… and another experience

Not all immigrants coming from Europe were treated equally, as many of the recent letters to the editor seem to suggest. The vast number of immigrants who came to this area of Ohio were German, with some Irish and Italians a distinct minority. I doubt any Jewish immigrants came to the greater area around our counties because they simply would not have been accepted. White, yes; Jewish no. Only Catholics and Protestants were acceptable.

My mother came from Ireland right before she turned 16 in 1925. An aunt in New York City paid for her ticket and wanted to send her to a type of junior college in the city. The aunt died and the uncle wasn’t interested, but my mother still came. Why? She wanted the opportunities offered to women in America that were absolutely forbidden to women in Ireland.

My grandparents farmed land abutting the River Shannon; they were neither rich nor poor. My grandfather believed in education for his two daughters and they finished the equivalent of high school in America. Only my mother and one brother left Ireland. The rest were making decent livings and had no desire to leave nor any reason to leave.

The officials at Ellis Island changed her last name from Tiernan to Tierney and since they called all Irish girls “Annie” instead of “Ann,” she took that “ie” off and became Ann Tierney. She moved to northern Kentucky to join her brother and family, but soon found work in Cincinnati. Frequently, she saw the signs reading “No Irish Need Apply” among a strong German population, and it is there that my mother learned to physically fear African-Americans and Jewish Americans by the German attitudes around her; she had met neither group in Ireland.

My mother was always amazed at second- and third-generation Irish-Americans romanticizing their Irish homeland. She would tell me how hard life was for Irish who worked the farms and the majority of poor Irish who had nothing to eat and fled to avoid more famine and to find jobs. Ireland was a colony of Great Britain, so there was no Irish independence in 1925. Instead, my mother remembers the Black and Tan (British soldiers) knocking and yelling at their doors at night, searching for any men who belonged to the Irish Republican Army who were fighting for independence. My mother never knew if her older brothers were members. No one talked openly about such things.

My mother would have been appalled at the treatment of the refugees today seeking safety from civil wars, gangs and extreme poverty from our southern borders. She understood terror, because that’s what the Black and Tan brought to her countryside — no one was immune except the rich Angle-Irish. She definitely understood the desire for education found among these recent immigrants. She worked until she was 21 and married, paid taxes and ignored the hateful signs in windows telling her to go home. She married into a prosperous German family, where all the children received college educations in the 1920s and early 1930s.

But she never forgot. She was a devout Catholic and in the late 1990s, as the sex-abuse cases surfaced, she cancelled her subscriptions to all Catholic newspapers as a protest. When these same scandals were discovered in Ireland, she was shaken to the core. She wanted equal rights for women in Ireland, the right to full education, the right to work, the right to decide how many children to have and the right to divorce. She once told me Ireland was a fiefdom of the Catholic Church and that definitely was not healthy for anyone in Ireland.

We had many discussions about people of color, about different religions or no religions. When I married an atheist, we married in my Catholic parish in Cincinnati with a Methodist minister floating around the altar to appease my new in-laws, who definitely did not like Catholics. All the Dominican nuns from the college where my husband taught sat on the groom’s side of the church, with his Methodist family members asking, “Who are these women and why aren’t they on the bride’s side?” My Irish Catholic mother and my atheist husband became best friends and he gave her eulogy at Mass when she died at the age of 96 in 2007 in her own home. She would have used her favorite saying to our current American president concerning our Hispanic immigrants: “The back of my hand to yee,” which was her worse cursing. She was a feisty Irish immigrant always looking out for the next immigrant. Shouldn’t we all, as immigrant children, find the same charity in our hearts?

Mary Jo Murray,