I’ve often wondered what it must be like to live one’s entire life in a small town, surrounded by the same sights and sounds, day after day. And now I realize that my ancestors, living in the crowded and congested tenements of lower Manhattan, shared a parallel existence with those who have done that. “A bell for birth, a bell for marriage, a bell for death.” I had never considered the universality of their experience.
Click here for the article about my great grandmother, Margaret Horrigan, as it recently appeared in Irish Central.
In stories I’ve written and in videos I’ve produced I’ve commented on my famine-Irish immigrant ancestors. They were the sandhogs who dug New York City’s tunnels, the bartenders who worked the saloons that lined the Bowery and the street sweepers who cleaned the city. What were they like, the earlier generations that wandered the streets, slept in buildings long since pounded to dust?
I’ve often spoken about the famine-immgrants with Artists Without Walls’ member and friend Jim Rodgers, whose family, the Gallaghers, were also Irish-famine immigrants. But unlike my family, who were laborers, Jim’s ancestors owned a company that provided the materials that built New York’s subways, the bridges and the buildings of the city.
This week’s Irish Echo includes a wonderful article written by Peter McDermott about the Gallagher clan, their early years in the city and their ascendance. From Cornelius Gallagher’s arrival during the famine, through a Gatsby-life lifestyle on the North Shore of Long Island, lawsuits and shenanigans, the mysterious death of Jim’s great grandfather, Peter Gallagher, and finally ending up in bankruptcy and ruin in the 1990’s the story has the makings of a great mini-series. I highly recommend this wonderfully told tale of the rise and fall of Jim’s Irish ancestors.
The Irish Echo can be found at many NYC newsstands or a digital version can be ordered on line. Go to The Irish Echo to get your copy