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. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What was it like to emigrate?

I have often wondered what was the emigrant journey like for the Burkes who emigrated. Not only were they leaving a very simple, rural way of life but they were moving to Chicago, one of the major world cities at the time. Having recovered from the Great Fire of 1871, the city would double in population between 1890 and 1920. For people who probably never ventured further than Limerick City it must have been mind-blowing to arrive in Chicago. The journey itself would have been a huge adventure and almost a holiday what with the relative luxury of the ocean going liners. However, they would have known that they were unlikely to see Kilmacow again which must have been very distressing for both them and John and Mary. Of the nine siblings that emigrated, only Jack, Kitty and Margaret ever returned for a visit. As John died in 1908 he only ever met again one of his nine children who had emigrated (Kitty in 1904). Mary lived to see Kitty (1904), Jack (1932) and Margaret (1922 & 1932) return but in her lifetime she saw three of her children die in the US (Fr. James, Kitty and Edwin). What is even sadder is that they often left in twos, Edwin and Fr. James in 1903 and Margaret and Kitty in 1904 (Kitty having come home on a visit and taking Margaret with her on her return).

The days preceding the departure must have been laden with sadness but incredibly busy as neighbours, friends and relatives called to say good-bye to the departing emigrant. The trunk would have been packed and letters written by John and Mary for the other siblings in Chicago. On the last night the emigrant would take a final stroll around the farm knowing that from now on Kilmacow would live on only in their memories.
On the morning of departure the final goodbyes would be said. Any of the Burkes that I've located on the transatlantic passenger registers left from the port of Cobh in Cork. Cobh has long been associated with the age of ocean steamliners and the Irish emigration of the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1850 it was renamed "Queenstown" to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria. From 1848 - 1950 over 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland with over 2.5 million departing from Cobh, making it the single most important port of emigration. To get to Cobh the Burkes would probably have taken a pony and trap (carriage) to Croom railway station, a short distance away. Here, they would have taken a train to Cork city passing through Rosstemple, Bruree, Charleville and then on to Cork. There was a branch line from Cork to Cobh. Maybe one of their siblings accompanied them or maybe they travelled with a neighbour or relative who was emigrating also. In Cobh, they boarded tenders to take them out to the ships from a pier known as "Heartbreak Pier" for obvious reasons. The pier, though in poor repair, still stands. Having boarded the liner and sailed for the US the last bit of Irish land seen by emigrants would have been the Fastnet Rock which was referred to as the Teardrop of Ireland. 

Once they arrived in New York all immigrants were processed in Ellis Island which opened in 1892. In fact the first person through the gates of Ellis Island was an Irish girl, 15-year-old Annie Moore, who stepped off the gangplank just ahead of her younger brothers on January 1, 1892, and was greeted with much fanfare and a $10 gold coin. Here, in the Registry Room arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried. It was important to the American government that the new arrivals could support themselves and have money to get started. The average the government wanted the immigrants to have was between 18 and 25 dollars. Just outside the Registry Room is a wooden column called the Kissing Post, where new arrivals were greeted by their relatives and friends. Maybe the Burkes were met by a relative or neighbour from home living in New York. They would have then taken a train to Chicago where they would be met by their siblngs who were already there. It must have been incredibly exciting, the Burkes in Chicago seeing their siblings for the first time in years and hearing all the news and for the newly-arrived immigrant, seeing Chicago for the first time.

Living the lives we lead now it is sobering to reflect on the sacrifices made by these men and women to better themselves.

Fastnet Rock - the "Teardrop of Ireland" and the last piece of Irish land seen by departing emigrants

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Joe Burke - the last of the line.

Joe Burke was baptised on May 10th 1884. On the 1901 Irish Census he is shown as living at home in Kilmacow with his parents, brothers Michael, Tom, Ned and Dan and sisters Mary Ann and Margaret. By 1904, Tom, Ned and Margaret would be in America and Mary Ann would have married leaving him to work the farm with his brothers Michael and Dan. His father dies in 1908 and in 1909 he heads for America.
Joe travelled on a ship called the "SS Caronia" (a Cunard liner) which sailed from Queenstown (now called Cobh) on September 15th, 1909 arriving a week later in New York on the 22nd. On the ship’s manifest he gives his age as 20 even though he was 25 but many of the Burkes knocked a few years of their age with many of them having incorrect birth years on their gravestones. For the emigrants it may have been to do with making themselves more employable or eligible for certain jobs. Joe gives his home town as Croom and his next of kin as "Mother - Mrs Mary Burke, Croom, Co. Limerick”. He lists his occupation as "farmer" and his onward destination as "Chicago". He has a ticket for onward travel to Chicago and is joining his brother Thomas Burke who lives at 3431 Butler St. Chicago. He is described as being in good health, 5 ft 10 inches in height, fair complexion, brown hair and blue eyes.

