The Oral History Archive of the San Francisco Bay Area
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If you would like to share your story, or have friends or family who would like to participate in the archive, please email us
Oral Histories of the Irish in San Francisco Event, Sunday, April 11th.
The 10th annual oral history featured participants from the archive Elizabeth Shaughnessy and Geraldine Finn. Elizabeth is founder of the Berkeley Chess School and regularly represents the Irish national team at the Chess Olympiad. Geraldine is the Senior Director, People Strategy & Innovation at Twitter. The event was moderated by Catherine Barry, lead interviewer with the Irish oral history archive, and director of Irish Culture Bay Area.
Irish-American Crossroads is producing a comprehensive archive of the life stories of the Irish in the San Francisco Bay Area, representative of all generations of heritage. We are dedicated to capturing the experience and contributions of men and women who emigrated from Ireland and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and their Irish-American contemporaries, in their own words.
We are also committed to capturing the stories of the descendants of emigrants from Ireland to the San Francisco Bay Area, including men and women who are second, third, fourth, and fifth generations (or more) removed from the immigrant experience.
In the first phase, we targeted “the 1950’s generation” of Irish emigrants and their Irish-American counterparts. We are currently interviewing as many men and women as possible who were born in Ireland in the earliest part of the 20th century and who emigrated to the SF Bay Area roughly between 1948-1963. Also, we are interviewing Irish-American men and women of this same generation, with a particular focus on those men and women who were born and raised in San Francisco.
We have started on Phase II of the archive, and we are also focusing on capturing interviews of men and women who emigrated from Ireland as part of the ‘‘80s generation’, (from the 1970s to 2000s) plus their Irish-American contemporaries. Please contact Margaret McPeake or Catherine Barry for more information.
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This project is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme (ESP), awarded to the Irish-American Crossroads Festival.
Samplings from the Archive
The Irish Oral History Archive of the San Francisco Bay Area continually expands through the collection of additional interviews every month.
The following edited excerpts give a taste of the range and richness of our interviews.
:: Audio Clips ::
:: Audio Clips in Alphabetical Order ::
Frank Ahern • Mary Alba • John Brosnan • Catherine Cavagnaro • Gerrard Cassidy • Patrick Connolly • Charlie Cunningham • Patricia Cunningham • Pat D’Arcy • Kay Davis • Doris Duncan • Martin Falvey • John Farrell • Danielle Garland • Renee Gibbons • Teresa Hallinan • Michael Harrington• Joe Hayes, video • Father Michael Healy • Joan Stack Holland • Sister Edith Hurley • Rita McEvoy • Sean McNulty • Michael Mooney • Mike Moriarty • Teresa Morris • John Moylan, video • Patrick John Murphy • Philomena Murphy • Peggy Mylett • Nicki O’Brien, video • Phyllis McGinn O’Connor • Peter O’Driscoll • Hetty O’Hara • Rita O’Mahoney • Mary O’Shea • Tom O’Shea • Robert Porter • Ann Quinn • Josie Smyth Rivera • Kay Ryan • Celia Sacks, video • Sheila Stuart • Vincent Walsh • Imelda White •
Brian Whitty was born to Irish parents on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. He attended UCD in Dublin, and worked in Ireland and England before returning to his place of birth to work for British sugar giant Tate & Lyle. Although not in this clip, his work later brought him to San Francisco, where he became a fine addition to the Irish community, particularly as president and life member of the Irish Literary and Historical Society.
Hetty O’Hara knew her 19 year-old uncle was shot by the Black and Tans, and her teenage mother was in Kilmainham Jail for two years in 1921, but very little was spoken about in their house when Hetty was growing up in Dublin. Hetty tells us what she knows…
Having worked in Cobh, Tom found it too sad to leave from there by boat, so took a flight to the U.S. instead. After willingly doing a stint in the army, Tom returned to San Francisco where he worked for Wells Fargo Bank in its pre-computer days…
Mary Alba says her spirit of adventure was what brought her to the U.S. She describes her journey by sea from Cobh, Co. Cork and her impressions of New York when she arrived there – not to mention the excitement of seeing Jack Kennedy at midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She settled easily in America with the help of an Irish Consul, or two…
Limerickman Frank Ahern came to the U.S. in the 1960s to work with Westinghouse as an engineer. Upon acceptance into Stanford Business School, Frank and his wife Elizabeth moved to the Bay Area where Frank discovered his inner actor, thanks to his new Irish friends.
Imelda left Ireland with a basic grasp of the Irish language, but never dreamed she would hear it again in the U.S., let alone teach it. Now, almost forty years after her first class at Stanford, Imelda remains the Bay Area’s most beloved Irish teacher.
Leaving Ireland at the young age of three, Mike Moriarty brought the Kerry love of Gaelic games with him. After a ten-year hiatus in Gaelic football and hurling activity, Mike helped get the GAA back up and running in the late 1970s, very much focusing on the youth. (Note: San Francisco just hosted 2,500 young GAA players in a nationwide tournament here on Treasure Island)
Charlie initially came to San Francisco to study at USF. He describes the struggles of getting through college, joining the marine reserves, and ultimately taking off to start Cunningham Moving, the thriving business he built in the 1970s that is going strong today.
Starting out in what later became a hugely successful business, John Brosnan recalls how he and his brothers learned from their early mistakes in the construction world, and went from strength to strength in their building endeavors in the early 1950s.
Rita speaks of her homesickness on arrival to San Francisco and how meeting new friends at the KRB helped her through. Rita helped form a KRB group that met socially and for events well after the famed dance hall closed.
Doris Duncan remembers the German bombings of the Harland & Wolfe shipyard in Belfast during World War II. Although not in this clip, Doris moved with her husband to San Francisco at the age of 49 to be closer to her children. She speaks fondly of her assimilation into the United Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco.
