Grandpop's Show Of Irish Pride

Jacques Kelly's Baltimore

March 17, 1996|By JACQUES KELLY

The day was March 17. My Grandfather Edward Jacques Monaghan dressed in his best suit, whitest shirt, vest, Hamilton 28-jewel pocket watch, gold chain and diamond fob.

He then went off to church and maybe to a luncheon given by one of the city's Irish-American associations. But mostly, St. Patrick's Day in the late 1950s was a time for this gregarious man in his 70s to celebrate and tell stories with his old friends, of which he had plenty.

To a gentleman whose beautiful handwriting was always executed in green fountain pen ink, the Irish holiday was a special time -- a day for sharing Cuban cigars and Maryland rye whiskey with his friends.

His enthusiasm and reverence for the day were not necessarily shared with equal vigor by the other 11 people in our household. His wife, my Grandmother Lily Rose, was not of Irish descent. She was born a Stewart. Her mother was of a German line; her father of Scottish parentage. Her family had lived for many generations in East Baltimore, just beyond the storied 10th Ward, the home of so many Irish families and, to Lily Rose, too many politicians.

I guess that living adjacent to (but not actually in) a place (the 10th Ward) helped foster all sorts of ethic attitudes, which were occasionally broadcast across the dinner table for all to hear. When the Irish put on some kind of a big show in Baltimore -- or more likely when an Irish politician gave a choice job to his crony -- the talk boiled over.

I listened as my grandmother and her sister enunciated their Scotch-German party line -- much to the detriment of the Irish, whom the two sisters had observed in the 10th Ward.

I soon realized it wasn't the Northern Irish Protestant Orangemen who gave the Irish Catholic a hard time in Baltimore, it was the Germans. I know. I survived the verbal battles of the Emerald Isle vs. Der Vaterland.

When Aunt Cora lighted a Chesterfield cigarette after dessert, and had a second cup of strong coffee, the stories really began to flow. She often warmed up with a quick verbal slug at the British, and Winston Churchill in particular. Then she'd go after various Irish politicians. In the election of 1960, she proudly voted for Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

Sitting at that table, I used to silently chuckle at the Irish-bashing. Here were the two Irish critics. What did they do? Each married an Irishman, one a Monaghan, one an O'Hare.

Once I sought the sage advice of my Grandpop Monaghan about all this talk about the Irish and the Germans and whatever other group was being fed through the conversational sawmill.

"A lot of hot air from Windy," he said, using his own pet name for his sister-in-law.

Pop Monaghan was right. A lot of the talk was just cigarette-smoke, hot-air conversation. But it made for great listening if you didn't take a syllable of it seriously.

As much as one of the great gifts of my life was to have had a Pop Monaghan, I always regretted never knowing my father's father, Harry Kelly, who died nearly 15 years before I was born. The Kelly side of the family, I was told, was even more Irish than the Monaghan side.

Harry Kelly's father, a man named Patrick Kelly, came to Baltimore in the 1840s from Galway on Ireland's western coast. The Kellys loved the water and settled in homes so close to Baltimore's harbor you could just about see the Patapsco from the front steps or the upstairs back windows.

Harry Kelly married into a German line, the Bosse family of South Baltimore. They, too, resided near the old Light Street piers. My grandmother, Mary Louise Bosse Kelly, lived in a little rowhouse at 17 Poultney St.

On the Sunday of Baltimore's St. Patrick's parade, my father would gather up his six children for the traditional visit to Poultney Street, where we would pick up my widowed grandmother. She hadn't a drop of Irish blood but got in the parade spirit fast, pointing out the marching bands and keeping order over her brood as we stood along Baltimore Street. It seemed like there was always a stiff wind and that the granite curbs along the parade route were always cold and damp.

Pop Monaghan marched in the parades when I was growing up, and we would always let out a big cheer when he went past us.

Mame, as we called Grandmother Kelly, led the enthusiastic and spirited calling-out.

Come the end of the day, Pop Monaghan was back home and soaking his marched-out feet. A truce between him and Lily and Cora was in effect during the St. Patrick's festivities. On the evening of the big parade, the women were ready to celebrate on their terms, in their kitchen.

You never needed to guess what was on that night's table. The scent of the boiling cabbage drifted up the stair hall. Dinner was corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and maybe a few cupcakes with green icing. A lush peace settled over the family's Irish, Scots and Germans.

Pub date: 3/17/96

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