• Immigrant Interviews!

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  • Click on the link below to go to Vincent McMahon’s Interview:

    Date of Birth – January 22, 1938
    Leagard South, Miltown Malbay,
    County Clare, Ireland

    Where were you born and when?

    My name is Vincent McMahon. I was born in the townland of Leagard South, Miltown Malbay, County Clare, Ireland on January 22, 1938.

    Please describe the place where you were born.

    We lived on a small farm outside the town of Miltown Malbay. Also, close by was the seaside area known as the Spanish Point, which was popular with English visitors, especially before Ireland gained its independence in 1922. Prior to 1922, Spanish Point was also home to one of the largest landowners in County Clare – the Maroney family. They owned Milltown House which is now a residential convent school for girls. When the Maroneys ruled the area, my ancestors were tenants on their own land. That all changed with Ireland’s independence in 1922 although the landlord’s agent managed to hang onto a small piece of the land we farmed. Eventually, we bought that piece, which was a reason for celebration. If you have not lived on the land in Ireland, you have no idea how important land ownership is to the Irish people. We were deprived of ownership for so long, once we got the opportunity, we hung on tenaciously to the small subsistence-level farms. Today, in 2019, many small farms are being consolidated into larger units for economic reasons. To some extent, this is because so many young people have left the land now that higher education has become available to so many Irish people.

    How many in your family and where did you fit in?
    I’m an only child. Given that I grew up in an Irish Catholic family, this is very unusual. However, my father died when I was very young, and my mother did not remarry. She and her mother ran the piece of land until I was old enough to help. Unfortunately, my grandmother died when I was 15 and my mother died when I was 16. I was very fortunate that my mother’s sister lived in New Haven, Connecticut and she “claimed” me to live in the United States. Obtaining the required visa and other documents took about a year but eventually I wound up in New Haven. The year was 1957.

    How did your family make a living?

    As I mentioned earlier, we were small farmers. Our primary source of income was the sale of milk from a few cows and the sale of a few beef cattle each year. We never had much money but since we had a few acres in which we planted potatoes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, and other vegetables we didn’t need much money. Since the garden was on the site of a former turf bog, we were able to dig pits in which we stored the vegetables over the winter months. Since we grew everything we ate I often tell Americans that we were organic long before the phrase came into popular usage. When I came to the States, I was surprised to find that many in the early colonial period also stored their vegetables in what they called root cellars which perform the same function as our pits dug in what were previously turf banks which had been cut away for fuel over the years.

    What was your family and community life like?

    Up until the time I was seven we lived pretty much as our ancestors had lived for generations except that we were now free of the English landlords. Most of our neighbors had lived on the same piece of land for many generations and knew each other very well. Since there was little other entertainment, neighbors visited each other in the evening and talked about crops, cattle, and of course the weather! The weather in the West of Ireland is always unpredictable because of storms coming in off the Atlantic. Even though we were a mile or more inland, foam from Atlantic storms often reached our home. Crops and cattle were very important to us and our neighbors because bad harvests could have a very detrimental effect on our meager income. Politics were often discussed, especially politics that impacted the farming community, and of course in the longer view, political aspects of Ireland’s fight for freedom. The Catholic Church also played a major role in community life and when the Angelus bell rang at 6 PM every evening all work stopped, and everybody said a silent prayer. A bicycle was our main mode of transportation and consequently, we had little contact with the broader world. That all changed when I was about seven and electricity came to our part of the country through what was then known as the Rural Electrification Scheme. At that time, we got a radio which picked up programs not only from Ireland but also from several European countries and even, pretty late at night, a few American stations. This truly broadened my horizons and made me aware of some facets of American culture before I came to New Haven.

    Who did what in your household?

    Since my father died when I was very young and I only vaguely remember him, my mother took over the role of running most tasks that occurred outdoors. She hired help when necessary but in truth, she did a great deal of the work herself. My grandmother handled much of what went on inside the house but also took on various outdoor tasks like feeding the chickens and when necessary, getting one of the older hens ready for the stew pot! Both my mother and grandmother went to town occasionally and picked up some groceries in a reusable cloth bag. In 2019 we have come back to that practice in America. Since I went to school in the town and we did most of our shopping in one or two stores, I would sometimes bring a shortlist of items such as tea or sugar that I could pick up on my way home. Because it was a small community where everybody knew everybody else and shopkeepers knew who they could trust, I never carried money or paid for any of the items I picked up. Instead, the shopkeeper would enter these items into a ledger and whenever we sold something that brought in some money, my mother would go into the store and pay off our bill. Trust in each other was a very important part of community life.

    What schools did you attend?
    Like most young people in Ireland in those days, I attended the local National School. This one school took us from what was essentially kindergarten to seventh grade at which time young people who were not needed at home to work the land could go on to secondary school. At that time, secondary school was not taxpayer-funded which it is today. The Gaelic language was an important part of the curriculum but unfortunately, we never spoke it at home or on the street with the result that now so many years later I understand very little of my native language. Of course, other subjects such as mathematics, history, and geography were also taught and in retrospect, it’s surprising how much we learned, especially since some teachers had to teach up to three grades in a single classroom. The classrooms were heated with an open turf fire and some teachers cared enough about their students to hang their wet coats around the fire so that they would dry out during the day. Others were not so caring and inflicted punishments that would get them in really big trouble today. The turf fire was the only heat in the classrooms and parents were expected to provide the turf necessary to keep the rooms relatively warm.
    Boys who lived in the town often played football after school but those of us who lived on a bit of land had to go home and go to work. Those who lived on the land but had older brothers to do the work might also play football with the local club. This was not a luxury available to me.

