Like you, immigration has touched my life in a very personal way. You are where my grandmother was two generations ago. Everyone in the U.S. is from somewhere else. My people are from Ireland. This is my grandmother’s story.
Let me put my 30 years of experience to work for you
The only difference between me and many of my immigration clients is my grandmother. Her name was Delia O’Toole and she was 17 years old when she left County Galway in Ireland for Boston, Massachusetts. She had a one-way ticket and only 25 cents in her pocket. Her emigration from Ireland for a new life in America gave me a two-generation head start on many of my clients toward the American dream.
Before Delia left the small Galway town of Inverin, her family and friends held an “American wake” for her. An “American wake” is similar to the wake you have when a person dies. It is the chance to celebrate life and to say good-bye to someone you will never see again. While she lived to be 84 years of age, the family members and friends at her “American wake” never did see her again as Delia never returned to Ireland.
Like most immigrants, she followed her family when she came to America. Her older sister, Mary was waiting for her when the S.S. Corean docked in Boston Harbor on May 5th, 1903. And, like most immigrants, she was working hard from day one. She washed floors on her hands and knees, she cooked, and she took care of other people’s children. Like most immigrants, the letters that Delia mailed home always contained a good part of her hard-earned wages to help those left behind.
After settling in Portland, Maine, Delia met a young longshoreman named John Curran who was also from County Galway. They never met in Ireland, but many years later, I would measure the distance from her Inverin home to the one-room hovel where he was born and learn that they lived less than five miles apart. Delia married John Curran in St. Dominic’s Church, built by Irish immigrants, in the West End of Portland. Over the next decade, they would have four children.
In many ways, Delia was the first immigrant counselor in our family. She was one of the very few people who could read and write in both English and Irish. Hard-working longshoreman and laborers made their way into her parlor with letters from home. Delia read the news from home and then wrote back on their behalf.
My brothers, sisters, and I called her Gram, and she was always talking about Ireland. The Irish Echo newspaper was always on the coffee table, and Irish music was always on the record player. She never tired of telling us stories about Ireland and her trip to America. I remember asking her what surprised her most about America, and she replied, “Ice cream on a hot summer day.” I asked my grandfather the same question, and he said, “A moon on every corner.” It wasn’t until I was older that I realized he was talking about streetlights. There were no streetlights in the tiny County Galway village of Bantrough Bawn where he grew up, and there still aren’t any there today.
While my grandparents both loved Ireland and missed their families, friends, and the Irish way of life, they also loved America. They realized they could earn a living and raise a family here, and that the following generation could have a better life. This is the same dream that my clients have today.
I have a deep appreciation for the unknown legal expert who helped my grandparents complete their immigration paperwork and attain citizenship in 1924, because I know becoming a U.S. citizen helped them realize their American dream of a better life for their children. Knowing and appreciating the courage in my grandparents’ immigration journey has given me a lifelong passion to assist people who are following in their footsteps. As a Boston immigration attorney, knowing that my clients are following the same path as my grandparents and so many others like them have inspired me to help my clients in any and every way possible so that they can realize their own American dream.