My Canada, 22/150: When Irish eyes are smiling

I’m one of 4.5 million Canadians who reported having Irish blood, in some quantity, in our country’s latest national census in 2016.

The Irish comprise Canada’s fourth-largest ethnic group, following English, French and Scottish. My father, here in one of the more dapper portraits I have of him, was Irish as far back as we can trace. I have been told – but do not have firm proof –  that his family came to Canada prior to the Great Famine of 1845-1849, which triggered an exodus from an Ireland where the main food crop of potato had been destroyed by blight.

We do have documentation that our branch of the family descends from a William Teahen, born 1797 in Ireland, died 1878, and buried in the St. Marys Cemetery, St. Marys, Ontario. Sometime during that life, he moved from Ireland to southern Ontario. William married Mary Hamilton and lived to age 80, dying one year before his second-eldest son Michael was killed in a barn raising. Michael, only 44 when he died, had fathered 10 children with Anne Kane, eight of whom lived beyond childhood. The eldest of those 10, John Francis, born in 1862, is my great grandfather.

The St. Marys Cemetery now has a searchable “look up the surname” index of who is buried there and there are dozens of Teahens listed; I know who some of them are, but not all. The most famous Teahen around, former pro baseball player Mark Teahen, is descended from the second of Michael’s 10 children, another William Teahen, born 1863. If I have this straight – and genealogy is not one of my strong suits – Mark’s great, great grandfather William (b. 1863) is brother to my great grandfather John Francis (b. 1862). That would make baseball-famous Mark’s father and I third cousins. We’ve never met as this family lives in the U.S. but I know Mark’s paternal aunt and uncle, who still live in Ontario.

Littered along the Teahen family tree are the names Dagan, McAleer, Enright, Kearney . My paternal grandmother was also Irish: Violet Elgie’s family tree has branches of  Mitchell, Quirk, Mclarkey, Walsh and Phelan (not relatives, but hired hands who helped out the widowed Catherine Mitchell Elgie on the farm).

My father was one of two children from the union of Violet Elgie and Frederick William Teahen. Frederick was the second-eldest of seven born to John Francis Teahen and Julia Dagan, five of whom lived to adulthood. My father was given three names: Frederick (dad) John (paternal uncle) Cornelius (maternal uncle). “Fred” morphed into “Ted”, the name he went by all his life.

Having both Ukrainian and Irish heritage has served to make me more Canadian than if I had only one ethnic background. I’m neither fish nor fowl. I’m a new-world creature who likes borsch and Irish stew. Perhaps the only time I feel Irish-aligned is when it comes time to make a speech. The Irish are famed for their gift of the gab, so much so that visitors are invited to kiss the Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland, to receive the gift of eloquence. But when you’re Irish – even half, like me – you don’t need to travel to the stone. You can just draw on the blarney that runs in your blood.



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