Genealogy, News

Who’s Your Granny: The Modern Way to Research

 

I don’t think it’s overstating things to assert that the pursuit of genealogy has been revolutionized over the past two decades. I first started delving into my family history in the mid 1990s, when a friend brought me with her to the Mercer Museum’s Spruance Library, where the Bucks County Historical Society maintained their archives.

Armed with a notebook and several sharpened pencils, I spent an afternoon immersed in dusty old published family histories and census records that involved searching indexes and battling a microfilm reader. It was glorious. And also daunting.

Fast forward about 10 years, and I was still visiting historical societies and courthouses whenever I got the chance, but I was also blissfully accessing census records at 3 a.m. from the comfort of my home via my computer and courtesy of Ancestry.com. No longer was I limited by an archive’s hours or the soundex version of a census index. I learned how to become creative in my keyword searches, and to work around the names of ancestors being mistranscribed.

These days, as I continue researching not just my own ancestors but also the families of other people, I utilize every online resource I can find. Some of them, like FamilySearch and Irish Genealogy, are free and invaluable. Others, such as Ancestry and Newspapers are subscription databases that I find equally invaluable and worth the price. Continue Reading

Music

Pandemic Inspires Jamison Fiddler Alice Marie to Push the Bounds of Creativity

If you see Jamison Celtic Rock fiddler Alice Marie busking outside a Target, don’t surprised.

She’s half-serious about it, but for most Irish musicians who lost a lot of work in March and afterward, she’s doing whatever she can to keep body and soul together.

March is Christmas for Irish musicians in the area. It’s when they earn a significant amount of money. The coronavirus pandemic put an end to that.

It was no different for Alice Marie, who also makes a living as a jazz violinist and singer, and whatever else requires the talents of a gifted string player.

“I was on tour with Jamison in Florida, she recalls. “Then our tour was cut short and we had to come back due to Covid-19. So we came back and we were able to get a gig together at Currans Tacony, and that was our last show. It was a big night, and after that, we were pretty much quarantined. Our last major activity was in March. I had at least 20 shows canceled in March, so that was crazy.” Continue Reading

How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week (Quarantine Edition)

We’ve got a ways before we can return to the way things were, but for now, many of our favorite musicians are coming up with some socially distanced accommodations.

Up to this point, you’ve only been able to hear them through their Facebook concerts. And some, like Seamus Kelleher, have been doing concerts from their back porch or in parking lots.

But if you’re jonesing for the tunes of your favorite musicians in person, you’ll have to wait till the end of the week.

However, there is one Facebook concert (among the many lately) that you’ll definitely want to catch.

You can listen to Jamison Celtic Rock on Saturday—the full band, for the first time in weeks—streaming live on their Facebook page. They’ll be set up the requisite six feet apart, streaming live from a condo in North Wildwood, and they’ll play your favorite tunes and make you think about better times. The show starts at 5 p.m. Continue Reading

Music

Pausing to Refresh During the Pandemic, and Baking Up Some Creative Alternatives

Shannon Lambert-Ryan bustles about her home kitchen, her fixings for Finnish ribbon cookies—including a huge bag of Heckers flour—at the ready. The mixing bowl sits upon a table at just the right height for her tow-headed toddler son, Liam—which for some, might seem a recipe for disaster.

Not so. Welcome to Lambert-Ryan’s periodic Facebook show, one of a series called “Baking with Babies.”

Video camera duly focused in on the action, Liam helps out enthusiastically. Guided by Lambert-Ryan’s hand, he scoops a cup of flour into the bowl. “1-2-3,” he says.

He seems inordinately interested in adding vanilla, which the recipe calls for, but not yet. With a wee one’s level of patience, he holds and shakes a bottle kept in his little kitchen, waiting for the opportunity to add it.

At one point, he “cracks” some toy eggs from his kitchen into the mixture. A little later on, he scoops up some dough with his little fingers and helps Lambert-Ryan squish it unceremoniously onto the baking sheet. Continue Reading

Food & Drink

Your Remote All-American Memorial Day Dessert

Memorial Day is going to be very different this year. It’ll be a while before we can picnic in large groups, due to the coronavirus pandemic—Philadelphia and environs continuing to be a red zone.

By all means, remember what the holiday stands for, but also celebrate within your own cozy little household.

To help you along, we have a recipe for a rich pound cake that you absolutely should add to the menu. Grand Marnier and citrus are the perfect aromatics to flavor it and olive oil makes it moist and delicious. It’s a perfect recipe for summer entertaining, especially when you serve it with mascarpone crème and seasonal berries.

Feel free to share this delicious recipe with your friends and family … and Happy Memorial Day.

OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH MASCARPONE CRÈME

SERVES 8

For the mascarpone crème

  • 1 (8 ounces) container mascarpone, chilled
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the cake

  • 1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier
  • Fresh berries, for serving

Continue Reading

Music, People

Seamus Kelleher: Singing a New Song, and the Message is Hope

Hope, optimism and resilience can be rare commodities in the age of coronavirus.

You might not expect any of the above from an Irish musician whose last booking came just three days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Like so many Irish musicians, Seamus Kelleher—a Galway-born virtuoso guitarist-singer-songwriter and alum of the celebrated band Blackthorn—lost work when the pandemic triggered state-mandated shutdowns at all the pubs, taverns and clubs where musicians typically find work during St. Patrick’s month.

