Tribute To An Irish Mother

Mothers will be celebrated throughout the United States this Sunday. When working on a post to describe the attributes of Irish and Irish American mothers, I came across this speech, delivered a number of years ago to a gathering of the Irish America Fund, by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

His heartfelt, poignant words, dedicated to his own mother, perfectly sum up the way I feel about my Irish mother.  My words seemed inadequate beside this beautiful tribute. I decided instead to share his eloquent speech with you today, as a tribute to mothers everywhere.


Tribute to an Irish Mother


“Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden is the soul, spirit and essence of what it means to be an Irish American.


She is spiritual.

She is romantic.

She honors tradition,

and understands the thickest of all substances is blood,

and the greatest of all virtues is love.


She has taught her children, all her children in my neighborhood who flocked to her hearth, that you are defined by your sense of honor and you are redeemed by your loyalty.  She is quintessentially Irish — a combination of pragmatism and optimism.

She also understands as my friend Pat Moynihan once said, there is no “point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.”

But she is more. She measures success in how quickly you get up after you have been knocked down.


She believes bravery lives in every heart,

and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone’s life is inevitable,

but giving up is unforgivable.


As long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive. And you are not dead until you’ve seen God’s face. My mother is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish – - proud, on the edge of defiance. Generous to a fault. Loyal to the end.

She made not only me believe, but scores of my friends and acquaintances believe in themselves. As a child I stuttered. She said it was because I was so bright I couldn’t get the thoughts out quickly enough. When my face was dirty, and I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome I was. When my wife and daughter were killed, she told me God sends no cross a man is not able to bear.


And when I triumphed, she reminded me it was because of others.


She was watching through the kitchen window as I got knocked down by two bigger guys behind my grandfather’s home. She sent me back out and demanded that I, to use their phrase, “bloody their nose,” so I could walk down that alley the next day.

When my father quit his job on the spot because his abusive boss threw a bucket full of silver dollars on the floor of a car dealership to humiliate his employees, she told him how proud she was.


No one is better than you,

You are every man’s equal,

and every man is equal to you.

You must be a man of your word,

for without your word you are not a man.


When I was in eighth grade, I was a lieutenant on the safety patrol. My job was to keep order on the bus. My sister and best friend Valerie acted up. At dinner that night I told my mother and father I had a dilemma. I had to turn my sister in – it was a matter of honor. My parents said that was not my only option. The next day I turned my badge in.

I believe the traits that make my mother a remarkable woman mirror the traits that make the Irish a remarkable people. Bent, but never bowed. Discriminated against, but always looking down at their discriminator. Economically deprived, but spiritually enriched. Denied an education, but a land of scholars and poets.

As I look out at those massive Corinthian columns, I see my 5 foot, 2 inch mother, who stands taller in my eyes than any pillar in this room.

And I think of the Irish poem “Any Woman” by Katherine Tynan:


“I am the pillars of the house;

The keystone of the arch am I.

Take me away, and roof and wall

Would fall to ruin utterly.


I am the fire upon the hearth,

I am the light of the good sun,

I am the heat that warms the earth,

Which else were colder than a stone.”


- From a speech by Joseph R. Biden


Joe Biden’s mother passed away in 2010.  Her legacy is truly appreciated by her son. 

As an Irish American Mom I strive to be a straight-talking but supportive, encouraging mother, just like she was.

Wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.




Lá Na Máithreacha Shona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)

Irish American Mom

The Murphy Family Comes to America

Today I am thrilled to share a new immigrant tale – the story of the Murphy family of Seattle, and one reader’s quest to trace his Irish roots.

Created by Kerry Thomas Murphy,

Seattle, March 27, 2013


This is the story of learning about my Irish family. Like all stories…there has to be a beginning. Was it in 1846 when my great great grandfather was born?  Or does it begin the day I decided to find the family?

Growing up, I knew I was Irish…with a name Kerry Thomas Murphy…well not much of a stretch there.  My dad was always saying how “that got my Irish  temper up!”

My grand father had a touch of a brogue…


“Quit running in the house, or you will fall on your noggin!”

“Oh, by the saints! Will you look at that!” 


No one ever talked about Ireland. As a child, it was almost down played. My mom is Native American, so I was able to get the advantages of that.

On my mom’s side were scary drunken Indians…on my dad’s side, it was a little better.  My grandfather drank, but it was calm. The food was good…we had lots of ham, lots of mashed potatoes with green onion, potato soup…

My grandfather was a character, and always had a pet name for everyone…he loved his beer, and after 30 years of driving a truck for Boeing, he retired in 1969. My dad, started driving for Boeing in 1974, and I followed in 2001.

