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.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Typhoid Mary: The Sad Case of an Asymptomatic Irish Immigrant

"Typhoid Mary" Mary Mallon
in the front hospital bed (Wikipedia)

By Adrian McGrath

Dangerous diseases are in the news nowadays. People isolate, take many precautions, and sadly some get sick and even die. Others go into quarantine.

A similar, though much smaller scale, medical scare happened a century ago in New York. It has parallels to today, and it was important also because of the asymptomatic nature of the case. It involved an Irish immigrant.

She came from Cookstown, County Tyrone, in the north of Ireland. Born in 1869 she came to America when in her early teens in 1884. It is probable she had typhoid from birth as her mother had the infection when pregnant. 

Her name was Mary Mallon, and she lived at first with her aunt and uncle.  Later she worked in the New York City area as a maid until she developed into a cook. Her career advanced as she worked as a house cook for wealthy families.

But there was a problem. At the homes of the well-to-do where she worked, people kept getting sick. Eventually, it is believed that she infected more than 50 people. Three of these unfortunate souls died from the illness. 

Mary Mallon went from job to job, and people kept getting sick. The ill people would have a high fever, stomach pain, head pains, and might become nausiated and vomit. A skin rash might develop. These symptoms might last for weeks and become worse. Pneumonia and intestinal bleeding might also occur. 

The disease was called typhoid fever or typhoid (not to be confused with typhus). The disease was spread by bacteria often resulting from unclean or unsanitary conditions. Simple washing of the hands could have reduced the problem, but medical science in those days did not fully realize this. 

A poster originally from the New York American
from 1909 depicting Mary cooking and spreading 
typhoid fever. (Photo from and Wikimedia)

It is probable, at least at first, that Mary did not realize that she was the source of the problem. She had the disease, but she did not understand it. She was asymptomatic, which meant she carried the illness but had no outward signs of it. She was in fact the very first, diagnosed, asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever in the United States. 

Mary was ostensibly healthy, yet inside of her was Salmonella typhi.

Eventually the authorities caught up with her and concluded she was the source of the problem. She was quarantined and let go after agreeing to be more hygenic and change her occupation. 

She went from cook to laundry worker. She did this agreeably, but she later changed back to cooking after an injury. Cooking also paid much more than laundry work or being a maid. With her injury and limited job skills, cooking was the work Mary relied on to earn a living.

However, now she began to work in public places rather than in homes of the rich. She worked in restaurants, hotels, and even at a hospital. She used false names and worked as a cook against health officials' orders.

Then as the illness spread, she was discovered and quarantined again by the authorities. So twice quarantined, her life was a nightmare. 

Mary was sent again to a place called North Brother Island in The Bronx in New York. She stayed there for over 25 years in total. 

It was said she had no friends or relatives left to console her, and she found peace only in her religious beliefs. 

She died almost alone, except for the medical staff, in 1938. 

Mary Mallon was cremated. Her ashes are buried at St. Raymond's Cemetery on North Brother Island.

The press covered the story and gave her the nickname "Typhoid Mary."

Typhoid fever was eventually treated with the use of antibiotics which can destroy Salmonella. A British scientist also developed a vaccine in 1896 which was successful.

North Brother Island, East River
The Bronx, New York
(Photo by US Coast Guard and Wikimedia)

North Brother Island,The Bronx,
New York, 1906 (Wikipedia)

Sources and further reading: See about North Brother Island
the poster of Mary is from and Wikimedia; Photo of lighthouse North Brother Island

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Healys: The Many Accomplishments of One Irish African American Family

Bishop James Augustine

By Adrian McGrath

Being Irish Catholic in 19th century America had a great societal disadvantage. There was then a great deal of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice. Being an enslaved African American then in the South was obviously a terribly oppressed situation. There was no freedom at all. One family suffered in both conditions, and yet made incredible accomplishments. This was the Healy Family of Georgia. Surprisingly, their story is not well known. Yet it should serve as an inspiration to us all.

Michael Morris Healy was an Irish Catholic immigrant from Roscommon, Ireland. He came to America and became wealthy as a cotton planter in a location near Macon, Georgia. Mary Eliza Smith was Michael's common-law wife. She was a person of mixed White and Black backgrounds; and she had been a slave. There is some uncertainty if she had been freed or remained a slave.

Under the laws of that time, Mary was considered to be Black. She and Michael had several children. They were considered Black under the law; and the children were also considered to be slaves under the law, assuming the mother was enslaved. Georgia law then prohibited education for all Black children, free or enslaved.

It was feared that education could lead to independent thinking and even result in a slave revolt.

Michael, despite the unjust law, intended for his children to be well educated. So, he sent the children to school up North. They were all baptized Catholic.

