Tale of ‘the returned yank’ launched

A new book detailing the story of one ‘returned Yank’ was launched at a very special function in Gleeson’s in Roscommon on Friday night last. Every town and village in the region has its own story of the returned yank. In the early part of the last century, some men and women who went to the United States returned to marry and settle down at home. The men were always noted for their hard-working ways, being early risers, while the women were noted for bringing home ‘some of their yankee ways’. It was noted on Friday night that local people who had never made the move were often hard on the ‘returned yank’, and among the examples used on Friday night was the returned yank who put a vase of flowers in the centre of the table for the threshers coming in for their dinner, the subject of much mirth in the village for weeks to come! The lure of home must have been strong for the emigrants for while they returned to the bosom of their families, they did so at great expense, women giving up many of the luxuries they had become accustomed to in the US, items such as running water, electricity, and bathrooms, in favour of a life of hard work and tough economic conditions in Ireland. The book ‘A South Roscommon Emigrant: Emigration and return 1890-1920’ was written by Diane Dunnigan, herself a retired government official from the US who returned to live in south Roscommon. She came to study the phenomenon of return emigration while studying for a Masters Degree in Local History at NUI Maynooth. As the subject of her book, she looked at the life of Margaret ‘Maggie’ Brennan of Carnamaddy, Kiltoom. When Diane returned from America, she settled in the Kiltoom area and became involved with the local heritage group. Through her historical studies, she interviewed many people about emigration and return emigration and eventually decided to look at the issue of return emigration, by focusing on the story of one woman, Margaret Brennan. She interviewed family members, in particular Mary’s eldest child, Annie Margaret Quinn (nee Dowling). From 8 pm onwards, a large crowd assembled in Gleeson’s for the book launch, among them many members of the Brennan, Quinn, Dowling and Kilduff families. Music for the occasion was provided by the Beegan and O’Connor families. MC for the occasion was Cllr. Paddy Kilduff, himself a grandson of Margaret Brennan. He described Diane Dunnigan as a ‘woman of great ability.’ Margaret Brennan left Carnamaddy in 1902 and came back in 1911. She met Patrick Dowling and the two corresponded for two years before she came home to be married in 1913. The couple raised five children, Annie Margaret (Quinn), Mike, Paddy, Frank and Mae (Kilduff), all of whom are deceased. Annie Margaret was interviewed many times by Diane, but died before the book was published.  Paddy noted the huge change that Margaret experienced in returning to Ireland. She would have been used of running water and flush toilets. ‘That wasn’t there, except the well at the bottom of the street.’ Margaret’s home house is now owned and maintained by Ger Quinn and Paddy recalled that when Margaret came home in 1911 she brought money to build on a parlour in the house ‘a sacred spot when we were growing up. Woe betide you if you set foot in it.’ He recalled neighbours saying of Margaret that she always had ‘yankee ways’.  The next speaker was Donald Feeley, President of the Heritage Society. He noted that author Diane Dunnigan came to the area in 2000 and settled in Glanduff where her ancestors came from. He said that she studied in California University, earning a Bachelor degree in Geography before going on to get a Masters Degree in Geography and Urban Planning. She spent 25 years working as a civilian programme manager in the Pentagon before coming to Ireland.  He described her as a familiar figure among the people in St. John’s and said that she has a ‘powerful, fierce pride in her Irish roots and all that entails.’ He went on to speak movingly of the American Wake and the effect it had on all those who witnessed the grief of parents parting from their children. He recalled local ramblers speaking of the grief of that parting. He said that Diane through her work had rendered a service to the people of the local area and said that the book should be in every home.