was defined by her dedication to her
family. During a trip to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, she brought home a
pin for her mother, below. It is still a treasured possession in the family.
Dublin is Ireland’s urban heart, but it remains a grand place
for pedestrians. The country’s capital offers ideal opportunities for “a
wander.” Within easy access on foot are St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity
College, O’Connell Bridge over the River Liffey, the shops of Grafton
Street and not a few pubs.
But for one long weekend in June 1932, foot traffic slowed to
Dublin’s population exploded that June 22-26, as people came
from the south and west, from England and Europe, and as far away as
Australia and the United States for what is still one of the largest
Eucharistic Congresses in the history of the Catholic Church. Ireland
The Catholic Church chose Dublin to host the 31st Eucharistic Congress to coincide with the 1,500th
anniversary of St. Patrick coming to Ireland. After the final High Mass, 500,000 people gathered at O'Connell
Bridge for the concluding Benediction. The Congress drew more than a million people and dominated
newspaper coverage at the time.
was chosen for the first time for that 31st international
gathering because of its people’s strong Catholic faith and
because it was the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s
arrival on the island. There were an estimated 3.2 million
Catholics in Ireland at the time. More than a million people
attended the closing Mass of the Congress in Phoenix Park
that Sunday. A half million then gathered at O'Connell
Bridge for the concluding Benediction, given by Papal
Legate Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.
Somewhere in that weekend’s crowd was 26-yearold
Nora Gallagher from Ballinrobe. We don’t know who
she was with (friends or other family members?). But we
do know Aunt Nora obtained a souvenir Mother pin for our
The city sidewalks were packed for the event with
wandering tourists, Boy Scouts providing first aid, multiple
processions, including marching Dutch girls singing hymns
… and, apparently, plenty of entrepreneurs selling
Aunt Nora would have been witness to ocean
liners serving as extra hotels in Dublin’s harbor, massive
individual Masses for men, women and children, and an
address from Pope Pius XI. He did not attend the Congress,
but he was heard from the Vatican during the concluding
High Mass via a PA system set up around the city.
It is likely Nora would have arrived by train, but
one newspaper account mentions a man from Ballinrobe
who rode his bike cross-country to Dublin. He was just
beginning his return trip when the reporter talked to his
In the West of Ireland, the port in Galway had
been bustling for more than a week with ships arriving with
passengers from America headed for the Congress. In
Ballinrobe, those who didn’t go to Dublin would have
taken part in local ceremonies marking the Congress, which
coincided with the Feast of Corpus Christi. The procession
In Ballinrobe, the 1932 Corpus Christi celebration
coincided with the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. It
included a banner from the Pioneer Total Abstinence
Association of the Sacred Heart. The man is identified
as Martin Halloran.
from St. Mary’s included a huge banner created by the
Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart.
Our grandfather and Uncle Jim were supporters.
When Aunt Nora returned home, she presented the
souvenir pin to her mother. It’s uncertain what would have
happened to it when our grandmother died in 1942. Either
Nora took possession of it to keep until she died, or it
stayed in the Gallagher home in Cornaroya. In any event,
Uncle Owen had it after Aunt Nora passed and eventually
gave it to his nephew Pat Gallagher. He in turn gave it to
Aunt Delia’s daughter, Patsy, who wears it every Mother’s
SHAMROCKS AND FAMILY
Aunt Nora was born Sunday March 4, 1906. She
was the fifth child of Pat and Mary (Sheridan) Gallagher. In
addition to her parents, at home along the boreen in
Aunt Nora sits with her cousin Annie King, probably
around 1931. Annie was a niece of 'Peter Gallagher Next
Cornaroya at the time were her paternal grandparents Peter
and Bridget (McCormick) Gallagher, brothers Michael and
John, and sister Delia. A sister Mary had died as an infant.
The farm at the time was still leased by Nora’s grandfather.
It passed to her father when Peter Gallagher died in March
1912. Nora’s grandmother died in March 1909.
On the day before Aunt Nora was born, there was
a poem published in the Western People newspaper titled
“A Bunch of Shamrocks.” It was about a woman longing
for a far-away love. The poem fits nicely with the affection
the girl born the next day in Ballinrobe had for her family.
It included the lines:
“Once I culled a bunch of shamrocks
In the golden long ago
While my heart was throbbing wildly,
Struggling with itself to know
If it were right for me to send them
To a dear one far away,
Just to wear in loving token
Of a coming Patrick’s Day.”
A cherished memory of Aunt Nora for her nieces
and nephews in America were the shamrocks and small
medals and pins she would reliably send from Ireland when
St. Patrick’s Day came around each year. Those gifts, as
well as the many letters she would write to her brothers and
sisters and their families across the sea, were an indication
of Nora’s generous heart and love of family. She was
always willing to make personal sacrifices to help others.
If Aunt Delia was the matriarch of the family in
America, Aunt Nora served that role back in Ireland. She
stayed at home and did not marry until after her parents
died in 1942. She likely saw off each of her six brothers
and sisters when they left for America. More than anyone,
she reliably kept in touch with them about the latest
happenings in Ballinrobe. Six years after her parents died,
she married Pat Murphy, who became a great friend of
Uncle Owen, soon Nora’s lone brother remaining on the
family farm. She cared for Owen and her husband until she
passed away in 1980.
Pictures of Nora as a young woman attest to her
closeness to her brothers, sisters and cousins. By all
accounts, her younger sister Ann felt a strong bond. One
photo, which starts this chapter, shows the pair sitting on a
stone wall in a field, maybe around 1940. Aunt Ann would
not yet have been 20 years old. A broadly smiling Ann
looks very pleased, if a little chilly. She wears a fairly light
jacket, with her arms folded to keep herself warm. She
holds a card or letter in her right hand. To her right, is Aunt
Nora, looking cozy in a heavier woolen coat. She has a
patient smile on her face, seeming to enjoy whatever had
Aunt Ann in such a pleasant mood that day.
Nora, or Honor, or Honora -- the name just sounds
Irish -- had a way of charming people. When her Aunt
Annie Sheridan came home from America for a visit, she
developed a strong affection for young Nora and later
offered to pay for her ticket if she would come to America.
Nora declined the offer, with potential reasons ranging
from wanting to help her parents to having a boyfriend. The
decision allowed Aunt Delia to be the first of her generation
to emigrate, in 1924.
Aunt Nora’s communications with her family in
At top are some of the medals Aunt Nora would send to
her nieces and nephews in America. Above, Uncle Jim's
daughter Margaret wears one the pins on her uniform
for St. Thomas the Apostle School in 1971.
America usually focused on what was going on at the
moment. But she would occasionally grow nostalgic. She
once explained to niece Patsy DeAscanis that the Gallagher
children in Cornaroya would know Christmas was coming
when the piece of furniture called a settle bed would be
folded up to use for extra seating. Christmas dinner would
include lamb or duck garnished with slices of oranges.
Another tradition was helping set up the manger scene at
St. Mary’s Church. In a letter only months before she died,
Aunt Nora wrote to Patsy about the great happiness the
season could bring. It is typical of how family was always
“I remember when I was a child,” Aunt Nora
wrote in 1979. “It was the few days before (Christmas) I
used to enjoy. Not that I ever got any gifts for Christmas. It
was just the fun I had with my sisters and brothers. And
believe me, Patsy, that was fun and happiness nothing like
The Gallagher brothers of Ballinrobe had a talent
for teasing – of both the family and outsiders. Cousins from
America might be subjected to a few comments on the
fancy clothing an aunt made them wear. Their sister Delia
would never be allowed to forget her cousin Sarah once
asking her, “Is it your brown shoes you’d be wearing?”
Another target, who started as an outsider but would
become like another brother, was Patrick “Paddy” Murphy,
whose family came from near Lough Mask.
Pat Murphy, it seems, had somewhat of a
fascination for fiddle music, which led to the sobriquet
“Fiddlin’ Dan” being bestowed on him by some of Nora's
brothers, including Uncle Jim. Sometime in the years
before he married Aunt Nora, Pat was one of two men hired
to work for Jack Moran, a friend of the Gallaghers. Uncle
Tom said Pat and Jack were related, probably cousins. The
Moran house is only a short walk from the boreen in
Cornaroya. The two-story home on the Convent Road was
a place the Gallaghers, Jack Moran and Pat Murphy would
meet to play cards or take advantage of the home's
impressive library. The Morans also had a gramophone,
which held a particular attraction for Pat Murphy.
There is an often-recorded Irish song “The Stone
Outside Dan Murphy’s Door.” Though there are those who
question its authorship, it is generally acknowledged the
song was written in the nineteenth century by Johnny
Patterson about his young days being raised by his uncle in
the town of Ennis, County Clare. The song looks back
nostalgically on the stone bench outside the shop run by
one Dan Murphy. The town’s children would gather there
after a day’s work. The chorus goes: “Dan Murphy would
take down his fiddle/ While his daughter looked after the
store/ The music did ring and sweet songs we would sing/
On the stone outside Dan Murphy’s door.”
The Moran house included a record of the song,
which Pat Murphy enjoyed. The brothers Gallagher
apparently saw enough of a connection to start referring to
him as “Fiddlin’ Dan.”
There’s no one remaining who remembers if the
nickname came before or after Pat Murphy married Nora
on Jan. 31, 1948. But the nickname’s staying power was
Aunt Nora is with her young sisters Ann, left, and Mary
in the late 1920s or early '30s.
strong enough to cause a little confusion when Nora’s
widower of 12 years died in April 1992. When Uncle Jim’s
son Pat told his cousin Patsy the sad news, he apparently
referred to their uncle as Fiddlin’ Dan. Pasty had never
heard the nickname, which Uncle Jim had often used for
his brother-in-law. Uncle Jim’s wife, Aunt Catherine, would
identify him on the back of photos as “Dan Murphy.”
Intrigued, Patsy did some digging about the name and was
able to get Aunt Ann and Uncle Tom to tell the story of the
song “The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door” and the
Gallagher brothers using it to coin their pet name for Pat
“Whatever the name he was known by (to) those
close to him,” Patsy wrote to Uncle Owen at the time, “the
regard for the man was warm and special so much so that
even those of us here across the ocean who never knew the
Uncle Owen and his brother-in-law Pat Murphy became great friends over the
years. Pat's fondness for fiddle music gave rise to his nickname 'Fiddlin' Dan.'
man share the sorrow of his passing.”
“I am praying for him and for you,” she told
Uncle Owen. “God bless you both.”
‘MUCH MORE THAN A FRIEND’
Pat Murphy was born April 12, 1909, in the
townland of Killour, about 4 miles southwest of Ballinrobe
in the area known as the Neale. His parents were Patrick, a
farmer, and Margaret (Joyce) Murphy.
The 1901 Irish Census shows his grandfather,
Michael, was the head of the household. He was 60 years
old, a farmer and a widower. There were two children at
home, Pat’s father-to-be, Patrick, then 22, and Bridget, 18.
All three spoke English and the Irish. There may have been
older children, but they were no longer living in their
As with his future wife, Pat Murphy was from a
large family; there were at least 13 children. The 1911
Census shows he was the sixth to be born; brothers and
sisters in the Killour home then were: Michael, 8; Stephen,
7; Martin, 6; Mary, 5; Bridget, 4; and the younger
Margaret, 1. Still to come were Sarah (1912); Walter
(1914); Sean/John, the future Father Marcellus, (1915);
Catherine (1918); and Anne (1919). Another son, Anthony,
followed. Their grandfather was still the head of the home
Pat’s oldest brother was born in 1902. Named
after his grandfather, Michael immigrated to America and
lived on North 67th Street in Philadelphia after marrying
Anna Durkin. He died in December 1965 and Anna in
October 1988. They had five children: Margaret, Cecilia,
Joseph, Patricia and Joyce. Anna’s obituary says she had 16
grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
By whatever name, Pat, Paddy or Fiddlin’ Dan
Murphy was not Aunt Nora’s first boyfriend. He apparently
wasn’t yet a suitor when the first of Nora's family started
heading to America. In those years, Nora apparently was
“walking out with” a Ballinrobe man named Peter Gainey.
The story is Gainey was a sharp dresser and had a good job
at a shop in town. His standing was impressive enough that
he was a favorite of the Gallagher family. Except for Aunt
Nora. She eventually ended the courting because he may
have enjoyed a drink a little too much for Aunt Nora.
Aunt Nora works in the garden during a 1966 visit to Ballinrobe by Uncle Pat and his family. With her is Uncle Pat's
wife, Catherine. Visits from America were always a joy for Nora. In the background are the fields of Cornaroya.
Pat Murphy was a more humble dresser, but he
had a better heart. We don’t know when their relationship
started, but Matrimony did not come until Aunt Nora was
more than 40 years old. By that time, she had seen her
parents pass away and a number of her brothers and sisters
leave behind an Ireland constantly struggling with a poor
economy and other troubles. The 1940s were described by
the Irish Examiner as “a decade of war and want.” Ireland
was officially neutral in World War II, or “The Emergency,”
but the country could not escape its reach. Many Irish
fought with the Allied powers despite their country’s long,
bloody history with Britain. Privations that came with the
war continued for many years.
That was the era when Nora Gallagher and Pat
Murphy finally joined their lives. There was no elaborate
wedding that Saturday in January 1948. Aunt Ann
remembered herself and Nora going off to the church on a
cold, dark morning, meeting Pat and his brother Walter of
Lough Mask there, the quiet ceremony, and then going
home their separate ways. Nora's brothers Jim and Owen
likely would have been present, but her sister Mary may
have already immigrated to England.
Pat Murphy works the butter churn during the 1966 visit.
Pat Murphy's family was from Killour, about 4 miles southwest of
Ballinrobe. He was born in 1909.
Aunt Ann recalled that after the wedding, Nora
and Pat did not immediately live together. The Gallagher
cottage was apparently too crowded. But the situation was
soon resolved when Uncle Jim finally obtained his papers
to go to America. His leaving in early February 1949
opened up room for Pat Murphy. And Uncle Jim was soon
able to get his brothers and sisters in America to come up
with the funds to help Nora and Pat get their own home at
98 New St. Aunt Ann remembered that home, in an area
known as “the back cottages,” as not nearly as “cozy” as
Nora's old home. She said Nora and Pat would spend a lot
of their time visiting her and Owen at the old Gallagher
place. Ann, herself, left for America in April 1949.
When Uncle Jim emigrated, he was able to turn
over his job at the Convent of Mercy to Pat Murphy.
Eventually, Aunt Nora and Uncle Owen were the only two
of their immediate family remaining in Ballinrobe. There
were many other Murphy and Gallagher relatives nearby,
including Pat's younger brother Anthony, who lived at 79
New St. after marrying Kathleen Laffey in 1960. But Aunt
Nora particularly enjoyed the times through the years when
someone would visit from America. After her marriage,
there were trips by Aunt Ann in 1955, Uncle Tom in 1959
and the two together in 1970. Aunt Nora would see Uncle
Pat’s wife, Catherine, and daughter, Mary Kathryn, in 1966,
and Aunt Delia's widower Uncle Mike and son, John, in
1977. But Mary Kathryn and John were the only Gallagher
children from the next generation Aunt Nora would ever
meet in person. In her letters, she would often express the
wish for more visits. “Who knows, maybe I’ll see you all
someday, Please God” or similar sentiments were often
part of the letters she wrote.
Over the years, Owen and Pat Murphy became
best friends. They could often be found arguing about the
latest football match. You could set your clock by Pat
Murphy. Whatever he was involved in, he would be home
at 1 p.m. sharp and Aunt Nora would have the dinner on the
Ann Gallagher, the wife of cousin Eugene, says
her children were very fond of the Murphys. When they
went food shopping they would be sure to buy some Fry's
chocolate treats to give to Ann's children come Sunday. The
shopping was done at the store run by Nora's cousin
Margaret (Gallagher) Burke. “Nora and her husband Dan
would come into our shop on Glebe street every Saturday
evening for their weekly grocery shop and have a cup of tea
Photos from a 1970 trip to Ballinrobe by Uncle Tom and Aunt Ann show Aunt Nora with her husband and visiting
sister. Nora would often express hopes to see family from America travel back to Ireland.
and a chat in our kitchen,” Margaret's daughter Breege
Aunt Nora took care of both her own and Uncle
Owen's households until her death only days after suffering
a stroke in November 1980. The priest at her funeral was
Pat's brother Sean, known as Father Marcellus.
A Franciscan, Father Marcellus Murphy’s call to
the priesthood came relatively late. He was in his late 30s
when ordained at St. John Lateran Seminary in Rome in
1952. A Western People newspaper report said his mother
was among the happiest women in Ireland as she “sat by
her radio through which came the blessing of her son ... in
faraway Rome.” He died in Rome in 1990, with his body
brought back to Adam and Eve's Church in Dublin. He is
buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. A story in the Mayo News
on his silver jubilee mentioned he was popular all over
Ireland from his work on missions and retreats. He was
then serving as chaplain to the Dublin City Bus Services,
where he was well known to all busmen. Father Marcellus
played a role in a story involving Eugene Gallagher’s wife.
Ann once found herself in Dublin and thought it would be a
good time to go to Confession, being far away from all the
priests who knew her back in Ballinrobe. But, apparently,
God has a sense of humor. The priest behind the screen in
the confessional she chose was Father Marcellus, known all
too well to her from back home. Her sins must not have
been too bad. Father ended up giving her two tickets to the
All Ireland final, possibly between Kerry and Galway. Not
the harshest of penances.
Soon after Nora's death, Pat's sister Sarah moved
in to help him at the New Street home. Aunt Nora's passing
(Aunt Delia died five years earlier) added to a steady series
of funerals over the next two decades. Uncle Pete died in
1983, then Uncle Pat (1986), Uncle Jim (1992), Uncle Tom
(1994), Uncle Owen (1999), Aunt Ann (2003), and finally
Aunt Mary (2006).
In 1980, Aunt Mary wrote in a letter to Uncle Jim
that “Paddy and Owen are stunned” by Nora’s passing.
“They know they have lost a great friend and much more
than a friend, but they will have to make the most of things
now. Won’t we all miss her very much.”
She was buried in the New Cemetery in Ballinrobe
after what Aunt Mary said was “a wonderful funeral.”
Mary, who lived in Leeds, England, added: “Well Jim, that’s
the end of the letters from Cornaroya.”
The writing may have stopped, but the letters Aunt
Clockwise from top left, Uncle Owen, Pat and Aunt Nora Murphy,
Aunt Ann and Aunt Mary together in Ballinrobe in 1970.
Nora did compose help keep alive the memories of a
woman who devoted her life to her family. Her marriage
did not bring any children, but there were many nieces and
nephews who came to know they were embraced by their
'PLEASE GOD’; LETTERS FROM NORA
There may have been times when Aunt Nora’s
correspondences were not as big an event as Aunt Mary’s.
But that was only because Mary did not write nearly so
often. Nora would dutifully keep the family in America
informed about everything. Her letters, and truly the mere
mention of her name in conversation, then and now, had a
way of lighting up memories from the family’s times along
the boreen in Cornaroya. They offer a record of her heart.
Following are a few examples:
* A letter from Cornaroya dated April 14, 1958, to
Catherine Hoopes, shows Nora’s welcoming nature. It
includes the phrase “Please God,” a little prayer she often
sprinkled into her sentences.
“My Dear Catherine,
“This is from Jim’s brother Owen and his sister
Nora. We have heard the wonderful news that you and Jim
are engaged to be married in September, Please God. Well,
may you have the very best of good luck and many years
of happiness together. We at home here are delighted to
know that Jim met such a nice girl. Jim is thrilled with it. I
wish we could all meet. But who knows, maybe we will
meet each other someday P. God.
“Well now Catherine I won’t say much more for
this time. I hope to be writing often from now on. Write a
few lines when you can. So until then … God bless you all.
From Owen, Nora and my husband Pat”
* On Jan. 7, 1966, Nora writes to Patsy congratulating her
on her marriage to Leon DeAscanis and wishing both the
happiest New Year they ever had. “Your mother sent a
picture of you and Leon on your wedding day,” Nora says.
“And we thought you and Leon looked the nicest we have
ever seen. I wouldn’t part with that snap for a million.” She
asks whether Patsy’s brother Johnny was home for
Christmas and about how her Mom and Dad, Uncle Jim
and his family and Uncle Tom and Aunt Ann are doing.
* In March 1966, Aunt Nora writes thanking Patsy for a St.
Patrick’s Day card. “Hope you get that Irish flag outside
your window on St. Patrick’s Day,” she writes. “You will
make an Irishman of Leon yet.”
* At another time, a letter to Patsy told her for the first time
about the practice of Stations in Ireland. It was a holdover
from when celebrating the Catholic Mass in Ireland was
forbidden. A family hosting Stations in their home would
welcome the local priest for a Mass, followed by a festive
meal for family and neighbors. The white linen tablecloth
used for such occasions in the Gallagher home was sent to
Patsy by cousin Maureen Gallagher after Uncle Owen died.
* In her July 1975 letter in response to Aunt Delia’s death,
Aunt Nora extends an invitation to County Meath native
Uncle Mike that if he ever comes to Ireland again, “don’t
forget to give us a call. You are always welcome.” Uncle
Mike finally did make that trip back to Ireland with son
John in 1977.
* In 1976, Nora apologizes to Patsy for not sending
shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day but says they “completely
left my mind after your mother died.” Nine months or so
had passed, but her older sister’s death, and the welfare of
the rest of the family, were very much in Nora’s thoughts.
“How are the rest of the crew?” she asks about the other
Gallaghers in America. “None of them (are) coming home
this summer. I wish some of them come.”
In that letter, and a number of others, Nora
comments on how she is glad a long, hard winter has
passed. She seems to be growing weary in her eighth
decade, but still finds comfort with the coming of Easter.
* On a few occasions, Aunt Nora would mention politics,
both Irish and American, in her letters. When Jimmy Carter
was elected U.S. president in 1976, Nora writes, “I do hope
he will be a true and good man.” About four years later, she
notes Ted Kennedy was challenging the incumbent Carter.
In June 1977, she mentions Ireland was having an
election in a few days’ time, but she was apparently
unimpressed with any candidate. “It’s the same old story,”
she writes. “‘Vote for me! Vote for me!’ It doesn’t make
much difference to a lot of people who gets in. The rich get
richer and the poor get poorer all the time.” She does say
she would like to see the country doing well, adding, “I’d
be happy if England were kicked out of the North.”
Aunt Nora was realistic when it came to world
A recent photo shows Aunt Nora and Pat Murphy's
home, the right half of the duplex, with the walled yard.
It is in the 'back cottages' area of New Street.
leaders. And she had lived through enough hard times not
to expect too much. But she was not without hope. Pope
John Paul II was the first head of the Catholic Church ever
to come to Ireland when in 1979 he visited Dublin,
Drogheda, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Knock, Limerick and
Maynooth from Saturday, Sept. 29, to Monday, Oct. 1. The
visit marked the centenary of the apparitions at the Shrine
of Knock in August 1879.
“The pope’s visit … did a lot of good in a lot of
ways,” Aunt Nora writes that year. She is cautious,
however. “But trouble is still on in the North, and I’m
afraid it’s not going to stop until it does harm. May God
bless our country.” The latest Catholic-Protestant
“Troubles” in Northern Ireland, which began in the late
1960s, did in fact go on to do harm for almost two more
decades before the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998
brought a period of relative peace to the land.