It wasn’t until 2012 I gave any thought to my heritage. My wife Traci, became a member of Traci told me I should start my family tree. I did.

Within a day I was really shocked and surprised. I was really more Irish than I ever thought! I became very fascinated and started my quest to figure out where the Murphy clan came from. No living person in our family could answer that. I now knew I would become a detective.

Every family member knew that John Murphy came from Ireland, as well as his wife Margaret Ryan. No other facts. I had researched a little bit of my great grandpa Thomas, but John and Margaret……Where to start?

I assumed it was a nice love story, John and Margaret married before they left for America. I spent too many wasted hours on this theory…they met in America…

19th Century Transatlantic Ship – © Copyright Shaun McGuire and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

Image Credit

John came to America in 1865 and was married in April 1870. I found a distant relative that had some facts about them. I figured that I might be able to get more info if I could get death certificates. I ordered them online.

Bingo! Or so I thought….John’s parents were Michael Murphy and Mary O’Brien. Margaret, only had a father listed, another Michael. I struggled and struggled to find a Michael Murphy, Mary O’Brien, and a son named John…. born in 1847.

I went to Roots…. I came up with a zero…close matches but not right. I decided to take a chance…what if Mary O’Brien was…not O’Brien but Ryan? I typed it in …I got several matches!  I found my threesome! John, was baptized in St. Abbens County Laois, and lived in Turra! I continued to research…….I found the parents of both Michael and Mary…using the knowledge of how the Irish named their children….I was able to find relatives up to the late 1600’s!!!!!!!!!!

You might think that was the mystery of where my family came from, but it’s only the beginning.  I wanted to know what it was like to be in Ireland back then… a cute cottage, a life of farming…evenings in a pub? No. Sadly no. My family was Roman Catholic and had to endure the hell of the potato famine. Life was not good for them. It’s little wonder that John never talked about Ireland. Margaret came from Tipperary, and I think she was little bit better off because the family knows a little more about her.

So John was born in 1846. He left Ireland in 1865. He took a boat to England, and was bound for America with his brothers and sisters. John was poor, and uneducated.  He landed in New York. Between 1965 and 1870, he met, and married Margaret, and lived in Connecticut.   He had two children, and around 1880 he decided to head west.

Old Western Covered Wagon

Old Western Covered Wagon

Image Credit

The Family always said it was looking for work. The first stop was Illinois…. All he knew was farming. His wife taught him how to read and write and was known for her temper. After Illinois, it was onto the Minnesota territories…more farming…more kids.

His eldest, Thomas, was given to drink, was a painter, a bar room bouncer, and square dance caller. It was said his temper was so bad, he cold coked a horse bare fisted with one hit. He loved to fight….One night calling a square dance….he met my great grandmother. My great grandmother was a Murphy, but protestant. She was disowned by her family for marrying a catholic. They were married in 1900 in Iowa.

The family lived mostly in isolation  and this is probably why so many things stayed the same…I’m sure that is why my grandpa still was so Irish……the family hitched up the horses and wagons…and move to Spokane Washington where most of the family lived, and John and most of his boys farmed.


Mount Rainier from Boeing Field

Image Credit

Except one…. Thomas. He wasn’t a farmer. And for some reason packed up his wife and kids and headed to Seattle. Thomas and most of his boys were house painters and wall paper hangers. Thomas would go on to hang wall paper in the most expensive houses of the day…but “Always had whiskey on his breath.”

Of course, there was going to be one boy, not to follow. William Murphy Sr. Who, in the late thirties became a Teamster and drove a truck. His boy, decided to drive a truck. And, Myself? Followed in the footsteps of my father, and my father’s father. I still have a lot to learn about my families history…

View of County Laois from the Rock of Dunamase

View of County Laois from the Rock of Dunamase

Image Credit

I want to go to County Laois, and perhaps retire there. I have so much to learn. So this is my family’s story. The story of a Murphy coming to America. In the end it’s the story of learning. It’s the story of Irish history for better or worse.  It’s reclaiming the lost history of a family that saw troubled and tough times, but did okay. This is really the story of me.

Hope you enjoy – ……………………………………………….Kerry.


Thank you, Kerry, for sharing your family’s story with us. I hope you get to go to County Laois someday and see where it all began.


