Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eugene O'Neill and Tao House

US Postage Stamp, 1967


Eugene O’Neill and Tao House
By Adrian McGrath

“There is no present or future -- only the past, happening over and over again -- now.”
Eugene O’Neill from “A Moon for the Misbegotten”

“To be Irish is to know, that in the end, the world will break your heart.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, US Senator and US Ambassador, after the death of John F. Kennedy

“The one thing that explains more than anything about me is the fact that I’m Irish. And, strangely enough, it is something that all the writers who have attempted to explain me and my work have overlooked.”
Eugene O’Neill in 1946

Only one American has ever won the Nobel Prize in Literature as a playwright and that was the Irish Catholic American Eugene O’Neill. (He also was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature many times.) His plays are noted for their realism, and they are often seen as following in the style of the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Some of O’Neill’s plays deal with sad and defeated people, often living on the fringes of life, and usually suffering from deep tragedies and lingering, terrible emotional damage. Other plays relate to the sea, the vastness of the ocean, and life at sea -- something O’Neill experienced himself. Not unlike another well-known Irish Catholic American and sailor, John F. Kennedy, the sea always seems to surround, if not consume, the Irish as it did O’Neill.

Eugene O’Neill’s family, like President Kennedy’s, came from Ireland around the time of the Potato Famine (or Great Hunger) in the mid 1800’s; and we have to wonder to what effect the horrors and tragedies of the Famine and the prejudice faced by Irish Catholic immigrants in America influenced O’Neill directly or indirectly.

Although he was born in New York City  in 1888 (at a hotel near the intersection of Broadway and 43rd Street not far from Times Square), O’Neill lived many places during his 65 years, including on ships at sea. He attended a Catholic school in his youth and even Princeton University, and later Harvard, at least for awhile, but did not finish a degree. Most of his real education came from life itself and observing the lives of the people he knew and met. When he died in 1953, he could easily be called the greatest American playwright -- along with perhaps Tennessee Williams.

Some of the most famous plays of the 20th century belong to Eugene O’Neill. He was greatly concerned about the conditions of the working class while influencing the intellectual class. He lived with physical and mental illnesses -- including tuberculosis, mental depression, alcoholism, and later a form of Parkinson's disease or cerebellar brain atrophy which essentially ended his writing ability. O’Neill, nevertheless, tried to express his pain and philosophy through his words and dramas. Like the sea, words and dramas surrounded and consumed O’Neill and were at once positive and negative for him. He worked as a journalist and associated with Leftist political advocates, including some who were pro-Communist. But he was not a politician; he was a writer. Some of the titles of his plays ring out as legendary in the art of drama and theater: “Beyond the Horizon,” “The Emperor Jones,” “Anna Christie,”  and “Mourning Becomes Electra.”

Although he could most likely never separate himself from his Irish Catholicism, something uniquely ingrained in the Irish immigrant, especially at that time, O’Neill developed an interest in Buddhism and Taoism. Its emphasis on focusing on the present, especially seemed to influence him: " ... the past happening over and over again, now."

After he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1936, he lived near Danville, California near San Francisco at a place he created called Tao House. This reflected his interest in this Asian philosophy and religion. Here he wrote three of his greatest works -- “The Iceman Cometh,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten, “ and what is often called his greatest drama, though not performed until after his death, “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

O’Neill’s tragic and yet great life ended in Boston due to illness. His plays perhaps helped others, who also experienced tragedy and suffering in their lives, to express their pain and maybe find some peace in this world. And, in the end, yes, the world probably did break his heart. But his plays, and his sufferings, made him immortal and America’s greatest playwright.


Tao House
Tao House, c.1938, National Park Service Photo

The Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site is called Tao House, which is located about 30 miles east of San Francisco, California. It is registered with the United States government as a National Historic Site and is operated by the US National Park Service. It has an archive of various literary material about O’Neill and even has an old-time player-piano there which came from New Orleans called “Rosie.” This musical instrument was one of O’Neill’s favorite things. See more about Tao House at the National Park Service website at https://www.nps.gov/euon/index.htm


O'Neill, Tao House construction, 1937, NPS photo


The United States government in 1967 also honored Eugene O’Neill by creating a sp ecial US Postal stamp with his image on it. The postage stamp has these words on it: “Eugene O’Neill Playwright.”

Sources and further reading:
 “Eugene O’Neill” article at wikipedia.com https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_O%27Neill; “The Recorder: A Journal of the Irish American Historical Society” Vol.3, No.1, Summer 1989, New York, NY; www.eoneill.com (an online site about Eugene O’Neill); Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site website at www.nps.gov/euon/index.htm; The Irish Times, "The Fact that I'm Irish: Eugene O'Neill US Playwright and Irish Revolutionary" by Robert M. Dowling, April 27, 2016 at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-fact-that-i-m-irish-eugene-o-neill-us-playwright-and-irish-revolutionary-1.2626343
The image of the US postage stamp above with Eugene O'Neill is from Wikimedia Commons and in public domain. The photo of O'Neill at the Tao House construction site is in public domain from the National Park Service website's collection. It is listed as "Eugene O'Neill, Tao House ca. 1937 [EUON 2102]. " The other photo of Tao House is in public domain from the National Park Service website's collection. It is listed as "Tao House [EUON 1391 w], taken by O'Neill's wife, Carlotta Monterey, between 1938 to 1942. See www.nps.gov/euon/index.htm



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Margaret Haughery

"Margaret"


By Adrian McGrath

New Orleans, Louisiana is not usually seen as an “Irish” city. The land was originally inhabited by the Choctaw Indians.  Then in the early 1700’s, French Canadian explorers came and established a city for France called Nouvelle Orleans which sat on the Mississippi River, controlling access to the open sea downriver and all the vast tributaries of the Mississippi River up north. France established a colony there, but it eventually ceded it to Spain in a treaty. Later the city went back to France during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. The city eventually became an American city with Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Over those many years, people from various backgrounds and conditions -- both free and enslaved -- came to New Orleans. In addition to the French, Spanish, African American, German, and other ethnic groups, the Irish came en masse in the 1830’s and again in the 1840’s during the Great Famine. By the 1850’s approximately 20% of New Orleans was Irish. Much to everyone's surprise, New Orleans became the most Irish city in the South.

