Growing up Irish in the 1960’s on the South side of Chicago was always a big celebration on St. Patrick’s day!

My Mother’s Grandparents came from County Mayo and Galway Bay Ireland. McNeela’s, Ryan’s and Feeney’s make up the family tree.

My Grandma Nora or as we called her “Nonnie”, was very sentimental about St. Patrick’s day. Nora was a beauty! A fiery ginger with hair the color of carrots, ivory skin sprinkled with freckles, ruby red lips and deep dark soulful eyes. In 1928 she was a runner up to Miss Chicago. In high heels she towered around six foot, when she walked in a room all eyes turned to her.

She didn’t have an easy life. 
Her parents came from Ireland by ship to Ellis Island at the turn of the century. They lived in a sod house and worked as share cropper’s on a farm in South Dakota. One day Great Grandpa and Grandma Ryan packed up their eleven kids and decided to move to Chicago. 

When Nora was in her twenties she married my Grandfather Jack McNeela. Jack was originally studying to be a Jesuit Priest when he decided to leave the priesthood to become a Police officer in Chicago.

Jack’s family had also immigrated from Ireland. Grandpa Jack had raven black hair, steel blue eyes and a heart of gold.
Jack and Nora fell in love, married and had three daughters, Jackie, Noreen and Sharon, who is my Mom.

Jack became Chief of Police in a suburb of Chicago. One rainy cold night Chief Jack went out on a call to help someone in need. Jack ended up with Pneumonia died and left behind his wife Nora and their three little girls. 

My Mom was only 18 months old and her sister’s were 3 1/2 and 9 years old.
Nora was a widow at thirty. 

In those days there was no government assistance to help so Nora worked two jobs to take care of her girls. She had to place them in Boarding School while she worked.

After a few years Nora met Louie. Louie was a big, boisterous fun loving man from Italy. They married and once again Nora found love and laughter, but it would be short lived.

Louie was diagnosed with cancer and after only a few years Nora was once again a Widow alone with three daughters. 

Twice widowed at 34 years old.

I cannot begin to understand the pain and devastation my Grandma Nonnie lived with.

So whenever St. Patrick’s day came around it must have brought a flood of memories to my Grandma. 
Memories of her parents Nora Feeney and Timothy Ryan. Memories of her Husband’s Jack and Louie. 

I would find her sitting in the living room crying, smoking a camel cigarette, drinking her Folgers coffee and listening to music.

I’d sit by her on the floor on the red shag carpeting leaning up against the mighty Magnavox Record player. Grandma Nonnie would play her  John Gary and Perry Como albums and we would sing together.  

“Oh Danny Boy” “Wild Irish Rose” “Galway Bay” “Irish Lullaby”.
I memorized the words and would sit on a stack of suitcases with a hairbrush as my microphone and sing until her tears turned to laughter.
She would start off with a He-He then it would bubble out of her into a roaring river of laughter. Deep from within her belly till the tears turned into Joy.
Then we would dance around the house, until the darkness left her.

I sang those songs to her until the day she died.  It was “our thing.” 
She would always ask me to sing those songs at her funeral, now I am sorry that I never did. 
A few days before she died a Hospice nurse led her to Jesus. I will forever be grateful for that nurse! 

So today as I celebrate my Irish heritage; I sing for The Matriarch of our Irish family. Grandma Nonnie, This song is for you!


“Sure, a little bit of heaven fell
From out the sky one day
And it nestled on the ocean
In a spot so far away
And when the Angels found it
They dotted it with silver 
To make it’s lakes so grand
And when they had it finished
Sure, they called it Ireland.”

~ Ernest Ball/ J.Keirn Brennan 



Donna Selma Lind ❤ 

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