Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tom and Ann Burke (Finnerty)

While in Chicago in October I met Tom Burke who has completed a remarkable family history. I loved this excerpt which tells the story of his grandparents, Tom and Ann Burke (Finnerty). Thanks to Tom for allowing me to share it.

Occasionally, a phenomenon is so grand and so endearing to so many people that it takes on a life all its own and grows and grows with the passage of time. The tradition of the “Southside Irish” is such a phenomenon. As that tradition has been passed down from generation to generation and has moved further and further away from its origins it has not lost a bit of its energy or lustre.  On the contrary, the pride of being part of that tradition seems to have increased with every new generation. The origins of that tradition lie in the 19th century migration of hundreds of thousands of poor emigrant Irish to the area south of Chicago’s loop. There they built their homes and churches and stores and worked as butchers and cops and tavern owners. Compared to what they had in the old country, Chicago was heaven and they appreciated what they had and celebrated it with abandon. It is for that appreciation and celebration of life’s good fortune that they became known, and it is what to this day, marks the Southside Irish.

Ann Finnerty had this Irish in her. Born to immigrant parents, she had learned the value of life early on when her loving father had passed away all too young. Everyday thereafter, Ann would see life for the gift it was and it made her the sweet happy person that she was. The “HMS Majestic” had brought Tom Burke to the shores of America on October 5th 1901. He had arrived with a total of $6 in his pocket. But armed with that and his own sharp mind he started a new life for himself. And as his fortunes grew in the coming years, Tom also grew into the thoughtful, mellow person that so many would know and love.

It was in 1913 that these two kindred spirits met. The occasion was at a burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. After the solemn occasion, there was a gathering across the road at Sullivan’s, where as was the Irish way, the family and friends had gone to lift their spirits. Surprisingly, Tom and Ann’s chance meeting at this affair would lead to courtship and marriage within a very few months. Something told them it was right and so, on June 17th 1913, they took their vows at St. Columbanus Church and moved into an apartment in the parish. There they would remain for the next 30 years.

The turmoil the world saw in those years was remarkable and frightening. It was a period of war and depression on a global scale. But this good couple, buoyed by strong tradition and faith, held course. They raised their children with optimism, knowing that somehow they would get through those difficult times.

By the time those turbulent years had passed Tom and Ann had much to be proud of and much to be thankful for. They had given all four of their children fine educations. All three of their sons had served their country during WW2 and fortunately survived. And perhaps their proudest moment had come when their daughter, Eileen, became a nun in 1935. Sixty years later she would still be serving her order in that same cheerful spirit she had learned from her parents so long ago.
During the 1940s Tom and Ann moved to a home in St Felicitas Parish. There they would live on to dote over their many grandchildren leaving them with wonderful memories of family parties with cousins, carving lamb dinners at Easter, hot chocolate on cold winter days, the smell of a fine cigar and funny little things said like “if I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake”. They were a grand couple and everyone who ever knew them would remember Tom and Ann fondly.

At a seventy five year reunion at St. Felicitas, a middle-aged woman told me about the great generosity and love she had known as a child from the old couple, the Burkes, who were her neighbours across the street on 86th place. Her telling me this brought back to my mind a flood of fond memories. That’s the kind of people Tom and Ann were. You felt their kindness and good nature and it stayed with you forever.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Annie Burke

Looking back over my blog I realised I missed one of John and Mary's thirteen children. The missing one is Annie Burke. Annie was baptised on April 11th 1872, the fifth-born child. At a young age she went to work in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary with her second cousin, a Mrs. McGrath, who ran a grocery, bar and Post Office business. After a period working in a hotel she rented a premises at No. 2 Upper William St. in Limerick City where she operated a bar. She eventually married her landlord, John O’Donnell, who ran the City Saddlery next door on July 31st 1910. John was almost 30 years her senior and was a widower with a large grown-up family. Annie and himself went on to have three children of their own, Maureen (who died at the age of 5), Eileen and Nancy. John died in April 1929 and Annie in November 1942. They are both buried in Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick City.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A visit to Capard House

Last weekend, I visited Capard House, the home of the Pigott family who were the landlords of The Burkes of Kilmacow before they bought out their farm under the Land Acts of the late 1800s. The contents of the house are being auctioned this month as the house has been sold. The house is located on an elevated site near the village of Rosenallis, Co. Laois (about a two hour drive from Kilmacow) with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

Capard House

The view from an upstairs bedroom.

