Michael Donohoe.

Michael Donohoe: The teacher from Cappagh, Killeshandra

Jonathan Smyth's latest Times Past column recalls a teacher from Cappagh, Killeshandra, who became a Congressman for Philadelphia...

Killeshandra is famous for many things. There was its butter production and then the Holy Rosary Sisters whose Convent was of major importance. Another claim to fame for the town was Michael Donohoe, a celebrated son of the parish.

Michael was born at Cappagh, Killeshandra. He was a son of Michael Donohoe Snr and Ellen Geraghty Donohoe. Often, his date of birth was given as February 22, 1864. However, Church records show he was baptised a year earlier on February 22, 1863.

The Donohoe’s substantial farm consisted of 30 acres, two roods and 33 perches. Michael completed his education at Thomas Sheridan’s private classical school in Killeshandra. Afterwards, in 1884, he gained a teaching certificate, permitting him to become the principal of a local national school.

In 1886, he emigrated to Philadelphia. He married Ann Sullivan, and they had five boys and five girls. The Donohoe family lived at 2613 East Lehiga Avenue, Philadelphia. In the 1930s, Michael’s brother Pat and his sister Margaret were still living at Cappa House, in Killeshandra.

In 1910, the Catholic Columbian described Congressman-elect Michael Donohoe as ‘a splendid type of the Catholic Celtic citizen’ from the Fifth Pennsylvania District in the industrial heart of Philadelphia. They pointed to the great respect and love the people had for him, as evidenced by the fact that he was elected as a Democratic candidate in a staunchly Republican district.

Benevolent societies like the Knights of Columbus and the AOH advocated his leadership abilities and his sympathies with the homeland were confirmed through his support for the United Irish League, John Redmond, and the Irish Parliamentary Party. Donohoe would serve as a fourth degree member of the Philadelphia Council of the Knights of Columbus. Donohoe’s voice carried conviction and he gave four years’ service as a Member of the United States Congress.

His work for Ireland was recognised when he was elected to the National Executive of the United Irish League of America, a position he held for many years. As a businessman, his credentials were impressive. He was secretary and treasurer to the glass ware manufacturing company of Gill and Co Inc, a director of the General Avenue Tile and Trust Company, was active in the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and, from 1919, he was the real estate assessor for the City of Philadelphia.

In 1923, he was appointed President of the American Alliance of the Ancient Order of Hibernians for the United States and Canada.

The Erdman Act prohibited interstate trade between railroads and as part of their work contract rail employees were forbidden from joining a union. In 1912, Congressmen Donohoe and Richard E. Lee of Pennsylvania believed the contentious Erdman Act of 1898 could be used to prevent a ‘threatened national coal strike’ and they asked President William H. Taft to extend the act to the coal industry. The Washington Post reported on the President’s opinion, noting he was ‘pleased’ with the workings of the act in relation to the railroads and was believed to be in favour of ‘extending it along the lines suggested’ by Donohoe and Lee.

Return to Killeshandra

Donohoe returned to Ireland when he could. In 1902, he visited Killeshandra and again he came home 22 years later in July 1924. During that visit, he called to The Anglo-Celt offices and gave an interview. From childhood he read the Celt and proudly recommended it and always looked forward to the latest edition landing on his desk in Philadelphia, before reading it from cover to cover, including the advertisements. It was an important link with the homeland.

The report ingratiatingly added, ‘he is the same unassuming man that he was when we last met him, and he does not look a day older.’

In Cavan, there were important people to meet before he sailed back to America in August. One person he met was the Most Rev Dr Finegan, Bishop of Kilmore. Business was on Donohoe’s mind and he ‘expressed great confidence’ in the country’s future and suggested a ‘thorough’ reorganisation of Ireland’s main industry of agriculture to encourage favourable competition with rival countries.’ He emphasised the need for more initiative, a genuine effort towards combined action and clear thinking.

County Cavan and its lake district, he said, ‘excelled for its beauty’ compared to any country on earth, but the roads he said, must be trafficable and ‘some of the narrow ones, which led to the beauty spots widened’ to render them suitable to the automobile.

Charles Lindbergh

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the world’s first solo flight across the Atlantic in his plane the Spirit of St Louis. Lindbergh became an overnight sensation and when the media learned of Michael Donohoe’s friendship with the young pilot’s father, people wanted to know more. The headline, ‘A Cavan Man and Lindbergh’s Father’, graced this paper’s pages.

Donohoe recalled: ‘I have many pleasant recollections of the young hero’s father, Charles A. Lindbergh, who was a member of Congress from Minnesota during the years of my service in the House… when I learned that the daring aviator was the son of my congressional friend I was greatly pleased.’

Donohoe explained that Lindbergh had a combination of Norse and Irish blood, his father’s side being Norse and his mother’s family Irish. Not missing an opportunity to score a political point, he gave his opinion on the statesmanship that supported the restrictive ‘National Origins barrier,’ that in American Immigration law would ‘practically exclude’ the Irish and Norwegians.

The Catholic Standard and Times reported on Michael Donohoe’s death at home on Franklin Avenue, Philadelphia, on January 17, 1958, at the age of 93 years. Although, predeceased by his wife in 1939, Michael was survived by three sons - John P., Philadelphia; Gerald T., Chicago; and Charle J. of New York. In attendance at his funeral were Mrs Helen Donohoe, and Mrs John J. Glackin, Philadelphia; Mrs C. Elliott Schissler of Wynnewood; and Mrs James McGurrin and Mrs Charles T. Rice of New York. Also surviving him were 16 grandchildren and two great grandchildren; and his sisters Mrs P. McGuinness of Katonah, New York and Miss Margaret Donohoe, in Ireland.

The Honourable Michael Donohoe’s remains were interred in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Long after his death, Philadelphians still remembered Michael Donohoe for his ‘cordial hand and the cheerful welcome of his courteous smile’.


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