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Europe, History

My Irish Story

March 16, 2018 • By

“Fifty percent of what goes on here (Ireland) is creative, more often than not, one is unsure if what one hears is totally true. It’s what we are, full of stories and one is never sure where the fact begins and the fiction ends or vice versa.” —Jean O’Callaghan, family friend, Lahinch, Ireland

Fantasy Aisle, Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

I start my story, an Irish story, with this quote because tracking down my family’s ancestry was a great deal of he said she said from living relatives mixed in with a sprinkling of factual documents bundled with Irish historical information from the 1800s. There were tales of hardship and triumph woven together in the framework of a sizable family spread from Ireland to the United States and today around the world.

The Glynn family history dates to circa 1794 in Ireland, according to genealogy documents obtained in County Mayo. My paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Glynn, was born July 3, 1866 to Hugh Glynn and Bridget Lyons in the town of Feamore, which is close to the village of Logboy, four miles south of Ballyhaunis, County Mayo.

Fantasy Aisle, The Glynn Family Farm, Ballyhaunis, County Mayo Ireland

The Glynn Family Farm, Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, Ireland

Ballyhaunis is located in the western part of Ireland where the Irish Potato Famine, 1845 -1849, hit farmers hard. My Irish friends argue the Great Famine was an intentional genocide by the British government who viewed Ireland as nothing more than a poor country filled with uneducated, Catholic nonconformists. *But in 1845, a strain of Phytophthora believed to originate from North America, rotted the potato crops across Ireland. Potatoes were an inexpensive crop, easy to farm, a food rich in nutrients and a staple of the Irish diet. The next three years the disease nearly wiped out the country’s viable crops starving to death an estimated one million people and forcing another two million to abandon their homeland for England, North America and Australia.

What was Ballyhaunis like in 1866? It was a sparse farming community with a few large families banding together to survive. The years following the famine resembled post war scenes. People crawling out from the rubble working tirelessly to rebuild their lives, provide food for their families and keep their children safe and happy. People were poor and received no formal education. They were unskilled laborers possibly owning land but more likely paying rent to British landlords.

Fantasy Aisle, Lahinch Golf Course, Ireland

Lahinch Golf Course, Ireland

My great-grandfather was the first son and the second of eight children born to Hugh and Bridget. Given the name Thomas at birth, documents reveal that somewhere along the way he adopted John Thomas. Many Irish who emigrated during this time adopted another name or middle initial often a Confirmation name or a father’s name. The vast majority of Irish born in the 1800s didn’t actually know their birth date typically misstating their age on marriage, naturalization and census records, making it challenging to piece together accurate timelines. John Thomas recorded his birth date as 1874 in subsequent documents. He was off by eight years.

At some point in his teens, John Thomas along with his two younger brothers ventured to Lancashire, England, an Irish enclave. I imagine he was an adventurer optimistic for a new life — a dreamer. He was brave and smart. What he lacked in schooling, world experiences provided him. There was no looking back now. He would grow roots in England.

But, alas, his story continued.

Fantasy Aisle, SS Saxonia, Ship Manifest June 1909

SS Saxonia, Ship Manifest June 1909

John Thomas married Kate Hulme, whose family left Ireland for England two generations prior.  They started their life together in Lancashire but the British treated the Irish as second-class citizens offering them the least desirable and lowest paying jobs if anything. They struggled. John Thomas worked and saved and plotted a brighter future in the United States. Perhaps with their life savings in hand, my great-grandparents, John Thomas, a pregnant Kate and their three sons ages 6, 4, and 10 months boarded the ship, S/S Saxonia, a British Cunard Line, in Liverpool, England bound for Boston, Massachusetts. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 10 days arriving in Boston Harbor on June 10, 1909. My great-grandfather left behind his parents and seven siblings in Ireland –eventually his brothers returned to Ballyhaunis and married.

