Toledo Irish: It’s a Long, Long Way from Clare to Here


Toledo Irish: It’s a Long, Long Way from Clare to Here
By Molly McHugh

From “Clare to Here” is an Irish ballad that tells a story about a young man who travels abroad for work, leaves behind his family and sweetheart, and gets homesick while he is away. Hence, the premise of the song: It’s a long, long way from Clare to here.

Throughout history, millions of Irish have come to the US in pursuit of living and working in our free world. While some may have had the intention of eventually going back “home” to Ireland, many, and probably most, decided to adopt America as their new home. My dad falls into the latter category, and although Ireland was always “home” to him, the US certainly became his adopted home.

In August 1959, at the age of 25, my dad, the oldest surviving brother in his family of fourteen children, traveled to the US by boat, leaving all immediate family behind. The boat left from Cobh, Co. Cork; and from there, took a seven-day journey across the Atlantic to New York.
In fact, when I was in Ireland a few years ago, I was able to locate the passenger list he was on at the Cobh Heritage Center. Being in Cobh, looking out towards the vast open ocean, I could not help but think what that must have been like, boarding the boat that summer day in August not knowing when he would return or see his family. I mean, really, what could that have felt like?

Luckily, one thing about the Irish is that when they came over here and started to settle into their new terrain, they always seemed to find each other. With the absence of immediate family and close neighbors nearby, I imagine there was a true feeling of solace meeting people with like minds and backgrounds.

Because the Irish are full of chat, I also imagine that after meeting new friends and discussing routine topics such as the weather, the conversation would eloquently move to comparing the village rolodexes from back home. “Come here now, do you know Paddy Murphy from such and such village?”

I certainly have a lot of pride being born and raised in the US, but I have just as much pride in being Irish. I feel lucky that I, too, can say in conversation when meeting someone from Ireland, “Oh, my dad was from Galway, you don’t happen to know….” Although that question can certainly be a long shot, one day I made a striking discovery.

Growing up in Toledo, my sister was good friends with Karrie Keleghan (Ohlman), meeting in grade school. As it would happen, later down the road, Karrie and I would join the same sorority at The University of Toledo. After college, I moved to New York City, and Karrie moved to Chicago. However, at different times in life, both Karrie and I moved back to Toledo; Karrie, with her husband Rob Keleghan in tow.

Upon moving back to Toledo, Karrie and Rob invited me to a housewarming party at their house; and Rob’s parents, who were from County Mayo, were in attendance. Knowing that Rob’s parents were from Ireland, I knew we would have to have one of those “oh, do you know so and so” conversations, especially since Mayo is so close to Galway, where my dad is from.

To my surprise, when that conversation happened, Rob’s father did know someone! He knew my uncle Frank! Rob’s father and my uncle were acquaintances!

They knew each other from meeting at the same dance hall in Shrule, Co. Mayo. Shrule is right on the Galway/Mayo border, and from what I gather, Shrule was the place to be back then! I, too, then felt a feeling of solace. It’s amazing what a strong and immediate bond can be made from meeting someone who knows your family thousands of miles away.

So as the song says: It’s a long, long way from Clare to here; but with planned and even serendipitous meetings, Irish comfort can be found just around the corner.   We are very thankful for all the Irish who have made America their home. God Bless Ireland and God Bless the USA!

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