There were nine children in all, who lived to be adults. Some went to boarding schools run by the Quakers at first, but later went to Catholic schools.

All of the five male children except for one graduated from college. Three of the children continued their educations, going to graduate school in Paris, France at Seminaire Saint Sulpice. They were James, Patrick, and Sherwood Healy. Patrick and Sherwood studied further and attained doctorate level degrees.

Seminaire Saint Sulpice in modern times,
near Paris, France, the school where several
Healy sons studied
Photo from

The three daughters also were well educated in a Catholic convent in Montreal, Canada. One daughter, Martha, however, left the religious order and married an Irish Catholic immigrant and raised a family.

Three of the sons became Catholic priests. The three daughters became Catholic nuns.

Patrick Francis Healy,
a Jesuit priest, later head
of Georgetown College

The fifth son, Michael Augustine Healy, who liked adventure and who did not graduate college, joined the United States Revenue Cutter Service. This was the forerunner of the US Coast Guard. He rose to the rank of Captain and did a lot of his service in the wilds of Alaska.

Michael Augustine Healy became the first African American to take command of a United States ship. Today in his honor the US Coast Guard has a ship called the USCGC Healy. It is an icebreaker and the largest ship in the US Coast Guard.

United States Coast Guard Cutter,
an icebreaker in north Alaska
USCGC Healy aka WAGB-20
This ship was named after the Healy son,
Michael Augustine Healy

James Augustine Healy became the first American bishop who was of African American descent. Patrick Francis Healy became the president of the Jesuit school, Georgetown College which later became Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He is also said to be the first American of African descent to earn a PhD. He was a Jesuit priest.

One of the daughters, who was a nun, became a Mother Superior. In Healy style, she became the first Mother Superior of African descent in the USA.

Healy Hall at Georgetown University,
named after the Healy son and Jesuit priest,
Patrick Francis Healy
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In sum the nine children were as follows:

1. James Augustine Healy, became bishop of Portland, Maine

2. Patrick Francis Healy, PhD, became a Jesuit priest and head of Georgetown College, later called Georgetown University

3. Alexander Sherwood Healy, earned a doctorate degree and became a priest

4. Michael Augustine Healy, joined the Revenue Cutter Service, today's US Coast Guard, became a Captain and a USCG cutter is named after him

5. Eliza Healy, became a Catholic nun and the first African American Mother Superior, was stationed in St. Albans, Vermont

6. Hugh Healy, graduated from Holy Cross but died at age 21

7. Martha Healy, entered novitiate but left the nunnery to marry an Irish Catholic immigrant and raise a family

8. Josephine Amanda Healy, became a Catholic nun with the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph

9. Eugene Healy, unkown what became of him, his parents dying when he was only two years old. Reportedly, he lived a sad life.

It is often said that the Healy Family was a "family of firsts," in that they accomplished great things before anyone else.

They left quite an extraordinary legacy.

Michael Augustine Healy, Captain
in the US Revenue Cutter Service
US Coast Guard
Photo from USCG and Wikimedia

Sources and further reading: Wikipedia article on "Healy Family"; The Healys: An Extraordinary Family at; The Healy Family at; Irish America, Window on the Past, The Georgia Healys

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Abraham Lincoln and The Great Hunger

Abraham Lincoln, 1846
while a member of the US Congress
Photo from Library of Congress,
and Wikimedia

By Adrian McGrath

The Great Hunger (or as it is called in Irish "An Gorta Mor") killed more than 1,000,000 Irish people and drove another 1,000,000 away from Ireland as emigrants. It began in 1845 with a blight on the potato crop -- the main, if not only, source of food for most Irish. When the potatoes rotted away, the people starved to death or died of related diseases. (See more on this at my story on Coffins Ships.)

There was plenty of other food in British-occupied Ireland then -- fruits, vegetables, grains, seafood, dairy products, and even beef. But this was all controlled by the British who, in most cases, refused to share this food supply with the starving Irish. Indeed, shipments of Irish food were sent under guard by police or British soldiers to England or sold overseas for profit. Meanwhile, the Irish starved to death.

Starving Irish in Skibbereen, Ireland
James Mahoney, Illustrated London News, 1847
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

This deliberate starvation was the result of centuries of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic discriminatory laws, ethnic prejudice, and a warped excessive belief in an economic philosophy called laissez faire, which completely overlooked how an economic system should operate in times of crisis. It was tantamount to genocide.

The British government did intervene at some point, inadequately; and some aid did come from overseas from humanitarians. Notable examples of people who sent money or materiel to help the starving Irish were the Quakers religious organization, the Choctaw Native American Indians, and the Sultan of Turkey.