Immigration requirements at the time mandated passengers secure a sponsor in the United States. It is not known who my family knew in Lonsdale, Rhode Island but shortly after they reached the United States, the family of five made their way from Boston to Lonsdale, a manufacturing area about 10 miles outside of Providence. *In 1910, there were approximately 1.3 million Irish living in the United States. My grandfather, William “Bill” Glynn, entered the world on March 22, 1910, the first-born American Glynn.

Soon after my grandfather’s birth, my great-grandmother Kate moved the family to Harrisville in Northern Michigan. Family members recall Kate complaining about her husband’s drinking and thought a more tranquil environment suited her growing family. Harrisville reminded John Thomas of his home in Ireland. Close to Lake Huron, it was quiet and provided vast amounts of unspoiled land to farm. They bought land, built a home and settled into life. They were happy.

Fantasy Aisle, My dad and his parents (my grandparents)

My dad and his parents (my grandparents)

The Great Depression hit the United States in 1929 and financially destroyed Americans particularly immigrant communities. My family was not immune. John Thomas and Kate lost their farm in Harrisville and decided to return to Rhode Island for work. This misfortune created a schism in the family: My grandfather and his three older brothers remained in Michigan finding work at General Motor’s Buick factory in Flint and his four youngest siblings relocated to Rhode Island with their parents. I cannot attempt to understand the heartache my family endured, but as a child I remember asking my grandfather about our family in Rhode Island. His face calmed, he became reflective and his eyes divulged sadness but that only lasted seconds before he burst into lively chatter recounting stories about his sisters and brothers.

My grandfather, a first generation American, married my grandmother, Geraldine Hall in 1941. Her family, the Daly’s, arrived in Flint, Michigan in 1840/41 from County Meath, Ireland.  Bill was honest, hard-working, gentle and kind –a peacemaker who didn’t ruffle feathers and followed the rules. Geraldine, the loud, talkative type, devoted herself to family and friends serving as the glue binding the family together. She never met a stranger she did not befriend and she was generous to a fault. They reminded me of the Irish version of Lucy and Desi in I Love Lucy, relatable and funny. I surmised Geraldine was quite the pistol in her youth. When my grandfather asked her to marry him, he said, “It’s now or never Geraldine.”  She used to tell my brother and me that story over and over until she died at age 93.

Fantasy Aisle, My grandfather, Bill Glynn, Camp Garant 1943

My grandfather, Bill Glynn, Camp Garant 1943

Shortly after my grandparents married, World War II started and the U.S. Army drafted my grandfather.  He served four years in North Africa and Italy with the 45th General Hospital as a Sergeant in the Medical Corps.  While at war, Bill missed the birth of his son, my father, William Michael “Mickey” Glynn in 1943 and the passing of father John Thomas, the patriarch and his younger brother who died during a military training exercise.

The years of the war troubled my grandmother raising a child on her own. Communications between soldiers and family members consisted of pictures and letter writing. My grandfather received a photo from my grandmother that he held dear to his heart. The inscription on the back of his son’s picture read,

“Dear Daddy,

What do you think of me now daddy? I’m 1 year and 16 days old here. Love and I’m with you so don’t worry daddy you’ll soon be with mama and me with God’s help and so keep on the ball, O.K. daddy

Love and kisses, your son.”

Fantasy Aisle, The photo inscribed with a son's note to his dad 1944

The photo inscribed with a son’s note to his dad 1944

When my grandfather came home from the war in 1945, he met his son, “Mickey” for the first time at nearly age 3. It didn’t take long for my dad to figure out he wanted nothing to do with this character.  “I can remember when my dad came home from the war, I didn’t like him. My baby bed was in my mother’s room but he moved it to the living room,” said Mickey.  “I didn’t like my dad for the next two years.”

After the war, life resumed to normal. The family expanded with the birth of twin girls, my aunts.  My grandfather worked as a drop forge operator, a grueling job but one available for a son of immigrants with a sixth grade education. My grandmother raised the children, preparing baked goods for the Church and entertaining her relatives. The family was poor but my grandparents believed in education and my dad and his sisters attended the local Catholic school. All three children graduated from college.

