• Immigrant Interviews!

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

    Mary Gethings McMahon
    Effernogue, Ferns,
    County Wexford, Ireland

    Where were you born and when?
    My name is Mary Gethings McMahon. I was born May 9th, 1941 in Effernogue, about a mile from the very historic village of Ferns in County Wexford. From my classroom, I could see the Norman castle which was built in 1179. On my way up to school, I walked by St. Mary’s Abby founded in 1154. I also passed the Ferns old graveyard where Dermot McMurrough, the King of Leinster, is buried.

    What kind of home did you live in?
    I lived in a four-room cottage with an acre of land that we tilled to grow our potatoes, carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and many other vegetables. It was a very rural area with dirt roads. In Wexford, the land was extremely good for growing wheat, barley, and oats but unfortunately when the English controlled Ireland they distributed all the good land to the Protestant farmers. We were surrounded by them.

    How many in your family?
    In our house, there were nine: my mother, father, myself, Tommy, Mike, Kathleen, Clem, Theresa and Anne. My mother had six children in six years. In 1952, Anne was born. She was eleven years younger than me. What a novelty she was! I left home when she was three years old, so we really didn’t get to know each other until we were adults.

    How did your family make a living?
    My mother had plenty to do at home minding all the children. She never worked outside the home. My father worked in Bolger’s, a general store and bakery on Main Street in Ferns, where they baked their own bread daily. His job was to load his cart twice a day and deliver the fresh bread with his donkey and cart to the local shops for resale. He made very little money, but we were no different than all the other Catholic families around us. We were all very poor with barely enough to eat but proud of who we were and loaded with ambition.

    What was your family and community life like?
    The small road we lived on had many other families with children. We all loved sports and as often as we could, we got together to play hurling, football, horseshoes, and handball. We didn’t have much equipment, but we made do and had lots of fun. Irish music was very popular where I grew up. We had dances in the houses with locals playing various Irish instruments. My mother was a beautiful singer and loved music. We’d get together with the neighbors at least once a week to sing, dance and play Irish music. My father was very religious; prayers morning, afternoon, and night were very important. He believed sincerely that our Catholic faith was the number one requirement to get us through life. We were very involved in the church. I loved going to church because it was a chance to get away from all the chores expected of a first child. It was also an opportunity to meet people and socialize. My father thought I would be a nun but I had other plans. I always wanted to please him, so whenever he asked me to come with him to the Holy Hour, the rosary, or May devotions, I was always ready. I still vividly remember going to Mass on Sundays: my Father and his six children taking up a whole seat – he was so proud of all of us! = while my Mother was home minding the baby.

    Who did what chores in your household?
    Growing up in a big family was very helpful in many ways. I’ve used the skills I learned throughout my life. Organization was developed at a very young age and being the oldest came with a lot of responsibilities like feeding and dressing my younger siblings, bringing home buckets of water from the well, gathering and washing vegetables for the dinner. My mother was always busy with a baby – she had six in six years. My father left for work at 8:30. He worked five and a half days a week. As my siblings reached around four or five, they were given chores like going to a local farmer to get milk and butter twice daily as there was no refrigeration in those days. I remember it being a lot of work looking after the other children and helping my mother. She always found time to make four or five loaves of bread daily. We had no shop bread even though my father worked in a bakery. It was too expensive.

    What schools did you attend?
    I started school at six and before school, I would drop my two brothers Tommy and Mike at the boy’s school, then my sister Kathleen and I walked to Ferns Girls National School. It was pre-K through eighth grade with 101 girls in three rooms. I loved school and was a very good student. Sometimes now I think school was so much easier than all my other responsibilities. We had very dedicated teachers and learned at an early age how to focus. We always had two or three classes in one room working on doing different subjects. Of course in my situation, that skill was reinforced at home with seven children, my mother and father all in one small room doing different things. I continued to do well throughout all the grades. After completing my primary education, there was an option to go to Enniscorthy to the Mercy Convent to continue my secondary education. The school was eight miles away and a bicycle was needed. We had no money and could not afford to buy one so there was no Mercy Convent for me. I am so very grateful for my excellent primary education; it has helped me tremendously as I’ve furthered my education throughout my life. In England, I took night classes and here in America, I took many courses at Quinnipiac University.