The Quakers in Ireland set up giant cauldrons -- called Famine Pots -- and made soup kitchens. Many Quakers even became ill themselves or died from illnesses during their charity work.

The Sultan of Turkey had an Irish medical doctor on his staff
who encouraged the sultan to help the starving Irish. Consequently, the Sultan sent a message to the Queen of England, Victoria, offering 10,000 Pounds to help in famine relief. The English queen allowed the sultan to donate only 1,000 Pounds, however. Why? Because she donated only 2,000 Pounds herself, and the British queen wanted no one to donate more than she did.

The Choctaws, a Native American Indian tribe who themselves had been subjected to discrimination, decimation, and abuse donated money gathered from their poverty-stricken people and sent it to aid the Irish. (In the infamous Trail of Tears some years earlier the Choctaws had been forced from their homeland along with other Indian tribes and marched to Oklahoma. Many died along the way.)

Choctaw Indians in Louisiana, 1847
from Wikimedia Commons based on a painting
in the New Orleans Museum of Art
"Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou"
Public Domain

But a professor from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, Cristine Kinealy, made a fairly recent, stunning discovery of another donor to the cause of Irish famine relief. The donor was none-other-than Abraham Lincoln.

In the late 1840s, Abraham Lincoln was not a well-known figure. He was just a former rail-splitter and farmer turned country-lawyer. Within about 15 years, however, he would become president of the United States and one of the most famous men in American history.

Professor Kinealy has studied the Irish Great Hunger for many years and has done extensive research. She came across a list of donors in her research and found that a relatively young Abraham Lincoln donated $10, which today would be about $500. Remember, at this time Lincoln was himself an unknown and relatively poor.

Lincoln donated the money in 1847, known as Black 47 in Ireland because the death toll was highest then. Lincoln had just become a
member of the US House of Representatives.

The professor was quoted as saying Abraham Lincoln had an affinity towards the Irish and could recite by heart Robert Emmet's speech from the dock. (This was a famous speech by an Irish rebel who was captured and put on trial by the British. Here is a video of Liam Clancy reciting Robert Emmet's famous speech. )

Additionally, Abraham Lincoln had as a favorite poem "The Lament of the Irish Emigrant" by Lady Dufferin, the professor was quoted as saying (See Helen Salina, aka Lady Dufferin). The words of the poem were turned into a popular song.

 (See the article  "Historian Discovers Abraham Lincoln Donated to Ireland during Great Famine" from, September 28, 2012. For more on "Lament of the Irish Emigrant" see here.)

Abraham Lincoln is known as perhaps America's greatest president (along with George Washington). Lincoln preserved the Union during the worst time in American history when brother fought brother, and he ended slavery in the United States.

President Abraham Lincoln, 1863
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Originally by Alexander Gardner

But now there is one more reason to admire this great man. He looked beyond his own self and his own land and saw human suffering overseas and tried to stop it.

Sources and further reading: Story about the Turkish Sultan donating, see this  ; story about the Choctaws donating, see this ;
Stories about Lincoln donating see this, and this , and this . And see this from The Irish Post

Artwork: Skibbereen, here.,_1847.JPG; Lincoln, here; Choctaws, here ; President Lincoln, here.

To see more about "Lament of the Irish Emigrant" see here.

See the Robert Emmet speech here

For more information about Professor Christine Kinealy, see

Monday, November 18, 2019

Doolough Tragedy: Death by Indifference in 1849

Irish people starving during An Gorta Mor
Photo from Wikimedia, originally
from Illustrated London News, 1847
by James Mahony

By Adrian McGrath

There are different ways to kill people. One way is directly, for example, by shooting them with a gun or stabbing them with a sword.
But there is another way. The indirect way. Through neglect. Through a lack of human compassion, a lack of caring.

By refusing to help desperate people who are in deadly circumstances, when it would be very easy to help, is another way of killing. It is debatable whether the indirect way is culpable under law. It is, however, clearly morally reprehensible, by almost any civilized standard.

This indirect way to death happened in Ireland in 1849 on the rugged road from Louisburgh to the Delphi Hunting Lodge in cold, wet, foul weather.

Certainly there was suffering and dying all over Ireland at this time, during what is called in the Irish language An Gorta Mor, or The Great Hunger -- The Great Irish Famine. This particular case near Doolough Lake is just one small example of this larger horror. But it is a tale that needs to be told and remembered.

A point needs to be made at first. Although this period from 1845 to about 1850 when 1,000,000 Irish people starved to death or died of related diseases, and another 1,000,000 fled to other countries -- mainly to the United States -- is often called The Great Famine or even the Potato Famine, it was much more than a famine.

