Memories of growing up in Maple Park, Illinois

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Joseph Fitzgerald (1828-1904) the Immigrant

Joseph Fitzgerald (1828-1904)
the Immigrant

Joseph Fitzgerald, my grandfather on my father’s side, was born in County Clare, Ireland on May 5, 1828 and died on April 4, 1904 a few months before I was born. He came to this country by himself. The voyage from Ireland in a sailing vessel took over 90 days. He landed in Boston [1] where a brother or cousin called “Red Joe” had preceded him. It was not easy getting work. It was a common thing to see signs, “no Irish Need Apply”.

I do not know the town in Ireland or anything of his life there, but I was told he was born about ten miles from Limerick. From stories told to me, I know that he came to this country by himself in a sailing vessel sometime around Civil War. His parents did not come with them, but I believe he had some relatives who lived around Boston. My father told me that it took him three months to sail from Ireland to this country[2] and that the captain of the ship was drunk most of the time.

My grandmother on my father’s side was named Ellen Burke. She came to this country with her family. I do not know when they arrived here, but I remember my grandmother telling me that she was on the streetcar in this country and noticed that everyone was in mourning. She asked who had died and was told that Taylor had died. The Burke family could not understand why everyone was in mourning, because of the death of a tailor. They learned afterwards that the people were in mourning because of the death of President Taylor who died in 1850.[3] The Burke family or some of them must have lived in Wisconsin—perhaps around Manitowoc because I remember some references to a Richey Burke coming from Wisconsin to visit my grandmother.

My mother was Teresa McGirr. She was the daughter of Dennis McGirr and Mary McGirr (whose maiden name was Powers). My grandparents, McGirr, also came from Ireland but died before I was born.

It would be very interesting reading today if my grandparents had written some of the incidents of their life and conditions of their time. I have often wished that my parents and grandparents would have written something about their early life. Because they didn’t do so, I’ve decided to put on paper as it were, a few of my memories of my boyhood days in a small town.

September, 1978

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[1] There’s no evidence Joseph arrived in Boston. Many Irish immigrants first landed in either New York or Quebec City with a final destination that might be hundreds of miles away, wherever they had family or friends. Considering Joseph spent time in Buffalo before heading to Wisconsin, I consider it more likely he arrived in Quebec City.

[2] It’s highly unlikely that Joseph’s transatlantic crossing took three months, which was enough time for an 1850s clipper ship to sail from Liverpool all the way to Melbourne or Sydney, Australia. A typical voyage from Liverpool to New York at the time took about forty days, while the Mayflower took an exceptional sixty-six days. Joseph’s three-month trip could have included his travel from home to a port, waiting in port to depart, and then travel in the United States to his initial destination. Or, perhaps either or both of Joseph and James Fitzgerald took great delight in telling a good story, and were more than willing to embellish a tale to that end, extending the length of the voyage bit by bit.

[3] Zachary Taylor died on 9 July 1850. One of Ellen Burke’s 3rd-great granddaughters is also a 2nd cousin, eight-times removed, of Pres. Taylor.