Sister Edith Hurley
Sister Edith Hurley grew up immersed in all things Irish, and recalls being at the funeral of Fr. Peter Yorke in the 1920s. Edith’s love of Irish dancing had her taking lessons with Mr. Healy at the KRB. Sister Edith tells, too, of the trials of wearing a nun’s habit.
Ann left Waterford in 1954 and worked in England for seven years before heading to New York to work as an au pair. From there she made a happy life for herself and her family in San Francisco. Ann talks here about her tougher early days in Ireland, her first job in in England, and the day her father took her to the bus bound for Shannon Airport.
Mike Harrington’s grandfather, father and uncles moved from Ireland to San Francisco via New York in the 1920s. Right after prohibition they opened three bars in San Francisco. One is still operated by Mike today and familiar to many as the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade meeting place.
Since she was a young child back in Co. Mayo, Rita always wanted to be a teacher. When she came to San Francisco in the 1940s she got the credentials to realize her lifelong dream. Later in the early 1970s, Rita and her husband, Jim, were part of the small group that got the United Irish Cultural Center underway.
Growing up in the Mission, Pat has great memories of neighbors coming by and how they’d roll up the carpet to dance, and how her father turned it into a session. She fondly remembers, as a small child, how she thought “home” was another word for “Ireland.”
Peter O’Driscoll shares the story of his journey from Cork to San Francisco. A PG&E worker for almost 40 years, Peter has a keen interest in travel, history and education.
Father Michael Healy
Father Michael Healy remembers early experiences in Ireland, GAA restrictions on viewing British sports, as well as reflections on the position of the Irish community in San Francisco.
John Farrell – My Part in the Rosemary Nelson Tribunal
John visited Northern Ireland several times as one of a group of U.S. trial lawyers. He recalls his involvement in the Rosemary Nelson tribunal following her killing in 1999.
Renee Gibbons – Two of my Heroes: Sr. Consolata and Sean O’Casey
Born in a Dublin tenement in 1945, Renee toiled and traveled until she settled in San Francisco. She has recently completed her memoir.
Catherine describes her flight to the United States, her reasons for leaving Ireland and her feelings on having emigrated.
Patricia describes returning to Ireland with her family, several years after having emigrated to San Francisco.
She tells of her husband’s attempts to find work in Ireland and why it was impossible for them to stay.
Mary tells the story of how her family became American citizens.She describes her grandmother’s determination to get the vote, and recalls – with some hilarity – the citizenship test.
Mary explains how her family has preserved the memory of the Irish Famine from generation to generation.
Sheila describes her family’s reaction to her marrying a Protestant.
She explains how her husband’s religion affected their decision to leave Ireland.
Patrick Connolly describes his encounters with the Irish language.He talks about his education in Ireland and explains how he tackled gaps in his literacy when he first emigrated.
Josie Smyth Rivera
Josie remembers her travels to San Francisco as a new immigrant.
She recalls an eventful plane ride, her first impressions of New York and her cross-country train journey to California.
Philomena describes her life as a sister within a religious order.She remembers her training in Ireland and England and her early career in California.
Phyllis McGinn O’Connor
Phyllis remembers her childhood in Spiddal, County Galway. She recalls her mother’s role in the rituals of birth and death, and her father’s stories about fairies and the banshee.Phyllis describes visiting Spiddal and reflects on what has changed since she left.
Robert remembers his childhood in Rathfarnham, Dublin.He describes the effect of wartime rations and considers the tragic toll of illness on his family.
Michael describes his experiences as a dance promotor in Dublin and in the broader Bay Area.He remembers meeting his wife on the dance floor and he recalls how he competed for her attention.
Kay talks about her work with the Irish Forum.She describes meeting with key political figures in Northern Ireland and explains why the work was so important to her.
Kay remembers the controversy when they invited Peter Robinson to speak in San Francisco.
Peggy discusses the Irish dance scene in San Francisco.She remembers weekends spent dancing, staying up all night on Saturday – and getting to mass on Sunday morning!
Sean remembers life on his family’s farm in Mayo.He explains how everyone worked together, and how even the children helped out around the farm.
Sean describes how they cut turf for fuel, and remembers the arrival of electricity to the village.
Vincent traces the extraordinary trajectory of his working life.He explains that, to survive in America, you have to be just little bit crazy, and praises the generosity and possibility of life in the USA.
Joan Stack Holland
Joan describes her father’s return to Ireland from the USA in order to take part in the Irish War of Independence.She explains his decision to return to America with his family after the Irish Civil War.
Kay remembers how her family and neighbours entertained themselves during her childhood in rural Ireland.She remembers, with great joy, the variety and inventiveness of practical jokes which her family would play on each other.
Danielle recalls her family’s relocation to San Francisco.She describes how the Irish consulate provided practical help with their move.
Patrick John Murphy
Patrick pays tribute to his parents and in particular to his indomitable mother.He describes the close relationship she had with the Catholic church and explains how the rites of Catholicism formed a large part of his childhood.
Teresa shares her experiences of running an Irish bar, The Shannon Arms, with her husband Audie.She explains that the Irish bar acted as a kind of cultural embassy where new immigrants found information on jobs and accommodation. She pays tribute to this community and considers how it has changed over the years.
Gerrard remembers a cross-country road trip he undertook when moving from New York to San Francisco.He describes the various perils they encountered along the way – including tumbleweeds, sandstorms, ice storms and a slightly bemused Texas State Trooper…
With a great deal of laughter, Martin remembers his arrival in San Francisco.He describes a sequence of comic misunderstandings upon landing in the airport.
Teresa describes her childhood on a farm in rural County Clare.She remembers the rhythms of rural life and explains how the farm’s tasks were divided between men’s work and women’s work.