"An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store"
The potato blight in Ireland
Original art by Daniel MacDonald, 1847
Photo from Wikimedia Commons 

There was plenty of food in Ireland besides potatoes, the main food source for Irish peasants, which began to rot because of a blight in 1845. There were grains, vegetables, fruits, diary products, seafood, and even beef. But this food was controlled by the British overlords who would not share this with the starving Irish. If it was a famine, it was largely a man-made famine.

 (A case of genocide could be made as well, using the definition of the crime as stated by the 
United Nations. See this information from the UN website on genocide. 

Some of the grounds for genocide --relating to a group, national, ethnical, racial, or religious -- include "killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ..." 
See )

Indeed, there are cases of large amounts of food stuffs being shipped overseas for sale, under guard by British soldiers or police, while the Irish were deliberately left to starve to death. An opportunistic blight destroyed the potatoes, but the British government allowed the Irish to starve.

To be fair, there were some efforts at hunger relief by the British government; but these were grossly inadequate. Some have argued this is evidence that the mass starvation, exiles, and deaths were not deliberate, but only the result of government ineptitude. Some aid, likewise, was sent by foreign countries which helped but not enough. (Please see my earlier article on Coffin Ships and the Great Hunger.)

It should be obvious, however, that if a nation like Great Britain had the skill and resources to ship its soldiers and military equipment all over the planet to create and maintain an empire, it should have been able to send food to starving people who lived next door in Ireland, and who were actually then subjects of the British Empire.

The Doolough Tragedy: A Death March

In County Mayo in Connacht (also spelled Connaught) on the west coast of Ireland on March 30, 1849, two government inspectors arrived in the town of Louisburgh on a mission. They came under the auspices of the Poor Law Union to see if the Irish people in that area really needed government assistance.

Doolough, Mayo, Ireland
Photo from Wikimedia, originally by
Wikimedia Commons Patrice 78500, in public domain

Yes, incredibly, despite the fact that thousands of people were dying of starvation on a regular basis with dead bodies in plain view on the ground all over, the government required verification of true need for bureaucratic reasons.

The inspection did not occur for unclear reasons. So, the two officials went to a place called the Delphi Lodge, a hunting lodge belonging to the Marquess of Sligo. This was about 12 miles away. There they could spend the night and perhaps get a bite to eat.

Meanwhile, the Irish people who went to Louisburgh for the inspection and to get food were told to go to the Delphi Lodge. If they did not appear in person, they could be removed from the list of people eligible for relief.

Under the circumstances they were in -- destitute, cold, starving, many seriously ill -- a forced march of 12 miles over rough terrain or bad roads in cold and wet weather was enough to kill them.

And that is exactly what it did. The Irish people had to arrive by 7 o'clock in the morning to get assistance. So, through the night hundreds of starving people walked 12 miles in miserable, cold weather to the Delphi Lodge.

How many died along the way? We are not sure. One report said that seven dead bodies were found along the roadside later on. Some of the bodies were of women and children. Other reports said some people were later unaccounted for -- most likely they perished as well in the night and were lost in the countryside.

Exactly how many died was never determined, but clearly all of them suffered both physically and mentally.

The area of Doolough Lake between Louisburgh and the Delphi Lodge, in short, became a place of agony and death. (By the way, the odd, French-sounding name of Louisburgh was given to the town by the British because of the British victory over the French in the battle of the French town Louisburgh in Canada during the French and Indian War.)

Reportedly, when the starving people arrived at the Delphi Lodge, they were told the government officials could not be disturbed as they were having lunch. Finally, they did meet with the officials who told them to just go away, the officials could not help them. More of the desperate people died on their way back from whence they came.

Perhaps this tale has evolved over time. We are not exactly certain of all the events. It has become almost a legend. We do know that, essentially, these starving and desperate Irish people got no help at all, and that many of them died from the experience while all of them gravely suffered.

The event itself has different names and is also known as the Doolough Famine Walk of 1849. (See this story from Irish Central.)

Famine National Monument in Murrisk, Ireland
Photo from Creative Commons Wikimedia,
Original work by Graham Horn. Murrisk is a few miles from
Louisburgh, Mayo, Ireland

The original source of information of the walk came from a letter sent to a newspaper called the "Mayo Constitution" from April 10, 1849. The letter told the tale of these horrible events.

The horrors these poor people endured have not been forgotten, however. In modern day Ireland there is an annual march called the Famine Walk near Doolough Lake in memory of those who suffered and died.

The Famine Walk also brings attention to unfortunate people around the globe who suffer from similar injustice or oppression. (See this video about the Famine Walk.)

