Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Irish Good Fellowship Club Luncheon
March 17, 2014

Thank you Brian (McGraw, with McGraw & McGraw Co., LPA) for that introduction and for serving as this year’s emcee.

It’s an honor to be asked to share some of my Irish ancestral roots.

Before I get into that though, please join me in thanking the McMonagle family for keeping this tradition alive over many years.

The late Judge George McMonagle, Judge Richard McMonagle, who’ll be retiring at the end of the year, and former Judge James McMonagle all had a hand in it. Thank you gentlemen.

I have to tell you that looking into my Irish past was a welcome assignment, as I knew very little when I started. Here’s some of what I found.

My great, great grandfather came to America in the 19th Century to work on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal as an indentured servant.

I think his name was Thomas Patrick O’Connor, but pinpointing this fact has been elusive. Thomas and Patrick, along with Edward and Francis, turn up over and over again in my family tree. So it’s a good bet it’s one of those.

I also don’t know why he left Ireland in the first place. Many of the Irish at that time came to America either to escape their abject poverty or because they were “asked” to leave.

Maybe he was a trouble-maker. I’d like to think so.

Those who crossed the Atlantic were lured by promises of “3 meats a day,” “plenty of bread and vegetables,” and, frankly, alcohol. Newspaper advertisements inserted in Irish newspapers in Dublin, Cork, and Belfast actually stated that canal workers would have “a reasonable allowance of liquor.”

I have reason to believe that my great, great grandfather came over on the ship “Eagle” out of Liverpool via Dublin.

In any event, construction on the canal started July 4, 1828. What better way to start out life in America than by beginning work on Independence Day, huh?

Canal workers were also imported from Germany, but the Irish and German immigrants were separated because they didn’t get along.

Common laborers agreed to work for three months, while stone masons signed indentures for two months. I don’t know which job my great, great grandfather had.

A great cholera epidemic wiped out many of the immigrants in 1832, but not my great, great grandfather.

I’m more certain about some facts about my great, great grandmother, Katherine O’Connor.

My great, great grandfather and Katherine had my great grandfather, Patrick O’Connor, in April of 1837 in Virginia.

Sometime after that my family settled in Mt. Savage, Maryland.

Patrick O’Connor married Mary Jane Stephens, who was born in 1845, in 1865. My grandfather, Edward A. O’Connor, was born in 1881 in Mt. Savage.

Clearly, each of us knows more about our relatives from the recent past than those from generations ago. But why do we want to know as much as we can about our distant relatives, people we don’t even know – beyond names, birth records, and occupations – by researching our genealogy?

There are probably just as many answers to that question as there are people researching, but a few academicians and authors have made some general conclusions.

Some people feel they are the link to the family’s history, and if they don’t pass along the information they know it will be lost forever, according to Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.

Some people want to make history more relevant by putting it in a family context, or putting the “I” in history, as Buzzy Jackson, author of “Shaking the Family Tree” calls it.

Some people like to be the so-called family storyteller and share the latest of what they’ve found out about a past generation, notes Carla Santos, a professor of recreation, sport, and tourism at the University of Illinois.

Despite what ancestry dot com would have us believe or the popularity of the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” where a celebrity traces his or her family tree, genealogy is not a new phenomenon. Just recall for a moment the Bible’s collections of genealogies.

Whatever the reason, the Internet age and the fact that more and more dusty courthouse records are being digitized have certainly made genealogical research easier than ever.

Examining why we look back has got me to thinking about the importance of looking ahead.

Everyone in this crowd will be someone’s great, great grand-something someday. Your future relatives down the line will want to know about what you did, how you lived, and what you thought about.

Think about the kind of legacy you will leave them.

For many of you, your deepest thoughts, greatest fears, and proudest moments are displayed on Twitter and Facebook. And that’s all fine and good.

But what if we as a society were to return to the old-fashioned way of transcribing a family’s history through a journal, or a diary, or recording generations in the family Bible?

The social media account in its present form may not last forever. No one knows if those records will be permanent. No one can be sure of that.

Please consider what’s the best way to preserve your thoughts and “who you are” for the succeeding generations. Part of the obligation of passing things on is to ensure they will be there later.

I also encourage you to dig deeper than just supplying your name, job, and hobbies. What did you value? How did you raise your children? What was your opinion about the crises of the day?

Answering those questions and transcribing those kinds of thoughts will be eminently more valuable to your great, great granddaughter and grandson.

Remember the words of the great Irish statesman Edmund Burke, who said: “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”

Thank you for listening and God bless.