Tuesday, March 22, 2011

McNally History

As far as I know. The Irish are notorious storytellers, so a few grains of salt may be necessary.

Michael McNally and Kathleen Donnelly, the builders of the cottage, were both from Irish immigration families, immigration funded by Charlie O'Malley, a key 19th century figure in Island town politics and builder of the Island House. He insisted that his cousins settle near by so as to pay him back. Many Irish came either because of him or because they knew someone he had brought.  Other Irish, especially from the west of Ireland, settled in the straits area because it reminded them of home.  Charlie believed the island was going to be a great resort area, and so would provide another source of income for families.  They could play their trade, and then take in lodgers for the summer. 

The McNally's chose St. Ignace, and the Donnelly's chose the Island. After prospering, the Donnelly's built a big house to be a guest house as well as the family home. That's Cloghaun, named after the village they came from. ( It means Stepping Stones in Irish and I think has been subsumed by Clifden.) Supposedly you could see Crogue Patrick from where you hung the laundry.  The McNallys, Donnellys and maybe Douds were all from this neck of the woods.  Mother McNally became quite famous in St. Ignace as a healer, and was supposedly given Bishop Marquette's ring as a mark of honor.  When they went to remove it before burying her, her hand was clenched so tight they couldn't.

Michael McNally fell for Katie, but she insisted that he take The Pledge before marriage. Wise thing, as Michael was supposedly quite a bar brawler.  Big man, over 6 feet, and "straight as a pin till the day he died." The saying was, when he was on the town, lock up you sons.  His best friend was quite the rake; when he was out, lock up your daughters.  When they were both out, lock up your house.  So the story goes.  Michael's favorite spot for a bit of sport was the Bucket o' Blood (no idea what the real name was) - the bar that the fort soldiers liked.

But all that changed when he agreed to the pledge. Supposedly, Pa Donnelly gave the land for McNally Cottage as a wedding present, and the house was built by Michael, by pacing off Cloghaun. (If not, they had the plans as the pre-modification houses are identical.) Michael's first modification was adding the porch, which for 100 years was a prime Island watching spot. He had an ice house in the spot nest to his meat market, next to what is now Shepler's. In addition, he was a fisherman, and a free diving salvager.  Lived to his 90s, so even with his and his daughter Mary Ann's late start on families, my father and his sisters got to know him.

There were 6 McNally kids, three boys and three girls. Seamus (James) Mary, Thomas Mary, and Patrick Mary, and Mary Margaret, Mary Ann and Mary Catherine. Michael McNally had a "great devotion to the Blessed Mother." He was a great believer in education, and everyone except Catherine completed post-secondary education; quite unusual for the time. (Catherine may have found that too challenging, but did complete high school.) James "Red" McNally was an early football star at the University of Detroit, and then got a football scholarship to medical school at Creighton! (Pre-NCAA rules.) He put his Island horsemanship to good use later as an amateur champion harness racer. Thomas was an early advocate of photography (rather vain, too, or so the story goes) and most of the photos we have of the old family are from him. I don't know much about Thomas and Patrick except that Thomas' boys ended up spending a lot of time with Catherine on the island.  The girls were sent to Monroe to an Immaculate Heart of Mary preparatory school called St. Mary's Academy.  Margaret went on to a Chicago Normal school, and Mary Ann went on to the University of Michigan.  By the time she died she was the 2nd oldest woman graduate of U of M.  She returned to the island to teach, and was shortly superintendent, the first woman superintendent in the state.

There's a story she told about her students that reminds me of Stand and Deliver.  Latin was a common study at the time, and Mary Ann a great scholar of it.  She taught it at the island school, back when it was in what was and is now again the Indian Dormitory.  They did so well on a national honor test of the subject, that she was accused of cheating, so they came and retested and found it was true.  "Of course," she would say.  I know in her 90s she could still correct my Latin homework, and was very disappointed that I couldn't speak it.  "I remember that girl," she said of my ancient Latin teacher, with no more said.