The Famine Walk is supported by a human rights organization from Ireland called AFRI which stands for Action From Ireland. (See their website.)

Many notable people have joined in this Famine Walk commemoration over the years including the world-renowned
Archbishop Desmond Tuto of South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
appeared at the Irish Famine Walk
Photo from US Government and

Sources: article on the Doolough Tragedy; Video at on the Famine Walk; Irish Central article on the tragedy. See also the United Nations information on genocide

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dracula was Irish

Count Dracula as portrayed by
Bela Lugosi in the classic 1931 film
"Dracula" Photo Wikimedia Commons
And Universal Studios 

By Adrian McGrath

    The scene is set near the Carpathian Mountains in the Balkans in southeast Europe near present-day Romania. There in a remote region known as Transylvania (which means "across the forest") lived Count Dracula. It is an ancient land of peasants and nobles ... and superstition, folklore, and ... vampires.

A market in Transylvania circa 1818
Photo from Wikimedia.

    We are familiar with the famous 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian actor who spoke perfect English, as a refined aristocrat should, but with a slight Hungarian accent. Dracula too is a product of this ancient land. 

Vlad Tepes dines as he has his enemies impaled.
This is from a woodcut from 1499 by Markus
Ayrer, from Nuremberg, Germany.
Photo from Wikimedia.

Some say Dracula (whose name means "the devil") is a fictional character based on a real-life warrior noble named Vlad Dracul. He had other names -- Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracula, and notoriously, Vlad the Impaler. He acquired this title by executing the enemies of his homeland in the Balkans by sticking them on long, sharp poles and raising them up to die, as gravity pulled their bodies down on the deadly stakes. 

Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler
It is said that Count Dracula is
based on this real life leader.
Photo from Wikimedia

In Christendom in the Balkans, Vlad is seen as a hero who freed his homeland from the invading Ottoman Turks. Vlad may have been a hero to some, but he was ruthless with his enemies. And his legend became somehow mixed with a preexisting superstition of vampirism.

Vampires were mythological creatures who supposedly lived by drinking the blood of the living. They were the undead. To ignorant, non-scientific people, a belief in vampires provided an explanation for many ills in their society. For example, if somebody died mysteriously -- perhaps by a disease which ignorant people did not understand -- the people simply explained the death as due to vampire attack.

Many people in Europe and indeed worldwide believed in vampires in one form or another. In fact, Lilith was a sort of vampire as mentioned in the Holy Bible. She was believed to be the first wife of Adam. Belief in vampirism, in one form or another, dates way back to the days of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians.

So now we all know where Dracula came from.  He, of course, came from ... Dublin, Ireland.


Yes, Count Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, came from Ireland. Or to be more precise, Dracula was created in Ireland.

Bram Stoker

Dracula came from Ireland because he was invented in 1897 by an Irish writer from Dublin, Ireland. The writer was named Bram Stoker. (Bram is short for Abraham.) Stoker created this monster but set his homeland as Transylvania.

Bram Stoker, 1906
He was born in Dublin and wrote the
legendary novel Dracula
Photo from Wikimedia

Stoker lived from 1847 to 1912. Most people do not realize the significance of 1847, but the Irish --or people who study Irish history -- do. The year was called "Black 47." This was the worst year of the five year horror in Ireland known as The Great Famine or An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger. (See my article on The Great Hunger and Coffin Ships.)

Yes, the potato crop rotted; but the Irish people starved not because of a lack of potatoes. There was plenty of other food in Ireland, but the British, who then controlled Ireland with British laws and a British police force and a British army, denied other food stuffs to the starving Irish people. In fact the British exported food stuffs to England and overseas to sell for profit while the Irish people died. 

Irish people starving to death during
An Gorta Mor, Skibbereen, Ireland, 1847.
This was the year called "Black 47"
when Bram Stoker was born in Dublin,
Ireland. Photo from Wikimedia.

Bram would have been too young to remember this first hand, but he certainly would have been aware of it as he grew up and became educated. This atmosphere of mass death would have been a profound part of his life.

Bram was born in Clontarf, a neighborhood near Dublin. (A very famous battle between the Irish and the Vikings happened there in 1014 AD, by the way. More death and violence for Bram to absorb into his consciousness.) Bram's father, a civil servant, was from Dublin; and his mother was from County Sligo, Ireland. The family was not Catholic, but Protestant, Church of Ireland.

Bram was very sickly in his youth but recovered. He spent much of his time, while other boys played outside or did sports, by thinking and daydreaming and creating ideas -- a solid basis for eventual writing. He went to Trinity College in Dublin and acquired a BA (bachelor's degree) and an MA (master's degree). He was especially interested in history and philosophy.
Stoker developed an interest in the theater while studying at Trinity. 

