An Irish descendant of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island, has spoken about meeting Moore's American relatives for the first time and recognising what a symbolic figure she is for all Irish Americans whose ancestors followed in her footsteps.
Paul Linehan (47) only discovered last month he was related to Moore, the 17-year-old Cork girl who stepped into history when she passed through the Ellis Island Immigration Inspection Centre in New York Harbour on New Year's Day 1892.
Linehan is Moore's first cousin thrice removed and he learned of his connection to Moore through the work of US genealogist, Megan Smolenyak who tracked down Moore's first cousins twice removed Tom Long, Lila Long, Noel Brett, Frank Brett and Linehan's mother, Eilís, in Cork.
“Some families have American cousins but we didn’t have any of that in our family history so to suddenly discover that we were related to such an historical figure as the first person through Ellis Island and a symbol of emigration has become a huge thing for us,” said Linehan who lives near Naas.
Moore's newly discovered Irish relatives learned from Smolenyak that Moore's closest American relative, her grandnephew, Michael Schulman was due to attend the Irish America Hall of Fame luncheon in New York so Linehan was chosen to represent the family and travel to New York.
"Michael is the grandson of Annie's younger brother, Philip who is with her in the statue at Ellis Island and in Cobh – Megan arranged for us to meet before the luncheon and it was a very relaxed conversation as we tried to stitch together what we knew of our family history from both sides."
Among those attending the luncheon were former president Bill Clinton as well as several high-profile Irish-Americans including former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey, space shuttle commander Eileen Collins, writer Pete Hamill and Northern Ireland peace process facilitator Edward JT Kenney.
“All these important Irish-Americans were being honoured and I was struck by how aware they were of their Irish ancestry . . . it wasn’t leprechauns and shamrocks and yet there was an understanding of how they had all come from Ireland and travelled different journeys to get to where they are now.
"And it really struck me how their access to America had almost been granted by Annie Moore – it was Annie Moore and all the other anonymous Annie Moores that we don't know about, who paved the way for all these people in this room in Manhattan to achieve what they had achieved.
“It wasn’t so much the immigrants themselves because their lives didn’t improve dramatically but their children and their children’s children who had access to education and healthcare and a bit more money that led to that building up from the bottom that has made America what it is today.”
A tenor who trained with Veronica Dunne, Linehan sings regularly with the Drawing Room Opera Company and included in his repertoire is Brendan Graham's song of emigration Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears about Moore which he sang for years without knowing it was about one of his own relatives.
"Isle of Hope was something that was in my repertoire for the last number of years but now it's changed dramatically for me knowing that the person I am singing about is a relative and so the enormity off that and the emotions become very real," said Paul who sang it at the New York event.