According to his son, Jim , he had read that the streets of America were paved with gold! An uncle met him in New York when he landed and took him to a bar where he bought him two shots of whiskey before putting him on a train to Chicago. The Burkes met him off the train in Chicago and the story goes that he was taken to Gaelic Park where he took to the field for a hurling match. The hero of the day, he was carried from the pitch shoulder high!

In the 1910 US Census he is living with his brothers Ned and Tom and sister Margaret at 120 East 56th St. and is working as a railroad clerk. As is now customary for the Burkes he has knocked 5 years off his age. During WW1 he served in the southern states with the US Army. In 1920 he is lodging with a widow called Katherine McLoughlin and her family. He is now working as a shipper for the US government. Sometime after this he joins the Chicago Police Department.

On October 11th 1922, Joe married Lucy Butler. Lucy was born in Indiana to an American-born father and a German mother. By the 1930 census they are living at 8844, Morgan St. in a house that they own (worth $9000) and they have three sons, Joseph, James and Richard. Lucy’s brother and brother-in-law are lodging with them. Joe gives his age as 37, only knocking 9 years of his true age! Joe is now a sergeant in the Police Force and Lucy is working as a book-keeper in the bank.

By 1940 they are living at 10945, Edmondus Street. They also own this house with a value of $5,000. Lucy and Joe have two more sons, John and William. Joe only knocks off 5 years in this Census.

Lucy died of cancer on December 16th 1954. Joe had retired from the Police Force on November 1st 1947. He died on February 6th 1963. Joe is buried along with Lucy in Holy Sepulchre cemetery, the only one of the American Burkes not to be buried in Mount Olivet. His death notice in the Chicago Daily Tribune is poignant in that, as the last of the Burkes,  it name checks all his dead siblings – “brother of the late Patrick, Mary Ann, John, Michael, William, James, Hanna, Thomas, Kitty, Margaret, Daniel and Edward”.
Joe Burke's death notice - "Chicago Daily Tribune

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Margaret Burke

Margaret was baptised on April 14th 1883. She appears on the 1901 census as a 15 year old, another example of the Burke’s cavalier attitude to birthdays! She emigrated to the US in 1904 in the company of her sister Kitty. Kitty had emigrated around 1890 but obviously returned home for a holiday and Margaret travelled with her on her return (See post on Kitty on November 13th 2013 for more info). Margaret always said that she arrived in the US in the “Year of the James” as Pat’s son James was born that year as was Bill’s son, James Desmond. By 1910 she has trained as a stenographer and is working in a law office. She is living with her three brothers, Tom, Ned and Joe at East 56th St., Michigan Aveue. She now claims to be 22 (a good 5 years off the mark!).

I haven’t been able to find her in the 1920 / 1930 census returns but by 1940 she is living with her brother Bill (whose wife, Agnes, had died at this stage) and his daughter, Catherine and son Thomas. According to Catherine she was very good to the family after their mother’s death and they all thought a great deal of her. She is now in complete denial about her age and claims to be 40 (17 years gone at a stroke). She now works as a stenographer at the PWA office and earns $1440 annually. The PWA office may be the Public Works Administration, a public works construction agency set up in response to the 1930s Depression.
Margaret returned to Ireland in 1922 and according to her niece, Catherine, she had trouble returning to the US due to what Catherine calls “the Black & Tan uprising”. However, what actually was going on at that time was the Civil War which broke out immediately after the War of Independence between the majority who supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty which had ended the war and those who opposed it. Over the summer and autumn of 1922 there were large-scale military operations in the south as the Pro-Treaty forces regained control of cities like Limerick and Cork. This must have prevented Margaret getting to Queenstown in Cork, the nearest port for transatlantic crossings. She would then have had to go to Dublin, catch a boat to Liverpool and join her ship there. She arrives in New York on October 22nd on the “SS Baltic”. She gives her nearest relative in Ireland as her sister Annie in Limerick City and declares that she is travelling back to her brother Jack. Her brother Joe got married to Lucy Butler in Chicago on October 11th that year and I'm presuming Margaret intended to be home for that so she was delayed quite a bit. She also came home in June, 1930 with Jack for the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

She also worked for the Federal Government in Washington DC and on her retirement in 1953 she came to live in Chicago with her niece, Catherine. Her grand-niece, Pat Scumaci, remembers her as a very sweet lady with a “soft, lilting accent”. She tells the story of Margaret visiting them one Christmas. Pat asked her if she’d like to see the toys she’d gotten for Christmas and Margaret having replied – “Oh, ‘twould be lovely” was held captive by Pat for an age as she showed off her presents. 
She died on October 11th 1958 and is buried in Mount Olivet cemetery.
Figure 1 - Margaret as a young woman

Figure 2 - Margaret in later years - does anyone recognise the building in background?