After college Bram worked in the government in civil service, as his father did. Later, Bram combined his theater interest with his writing skills and became a journalist and theater critic, writing for a newspaper. He also wrote a few books when he could.

Stoker married a lady named Florence Balcombe, who was once romantically involved with non-other-than the famous Oscar Wilde. Bram knew Wilde from their days at college. To his credit Bram still remained friends with Wilde even after Oscar fell from grace, was arrested and jailed. Oscar Wilde was unjustly persecuted just for being gay, which was a crime in those days.

Stoker's real claim-to-fame in his lifetime was his work as assistant and manager for the then famous Shakespearean actor Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theater in London. Irving more or less controlled the Lyceum, and he became so well regarded that he was knighted by the British Crown.

Henry Irving, the famous actor,
for whom Bram Stoker worked
Photo from Wikimedia

Stoker held Irving in great esteem. In many ways Irving was Stoker's tutor and idol. Stoker admired Irving, but he also feared his power. There are historians who believe that Bram based the character of Count Dracula on the commanding personality of Henry Irving. 

It was not because Irving was evil in any way, as was Dracula; but it was because Irving was overwhelmingly persuasive, commanding, and powerful as was Dracula, that a connection between the two is seen.

Dracula wanted more than to rule Transylvania by night. He sought to travel to England, then the most powerful country on Earth, and find more blood to drink. There Dracula could acquire even more power.

Bram Stoker wrote the book Dracula as a sideline. Archibald Constable and Company first published the book in 1897 in London, England. 

A copy of the first edition of the
novel by Bram Stoker called
Photo from Wikimedia

Despite the impact the concept of Dracula has had on everything from movies to breakfast cereal (Count Chocula), the book did not make Bram Stoker rich. In fact it did not really sell much at all. He got a few good book reviews in the newspapers, comparing him to Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. But that was about it.

Arthur Conan Doyle, another Irish writer and creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, praised Stoker for his Dracula and even wrote him a complimentary letter.

A silent German film was made in 1922 called Nosferatu. There was a lawsuit over the legal rights to the idea of the vampire character. This legal dispute and its publicity created a new interest in the book.

Then there was a stage drama based on the book. It was popular in Britain and later in the USA.

But it was the 1931 Universal film called Dracula starring Bela Lugosi which made Dracula a household name until this very day.

Dracula has become an essential figure for Halloween, even though Halloween actually, originally had nothing to do with vampires. (See my article on Halloween and the Irish.)

Today most people think of Count Dracula as a creature of the night roaming the spiderweb-filled halls of Castle Dracula in remote Transylvania or perhaps attempting to seduce privileged English ladies at their estates near London and drink their blood.

But really ... Dracula was Irish.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

When the Irish Flew Around the Moon

American astronaut, Michael Collins.
Like another Michael Collins, famous in
Irish history as a military leader, the NASA
astronaut is of Irish descent. Photo from the US
Government in public domain, from NASA.

By Adrian McGrath

Once upon a time, the Irish flew around the Moon. Yes, it sounds incredible; but it is true.

The Irish always seem to show up in the strangest places. And in the summer of 1969, it happened -- 50 years ago this week.

The American spacecraft Apollo 11 made its historic and spectacular approach to the Moon. Two men would walk on the lunar surface in this mission -- Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Orbiting the Moon alone in the main spacecraft would be Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot.

Collins was a graduate of the US Military Academy (West Point). He joined the United States Air Force (USAF), flew a Sabre jet (an advanced USAF jet fighter), and became a distinguished test pilot. He then became one of the most select people on planet Earth -- a NASA astronaut. (NASA is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.)

The story of astronaut Michael Collins, however, goes far back in time to a land far, far away from America. It goes to Ireland.

Irish immigrants going to America
Photo from,
1868 picture by Henry Doyle

Michael's grandfather was Jeremiah Bernard Collins from Dunmanway, County Cork, Ireland. Jeremiah left Ireland to be with his immigrant Irish relatives in Cincinnati, Ohio around 1860. This was just a few years after the nightmare of the Great Famine or Great Hunger in Ireland. This placed him in America at the time of the bloody American Civil War. This war tore America apart, and it cost the lives of about 700,000 Americans. So, Jeremiah went from one enormous devastation and trauma to another.

It is possible, though not certain, that the grandfather had been a drummer boy in the Union Army during the war. After the war he worked various odd jobs including working in a cattle drive to Texas to replace some of the animals which had been lost during the war.

After his work in Texas ended, Jeremiah traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana. There he settled in and worked in the grocery business, being employed for a man named James Lawton. He married the boss's daughter, Kate Lawton.