Go Raibh Maith Agat

(Thank You)


Irish American Mom



The Crest – A Documentary Film About Two Descendants Of The King Of The Blaskets

“Two descendants of an Irish king journey to the island he once presided over — not to reclaim the land, but to surf the waves.”

This tagline captured my imagination. Today I am delighted to share a guest post, written by Eliza Kane, co-producer of an amazing documentary film, The Crest

It tells the story of two descendants of the King of the Blasket Islands who have never met.  Patrick Kane’s (in Irish Pádraig O Catháin’s) great-great-grandsons have inherited a deep seated love for the ocean and surfing.  Upon discovering each other, they arranged to meet for the first time in the land of their unique heritage, to explore their history and satisfy a desire to conquer the dangerous water of The Blasket Islands. This week their dreams will become reality.


Here is Eliza’s story……


The Blasket Islands

View Of The Blasket Islands From The County Kerry Coast

I grew up hearing tales about a legend of Irish culture, the small collection of sparsely populated isles off the coast of West Kerry known as the Blaskets. Though beloved in Ireland for their rugged beauty and the iconic folk lifestyle that prevailed there since approximately the 11th century, not many Americans are aware of this magical place – I happened to be more fortunate because my father’s family hails from it.

Still, I never expected to play a role in passing those stories on by co-producing a full-scale documentary. That is, not until last summer, when through a nexus of fateful alignments Butter Flavored Films green lit the project; I came on board to assist my brother John, who had fostered the idea into a solid pitch.

There have already been many studies on the fishermen and families who settled An Blascaod Mór, the Great Blasket Island. Historians and literary scholars are fascinated by its time capsule-like preservation of pre-Anglicized gaeltacht culture, the wealth of Irish-language memoirs and poetry that emerged from so small a community, and the eventual demise of the island.

Painting Surf Boards On The Blasket Islands

Andy (the east coast cousin) painting surfboards handmade by Dennis (the west coast cousin) in front of their great great grandfather’s house on the Great Blasket.

It was evacuated by the government in 1953; the reasons given spoke to the welfare of the last inhabitants: the fundamental unsustainability of their lifestyle given limited resources and dwindling youth, the unrelenting danger of the waters that separated them from the mainland, and perhaps most poetically, their growing loneliness.

But the film my brother and I are producing will not be a mere re-telling of what is already known and romanticized about the Blaskets; it will instead revive the ghosts of those lost generations by telling its own story, one set in the present day. This story features two direct descendants of the most famous Blasket king, Padraig O’Cathain (Kane), American cousins who happen to have their own reckless love for fatal waters: they have both devoted their lives to surfing.

Denis 'DK' Kane

Denis ‘DK’ Kane

 Image Credit

Due to the separation of Kane family branches when their parents were young, Dennis “DK” Kane and Andy Jacob just found out about each other as adults, only some months ago. While doing research on his unique Blasket roots, DK was able to track down my brother John. When we realized this long lost cousin seemed to be a west coast version of Andy, with whom we’d grown up on the east coast, we knew they had to get acquainted – and they will, meeting for the first time during Ireland’s historic reunion of international offspring, The Gathering.

During this weeklong celebration we are documenting the meeting of these youths and their attempts to catch the waves that both kept their ancestors protected from cultural genocide and ultimately pushed them out of their reclusion and into the American frontier. We will also capture what it is for these two boys to discover each other while grown and to re-graft the severed branches of their family tree in the country of its roots.

Andrew Jacob

Andrew Jacob

 Image Credit

It could seem that I am enamored with this story because it belongs to my family, but I would argue that truly, it is the story of everyone who has emigrated and of their children’s children who grow up elsewhere. We, the grand- or great-grand children of immigrants are often reminded of the fact that we are not just American, and yet it remains a mystery as to what that something is.

For example, all my life people have approached me and said, “Let me guess – you’re Irish.” I suppose that with my fair, freckled complexion and fiery hair it seems a safe bet, and genetically speaking, it is right on the mark.

Literally, however, I am only American, as are my parents and theirs.

So how much am I actually Irish, if at all?


Did I only inherit a stereotypical silhouette,

or might something of my ancestors’ homeland

and their passions have been transmitted as well?


Arriving On the Blasket Islands

The Surfers & Film Crew Arriving On The Blasket Islands This Weekend.

These are questions every non-native American must shoulder, whether or not she addresses them consciously. There looms the shadow of an orphan complex among all of us who are descended from the pioneering spirits of immigrants. It is natural to crave reunion, to look backward and beyond our current circumstances to understand their origins.