Fantasy Aisle, The Irish Cottage, Ireland

The Irish Cottage, Ireland

In 2016, my dad became an Irish citizen. He is proud of his heritage and takes great pleasure in telling people he is Irish. I listen to my dad’s stories about his childhood and realize my good fortune is a result of his sacrifices and those who came before him.  My family visits Ireland often and while we all complain about the weather, we go to view the beautiful countryside and to connect with the people. My brother Patrick and my dad participate in annual father son golf trips and a few years ago my parents purchased a quaint Irish cottage where my dad delights in recanting tales of his family’s modest beginnings.

Today about 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry.  The Republic of Ireland’s population is 4.7 million and Ballyhaunis is home to about 2,300 people, a blend of Irish, Polish and Pakistani immigrants. Farming is the predominant industry and Glynn cousins are still toiling the land.

Fantasy Aisle, My Irish dad and my German mother on St. Patrick's Day

My Irish dad and my German mother on St. Patrick’s Day

I am a proud American, a European mix of Irish, German, French, British, and Scandinavian heritage. My family, an Irish family, faced adversity every step of the way but they persevered. They fought back poverty, starvation and prejudice. I imagine my ancestors wanted the same things in life for their children as my parents have provided for me and my brother: a home, an education, opportunities for a better life, friends and family and most importantly love.

My dad never met his Irish grandfather. He passed away the year he was born but John Thomas did send a $10 bill “to give to Bill’s son.”  My dad, a sentimental person, holds onto this keepsake today.

And for me, my Irish story continues…


Fantasy Aisle, A pot of gold is at every rainbow

A pot of gold is at every rainbow



*Encyclopedia Britannica: Written By: Joel Mokyr

*Irish Times: “From Ireland to the US: A brief migration history” by Sara Goek, Lecturer Department of History, University College Cork, October 29, 2015

Culture, Destinations, General travel, History, North America, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

Seeing Detroit with Appreciation

October 30, 2017 • By

I’ve heard the words, “Detroit is coming back,” since I was young. My parents are native Michiganders with my mom hailing from Allen Park outside of Detroit and my dad from Flint. I grew up listening to stories of Detroit’s grandeur. My maternal grandparents played as children under the Ambassador Bridge and my mother referenced happy times shopping at the famed Hudson’s department store, attending shows and eating at Detroit’s best restaurants.

Fantasy Aisle, Renaissance Center in Detroit home to GM and the Marriott. The tallest building in Detroi

Renaissance Center in Detroit home to GM and the Marriott. The tallest building in Detroit

Anyone with a Detroit connection talked of great plans for the city’s revitalization one day and the rest laughed and conceded it would never happen and so became the running joke among natives and transplants for decades. People would brag about the enormous potential of the city situated on the Detroit River and rave about the busy international crossing between the United States and Canada, yet Detroit steadily declined with developers and loyalists awaiting its upswing.

Fantasy Aisle, Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad at Hart Plaza

Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad at Hart Plaza

Many believe Detroit’s economy started to decline in the 1950s with the automobile industry struggling but the turning point occurred in July 1967 when Detroit experienced one of the worst race riots in the country. My dad, a member of the Michigan Air National Guard – Battle Creek, was activated during the riots. Still short a summer class to graduate, the Guard called him to service in Detroit. He admits he didn’t even know how to carry a gun (and didn’t) but went to work with the Michigan State Police. He said, “There were a lot of prejudices going on,” and recounted a story of how the team he worked with chased a man who broke into a store and stole televisions.

When I was a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, my roommates and I made the hour-and-a-half trip to Windsor, Canada where the drinking age was 19. One time I recall driving and making a wrong turn to reach the Ambassador Bridge. My roommate, familiar with Detroit, became alarmed and instructed me to start speeding and to run through red lights. We were in a “bad area.”

Until recently, my history with Detroit conjured negative connotations and I avoided visiting. I heard whispers of Detroit’s return and remained doubtful. That changed last week when I stayed in Detroit for the first time in 20 years. I won’t say, “It’s back,” but it is on a positive road to recovery evidenced by the countless construction cranes spread across the city. Detroiters and Michiganders alike are excited and proud with good reason.

