The month of May is the perfect time of year to spend some extra time honoring the mothers of Irish genealogy. Not only is May the month in which Mother’s Day is celebrated, it’s also a month of renewal and rebirth after the long, cold winter.
This rebirth perfectly symbolizes the special place of mothers in human culture. If you have an Irish mother in your family tree (and I’m sure you do!), take some time this month to honor her in your own special way, whether by doing extra research on her family line, putting up a photo of her in a frame on your wall, telling your children about her, or simply taking her out to lunch if you’re lucky enough to still have her with you.
The most recent mother in my own Irish genealogy was my great-grandmother, Margaret Ellen Dillon, my paternal grandfather’s mother. Though born in Pennsylvania, her mother and her father’s parents all came directly from Ireland, and she was raised in a staunch Irish Catholic household in a mostly Irish neighborhood. Margaret had a somewhat unconventional life by the standards of the typical Irish Catholic family of the day.
Born on November 21, 1890 in Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania, Margaret was the daughter of Edward J. Dillon and Hannah (Burns) Dillon. Her father, Edward, was murdered in April of 1902, when Margaret was only 11 years old (family legend has it that he was a horse dealer by trade and was killed by Gypsies in a horse deal gone bad…..I’m currently waiting for the coroner’s inquest report of his death to come in the mail so I can confirm or debunk this). As the oldest of 7 children, Margaret had to go to work to help support her mother and siblings after her father was gone.
Soon after Edward’s death, Margaret went to work as a domestic servant in the home of a well-off elderly couple a few towns over. There were other servants living and working in the home at the same time, including a man in his 20’s and a man in his 50’s. By December of 1909, Margaret was 19, unmarried, and pregnant with my grandfather.
The family doesn’t know who my grandfather’s biological father was, and Margaret never told. On August 26, 1910, Margaret gave birth to my grandfather, Walter Francis Copes. Walter’s birth certificate lists Margaret as his mother, and the name of the father is left blank. However, his last name is given as Copes on the certificate, which is the last name of the man Margaret married several years later. It is unknown at this time if the name on his birth certificate was changed to Copes after Margaret’s marriage, or if it was that way from the start. We hope to gain some insight into my grandfather’s biological father in the near future through DNA testing of my dad and brother.
Margaret’s mother, Hannah Dillon, died on February 28, 1915, leaving Margaret’s two youngest sisters, Agnes and Elizabeth, as minors with no parents. Margaret took over the raising of her sisters, but taking on such a burden as a young woman with her own small child to raise was too great. She needed some help, and on July 29, 1915, Margaret married George Washington Copes, a young mechanic from neighboring Wilmington, Delaware.
From that time on, Margaret became the consumate traditional mother of Irish genealogy lore. She cooked, cleaned, and kept house, gave birth to another child (a daughter, Annamae Copes), and raised her children in a strict Irish Catholic environment. Her children took their first communions in the Catholic church, and she watched carefully over them as they grew into responsible, well-respected adults in their community. Though she had a somewhat difficult past, Margaret more than made up for it in her later life, becoming a pillar of the community in Wilmington, where she lived with her husband, children, and later, many grandchildren. When she died on October 20, 1963, she was mourned by many, and remembered as a loving wife and mother who always put her family first…..just like any good Irish mother does!
So, today, I salute Margaret Ellen (Dillon) Copes, an Irish mother of extraordinary strength, character, and courage. She overcame many obstacles in her young life to create a warm, secure environment for her children, and that legacy of love continues in the family to this day. Now’s the time to remember some beloved mothers in your own Irish Ancestry, and give them the honor they deserve. Let us know–who were your Irish mothers, and how do you plan to celebrate them in your own family?