The Way it was: The Arranmore Connection
Now that many Beaver Islanders are packing for Ireland to return the favor the visitors from Arranmore paid us two and a half years ago, it behooves us to consider the nature of our long-term relationship with our Irish twin.
Many realize that Irish immigrants settled on Beaver Island before the Mormon occupation, only to be driven off when Strangs group completed their grab for power. Because the fish were here, the disenfranchised did not go far. Some were on Mackinac Island, some on the mainland, and others, such as Black John Bonner (named for his hair), were huddled in a rough fisherman's camp on Gull Island. Many Irish were in the 80-man mob that swept the Beavers clean in 1856, creating a vacuum that pulled in new residents who turned out to be Irish, many from an island off Irelands northwest coast, Arranmore.
The Irish potato blight had started in 1845 and decimated the country over the next three years. Absentee landlords shipped the few crops grown in the poor soils to the most lucrative markets, and farmers who had worked the same plot for generations, still using their great grandfathers' spade and hoe, were evicted if they could not pay their rent. Without the potato crop, there simply was no money. Plunged into misery, the gaunt people of Arranmore were reduced to eating seaweed. In 1847, after half had been evicted by a landowner they'd never seen because they had no documents to prove they'd ever paid rent, the Society of Friends sent 2 coffin ships to bring many of them to America.
Like other Irish, the Arranmore Islanders congregated in Quebec and Toronto, in New York, and in the Pennsylvania coal fields. A high percentage spoke only Gaelic. They were dependent on social concourse for their sense of identity and did their best to stay together. Thus when a few of them happened onto Beaver Island, both before and after the Mormon exodus, it could only be expected that they would get word to their family and friends.
Black John Bonner, who had left Rutland before the famine, told his friends, which included (from Arranmore) Dan Malloy and his wife Fanny O'Donnell, living in New York, Dan's brother and sister, and Anthony Salty O'Donnell. Dan brought his brother-in-law William Gallagher, known as Old Billy. Salty had married Hannah, who had been married to a different Anthony O'Donnell, a saloon keeper on Arranmore. She brought the children from her first marriage. Dan Malloy had married Susan Mooney, whose sister Mary married Pat Malloy, not related to Dan. John Old John Gillespie emigrated from Arranmore in 1859. His wife was Mary Dunlevy whose parents were Daniel Dunlevy and Hannah O'Donnellfrom Arranmore.
Bernard Barney O'Donnell and his wife Margaret took up residence at what is now Barney's Lake. Margaret was a Curry or Curran. Barney must have met her in Canada. Margaret had 14 children and died by 1884 at 44. Barneys half brother, Darkey Mike, named for his ruddy skin, emigrated in 1851 with a wife who became disenchanted and went back. He had quite a time getting his marriage annulled so he could marry Nancy Nanjog. Barney and Mike had another brother, Frank, who emigrated in 1852, and a sister Mary who married Michael McCafferty. They all lived on Darkeytown Road.
Charlie O'Donnell, called Strac, and his wife Grace Gillespie had come from Arranmore to Toronto. Working for the railroad, Strac stole the crews payroll and slipped across the border to Detroit. Hired to work on the Whiskey Point Lighthouse, he was so enamored of Beaver Island that he urged his wife to come, for this place looks just like Irelandonly better. She was convinced, and came with a party that included Vesty McDonough (from Galway), Big Dominick (Gallagher) and his wife Mary Greene, and Conn McCauley, who piloted their chartered boatConn was one of five brothers to come. Once they'd settled in, they got the word to their relatives, and were soon joined by Bridget Burns and Pete McCauley, and Mary and Tom Boyle.
The fish-based Beaver Island economy was booming, and the availability of cheap or even free land and abandoned Mormon houses allowed the first wave of settlers to save enough money to send for their family and friends. Little Mike McCafferty and his wife Big McCafferty came to Beaver on a schooner in 1863. Three years later 18-year-old Big Owen Gallagher piloted another chartered ship to Beaver; when they landed, they met 52 families from Arranmore. That ship included Mary Roddy, who married Barney Gallagher; her brother Andrew was sailing on the lake, and when he stopped to visit her he found so many friends that he stayed. Also on board were Kitty Gallagher and Frank McCauley and their families, and the two Dan Greenes (White Dan and Red Dan), who saved enough money to send for their sisters the next year.
In 1870, when anthracite declined, Step-and-a-half (one of three unrelated John Bonners), Cornelius Gallagher, and a dozen other Arranmore people moved to Beaver. Every year there were more and more Irish, culminating in 1884, the year of the last large migration. This was arranged with the help of Father Peter Gallagher, Beaver's Gaelic-speaking priest. Over 40 families from Arranmore boarded a steamer in Buffalo that took them to St. James.
In time the number of immigrants from our sister island fell off, and the letters going back and forth declined in frequency as well. But those who remained on Arranmore never forgot their relatives and friends who had braved the trip and made a new life in America, even after seven generations. No wonder they were so excited when they were here 30 months ago, and why so many Beaver Islanders, who have been blessed to share this heritage, have signed on to pay their respects in return.
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