The Irish intuit that stories like DK and Andy’s are out there waiting to be told, which is why they have organized the Gathering to invite us back. And we, the estranged children of Ireland, are only too glad to go and be embraced by the culture that birthed our families into being.

To learn more about our documentary, “The Crest”, please visit

We will gratefully accept pledges to our fundraising campaign via Kickstarter through the morning of 4 June 2013, after which support can be directed to Thank you!

Eliza Kane

Eliza C. Kane

Image Credit

Eliza C. Kane earned a BA and MA in literature with a concentration in Eco-criticism. She has taught anglophone literature and writing at University of Massachusetts Boston as well as Lycée Félix Esclangon in Provence, France.

Originally from Vermont, often on the road, now based in Cambridge, MA, Eliza works for the Alliance Française and devotes her free time to creative writing, conceptual art, and other narrative projects such as this one. Her work has appeared in such publications as Inertia Magazine, Ekleksographia, nthWORD Magazine, Stranded in Stereo, San Diego CityBeat, and The Mass Media.


Thank you for this wonderful article. Wishing Eliza and her team every success with this fabulous project. I hope your fundraising efforts will help bring this documentary to fruition.

Enjoy every moment of your time in Ireland and County Kerry, Eliza. I hope your experiences there will help you reconnect with the land of your ancestors. Although you may be first and foremost an American, your Irish ancestors’ passions for life, storytelling and adventure runs deep in your veins. As an Irish woman born and bred, I say you and yours will always be Irish too.  I look forward to watching the finished documentary.


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Irish Genealogy Summer School, University College Cork

Genealogy research is more than the pursuit of knowledge.  It is a search for a generational continuum of mind and spirit, urged on by echoes from the past.

How many of us have boxes of black and white photos recording the proud faces of our ancestors?  Some are strangers, some we know through stories, and some do not even grace the family images we treasure.  They are only whispers in the annals of family memory.

Thanks to Martine Brennan I found this lovely quotation this week.

“Walking I am listening to a deeper way. 

Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.

Be still, they say. Watch and listen.

You are the result of the love of thousands.”

- Linda Hogan, Native American writer.


A family tree is not merely a recording of who, what, when and where, nor simply a collection of intertwined branches of names and dates.  It is a deeply rooted connection to our heritage and spiritual past.

The quest to learn more about those who have shaped our lives is an honorable pursuit. I was delighted to learn that University College Cork is hosting a genealogy summer school this year to help all genealogists, from beginners to advanced researchers.

Images Of Cork City

Image Credit

For anyone who is planning to be in Ireland in July, this wonderful, week-long, genealogy course might be of interest.  One-day participation is also available.  Here are further details from the website:


Ancestral Connections: Names, Places and Spaces

Irish Genealogy Summer School,

University College Cork,

June 30-July 6, 2013


This genealogy summer school offers a complete course in the latest Irish genealogy research, as one would expect from a summer school held in UCC, one of the world’s leading universities.  All aspects of the subject are covered by a series of presentations and ‘hands on’ workshops given by a selection of Ireland’s leading genealogical lecturers and experts.

The latest online and offline sources are described and explained in presentations which will be of great interest to the seeker of Irish roots and family history, whether beginner or expert.

Fota House, Co. Cork – © Copyright Richard Fensome and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

Image Credit

Thankfully, it is not all work. A number of trips are offered featuring sites and locations including Fota House, the Queenstown Experience in Cobh, and Spectacular Killarney with its beautiful mountains and lakes. Not forgetting, optional evening tours to sites of interest in Cork itself, ‘the Venice of Ireland’, Blarney Castle and the beautiful harbour town of Kinsale.

A one-day conference at The Summer School Ancestral Connections is also offered and coordinated by the Cork Archaelogical & Historical Society.  Founded in 1891, the society is one of the oldest local interest societies in Ireland.

Rates – Residential/Non-Residential/Concession:


Full residential: Accommodation, Full board at Victoria Lodge, tuition, fieldtrips, excursions and conference: €775.00

Non residential: €575.00 (We can supply a list of recommended providers on request

Concession – Residential – (Historical & cultural groups, students, Over 55′s) residential €658.75

Concession – Non Residential (Historical & cultural groups, students, Over 55′s, retired) non residential €488.75

Day rates – €95.00 Day rates concession rate – € 80.75 (Historical & cultural groups, students, Over 55′s)


Contact Details UCC: Ancestral Connections Summer School:


Co-ordinator: Lorna Moloney at E-mail: or Telephone 353-0-85-872-1184

Executive Assistant, Lindy Meldon  E-mail: or Telephone: 353 -0-21-49-4700.