Of all the Irish who came to New Orleans, one in particular deserves special attention.


Portrait of Margaret with Two Orphans,
original painting by Jacques Amans, 1842, New Orleans.
Photo in public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
The original painting is on display at the Ogden Museum,
New Orleans.


Today in New Orleans there stands a statue to a lady who was born in Ireland in 1813 named Margaret Gaffney Haughery (pronounced HAW a ree). The statue is located where Camp and Prytania Streets meet at a spot called Margaret Place. There is some dispute as to the exact location of her birth; some people say it was in County Cavan, others say it was in Tully, Carrigallen, County Leitrim. When she was five years old, she left Ireland to come to America with her parents who were seeking to escape poverty and political oppression under British rule. Tragically, however, both her parents died of disease; and Margaret was left an orphan in a new land. Living then in Baltimore, Maryland, she was helped by a neighbor and eventually married Charles Haughery when she was 21.

Charles, however, was not well; and under the advice of a doctor, he moved with Margaret to a warmer climate, to New Orleans. New Orleans, however, because of the heat, humidity, and the swamps was often plagued by epidemic diseases such as yellow fever and cholera. Tragedy again soon came to Margaret when both her husband and her newborn child died of disease. So, within a short period, Margaret had lost everyone and everything she held dear -- her homeland, both her parents, her husband, and her only child. She was left alone, uneducated, illiterate, and impoverished and, we would certainly believe, emotionally devastated in a strange land.

Despite these terrible events, she carried on and found work in the laundry of the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. Later she worked for a dairy and sold milk from a cart in the French Quarter. Because of her religious beliefs, she began to work with a Catholic nun named Sr. Regis Barrett of the Sisters of Charity. Together with Sr. Regis, Margaret spent some of her time freely helping the orphans and widows of the city, with whom she naturally felt a great affinity.



Margaret's bakery advertisement,
1881, New Orleans
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Margaret developed some excellent business skills along the way, working for a bakery next, and eventually becoming the owner of small businesses. One of Margaret’s enterprises was called “Margaret’s Steam and Mechanical Bakery.” She would advertise the bakery products simply by using her first name, “Margaret’s Bread.”  Because of her business acumen, and no doubt her honesty, she became very popular with the public; and her business thrived. She later purchased a company which was in decline and built it up, called the Klotz Cracker Factory. Margaret eventually became wealthy through her hard work and business skills.

As she prospered financially, she freely gave to the poor and needy. She helped to build orphanages too, such as the St. Elizabeth Orphan Asylum on Napoleon Avenue, the Louise Home on Clio Street, St. Vincent Infant Asylum near Race and Magazine streets, and an asylum which eventually became a Catholic church on Erato Street. The church was named St. Teresa of Avila.

Although Catholic, Margaret also helped people of other faiths and backgrounds. She donated to the Protestant Episcopal Home and to Jewish charities. She also donated after her death through her will to various charities including the German Protestant Orphan Asylum, Seventh Street Protestant Orphan Asylum, Widows and Orphans of Jews Asylum, German Orphan Catholic Asylum, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and others.



Photo of Margaret Haughery
prior to 1882
Photo from Wikimedia Commons


When Margaret died on February 9, 1882, the city came out to remember her. Important dignitaries and politicians attended her funeral. Eventually, a statue was built to honor her. It is the first statue in America built to honor a woman from the United States. The statute simply shows Margaret as she was in a simple dress with a shawl and a small child nearby. The inscription on the statue is one simple word: “Margaret.”

Of all the Irish who came to New Orleans, it is safe to say that few, if not none, compare to Margaret in personal tragedy resulting in humanity, and personal suffering resulting in love for all. She represents the very best Ireland, America, and New Orleans have to offer.


Sources and further reading. To learn more about Margaret, see “Margaret Haughery: The Breadwoman of New Orleans” by Adrian McGrath http://oldnolajournal.blogspot.com/2009/04/margaret-haughery-bread-woman-of-new.html; The Immortal Margaret Haughery by Raymond J. Martinez, 1956; Great Characters of New Orleans by Mel Leavitt, 1984; Margaret: Friend of the Orphans by Mary Lou Widmer, 1996; Gumbo Ya Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana compiled by Lyle Saxon (WPA Writers’ Project). The photo of Margaret's statue above is by Adrian McGrath. Photo of Margaret with two orphans at Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Margaret prior to 1882 is from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mission Statement

Adrian McGrath
New Orleans

IrishAmericanJournal.com is a history blog created by Adrian McGrath to share knowledge with the general reading public about the incredible story of how the people of the little island of Ireland, who were among the poorest and most oppressed people in Europe, in desperation, came to the United States and helped build their new country. It will also discuss the story of their descendants in America and their ancestors in Ireland. Mainly but not exclusively, the focus will be on the 18th and 19th centuries when the Irish immigrants struggled at first, fighting poverty and prejudice, but eventually prospered in what became the wealthiest and most powerful country on Earth. While the majority of the blog will be history, with story settings mainly in America or Ireland, occasionally other topics relevant to Irish American culture will be covered, such as music, dance, cooking, and literature. This is by no means an exhaustive study of Irish American history and culture. It is an attempt, however, to encourage the general reading public to learn more about the subject. Please join us. Thank you, Adrian McGrath