    What did you do after graduation?

    Because I started young and did well in the National School, I was too young to leave school when I had completed the National School program. Consequently, I went on to a technical school which was like technical schools in Connecticut. During the time I was there, my grandmother died which I found very upsetting because we had always been close.
    Just about a year after my grandmother’s death, my mother had a heart attack and died also. To be honest, there is much about that time that I do not remember. Sigmund Freud would have probably called it motivated forgetting.
    I was very fortunate during this period in that I had two aunts and a cousin who lived nearby. My cousin Mick stayed with me for several months and helped with the paperwork and other logistics required to arrange my coming to America. Because he had lived in England for several years, he knew his way around cities and he was especially helpful when I had to go to Dublin to apply for a visa at the American Consulate. Dublin was a real eye-opener for a boy who had never left the West of Clare! Because there are two major universities in the city, Trinity and University College Dublin, people from all over the world lived in Dublin, even 60 years ago. One of my aunts cooked dinner for me most evenings and the other aunt looked in on me frequently and make sure everything was okay. The latter aunt even knitted a warm sweater and wool socks for me because she heard that the weather was very cold in Connecticut. I still have that pair of wool socks sixty years later.
    By the time I was 17, all the paperwork was in place and passage was booked on a Cunard liner to bring me to New York where my aunt and uncle, who lived in New Haven, had arranged to pick me up. This aunt, my mother’s sister, had come to America many years previously and had married Thomas Cassidy who came from County Roscommon in Ireland. Two of the conditions required to get a visa to enter the United States were that the immigrant has a job waiting for him or her and that the sponsoring party have the necessary resources to support the immigrant if he or she was unable to earn a living. My Aunt Martha and Uncle Tom had met these requirements before I left Ireland.

    Where did you settle in the United States?

    When I came to the US, I lived with my aunt and uncle for a few years. They were truly good people and did everything they could to ensure that my transition to city life was reasonably smooth. Since I had few skills that were useful in an industrialized society, I went to work in a manufacturing plant where most of the workers were on piecework and had come from Eastern Europe. It wasn’t an ideal environment for a young fellow who had just come off the land, but it was what was available at the time. After a while, I joined the Irish Club in New Haven and met many others who had also come over from the West of Ireland in the previous few years. One of the people I met at the Club was a young fellow from County Roscommon named Kevin Glancy. Kevin suggested that I come to work with him as a warehouseman at Western Electric in West Haven. Kevin made the arrangements and I went to be interviewed by the warehouse supervisor. It turns out that the supervisor’s mother had come from County Clare many years earlier and we spent more time talking about the homeland than the duties of a warehouseman. Of course, I got the job!
    This was very fortunate on several fronts. There were several other young guys from Ireland working in the warehouse and it was a much more pleasant environment than the manufacturing plant in which I previously worked. Even more important, Western Electric had a tuition reimbursement plan whereby their employees could attend schools like the University New Haven in the evening and if they got a grade of B or better the company reimbursed the employee the cost of that course. This program allowed me to move up from warehouse work to a position as a computer programmer and in many ways was responsible for a successful career at many different levels in the computer field.
    Shortly after I started work at Western Electric, I met my future wife Mary (Gethings) who had recently come to America from County Wexford in Ireland. We got married about two years after we met and to be truthful, I must give her much credit for pushing me to further my education and for tolerating my going to school three nights and studying three nights a week in the attic of our home on Court Street in West Haven. Eventually, three children came along and Mary worked part-time at Saint Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven. She also took care of the finances, cooked, cleaned, and took care of the children while I worked at various out-of-town locations.

    Have you ever gone back?

    When I first came here it took me about 15 years before I could bring myself to go back to Ireland. The memories were just too painful. However, after the first trip, it became easier to return “home”. One of the things that made this easier is that Mary comes from a big family who were always very welcoming and went out of their way to make sure we had a good time. Now we go back every two years. Ireland today is totally different from the country I left sixty years ago. For one thing, since I’ve been away so long, many of the people I knew are now gone to their final reward. I recognize far more names in the local cemetery than I recognize on the streets of Milltown Malbay. This is not only because of the passage of time but also the fact that immigration from the west of Ireland was so widespread in the 1950s. Some went to England, some to the United States, and some to Australia. Since Ireland joined the European Union in 1972 many young Irish men and women have spread out across the European continent, some in search of work and some in search of adventure. Given that Ireland’s economy is so strong now, this may surprise some people, but we must keep in mind that high-paying jobs are generally found in cities like Dublin, rarely in the rural West.
    An occasional immigrant chooses to retire back to the part of Ireland where they grew up. However, these are few and far between. This to some extent is because the place they left has changed and the people they left are no longer there to greet them. Also, they have established families and friendships in the New World and that’s where they are likely to stay. This is certainly true for me.

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  • Click on the link below to go to James Mayne’s Interview:

  • Date of Birth – June 13th, 1939
    Sailor Town, County Down, Belfast,
    Ulster, Ireland

    Attendees: Marie Lawless, John Lawless, Bernard Keilty, Sheila Johnson, Nancy Smith, Maureen Richitelli and Amy Lacey

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