Neither rain, nor rapidly dropping temperatures that changed the rain to snow, could keep away the crowd that gathered Sunday at West Laurel Hill Cemetery to honor the 57 Irish laborers who died at Duffy’s Cut in the summer of 1832. The story of the workers who came from Counties Donegal, Tyrone and Derry to build Mile 59 of the Pennsylvania Railroad, but who were all dead within six weeks of their arrival, is one that has been brought out of the shadows of history by brothers William and Frank Watson. Along with a strong team of volunteers and supporters, they continue to work to recover the bodies of all 57 men and women.
Of the seven that have been reclaimed, two have returned home to Ireland. John Ruddy, from Donegal, is buried in Ardara in a grave donated by Vince Gallagher, and Catherine Burns rests in Clonoe Parish in her home county of Tyrone. Here in West Laurel Hill, all were remembered on the 7th anniversary of the dedication of the memorial.
The tribute included a procession led by the Duffy’s Cut Pipers, the national anthem of the United States and Ireland sung by Vince Gallagher, and remarks by Nancy Goldenberg as president & CEO of West Laurel Hill, William Watson and Frank Watson, Bob McAllister of the Emerald Society of Chester County, Kathy McGee Burns and Frank McDonnell on behalf of the Donegal Society and a poetry reading by author and historian Marita Krivda. Continue Reading
She’s been living in NYC since 1982, but Mary Courtney’s voice is pure Irish, the acoustic rendering of an evening around a turf fire, drinking a cuppa fortified with whiskey and honey, while the winds blow in from the west and an ethereal mist shrouds the cottage. It’s a voice that is mighty belting out rebel rock, but exalted when it has a ballad to bestow. It’s a voice that never disappoints, and is able to take old songs to new places.
The Castlegregory, County Kerry, native has a new CD out titled “Freedom’s Pioneers” that pays tribute to heroes of the rebellions Ireland has borne witness to over the last several hundred years. She explained, “I felt that the sacrifice of those souls needed to be remembered and honoured as well.” And not only the Catholics who fought for Ireland, for, as she points out, “A lot of our patriots were Protestants, both those that fought and those who were writers. I feel that their sacrifice is often overlooked, and I hope this CD shines a light on their contributions & highlights the fact that the struggle for freedom was not always split along religious lines.” Continue Reading
On Sunday, November 18, 2018, when Sister Frances Kirk, SSJ, is honored by the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, it will be for a lifetime devoted to education and service. But it was as chairperson and organizer of Project Children for over 30 years that she was able to make an extraordinary impact on the lives of thousands of children in both the United States and Ireland.
Born in 1932 in Northeast Philadelphia to parents Frank Joseph Kirk and Elizabeth Rose “Lizzie” Falls, who had come over from County Tyrone in the early 1920s, Sister Frances has always embraced her Irish heritage. Nine of the 14 siblings in her mother’s family left their village of Glenelly Valley to make Philadelphia their home, but they kept in close touch with the ones who stayed behind. “Letters, letters, letters,” Sister Frances explained. “And money, money, money. Every letter had to have a five pound note in it. There was no money at home.”
The oldest of the five siblings in her own family, Sister Frances came to the convent at age 19. Though she took a year off after graduating high school to work, she had no doubt that her life would be devoted to the Sisters of St. Joseph. Continue Reading
Those were words spoken to Denise Foley—in a good way!—back in 2015 in the middle of her dedicated campaign on the Irish Philadelphia Facebook page to raise money for the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center in Mount Airy. The Irish Center was looking at thousands of dollars in repairs and back taxes, and as part of the group that had come together to make sure the doors of the center didn’t close, Denise was going to make sure they succeeded.
And succeed they did, raising over $83,000. For Denise, the triumph was as much in how they did it as in the fact that they did it. “This was another case where it was just a great group of people. Everybody did everything they could, everybody was 100 percent behind raising this money. And this was hundreds of people giving $10, $20 … all these people working together for something.” Continue Reading
Jimmy Fallon, eat your heart out! You may have made lip syncing cool, but last Friday night the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia filled the ballroom of the Paxon Hollow Golf Club in Broomall with its Lip Sync Challenge. Over 300 people turned out to cheer on the ten acts who performed like the entertainers they were channeling.