* In November 1976, Nora writes to congratulate John
O’Brien on his marriage to Cindy McClafferty. “It’s grand
to know he is getting such a nice girl. May God bless them
for the rest of their lives.” In 1979, Nora is happy to hear
John and Cindy are doing well. “It would be nice to have a
house with a couple of acres of land,” she notes. “He
couldn’t have better than land; it’s always going up in
* The biggest regret that comes through in Aunt Nora’s
letters is she did not have the chance to meet her nieces and
nephews from America. Yet she never loses hope. In the
latest letter we have from Aunt Nora, from 1979, she tells
Patsy she is sure her children are growing up fast. “How I’d
love to see them,” she adds. “I never saw Jim’s children
either. May God bless them all. And, who knows, maybe
I’ll see you all someday, Please God.”
“There are no strangers,
only friends you have not met yet.”
William Butler Yeats
Uncle Pete was dapper, with an air of
sophistication. He also was an adventurer, never afraid of
something new. He left his native Ireland for a new home in
America while still a teenager, the youngest of his brothers
or sisters to do so. He exaggerated his driving experience
while on his first job. He left Philadelphia and the comfort
of his mother’s family, the Sheridans, when he heard of a
better job in Wilmington. Over the next two decades, four
siblings would follow him to Delaware. He opened his own
business. Worked as a chauffeur. Never wanted to borrow
money. Yet, after traveling over 3,000 miles from home, he
married a girl who grew up only two miles from where he
The week Uncle Pete was born, no less an
eminence than the Archbishop of Tuam, Thomas Gilmartin,
made comments at the Ballinrobe Bazaar that nicely
express Uncle Pete’s philosophy of life. “The people of
Ballinrobe are fond of having everything neat, and do not
like to be in debt!” he told those gathered for a fund-raiser
for improvements at St. Mary’s Church. Most people never
saw Uncle Pete when he was not impeccably dressed. As
for debt and borrowing to buy on credit – he would have
preferred adding milk to his Irish whiskey. He always lived
within his means, while constantly striving to upgrade his
family’s station in life. He worked hard and whenever
possible paid “cash on the barrelhead” for everything.
Uncle Pete was born Saturday April 17, 1908. He
was the sixth child of Patrick Gallagher and Mary Sheridan.
His godparents were his brother Michael and cousin Sarah
Gallagher, from next door. Three thousand miles away that
year in America, Theodore Roosevelt was president, the
first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line, and
William C. Durant founded the company that eventually
became General Motors. The 20th century was ready to
take off, and Uncle Pete would be there for all of it.
But first, Uncle Pete would start his education at
the Christian Brother’s primary school near Ballinrobe’s
Cornmarket. His older brother John would just have been
finishing, but Pete would soon be joined by his brothers Pat
(one year behind) and Jim (three years).
In addition to schooling, Uncle Pete would have
Uncle Pete and Aunt May, shown in their engagement
photo, were married Sept. 26, 1934. They were both
from the Ballinrobe area but didn't become a couple
until they immigrated to America.
spent his time helping around the farm. There would have
been chores to do before school. The farm animals would
have to be looked in on. The cows milked and then the
milk strained. Eggs would need to be collected and
brought into the kitchen. (Uncle Jim remembered they had
to get the eggs early, or the chickens would stomp on
them.) The cows, chickens, horses, pigs and other animals
would all need to be fed. For the day’s use in the fireplace,
turf would have to be brought in from a pile outside. After
all this, the children could get their bowl of “stir-about,” a
sort of porridge, and then head off to school. God help you
if you were late.
Lunch would be bread and butter from home and a
bottle of milk. When the children got home there were
more chores. Aunt Ann remembered the boys would collect
barrels of water from the Bulkhaun River to bring back to
the farm. Some animals could be walked to the river for
watering. In October, the potatoes were dug up. No one was
excused from this assignment. Children would often be
kept home from school to help pick the spuds. The potatoes
were stored in a long heap and covered with straw to
protect them from frost and other elements. Homework
would often have to be finished by the light of a coal-oil
lamp. The next day, the process would start all over again.
Sometime during the 1920s, Uncle Pete joined his
brother John working at the close-by St. Joseph’s Convent,
also known as the Convent of Mercy. Uncle Pete growing
up had always had an affinity for “Convent” strawberries.
They were sweet and free to any lad who had the temerity
to hop the stone wall between the convent and Gallagher
properties and not be noticed by parents or nuns. Another
adventure at the convent occurred one Ash Wednesday.
Uncle Pete was given his list of daily jobs early in the
morning by Mother Superior, along with the admonition,
“Be sure and get your ashes.” He made the quick
calculation that God would be more forgiving for the ashes
than Sister would if he didn’t complete the jobs. He went to
the boiler room and got his own ashes.
Uncle Pete must have decided very early that his
future was in America. He probably resolved to make the
journey shortly after his sister Delia left Ireland in October
1924. He likely would have had to start the paperwork
when he was 17 or 18. He must have been terribly excited
as he traveled to Dublin to get his visa in January 1927.
After submitting the required paperwork and passing his
physical, his visa was awarded Jan. 27. Uncle Pete was
now ready for the start of the 1927 seasonal service for
various steamship lines between Ireland and America. The
Cunard Line had 79 trips scheduled for the ’27 season.
Uncle Pete booked passage on the first steamer Cunard had
scheduled, the RMS Laconia.
With the passage set, the waiting must have been
excruciating. He left for Cobh only a few days after his
19th birthday. Even the train ride was an adventure. There
was not a direct train from Ballinrobe to Cobh. Uncle Pete
first would have traveled on the line to Claremorris, 14
miles from Ballinrobe. From there, he needed to travel at
least 160 miles to Cobh in County Cork. It would have
Uncle Pete with his sister Nora, probably when he and
Aunt May made a 1933 visit back to Ballinrobe to
announce their upcoming wedding.
entailed at least 20 stops and maybe a connection or two.
The journey would have taken at least 12 hours.
On Sunday morning April 24, 1927, 250
passengers joined Uncle Pete in boarding the Laconia in
Cork Harbor. The weather was cloudy and threatening, with
a strong breeze. The seas were rough as they left port.
There had actually been two ships christened the
RMS Laconia. The first, built in 1911, was converted to a
troop ship in WWI. It was sunk by a German U-Boat on
Feb. 25, 1917, just off Fastnet, the southern tip of Ireland.
The attack increased outrage in America against the
Germans. Uncle Pete’s Laconia, built in 1921, was also
eventually turned into a troop ship for WWII. It also was
sunk by a German submarine, on Sep. 12, 1942. More than
1,600 died, many of them Italian prisoners of war. The
attempted rescue of the survivors in the second incident
later became known as the Laconia Incident. Uncle Pete’s
voyage, thankfully, was relatively uneventful.
Eight days after leaving Cobh, the Laconia sailed
into New York harbor on May 2 and docked on the west
side of Manhattan. On their way in, Uncle Pete and the
other passengers probably caught a view of the stranded
U.S. Navy Dreadnought Colorado, which was grounded for
at least 36 hours on a sandbar just off Governors Island.
Less than three weeks later, Charles Lindbergh
would take off from New York on his historic flight to
Paris. But the big headline this day in New York was in the
sports section. Babe Ruth had swatted two home runs and
Lou Gehrig one as the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia
A’s, taking over first place in the American League. The
“Murderers Row” Yankees would go down as one of the
greatest teams in baseball history, winning 110 games and
the World Series. Babe Ruth would hit a then-record 60
home runs; Lou Gehrig added 47. Unbeknownst to Uncle
Pete, his relatives the Sheridans of Philadelphia were big
Philadelphia A’s fans, especially Aunt Annie. She loved
“Mr. (Connie) Mac,” the team owner and manager. Uncle
Pete’s daughter Mary can remember Aunt Annie sitting in
her room on Green Street listening to A’s games on an old
radio sitting atop a marble-topped dresser.
Mary remembers her father saying his sister Delia
met him at the train station when he arrived in America.
The Laconia docked at the pier at 14th Street, so the train
was probably at Penn Station, at 34th Street. The walk of
20 or more blocks up Eighth or Ninth Avenue must have
been a surreal experience for someone who had spent his
previous 18 years living in a thatched cottage along an
unpaved road in rural Ireland. No skyscrapers there. He had
arrived in New York with only $25 in his wallet, probably
one suitcase and a wool suit. The weather was comfortably
warm that day, in the mid-60s, about 10 degrees above the
average daily high for the time.
Soon after meeting Aunt Delia, the brother and
sister boarded a train to Philadelphia. There, Uncle Pete
stayed with his Aunt Esther Sheridan and her two sons,
Francis and John, at 2105 Mount Vernon St. Francis and
John would have been in their early 20s, about four and
five years older than Pete. Also close in age nearby were
Tom, Ed and Joe Duffy. They were the children of Anna
(Larner) Duffy, Aunt Esther’s sister. The Mount Vernon
address was about four blocks from Aunt Catherine
(Sheridan) Mitchel’s home at 1740 Green St. She was
His 1933 U.S. passport photo shows Uncle Pete as he
looked heading to Ireland for a two-and-a-half-month
living there with two of her children, George and Anna, and
Aunt Hanna Sheridan. Aunt Catherine and Aunt Hanna
were sisters of Uncle Pete’s mother. Aunt Esther was the
wife of his mother’s brother Ed, who had passed away in
1921. The Roaring 20s would have been an exciting time
for young men such as Uncle Pete, the Sheridans and the
Duffys to come of age. Uncle Pete certainly embraced his
new country. He became a U.S. citizen as soon as he was
eligible – five years after becoming a resident. He was
naturalized Dec.12, 1932.
Uncle Pete soon found employment at the
Christian Brother’s Academy in Merion on the Main Line,
in suburban Philadelphia. Soon after starting, his supervisor
asked him if he was able to drive a tractor. This was a step
up from the typical ass-and-cart transportation in
Cornaroya. Nonetheless, Uncle Pete, always ready for an
adventure and never afraid to try something new, assured
his employers he could. His first time out, he promptly
crashed it into a tree. But he quickly got the hang of it. He
soon bought his first car, an Essex, and, naturally, paid
cash. Uncle Pete did not have any run-ins with trees in his
Essex, a relatively small, affordably priced car built by the
Uncle Pete is shown when he became a U.S. citizen. He was naturalized Dec. 12, 1932. The photo of Aunt May is
from her 1925 Irish passport. It took a number of decades before she became a citizen.
Hudson Motor Company in Detroit.
Within a few years, a salesman from a seed
company told Uncle Pete of a job at the William Sellers’
Estate in Wilmington, Del. He told Uncle Pete to go to a
certain address in Philadelphia and use his name as a
reference if he was interested. When Uncle Pete arrived, the
line of men seeking employment wrapped around the
block. It was the beginning of the Great Depression, which
was taking hold in Philadelphia even before the stock
market crash of Oct. 29, 1929. By that April, citywide
unemployment stood at 10 percent; 30 percent of the
jobless had been idle for six months or longer. Undeterred,
Uncle Pete approached the man at the entrance and
mentioned the seed salesman’s name. He was welcomed
immediately and got the job. Thinking back on it years
later, Uncle Pete thought about how he got the job, not
because of his qualifications, but only because he knew
someone. He already had a job; most of the men in line
probably did not.
As he had left the security of his family in Ireland
three years before to find his future in America, Uncle Pete
now left the community of Sheridans in Philadelphia for
the prospect of a brighter future in Wilmington.
WILMINGTON AND MAY TIERNEY
Uncle Pete probably arrived in Wilmington when
he was about 22, in 1929 or 1930. His job was at the
Sellers’ Estate, in the eastern part of Brandywine Hundred,
where he worked as a gardener. Brandywine Hundred is the
area east of Brandywine Creek. It is usually synonymous
with North Wilmington. The Sellers’ Estate would have
been around Route 13 and Marsh Road. While there, Uncle
Pete boarded with his foreman and the foreman's wife in
Edgemoor. They were an older couple from Ireland, Patrick
and Catherine Daugherty.
In 1931, there was a huge fire at the estate. The
blaze nearly destroyed the home, which was reported to
have cost $100,000 to build. A newspaper account said the
fire started in the servants’ quarters. The most serious injury
was to a cook, Miss Sophia Thomas, who was burned on
the face, hands and arms when she ran to her room to save
some valuables. Despite her injuries, she returned to the
burning building again to make sure a pet cat was safely
While living in Edgemoor, Uncle Pete attended St.
Patrick’s Church, at North King and East 15th streets. St.
Patrick’s for years was the termination point of the annual
Wilmington St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Ancient Order of
Hibernians would host a party in the church basement.
Many a Gallagher descendant would be seen over the years
between 14th and 15th streets enjoying the party and
parade in honor of the great saint. But first, it was in this
church, on a fine Sunday morning in 1932, Uncle Pete met
Mary Tierney was born April 13, 1905, in
Carrowmore, Hollymount, only two miles out the Convent
Road from Cornaroya. Aunt May was the second of 11
children born to John Tierney and Mary Toher. In 1916, her
family was relocated about a mile closer to Cornaroya, to
Gallows Hill, under a British Government program that
possessed and re-allocated land from large estates. Many
tenants, whose holdings may have included non-adjacent
fields, were moved, some a mile or two, others across the
country. The Congested Districts Board program created
holdings of 20 contiguous acres for the tenants. The
Gallows Hill area is now known as Clover Hill and is in the
townland of Rathnaguppaun.
Aunt May attended the Cregduff National School,
just north of the Convent Road, between Gallows Hill and
Cornaroya. At a very early age, she realized the importance
of a good education. So, she was very disappointed when
she was pulled from school a few years early to help her
mother with the younger children and the farm. At some
point, Aunt May went to live with her grandmother (Biddy
McHugh Toher). She would tell the story of being so young
and small that in order to knead the bread she had to get on
a stool to reach the table.
Aunt May and Uncle Pete didn’t really know each
other in Ireland, but the families were familiar with one
another. Uncle Jim could remember walking down the
Convent Road as a young man and hearing May and her
sister Delia sing out from the rocks by Cregduff, “Hello,
Jim Gallagher!” He wouldn’t give any further details of the
encounter; he just laughed. The families probably would
have had interaction in town.
As was the case with her future husband, Aunt
May decided early her future was in America. She was not
the oldest, but she was the first in her family to leave home.
When her Uncle James Toher (Tucker) agreed to sponsor
her, she began making plans.
Like Uncle Pete, she left County Mayo on the
From the top are the Tierney home in Gallows Hill, the
family's barn there, and the Cregduff School, which Aunt
May attended as a girl. Gallows Hill, currently known as
Clover Hill, is located about a mile from Cornaroya along
the Convent Road.
Claremorris train. Unlike Uncle Pete, May still needed to
stop in Dublin to submit her paperwork and get her
physical. Her visa was awarded Oct. 12, 1925, less than a
week before she would sail from Cobh.
Aunt May’s parents and younger sister Una went
along to see her off to America. Una was about nine at the
time. The RMS Celtic was scheduled to leave Cobh on Oct.
18, 1925. Aunt May had a second-class cabin, and in the
Aunt May was 20 years old when she came to the U.S.
Her first job was with the Sexton family. She did domestic
work and lived with the family at 2000 Woodlawn Ave.,
Wilmington, at right.
hours before the ship sailed, she was allowed to give her
parents and sister a tour of the luxurious ocean liner. The
Celtic looked like a palace, and Aunt May and the others
had never seen anything like it. They were amazed at the
splendor; the tour could have gone on for hours and no one
would have complained. Except, perhaps, Aunt May, who
must have been anxious to start the biggest adventure of
her life. After waving goodbye to her family, Aunt May left
Cobh and Ireland for her life’s odyssey in America.
As the Celtic approached the U.S. Coast, it began
having mechanical problems. As a result, the ship had to
dock in Boston instead of New York. It landed in
Massachusetts on Wednesday, Oct. 28. Aunt May had to
catch a coastal steamer south.
Aunt May stayed with her Uncle James, at 110 N.
Franklin St. in Wilmington. At the time, James’ wife, Nora
Mahan, and daughters Mary (who would be the godmother
to Aunt May’s daughter) and Katherine would have been
living there. Nora may also have been expecting their next
child, Helen. Still, the Tucker family happily welcomed
their newly arrived relative.
Aunt May soon got a job with the Sexton family,
who lived at 2000 Woodlawn Ave., Wilmington, near
Rockford Park. She worked as a domestic and lived with
Aunt May’s older brother Jack arrived in America
in 1926 and her sister Delia in 1930. May and Delia usually
attended Mass at St. Ann’s in Wilmington. But one Sunday
in 1932 they had occasion to attend services at St. Patrick’s.
At the time, the average American male height was 5 feet 8
inches. So, it would have been easy to notice the 6-foot-tall
Pete Gallagher in the congregation. Aunt May and her
sister certainly noticed the tall Irishman and recognized
him from Ballinrobe. After Mass, they called out to Uncle
Pete. Pete and May quickly developed a friendship and
realized they had a lot in common.
By 1933, they were a couple, and talk of marriage
quickly ensued. A decision was made to return to Ireland to
announce their upcoming nuptials. They arrived in
Ballinrobe for a two-and-a-half-month visit on July 21,
1933. The visit would have given both Pete and May a
chance to reconnect with their families. All four of their
parents were still alive. But things would have been
significantly different, particularly for Uncle Pete. In the
six years since he had emigrated, Pete’s younger brothers
and sisters would have changed dramatically. Jim and Tom,
Uncle Pete and Aunt May returned from their 1933 trip to Ireland on Oct. 9. They are standing at the far right in
this photo with some of their shipmates on the S.S. Stuttgart, which sailed from Galway.
boys of 15 and 13 when they last saw Pete, were now
young men. Owen was 17. And Ann and Mary, young
children in 1927, were now 12 and 11 years old,
respectively. Nora, two years older than Pete, was still 15
years from her own marriage. Uncle Owen remembered his
older brother’s trip home. Uncle Pete bought him a new
bicycle. This was not a toy; a bike was serious
transportation in those days, and it was much appreciated.
Uncle Pete and Aunt May returned to the U.S. on Oct. 9,
1933, on the S.S. Stuttgart out of Galway.
MR. & MRS. GALLAGHER
Not long after returning from Ireland, Aunt May
and her brother Jack purchased a house at 704 N. Clayton
St. The settlement was for $4,200 on July 13, 1934. A
probable explanation for why Jack was involved is Aunt
May and Uncle Pete couldn't get a mortgage for the house
themselves because they weren’t yet married. Neither could
get the mortgage alone because their incomes weren't large
enough; and it was also rare at the time for a single woman
to be allowed to buy any property. To get around those
issues, Aunt May and Jack co-signed for the mortgage.
After the wedding, Uncle Pete bought out Jack. Such a
maneuver uses the credit history of a “straw buyer” to get a
loan for someone unable to qualify otherwise. This level of
financial acumen was impressive for a couple with limited
formal education and less than a decade in their new
Ten weeks after the purchase, on Sept. 26, 1934,
Uncle Pete and Aunt May were married.
The Rev. John J. Bolen led the 8 a.m. wedding
ceremony in the basement at St Ann’s School. Pete’s
brother Pat was best man, and May’s sister Delia the maid
of honor. Among their wedding gifts was a white linen
tablecloth from Ireland. The wedding was in the school
because of extensive renovations at St. Ann's Church,
located at Gilpen Avenue and North Union Street. From
1933 to 1935, the building’s 28 front steps were removed,
as was the upper church floor. The work left the basement
as the new floor of the church as well as the new entrance
level. New Gothic pews were added along with a new,
lower ceiling. The renovations were complete by the time
Aunt Delia and Uncle Mike were married there in 1937.
For that ceremony, changes to the building weren’t the only
difference. On the fine Indian Summer morning of Pete’s
wedding, Aunt Delia had to be rousted out of bed to get
ready for the early ceremony. Her comment was, “Who gets
married at 8 o’clock in the morning!” Her own wedding,
three years later, began at 8 o’clock – in the evening.
After their nuptials, Uncle Pete and Aunt May
hopped in their Essex and drove to Niagara Falls for their
honeymoon. Their daughter Mary can remember a painting
of Niagara Falls, on velvet, they always kept in the house
as a reminder of that trip.
Uncle Pete and Aunt May absorbed a great deal
about America from their employers. Both worked for a
time with the Sexton family in Delaware, Aunt May before
their marriage and Uncle Pete a little later.
The Sextons were originally from Virginia and
made their fortune building bridges in the South after the
Civil War. By the twentieth century, the Catholic family
had relocated to Delaware. Aunt May worked for a brother
(John) and two sisters (Isabel and Dora). They had the first
gas stove Aunt May had ever seen. John Sexton taught her
how to light the stove. More importantly, he shared his
knowledge of finances and the stock market. He always
advised them to invest in good companies for the long haul
and not to try and time the stock market. His most vigorous
counseling was against the practice of “buying on margin,”
which led to tragic losses for investors when the stock
market crashed in late October 1929. The market lost more
than 40 percent of its value in a few days. A concerned
John Sexton asked Aunt May if she was going to be OK.
She replied, “Oh, yes, Mr. John, I will be fine. I paid cash
for my stock.” Pretty calm for a 24-year-old single woman
in a new country, who may have seen half of her
investments wiped out.
Aunt May was in it for the long haul. She
continued to invest and heeded Mr. John’s advice against
borrowing from a broker to buy more stock than you could
otherwise afford. The conversations about finance with the
Sextons helped cement the notion to never buy on credit.
Her daughter Mary can remember Aunt May encouraging
her to invest in the stock market by opening a brokerage
account and setting aside a little money each month from
her paycheck. She was not to make a purchase until enough
money was set aside.
Aunt May was fond of the Sextons. Mary can
remember visiting the family into the 1940s and 1950s.
Dora married a dentist, J. Draper Brown, and they had a
daughter named Isabella. Eventually, the sister Bella
became wheelchair bound because of rheumatoid arthritis,
and the family installed an elevator in the house for her.
Aunt May only left their employment, when she and Uncle
Pete were expecting their first child.
The ship manifest from May Tierney's trip to Ireland
in 1933 lists her as 5 feet tall, with a fair complexion,
brown hair and blue eyes.
Sometime in the mid-1930s, probably through
Aunt May, Uncle Pete began working for the Sextons as a
chauffeur. He would travel as a companion with John
Sexton and other male friends of his employer to famous
horse-racing tracks, such as Aqueduct in New York or
Pimlico in Baltimore. They also visited the famous Palmer
House hotel in Chicago and the 1939 World’s Fair in New
York, where the theme was “The World of Tomorrow.”
Uncle Pete would be invited to eat with the group, and John
Sexton would often give him money to bet at the various
tracks. Uncle Pete was a stylish dresser on his own, but he
would have picked up even more fashion tips from being
exposed to these wealthy gentlemen. Along with all the
high life, Uncle Pete played an important role related to the
trust put in him by John and his sisters. Uncle Pete
apparently had the OK to take away John’s wallet if the
spending on gambling and drinking went a little too far.
Before his wedding, Uncle Pete had worked for
the Spruance family. They had a house on 17th Street in
Wilmington but were building a large home in Centerville.