Jeremiah and wife eventually moved across the Mississippi River to Algiers, Louisiana (today a part of New Orleans, which, by the way, is my home town) where the trains from the West Coast ended their run. There was no bridge for trains back then across the Mississippi. This made Algiers a key spot for unloading goods to send across the river to the heart of New Orleans.

New Orleans during the Civil War,
1862. Photo from Wikimedia
and Campfires and Battlefields, 1894

Irish immigrants worked in the New Orleans railroad marshaling yards and also on the river's waterfront. To capitalize on this opportunity, Jeremiah and Kate opened their own general store selling mainly dry goods. They also had the good sense to open a bar in the backroom too, selling lots of beer.

Jeremiah and Kate had many mouths to feed from their business because they had a very large Irish Catholic family with many children. As their children grew, they worked at the family business too.

James Lawton Collins, a Major General
in the United States Army, father of
astronaut Michael Collins, and
born in Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1882
Photo by Library of Congress and Wikimedia

Their first born was named James Lawton Collins. James later became the father of astronaut Michael Collins. James grew and eventually was accepted at Tulane University in New Orleans. But by chance he was also later accepted by West Point, the United States Military Academy.

So, James went to West Point and became a professional US Army career officer. This is how his son, Michael, became connected to the US military and eventually to NASA.

So, from exile from impoverished County Cork, Ireland (which was then still suffering from the past horrors of the Great Hunger, 1845 to 1850, where 1,000,000 Irish people starved to death and another 1,000,000 people fled their homeland to permanent exile), to Cincinnati, Ohio and the slaughter of the American Civil War, to the wilds of Texas, and then to New Orleans, the story led to the improbable result of an Irish descendant flying around the Moon.

Michael Collins, alive and well today, is an American hero. And the Pride of Old Ireland too.

Michael Collins from Ireland,
nicknamed "The Big Fellow,"
Irish military leader in the 1920s.
Photo from Wikimedia

By the way, people in Ireland might recognize the name Michael Collins in another sense. Another Michael Collins, a national hero, was an Irish military leader who fought for Irish independence in the Anglo-Irish War of the early 1920s. He was the leader of the Irish Republican Army. 

After the great success of Apollo 11, many Americans began to take Moon missions for granted and space trips even in the Space Shuttle as routine. But that was a grave error.

The Saturn V, the rocket ship for Apollo 11.
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia.

Ventures into outer space, beyond the atmosphere of Earth, are extremely dangerous. Any number of things can go wrong, and the result can be death. We saw this with the near fatal mission of Apollo 13 and the tragic explosion of the Challenger space shuttle where the entire crew was lost.

All of us on planet Earth, from what ever country, owe a large debt to the brave men and women who venture into outer space.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, Apollo 11.
Photo from NASA, taken by Neil

So, you might rightly ask: Why do we take such risks? We should remember the words of another famous Irish American, John F. Kennedy, who told us in his famous "Moon Speech" at Rice University in Houston, TX on September 12, 1962 why we take these tremendous risks, why we dare to leave the safety of our planet and reach for the stars: "We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon ... not because it is easy, but because it is hard." John F. Kennedy, in his brief time in office, steered America in the direction of a New Frontier.

President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, Houston, Texas,
September 12, 1962. "We choose to go to the Moon ..."
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia
So there was Kennedy, and there was Collins. Both American heroes, and descendants of the Irish.

One descendant of the Irish had the vision to go to the Moon, and the other did the driving.

The crew of Apollo 11.
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia 

Sources and further reading:

Monday, April 29, 2019

Colcannon: Make It Easy

Colcannon, the easy way. With Cole Slaw, butter,
Green onions, turkey bacon, instant potatoes, and milk.
Photo by A. McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

I have never made Colcannon before. I have made Champ, which is similar and which I like very much. But I never made Colcannon. So, I decided to make some; but I wanted it now and did not want a lot of cooking and effort.

So, I devised this shortcut version. If you want a traditional Colcannon and have a lot of time on your hands, go somewhere else. But if you want a quick and easy Colcannon which still resembles real Colcannon pretty much and does indeed taste great, you have come to the right place.

Here is how I made it. You can vary it as you choose, and you will have a nice meal.

My main ingredients for easy Colcannon --
Instant potatoes, Cole Slaw, green onions,
Turkey bacon, canned milk, butter or margerine.
Photo by A. McGrath

You need 1. Instant potatoes, 2. Canned milk, 3. A premixed Cole Slaw without any dressing or mayonnaise on it (just shredded cabbage and carrots, etc), 4. Green onions or scallions, 5. Bacon (I used turkey bacon, but use whatever type you want), 6. Salt, pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar.

