Memories of My Immigrant Parents

From the Fields of Moycullen to the Concrete Canyons of New York

Tom Maloney

Daniel Maloney and Margaret Lydon Wedding, New Year's Eve 1933
Courtesy of Tom Maloney
Both my parents were born in Moycullen. My father Daniel Maloney (Moloney) was born in 1904 in Gortnamona and my mother Margaret Lydon was born in 1907 in Drumaveg. My father immigrated to the USA in 1926 and my mother in 1929. Although they knew each other in Ireland, they were not an item until they arrived in America. They married in 1933 and eventually settled in Ridgewood, Queens County, New York.

Stories of the Old Country

I have vague memories of a few stories that my parents told. I am sure they are shrouded in inaccuracies and in myth. The stories relate to events that took place in the early 20th century in Moycullen. My mother’s father, Patrick Lydon, passed away while working in the field. He was 48 years of age. He left his wife Bridget Clancy Lydon with six young children to raise with the help of neighbors. My uncle James told me that his mother would cry out into the darkness of the night for her husband for months after his death. She heard only the silence of the dead.
My mother Margaret Lydon attended the Moycullen school. She often spoke about the schoolmaster, Mr. Sheehan. She claimed that a sixth-grade education from Mr. Sheehan was equivalent to a college education in the United States. My mother had an amazing memory for poetry. She had a poem for every occasion. Evidently, poetry was very much a part of the curriculum.
My father spent a good deal of his teenage years working at Drimcong. He spoke about a Captain Kilkelly, a member of a prestigious family. My father mentioned the occasions when he was able to drive the Kilkelly motorcar. On one occasion my father spoke about a tragic event and never mentioned it again. He related a story about the death of his father, Daniel Moloney. As I recall it, he said his father were killed in a tragic accident. His father was driving in a trap with the neighbor, Morgan Darcey. The horse became spooked, throwing over the cart and fatally injuring its passengers. I cannot attest to the truth of the story. Realize that my father was already in America one year at the time of his father’s death. (Editorial note: the story was indeed true and was widely reported at the time in Irish newspapers)

Washington Heights

The immigrants from Moycullen brought their faith, their work ethic and their rich traditions expressed in music, dance and humor to the City of New York. My parents married on New Year’s Eve 1933, eventually renting their first apartment in Washington Heights. This area, located in the northern section of Manhattan, attracted many Irish immigrants. The Moycullen transplants found a new home there and formed a close bond with one another. How different it was from the “old country”. The six-story walk-up tenements (no elevator) formed deep canyons focusing occasional shards of sunlight on sidewalks and streets.
After a year of marriage, my parents moved to Ridgewood in the borough of Queens. This was a radical move to a new and unfamiliar area. The canyons of Manhattan were replaced with neat single- and two-family homes. The Irish-sounding names of the neighbors were replaced with Ludvig, Koch, Stubing and Kern. My parents thrived. They raised my sister, my brother and myself in the two-family house that they eventually bought in 1944.

Staying Close with their Moycullen Friends

My parents remained in close contact with the Moycullen friends who remained in Washington Heights. They hosted parties several times a year. The surnames of their friends appear on the throughout the parish records and the Moycullen Parish Family Tree: Michael Lardner and Katie Carter, Mary Bane and Matt Connor, Lena Osborne and Hugh Ford, Peter and Nora Maloney, Matty Griffin, Pete Kyne, Pat and Anna Reynolds, John Walsh, Kathleen O’Malley, Tom and Betty Glynn, Bernie Monahan and Tom Barrett. The Washington Heights crowd deposited their 10 cents in the subway turnstile and began their long journey on the “A” train. They travelled down the spine of Manhattan, under the East River and into the borough of Brooklyn. They exited at Halsey Street on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, walking a short distance to my parent’s house.

Fond Party Memories

The chairs in the dining room were placed against the wall and the table was pushed against a corner of the room to allow for dancing. Platters of ham, chicken and potato salad was situated in the kitchen. There were highballs (Four Roses rye liquor, ginger ale and ice) for those interested. My father would take out the accordion and begin the Irish music, alternating with Bernie Monahan in supplying dance toons. The dancing would start immediately. I’m not one who knows the difference between a jig and a reel. But I remember groups of four: two men and two women, placing their arms on their partners’ shoulders and spinning around quickly like whirling dervishes. There was the constant request from the crowd for someone to sing a song. There were no refusals.
Toward the end of the evening, my father would entertain the guests with a final song – “When the Fields are White with Daisies” or “The Letter Edged in Black”. As a teenager, I found these songs to be morbid and needlessly sad. Recently, I looked up the lyrics on the Internet. The beautiful lyrics expressed fond memories for loved ones were passed on and an intense longing to visit relatives and friends once again.
Things began to break up about 1 o’clock in the morning. Slowly the Moycullen crowd made their way to the subway and began their trip back to Washington Heights. As years went on, their children married and chose to make a new home in those areas north of New York City. Eventually the Moycullen crowd left the Heights and moved close to their children. Their apartments would become occupied by yet newer immigrants, this time from the Caribbean. The evenings of Irish songs and dance in Ridgewood were no more.
The author, Tom Maloney is a retired school counselor who resides in Suffolk County, New York
This page was added on 03/06/2023.

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