The rear of the house

Mary and myself at the from door!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Remembering Mary Burke on Mother's Day

Today being Mother's Day it seems appropriate to remember Mary Burke who died on December 28th 1930. As I've outlined in previous posts she and her husband John led a remarkable life in many ways. She was born before the famine in 1843 and went on to marry John at the age of 17 in 1860.  She reared 13 children, nine of whom left to live and work in America. She only ever met three of them again and lived to see four of her children die, three in the US and her son Michael (my grandfather) who had taken over the family farm in Kilmacow. The newspaper notice of the death is very sparse and gives no hint of the life she led even referring to her in the convention of the times as "Mrs. John Burke". Funnily enough, there is no mention of a funeral Mass - she is taken from the house directly to the graveyard in Kilmacow. Anyway, there was no Mother's Day in her era but if anyone deserved a bunch of flowers she did!

John Bourke's dog licences!

Dog licences were introduced into Irish law in 1865 and the first licences were issued the following year. It cost 2 shillings per dog with an extra 6 pence in administration costs. The licences were issued in the local courts, the Petty Sessions, which were the forerunner of our District Courts today
In the first year 353,798 dog licences were issued generating over £35,000 in revenue. Subsequent years saw an average of 250,000 licences purchased. In the following decades, millions of licences were issued. The dog licences were introduced to make it easier to identify the owners of trouble making dogs, the ones which either worried sheep or damaged property. 
John Bourke is recorded as having a licence for various terriers from 1866 onwards with a "brown terrier" listed from 1897 to 1902 and a "black collie" in 1905 and 1907.
This might seem to be a banal piece of info in the greater scheme of things but it just goes to show that from the earliest days the Burkes of Kilmacow have been law-abiding people!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

John and Mary - the curtain falls

John Burke died on December 31st 1908 and Mary on December 28th 1930. They had led remarkable lives in many ways. Both of them lived through the Famine in which over a million people died of hunger and disease. They had 13 children, nine of whom left to live and work in America. Only three of them ever returned to visit. (John only ever met one of his emigrant children as Margaret and Jack returned after he died). Mary outlived three of her children who died in the US and also her son Michael who took over the family farm. Michael was my grand-father and he died in 1928. My Dad (born 1919) grew up in Kilmacow with his widowed mother and grand-mother. The fact that my Dad lived with a woman who had lived through the Famine really brings home how far we have travelled in terms of prosperity and opportunity.

The Burke Family Plot in Kilmacow Graveyard

The inscription on the gravestone

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dan Burke - the last of the line

Dan Burke was baptised on November 28th 1885, the last of the Burke children. According to family stories he never met his oldest brother, Pat, who emigrated before he was born. Pat gives his date of emigration in the various US census returns as a number of years between 1885 and 1890 so this story is likely to be true. 

Dan farmed the original Burke farm down the road from the Kilmacow farm at a place called the Four Gates, Dullas. Dan's uncle Patrick Burke, who lived there, had two daughters. One of them, Jane married a man called Martin Liston. However, Jane died at a young age and Martin then sold the farm to Dan, returning himself to his brother's farm (having bought it from his brother's widow). 

Dan married Bridget Reidy and they had no children. Dan died on December 28th 1952. I have a letter in my possession which his brother Tom (living in Chicago) wrote in February 1952 to his daughter Eileen. In the letter, he tells her that Dan has died and describes him as "the baby of the family". He says he is "slow in writing to Dan's wife - I should have done it already". This is not surprising as he had never met Bridget and hadn't met his brother Dan in almost 50 years. 

Bridget eventually sold the farm and it passed out of the Burke family permanently. I have no photo of Dan. In fact, I have no photo of any of the Burke siblings that remained in Ireland - Mary Ann, Annie, Michael & Dan.