    What did you do after graduation?
    I left school in June 1955 to go to work in Dublin, the capital city of Ireland. What a difference for a fourteen-year-old coming from a rural village to a big city! I worked for a lawyer and his wife as a childminder. They had three children ages two, one, and a new baby. I was well prepared for my job. I had lots of experience from home. It felt so good to be making some money and able to send some of it to my family in Effernogue. I knew they needed some help. I had goals and worked very hard to achieve them. I wanted to be a nurse and I knew night school was necessary. However, in the 50’s even in Dublin, that wasn’t possible. I read a lot and also found out England was the place to go if one was interested in Nursing. I stayed in Dublin for two years, now much more mature, but determined to get to England to fulfill my dream. In 1957, I left by ferry for Harrogate, Yorkshire, England and got a job as a nurse’s aide in Scotton Banks Hospital. I loved it. Now I felt like I was working to achieve my goal. The age to start nurses training was 18, so I had lots of time to get experience.

    In the meantime, my aunt and uncle in America, who were writing back and forth to my mother, heard about my plans to become a nurse. They convinced my mother and father to let me come to America. They wrote to me inviting me and said they would be my sponsor and pay my way out here. Everyone I talked to was excited for me and thought it was a wonderful opportunity. Eventually, I was sold on the idea. The plans began and when everything was complete, I was on my way to the land of opportunities, America!

    Where did you settle in the United States?
    I arrived in the United States in October 1959. I was picked up standing under the letter G, the first letter of my last name, by my Aunt Anna Rowsome and Uncle Willie at the New York pier. I had never met them until that day. They looked very old to me. I remember hoping they would live long enough, so I could get settled. In 1959 to come to the United States it was necessary to have a sponsor who my aunt and uncle offered to be. They had to fill out papers stating they would be responsible for me and that I would not be a burden on the state. Those papers were sent to the American Consulate in London. If all the requirements were met, I would be allowed to come to the US as a legal immigrant and issued a green card that required me to check in once a year at the Post Office. If I followed all the rules, I would be allowed the privilege of becoming a US citizen which thankfully I did! I became an American citizen on March 17, 1965. Actually, I’m a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland of which I’m very proud.

    I settled at 158 Union Ave, West Haven, with my aunt and uncle who were in their sixties at the time. It was such a different lifestyle. I remember so well my first night in West Haven. Zuppardi’s was down the street from 158 Union Ave, so my aunt and uncle thought it would be a treat for me to have pizza. I remember distinctly looking at it wondering what it was and how to eat it. I must say I was not impressed.

    Very shortly thereafter, I knew my dream of being a nurse was not going to happen. My aunt took me to St. Raphael’s to meet with the Nursing director; I had all my credentials from England. The director was impressed and anxious for me to start nurses training. However, there was one caveat; money. Since my aunt had already paid my passage to the US, she was not willing to shell out anymore until what I owed her was paid back, so I became a nurse’s aide and enjoyed working in the hospital.

    One week after I came here, I was at another aunt’s house where a few Irish people were gathering. It is here that I met Vincent McMahon from County Clare. I was thrilled to meet someone from Ireland who spoke well and seemed to be very knowledgeable. It was a go from the very beginning; we’re still together sixty years later. We have three children Michael, Elizabeth, and Kathleen and seven grandchildren, Griffin, Riley, Avery, Chloe, Alyssa, Maeve, and Sarah. They are the joy of our lives.

    Have you ever gone back?
    I have been very fortunate in that I’ve been back to Ireland many, many times. The first time back was in 1964. I had Michael who was two, and I was pregnant with Elizabeth. We stayed for three weeks. It was lovely to see everyone again. My mother and father were delighted to see their first grandchild and, of course, he got plenty of attention from all the aunts and uncles. The next time was in 1971 when we came home as a family of five, and it was fabulous. There were so many changes from 1959. My siblings were all grown and working, the home was now remodeled with lots of amenities, all totally different from my childhood. After that visit, I made a promise to my mother I would come as often as I could. Luckily for me, I traveled home every year while my parents were living and for that, I am eternally grateful. I give Vincent a lot of credit for making that possible. With my help, he had done incredibly well in school and had a very good job and was an excellent provider. I love Ireland, my homeland, and will be forever grateful for the wonderful foundation I received there and the excellent parenting I received that made it possible for me to assimilate into the American way of life. And as I tell my children, I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to come to the land of opportunities, to have recognized it, and to have worked hard to take advantage of them.

    I still go back to Ireland, and I enjoy every moment I’m there. However, I am so glad I came to America, and feel it’s my home now. I’m incredibly grateful for all it has given me. It’s without a doubt, the greatest country on earth.

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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

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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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