In a big pot (I used a Chinese Wok) add some olive oil and saute the bacon after chopping it up a bit. When cooked, add the Cole Slaw or shredded cabbage. Saute until soft. Add a pinch of brown sugar and salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, mix the instant potatoes to instructions plus add milk. I used canned milk. Add the sliced green onions to the potatoes and mix.

Now mix the pototoes with the bacon and cabbage mix. If not still hot, put it in a microwave.

Mix it all up and put it in a big bowl. Make a hollow in the middle of the Colcannon mix and pour in some melted butter.

And that is it. It is done.

It is quick, easy, inexpensive, tasty, and filling. It is probably pretty nutritious too.

Some recipes for Colcannon use leeks instead of cabbage. So, you can try that too.

Sources and further reading:
Irish Cooking by Ruth Bauder Kershner.
Weathervane Books, 1979.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Concertina and Irish Music

My very own Anglo- German
concertina from a music shop
in Dublin, Ireland, given
to me by a good friend

By Adrian McGrath

You might have seen a classic film which had old time sailing ships in it, a film like Mutiny on the Bounty or Moby Dick. Among the various items on board these ships -- along with sails and lines, capstans, anchors, bad food, and many salty sailors -- you might have seen a musical instrument.

It could have been a fiddle, a fife, a tin whistle, an accordion, or one of those strange little squeezebox things that a seafaring musician swings around. That little squeezebox thing is called a concertina.

The concertina was a great instrument for seaborne musicians because unlike the accordion, they were compact and easy to carry and stow away. And there was very limited space on most sailing ships.

Sailing ships in olden days, hunting the whale.
Concertinas would likely have been on board
after the 1830s. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. 

Unlike the fiddle, the concertina is self-contained, not needing extra strings and rosin, etc. And it sounds louder than a fiddle. Unlike the fife it has more versatility and more power. All in all, the concertina was a great instrument for the romantic days of sail.

Music was a boost to a sailor's morale and was helpful even when doing work. Sea shanties, for example, were played or sung when the crew would haul in lines and weigh anchor.

Sailors using a capstan to haul a heavy object.
They often did this work to the music of a sea shanty
sometimes played on a concertina, or a fife,
or just sung aloud. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The concertina, however, was (and is still) used for more than sailing ships. It is a popular instrument for Irish music. It is great for most types of Irish dances -- jigs and reels, hornpipes, waltzes, slip jigs, slides, polkas, and marches. It is great for songs and ballads too either for the melody or as an accompanying instrument.

An old time dance, possibly a
polka. Concertinas are good for this
type of dance. Photo from
Wikimedia Commons, circa 1840.

There are two main types of concertinas -- the English and the Anglo-German. The main difference is in the way the instruments play notes. On the English, a push-in and a pull-out of the bellows plays the same note. On the Anglo-German the pull-out plays a different note from the push-in, much like the way a different note is played on a harmonica. The Anglo-German makes for a more jaunty, bouncy style than the English, making the Anglo-German better for Irish music.

Most Irish folk tunes are played in the key of D and sometimes G.
The typical 30 button Anglo-German concertina comes in the keys of C and G with scatted, extra notes in the top of three rows. With the scattered notes, we can play in the key of D.

Sir Charles Wheatstone, inventor of the
English version of the concertina
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, circa 1868.

The concertina was invented almost simultaneously -- and without mutual knowledge -- by two men, one English and the other German. Sir Charles Wheatstone developed the English concertina in 1829, and in 1834 Carl Friedrich Uhlig invented the German concertina which evolved into the more popular Anglo-German version. The Anglo-German added a few elements from the English to the German, including the famous hexagonal shape and smaller size.

Carl Friedrich Uhlig,
inventor of the German version
of the concertina. Photo from
Wikimedia Commons.

Overtime the concertina, especially the Anglo-German, became popular with Irish music.

You can learn much more about the concertina at the website for the
Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Ireland. The website is here or see This is a research organization for Irish music and culture.

The concertina is known as a free-reed instrument and is related to the accordion and the harmonica. It is larger and more powerful than a harmonica, but it is not as big and bulky as an accordion. So, the concertina is really just the right combination of power and size.

More portable than an accordion, louder than a fiddle, flute, or tin whistle, an old-time musical instrument with a pleasing and unique sound, as suitable for the Irish Dance as for sailing on the high seas -- that is what the concertina is.

The Anglo-German concertina is, by the way, my favorite instrument for traditional Irish music.

Sources and further reading: Website for Irish Traditional Music Archive; a book about learning the concertina The Anglo Concertina Demystified by Bertram Levy, 1985; McNeela Instruments in Dublin, Ireland; and's article on concertina here.