Fantasy Aisle, RiverWalk along the Detroit River

RiverWalk along the Detroit River

It’s worth a day or two to explore this comeback kid with a plethora of nicknames –Motor City, Motown, Hockeytown, Renaissance City. I woke up at sunrise to a blustery clear day and grabbed my sneakers for some exercise along the RiverWalk, (Detroit International Riverfront), a 51/2 mile path stretching from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. I walked east for an hour before turning back finding lots of locals and tourists shared the same idea. It’s easy to rent a bike, roller blade or relax on many of the park benches. There are sculptures and art pieces, seasonal restaurants and state parks lining the path and restored landscaping enhances the experience. Detroit is a walkable city even with all those cars.

In need of coffee, I turned my sights on Woodward Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Detroit. The area is flush with businesses relocated from the suburbs. The likes of Starbucks, Shake Shack and Potbelly further affirm my belief that the “new Detroit” would not be recognizable to people who left years ago.

Fantasy Aisle, Central United Methodist Church

Central United Methodist Church

Armed with caffeine, I sat for a bit people watching at the Campus Martius Park. Workers were busy converting the public area from a summer hot spot with volleyball and music to a winter wonderland with ice skating and hot chocolate. I continued along Woodward shocked by the modern buildings and impressed with the detail that has gone into preserving the heart of the city.

I snapped pictures with my family in mind hoping to show them the changing story of Detroit, a resurgent city with growing opportunities. “If you build it, they will come,” ran through my head and I was overwhelmed with happiness for my friends who stayed local and weathered the storm. It’s thrilling to witness the transformation firsthand.

Fantasy Aisle, Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team

Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team

All of Detroit’s sports teams play in a few block-radius along Woodward. The Red Wings(hockey) and Pistons(basketball) play at Little Caesars Arena (I appropriately named it the Pizza Palace), with the Tigers(baseball) and Lions(football) across the street at Comerica Park and Ford Field respectively. My dad used to drag my brother and me to Pontiac for the big Thanksgiving Lions game at the Silverdome. It is a brilliant idea to relocate all the sports teams in one place. Now families and friends can spend an entire day eating and drinking while rooting their favorite team onto victory.

On a recent trip to Detroit this summer, Suzette Loving, who left home after college for job opportunities, walked Woodward Avenue from the river to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum –in awe. She explained going alone by foot was not a good choice a few years ago. I sensed pure joy in her voice when she talked about all the revitalization.

“If I didn’t have a family, house and great job, I could move back,” she said. That is quite a sentiment from someone who lived in San Francisco, Chicago and Denver.

Joining me in Detroit, Suzette passionately pointed out new buildings and speed walked me along Woodward Avenue, then to Greektown and back around the Michigan Opera House and straight into a hip coffee shop, the Roasting Plant –a trendy place not found in downtown until now. I witnessed the hope and possibility through her eyes as she summarized her childhood and early adult years in the places that remain — A bar here and restaurant there. Her endorsement of Detroit is an understatement.

“Seeing people coming together and in some cases taking a risk to invest their business in the city is even more inspiring.  Probably my favorite part, though, is the sense of pride the community has resurrected.  The pride was always there but now it is outwardly visible – people have their chin up and heads held high.  You can feel that,” said Loving.

Fantasy Aisle, Car that drove John F. Kennedy's when he was shot. On view at the Henry Ford Museum

Car that drove John F. Kennedy’s when he was shot. On view at the Henry Ford Museum

While it’s not located in downtown Detroit, a visit to the Ford Rouge Factory and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn about a 15-minute drive from the city is highly recommended. My maternal grandfather was one of 8,500 students who graduated from the Henry Ford Trade School in the 1930s and I’ve always maintained an affinity for the car industry, which provided a source of income for relatives on both sides of my family. The Museum highlights stories of American innovation, trailblazers and explorers with plenty of educational exhibits for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the Presidential Motorcade and the Civil Rights and suffragist displays.