Uncle Pete worked on the construction of the new home,
but unlike his brothers Pat and Jim, that was not his
preferred sort of work. At the time, Uncle Pete had a room
directly opposite the entrance to St. Anthony’s Church at
A wedding photo shows the couple with the maid of honor, Aunt May's sister
Delia, and best man, Uncle Pete's brother Pat. The ceremony was in the
basement of St. Ann's School in Wilmington. The church was being renovated.
Ninth and DuPont streets. The large, three-story brick
building he stayed in was eventually sold to the church to
use as a convent. But in Uncle Pete’s time, it had a bar on
the ground floor called Mullarkey’s. During the week, he
may have stayed at the construction site in Centerville.
Uncle Pete also worked for a time for Blue Hen
Dairy, on Union Street near Eleventh. He was a milkman,
with his route in Dobbinsville, just south of New Castle,
close to the Delaware River. He also was a night watchman
at the Brandywine Zoo along Brandywine Creek. The job
may have been a little eerie, with the noises from the
monkey cage, exotic birds, bears and alligators at the
bottom of Monkey Hill. Uncle Pete got a revolver when he
worked at the zoo. Apparently, all of the crazies in the park
weren’t behind bars. Uncle Pete worked there for only a
few nights; a better situation must have blossomed.
However, he kept the gun almost his entire life. Mary
remembers finally getting rid of it in the early 1980s.
A NEW FAMILY AND A BAR
After their marriage, Uncle Pete and Aunt May
lived at the two-story Clayton Street home she had
purchased with her brother. Jack Tierney lived there until
he married Loretta Slavin. (“Lovie” was a nurse at St.
Francis Hospital.) The Gallaghers also had one boarder, a
Mr. McSorly. It’s unclear how long he stayed, but he was
certainly gone by 1940. Aunt May sometimes wondered if
the extra income from one boarder was worth the extra
laundry and cleaning.
In 1937, Peter John, the first of the next
generation of Gallaghers, was born. An early memory for
his parents was the expression of wonder in his eyes as he
was carried downstairs and saw the lights on the family
Christmas tree in 1939. Mary Theresa came along in 1943.
Both Pete and Mary were born at 704 N. Clayton. The
family collie, Lassie, was added a few years later. In the
meantime, Uncle Pete sponsored Uncle Tom to come to the
United States in 1940. Uncle Tom would live briefly with
the family on Clayton Street.
In May 1944, Uncle Pete and Aunt May bought a
bar for $13,000. It was located at 100 N. Franklin St., just
down the block from where Aunt May had stayed with the
Tuckers when she first arrived in the country.
Mary remembers that before they made the
decision to purchase the business, her mother and her sister
Delia Tierney went to inspect the beer garden. Uncle Pete
may have been working. In any event, Aunt May and Delia
liked what they saw, because shortly after the visit, the
purchase was made. In Wilmington City Directories from
the time, the name of the bar is listed as “Gallagher’s
Café,” although Mary cannot remember anyone using that
name. The family lived in the two stories above the bar. It
was a neighborhood gathering place, and their customers
were their neighbors – men working at the shipyards,
Pullman (train) shops, leather tanning factories and other
small businesses. Saturday nights brought out couples, as
well. The jukebox would be going with big-band sounds.
(Top hits from those years included “Sentimental Journey”
by Les Brown and His Orchestra with Doris Day; Bing
Crosby’s “Swinging on a Star”; and Perry Como’s “Some
Enchanted Evening.”) A shuffleboard table and pinball
machine were there for additional entertainment.
Uncle Pete also provided a banking service for his
customers. Mary remembers going with him to the
Wilmington Trust Bank at 10th and Market streets on
Friday mornings to withdraw enough money to cash
paychecks of friends and neighbors who came to the bar on
Friday evenings. Uncle Pete would then deposit the checks
on Monday morning. He never charged for this service,
which was a clever business strategy in addition to an act
of kindness. It was very convenient for hard-working
customers, who might find it difficult to get to a downtown
bank. It also ensured they would show up every Friday and
Top, Uncle Pete with son Pete on the steps at 704 N.
Clayton St. in Wilmington. Above, Aunt May with young
Pete in Rockford Park.
Uncle Pete and Aunt May bought a bar at
Front and North Franklin Streets in
Wilmington in 1944. They handled most of
the work themselves, but the business was
closed on Sundays, a day reserved for
family outings. At right is the family dog
Lassie outside the bar. Above, are Aunt
May, Pete and Mary on Front Street
(Lancaster Avenue); they lived on the floors
above the business until it was sold in 1953.
Clockwise from above right are Uncle Pete with his son and daughter, a school photo of son Pete from
St. Paul's Elementary School, and two photos of Pete from the early years on North Clayton Street.
At right is Uncle Pete's
daughter Mary Theresa
at her First
Communion in 1951,
St. Paul's May
Procession in 1953 and
her school photo from
1954 at St. Ann's.
Above is Mary during a 1952 visit to see Uncle Pat. The
car is a 1950 Buick Special Deluxe. At right are
portraits of the young family. The top photo is from
Mary's First Communion in 1951.
spend some of their pay on a few beers.
A major move to grow their small business was
the addition of a television set, around 1948-49. Milton
Berle, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, The Voice of Firestone
and boxing matches were a real draw. These weren’t easy
years, with just Uncle Pete and Aunt May, and occasional
part-time help, doing all the work. Uncle Tom would fill in
from time to time. Aunt May worked the kitchen, making
sandwiches for the lunchtime crowd. Both husband and
wife tended bar, alternating to let each other grab a nap.
They worked six days a week, with Sunday the day the
family could go to Gettysburg, Lancaster County’s Amish
country, Valley Forge, Crystal Cave in Reading, Pa., or
Atlantic City, where they loved eating at Captain Starn’s in
the Inlet. Philadelphia trips would have the family visit
cousin Francis Sheridan, his mother and aunts, along with
Pete’s brother Pat and family. In summer, there were
picnics at Valley Gardens and Rockford Park.
Young Pete had started school at St. Thomas the
Apostle at Fourth Street and Bayard Avenue. But after the
move to the bar, both he and Mary attended St. Paul’s
Elementary School at Third and North Van Buren.
Patsy (O’Brien) DeAscanis can remember her
cousin Pete, along with Lassie, making his way up the hill
to their house on Van Buren Street after school. He enjoyed
playing with Patsy and her brother Johnny. Patsy also
remembers when she was about to start eighth grade her
family moved from Van Buren to 27th Street. Patsy did not
want to leave school in eighth grade and was allowed to
finish elementary school at St. Paul’s. That year, she would
go over to the bar many days at noon to eat her lunch. She
Gallagher family visits to Atlantic City would include stops at the Boardwalk, the Chalfonte Hotel and
meals at Captain Starn's restaurant in the Inlet section.
From left are another outing to Atlantic City; Uncle Pete, Aunt May and Mary in Annapolis, Md.; and the family's
first Christmas, in 1953, at 1608 Woodlawn Ave. in Wilmington.
Uncle Pete shows off his roses in the driveway on Woodlawn Avenue. He trained
the bushes to grow up a chicken-wire fence, originally installed to keep Mary's
stray basketballs from destroying the flowers.
would watch Aunt May and her sister fix the sandwiches
for the customers. After school, young Pete would stand at
the end of the bar and wait for his chips and soda. It didn’t
matter how busy his father was, Pete wasn’t moving until
he got his treat.
On one wall at the bar was a pay phone, which
rang with welcome news one particular night in February
1949. Mary remembers her father’s disposition
immediately became cheerful when he answered the phone.
She quickly realized her dad’s brother, Uncle Jim, had
arrived in America. Uncle Pete had sponsored Jim, as well
as Tom and Pat. Jim would stay with the family above the
bar for a few months as he got acclimated to the new
In August 1953, Uncle Pete and Aunt May sold
the bar and liquor license and used the proceeds (about
$35,000) to pay cash for their new home at 1608 Woodlawn
Ave. The yard at the new house gave Uncle Pete the chance
to indulge in his love of gardening. He got the chance to
grow his own plants, flowers and trees. Something was
blooming from the snowdrops in late winter, through the
summer and into fall, when the scarlet sage died back.
Uncle Pete’s roses would benefit from his
ingenuity. When Mary began playing basketball in fifth
grade, the roses were put at risk from stray shots at the
hoop installed on a pole in the shared driveway beside the
house. Mary can remember having to retrieve the ball more
than once with thorns in it. Her father’s solution was to
install a chicken-wire barrier between the hoop and his
flowers. When basketball was no longer played in the
driveway, Uncle Pete trained his roses to grow up the
Uncle Pete eventually passed on his love of
gardening to his daughter, daughter-in-law and, in turn, to
the next generation.
Around the time they moved to Woodlawn, Uncle
Pete and Aunt May took the family on vacation to Niagara
Falls and Canada. Mary can remember Aunt Delia hitching
a ride to Niagara Falls, where her daughter, Patsy, was
babysitting for a couple for two summers when she was a
freshman and sophomore in high school. The couple had
two daughters, then about 3 and 4 years old. Their father
had originally worked for the DuPont Company in Niagara.
He had been relocated to Wilmington but would return to
Niagara to vacation for three or four weeks each summer.
Pete and Mary in their senior pictures from high school. At
bottom are their college graduation photos.
They would bring Patsy along.
After the stop in Niagra, the family continued on
to Canada, where they ran into a snag at the border. Unlike
Uncle Pete, who was quick to get his citizenship, Aunt May
had seen no reason to rush her application. The border
agent said there was no problem letting her out of the U.S.,
however, he didn’t think she would be allowed back. Uncle
Pete and Aunt May did some fast negotiating, and
eventually were able to proceed to Quebec, to the Shrine of
St. Anne de Beaupre, then on to Montreal and Ottawa. The
entire family was able to make it back into the country.
About 1954, Uncle Pete settled into the job he
would keep the rest of his working days. He began as a
chauffeur for the George Edmonds family. Mr. Edmonds’
wife, the former Natalie duPont, was a niece of P.S. duPont,
who created Longwood Gardens. She was the daughter of
Lammot duPont and cousin of future Delaware Gov. Pete
duPont. They had a home in the upscale neighborhood of
Westover Hills. George P. Edmonds was originally from
Massachusetts and went to MIT. He later became president
of Wilmington Trust Bank. The home had a four-car garage
and at least four live-in servants. Uncle Pete worked there
for almost 30 years. At some point in the mid-1960s, the
Edmonds estate was rearranging some landscaping and had
a few young red maples that were not needed. Uncle Pete
was asked if he would like them. He gave one to Uncle Jim
and one to Uncle Tom. The tree in Uncle Jim’s backyard,
50 years later, is still doing well. Jim’s daughter, Margaret,
now owns the house on Sycamore Street. Uncle Jim’s son
Owen actually has two offshoots of the tree at his home in
South Jersey. When Aunt Ann died, the tree given to her
and Uncle Tom also was still doing well on Champlain
Mary can remember an occasion in the early
1960s that further amplified her mother’s aversion to credit.
On a return from Atlantic City, Uncle Pete’s new Impala
was rear-ended. Even though it was repaired, it never again
ran properly. Another car had to be purchased. The second
vehicle was bought on credit because it came so soon after
The family is together for Pete's graduation from Georgetown Law School. Pete went on to work for the Federal
Trade Commission, several law firms, the U.S. Railroad Administration and finally the D.C. Metro System.
announcement of Pete
Gallagher and Judith
Ann Markey was made
in July 1963. It
mentioned she was a
nursing school graduate
on the staff at
Providence Hospital in
the previous purchase. Around that time, Mary had a few
girlfriends at the house. Unknown to Mary, on the table was
the payment book for the car. After the girlfriends left, Aunt
May let Mary know she was horrified the girls would have
seen/known they had to buy the car on credit. There needn’t
have been such worry. Aunt May’s financial sense would
have protected the family from most money problems. To
her, though, it was important to be certain to live within
their means. To that end, Aunt May would even keep cash
hidden under the dining room rug to pay for the periodic
delivery of oil to heat the house.
Uncle Pete and Aunt May’s son attended
Archmere Academy for high school, Mount St. Mary’s for
college, and then Georgetown Law School. In 1963, Pete
married Judy Markey, and a reception was held at the
prestigious Congressional Country Club in the Washington,
Mary and Pete in the garden at Woodlawn Avenue when
she graduated from A.I. duPont High School. Mary
went on to a career with the Dupont Company.
At left, Pete and Judy share a toast at their Dec. 28,
1963, wedding. The ceremony was at the Church of the
Annunciation in Washington. Above, the bride and
groom are with best man Jim Goff and maid of honor
Joan Markey, Judy's sister.
D.C., area. Aunt May’s first cousins – her Uncle James
Tucker’s children Katherine Wirt, Mary Cross, Jimmy
Tucker and Helen Campbell – were all invited. Terry Wirt
(Katherine’s son) described the occasion as follows to Mary
Gallagher: “All four families caravanned down I-95
together. The Wirt children, Mark, Terry and Marilisa, did
not wear their dress clothes down. Instead, they stopped
and changed at Maryland House. Mom and Dad wanted the
kids to look their best at the wedding.” Terry added there
wasn’t a time when the Tucker cousins would get together
that the wedding wouldn’t come up as one of their most
memorable childhood experiences.
When applying for government jobs in
Washington in the early 1960s, Pete was asked why his
mother was not a U.S. citizen. He finally asked his mother
to take the step, and she complied in 1965. During the
celebratory dinner at Columbus Inn, Aunt May’s
granddaughter Kathleen was not as happy as the rest of the
family. She would not stop crying. Her mom and dad took
turns taking her out to the car to pacify her. Soon, Colleen
and Peter were added to the growing family.
Pete’s first job was for the U.S. Government’s
General Accounting Office. After law school, he worked
for the Federal Trade Commission and several law firms,
Uncle Pete and Aunt May take to the dance floor at
their son's wedding reception at the Congressional
Country Club near Washington D.C.
At left, 'Grampy' plays with Pete and Judy's daughter Kathleen. At right, young Pete carves the Christmas turkey
under his father's approving eye.
including one he opened with his father-in-law. Pete also
worked during the Ford Administration for a presidential
commission on statehood for Puerto Rico. He then worked
for the United States Railroad Administration and finally,
until retirement, at the D.C. Metro System. Pete died from
lymphoma in August 2009 at his home in Lewes, Del.
Mary Theresa attended A.I. duPont High School
and Goldey Beacom College. As a summer job out of high
school, she worked for Wilmington Trust, in the mailroom,
then moved to DuPont after college. She worked for the
DuPont Company for 40 years, starting in secretarial work,
then moving to Facilities. She managed the office space at a
time the company was getting smaller with changes in
business direction. Her work group moved 5,000 people a
year for 10 years in New Castle County. At the time,
DuPont was condensing space, reducing leased space and
moving into its own properties. She worked on renovation
projects, and fitted out various offices with furniture,
artwork, and decorative finishes. Mary was fortunate to be
able to walk to work. She was the third member of the
Gallagher family to be employed by the DuPont Company,
following Uncles Jim and Pat.
At some point around 1970, Uncle Pete won a
prize from ACME grocery stores of two gallons of milk a
week for a year. Not having anyone at home to consume
that much milk, he gave the prize to his brother Jim for his
children. Pat, Owen and Margaret thought it was the coolest
thing and very much enjoyed it. Another time, Uncle Jim’s
son Pat had received a pen knife as a present. Soon after,
the family was visiting Uncle Pete’s house on Woodlawn
Avenue when Pat proudly showed off his new knife. Uncle
Pete must have noticed Owen looking slightly deprived. He
went down to the basement and retrieved another penknife
for Owen. Almost 50 years later, the Gallagher boys still
have the pen knives. Mary remembers her mother saying
her father was sensitive to how others felt. Clearly with his
nephew Owen, he was sensitive enough to empathize with
him being left out. Pat, on the other hand, bragging about
the knife, may have required slightly more sensitivity
NOT AN ENDING
As they aged, Uncle Pete and Aunt May moved in
1982 to Ingleside, an apartment building for senior citizens
on North Franklin Street in Wilmington. Uncle Jim’s son
Pat worked there as a cook while he was finishing high
school and going to college. He got the job through Uncle
Mike O’Brien, who brought the place a touch of class when
he worked there as the maître d'. He always wore a tuxedo.
Uncle Pete hikes along Brandywine Creek in Wilmington with
granddaughters Colleen and Kathleen.
From top, 'Granny' with grandson Peter in
1976; 'Grampy' with Kathleen in 1965; and
both grandparents with Kathleen on her
Ingleside’s reputation may have slipped a little with Pat at the ovens.
About the same time, Uncle Pete began complaining of fatigue
and general pain. That December, his daughter took him to his
neurologist, who noticed a growth on his chest. A couple days later,
Uncle Pete asked Mary to take him to the hospital. At St. Francis, the
lump was diagnosed as lung cancer. By late January, he was transferred
to the Wilmington General Division to undergo radiation treatment. A
few weeks later, John and a very pregnant Cindy O’Brien arrived at the
same hospital to have Cindy admitted to the maternity ward. During a
huge snowstorm, Cindy gave birth to their daughter, Casey “Storm”
O’Brien. Mary can remember visiting the nursery with Aunt Ann to see
A few days later, Aunt May received a call from Uncle Jim who
was visiting his brother at the hospital. He informed her officials were
having trouble contacting Mary and asked Aunt May to get hold of their
daughter. Mary soon arrived and saw her father’s condition was serious
enough to call her brother. Pete immediately left Washington and quickly
got to Wilmington. Fearing it would be a long night and not having eaten
all afternoon, Pete and Mary slipped out to find a bite to eat. While they
were gone – never fearing to try anything new on his own – Uncle Pete
quietly slipped away. Mary said she could tell something was wrong as
she and Pete were walking down the hall back to her father’s room.
When they walked in and her fears were confirmed, Mary could feel her
knees buckle. Pete was by her side to support her.
Uncle Pete died Feb. 14, 1983. He was laid to rest
in Cathedral Cemetery next to his sister Delia. Mary recalls
Mr. Edmonds, his long-time employer, stopping by her
office at DuPont to express his condolences and sympathy.
Aunt May then lived by herself at Ingleside for
about three years. When she needed more help, she moved
to Foulk Manor South, an assisted living/nursing home on
Foulk Road. Aunt May lived there for three years. She was
in the assisted-living section the majority of the time but
was feisty until the very end. On the morning of her death,
she reprimanded the nurse’s aide for watching over her too
closely. She quietly passed away in her bed later that day,
Feb. 15, 1990.
Uncle Pete and Aunt May’s grandchildren, now
have children of their own:
Kathleen married Tim Jeffery, and they have two
children, Patrick and Erin;
Colleen married Thad Ward, and they also have
two children, Taylor and Connor;
Peter married Heather Nienhuis, and they have
three children, Ben, Emma and Ally.
MAY TIERNEY'S FAMILY
TIERNEYS AND TOHERS
As far back as anyone can
remember or document, the Tierneys came
from Carrowmore off the Convent Road near
Ballinrobe. The Tohers came from
Ballynalty, a few miles to the south, just over
the Mayo County line in County Galway.
Martin Tierney had about 9 acres in
Carrowmore at the time of the 1850
Griffith’s Land Valuation. Michael Toher had
about 50 acres at the same time in Ballynalty.
As was the case with the Gallaghers, they
leased their land from a landlord.
Aunt May’s paternal grandparents
were William Tierney and Mary Kelly, both
born in the 1830s. Mary lived until 1902 and
William until 1924. Her maternal
grandparents were Denis Toher and Biddy
McHugh. They were a little younger, both
born in the 1850s. Denis died in 1931, Biddy
19th CENTURY IRELAND
In the 1800s, Ireland was a very
different place. The country was still under
British rule, and in rural areas, the majority
of people worked for their landlords for a
pittance. They were not even permitted to
speak their own language. The houses were
often little more than small stone shacks with
Aunt May's mother, Mary (Toher), and father, John Tierney,
married April 17, 1902. They met when Mary's bike got a flat
tire and John came to the rescue.
This photo shows Aunt May's parents, John and Mary Tierney, and three of her siblings: from left, Joe, Una
Bernadette Cafferky, Aunt May’s niece who
still lives near Hollymount out the Convent Road,
offers the following portrait of her ancestors from
They had no running water. The fireplace
provided the heat for the house and was the area for all
the cooking. The doors to the bedrooms would be left
open to allow heat to pass through. A crane was set in
the fireplace, and all cooking and baking was done
over an open fire, which was usually made from turf.
(Turf, or peat, is a fossil fuel made of the partially
decomposed remains of dead plants and trees. It
accumulates in waterlogged bogs and is compacted
over thousands of years.) The houses had no
electricity, so people used candles and, later, oil lamps
attached to the walls. The lamps would cast strange
shadows. Combine that with obligatory ghost stories,
and you might be afraid to ever venture outside at
Bread was baked in an iron box/oven. Coals
were pulled from the fire and the oven placed on a
trivet-like stand over the coals. More coals were then
placed on the lid. This continued until the bread was
fully baked. Brown bread was made every day. White
flour was bought by the sackful. Not to be wasteful,
when sacks were empty, they were washed, and when
a family had four empty sacks they were opened up
and stitched together to make a sheet.
Neighbors visited regularly. The door was
always open, and the visitor would say Beannacht Dia
do gach duine an seo (God bless all here). When the
visitor was leaving, the family would say Beannacht
Leat Agus (God be with you) or Slán abhaile (Safe
Even into the 1900s, family members
generally had two sets of clothes: their Sunday best
and their working clothes. When they returned from
Mass, good clothes were taken off. Occasionally they
were shared with a brother or sister for the next Mass.
Old clothes were patched numerous times. When the
Aunt May, at right, and her brother Jack Tierney enjoy the beach in Atlantic City in 1937. The other
woman's identity is not known. At right, is a more formal photo of May and Jack.
knees could be patched no more, the legs were cut off,
flipped around and sewn back on with the patches to
Women had two shawls – a heavy black one
for every-day wear and a lighter one for Sunday. They
wore heavy knitted socks and sensible, laced shoes or
ankle boots. Their hair was long and usually tied in a
bun. The women were adept at sewing; they would
down-size clothes for younger children and knit into
the night. They had a spinning wheel for turning wool
fiber into yarn. All socks and jumpers (sweaters) were
Babies were born at home. An experienced
local woman would attend to the safe arrival of a baby,
as well as provide after care. A woman also assisted
when an elderly person died.
The donkey was an essential part of a home.
The ass and cart were the main mode of transport,
including going into town for supplies. Bags of wheat
were brought to the mill to have it ground into flour.
Cribs/baskets were put on the cart when bringing home
turf from the bog to prevent it from spilling. The carts
were useful in the bog because they were light and did
not sink in the soft ground.
