Share this article

print logo

Nancy Allaire-Donohue: Irish grandfather is remembered with love

My grandfather’s name was Henry Patrick Mahoney. You can’t get much more Irish than that. Sometimes he was referred to as H.P. His mother and father both died when he was young, so he was shuffled off to be raised by an uncle, who physically abused him.

My grandfather ran away at the young age of 16 and got a job as a laborer, working on the railroad. Moving through the company, he eventually became an engineer.

My grandfather met my grandmother at a local pub frequented by the railroad men. She was a waitress and he was attracted to her auburn hair and rosy cheeks. They married and lived in a house on South Division Street in the First Ward. After he was promoted, they moved to South Buffalo.

The South Buffalo Irish were often referred to as the “lace curtain Irish.” I remember that their house did have beautiful lace curtains on most of the windows.

My grandparents were proud parents of eight daughters and two sons. Both sons died at a very early age. When my aunts were old enough to date, the gentlemen were invited into the parlor and if they didn’t have an Irish name, like Galvin, McMahon or Callaghan, they were asked to leave.

My father was not Irish, but French. He courted my mother while she lived in the nurses’ home, located next to Sisters Hospital. By the time they became engaged, it was too late for my grandfather to have any objections.

Considering this very prejudicial attitude on my grandfather’s part, it leaves me wondering about my grandmother. She was German, not Irish. It just shows how rosy cheeks and auburn hair can win over all!

My grandfather had a very strict curfew. Even when his daughters went off to Buffalo State Teachers College, they still had to be home by 10 o’clock. The doors would be locked, and unless my grandmother heard them knocking (as she often did) the girls would be marooned for the night in the small vestibule. Often, they would plan their date nights on the evenings my grandfather would have a layover on his railroad trips.

Finally, when the oldest daughter became engaged, her fiancé changed the door locks and she gave all of her sisters a key. That ended the lockout; there was no more sleeping in the vestibule.

The day my grandfather retired from the railroad, I was on the train with my grandmother. This was his “last run,” as he called it. The train went from Buffalo to Erie, Pa. He was given a gold watch on a gold chain. He was always so proud of his job on the New York Central Railroad.

After retirement, my grandfather took pride in keeping the outside of the house clean. He had a garden and his tools were always kept in a special area of the basement. He loved to sing, especially the Irish songs, like “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

Another childhood memory was of my grandfather sitting in his favorite chair, reading the newspaper. My grandmother had a habit of letting her pet canary out of its cage. Sometimes, the bird would fly down the stairs and land on top of my grandfather’s bald head.

I can still picture him yelling at the bird, swatting it with the folded newspaper, trying to get it off of his head. My grandmother would have herself a very good laugh over the whole funny scene.