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.)