To deal with cold temperatures, lids from iron
pots were heated in the fire and wrapped in old
blankets and put in the beds. The iron for the clothes
was heated in the same way; coals had to be red hot or
the bottom of the iron would get black and stain the
“American Wakes” were held when a family
member would emigrate. It was often a sad occasion,
sending off a loved one to a country he or she knew
little about except that a relation would meet the
person on arrival and arrange a job. Many of these
emigrants never returned home. At a typical American
Wake, all families in the village would attend to say
what they expected to be their last farewell. Once a
person was gone, the family still at home would await
the arrival of a post with a few dollars or a parcel of
Common items on an Irish farm at the turn of the twentieth century would have been a pot and tongs for cooking
(with the lid often heated and wrapped in a blanket to warm a bed) and the multi-purpose donkey. At right, Mary
Theresa is with Helen and Mary Murray, who lived around the corner from Aunt Delia and Uncle Mike O'Brien.
Their mother was the former Delia Toher, Aunt May's aunt.
clothes from America.
Three of the Toher children immigrated to
America: James, Winnie (Cunningham), and Delia
(Murray). James had his name formally changed to
Tucker after he arrived in America.
By the early 1900s, the Tohers were a
considerably well-off family. They had close to 100
acres and a big orchard in Ballynalty. They owned
their own sire bull.
AUNT MAY’S PARENTS
JOHN TIERNEY AND MARY TOHER
Around 1900, Mary Toher lived with her
parents Denis Toher and Biddy McHugh along with
her siblings in Ballynalty, County Galway, about nine
miles south of Ballinrobe. She was not much more
than 20 at the time. She had an aunt, Ellen (McHugh)
Coleman, who lived in Carrowmore just outside
Ballinrobe. Mary used to bicycle after Mass on
Sundays to visit her aunt. Unbeknownst to Mary, a
young man in Carrowmore had taken notice of her
comings and goings. He was John Tierney, who lived
there with his family. John was not much more than 20
himself. With her honey blond hair and blue eyes, he
thought Mary the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
John would watch every week as Mary came and went
from her aunt’s home. But, alas, he couldn’t think of a
way to get her attention without being too obvious.
Then luck, or Providence, intervened. One Sunday,
Mary’s bicycle tire went flat while visiting her aunt.
Mary thought for a moment she would have to walk
the nine miles home to Ballynalty. But quickly, the
kindest man she had ever met was by her side. Not
only did John fix the tire, but he would go on to marry
her on April 17, 1902. Mary received a gold sovereign
coin from her mother on her wedding day.
John and Mary Tierney had 11 children: Jack
(1903), Mary, aka Aunt May (1905), Delia (1906),
Pake, or Patrick, (1908), Michael (1910), James
Aunt May's brother Joe remained
in Ireland and inherited the
family farm. He and his wife, Sally
(Ferrick), raised six children.
Her brother Jack married Loretta
'Lovie' (Slavin) Tierney. They
lived in Wilmington and had two
children, Loretta and Mary.
Aunt May's sister Una stayed with
her parents in Ireland. She
married Michael Mohan in 1941.
They had eight children, including
(1912), Thomas (1915), Una (1916), Eileen (1918),
Joseph (1920) and Kathleen (1923).
Bernadette is Una’s daughter. She
remembers that her “mam” often referred to her
own father and mother as “Ma and Da.” The Irish
use an “a” for mam, ma or mammy. Somehow, they
have managed to ignore the “mum” world to the
east and the “mom” world to the west. Bernadette’s
“mam” would say how her own father, John
Tierney, worked very hard to support the family. But
even after a hard day on the farm, when he would sit
down to eat his dinner he would lift the younger
children onto his knee and feed them from his own
plate. He would always bless himself before and
after eating and thank God for the food. He would
ask God to bless his wife who prepared it and to
keep his family safe. John was a talented thatcher
and so good at stonework, so neat and particular, he
built all his own stone barns. He took delight in his
vegetable garden and apple orchard. Most evenings
he could be seen in the garden pruning branches or
white-washing the apple trees to prevent any fungus
According to Bernadette, the Tierney home
Aunt May's sisters Delia, left, and Eileen (Tierney)
Browne, center, are with Delia's husband, Pat Hannon,
in Wilmington. Pat was a native of County Galway who
came to Wilmington by way of New Zealand. At right
are Lovie Tierney, the wife of Aunt May's brother Jack,
and her daughter Mary.
in front of the
old Toher home
was one of music, song and dance. All could sing.
Some played the tin whistle, and Uncle Pake played
the melodeon, which is similar to an accordion.
Grandad, she says, would dance the “Broom Stick
Dance,” which involved jumping back and forth over
the handle; it was also called Sean nos (old-style).
Neighbors would attend these barn dances in great
numbers. Bernadette’s mam would say that just when
it was going well, the younger children were called in
to go to bed. Earlier in the evening, the Rosary would
be recited so as not to interfere with the evening’s
When not playing music – and when they
were – all the Irish hated the Black and Tans, English
soldiers sent to Ballinrobe and other areas to fight the
rebellious local population. Some would go as far as to
say the soldiers had been released from a psychiatric
hospital. The older generation didn’t speak much of the
heavy-handed tactics and atrocities of the Black and
Tans they were all-too-familiar with. “They were bad
times,” was a common, understated refrain.
As for schooling, Bernadette’s mother would
tell her of a teacher who would cycle out to meet
children if they were late. They had to run ahead of
him on the rough surface or be caned across the legs.
She said Grandad Tierney met with the teacher to
resolve the situation. However, it had the effect that the
children were ignored in class most of the time. It was
the way children were treated if their parents
complained. Bernadette says her uncles and aunts went
to school bare-foot in the warmer months. With all
this, there is little wonder many left school early and
Jack, Aunt May and Delia Tierney all
immigrated to America. Years later, their sister Kitty
(Kathleen) joined them, and Delia, who married Pat
Hannon, helped her find work. Kitty eventually
returned to County Mayo and was employed locally.
Patrick, Tom and Michael emigrated to England and
later returned and married locally.
Una stayed at her home in Clover Hill and
helped her parents on the family farm at a time when
her mother had heart problems. In 1941, she married
Michael Mohan, a local farmer, and raised four boys
and four girls, including Bernadette. The Mohans had a
family store in Lecarrow that Michael's father started
in the late 1800s.
When Michael Tierney returned to Mayo, he
married and raised two boys and two girls. Michael, or
Mick, and his brother Jim owned a garage and repair
shop on Glebe Street in the 1930s and ’40s. In the
early morning of Jan. 24, 1947, a fire destroyed the
garage and several cars. It was never rebuilt. Jim, who
had seven children, died in 1958. Three years later,
Mick suffered fatal injuries in a road accident. Joe
inherited the family farm and raised six children.
As various members of the family were
leaving home, Bernadette can remember being told her
grandmother Mary (Toher) Tierney would say, amid
tears, “It’s far away they are going.”
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Uncle Pete and Aunt
Kathleen married Tim
Jeffery. They have two
children, Erin and
married Thad Ward.
They have two children,
Connor and Taylor.
Nienhuis. They have
three children, Ben,
Emma and Allyson.
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Uncle Pete and
and Pete, his wife,
Judy, and their
Dublin pub on
their trip to
Ireland in 1992.
Clockwise from left: the cousins take a
ride on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk;
high school graduation photos of Taylor
and Erin, who both now attend the
University of Delaware; two generations
gather for the wedding in Florida of a
nephew of Judy's in the 1990s.
“Mothers hold their children's hand for just
a little while ... and their hearts forever.”
Uncle Pat, at far left, rests in a foxhole on Iwo Jima with fellow members of the 95th U.S. Navy Construction
Battalion, or Seabees, in late February or March 1945. The Seabees built airfields and other facilities throughout the
Pacific Theater during World War II.
He was the strongest man in Ballinrobe, fought the Japanese
on the beaches and in the jungles of the South Pacific, built two homes
with his bare hands, battled malaria and Parkinson’s disease – yet he
would tear up at the very thought of his mother. Pat Gallagher was the
seventh child of Pat and Mary Gallagher. He was born Oct. 20, 1909.
He was baptized by the Rev. Martin Healy at St. Mary’s in Ballinrobe.
His godparents were his mother’s brother John Sheridan and father’s
cousin Margaret Mellet.
Like his brothers, Uncle Pat worked both on the farm and at
the nearby Convent of Mercy.
With his brothers, he attended the Christian Brothers School.
Uncle Pat remembered how the nuns at the convent, when they needed
shown in his
was the fourth
son of Pat and
At left is Uncle Pat's passport photo from 1930. Above
is a letter from Canon E.A. D'Alton, a beloved priest/
historian for 30 years at St. Mary's in Ballinrobe, that
Pat carried to America. It helped him gain employment
help in the fields for harvesting or planting, would collect
boys from the school to assist. Unfortunately, the Christian
Brothers would not give the boys a pass on their
schoolwork. They would then suffer the consequences of
falling behind in their lessons. Corporal punishment was
alive and well.
“Pat was my closest brother growing up,” Uncle
Jim recalled about his slightly older sibling. “We were very
tight and often palled around together. Pat’s nickname was
Cop and mine was Jep.” They shared the same group of
friends: Willie Walsh, Jack Moran and Paddy O’Donnell.
Uncle Owen always said Uncle Pat was “the
strongest man in Ballinrobe. He would lift stones by
himself that would take two other men to lift. Pat and
Jimmy made an impressive pair walking down the street
together; you would not want to tangle with the pair of
Both Uncle Pat and Uncle Jim inherited their
father’s skill for construction and working with their hands.
They could both build or fix anything.
Not yet 21 years old, Uncle Pat sailed for America
on April 13, 1930, Palm Sunday. According to the Cork
Examiner, Masses at the Cathedral Church of St. Colman in
Cobh were well attended that morning. Clocks had been
moved ahead the evening before in anticipation of summer.
But with the change of season came the rains. A storm was
rough that Sunday, with drenching rain and whirling winds
as the Cunard liner Carmania arrived from Liverpool,
loaded its Irish passengers and embarked toward New York.
Uncle Pat sailed third class (steerage), with a
ticket furnished by his brother Pete and at least $50 in his
pocket. Capacity for the Carmania in 1930 would have
been about 1,400 – with around 300 in first-class cabins,
300 in second class and 800 in third class.
Pat Gallagher sailed into New York Harbor a week
later. He was welcomed by much-improved weather, with
sunshine and temperatures above 60. And Easter Sunday
Celebrations aside, he landed in New York City as
the Great Depression was taking hold. The economic
collapse had renewed fears of Irish Catholic immigrants
taking jobs from American-born workers.
It’s difficult to imagine today, with New York and
Boston being so Irish, but at the height of the Great Hunger,
Uncle Pat, back right, and Aunt Nora, second from left, sit in a Cornaroya field with friends in 1928. The second
girl may be Bridie Mellet (or Mellett), the daughter of Margaret (Gallagher). The others are not identified.
around 1850, many Irish immigrants were not received
with open arms in the two cities. Instead, they were seen as
competition for already scarce jobs. It was at that time the
warning “No Irish Need Apply” started popping up in job
advertisements. To his surprise, Uncle Pat found the
sentiment and signs still prevalent in 1930 New York. It
was impossible to find employment. Uncle Pat was
surviving on one donut a day. It was all he could afford.
Fortunately, Uncle Pete, who had arrived in
America a few years earlier and was living in Philadelphia,
knew of a job at a convent there. Uncle Pat relocated to the
City of Brotherly Love and was hired at that convent.
Working in his favor was a letter of recommendation he
brought from Ireland written by Canon E.A. D’Alton, the
parish priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Ballinrobe
from 1911 until his death in 1941. In the letter dated Feb. 5,
1930, the distinguished prelate says he has known Uncle
Pat since his childhood and cites his excellent character.
“He is a quiet, steady, well-behaved young fellow, always
obedient to his parents and always doing his work honestly.
I am quite confident that he will always be faithful to his
employer,” the letter says. It then helpfully adds: “Needless
to add, he has never been in prison or deserved to be.”
(D’Alton also found time to write a three-volume “History
of Ireland” as well as a history of his parish.)
By the late 1930s, Uncle Pat was working at Mt.
Sinai Hospital at South Fifth and Read streets in
Philadelphia. He was living then at 212 Greenwich St., just
a few blocks away. Interestingly, Mount Sinai, which
started accepting patients in March 1905, was originally a
tuberculosis hospital. It was the disease that had taken
Uncle Pat’s oldest brother, Michael, nine years before Pat
sailed for America.
In Philadelphia, Uncle Pat apparently made a
lasting impression on at least one nun. When Aunt Delia's
daughter Patsy O'Brien was working years later at St.
Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del., she knew a Sister
Beatrix, who was in charge of medical supplies. Patsy
recalled she ran a tight ship with a fierce, never-smiling
demeanor. Sister once unexpectedly asked if Patsy knew
Pat Gallagher. “Yes,” Patsy said, assuming she meant Uncle
Jim's first son. “I'm his Godmother.” “No you're not,”
Sister corrected her. She meant the Pat Gallagher she knew
from working in Philadelphia in the ’30s. The no-nonsense
sister may not have been very friendly with everyone at
St.Francis, but she had a soft spot for Uncle Pat.
Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine were
introduced by mutual friends. They were
married Jan. 4, 1941.
At left, Uncle Pat and his brother Pete
pose together on the Atlantic City
Boardwalk. The photo was probably
taken not too long after Pat arrived in
America in April 1930. Pete had
emigrated three years earlier.
ENTER AUNT CATHERINE
Aunt Catherine's mother, Kate Heraty, was born
near Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, in 1879.
After immigrating to America, she married William E.
Oliver on Nov. 24, 1909, at the Church of the Nativity in
Media, Pa. William had been born in Mount Vernon, N.Y.,
on June 23, 1871. He was a barber and Kate a seamstress at
the time of the wedding. Both were living in Elwyn,
Delaware County, Pa., before the marriage.
Their third child, Aunt Catherine, was born April
29, 1913. Her early years were hard ones for the family.
Her father took sick a few years after she was born and
would eventually be hospitalized with paralysis for several
years before he died April 22, 1921. Catherine and her
older brother and sister, William and Patricia, lived with
nearby relatives for a time before their mother was remarried,
to Angel Rodriquez, who had emigrated from
Santander, Spain, in 1916. The new marriage helped
stabilize the family, and Patricia and Catherine were able to
return home. But by that time William had gone to stay
with the family of Kate’s mother, Mary (Connor), near
Westport, Ireland. Kate and Ange would have two children
together, Edward and Joseph. The family would soon move
into the City of Philadelphia, living on Perk Street by 1930.
The standard of living for Aunt Catherine and her
family gradually improved during the 1920s and 1930s, and
by 1935, the family moved to 1011 47th St. As a young
woman, Aunt Catherine enjoyed spending time with her
girlfriends. She especially enjoyed taking trips with them to
Atlantic City, N.J., which was among the most popular
resorts in the country. Around 1940, mutual friends
introduced her to Pat Gallagher of Cornaroya.
Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine married Jan. 4,
1941. Uncle Tom was the best man. The wedding party
included Aunt Catherine’s sister Patricia, her brother
William and her favorite cousin, Marie Heraty. After the
wedding, Aunt Catherine’s mother threw a party for the
newly married couple. Their daughter, Mary Kathryn, can
remember being told it snowed that night and that most of
the party-goers had to spend the night at her grandmother’s
The couple would move to Aunt Catherine’s
mother’s 47th Street home soon after the marriage. The
plan was for Uncle Pat to fix up the large house, while his
mother-in-law and Ange moved to 515 Van Kirk St. in
Philadelphia. It was during that time that Uncle Pat would
have had to register for the military draft. The Selective
Service card lists his address as 212 Greenwich St. in
Philadelphia, but that was crossed out and 47th Street
inserted. The card shows he could always be reached at the
nearest pay phone, at the northwest corner of Second and
Uncle Pat became a U.S. citizen on April 17,
1942, the day after he joined the military.
THE SEABEES, MARY KATHRYN
Uncle Pat, at left in
his official U.S.
Navy photo and
above having some
fun while deployed
in the South Pacific,
from Oct. 20, 1943,
until July 30, 1945.
In March 1942, as America was ramping up for
war in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Navy
formed an outfit called the Seabees. The construction
battalions consisted of tradesmen who could be deployed
individually or in units as the specific project’s scope and
scale dictated. The Seabees received their basic training
with the U.S. Marine Corps, and some Seabees would often
accompany landing forces. Uncle Pat liked to tell his nieces
and nephews the Seabees were the ones who would have
the coffee and donuts waiting for the marines when they
Uncle Pat would have cut an impressive figure in
'SAINTS ON BULLDOZERS'
The motto of the Seabees was “We Build. We
Fight.” The logo printed in the "The Cruise Record of
95th Naval Construction Battalion" in World War II
adds: “We must. We shall. We will.”
A more personal description comes from an
account in the Atlantic Monthly magazine reporting on
three Australian nuns who were freed when the U.S.
military took control of Apamama Island. Edgar L.
Jones reported the nuns said grateful prayers each day
for the U.S. Navy Seabees who were quickly building
an air base on the forgotten corner of the Gilbert
Islands. “To these three sisters, isolated for many years
in a native mission, the Seabees,” Jones wrote, “are
gum-chewing galahads, saints on bulldozers, laughing,
souvenir-crazy, benevolent Yanks who brought them
the twentieth century, complete with refrigeration.”
The Seabees and their bulldozers went on to
the Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima and finally played a
part in the final act of the war on Tinian Island. They
were groups of construction workers, skilled in making
the impossible happen … it just took a little longer
than the difficult. They were not so skilled at military
discipline. Their history comments that whether on
land or sea, they “are probably the despair of the other
more stringently regulated GI branches of the armed
forces, particularly the regulation-loving Army.”
Members of the 95th were often in harm’s
way, but their history lists only one member killed
during World War II. F.R. Jaramilo, SF3C, died April
25, 1945, when the bulldozer he was operating hit an
enemy mine on Iwo Jima. Fifteen others were
wounded on Iwo, with nine awarded the Purple Heart.
The Cruise Record booklet published for
members, family and friends concludes with an
Nearly 29,000 men
served in Seabee
World War II.
Almost 300 were
killed in action and
another 500 in jobsite
anonymous poem titled “Have You Ever.” The stanzas
Have you ever sat sat through a a picture show
While the rain seeped into your trouser, Joe?
Have you ever labored in in mildewed clothes
Or stepped on a lizard with naked toes?
Have you ever stood ’till you thought you’d choke
In In line for ice cream or a glass of of coke
Only to to hear the familiar shout,
“We’re sorry, mates, but we’ve just run out.”
To be just a little more specific,
Have you ever been to to the South Pacific?”
Have your ever wakened in in chilling fright
To the awesome sounds of of the tropic night?
Has your skin ever turned a yellow-green
From the daily dose of of atabrine?
Has sweat ever dripped on your writing pad
While you penned a letter to to Mom or Dad?
Have you ever been tempted to to moan or sob
At the fate of of a lonely, land-based gob?
Have you ever wished you could strip down bare
And roll in in the snow way back there?
If If you don’t think THAT would be terrific
You’ve never been to to the South Pacific.
Uncle Pat, at far right in second
row, was in 6th Platoon,
C Company of the 95th Navy
Above, a photo from the history of the Seabees' 95th
Battalion identifies Uncle Pat as one of those digging up
confiscated enemy paint on Roi-Namur in the Marshall
Islands. At right, Uncle Pat, in the foreground, takes a
seat on a captured Japanese gun in the Marshall Islands.
his Navy uniform as part of 6th Platoon, Company C, 95th
Naval Construction Battalion. When he entered the service
April 16, 1942, he was a 6-foot, 175-pound man of muscle
with gray eyes and black hair.
He was 32 years old when he joined the Seabees,
who were initially made up of skilled laborers who
volunteered to serve. Men were given advanced rank and
pay based upon experience, making the Seabees among the
highest-paid in the U.S. military. The average age was 37.
When some men as old as 60 were able to join despite an
age limit of 50, a presidential order ended voluntary
enlistments. The new Selective Service process resulted in
younger recruits with only basic skills.
Uncle Pat’s foreign service in the Pacific Theater
lasted from Oct. 20, 1943, to July 30, 1945. As he was
preparing to embark, maybe from California or Hawaii, he
received the news he had become a father. Uncle Pat and
Aunt Catherine were blessed with their daughter, Mary
Kathryn, in 1943. Uncle Pat had to be informed by
telegram, simply addressed to the Fleet Post Office (FPO)
in San Francisco, as the family did not know exactly where
he was stationed at the time. Mary Kathryn was born in
what came to be known as Albert Einstein Hospital in
North Philadelphia, even though her mom was living in
West Philly. In 1943, the hospital was simply known as the
One of Uncle Pat’s first stops overseas was Roi-
Namur in the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands
campaign included a series of battles fought from
November 1943 through February 1944. As the Marshalls
were taken, the Seabees built naval bases, fortifications and
airfields on the various islands to prepare for an assault on
the Marianas. One picture from those times shows Uncle
Pat sitting playfully with two others on a captured Japanese
gun. Another shows him unearthing a cache of Japanese
paint as part of a group that includes the 95th’s commander,
William L. Johnson.
His next stop was Iwo Jima. That battle raged
from Feb. 19 until March 26, 1945. Though ultimately
victorious, the American victory came at a terrible price.
According to the official Navy Department Library website,
“The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 American
casualties, including 6,800 dead.” Again, the Seabees
worked alongside the marines clearing jungle and building
A series of photos
show Uncle Pat with
other members of the
Seabees. They were
an outfit with a
reputation for getting
things done ... while
fortifications, airfields and naval bases. “The Japanese
defending the island could not retreat and would not
surrender. Marines would have to fight them cave by cave;
the flamethrower was the most effective weapon on Iwo
Jima. The last two Japanese defenders finally surrendered
Jan. 6, 1949, almost four years after the war ended.”
As the war progressed, with a deadly invasion of
Japan looming, Uncle Pat was sent to Tinian Island in the
Northern Marianas. He and other Seabees began bulldozing
just days after the island was secured. Six runways were
completed within two months, and Tinian soon became the
biggest airbase in the world. This time, the runways were
much longer than what the Seabees were accustomed to.
No one initially would say why, but the reason soon
became apparent. At the same time, the Seabees built docks
to accommodate ships such as the USS Indianapolis, which
was steaming to Tinian to deliver components for “Little
Boy.” The atomic bomb was the focus of the top-secret
mission, with Hiroshima as its target. The extended
runways were designed for the long-range bombers that
would carry the payload to Japan. The Enola Gay would
take off from Tinian on its infamous journey Aug. 6, 1945.
The Japanese unconditionally surrendered after a second
atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.
Uncle Pat, second from left, joins other Seabees in front of the 95th CB Sign Shop, probably on Iwo Jima.
In the meantime, after the Indianapolis had completed her mission, she
sailed for the Philippines. But shortly after midnight on July 30, 1945, she was
torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank quickly. Because of the secrecy of the
mission, a rescue attempt was not immediately launched. Nearly 800 of her 1,200
crew lost their lives, many to sharks. That July 30 was the same day Uncle Pat’s
foreign service ended. The same rules on secrecy would have applied to the ship that
carried him toward home.
Sometime near the end of his service, Uncle Pat contracted malaria. After
he was discharged on Oct. 7, 1945, he had to spend six months in the Naval Hospital
in Philadelphia. For the rest of his life, Uncle Pat would suffer from the dreadful,
mosquito-borne disease. He would sometimes wake in the middle of the night,
shouting and in such a heavy sweat that Aunt Catherine would have to change the
RAISING A FAMILY
Aunt Catherine originally took in boarders in the house on 47th Street. One
of them was a photographer, who used to practice his craft with Mary Kathryn when
Uncle Pat came home from the
service to see his daughter, Mary
Kathryn, for the first time. She is
shown at 9.5 months.
