A Story, a Sonnet, a Song

Our family’s deepest roots in America reach to May 7, 1842 with the arrival of Timothy Hannon at the Port of Boston. He was the son of Daniel and Mary Hannon born in Ballinadee, County Cork Ireland on August 10. Conflicting records indicate his year of birth as either 1818 or 1822.

Timothy married Julia Mahoney who had been born in Ireland in 1823. Their modest, unsung lives portend a quintessential American family story.

Timothy and Julia’s wedding was celebrated on February 18, 1849 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in South Boston. They became American citizens on December 17, 1850 with the filing of Timothy’s naturalization papers.  The 1850 census states that neither Timothy nor Julia could read or write. Each would die of tuberculosis — he in 1860 and she in 1885.

Coincidentally, it was in 1885 that Hugh O’Brien was sworn in as Boston’s first Irish-born mayor. The city had long been controlled by native-born “Yankees”—most of whom had a stereotypical view of Irish immigrants as poor, ignorant, undisciplined, and under the thumb of the Catholic Church.

But the Irish-born population of Boston was exploding, growing from 2,000 in 1820 to 7,000 in 1830. By 1880, more than 70,000 Irish lived in Boston. The year Julia Mahoney Hannon died and Hugh O’Brien was elected mayor, the Irish were over 40% of the city’s population — the largest group of foreign-born residents and outnumbering the native-born Yankees.

The Statute of Liberty, iconic symbol of immigrant aspirations and America at our best, was dedicated in October, 1886. Even now, the sonnet by Emma Lazarus that graces the base of Lady Liberty expresses the sentiment of every family seeking a brighter future in America:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Finally, [here] is a link to the Cantus rendition of Oh God of All the Nations. Set to The Finlandia hymn by Jean Sibelius, the lyrics were written by American poet, Lloyd Stone. Sometime during this holiday weekend treat yourself to the two-minute You-Tube video link above.  It has become my favorite patriotic song and has been known to bring me to tears.

Happy Birthday, America!  May we be true to our story, our promise and our best selves.

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