She insisted that I wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. If I forgot, all it took was her gentle look of personal displeasure to make me quickly change. When this Irish holiday comes around, she is always the first person I think of–my maternal grandmother. That being stated, it is only natural that she is the focus of this year’s Irish story.
Addie Cornelia Ryan was born on 12 Mar 1879 in Jay, Orleans County, Vermont to Patrick John & Emily (Brown) Ryan. Her father had been born in Ireland–County Cork or County Limerick, depending on what version of his family history that you choose. Her mother died when she was 5 years old, so her grandmother, Abigail (Judd) Brown-Bangs-Dean had lived with them to care for the younger children. During her teenage years, she, along with most of the family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire to find better work opportunities.
After the move to Manchester NH, she worked for a while as a housemaid (as did her sisters). She met and married Charles Aloysius Manning, a local man, who had a steady job as a chauffeur. They met in “Cat Alley,” she used to joke (that alley being a bit nefarious at that time, no matter what silly story you hear about it being named after house cats). She set up housekeeping in Manchester, and shortly after their marriage they purchased a new house on the south east side of town, at the top of Shasta Street.
She gave birth to thirteen children, raising ten of those to adulthood (a set of twins, and another child born too early had died). She legally became guardian of a grandchild, Maurice Cronin, son of her oldest daughter who had died prematurely. My mother, Mary, was the next to the last of her children. By the time I was born, my gram was used to grandchildren, as she already had 37 of them.
To those in our family who come later, who did not know her personally, I can share a few memories:
. She was called “a saint” by her children, and others who knew her. No, they didn’t mean like the Catholic saints with the halos, or visions, or stigmata, or any of that. They meant that she was patient and loving, no matter what anyone did or said. She always spoke and acted with love. She was a bit permissive, even allowing her sons to rebuild an engine on her dining room table. That is why it surprised me one day when she spoke in a slightly harsh tone about the English [people]. This happened because of my huge mistake in wearing red on St. Patrick’s Day. She gruffly said that the British had starved the Irish, and that I should not be wearing that color, and hurried me off to change into green. She never mentioned this again, and I never thought to ask about it. Years later, during a trip to Ireland, I learned about The Great Famine (Irish: An Gorta Mór, or the Great Hunger) that occurred between 1845-1852, when millions of Irish died or emigrated. England never apologized for its role in that horrific event.
. She had a delightful voice, somewhat high-pitched, that made people think she was a young girl when she answered the telephone, even as she grew elderly. Having grown up on the Canadian border, she could understand French, and speak it, though I only heard her once.
If you would like to hear her voice, click the player just below this text. This was taped between 1964 and 1965 when she was in her mid 80s. The higher pitched voice that sings is Addie (Ryan) Manning, and the other women’s voice is her daughter (my mother), Mary (Manning) Webster. At the end is my brother Tom (age 4, I think) singing.
. She was an amazing cook. Saturday was her “baking day,” and she took over the kitchen, shooing us out if we poked our fingers into the batter. She made everything from scratch–doughnuts, breads, cakes, muffins, fritters. Every Saturday, no matter what, she baked in huge quantities. She loved to knead bread, and told me the secret of a light bread was to knead it well, and to allow it to rise 3 times. Once after a fresh, clean snowfall, she boiled some maple syrup and drizzled it onto a bowl of packed snow, to make a sort of maple sugar candy. She said she had this as a young girl in Vermont.
. She had a strong belief in God, and her religion brought her comfort in both good and bad times. Almost every day that I can remember, my grandmother walked a half mile (each way) to attend Catholic church. When I was growing up, that church was St. Antoine on the south-east side of Manchester, New Hampshire. Before that was built, she had attended Blessed Sacrament Parish, using a sled or toboggan to slide down the long hill in the winter. When she had transportation, she attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with my parents and siblings. She would listen to the radio programs when the New Hampshire Bishop or Cardinal Sheen would speak, and we would “say the rosary” along with them
. She loved flowers, especially roses. I previously wrote about that here: Gram’s New Hampshire Flower Garden.
. She enjoyed eating local, home-grown food, and wasted nothing. In the days before pesticides were used on lawns, it was safe to pick dandelions, and she would have us pick them for her in our yard, but only before they flowered. We also had a rhubarb patch, and a crab-apple tree, and incorporated what was nearby in her desserts. It appears that she enjoyed “tartness” in her food. Egg shells and coffee grounds were saved and placed on the roots of her rose bushes. She had a great wooden barrel that sat under the house’s eave-spout to collect rain water, that she used to wash her hair. She said it made her hair softer than what came out of the faucet.
Éirinn go Brách (pronunciation: Erin guh brawk) is the Gaelic form of “Ireland Forever,” the traditional greeting on Saint Patrick’s Day. She loved to say it. In honor of my grandmother, I offer it to you during March–a month where we celebrate both Women’s History and Irish-American Heritage.
**Additional Reading: Irish Posts from Prior Years**
New Hampshire Genealogy: The Legend of the Irish Drummer Boy