Mary Kathryn, shown with her mother in August 1944 and father in 1948, was her parents' only child. She was born
when Uncle Pat was shipping out for his service during World War II. Below, she is 4 years old.
she was an infant. Eventually, with Uncle Pat off to war, the
house became too much for Aunt Catherine to handle with
a young child. She sold it and moved in with her mother on
Van Kirk Street.
After the war, Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine spent
the late 1940s and early ’50s raising both Mary Kathryn
and the family’s economic status. As the family’s situation
improved, they would move to more affluent
neighborhoods. But they would stay in close proximity to
Kate Heraty and Ange, as well as the families of Ange’s
two sons, Ed and Joe. Ed Rodriquez even purchased Uncle
Pat and Aunt Catherine’s house on Colgate Street.
Extended family would regularly gather at Kate’s
for Sunday dinner. Mary Kathryn remembers those meals
always included her Uncle Ed’s family. Uncle Joe was
living in Buffalo by then. “We were always encouraged to
include boyfriends and any other friend to join us,” Mary
Kathryn says. “(Her grandmother) would make tons of
roast chicken. It was the most missed tradition when she
died. It was always loud and fun and, of course, time for
adults to indulge in their ‘high balls.’” She says her cousins
Uncle Pat and Father-in-Law Ange Rodriguez built 'a beautiful summer cottage' in Ortley Beach, N.J. It was the first
of two houses they built together. The photos are from 1967 of a house they moved to across from the original cottage.
still talk about those times with wonderful memories.
“After I got married, I carried the Sunday ritual to my home
and all were welcomed,” she says.
Uncle Pat and his father-in-law built two houses
together from the ground up – the first at the New Jersey
shore and the second in the Bustleton section of Northeast
They would work in their spare time after their
jobs and on weekends. Uncle Pat bought an old bread truck
that they would drive to the lumber yard, brickyard or
plumbing-supply store, load it up and trundle back to the
job site. They would do everything, except for the finish
work on the masonry. Uncle Pat and Ange would dig and
set the cinderblock for the foundation. They were skilled
carpenters and would do the framing. Likewise, they would
put in all the plumbing and electric lines. They would even
install the cabinetry and fixtures, as well as take care of the
At some point, Aunt Catherine’s mother and
stepfather had purchased a house in Ortley Beach, a barrier
island at the Jersey Shore near Toms River. The house had a
vacant lot next to it that Uncle Pat bought as the site for his
first housing project. Much of the inside was knotty pine.
Mary Kathryn remembers the house as gorgeous. “A
beautiful summer cottage,” she called it. Ange later bought
a larger house across the street, and both he and Uncle Pat
sold their smaller cottages. In his daughter’s eyes, the new
house may have had more room, but it wasn’t half as cute
or charming as the one her father built. In 1962, the “Ash
Wednesday” storm ravaged the Atlantic Coast, including
Ortley Beach. By this time Uncle Pat’s family was in the
Pat and Ange pause for a moment while building his
family's home in Bustleton in the early to mid-1950s.
larger house across the street from the old cottage. It did
not sustain any damage, but the rest of the community was
not so lucky that March. The beach was a total disaster in
the wake of the three-day nor’easter, one of the largest of
the century. Pieces of houses were everywhere; roofs were
completely ripped off. Mary Kathryn’s most vivid memory
of the storm is of a toilet sitting in the sand in the middle of
The second house Uncle Pat and Ange built
together was on Foster Street in Bustleton. Mary Kathryn
thinks the family lived there from her days in seventh to
11th grade, probably 1955 until 1959. They moved to
Glendale Street in 1960, when she was a senior in high
school. She attended St. Hubert’s High School for girls on
Torresdale Avenue. Her cousin Owen Gallagher would
Photos from the Bustleton construction site show Uncle Pat at work in May 1953; with Mary Kathryn; and with
Aunt May, Ange Rodriguez and Uncle Pete.
A 1955 DeSoto Fireflite sits outside the Bustleton home
in April 1955.
marry another St. Hubert’s graduate, Lynn Keough, in
Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine were very friendly
and helpful toward their neighbors. However, social
activities would almost exclusively have been with family,
including Uncle Ed and Uncle Joe. Mary Kathryn
remembers times spent with cousins Connie, Mary, Rita,
Steven and Janice were always fun. Trips to Riverside Park
in New Jersey with Aunt Delia’s family, the O’Briens, also
are well remembered.
Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine came to love world
travel. And Uncle Pat took a liking to first class. When
Mary Kathryn first started working for Allegheny Airlines
(later US Air) she had the benefit of earning free air miles.
She and her roommate Kathy liked to vacation in San Juan.
One time, they asked her parents to join them. Aunt
Catherine was a little hesitant. But Uncle Pat kind of liked
the idea and was eventually able to convince his wife to
come. Since it was a special trip, Mary Kathryn arranged
for them to fly first class. The airlines had male first-class
stewards who wore white jackets and served champagne.
They treated the family royally. Uncle Pat couldn’t get
enough of the special treatment and exquisite service. Both
he and Aunt Catherine had a terrific time.
In 1966, Mary Kathryn was able to get her parents
tickets for a trip to Ireland on TWA out of JFK Airport in
New York. At first, Uncle Pat was reluctant to go. He felt
things would have changed too much in the old country. He
wouldn’t have that many people to see who would
remember him. And most important, his mother had
passed away. But as the time for the trip grew closer, he
warmed to the idea. Everything about the experience turned
out great. Uncle Pat very much enjoyed his time in
Cornaroya, where a brief notice in the June 30 Connaught
Telegraph noted that “Mr. and Mrs. Paddy Gallagher” were
staying with his brother Owen. The paper noted it was
Uncle Pat’s first trip home in 25 years and his wife’s first
ever visit to Ireland.
At the time of the visit, there turned out to be
plenty of old acquaintances for Uncle Pat to see, especially
Willie Walsh. Willie and his brothers and sisters lived just
down the boreen from the old Gallagher home. Peter
Gallagher (Next Door) was just to the left of the old
cottage, with the Walshes the closest house on the right.
When Mary Kathryn arrived a few days after her parents,
Uncle Pat is in the yard outside the old Gallagher home, right, and shed, background, in Cornaroya during his trip
home to Ballinrobe in 1966. It was the first time he had gone home since emigrating in 1930.
Above, Uncle Pat is outside St. Mary's in Ballinrobe
in 1966. The photo at right is from the family's visit
to Italy that same year. At left, Uncle Pat is with
childhood friend Willie Walsh in Galway. Uncle Pat
had the nickname 'Cop' growing up. His brother
Jim was 'Jep' and Willie was 'Web.'
Mary Kathryn, third from left, is surrounded by her cousins at
a 1951 party celebrating Mary Theresa's First Communion.
From left are Mary Theresa, with her Toni Home Permanent
Doll; Patsy; Mary Kathryn; an unidentified friend; John; and
Pete, with his dog Lassie. In the back at the photo at right from
the same party are Uncle Pete, Aunt Delia and Uncle Pat. In
front are Aunt May and Aunt Catherine, seated next to Mary
Theresa's doll. On the mantle is a photo of Aunt May's sister
Delia (Tierney) Hannon. Below, Mary Kathryn celebrates her
Above is Mary Kathryn
in 1960 and at right
graduating from St.
Hubert's High School in
Philadelphia. Far right,
Uncle Pat and Aunt
Catherine are with
Uncle Jim, Uncle Tom
and Aunt Ann at their
nephew John O'Brien's
1967 graduation from
La Salle in Philadelphia.
Willie Walsh picked her up at the airport. In 1930, Willie
had been one of the last people to see Uncle John in
Kilmaine the night he was killed on his bike. Willie would
have been about a year younger than Uncle Pat and a year
older than Uncle Jim. All in all, the trip was fantastic, and
Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine could not wait for their next
excursion. Soon they were using Mary Kathryn’s air miles
again and again. They flew to Copenhagen, Rome, Spain
They couldn’t get enough of it.
On a visit to Rome, a naïve Mary Kathryn saw a
few boys fishing coins out of the Trevi Fountain. She
thought they looked like they were having fun, talked with
them for a few moments, and decided to try it herself. The
next thing she knew, she heard sirens and noticed the
Polizia heading in her direction. An older man grabbed her
arm and told her to quickly come with him. A moment later,
the officers stopped them and questioned the gentleman. He
replied, with an unusual air of confidence, “Sir, you have
insulted me. This is my wife and we are out for our evening
stroll.” The police apologized and allowed the pair to go on
their way. The gentleman then reprimanded Mary Kathryn,
stating, “It is illegal to take coins from the fountain; you
will get yourself arrested!”
It turned out the man was the famous Italian
movie director Franco Zeffirelli. At the time, he was
directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1967’s
“The Taming of the Shrew.” Zeffirelli gave Mary Kathryn
his card and told her, “If you can be at this studio on this
date, I will give you a spot as an extra in my movie.” Of
course, Mary Kathryn was thrilled and rushed back to tell
her mother. But Aunt Catherine was having none of it. She
did not want her daughter to work with some Italian movie
director. Aunt Catherine decided they had seen enough of
Rome and should be moving on to Spain. So Mary
Kathryn, her acting career shattered, had to be satisfied
with the knowledge that Franco Zeffirelli had saved her
from la prigione.
In another story from Italy, a friend of Mary
Kathryn’s, Rose Mary, was dating an Italian count. This
count was going to the Italian academy awards and wanted
Mary Kathryn and a friend of his, Gustoff, to double date.
Mary Kathryn, however, did not like Gustoff. So, Rose
Mary convinced the count to arrange a different date. He
Above are sisters-in-law Aunt May and Aunt Catherine
in the 1970s. At right are Uncle Pat visiting Florida in
1967. With him in the bottom photo is Father-in-Law
Ange Rodriguez. The middle photo is at Cypress
Gardens, which was replaced by a Legoland in 2011.
found a French actor who was a friend of his and much
more acceptable to Mary Kathryn. It turned out that actor
won the award for the best male actor. That evening they
went to several banquets and had their pictures taken and
were interviewed by several magazines. Rose Mary and
Mary Kathryn didn’t want to let on that they were flight
attendants on leave from the airlines, so they pretended to
be sisters touring Europe with their parents. Mary Kathryn
never saw the actor again. The next morning, Uncle Pat and
Aunt Catherine had tickets to a Mass with the Pope. Rose
Mary and Mary Kathryn overslept.
BACK IN PHILADELPHIA
When he wasn’t globetrotting, Uncle Pat worked
as a machinist at the DuPont Company’s Grays Ferry
Avenue Plant in South Philadelphia, which made consumer
paints. Uncle Pat used to take the “El” (elevated train) to
work every day. Mary Kathryn can remember her father
working all three shifts.
He was also the neighborhood handyman,
wherever they were. He would help neighbors with
anything – carpentry, plumbing, roofing and painting. If
anyone had a problem, he was there.
Uncle Pat and Aunt
Catherine share a
birthday cake with their
Mary Kathryn remembers the family owning only
one car. When they would visit family in Wilmington, they
would take the train or cousin Francis Sheridan would drive.
For a family with a penchant for world travel, the
Gallaghers of Philadelphia did not travel to Wilmington all
that often. But that rarity made the times when they did
come to visit all the more important. Among the visits were
the marriages of Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine in 1958 and
Pat O’Brien and Leon DeAscanis in 1965, and Uncle Pete’s
son’s college graduation. Pictures and video from the events
show the brothers and sisters interacting as if they were still
living together along the boreen in Cornaroya.
'I’LL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY’
By 1982, Mary Kathryn began noticing a decline in
her father’s health. When she would inquire of her mother
about what was wrong, Aunt Catherine would assure her
everything was fine. Several injuries, including a fall from a
ladder and an accident with a lawnmower, sent Mary
Kathryn to the library researching her father’s symptoms. It
didn’t take long for her to realize he had Parkinson’s
When she went to her mother to inform her, she
discovered Aunt Catherine had known the diagnosis for
some time but had not shared the information because she
didn’t want her daughter to worry. Mary Kathryn almost
immediately brought her parents to Florida, where she could
spend more time with them.
A few years after arriving in Florida, Aunt
Catherine fell ill. She was in the hospital sick for seven
weeks, with Mary Kathryn visiting daily. The day came
when Mary Kathryn had an interview scheduled with U.S.
Air. She initially decided to cancel the interview, but her
mother, as always more concerned about her daughter than
herself, convinced Mary Kathryn she would be fine and
insisted she go to the interview. Aunt Catherine died Aug.
18, 1985. Her obituary notes that her survivors included her
stepfather, Ange, then living in Port Charlotte, Fla.; her
three brothers, William Oliver in Tempe, Ariz., Ed
Rodriguez in Clearwater, Fla., and Joe Rodriguez in
Buffalo, N.Y.; and her sister Patricia Oliver, still in
Uncle Pat’s health had gradually worsened, but
when Aunt Catherine passed away the decline accelerated.
She was his whole world. It was as though he lost the will
A few months after Aunt Catherine passed away,
her memorial stone was delivered and set in place in Sylvan
Abbey Cemetery in Clearwater. Mary Kathryn remembers
that as her father stood over the grave, he said, “Catherine,
I’ll be with you shortly.” That was the last day Uncle Pat
walked. He passed away a few months later, on June 4,
1986, in Pittsburgh. Pa., where he was living with his
daughter. When writing Aunt Mary to inform her of her
brother’s passing, Uncle Jim simply said, “He died from the
same thing mother had.”
NOT AN ENDING
Mary Kathryn has two sons, Shawn and Patrick.
Both were adopted and both were adored by Uncle Pat and
Aunt Catherine. Like any grandparents, they would have
spoiled them as young children and watched proudly as
they grew up. When their health was failing, Uncle Pat and
Aunt Catherine would have been blessed by spending time
with the then-teenage boys and Mary Kathryn in Florida.
Their mother remembers Uncle Pat telling her he
was sorry he once opposed Aunt Catherine’s desire to adopt
because he feared he couldn’t love that child. Mary
Kathryn said he confessed to her he had made a huge
mistake. He said he couldn’t have loved her two boys more.
CATHERINE OLIVER'S FAMILY
Uncle Pat and Aunt Catherine were married in January 1941. From left are Aunt Catherine's brother
William Oliver, her cousin Marie Heraty, an unidentified man, Aunt Catherine's sister Patricia, the groom
and bride, an unidentified woman, and Best Man Uncle Tom.
When she was born in 1914, Aunt Catherine
was the youngest of three children of William and Kate
(Heraty) Oliver. Her brother William was the firstborn,
on Sept. 14, 1910. Patricia was second, born in
1912. While Catherine was still a young child, her
father became ill with paralysis and died April 22,
1921. Kate Oliver did her best to keep the family
together, working as a seamstress and taking in
boarders. But eventually, doctor bills and other
expenses became too much.
In February 1920, William went to live
briefly with his Aunt Mary (Heraty) Corbitt in
Philadelphia. Patricia and Catherine soon went to stay
in Williamsport, Pa., with their Aunt Sarah (Heraty)
Sullivan, who had two young children of her own at
the time. The moves allowed Kate more time to work
and more room for boarders at their home on Carre
Avenue in Essington, Tinicum Township,
Pennsylvania. One of those boarders was a helpful
young man of about 18, who had emigrated from
Santander, Spain, in 1916. Angel Rodriquez would
quickly notice Kate needed help and began to assist in
whatever ways he could. Angel was called Ange by
family and friends.
When William Oliver passed away in 1921,
Kate began to rely more and more on Ange. The two
became very fond of each other and married that same
year, even though Kate was 20 years his senior. The
marriage helped stabilize the family, and Patricia and
Kate were able to return home. But their brother went
to Ireland and stayed for about seven years. He initially
stayed with Kate’s mother and other Connor family
members near Westport, Ireland. While attending
school until sixth grade, he was registered as Liam
O'Connor. He then went to work, eventually living
with his Aunt Nora and Uncle Peter Gavin near the
Mayo, Galway border before returning to America in
Kate and Ange Rodriguez would have two
children together, Edward and Joseph. The family
would soon move into Philadelphia, living on Perk
Street by 1930.
By then, Ange was working as a motorman
for the Electric Company and later for the Philadelphia
At left is Catherine Oliver on what appears to be the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the 1930s. At right is her
Uncle Ed Heraty. He immigrated to America from Ireland in 1906.
Transportation Company. In the early 1920s, rubbertired
technology improved to a point where trolley-car
manufacturers had developed a flexible vehicle that
could avoid motorists and other obstacles. This mode
of transportation carried fewer passengers than a
streetcar but offered more frequent service without the
capital outlay for tracks and equipment. In 1923, the
Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company purchased 10
“Rail-Less” vehicles to test their effectiveness. The
first generation of the vehicles, also known as Trolley
Coaches or Trackless Trolleys, resembled a trolley car
more than an electric bus. The Philadelphia Rapid
Transit Company would merge with several smaller
companies to form the Philadelphia Transportation
Company in 1941. This job allowed Ange to be a good
provider for his family. In 1940, Ange made $1,976,
more than twice the median income for a man that
year, which was only $956.
That was also the year Ange and Kate’s
daughter Catherine married Pat Gallagher, who had
arrived from Ireland 10 years earlier. Being born around
1902, Ange was younger than several of Uncle Pat’s
siblings. Uncle Pat would become very fond of his
HER FATHER’S FAMILY
We know very little of William E. Oliver’s
parents. His father, from Virginia, was also named
William; his mother was Rebecca Frame, originally
from Delaware. Among the scant information is that
William Sr. probably fought in the Civil War and that the
family was fairly wealthy. William E. Oliver was born in
Mount Vernon, Westchester County, New York, on June
23, 1871. William and Rebecca were Protestant and were
not pleased when their son converted to Catholicism and
The Heraty homestead is located near Westport and Crough Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland.
married Kate Heraty, then about 30 years old. They
were upset enough to disown their son.
HER MOTHER’S SIDE
Aunt Catherine’s mother’s family was born,
raised, married and buried in the shadow of Crough
Patrick. As a young girl, Aunt Catherine’s mother, Kate
Heraty, could walk out the front door of her family’s
small cottage and see the holiest mountain in Ireland.
Croagh Patrick (or The Reek, as it is locally
known) is renowned for its pilgrimages in honor of
Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It was on the
summit of the mountain where Saint Patrick fasted for
40 days in 441 AD, and the custom of fasting there has
been faithfully handed down from generation to
generation. The Black Bell of Saint Patrick was a
highly venerated relic on Croagh Patrick for many
years. As late as 1840, you could still pass the bell
around your body three times (for the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit) to cure different diseases. Reek Sunday is
the last Sunday in July. The name “Croagh Patrick”
comes from the Irish Cruach Phádraig, meaning
“Patrick’s Stack.” In the Irish countryside, turf and hay
are traditionally stacked in open-air ricks similar to the
Aunt Catherine’s maternal great-grandfathers
were both from the West of Ireland. John Heraty was
Aunt Catherine's ancestors were from the townland
born in Owenwee, a townland of Wesport. Peter
Connor may have been born near Galway and moved
to Laghloon, the townland adjacent to Owenwee. Peter
Connor married a local girl named Kitty Coyne. They
would have at least 10 children, including Aunt
Catherine’s grandmother, Mary Connor, who was born
Patrick Heraty and Mary Connor had eight
children: Bridget (1872); twins Patrick and Mary
(1874); Sarah (1877); another set of twins, John and
Kate, Aunt Catherine’s mother, (1874); Edward
(1882); and Nora (1891). Kate’s twin John died of
bronchitis at only one month old. There was no
medical attendant available.
Aunt Catherine’s Aunts Bridget and Nora and
Uncle Patrick would remain in Ireland all their lives.
* Bridget Heraty, born April 17, 1872, married Tommy
McLaughlin in 1900. They had at least seven children:
Joseph (1903), Thomas (1905), Catherine (1906), Bridget,
Mary, Sarah (birth years unknown) and John (1914).
* Patrick Heraty, born Feb. 23, 1874, married Mary
O’Malley in 1916. The couple had at least three children:
Mary (1916), Edward (1918) and Catherine (1919).
Patrick’s daughter Catherine married Austin Joyce of
Owenwee in 1944. She served as Uncle Pat, Aunt
Catherine and Mary Kathryn’s tour guide around Westport
in 1966. Patrick Heraty passed away in 1933.
* Nora, born Dec. 22, 1891, married Peter Gavin in 1913.
They had at least four children: Patrick (1915), John
(1916), Peter (1917) and Catherine (1919). They lived in
County Galway near the Mayo border.
Aunt Catherine’s mother, Aunts Mary and Sarah,
and Uncle Edward all immigrated to the United States in
the Philadelphia area.
* Mary Heraty was born Feb. 23, 1874. She immigrated to
America in 1894 and married John Corbitt in Philadelphia
in 1897. They had one son, James, in 1903. The family
temporarily took in Aunt Catherine’s brother, William,
when his father was in the hospital. Ed and Antoinette
Heraty, along with their daughter Antoinette, also lived
there at the time. She would also sponsor and house Aunt
Catherine’s mother Kate when she immigrated in 1902.
Mary (Heraty) Corbitt died July 25, 1930.
* Sarah Heraty was born Sep. 27, 1877, and emigrated in
1893. She married William Sullivan in 1915. They had
two children, Elizabeth (1917) and Howard (1919), and
lived in Johnstown, Pa. Sarah and William took care of
Aunt Catherine and her sister, Patricia, while their father
was in the hospital. Sarah (Heraty) Sullivan died July 29,
* Edward Heraty was born July 11, 1882, and emigrated
in 1906. He married Antoinette Flinn in Philadelphia in
1919, and they had three daughters: Antoinette (1920),
Marie (1922) and Eddy (1929). Marie was in Aunt
Aunt Catherine’s mother was born at 10:30 a.m.
on Dec. 15, 1879. Kate Heraty’s twin brother, John, was
born three and a half hours earlier. John would only
survive five weeks, dying of bronchitis on Jan. 16, 1880.
Kate had about six years of schooling and could read and
write. She sailed for America out of Queenstown, Cork,
on Thursday morning, May 1, 1902.
On that day, Irish papers were optimistic about
Above, Mary Kathryn is at center with, from left,
Rita Rodriguez, Grandmother Kate, Mary Carol
Rodriguez and Grandfather Ange Rodriguez in a
photo from 1957. Below, she is with her
grandmother in 1966 at Ortley Beach, N.J.
peace talks in the Boer War, which would end later that
month. The Belgian steamer S.S. Rhynland, part of the
American Line, sailed from Liverpool, to Queenstown,
and on to Philadelphia. Captain Rogers reported
spotting the wreckage of a tug about 30 feet long on
May 4 at 8:05 a.m. about three days out of port. The
Rhynland brought 53 cabin passengers and 381
steerage passengers, including Kate, on this voyage. It
arrived at the pier at Philadelphia’s Washington
Avenue on Monday, May 12, after a stormy voyage.