During the summer, the kids would move to the attic. They hung sheets down the middle, and one side was boys, the others girls. The upstairs, with its one bath, would usually be rented to two families. The mothers and children would summer on the island, and the fathers would visit (coming north by train) as they could on weekends. The same families came for years and years usually.  The families each had a cow, with a distinctive cowbell that would enable them to find the cow when needed.  Ireland had a lot of common property, and it took a while to transfer to the more American view of "mine!"  Some of the stories say that early on some property belonged to whoever could pay the taxes that year.  (That must be a story, right.)

At Catherine's graduation, Mary Ann met Oliver Golden, and began a courtship that led to her moving away to Monroe, Michigan.  Margaret traveled with a health education speaker, who went around the country speaking to women about nutrition and kitchen health standards.  At one point she was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition, and with a few years to live she moved back with Michael and Catherine.  And lived a couple more decades, attributing it to the clean air and healthy living that the Island offered.  By this time the Island was becoming noted for what was just the normal way of live when the McNally kids were young.  Michael retired from his businesses, and Margaret managed the business of the cottage.  At this point tourism was becoming much more like the current state, with people taking shorter vacations.  Resort customers stayed at the fancier hotels, and working families would come to the cottage for a week or two.  When she finally passed in the 60s, Catherine took over the business from her.  She mostly only accepted guests she knew and liked.  Did no advertising, and charged a quarter per bath, and that for two inches of water.

In Mary Ann's family, we assumed that Catherine would outlive my grandmother, whose health had begun to fail. (Though her mind was sharp enough to still do the Times crossword in ink, her eyes needed a powerful magnifying glass.)  Michael McNally had a survivor's clause in his will; while living the Cottage belonged to all of them, but ownership would go to the last survivor.  That would mean the Cottage would go to Edward McNally, who was bound to sell it.  At one point he cajoled Catherine for the back property of the cottage to build a house to be near her.  The day it was signed to him, he sold it to Wes Mauer who built the Carousel Mall.  (Continuing the family tradition of bad business deals, he supposedly only got what amounted to one month's rent on the completed shops. There's a mean bit of family gossip for you.)  Catherine was simple and sweet, and couldn't imagine a bad thing about you.  Even after that, Edward continued to live with her.

But Catherine fell, broke a hip, and died soon after, and Mary Ann not much more than a year after that.  Mary Ann's children inherited, and that began the fracturing of the Cottage ownership.  Jeannie Head ran the cottage a few years, and then my mother and I, then just my mother and then Tricia Cameron.  In the past decade, Matt and Molly Pfundstein did amazing work to keep the business and cottage building in shape.

After our parents' generation passed away, the idea of selling become more and more common.  My take is that finally my cousin Mac Head made the majority of us afraid that we wouldn't be able to keep it, that it would cost us money we didn't have.  And that was the end.  We laid our family heritage down, and to my mind, betrayed our trust.  I am sorry that our family has fractured, and especially sorry that my children won't know this heritage.  Staying in the attic, and welcoming friends to the island.  It's not many what get a chance to walk in their ancestors' footsteps these days.  Ah, but it was a grand life.

Mary Ann on a bike in the 50s.
Stan Bielecky painting
in front of the Cottage.

Cutting ice for the ice house.

The boys: Pat, Jim, Tommy
Michael McNally elder statesman.

Katie McNally nee' Donnelly

Mary Ann and Catherine.
Patsy's daughter Mary Pat swinging through
Grand Haven - source of many of these photos.

Margaret at school in Chicago.
Mary Ann leaving on a ferry.
When were there pavilions on
the front lawn?

Mary Ann on the lake road.
Pre-Loon Feather (store, not the book.)
Mother McNally
My brother Michael and father Oliver on the steps.
My first visit to the cottage.
The Irish come to Mackinac.

A pre-marina view of the harbor.