And the theme of the night was FUN.
One of the most important missions of the Immigration Center is its work with the seniors in the community, including a monthly lunch at the Irish Center in Mt. Airy, so it was only fitting that two of the acts, The Jailbirds and Seniors in Sync, were composed of seniors. Proving age has no season, they brought the house down with their performances, including interpretations of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Continue Reading
Tiernagh & Mia Moore and Meagan & Jenna Diver with their cards for Caolan & Conall
“It’s overwhelming how people just come together in situations like this. Situations that you don’t even think about before they happen.”
These are the words of Fidelma McGroary, and she knows what she’s talking about. Fidelma is one of five Delaware County women who organized last Sunday’s Garden Tea Party to raise money for two strong little boys who are fighting cancer.
Caolan Melaugh, the cousin of Fidelma’s sister-in-law in County Donegal, was diagnosed at four weeks with Neuroblastoma. Now four months old, Caolan is undergoing an 18 month protocol in Ireland to treat his cancer, but the best chance for a successful cure would mean treatment in either the U.S. or Europe. An expensive undertaking, the Caolan Melaugh Fund has been established online, and half of the money raised at Sunday’s Tea Party will be donated to Caolan.
Conall Harvey is much closer to home. The five year old, whose family is part of St. Denis Parish in Havertown and whose great-grandmother was the late Rosabelle Gifford, was diagnosed in March of this year with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The Leukemia was discovered when Conall was admitted to the ER with what his parents thought was dehydration from a stomach virus. But instead of a stomach virus, Conall’s body had gone into septic shock from a bacterial infection that his immune system was too weak to fight off. Doctors amputated both Conall’s legs at the knee and part of his hand to save his life; the other half of the money raised Sunday will go directly to Conall’s family as he undergoes chemotherapy and rehabilitation.
“These are two special little boys,” Fidelma said. “And we decided we weren’t going to let another day go by without doing something to help them. We’ve been talking about giving back and paying it forward for years. I wanted to do something for Caolan, and then we heard about Conall. That’s how it started.
“This could not have happened without Louise Moore, Sharon Doogan, Kathy McGuinness and Colette Gallagher-Mohan. And the people who donated raffle baskets and food and their time. Everybody lifted the phone and said ‘What can I bring?’ And then the word started to spread, that’s the people of the Irish Community.”
Another group that was instrumental in making the Garden Tea Party so successful was their children. “They did all the decor. They did everything, we couldn’t have done it without them,” Fidelma said. “It was important that the kids were a part of this. I wanted them to grow up realizing how blessed they are and to learn to give back. So when they grow up and we’re old and gone, they’ll carry on.”
The special guest of the day was Mairead Comaskey, the Philadelphia Rose of Tralee. Beautiful and gracious, Mairead could usually be found with a trail of young girls in her wake. In addition to judging the best-dressed contests, she happily posed for pictures and shared her sash and crown with the crowd. In a few weeks, Mairead is off to Tralee for the International Rose Pageant, but on Sunday her heart was with Caolan and Conall.
At the time of the fundraiser, Conall Harvey was still recovering at CHOP, but his aunt, Rose Harvey Kurtz, was at the event. “Conall is just a beautiful bright light, a beautiful spirit,” she said. “He’s a fighter. His school dedicated a day to him, and the motto was ‘Conall Strong.’ We do down to visit him to brighten his day, and instead he brightens ours.
“The outpouring of love and faith is keeping us going. There’s something about Conall’s spirit that is bringing out the love and goodness in people. People’s faith is coming back. The positive thing is the strength of the family and friends who are so supportive, and the beautiful people who do beautiful things like this. It’s overwhelming how good people are.”
You can see all the photos from the Garden Tea Party below.