Headlines in the Philadelphia Inquirer that day were of
efforts to help victims of a volcano on the Caribbean
island of Martinique; nearly 30,000 people died. In
Philadelphia, Kate stayed with her sister, Mary
(Heraty) Corbitt, who had sponsored her. Kate arrived
in her new country with $5 in her pocketbook.
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Mary Kathryn has two sons, Shawn and Patrick Sullivan. Uncle Pat said it could not have been possible to love his
adopted grandchildren any more than he did.
Mary Kathryn has been with Dave Richardson for 26 years.
Shawn and Christena, above in
California, and below at their wedding.
Mary Kathryn, third from right, was part of the first scheduled US
Airways flight to Dublin. At left is the mayor of Dublin. At right is a
sculpture of a flying pig, created to support victims of conflict in Kosovo.
“The Irish are the greatest people in the world.
Direct descendants of God Almighty.
They are blessed with exceptional intelligence,
courage, good looks and all other qualities
which make for success in America.”
Anonymous, from a confident note about the Irish
found with family pictures kept by Uncle Jim
Uncle Jim with his sons Pat and Owen at the fountain at Josephine Gardens in Wilmington's
Brandywine Park at Easter 1963. Below is Uncle Jim in 1931.
When he arrived in America in 1949, Uncle Jim’s first priority
was to find a job. He told the story of how he was walking past a gravel
yard in Wilmington and thought that was work he could do.
“I can shovel gravel as well as any man,” he recalled. “I went
to inquire and was hired and told to start work on Monday. Monday
came and I went to work, but it was raining and no one else showed up.
In Ireland, if you didn’t work every time it rained a little bit, you would
never accomplish anything. So I had the day free; I figured I better go
find another job.”
He did find another job, at Krueger Brewery behind St. Francis
Hospital. Uncle Jim never went back for Day Two at the gravel yard.
The story is an example of several key aspects of who Uncle
Jim was. He was a person who understood the virtue and dignity of hard
work. And, above all, his showing up in the rain shows the sense of
Uncle Jim with his sister Nora and his friend Jack Moran in front of
Jack's Ballinrobe home, probably in 1931.
responsibility he carried with him from his time in
Ballinrobe to his days raising a family in Delaware.
Uncle Jim was born a middle child, the eighth of
twelve, and the fifth of seven boys. He could have been
overlooked in a large family, but by the time he turned 19,
he would be called on to take a lead role in the home. He
would choose to remain in Ireland to help provide and care
for his mother and father until they died in 1942. Within a
few years of their passing, Uncle Jim would turn over his
job at the nearby Convent of Mercy to his sister’s husband,
leave the family farm to his brother, say goodbye to Ireland
forever and make his way to America. Within a decade of
his arrival, the man whose own family arose out of the
despair of 19th century Ireland would marry a pretty nurse
from Hockessin whose ancestry touched William Penn, the
American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War.
YOUNG MAN IN BALLINROBE
Uncle Jim was born Aug. 8, 1911, although he
would always say he had two birthdays: the one in August
when he was actually born and a second Oct. 11 when he
was officially registered with the civil authorities.
Whichever, he would remember the year as the one when
Britain’s House of Lords lost the veto power over the
House of Commons, which among other consequences
made Home Rule in Ireland all but inevitable. Also in 1911,
the population of the Civil Parish of Ballinrobe had
continued a dramatic decline that began with the Great
Famine. In 1841, the population had been 10,115. By 1851
it was 9,326; in 1911, Uncle Jim became one of only 4,651.
Uncle Jim was baptized at St. Mary's Catholic
Church the day after he was born. The sponsors were his
Uncle Jim sits outside the family home in Cornaroya in 1931. Aunt Delia
was visiting from America at the time.
oldest brother, Michael, and cousin Sarah Gallagher, his
sister Delia's best friend. Like his brothers, Uncle Jim went
to the School of Christian Brothers in Ballinrobe (up until
he was 12 years old, when he finished Primary School,
Sixth Class). He and his brother Pat were very close
growing up. His best friend was Willie Walsh, who lived
just down the “boreen” in Cornaroya. When they were
young, Uncle Jim’s nickname was Jep and Uncle Pat’s was
Cop. Eugene Gallagher’s brother Tommy was about a
dozen years younger than his cousin Jim. He looked up to
him with a feeling of pride and security. “When I walked
through town with Jimmy, I felt as if I were walking with
God,” Tommy recalled.
Uncle Jim never missed Sunday Mass, with one
exception. He told his son Pat the one time occurred back
in Ireland, when a tinker’s donkey got stuck in the river and
was going to drown. Uncle Jim and his brother Owen were
on their way to Mass when they came upon the unfortunate
situation. They stopped to help save the donkey, but by the
time they freed the animal it was too late for church. The
brothers apparently did give a tinker’s damn.
Uncle Owen had many stories to tell about his
brother when Jim’s son Owen visited Ballinrobe during his
1993 honeymoon with his wife, Lynn. One was of losing a
foot race to his much stronger older brother “Jimmy.”
Another was of Uncle Jim and a second man bringing a
load of books to the convent. The sisters told Jim he and his
coworker should hurry back and they would get dinner at
the convent. But the other man decided to eat his meal
where they picked up the books for delivery. Uncle Jim
patiently sat in the vehicle and read one of the books for
about an hour while the other man satisfied his appetite.
When they finally got to the convent, the other man was
ready to unload the books right away, but Uncle Jim made
him wait until after he had a chance to eat his own dinner.
Uncle Jim, like others in the family, lived by the rule that
he would never take advantage of anyone and would not
tolerate anyone trying to take advantage of him.
During their 1993 visit, Uncle Owen showed
Owen and Lynn the nuns’ cemetery around the back of the
Convent of Mercy. There they got a surprise greeting from
Sister Carmel, who Uncle Owen thought had gone away
for the day. She said she saw the threesome walking around
the grounds and recognized young Owen because of how
tall he was. She shared a humorous story of Uncle Jim once
digging a grave after one of the nuns had passed away. He
was using the rocks dug up clearing the plot to build a
nearby wall. As the sweaty work proceeded, a small group
of nuns gathered around to watch Uncle Jim dig through
the difficult soil. More sisters continued to gather as he
toiled under the hot sun. At one point, Sister Carmel
recalled, Uncle Jim paused and looked up at the sisters. He
asked kindly who would be “the next to oblige us” with an
opportunity to dig up more rocks. Sister Carmel chuckled at
The nuns said they wondered how they ever got
along without the Gallagher men and Aunt Nora’s husband,
Pat Murphy. They remembered when Uncle Jim had once
noticed lights moving inside the convent’s school as he was
heading home from town about midnight. They said Jim
knew something was wrong, waited for the kids to come
out the door, then chased after and caught one of them. He
was taken to the priest, but the police were never called.
Uncle Jim’s rule about others trying to take advantage
extended to friends, family and employers.
By 1930, Uncle Michael had died of tuberculosis
and Uncles Pete and Pat had gone to America. When Uncle
John was killed in a fall from his bicycle that September,
Uncle Jim would leave working in the bogs forever and
take Uncle John’s place at the convent. At the time, our
grandfather was 65 years old and our grandmother would
have been dealing with Parkinson’s disease, leaving it to
Uncle Jim to assume more responsibilities as the oldest son
still living at home. Aunt Nora would have helped with the
running of the house. Uncle Tom would have been only 16,
Uncle Owen 14, and Aunt Ann and Aunt Mary under age
10. This is where another rule came into play –
Uncle Jim remained with the family in Ballinrobe
Uncle Jim was 37 years old when he left Ballinrobe for
America in 1949.
until after his parents died, Aunt Nora had married Pat
Murphy and his younger sisters were grown. He had come
to the conclusion Ballinrobe economy and the family farm
could best support fewer people and reasoned it would be
easier for him than others to find work in America. So he
gave his job at the convent to Pat Murphy, left the farm for
Uncle Owen and finally headed for a new country in 1949.
He always joked he was a “Forty-Niner,” just 100 years too
late to strike gold. He did not come by ship, as his brothers
and sisters had. Instead, he flew TWA.
Emigrating was not a quick decision … nor an
easy process. By early 1947, Uncle Jim was trying to get
approval for the move. He received a letter that March from
the American Consulate General in Dublin informing him
that because of the thousands of applicants for visas, the
process was facing months of delays. The letter pointed out
that “immigration laws require an alien to prove that he
would have adequate assurance of support for an indefinite
period in the United States, aside from any employment that
might be obtained.” The letter advised him to submit one or
more affidavits from people already in America “who are
willing and able to establish that you are not likely to
become a public charge if admitted (into the country.)”
On July 19, 1948, Uncle Jim was informed all his
Uncle Jim's ticket receipt and baggage claim show he
was aboard TWA Flight 903 from Shannon to New
York in February 1949 with possessions totaling 18
pounds. After his arrival, he stayed on the third floor
of his brother Pete's bar in Wilmington. Shown
sitting on the steps is his nephew Pete, who nine
years later would be in Uncle Jim's wedding party.
paperwork was in order – so far – and his application for a
visa to become a permanent resident of the U.S. was
“satisfactory.” But he still had to wait to be scheduled for
an appointment to make his formal, in-person application in
Dublin. “No advance assurance can be given that your visa
will be issued, even if all your documents are complete, as
it is not possible to determine whether you are qualified in
all respects until you have been formally examined.” Uncle
Jim had those words of warning to worry him until his visa
was formally approved months later after he was “fully
examined” during his consular appointment at 15 Merrion
Square in Dublin.
It was the following February that he boarded
Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc. Flight 903 from
Shannon to New York. The air fare was $317.50. His
baggage tag indicates he brought only 18 pounds of
possessions with him as he headed for his new life. He was
greeted in America on Thursday, Feb. 3, 1949, by his
In the U.S., Uncle Jim first stayed with Uncle Pete
in Wilmington, briefly living above the family’s bar,
Gallagher’s Pub, at Front and Franklin streets. It was at that
address where he received mail from the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service. Patsy (O’Brien) DeAscanis
remembers Uncle Jim bringing her an Irish Rosary in a
white leather case with “From Cobh” stamped on it and a
lanyard stitched round with orange. It was a gift he
purchased for her before leaving Ireland. She gave it to
Uncle Jim’s daughter, Margaret, when Uncle Jim died.
Along with finding a job, one of Uncle Jim's first priorities
in America was to organize his brothers and sisters there to
help Aunt Nora and her new husband buy their own home
back in Ballinrobe.
Later in 1949, Aunt Ann arrived in America and
moved in with Aunt Delia's family at 610 N. Van Buren St.
in Wilmington. In November, Uncle Tom purchased a home
at nearby 611 N. Broom Street, where Jim and Ann would
eventually join him. That Christmas must have been a
grand time, with five of the siblings reunited at the holidays
for the first time in decades. Patsy remembered Uncle Jim’s
reaction to the gift she received that year. She said that by
that time – she was 10 – she was growing out of wanting to
receive a doll from Santa. But this one was unique. “My
mother was the best gift-giver,” Patsy recalled. “It was as
tall as I was. A great big rag doll, with big yarn braids. And
Uncle Jim … I can still see him standing in the hallway to
the living room and laughing at that doll and commenting
on the size.”
Another memory of Patsy’s from the time was of
her Uncle Jim intervening when she and brother Johnny
were asking their father to take them to see a cowboy
movie. To their surprise, Uncle Jim offered to take them, so
off they went on the No. 8 bus to Market Street and The
Grand Theater. Once there, Uncle Jim changed the plan a
bit. He bought only two tickets to the cowboy movie and
explained he would be next door at Loew’s Aldine Theater
watching a different movie. Patsy remembered him walking
her and Johnny into The Grand to see where they would be
sitting, then he told them he would come back when their
movie was over. And so he did. On the way back to the
corner bus stop, Patsy said she looked at the Loew’s
marquee to see what was playing, and there was a poster
for the movie “The Asphalt Jungle” featuring an alluring
young Marilyn Monroe. That led Patsy to think that she had
a very modern uncle, to be sure.
By the early 1950s, Uncle Jim, Uncle Tom and
Aunt Ann were living on Broom Street, and Aunt Delia and
Uncle Mike had moved to 27th Street. As a distraction
from the multiple jobs they worked, Jim, Tom and Ann,
who all had an affection for horse racing, would often
travel to various racetracks before Uncle Jim was married.
One of their favorites was Saratoga in New York. In later
years, Uncle Jim would always watch the Triple Crown
races with his sons. They can also remember going to
Delaware Park and Brandywine racetrack as a family.
On Nov. 11, 1954, Uncle Jim made the front page
of the Evening Journal newspaper, along with 75 others
who took part in a large naturalization ceremony that
Veterans Day in U.S. District Court in Wilmington. “We
welcome you,” Chief Justice Sutherland told the new
citizens, “because you have shown the will and the courage
When Uncle Jim first met Aunt Catherine in the 1950s
he was a brew master at Diamond State Brewery.
to seek in America the thing for which America has always
stood – equality of opportunity – the right to go as far as
your character and abilities will take you, in a land whose
idea is that the great and the small will be equal before the
law. No matter how far we fall short of reaching it, it is still
our ideal and we will strive to attain it.” Uncle Jim’s
certificate of naturalization lists his complexion as light, his
eyes blue, his hair dark brown, his height 6 feet and his
weight 166 pounds.
Uncle Jim’s first job in his new country was at the
Krueger Brewery, where his brother Tom and sister Delia’s
husband, Mike O’Brien, also worked for a time. From there
he moved on, at least by 1955, to Diamond State Brewery
at Fourth and Adams streets in Wilmington. He was a brew
master at Diamond State, which was eventually closed to
make way for the construction of I-95. From there, Uncle
Jim moved on to the DuPont Experimental Station, where
he was a millwright. His son Pat remembered his father
telling him that soon after starting at DuPont, he
for the four garage-door windows repeatedly shattered by
street-hockey balls; and a removable picket on a wroughtiron
fence to provide access from the backyard to the
cemetery behind the home to retrieve so many basketballs.
The last was in response to a friend of Pat and Owen's who
impaled his hand on the spiked top of one such picket while
climbing over the 6-foot fence.
ENTER CATHY HOOPES
Aunt Catherine worked in the Emergency Room at St.
Francis Hospital as a young nurse in the 1940s and '50s.
encountered a “back slapper.” The guy liked to go around
and smack people hard on the back and say, “How ya
doin’?” Uncle Jim didn’t much care for it and several times
asked the man to stop. But he didn’t. The back-slapping
went on for about a week, until Uncle Jim finally decided
he’d had enough. The next time the guy slapped him, Uncle
Jim kicked him in the “rear end” as hard as he could and
sent the man flying across the room. The guy never slapped
Uncle Jim’s back again.
Along with taking several secondary jobs in the
evenings, Uncle Jim worked at the Experimental Station
until he retired, perfecting many skills along the way, from
plumbing and electrical work to pipe-fitting and masonry.
At home he would fix anything that went wrong. He also
had a talent for engineering his way around many problems
created by his growing children. They included: attaching
protective metal guards around often-broken light bulbs in
the basement; a chicken-wire net to protect a neighbor's
flower bed from errant basketballs; Plexiglass replacements
It so happens that Pat Hannon was married to
Delia Tierney, the sister of Uncle Pete’s wife, Aunt May. In
the mid-1950s, Pat Hannon worked at St. Francis Hospital,
where Cathy Hoopes was the head nurse in the Emergency
Room. Fancying himself somewhat of a matchmaker, Mr.
Hannon saw the opportunity one March 17 to bring
together Miss Hoopes and Jim Gallagher, whom he knew
through Aunt May. He had informed Uncle Jim of his plan
in advance of a St. Patrick’s Day gathering, and once there
he danced Aunt Catherine over to meet her future husband.
As their relationship blossomed, it came time for
Uncle Jim to have Miss Hoopes meet his family. Aunt Delia
was the family matriarch, so Uncle Jim made arrangements
to bring his girlfriend to his sister’s house, where the
family, who did not yet know the woman’s name, waited
that Sunday with great anticipation. Aunt Delia’s daughter
Patsy had some trouble getting off work at the St. Francis
Hospital Emergency Room for the big event because,
predictably, the beloved head nurse there had already taken
the day off – for reasons unknown to Patsy. Patsy
eventually did find another nurse to take her place and was
home when the big surprise happened. Now, Patsy’s father
knew Cathy Hoopes as well. He had worked at the Krueger
Brewery, which was located behind St. Francis, and would
often bring injured employees of the brewery to the ER.
Uncle Mike was just as much in the dark as his daughter
about the girl Uncle Jim was bringing to meet the family.
When Uncle Jim and his friend finally arrived at the
O’Briens’ and the door was opened, Aunt Delia was startled
by her husband's and daughter's excited shouts of “Cathy!”
before Miss Hoopes was even introduced.
YOUNG AUNT CATHERINE
Aunt Catherine was born Nov. 26, 1920, to
Margaret (May) and Bayard Hoopes in Yorklyn, Del. The
family moved around, going to Deepwater, N.J., and
Wilmington before settling in Hockessin by 1930. She had
a younger sister, Ann, and two younger brothers, Francis
In 1934, Aunt Catherine, in hat at left, was among the last class to graduate from St. John's
School in Hockessin. To her left is her Aunt Elva's youngest sister, Dot Barto. At center is
Monsignor Grant, who had founded the school nine years earlier.
When Aunt Catherine made her First
Communion, the family lived at 1720
Hancock St. in Wilmington.
School pictures show Aunt Catherine in
1933 at St. John's in Hockessin, above,
and at left, at St. Ann's in Wilmington
in third and fourth grades.
Aunt Catherine, front row left, with her graduating class from
nursing school at St. Francis Hospital on Sept. 1, 1942.
A young Aunt Catherine relaxes with an unidentified friend.
Aunt Catherine spent time at the beach in Wildwood with friends
she knew from working at St. Francis Hospital in the 1940s. At
right she is with Dr. Bob Boyd and Denis O'Flynn, who may also
have been a doctor.
When living on Hancock Street in
Wilmington, Aunt Catherine attended St. Ann’s
school and church and made her First
Communion. After returning to Hockessin, she
went to St. John the Evangelist Elementary
School, which Monsignor Grant started in the
basement of the church on Valley Road. Father
insisted the students be taught by the Ursuline
nuns. There were only nine children in Aunt
Catherine’s graduating class, five boys and four
girls. Aunt Elva’s sister Dot Barto went to
school with Aunt Catherine. They were in the
graduating class in 1934, the same year the
Aunt Catherine attended Ursuline
Academy for one year, 1934-35. When Conrad
opened in 1935, for seventh through twelfth
grade, she and most of Hockessin’s youths went
there. She went with her sister, Ann, who was a
grade behind. Their brother Franny would soon
follow. Dot Barto and her brother Roy also
attended. Aunt Catherine, who graduated in
1938, and her sister were members of the Oreads
Club, while Catherine also joined the
Commercial Club. Her yearbook said: “Katie
doesn’t like coca-colas and homework,
especially over the weekend. She also seems to
look forward to lunch period and bookkeeping
class. The piano furnishes an outlet for her
emotions. Katie professes a dislike for baseball
and expresses a wish that some people would
learn not to take such a long time to say so
little.” She let one person sign her yearbook, her
cousin Joe Halloran (Class of 1939).
During her high school years, Aunt
Catherine was also a member of the St. John's
Girls Athletic Association in Hockessin. In
addition to Catherine and her sister, the group
included Letty Gormley, Kathleen and Jeanne
McGovern, and Grace and Eleanor Touhey.
They would put on plays, hold fund-raisers and
sing at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. A
brief story in the Wilmington Morning News
from July 1938 noted the group was having a
house party in Rehoboth, chaperoned by Miss
After high school, Aunt Catherine
entered St. Francis School of Nursing. She
graduated Sept. 1, 1942, second in her class and
third in the state. She worked in the Emergency
Aunt Catherine's wedding party begins the short walk down Valley Road to St. John the Evangelist Church
for her marriage ceremony in 1958. From left are nurse and friend Lena Marinelli, ring-bearer Bart Gilson,
Bayard Hoopes, Ann Gallagher, Ann (Hoopes) Gilson and Dot (Hartman) Conticello.
Room at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, and at the start
of World War II was declared essential personnel by the
hospital. Aunt Catherine boarded at the nursing school
residence and continued living there after graduating. It’s
unclear why she and one other girl did so. It could have
been because of the distance from Hockessin to
Wilmington, the lack of a car, no bus service or the war.
Aunt Catherine kept a newspaper clipping from
her time as a nurse showing her working a blood drive in
1956. She also was mentioned in the News Journal in a
brief item in 1952. She was the driver of a car that struck a
girl walking at Ninth and Market streets in Wilmington.
Just to be safe, she took Barbara Silver, 11, of 3017 Van
Buren St., to St. Francis, but the girl was uninjured.
Aunt Catherine said nothing ever bothered her in
the ER except the one time her Grandfather George May
was hurt in a fall on the railroad tracks and brought in while
she was on duty. At the hospital, everyone called her Cathy.
Cathy Hoopes had a reputation for being kind to
younger nurses and for keeping her composure when events
got hectic. Once, a fellow nurse, Mrs. Francis DeJulius,
was brought into the ER on a stretcher with blood all over
the sheets after putting her hand through a barber shop
window. She had fallen while holding her young son and
was trying to protect him. Aunt Catherine was able to calm
the patient and those around her by asking her friend, in her
kindest of voices, “DeJulius, what did you do to yourself?”
Patsy remembers Aunt Catherine as totally
devoted to what she was doing but with the ability to
switch seamlessly from the professional to the personal. At
St. Francis, Patsy remembered, she was a hundred percent
Cathy Hoopes; when she left to get married, she was a
hundred percent Mrs. Gallagher. But even three or four
years after she left St. Francis, Patsy remembers a doctor,
frustrated because he couldn’t find a medicine he needed,
lamenting, “Where’s Miss Hoopes?”
MARRIAGE AND A FAMILY
After their St. Patrick’s Day blind date and
subsequent meeting of the family, Uncle Jim married Aunt
Catherine on a beautiful, sunny Sept. 6, 1958, in Hockessin.
The wedding party marched out of the Hoopes’ farmhouse
and made the short walk down Valley Road to St. John the
In addition to Bayard and Margaret Hoopes, the
parents of the bride, the wedding party included
groomsmen Uncle Tom, Aunt Catherine’s oldest brother
Francis and Uncle Pete’s son, Pete. The bridesmaids were
Aunt Ann Gallagher, Catherine’s sister Ann Gilson and Dot
The wedding party included, from left, Dot Conticello, Ann Gallagher, Ann Gilson, flower girl Mary Hoopes,
ring-bearer Bart Gilson, Uncle Tom, nephew Pete Gallagher and Franny Hoopes. Performing the ceremony
was St. John's Pastor the Rev. Anthony DiMichele. (See another wedding photo on Page 257.)
(Hartman) Conticello, a friend of Aunt Catherine’s from St.
Francis. The flower girl was Francis Hoopes’ daughter
Mary. (As an adult, Mary would always send her Uncle Jim
a St. Patrick's Day card.) The ring bearer was Ann Gilson's
son Bart. Among the guests were Eugene and Tommy
Gallagher, sons of “Peter Gallagher Next Door”; they had
recently come to the U.S. Of course, news of the
engagement had made its way back to Ballinrobe, where
Aunt Nora had written to Aunt Catherine saying how happy
everyone was “to know that Jim met such a nice girl.” A
video from their wedding day carefully captures the guests
lined up outside the reception at the Powder Mill and
includes the happy couple heading off for their honeymoon
at Niagara Falls.
For Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine, children soon
started arriving: Pat in 1959, Owen in 1960 and Margaret in
1963. Aunt Catherine had retired from nursing to start the
family, but she was not forgotten at St. Francis. In 1963,
her Grandmother Jane McGovern passed away from an
illness while she was a patient there. The bill went to Aunt
Catherine’s father, who was unable to pay it and there was
fear the family could lose the farm in Hockessin. This
naturally had Aunt Catherine greatly upset. When the nuns
running the hospital learned of her distress, they tore up the
bill. It was never heard of again.
Pat was born while Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine
lived in the Parklyn Apartments in Elsmere. But they
bought their own home at 43 S. Sycamore St. from Robert
and Eleanor Chambers on June 20, 1960. It was four
months before Owen was born. Uncle Tom ($5,000) and
Aunt Ann ($2,500) both gave their brother interest-free
loans, payable over seven years. Uncle Jim also borrowed
$1,300 from the DuPont Experimental Station Employee
Their new neighborhood, Union Park Gardens,
was built in 1918 with the backing of the federal
government by the Liberty Land Co. The development at
the western edge of the city provided housing for
Wilmington shipyard workers during World War I. It was
modeled after homes in the English Garden Suburb
Movement. One example was Bournville, which the
Cadbury chocolate manufacturer built for its employees
around Birmingham, England, in 1900. The suburb was
designed like a village, with houses built of different sizes,
styles and materials. The Gardens were located in an area
previously known as Union Park, a shady area with a
merry-go-round, ice cream parlors, bandstand, baseball
diamonds and a football field. In 1916, Buffalo Bill’s “Wild
West Show” appeared there. Over the years, Union Park
Gardens became a desirable section of the city. In the 1960s
Owen and Pat join Pop-Pop Bayard Hoopes with his new dog in
Hockessin in 1963. Taffy was a gift from Uncle Jim's sister Aunt Delia.
From top, Aunt Catherine on the roof
of the St. Francis Nursing School; Pat,
Owen and Margaret in 1965; Dad with
the boys at White Crystal Beach,
Maryland, in 1963; and Owen's fourthbirthday
Above, Pat and Owen
with favorite toys while
Mom holds Margaret.
At left are a couple
cowboys in 1964.
Margaret seems a little
unsure of their ability
with their guns.
Uncle Jim reads the Sunday comics with his boys in 1962 in the
living room at Sycamore Street. At left are St. Thomas school
pictures of Pat, Owen and Margaret from 1970. At right are
their high school graduation photos from 1977, 1978 and 1981.
and 1970s, Wilmington required city firefighters and police
to live within city limits, resulting in many public servants
finding a home in Union Park Gardens, which was as far
away from downtown as city residents could get.
As children, Pat, Owen and Margaret played with
the neighborhood kids, went to the neighborhood Catholic
school (St. Thomas the Apostle) and made their sacraments
at the neighborhood church (also St. Thomas). Pat and
Owen were altar boys and knew every inch of the church,
including the maintenance crawl spaces below the stainedglass
windows and behind the radiators. Aunt Catherine ran
the library at St. Thomas Elementary School while her
children were there. And she was good friends with all the
Franciscan nuns, especially Principal Sr. Angela Patrice.
Those ties made sure her kids were on their best behavior.
They would walk to and from school every day ... up hill
both ways, of course. Union Park Gardens and the
surrounding areas were filled with children. The family
would picnic at Brandywine Springs and Lums Pond and
sometimes take day trips to Gettysburg or Fort Delaware.
But the trip looked forward to the most every year was to
Wildwood-By-The-Sea at the New Jersey shore.
The family would ride over the Delaware
Memorial Bridge to the beach the week before the Fourth
of July; the weather would be warm by then and the hotel
rates would not go up until the holiday week when the
You always knew you were getting close to the
entrance to Wildwood on Rio Grande Avenue when you
could smell the ocean. It was the greatest smell in the
world. Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine were always frugal.
In the early years, they would not rent a hotel in advance.
Rather, Uncle Jim would park the car and walk around until
he found a suite at a price he liked. Later, the family
became fond of the Charles Apartments, and Aunt
Catherine started renting a place there in advance.
Whatever the accommodations, they were always on the
south side of Fun Pier. The family would be on the beach
early and stay most of the day. Aunt Catherine would pack
a lunch and snacks. Uncle Jim's experience carrying sacks
of turf back in the bogs of Ireland must have helped him as
his job turned to lugging toys, chairs, towels and umbrellas
back and forth each day. Uncle Jim, who always kept well
covered from the sun, did get to listen on the beach to Jim
Left, Aunt Catherine with Pat and Owen, along the Brandywine River in summer 1962. At right, Uncle Jim sits
with Margaret and Pat at a party for Pat's eighth-grade graduation from St. Thomas the Apostle School.
Clockwise from above left: Uncle Jim rakes leaves
in the driveway of the Sycamore Street home with
1-year-old son Owen helping in 1961; a family
outing in the mid-1960s; Stockings bring surprises
for Pat and Owen on Christmas morning 1962.
Aunt Catherine with the children at the Charles Apartments in Wildwood.
Clockwise from top left: Uncle Jim and the kids build a backyard snowman; the family visits Uncle Tom and Aunt
Ann at Christmas 1967; and Aunt Catherine holds Pat at his first Christmas, in 1959, at the Parklyn Apartments in
Elsmere, Del. Uncle Jim signed a one-year lease for Apt. 2 in the Kansas building on Aug. 1, 1958. The rent was $80
per month; rents for Parklyn units today start at $800 per month.
Aunt Catherine with Pat and Owen dressed for Easter
Bunning’s 1964 Father’s Day perfect game for the Phillies.
It was playing on a radio brought by someone sitting near
him. At the time, it was only the seventh perfect game in
Major League Baseball history. The Phillies defeated the
New York Mets 6-0 in the first game of a doubleheader at
Shea Stadium that June 21.
Two incidents still resonate from those years in
Wildwood. The first is a story Aunt Catherine fondly
remembered. Uncle Jim had just opened the back door of
the car and his kids had come pouring out onto the
sidewalk when an approving stranger stopped and told him,
“God bless the Irish.” It may have been Uncle Jim's accent
that inspired the blessing. The second incident occurred
with Uncle Jim’s purchase of two boxes of saltwater taffy
from a Boardwalk shop. The store had numerous boxes of
taffy on display outside, which the kids saw and of course
had to have. Uncle Jim picked up two boxes and purchased
them. What the cashier did not disclose was the boxes
outside were filled with sand to keep them from blowing
away. This was discovered only after returning to the
apartment. Uncle Jim never cheated anyone in his life and
would not tolerate anyone cheating him. He didn’t say
anything, just picked up the boxes and walked the 10
blocks back to the shop. There, he emptied the two boxes
of sand on the counter in front of the clerk and asked,
“Does that look like saltwater taffy to you?” When the clerk
said no, Uncle Jim asked, “Why did you charge me like it
was, then?” He returned with boxes that actually contained
Uncle Jim, Aunt Catherine, Pat and Owen stand outside
the O’Brien home at 508 W. 27th St. in Wilmington in
1963. In the background at right is Christ Our King
Back in Wilmington, Patsy DeAscanis
remembered the story of when Pat and Owen got their
tonsils out at St. Francis Hospital. Everything went smooth
for Owen, but Pat had a bad reaction. Patsy said it was the
only time she ever saw Aunt Catherine flustered. Pat does
not remember having a difficult time in the hospital. What
he does remember is when he and Owen returned home, the
family’s first pet was waiting for them. Uncle George
Hoopes and Aunt Marie had brought over a cat named
Aunt Catherine made life easy for her family in
many ways. She would make most of her own dresses on a
pedal-powered Singer sowing machine and kept a dress
form in the bedroom. Her children never went to the
hospital growing up, because Aunt Catherine, using her
training as a nurse, was always there to bandage wounds.
When neighbor Harry Farrell had a heart attack, his wife,
Mary, came running to the back door to get Aunt Catherine
that early morning.
The home on Sycamore Street had a Lester upright
grand piano in the living room. It was a huge family effort
relocating it from Hockessin to Wilmington. Uncle Franny
borrowed a truck, and many an uncle (both Gallagher and
Hoopes) helped lug it up the several levels of steps into the
house. Among other things, the piano proved a great hiding
Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine together at their Sycamore Street home into the 1980s.
place for Christmas presents for many years.
In the evenings when Aunt Catherine might settle
in to watch TV or work on a puzzle, Uncle Jim could often
be found relaxing in the kitchen with his tea and toast,
usually covered in orange marmalade. He also enjoyed
watching Notre Dame football with his sons. If the team
was doing poorly, however, he would retreat to the kitchen
for more toast, marmalade and tea.
Uncle Jim would again make the newspaper on
May 12, 1977, this time with his nephew John O’Brien.
Uncle Jim had served on a jury the year before at a trial for
two men arrested on robbery and weapons charges in the
1975 holdup of the A&P market in the Miller Road
Shopping Center. John O’Brien was a deputy attorney
general for the state of Delaware at the time. The jury
found the defendants guilty. But several months after the
trial, John was talking with one of the defense attorneys
and mentioned that his uncle had served on that particular
jury. The attorney for the defense immediately generated an
inquiry with the Delaware Supreme Court. In the interest
of maintaining impartiality, the court overturned the
conviction. As a result, there is a statute on the books
specifically prohibiting family members of anyone working
in the Attorney General’s Office from serving on a jury. It
took four trials, including a hung jury and mistrial, before a
conviction of the pair of criminals finally stuck.
When the issue was being contested, a reporter
from the News Journal gave Uncle Jim a call asking for a
comment. Uncle Jim declined. But during the short call, the
reporter apparently noticed Uncle Jim’s Irish brogue and
asked if he detected an accent. Yes, Uncle Jim said, “I’m
Uncle Jim’s accent was clear to the reporter, but
apparently not to Uncle Jim himself. One Christmas,
among the gifts under the tree was a tape-recorder. It was
used to record the banter as the family opened their gifts,
and the replay came as a revelation. As he met his relatives
that Christmas season, Uncle Jim was sure to tell them how
he was stunned to hear himself talk with such a still
obvious brogue. It really shouldn’t have been such a
surprise. He was among the few people you would meet
who would use a phrase such as “amn’t I” – as in, “Amn’t I
surprised by how I sound.” The contraction was a clear hint
that the speaker had spent a good deal of time in Ireland.
Above left, a photo from a sales brochure shows the home at 43 S. Sycamore St. when it was purchased in 1960. At
right, Uncle Jim works with Pat Boyle in March 1974 at the Dupont Experimental Station.
Another giveaway was the word “brogan” – as in
reminding his children again and again, “Get your brogans
off the stairs.” It's an Irish term for shoes.
One of Uncle Jim’s favorite Christmas presents
was the book “All the Olympians” by Ulick O’Connor. It is
about the Irish Literary Renaissance of the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, including works of poetry, music, art
and literature. The movement, which included a revival of
the Irish language, fostered talents such as William Butler
Yeats, John Millington Synge, Sean O’Casey, George
Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Lady Gregory. Although
Uncle Jim had to leave school at 12 years old, he loved
reading, especially Irish literature and history, which he, his
parents and grandparents lived through so much of.
One of his least favorite presents was a book on
Winston Churchill, because of Churchill’s negative policies
toward Ireland. However, the book did serve as a teaching
exercise for Uncle Jim with his children. Uncle Jim would
talk about Churchill’s opposition to Home Rule and his
support for the partitioning of Ireland. Pat and Owen shared
their father’s interest and took a course in Irish History at
the University of Delaware. Not to imply living with Uncle
Jim gave them an unfair advantage, but they both got A’s in
After retiring from DuPont’s, Uncle Jim worked
for Richard and Stacey DuPont as a night watchman at
their estate on Old Barley Mill Road, near Hagley Museum.
As a present once, Richard DuPont gave Uncle Jim a very
nice, thick Irish blackthorn walking stick. It is one of two
Pat still keeps in his home. The other is a thinner
blackthorn stick that Uncle Tom brought home from
Ballinrobe in 1970.
Aunt Catherine eventually returned to her
profession. She worked as a private-duty nurse for Marie
Louise McHugh at her estate on the Kennett Pike. Miss
McHugh was sole heir to the Laffey-McHugh fortune, a
director of the family foundation, a philanthropist and a
germophobe. She would buy cases of Lysol, dish detergent,
tissues, paper towels and other cleaning products but use
only a little bit and discard the rest of the case. The
remainder was distributed among her aides. The Gallaghers
did not have to buy Lysol for many years.
Aunt Catherine passed away in St. Francis
Hospital on Aug. 12, 1991. She died of apparent heart
failure while awaiting surgery on her back. Patsy
DeAscanis was at the Sycamore Street home the next
morning and remembers Uncle Jim taking a moment from
his quiet grief to describe the former Cathy Hoopes as “a
woman without guile.” He also asked Patsy if her son Colm
would serve as a pall bearer. He had always given his aunt
a kiss when she visited. Aunt Catherine was buried in
Cathedral Cemetery, Wilmington, two days after she died,
on her son Pat’s birthday.
Less than a year later, on March 14, 1992, Uncle
Jim passed away at home from leukemia. He was buried
next to his wife, on St. Patrick’s Day.
NOT AN ENDING
Uncle Jim and Aunt Catherine had three children:
Pat Gallagher would work 30 years for the Postal
Service, most of the time in the Engineering Unit of the
Delaware Mail Processing plant, where he worked as
manager. He married Veronica (Ronnie) Roehsler on Oct.
20, 2000, at St. Thomas Church in Wilmington. They have
one son, James.
Owen Gallagher would work for 33 years at The
Press of Atlantic City in South Jersey as a writer and editor.
He married Lynn Keough, of Philadelphia, on April 23,
1993, at St. Thomas Church in Wilmington. They have one
daughter, Catherine, adopted from China.
Margaret Gallagher would work at Macy’s in the
Christiana Mall, managing the Housewares and Jewelry
departments. She married Richard Burkholder on Sept. 14,
1985, at St. Thomas Church. They had three daughters:
Jessica, Angela and Catherine. Angie married Jason
Chandler and they have one daughter, Poppy. Catie married
Drew Bergstresser. Margaret and Rick divorced in the late
1990s and she has been with Curt Robinson since.
CATHERINE HOOPES' FAMILY
Aunt Catherine’s parents were Bayard
Aloysius Hoopes and Margaret May. Her grandparents
on her father’s side were Jefferson Hoopes and Jane
Eastburn. On her mother’s side, they were George May
and Catherine “Katie” Gormley. Each family had a
unique and interesting history, some English, some
Irish, but all were from the British Isles. Some arrived
in America much sooner than others.
The first relatives to immigrate were the
Hoopes family, who came to the Delaware area in
1683 with William Penn and other Quakers. The
Eastburns, also of the Society of Friends in England,
arrived in Philadelphia from Yorkshire England in
1713. On Aunt Catherine’s mother’s side, the
Gormleys came to the Hockessin area from County
Tyrone, Ireland, about 1882, while the Mays arrived
from Wales around 1890.
Bayard Hoopes was born Aug. 7, 1896, in
Kaimensi, Del., near Stanton. His father, Jefferson
Hoopes, passed away when Bayard was only 8 years
old. Bayard graduated from high school in 1918,
possibly Salesianum. Aunt Catherine always said the
clergy in school called her father Aloysius. To our
generation of Aunt Catherine’s family, he was known
as Pop-Pop and his wife as Mom-Mom.
Immediately after high school graduation,
when Pop-Pop was 21, he had to register for the army
as World War I dragged on in Europe. In August 1918,
he reported to Camp Meade in Maryland. Three of
Pop-Pop’s future wife Margaret May’s cousins
(Charles, Francis and Joe Gormley) also served. All
four Hockessin residents were awarded the Victory
Medal on July 9, 1920.
Pop-Pop held many jobs during his life. One
of his first was at an ice station in Wilmington, around
Aunt Catherine’s family soon after the end of World
War II: her parents Bayard and Margaret (May)
Hoopes, with their other children George, left, Ann
and Franny, who had been a POW during the war.
Lancaster Avenue and Union Street. By the time he
married Mom-Mom, he worked for the Marshall
Brothers in their paper mill in the village of Yorklyn,
where the mills had such a tight grip on the town that
they owned two-thirds of the homes. Yorklyn’s tiny
country store was practically a company store, where
mill workers would do most of their shopping because
they could buy things on credit.
Mom-Mom was born May 11, 1897, in
Hockessin. She lived next to her grandmother Margaret
(Bigley) and Peter Lafferty when she was first born and
moved to the farm on Valley Road in 1905.
During the influenza outbreak of 1918,
children were dying so quickly that doctors would often
give their names to the undertaker when they got sick.
Hockessin’s undertaker, Alexander Guthrie, lived just up
the street from the May family on Valley Road. When
Mom-Mom was a girl, she would bring flowers to the
undertaker’s, and on one such visit she saw one of her
brother’s name listed. It’s unclear whether it was John
or George May who was ill, but thankfully the brother
did not pass away.
Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop were married Dec.
30, 1919, at St. John’s Church in Hockessin. They raised
four children: Catherine, Ann, Francis and George.
When first married, they moved to Yorklyn, to a house
on Benge Road, below Auburn Heights. Pop-Pop
worked at the mills. Their first two children were born
there -- Aunt Catherine on Nov. 26, 1920, and Ann (later
Gilson) on July 8, 1922. The family briefly moved to
Deepwater, N.J., where Franny was born May 31, 1925.
They then relocated to 1720 Hancock St. in Wilmington,
close to Brandywine Park. By 1930, with the Great
Depression under way, the family was back in
Hockessin, where Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s fourth and
final child, George, was born Aug. 26, 1932.
They rented a home on Valley Road for $18 a
month, and Pop-Pop was working as a bus driver.
Sometime in the 1930s, Pop-Pop started working in the
Marshall Brothers fiber mill, which soon became
National Vulcanized Fiber. NVF soon replaced the
snuff, grain and paper mills as the main industry in
Yorklyn. In 1940, Pop-Pop’s income was $1,007; the
median family income for that year was $956. He retired
from NVF as a machinist in 1961. By the late 1970s, the
cost of medical insurance had risen so much that his
pension no longer covered the bill and he had to write a
check to the fund rather than receive one, he told his
grandson Pat Gallagher.
After Mom-Mom’s mother, Katie (Gormley)
May, died in 1941, the family moved in with her
husband in her house on Valley Road. When George
May died in 1950, the house was left to their daughter,
Mary. However, Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop would live
out the rest of their lives there. The house was adjacent
Aunt Catherine, left, at her First Communion at St.
Ann’s in Wilmington. With her are brother Franny
and sister Ann.
to St. John the Evangelist's rectory, and Mom-Mom
took care of the pastor, the Rev. DiMichele, and the
church. She was a member of the Altar Society of both
St. John’s and later its replacement, St. Mary of the
Assumption, in Hockessin.
In December 1944, Franny Hoopes was taken
prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge in
World War II. He was initially listed as missing in
action. When Mom-Mom first received the news, her
hair turned white almost overnight. Franny was freed
as the Americans eventually advanced into Germany.
Sometime around 1970, Pop-Pop’s talented
grandson Bart Gilson drew a sketch of the weatherworn
barn at the Valley Road farm. At the time, there
was an old saw-horse in front of the rustic building.
Pop-Pop didn’t want it to interfere with Bart’s
drawing, so he laid it on its side so it would be out of
the way. Bart must not have realized Pop-Pop’s intent,
or thought the saw-horse added too much artistic
value, because the saw-horse (on its side) made it into
Later in the 1970s, a man named Gerald
Fuller came to the Hoopes’ home. He said he was
writing a book on the Hoopes family and wanted to
The Hoopes family children in about 1933. Clockwise from
left: Ann, Catherine, Franny and George.
Aunt Catherine’s parents Pop-Pop and Mom-
Mom are dressed for their wedding on Dec. 30,
Above, Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop in about 1950; at
far left, Mom-Mom in the late 1910s; left, Pop-
Pop in his World War I Army uniform, possibly at
Camp Meade, and in about 1950.
Left, Aunt Catherine’s brother Franny around 1945; at right, Aunt Catherine with her brother George in front of
their Hockessin home.
interview Aunt Catherine’s father, who was living alone by
then. Bayard Hoopes invited him to spend the night, which
frightened Aunt Catherine and her sister when they heard
about it. They had visions of an ax murderer spending the
night with their father, but there was no such drama. Fuller
did eventually publish his book in Texas in 1979 … actually a
three-volume set titled “The Hoopes Family Record for Nine
The books make no mention of the rhubarb the
Hoopes family grew in a patch close to their barn. Aunt
Catherine’s son Pat, however, does remember it tasting very
tart. He liked it very much when he was young, but doesn’t
recall having rhubarb again until visiting Ireland in the 1990s.
In Ballinrobe, every cousin seemed to be serving rhubarb pie
and tea. It must be an Irish treat.
Mom-Mom died Feb. 9, 1968, and is buried along
with many other family members in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in
Ashland. After her death, a holy water font in her name was
installed at St. Mary’s in Hockessin in recognition of her
service over the years. St. Mary’s was dedicated in 1965 after
the closing of St. John’s. The font was the only one in St.
Mary’s dedicated to a specific person and remained for many
years just inside the left door as you entered the back of the
church. When it was removed during a recent renovation,
Pastor Charles Dillingham gave the font as a gift to Mom-
Mom’s grandson Pat Gallagher.
Pop-Pop died Sept. 19, 1983, and was buried next to
his wife in St. Patrick’s.
(Gilson) on the
Hunt’s Pier in
the 1950s; left,
George when he
Aunt Catherine, seated, with her siblings Ann and George in the
field next to their Valley Road home in Hockessin.
Aunt Catherine with her mother in
Atlantic City in the early 1940s.
Above, the Hoopes family is together for Christmas
1957 in Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's dining room in
Hockessin. From left are Aunt Mary, Ann Gilson,
Grandmother McGovern, Aunt Catherine (with dog
Curly), Pop-Pop, Mom-Mom and George Hoopes. At
right, are Aunt Catherine's parents outside the back
of their Valley Road home in the 1930s.
The family gathers in 1959 for Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s 40th wedding anniversary. From
left are Aunt Mary May, George Hoopes and his wife, Marie (Matlusky), Uncle Jim and Aunt
Catherine holding their newborn son Pat.
Aunt Catherine's sister, Ann, married Joseph
Gilson in May 1950. They had four boys,
Bart, Mike, Joe and Phil.
Aunt Catherine climbs a tree with a
friend in the mid-1930s.
AUNT CATHERINE'S FATHER’S ANCESTORS
THE HOOPES FAMILY
William Penn, Revolutionary War and a Gun Shot
The Hoopes’ ancestral home was the village
of Great Moorshol, Yorkshire, England. Because of
religious persecution by the British Crown, Joshua
Hoopes (Aunt Catherine’s six-times great-grandfather)
and his family set sail for the New World on The
Providence of Scarborough, the 13th and last of
William Penn’s ships. After weeks at sea, they arrived
at the mouth of the Delaware River on Nov. 9, 1683.