Fantasy Aisle, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit in 1701 for the French

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit in 1701 for the French

My trip to Detroit sparked many emotions in me. As I gazed at the Ambassador Bridge in the distance, or posed with a statue of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac with the GM building in the background, I relived the stories my grandparents used to tell me. I didn’t walk in their exact steps but they were present. I celebrated their history and their sacrifices and triumphs. They would be beaming with anticipation of what is to come for Detroit.

When I told my 95-year-old Great Aunt (my only family member living from her generation) about my experience, I asked her if she missed Detroit, she responded, “I would be very pleased to go back and see.”

Fantasy Aisle, Ambassador Bridge of Detroit River connecting Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada

Ambassador Bridge of Detroit River connecting Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada

Activities of Interest

Browse Monet or visit with an Egyptian Mummy at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

Watch a game or concert at Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park, Ford Field

Hang out with friends at one of the many sports bars

Gamble with some fun money or sample a taste of Tzaziki in Greektown

Take in some exercise or fun in the sun on the RiverWalk

Fantasy Aisle, An art deco building in the heart of Detroit, Center for the performing arts

An art deco building in the heart of Detroit, Center for the performing arts

See a production at the Fox Theatre

Eat eat eat and then shop shop shop at Eastern Market

Sing the hits of yesterday at the Motown Museum

Spend a day exploring Belle Isle located in the middle of the Detroit River (off limits for many years)

Set sail on the Detroit Princess Riverboat

Eat and explore the Mexican history in Detroit at Mexicantown (SW Detroit)

Get out of Town
Visit the Ford Rouge Factor for a Tour

Take in history at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

Local Restaurant Recommendations
(Note: I ate at Apparatus and Townhouse.  Local and foodie Rhiannah Luedeke provided her favorites)

Apparatus in the Detroit Fountain Hotel – Upscale, trendy dining experience.  Great halibut and strong wine list

Wright & Company -Try the craft cocktails and the Burrata Toast and Seared Bay Scallops

Fantasy Aisle, Best Burger Ever at Townhouse in Detroit, Michigan

Best Burger Ever at Townhouse in Detroit, Michigan

Townhouse – Quite possibly the best Hamburger on the planet.  For small plates, don’t miss the Cauliflower and Truffle Fries

Craft Work – Try the Ratatouille and Fried Chicken.  Fun hipster vibe in a casual atmosphere

Tokai (Formerly Katoi) -Menu changes frequently but notable dishes include the Ox Tail, Spare Ribs and Cauliflower

Vincentes – Located off a hidden alley with artistic graffiti and little bars  Try the Mejillones Al Citrico and Cuban Style Paella.  Stay for the salsa dancing which starts around 10 PM or 11 PM

la Dolche Vita – Hidden gem.  In summer, enjoy a beautiful garden with a string quartet. Who needs Italy?

Huron Room

El Barzone – A mix of Italian and Mexican food. Owner is Mexican and studied fine Italian in NYC before coming to Detroit


Green Dot Stables – Creative sliders

Selden Standard – Beef Tartar won’t disappoint

For more ideas, check out Detroit Eater

Where to Stay?

Detroit Fountain Hotel – a boutique hotel converted from a former firehouse.  Great location

Fantasy Aisle, Detroit Foundation Hotel, a former firehouse now boutique hotel

Detroit Foundation Hotel, a former firehouse now boutique hotel

Westin Book Cadillac Downtown

Greektown Hotel and Casino (dated)

Atheneum Suites Hotel (dated)

For more information…

To read more about Detroit’s Comeback:

Americas Comeback City – The Rebirth of Detroit – Forbes

Taking Back Detroit – National Geographic

On the Detroit Riots:

Detroit (based on the July 1967 riots)

History of Detroit Riots

“Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies” — Edited by Joel Stone
(Wayne State University Press)

“The Detroit Riot of 1967” — Hubert G. Locke
(Wayne State University Press)