So if you are only starting to climb your family tree to discover the branches, leaves and limbs, or are ready to dig deeply in search of those far-reaching roots, this course may be of great interest to you.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)


Irish American Mom


P.S. Irish American Mom does not have any business relationships with UCC.  Discussion of this course is simply a means of providing information about a wonderful educational opportunity.

The Leaving Coat – A Novel By Margaret Mulvihill

THE LEAVING COAT is an elegantly written, historical fiction novel by Irish author Margaret Mulvihill.  In today’s post, Margaret explores her inspiration and the historical background for this Irish emigrant saga of the American frontier.

The Leaving Coat by Margaret MulvihillAvailable from in electronic format.

THE LEAVING COAT tells the story of a newly-arrived Irish emigrant to New York in 1895.   Searching for her lost sister, who unexpectedly stopped writing home from America, Norah Doolan’s journey takes her across America to Montana, on a quest for freedom, fulfillment, and truth.  Along her way she learns to live and to love in the New World.   

A truly scenic novel the reader is transported from the wilds of Ireland’s western shores, to the streets of New York, to the big skies of pioneering Montana. Norah Doolan is an Irish emigrant to be admired.  A dauntless survivor, Norah’s innate strength and determination make her a charming, captivating heroine.

THE LEAVING COAT is a sweeping tale of peril and providence, self-discovery and revelation, and a truly credible love story.  Margaret Mulvihill’s writing is warm and inviting, with a deeply authentic insight into the Irish character.

Rocks And Pebbles On Ireland's Western Shore

Rocks And Pebbles On Ireland’s Western Shore

In Margaret’s own words …..  


“THE LEAVING COAT begins with the departures of the women who wear it, first Lizzy Doolan and then her sister Norah. They are fictional female Irish emigrants and if they weren’t living – in my imagination – in the 1890s, some sort of disclaimer might be called for: “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” As it happens, any resemblance between the story of Lizzy and Norah Doolan, and the actual experience of some of those many thousands of young females who left Ireland for America in the last decades of the nineteenth century, is entirely deliberate.

Lizzy Doolan sees herself as a cut above the steerage-class girls in their lumpy outfits and as a schoolmaster’s daughter – and a fictional character! – she does have more options. She’s dreaming of the bright lights of America at a time when artificial light was as phenomenal as it was urban, and the reality, for most female emigrants, was pretty dismal.

Late 19th Century Postcard Of The Lakes Of Killarney

Late 19th Century Postcard Of The Lakes Of Killarney

While the men were making it heroically, in gangs, the women were on their own. They disappeared into kitchens and factories, evolving in due course into the stereotypically slovenly, simple-minded or (at best!) stalwart Biddy. The tragedy and sheer embarrassment of stories like Typhoid Mary’s is, perhaps, one reason why it is still not widely appreciated that, in the final decades of the nineteenth century, as many women as men – in some years more women – emigrated from Ireland to America.

These colleens were braver than they knew and they deserve better than the condescension of posterity. They had heads as well as hearts and wombs. THE LEAVING COAT is not a thesis: I made it all up. But I don’t think it’s too much to imagine that, like Norah Doolan, many a “true-life” female pioneer discovered for herself that blood isn’t necessarily thicker than water, and that people, good or bad, are fundamentally the same all over.

Ruins Of An Old Schoolhouse In County Kerry

Ruins Of An Old Schoolhouse In County Kerry


Few emigrants lived long or prosperously enough to become “returned Yanks”, regaling the folks back home with their largesse and their adventures. Usually, for the friends and relations left behind, the emigrant’s farewell was like a funeral, the last time they would see that person in the flesh. For the leavers, of course, the sadness was leavened with the promise of a new life, and a chance to shake off all kinds of shackles. These days, when there is little or no premium, when it comes to employment and visas, on youth and rude health, that freedom is enviable.”


Born and raised in Ireland, Margaret Mulvihill studied history at University College Dublin and Birkbeck College in London, where she settled and still lives.  Until the mid-1980′s she worked as an editor and copy-writer of illustrated magazines and family reference books, before becoming a novelist and freelance writer. 

A big thank you to Margaret for sharing her novel with us today.  It is available in Kindle and electronic format from You can also follow Margaret’s writings on her blog, aptly named The Leaving Coat.


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)


Irish American Mom


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.   I do not receive payment for my book reviews.  My first responsibility is to my readers and I am committed to honest reviews. All opinions given are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”