“I did the Green Parrot in Newtown, Bucks County, on the 14th of March,” Kelleher recalls. “That was the last. It was an afternoon show. And it was surreal because at that stage there wasn’t a definite decision made to close everything down. It was just drip, drip, drip. But the owner and staff could tell. There was a real sense of impending doom. It was a very strange gig, and we just barely made the best of it, as we always do, but there was the sense that things could be changing, and that was very sobering for me.”

Right up until that day, Kelleher had been extremely busy. In fact, he explains, he was on target to have the best year of his solo career. In January, he embarked on a cross-country tour that included Colorado, Indiana and Kansas City. After that, he finished a 23-day tour of Florida before returning to Philadelphia for March madness. “I had 200 shows on the books, all across the country,” he says. To then only get halfway through March before everything closed down, he says, “was like having the rug pulled out from under me … but I wasn’t alone.”

Other local Irish musicians have regular jobs—assuming they still have them—and music is a sideline. For about 15 years, that was the case with Kelleher, who was employed as a speech writer in the corporate world, penning addresses for the presidents of Lincoln Financial and Drexel University, among others. But for the past five years, Kelleher has been committed to music full-time. But now, as a musician with no conventional day job, losing work had an impact. He continues to perform “porch concerts” live to Facebook, and they’ve been helpful, but Kelleher has been unexpectedly fortunate in another way.

During the past five years, Kelleher has devoted roughly two-thirds of his time purely to the performance of music, a lifelong passion dating back to the days when he was opening for the likes of Thin Lizzy. The remaining third of his career he devotes to motivational speaking. And he has quite the inspirational story to tell.

“I suffer from depression and anxiety and I’m a recovering alcoholic,” Kelleher explains, matter-of-factly. “So my motivational speech really talks about my journey. I incorporate some music into it, but the idea is to give hope for those who struggle with mental health and addiction. I also talk about suicide prevention. That’s a big, big part of what I talk about. I’ve been doing that the past three years, doing more and more of it.”

On March 22, Kelleher received a call out of the blue from Texas A&M College of Medicine. “I had spoken there a few times,” he says. “The last time was two years ago. And they asked me if I would talk to faculty and staff because a lot of their people were just starting to really stress out—as you can imagine. So I did a Zoom meeting for several hundred of their faculty and staff, and some of the students. Then, I did a few more meetings for them. After that, they asked me whether I would consider teaching a two-week class for the med students on mental wellness because the topic that I talked about was mental health in times of crisis.” Continue Reading

Arts, History

Is the Irish Language Dying?

Alene O’Malley

“Ireland has its own language?”

This is a question I have been asked several times since moving to the United States and every time I hear it, my heart breaks a little more. Yes, Ireland does have its own language. It’s not the most well-known or the most romantic language but it has been through more trials and tribulations than many. And more impressive than that, it has survived. Our mother tongue has endured and is now rightfully enjoying a period of prosperity and popularity.

The history of the Irish language is complicated and at times bleak. During colonial rule the English saw it as a weapon and moved to ban it before it could be used against them. Sadly, the language has never truly recovered from this time and has not yet reached the heights of its pre-penal law usage and fluency.

The origins of Ancient Irish are rooted in Celtic times. Examples can be seen as inscriptions on Ogham stones around Ireland and date back to as early as the 3rd century. The Celts appear to have been a well-travelled people as in 1989 archaeologist Robert Pyle discovered a bone needle etched with Ogham writing in Wyoming County, West Virginia.

Middle Irish, which existed between 900-1200 AD, included some Scandinavian influences as Anglo-Normans began settling in Ireland. Despite this, the Irish literary traditions remained strong and several manuscripts have survived from this time. Middle Irish is the language of a large swathe of literature including the entire Ulster Cycle or the Red Branch Cycle, a collection of Irish mythology. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: The Irish Immigrants Who Went Home

“I’ll take you home again, Kathleen, across the ocean wild and wide
To where your heart has ever been since first you were my bonny bride
The roses all have left your cheek, I’ve watched them fade away and die
Your voice is sad when e’er you speak and tears bedim your loving eyes.”

The familiar lines of “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” penned by Thomas P. Westendorf in 1875, evoke all the emotions associated with the theme of Irish immigration to the United States, particularly in the years after An Gorta Mór. They are the lyrical depiction of the sadness and longing experienced by the millions who crossed the Atlantic for a better life; the trade-off being they would never see their homes or families again.

It’s the prevailing image we all have, and for the most part it’s true. Although many Irish would be reunited with family members who had already come over, or relatives they would help to bring over at a future date, and letters were exchanged, a return journey was out of reach for the majority of those who immigrated to America.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and I’ve been intrigued by occurrences of “return migration” that I’ve come across over the years. Here are three different instances among those I’ve encountered.

The first, believe it or not, was in the 1600s. My earliest Irish ancestor to reach the shores of America was Miles Riley, born about 1614 in County Cavan. In 1634, he and his older brother Garrett arrived in the Virginia colony on the Bonaventure. Several years later, another brother, Thomas, joined them.

From what I’ve been able to glean, in the mid to late 16th century, the Clan Riley began losing a lot of their land and prestige. First to other clans, then to the English, and then through power struggles within the family. However, though their circumstances had changed, the brothers were not without means as they embarked on their new lives; they were given land grants and Miles is recorded as receiving an additional 1,100 acres in Virginia for sponsoring 20 immigrants in the 1660s.

But sometime in the early 1650s, Garrett found a way to return to Ireland as a landowner. He sold off his land grants in the colonies and bought his passage back to Ireland. He shows up on tax rolls in 1655 and 1665 as owning a six-room thatched cottage in Kells, County Meath. Exactly how and why this came about is a story still to be discovered, and hopefully there are records out there somewhere with more information. Continue Reading