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A perfect portrait of family history

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Behind an old photograph of three women in their finery is a familiar story. A long way from their North Clare home emigrant sisters line up for a picture together in New York.
Theresa, Eileen and Susan Hanrahan pose for a photograph in New York City. It is April 17, 1914, the day Eileen arrived aboard the Lusitania.
Just over a year later the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by the German army, sinking in less than 20 minutes and bringing with it 1,200 people.
As the young women smile for the photographer the war has not yet started, the world is at peace and the girls from Ballybeg, Inagh have things to do.
“Theresa and Susan met Eileen upon her arrival. They went to Theresa’s home in the South Bronx, and almost immediately walked to a nearby photographic studio on Willis Avenue. The three sisters are wearing their best clothes, and the photo was obviously important to them as the cost of having a studio photography taken would have been very significant. They probably had it taken for their farmer parents, Mortimer and Catherine Hanrahan of Ballybeg, Inagh who were alive at the time,” suggested Brian Wynne, grandson of Theresa.
When he looks at the photo Brian’s curiosity is stoked. 
“I see three young women who in their own ways were adventurers; determined to carve out their own life paths, no matter how difficult, at a time when women and Irish immigrants were given little or no status. I see pride in who they are and joy at being together for the first time in years. I also notice the fashions of the time, and wonder what was the ethic regarding the hats?” he said.
“Because Eileen arrived on the Lusitania, I also think about that era. That photo was taken at a time, two months prior to the onset of World War I, when royalty still dominated world affairs. They had grown up in a place where colonial domination from Great Britain had ruled their lives and future possibilities. A new era was dawning when one’s status at birth would become less and less important, and one’s abilities, talents and determination would take precedence. These three sisters in the photo seem to me to be harbingers of the changes to come,” he added.
After finding the picture, the family restored it. The details surrounding the circumstances of the photograph come from a letter written by Susan in the 1930s.
“Eileen was 22 years old when the photo was taken. She moved on to Seattle to get her nursing degree while living with another sister, Annie Hanrahan Looney and her family. It would be ten years before she married Patrick
Casey in 1924 in the Inagh church. They later settled in New York to raise their son, Maurice,” Brian explained.
“Susan Hanrahan was 24-years-old and had been in the United States for almost four years. Five years later, she would return to Inagh, County Clare where she would marry Michael Rynne. They would have eight children together,” Brian went on.
“Theresa Hanrahan Doyle (right in photo) was 28 years old and married to James Doyle of Mullagh. They would have nine children together,” he added.
Between them, these three North Clare women now have more than 250 descendents.
Brian has always been interested in his ancestry but family is most important.
“I have always had a great interest in history, and the stories of how myself, my mother and father, and their families came to live their lives and be the persons they became fascinate me. People’s personal stories going back up to 200 years provide, in my view, a richer tapestry of the realities of their times than many records of famous people or battles. After all, it is our family who gives us our most memorable experiences and deepest personal satisfactions,” he mused.
As a child Brian knew his grandmother Theresa well. It was his relationship with her and her influence on the family that has led him on a journey of discovery in relation to her background and his roots.
“My grandmother, Theresa Hanrahan Doyle, had nine children. Six of them lived in the greater New York City area when I was growing up there in the 1950s and 60s. With twenty-six first cousins, family gatherings were frequent, fun and formative.  Nana Doyle lived to be 96 years old; so, we cousins knew her well. She was always so delighted to see any of us. Her face would literally brighten. She also traveled frequently to see her three children in Washington DC, Texas and Nebraska. All of her grandchildren knew her very well, and loved her. She was a very important person in our lives. It was impossible for us to not notice how our parents (her children) gathered strength from each other whenever they were together,” he recalled.
“As I grew up, I became aware of how much my mother, Dolores Doyle Wynne, took after Nana Doyle in so many ways. I realized that Nana Doyle had an indomitable spirit bathed in love for her family. Her family came first, and all of her children did very well in life. Also, nearly every one of her grandchildren became college graduates or received more advanced degrees. I appreciated more and more that her life had been full, complete and one of immense satisfaction for that which she had accomplished. Not accomplished regarding fame, career or money, but accomplished in the important matters – love, personal values, integrity, determination and to always be there for anyone in her family who needed her. Her influence and that of my grandfather have permeated this family down five generations. Everyone knows their story and everyone is thankful for the heritage and example which they gave to us. It is a treasured legacy,” he added.
The descendants of Theresa Hanrahan Doyle, Susan Hanrahan Rynne and Eileen Hanrahan Casey now number more than 250 and live throughout Ireland, the United States and Europe with a few in Australia and others scattered about in Asia and South and Central  America.

 

 

The Hanrahan Heroes

Oh their lives were harsh on a land like marsh
At the close of the nineteenth century-
And the family knew as the children grew
Emigration was better than penury.

Near this lifeless soil and daily toil
The surge of the Atlantic Ocean-
Where lives were lost as many crossed
Beguiled by a magical notion.

To have a new chance at life and romance
And carve out a fresh new beginning-
Where the sweat of your brow might one day endow
A life that was really worth living.

Oh pity the past with its flag at half mast
A better tomorrow for all
To stand up and face this new world and place-
To rise to the test and give it your best-
To show your intent and never relent-
And never be shaken or fall.

Who could understand this amazing new land
After leaving impoverished Ireland-
With nothing the same how could you explain
As you started out from Ellis Island.

With nowhere to turn you started to learn
The new ways of living you found-
And those left behind would always remind
Their lives were unchanged on the ground.

Though it was unplanned love too played a hand
As you set about making your way-
And your praises were sung by the children that sprung
And carry to this very day.

For the teens and the twenties, thirties and forties
Were wearisome worrisome years-
Wars and aggression flu and Depression
Ensured there was no end of tears.

But through all the troubles and everyday struggles
A new generation arrived-
Proud of the past they now had surpassed
And determinedly prospered and thrived.

And so on it goes for God only knows
The love that was sown and invested-
For you will have found as you look around
The fruit that this love has attested.

For when natives leave a country will grieve
All those like the Hanrahan heroes-
Who boldly set out when others would doubt
To conquer whatever life throws.

Oh pity the past with its flag at half mast
A better tomorrow for all
To stand up and face this new world and place-
To rise to the test and give it your best-
To show your intent and never relent-
And never be shaken or fall.
John Fitzgerald, Tipperary

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