The Blog

A Tribute to a Strong Irish Woman, and a Curious Question of Fate

 Kate Byrne Mackin (1861-1918)

Although I never met my great-grandmother Kate, I’m guessing that she was a tough and determined women.  Kate married Joe Mackin on September 6, 1877 at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland.  Kate gave birth at least ten times, maybe eleven.  My grandfather Raymond often argued with his older brother Henry over this fact. Who knows.

The Mackin family immigrated to America in 1884. At this point, the family numbered only six individuals.  They stayed in New York City for a short time and eventually made their way to Portland, Oregon.  Joe loved Kate. Unfortunately, his love for whiskey and beer caused much trouble for them. The story handed down to me is that Joe was a steveador (dock worker).  Every two weeks, Joe was paid.  However, between the pay master’s office and Joe and Kate’s home were a number of drinking establishments. By the time Joe got home, his pay packet was often gone.

Kate, being the smart woman that she was, decided that she would be the one to pick up Joe’s pay packet.  I have often wondered whether her decision ever provoked bitter arguments between the two of them. But the scheme worked perfectly.

Because of Kate’s decision to manage the money in the Mackin family, they were able to buy two homes on Garfield Street in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.  The second home became a rental property, and provided additional income for the growing family.

In November, 1918 Kate died from pneumonia at the age of 57. She was a victim of the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. Joe died much later, in 1937.

At the time of my great grandmother’s death, my grandfather Raymond was in the US Army and stationed at Camp Lewis, Washington. He was due to be shipped out with his regiment to fight in WWI.  However, he was given permission to attend his mother’s funeral. His regiment left for Europe without him, and soon WWI came to an end. He would never leave the US.

If my grandfather had left with his regiment, I wonder if he would have survived the war. Would he have been injured? Would my branch of the Mackin Family Tree ever have grown? Those are questions I often ponder, but will never be able to answer.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, what stories have you been told about your ancestors? If you could ask one question of an ancestor, what would that question be?

The Titanic, and my Irish vacation

My husband and I have deep ancestral roots that go back to ancient Ireland. So for our thirtieth wedding anniversary we went to Ireland to do a little genealogical research and some sightseeing.  With a Fodor’s guide on my lap, we drove around Belfast, the modern-day capital of Northern Ireland, looking for a place to spend the night. We eventually found a spot that met our needs and reserved a room. Much to our delight, this particular B & B  not only gave us a comfortable bed for the night, and a full Irish breakfast the following morning, but also a story that we would never forget.

Once we got settled into our room, the owner asked us if we would like a tour of this charming old home.  “Dunallan”, we were told, was built in 1881 and had been the home of the Andrews family at the turn of the 19th century.

Mr. Thomas Andrews, Jr. was an Irish business man and shipbuilder.  Okay, I said to myself, that makes sense. Belfast was after all a ship building town. But my ears perked up when I heard that Mr. Andrews oversaw the building plans for RMS Olympic for the White Star Line and its sister ship, the Titanic.  What? Did I hear that right?  The Titanic? Yes, the Titanic.  This serendipitous choice of a night’s accommodation had become an opportunity to touch and experience a little bit of history.

The owner of this quaint old house went on to tell us that Mr. Andrews and his family had lived in that house during the time he worked on building the Titanic. In addition, the design of the fireplace mantels and the adjoining tile work in this home were modeled for use on the Titanic. They were stunning.

We were told that Mr. Andrews was on board the Titanic, and died in the fateful crash.  And he died a hero.  Many survivors recounted stories of Mr. Andrews’ selfless actions which included urging reluctant people to get into life boats. He was also seen throwing deck chairs into the ocean for passengers to use as floating devices.

Gone are my Hollywood images of Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet.  They have been replaced with the thoughts of Mr. Andrews, his wife, and their young daughter. I wonder how they coped with losing a husband and a father, and a man who had designed one of the grandest ships of all time.

RMS Titanic sunk on April 15, 1912.  SS Nomadic is the only ship to survive that was designed by Thomas Andrews, Jr., and remains the only White Star Line ship still afloat.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, tell us about your family’s Irish roots. What stories did you uncover when you returned to Ireland? Are there any stories passed down from your parents and grandparents that you re-tell on special occasions? If so, we’d love to hear them!