The family settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania,
where Joshua obtained 100 acres of prime farmland.
He went on to serve in the Pennsylvania General
Assembly, which, along with the House of Burgesses
in Virginia, was one of the first attempts in America to
form a representative government.
Despite being Quakers, Aunt Catherine’s
Great-great-great-Grandfather Nathan Hoopes (Joshua
Hoopes’ great-grandson) and his brother Thomas
fought in the American Revolution. Thomas was the
second and Nathan the third of eight brothers. They
both served as privates in the Chester County Militia,
which included 16 battalions and 130 companies
organized by community, with brothers and neighbors
fighting in the same company. Nathan and Thomas
were in the 4th Battalion, Goshen Township 3rd
Aunt Catherine’s paternal grandfather,
Jefferson Hoopes, was the second-youngest of nine
children. By age 16, he was already working as a
weaver in the Kiamensi Wool Mill in Newport, Del.,
with his older brother John and sister Margaret. We
have a copy of a letter of recommendation written for
Jefferson Hoopes by the president of the Kiamensi
mill, Thomas Pilling. It calls him a “sober, honest and
industrious man” and “cheerfully recommends him to
anyone needing his services.”
Jefferson Hoopes was first married at age 22
on Feb. 13, 1879, to Miriam “Mame” Baldwin. The
family lived in Kiamensi, where the wool mill was one
of the largest employers in the Mill Creek Hundred.
Jefferson and Miriam had one son, Roy, born
in 1880. He was killed by an accidental gun shot on
Sept. 13, 1893. The accident occurred while he was
playing with a friend, William Briggs, outside the
Hoopes’ home. They had an old revolver, which was in
Aunt Catherine’s paternal grandparents Jefferson
Hoopes and Jane Clementine Eastburn at their
wedding in 1894 at St. Ann’s in Wilmington.
disrepair. Roy was resetting the target when Briggs’
hand slipped on the hammer and the gun discharged.
The bullet struck Roy in his right side, passed along
the breast and entered his heart. He died immediately.
The Evening Journal reported he had the largest
funeral the area had ever seen, with all of the public
school children attending. His mother died that Dec.
20, after being stricken with paralysis five days earlier.
Jefferson Hoopes was re-married, to Jane Eastburn, the
THE EASTBURN FAMILY
Continental Congress, Civil War and Bible Riots
The Eastburns also came from Yorkshire.
Robert Eastburn (Aunt Catherine’s seventh greatgrandfather)
married Sarah Presto, on March 10, 1693.
The couple had nine children -- including their third
son, Samuel, on Feb. 20, 1702 -- and immigrated to
America in 1713. They settled in Montgomery County,
Pennsylvania. Samuel traveled widely in Pennsylvania
and New Jersey in the ministry of the Society of Friends
and also served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
He wrote an anti-slavery letter to the Continental
“All mind the wisdom of God that by it you may
be ordered and order all things under your hand to
God’s Glory. He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling
in the Fear of God, and he shall be like the clear shining
of sun after rain. Set the Negroes at Liberty. – The
ground of all Laws is Reason. Impose no Law or Test
upon any. Tax Pride and Luxury, Embrace all
opportunity to make Peace. Blessed are the Peace
Makers, they shall be called the Children of God.
7th Month, 1778
Samuel Eastburn died Christmas Day 1785.
Bayard Eastburn, Aunt Catherine’s greatgrandfather,
married Mary Mulrine. The Mulrine family
provides Aunt Catherine with part of her own Irish
heritage. Mary Mulrine was an Irish girl whose father,
Patrick Sarsfield Mulrine, was born in Donegal around
1828. He is Aunt Catherine's great-great-grandfather. He
immigrated to Philadelphia in 1847 at age 18, at the
height of the Irish famine. A tailor by trade, he served in
Company B of the 199th Pennsylvania Infantry
Regiment during the American Civil War. He died in
1882. He was named after Patrick Sarsfield, a lieutenantgeneral
in the Jacobite Irish Army with Catholic King
James II. That Patrick Sarsfield was a hero of the Battle
of the Boyne (1690) and later the Siege of Limerick
(1691). King James made him the first Earl of Lucan.
It’s unknown if he was any relation to Patrick Sarsfield
Patrick’s wife was Anna Love, who was born in
County Tyrone, Ireland, about 1827. She immigrated to
Philadelphia in 1843 at age 16. In 1844, she saw a mob
burn St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in
Philadelphia during the Nativist (Bible) Riots. She
watched until the cross fell. The riots were a result of
rising anti-Catholic sentiment spurred by the growing
number of Irish Catholic immigrants. Anna passed away
Bayard and Mary (Mulrine) Eastburn's
daughter Genevieve Clementine Eastburn (Jane or Jenny,
for short) was the first of five children. She became Aunt
A photo from the 1950s shows Aunt Catherine’s
father and his mother, Jane (Eastburn) Hoopes,
affectionately known as Grandmother McGovern.
To their right is the St. John’s rectory. To their left
is the pine tree that was cut down and used for a
Christmas tree at Aunt Catherine's home in the
Aunt Catherine’s six-times Great-Grandfather
Samuel Eastburn, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, wrote
this anti-slavery letter to the Continental Congress.
Grandparents Jefferson Hoopes & Jane Eastburn
By then a widower, Jefferson Hoopes
converted to Catholicism on April 1, 1894, at St. Ann’s
Church in Wilmington. He was 36 years old when he
married Jane Eastburn at St. Ann's four days after his
conversion. They had three children: Bayard (Aunt
Catherine’s father), William and Viola Marie. Viola
Marie was born Christmas Day 1903 but died less than
a year later, on Oct. 11, 1904, of spinal meningitis.
Jefferson Hoopes died July 26, 1904, at age 48 of
consumption, the same disease that would claim 21-
year-old Michael Gallagher 16 years later in
Ballinrobe. He was buried in St. James Cemetery in
Newport, Del. Adding to the family’s losses, Jane’s
father, Bayard Eastburn, who was living with the
Hoopes family at 829 W. Sixth St. in Wilmington, died
Dec. 4 1904. Jane had seen her father, husband and
daughter all pass away within six months.
After Jefferson Hoopes died, Jane’s brother
James came to stay with the family. Her sister Anna
and her daughter Mae soon followed. On May 3, 1916,
Jane married Louis P. McGovern, who had a child
from his previous marriage, Sarah Jane. Louis was 43
and Jane 41 when they were married but were together
for only three years when Louis McGovern died Jan. 3,
1919. Aunt Catherine always referred to her as
Grandmother McGovern. She raised Sarah Jane along
with her own two sons, Pop-Pop and Bill.
Aunt Catherine’s son Pat remembers
Grandmother McGovern living at the Little Sisters of
the Poor Home at Fourth Street and Bancroft Parkway
in Wilmington, across from St. Thomas Church. She
died in 1964 at age 88 and was buried in St. James
Cemetery in Newport. Pat can remember Uncle Tom
and Aunt Ann Gallagher staying with their young
nephews and niece while Uncle Jim and Aunt
Catherine attended the funeral.
At top is St. John's Church in Hockessin. The
rectory was next to the Hoopes home on Valley
Road. At right are Aunt Catherine's
Grandmother McGovern and Aunt Nana
Garvey, who were sisters. Grandmother Jane
McGovern was Jane Eastburn when she
married Jefferson Hoopes in 1894. After he died,
she married Louis McGovern in 1916.
From left, Pop-Pop, Mom-Mom, Grandmother McGovern, Aunt Nana (Eastburn) Garvey, Aunt Mary May
and George Hoopes pose on the couch of the family's Hockessin home.
Aunt Catherine with her Grandmother McGovern at
Christmas, above, and, at right, in front of the Valley
Road home in July 1952.
AUNT CATHERINE'S MOTHER’S ANCESTORS
THE MAY FAMILY
Sheep, Coal Mines and Emigration
Aunt Catherine’s maternal grandfather was George May. Like
his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before him, he was born
in Fairford, Gloucestershire, England. Gloucestershire was sheep country
in southwest England, very close to Wales. It is likely George May’s
ancestors found some work as shepherds. The western valleys of nearby
Monmouthshire, Wales, had rich mineral resources that led to a mining
boom in the nineteenth century. This would have been very attractive to
young men in nearby Gloucestershire seeking a better situation for
themselves and their families. From 1801 through 1901 the population of
Wales went from 500,000 to more than 2 million. George May’s father,
Thomas, sought to take advantage of this and moved his family (wife
Mary Osmond and children Eliza, Sarah, George, William and Thomas) to
Wales. George May eventually tired of life in the coal mines and
immigrated to America around 1890.
George May married Katie Gormley
Sept. 25, 1894, at St. John the
Evangelist Church in Hockessin.
George May, Aunt Catherine's maternal grandfather,
and his brothers and sisters were baptized at St. Mary's
Church of England in Fairford, Gloucestershire. His
parents and grandparents were married there.
Aunt Catherine's sister
Ann Gilson sits with
May in the family's
Hockessin home in the
THE GORMLEY FAMILY
A Large Irish Family, Wild West and Philadelphia A’s
The Mulrines provided Aunt Catherine with
the first part of her Irish heritage. The Gormleys
provided the second. Like the Gallaghers (12), the
O’Briens (11), the Tierneys (11), and the Heratys (8),
the Gormleys were a large Irish-Catholic family. There
were 12 Gormley children, nine of whom immigrated
to the Hockessin/Philadelphia area in America.
Cornelius “Neil” Gormley was born around
1813, probably in Drumlister, near SixMileCross,
County Tyrone. The Griffith’s Land Valuation in the
1850s showed Neil, a farmer, and three other
Gormleys, possibly brothers (Terence, Thomas and
Roger), with about 106 acres among them. The village
of SixMileCross gets its name from a stone cross that
stood on a hill northeast of the village. The cross was
six miles from the town of Omagh, the county seat.
Neil Gormley married Margaret Bigley on
Aug. 8, 1853. Neil was about 40 years old and
Margaret about 18. She was the daughter of Patrick
Bigley and Margaret Slain. The famine in Ireland did
not affect County Tyrone as much as some other areas,
but the population did fall by more than 15 percent. So
it would have been a significant presence in the early
life of Margaret Bigley and those around her.
All of Neil and Margaret Gormley’s children
were born in Drumlister. The eleven we know were:
Michael (1854), John (1856), Bernard (1858), Jane
(1860), Margaret (1862), Catherine (1864), Mary Ann
(1866), Agnes (Baptized as Bridget) (1868), Rose
(1870), Elizabeth (1871), and Neil (1873).
After her husband and two youngest children,
Elizabeth and Neil, passed away, Margaret immigrated
to Hockessin. She and her son Michael and daughters
Agnes and Rose came aboard the ship The City of
New York, arriving in New York on April 13, 1878.
Margaret was then about 45 years old. In all, nine of
her children came to Hockessin or southeastern
Pennsylvania in the 1870s and 80s. Catherine, or
Katie, who had been born in 1864 was Aunt
Catherine’s grandmother. She likely arrived in New
York with her sister Mary Ann on June 15, 1882,
aboard the ship Ethiopia.
By 1879, Katie’s mother remarried in
Hockessin, to Peter Lafferty, who had eight children of
his own. Peter Lafferty was a shoemaker by trade,
working at times in Wilmington and Hockessin. Aunt
Aunt Catherine’s maternal great-grandparents were
Neil and Margaret (Bigley) Gormley, from
SixMileCross, County Tyrone, Ireland. After Neil's
1874 death and Margaret's immigration to America,
she married Peter Lafferty, of Hockessin.
Sisters Ann and Catherine
Hoopes in the 1930s with their
maternal Grandmother Katie
(Gormley) May, also shown
below in 1894.
Catherine’s son Pat has an old cast-iron cobbler set
from around 1890 that may originate with Peter
Lafferty. Aunt Catherine’s father gave the set to Uncle
Jim, who regularly used it to repair his shoes.
Neil Gormley’s children and grandchildren
quickly established themselves in America. His son,
Bernard, certainly was blessed or cursed, depending on
your point of view, with the wanderlust. Bernard, then
16, emigrated from Ireland with his sister Jane aboard
the ship the State of Indiana. They arrived in New York
on Sept. 18, 1874. Bernard traveled west from Chester,
Pa., soon after arriving in the country, making it as far
as Utah. The West was still wild then. Custer’s Last
Stand was in 1876 and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
in 1881. In an effort to locate him, his mother began
placing ads in newspapers around 1883. When Bernard
did finally return to Hockessin, he would help his
brother John build a store. But Bernard quickly
realized he didn’t like being a store clerk, and left
again. Ironically, his wife would eventually open a
family grocery. John and his descendants would turn
his store into a Hockessin fixture for almost 100 years.
Two of Neil Gormley’s grandchildren, James
(Bernard’s son) and Charles (John’s son), were talented
baseball players. They were invited by Connie Mac to
join the Philadelphia A’s American League baseball
team. Both declined the positions because their fathers
had died and they had to help in the family stores.
Baseball did not pay enough in the 1920s. Another
grandchild became a priest and two more became
Grandparents George May & Katie Gormley
George May converted to Catholicism on
Sept. 16, 1894, nine days before marrying Catherine
“Katie” Gormley at St. John’s Church in Hockessin.
His future sister in-law and her husband, Jane Gormley
and Frederick Gunn, were his Baptismal sponsors.
Katie’s maid of honor was her soon-to-be sister-in-law
Delia Guthrie, who would marry Bernard Gormley a
year later. George May’s best man was Katie’s
stepbrother Francis Lafferty.
George and Katie May initially lived next to
her mother and mother’s second husband Peter
Lafferty. They had four children: Mary, Margaret,
George and John. In 1905, the family bought the
property on Valley Road directly adjacent to St. John’s
rectory and church, paying $1,600 for the house, barn
and land. George borrowed the money from a
neighbor, John Mitchell.
Katie May remained very close to her
brothers and sisters. She took care of her older brother,
Michael, after his wife, Anna, passed away. By the late
1920s, Uncle Mickey was living with the family on
Valley Road. By then only John and George May were
living at home. Their sister Mary was with Father
Grant at his rectory and Margaret was married with a
family of her own, including young Aunt Catherine.
When they were first married, George May
worked in the clay yards along with Peter Lafferty. He
then worked as a snuff maker at the Garrett Snuff Mill
in Yorklyn, Del., for 20 to 30 years. The Garrett family
Mom-Mom’s sister Aunt Mary May, at left around 1910, was Monsignor Grant’s housekeeper from his time
as pastor at St. John’s in 1925 until his death. She then lived with her sister and Pop-Pop in their Valley
Road home, below. Mom-Mom is shown above right around 1910.
had constructed a water-powered snuff mill on the
banks of the Red Clay Creek in the late 1700s and the
village of Yorklyn sprang up around it and other mills.
George retired sometime in the 1930s, by which time
the Garrett fortune was over $30 million. Too bad they
didn’t have a profit-sharing plan. The Garrett Snuff
Mill closed in 1954.
Aunt Catherine remembered that her family
would receive letters from May relatives in Wales when
she was young, but the letters stopped coming around
1920. Attempts at further communication failed, and
the family in Hockessin felt that all of the family in
Wales might have passed away due to the influenza
outbreak. Pat remembers seeing three of the letters in
1983, when Aunt Catherine’s father died. The topic of
one letter was the sinking of the Lusitania.
Katie May died of heart disease Dec. 15,
1941, at age 76. George May died on June 8, 1950, due
to a stroke at age 85. They are buried in St. Patrick’s
Cemetery in Ashland, Del.
When Katie died, her nephew the Rev. John
McElvenny said the funeral Mass. There were nine
other priests present, including two future monsignors,
the Revs. James Grant and Charles Conway. It was at
that time the family bought the gravesites in St.
Patrick’s Cemetery, just a few feet from her mother and
In the early 1900s, Aunt Catherine's maternal
grandparents, George and Katie May, lived in the
house on Valley Road that would eventually become
her home. When Aunt Catherine's grandparents
died, the house was left to her Aunt Mary. It
eventually belonged to Aunt Catherine's father,
Margaret Lafferty had died in 1907. Her grave
does not have a marker, but it is located in the John
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Pat and Ronnie Gallagher, left, and Owen and Lynn Gallagher vacationing in Lewes, Del.
Pat and Ronnie's son James
at Salesianum High School
and, at right, as a young
Owen and Lynn's daughter
graduation; at right is her
adoption photo and her
Catherine get a
rare moment to
relax during a
trip to Disney
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Maggie and Rick Burkholder's daughters Jessie, Angie and Catie.
Above, Catie's wedding in April 2018, with her father,
Rick Burkholder, at left. The photo at right is Maggie
and Curt Robinson.
Angie, husband Jason
Chandler and daughter
Poppy, Uncle Jim's first
Above left, Catie and Jessie at the Wilmington St. Patrick's
Day Parade; at right are Catie and husband Drew
“What grace is meant to do is to help good people,
not to escape their sufferings,
but to bear them with a stout heart,
with a fortitude that finds
its strength in faith.”
St. Augustine's “City of God,”
a copy of which Uncle Tom kept at his bedside
Pictures from when he was a boy in Ballinrobe and from his brother Jim’s wedding in America show Uncle Tom in a
familiar pose – with his arms crossed. At the wedding, he is between his sister Delia and nephew John O'Brien.
There is a grainy picture from the 1920s of four
young children sitting on a wall somewhere in Ballinrobe.
Three are identified on the back of the photo as cousin
Tommy King, Aunt Mary and cousin Delia Connell. The
fourth, a boy between Mary and Delia, is listed as Tommy
Gallagher. In discussions of the photo, an initial thought was
the boy might be Eugene Gallagher’s brother Tommy, the
son of “Peter Gallagher Next Door.”
But it soon became clear that Tommy was our
Uncle Tom. Patsy DeAscanis was the first to recognize him
– “That shock of hair is how I remember him,” she said. The
other telltale sign was how the boy had his arms crossed in
front of him. It was a favorite pose recognizable from other
times and photos. It is the same one he strikes in a video
from his brother Jim’s wedding in 1958. Shortly after that
ceremony, Uncle Jim had the person with the video camera
pan across a lineup of his family attending the wedding,
apparently recognizing the opportunity to record a slice of
family history. There was Uncle Tom, stylishly dressed in
his tuxedo, with his arms crossed, a cigarette in one hand
and a confident, charming smile on his face. Patsy described
the look as “almost as if he is holding strong feelings inside
while appearing debonair from the shoulders up.”
That was Uncle Tom.
We don’t really want to call any one of the brothers
and sisters from his generation of Gallaghers a favorite, but
Uncle Tom would have to be in the running.
Uncle Tom arrived in America on
May 28, 1940. The following
January, he served as best man for
his brother Pat's wedding.
WAKE UP THE ECHOES
A ticket stub among Uncle Tom’s possessions
indicates that, less than six months after his arrival in
the U.S., he was present for what was called at the time
an “all-time classic” college football clash.
On Nov. 9, 1940, the U.S. Naval Academy
hosted the University of Notre Dame at Baltimore
Stadium. A crowd of 63,000, reported as the largest
since Army-Navy in 1924, packed the stadium at 33rd
Street. Another thousand people tried in vain to gain
admittance, offering as much as $15 for a ticket, which
was five times the face value.
Those fortunate enough to get in saw Notre
Dame run its record to 6-0 by defeating the
Midshipmen 13-7. However, the Irish would be shut
out the next two weekends, by Iowa and Northwestern,
before wrapping up the season with a 10-6 win over
rival USC in Los Angeles.
The game in Baltimore came down to the
final minute, with Notre Dame trailing by a point. The
game “held everyone spellbound to the final play at
sunset,” according to legendary sportswriter Grantland
Rice, who began his impressive account the next day
in The Baltimore Sun: “The ancient birthday of the
Marine Corps and the modern birthday of Major
Swede Larson, the Navy coach, will be celebrated this
morning behind locked doors and closed shutters.
For Navy … yesterday fell before the final countercharge
of the aroused Irish, who came storming down
the field to win through the bitter stretch by the score
of 13 to 7.”
There is little doubt whom Uncle Tom would
have been rooting for. He would have had a natural
affinity for the Fighting Irish. And the Naval Academy
may have had less appeal for a young man who less
than three years later would be in the U.S. Army.
Based on the ticket stub, Uncle Tom and whomever he
was with, would have watched the game from the
stadium’s east side, Section P, Row 30, Seat 21. The
ticket cost $3.33, including 33 cents tax. The half-time
show included hundreds of Midshipmen with colored
cards forming a giant green shamrock on a yellow
background in honor of their guests.
Also in the crowd that day was Hollywood’s
“Irishman in Residence” Pat O’Brien, who played the
title role in one of the most popular movies of 1940,
“Knute Rockne, All-American.” On this day, the Irish
did win one for “The Gipper,” and apparently Uncle
Tom, as well.
WIT AND WISDOM
Uncle Tom was born June 30, 1914 – three years
younger than Uncle Jim and two years older than Uncle
Owen. He lived in Ireland until 1940, when he immigrated
to America, living in Wilmington, Del., with Uncle Pete’s
and Aunt Delia’s families before buying a house in late
1949 on Broom Street. He lived there with Aunt Ann and
Uncle Jim until eventually moving with Aunt Ann to
Champlain Avenue in Richardson Park. Uncle Tom served
in the Army during World War II and worked for years with
the Railroad Post Office. Along the way, he served as the
best man at the weddings of his brothers Pat and Jim. He
died in June 1994 at the Franciscan Health Care Center
from complications after suffering a stroke a decade earlier.
Uncle Tom always had a keen sense of humor. It
would often include a clever teasing he must have honed as
a growing boy and young man in Ballinrobe. He would
have had plenty opportunity with his older siblings and
then with his two youngest sisters, who came along when
he was 6 and 7 years old, respectively. He was also a welleducated
person, mainly attained through his own curiosity.
He would have attended the Christian Brothers School in
Ballinrobe, although Aunt Ann said no one in the family
got formal schooling beyond age 12. Interestingly, the
document from when Uncle Tom left the U.S. Army in
1946 indicates he attended school through 1931 and
attained a high school diploma. The name and address of
his last school is listed only as “Ireland.”
However long Uncle Tom attended school, it was
Uncle Tom relaxes in a field in Ballinrobe in this photo
from 1931. His brother Owen remembered Tom being
stronger working with his mind than on the farm.
However, Tom was no stranger to manual labor,
including his work in a Delaware shipyard in the 1940s.
almost certainly more than his parents would have. And it
would have been more rigorous than what children today
are familiar with. We don’t know what books were
available, but Uncle Tom as a boy had a couple comic
books featuring the American cowboy-movie hero Tom
Mix. His mother, concerned about his learning, did not
approve. “He shouldn’t be filling his head with the like,”
Aunt Ann remembered her mother saying. Later in life,
Uncle Tom was still filling his head with an impressive
reading list that included James Joyce and Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago.” He was born the
year Joyce’s “Dubliners” was published.
Along with others in his family in Cornaroya,
Uncle Tom spent time working at the nearby Convent of
Mercy. One of the older nuns there remembered him fondly