We’re still not quite finished with this year’s St. Patrick’s Day experience in Philadelphia.
We’ve had many requests for the speech that Kathy McGee Burns, President of the Irish Memorial and Grand Marshal of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, gave at The Memorial (located at Front and Chestnut Streets) on March 17th. So here is the video, and the transcript, of her eloquent expression of not only the story of her Irish family’s experience, but the experience of so many who left their homeland for a better life. And found it.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY SPEECH AT THE IRISH MEMORIAL, BY KATHY MCGEE BURNS, MARCH 17, 2015
“Good afternoon. As you know, I’m Kathy McGee Burns, President of the Irish Memorial, and I’m grateful to be giving this speech because as we all gaze upon this beautiful monument, it tells a story. The story I’m going to tell you is of my family; but it could be any one of your families. That monument depicts many aspects of the Irish.
My great-great grandparents, Cornelius and Kate McGee had six children. Four of them were forced out of Ireland. They all lived in Gweedore, County Donegal, and the McGees were tenants on their own land, forced to pay high rents. That is because the landlord really wanted the land for the grazing of his high-bred English and Scottish lambs and sheep. We were in the way. They thought more of their sheep than our people. So their son, Thomas McGee, got on one of those ships and headed to the Port of Philadelphia. His people were miners and railroaders and servants, but the result of their tenacity and their Irish spirit is part of the fiber of Philadelphia.
They were the builders of St. Malachy’s in North Philadelphia. That’s where Irish children were educated by the Sisters of Mercy. One of those children was my grandmother, Mary Josephine Callahan. Religion was one of the stepping stones to Irish success in Philadelphia; through the nuns and priests who educated us, to the bishops and the cardinals and the parish system which was a powerful builder of Irish success.
Well, Mary Jo and her husband Hugh McGee had a son, Timothy, my father. He was brought up in Swampoodle and I bet if I took a chance, many of you here were from Swampoodle. He graduated from Roman Catholic High School, went to work for the ‘Ac-a-me’ and then started his own business. He was highly successful.
The Irish built these cities through their unions, their bricklayers, their builders, their electricians, the operating engineers, the McCloskeys and the Kellys.
Tim McGee, my father, had four children. He made sure we were educated. Each one of us have graduate degrees. And I am proudly married to an operating engineer. The Irish have gained power by their involvement in the law. They were firemen, policemen, attorneys, politicians and judges. Well, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius McGee is none other than my own daughter, the Honorable Kelly Wall, who became a judge.
So this is what The Irish Memorial is to all of us, given an opportunity in this world, this city. It represents the hardships, the ‘Irish Need Not Applies,’ the many avenues of Irish Philadelphia education—Villanova, St. Joe’s, my own school, Chestnut Hill College. It represents Boathouse Row and the lighting of Philadelphia by the electricians’ union. So we owe our love and respect to our ancestors, and a huge thank you to those who conceived the plan and raised the money and built what is known as the most beautiful monument in the world to honor ‘An Gorta Mor.’
Denise has seen the sisters play in Inishowen, I’ve seen one of the sisters (Jolene) play in Buncrana; of course we were going to see the Henry Girls play when they came to us (although, frankly, we’d both rather be in Donegal seeing them play). So last Friday, when Karen, Lorna and Jolene performed at Burlap and Bean, in Newtown Square, along with musician Ry Cavanaugh, we were there. Denise got a few photos, I got a few videos (the atmosphere was small, intimate and dark, so the visual quality isn’t that great; just listen to their magical, musical harmonies). And when they closed the evening with their a cappella version of “The Parting Glass,” they did indeed bring joy to us all.
The Henry Girls have three CDs they’ve recorded: “Dawn,” “December Moon,” and “Louder Than Words.” All three are unique, yet showcase the rare and particular unison in which the sisters play and sing.
Their recordings are available for purchase through their website, The Henry Girls, as well as for download on iTunes.
So, check out their music, and then add it to your collection; it’s music you’ll want to listen to on repeat.