Irish Roots

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  I woke up with Irish on my mind – soda bread and potatoes and cabbage soup and immigrants.  As a costumed historic interpreter at Old World Wisconsin, I told the story of Mary Hafford, an Irish immigrant, and worked in her house.  She had been widowed in the year 1868 with 3 small children and lived as a renter in a small village near Watertown, WI.  Mary Hafford worked away at her home laundry business and eventually achieved social and economic prominence in her little village.  In 1885, she had a new house constructed on the property that she had bought.  She never learned to read or write, but her children did.  Her youngest daughter, Ellen, studied dressmaking, a skilled trade, and became a live-in dressmaker.  Ellen was married in 1891, and her mother hosted a reception and dinner for 75 guests.  Three months later, Mary Hafford died of dropsy.  I imagine Ellen Hafford Thompson and wonder what stories she might have written about her life in the Little House where she lived.  I have a burning question: what happened to her older sister, Ann, who is conspicuously absent from all records from the mid-1880s on?  Did she die?  If so, why isn’t she buried next to her father & mother?  Did she go into a convent?  Did she elope with a Lutheran?  The mystery remains unsolved!

Mary Hafford’s family has died out; she had one grandson who went into the priesthood, and there her bloodline was cut off.  My children have 2 Irish great-grandmothers, one on my side and one on their dad’s side.  Marion Minto Keefe (possibly O’Keefe originally) was my grandmother.  Mabelle Claire Mahanna was my husband’s grandmother.  I used to wake them up on St. Paddy’s Day with “Top o’ the marnin’ to ya, dear!” at which they’d groan and ask me if I was going to talk in that fake accent all day.  The groans subsided at the thought of the corned beef dinner I always made.  I remind them now of their heritage via text message and think wistfully of the hint of green in their eyes — two daughters with brown eyes flecked with green, and my two middles, boy and girl, with blue-green-gray eyes.   I hope that green will remain on the land and in the eyes of its people for many years. (For a beautiful reading of an Irish Blessing poem, by a real Irishman, visit my friend Jamie’s blog here.)

9 thoughts on “Irish Roots

  1. Thank you for sharing Mary Hafford’s story. I so enjoy learning about flesh and blood people who occupied our planet before us, piecing out some of their joys and sorrows and how they went about their lives.

    Thank you, too, for the mention of the green eyes. I’ve always known I had Irish blood, but it never occurred to me that might be where I got my eye color.

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  2. Definitely O’Keefe originally–on her birth certificate and mother’s marriage license. Also, the Hendersons and Fergusons (Grandpa David’s maternal grandparents) were from Co. Tyrone in Northern Ireland. I haven’t found out what part of Ireland Thomas O’Keefe came from.
    Happy St. Pat’s!

    • Thanks, Sarah! I appreciate the clarification. I did remember the Henderson name, not the Fergusons. Do you have all this written out somewhere? Emily joined an online genealogy site, so I think she’d love to know more. Happy St. Pat’s Day to you, too!

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