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Meath Hill

Frank and Catherine Clarke
An Irish story, an American story

There are, living in the United States today, more than 150 Americans who can trace their heritage to two babies born in Ireland in the mid 1830's. The first, born in November of 1836 was Catherine Grimes. She was the daughter of Hugh Grimes and Mary Dobson. The second, Frank, born in June of 1837 was the third child of Patrick and Mary Clarke.

That Catherine had one sister named Alice, has been confirmed. Frank is known to have had seven siblings, Anne, Mary, John, (Frank), Joseph, Patrick, Margaret and Jane.

It is not known where in Ireland the Grimes family originated. But Frank Clarke was born in the Civil Parish of Ardagh in County Meath. This was and is today farm country. He and his brothers and sisters were Christened in the church in the town of Drumconrath. A second parish church was located in the nearby townsland called  Meath Hill.

In 1847at the height of the Great Irish Famine, ten-year-old Catherine emigrated from Ireland with her father, Hugh, and sister, Alice. The fate of her mother is unknown.  The Grimes family settled in the New York City area.

Frank, being the second son, was put in the position of countless other Irishmen of the time and forced to leave his home for the United States. It was 1855 and 18-year-old Frank traveled alone. After sailing into that bustling harbor of New York, Frank disembarked and went a short distance west to Hudson City, New Jersey.  Hudson City was adjacent to Hoboken, and today is part of Jersey City. These cities were in fact major parts of the growing harbor known as New York.

Over the next several years two very important events occurred in the life of Frank Clarke. The first was that he apprenticed in the Coppersmith trade and the second was that he met a young woman from home named Catherine.

Little information is available about the Coppersmith trade. What is known is that it was used in 19th century shipbuilding and Paul Revere, (yes that Paul Revere), a silversmith, was one of the original American Coppersmiths. Frank Clarke became a Master Coppersmith and started his own business during the American Civil War. He was 25 years of age in 1862 and began what would become a highly successful business. His obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle in fact states that Frank controlled the Coppersmith business in New York Harbor for forty years.

While he was living in Hudson City and learning his trade, Frank met a young lady. She was raggedly pretty, intelligent and Irish. Catherine Grimes was the second important occurrence in his life.  She soon became his "Katie". They married in 1859 and started a family. The first three children, Mary Catherine, Frank Eugene and Alice Dobson, were born in New Jersey.

By 1865 the growing business required relocation to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, near the Navy Yard. Frank and Catherine packed up their family and moved both family and business to North 7th Street in Brooklyn.  However, all was not rosy for these children of Ireland. A daughter, Jane, born in 1865 and a son, Joseph Patrick, born in 1868 died within months of each other in early 1869. But by the end of that same year they celebrated the birth of another daughter whom they named Jane Josephine and called Jenny. These hearty immigrants were carrying on with their American Dream.

The 1880 US Census finds the Clarke family on North 8th Street, still in Williamsburg. Now there were seven children. Catherine Ellen was born in 1870, James Madden in 1872 and Agnes Genevieve in 1875. They attended St. Vincent DePaul Church which was directly behind their residence. Frank's business was still growing and young Frank had learned the trade and was now working with his father.

By 1885 the business, now known as "Frank Clarke and Son, Coppersmiths" moved to 161 Dikeman Street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.  To be close to the business Frank moved his family to the more affluent Clinton Street neighborhood. A year earlier daughter Alice married a doctor named Thomas Loughran and was beginning her own family. Mary Catherine had become the book keeper for the business.

The 1890's brought two more weddings with Jenny marrying James Doyle in 1891 and James marrying Mary Jane Holran in 1893. James was also working as a coppersmith in the family business. It was at this time that Frank did what most of the Irish never did.  He went home to Ireland for a visit.

He sailed for Ireland in the summer of 1893.  His destination was Cloughrea, in Ardagh, County Meath.  Frank's mother had died in 1852 before he left and his father died about 1874. However, two brothers, Joseph and Patrick (Patrick had a wife and three children), are known to have been  living there at the turn of the century. Frank wrote to his family in Brooklyn of the beauty of this land he left as a boy.

In 1895, with the business in the hands of his children, and perhaps with the memory of the land of his birth fresh in his mind, Frank traveled to Orange County, New York to look for a farm. He found 55 acres that sat on Highland Lake in the Shawangunk Mountains. It was six miles west of the City of Middletown in the Town of Walkill. He was like many of his ilk a farmer again.  He named his farm "Meath Hill".

The 1900 US Census lists Frank and Catherine as living at their farm in Walkill. However, they always maintained two homes, 506 Clinton Street in Brooklyn and Meath Hill in Walkill. Frank wrote letters from Meath Hill to his daughter Agnes about horse and sleigh rides, harvesting ice from the lake, grapes and raspberries in the garden, cows eating pumpkins and having the greatest milk produce in the county. Frank the very successful Coppersmith had become a successful Gentleman Farmer.

Life for Frank and Catherine during this period was special. They enjoyed being surrounded by their children and then grandchildren on this farm named for the place of Frank's birth. In 1908 Frank celebrated his 71st birthday with a party at the main house at Meath Hill. In front of the house two flags flew. One flag was green with the image of a Harp and the year 1837 embossed on it. The other was the stars and stripes with the year 1908. They signified the land of his birth and that of his adopted country both of which he was most proud. Frank and Catherine danced as in their younger days and Frank sang songs that he had written.  These included "Newport Lovely Waters", "Shawangunk Vale", "Twixt the Lakes", and "The Pride of Meath Hill".

Frank and Catherine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on January 9, 1909. This celebration was held at their home in Brooklyn. It was the social event of the season and was duly reported in the Brooklyn Eagle. But this American dream was to come to an end. On February 6, 1909 just one month later Catherine died at home in Brooklyn. Life just wasn't the same for Frank after that. On September 2, 1909 that same year after having dinner with his daughter Agnes and family friend Susan Martin, at his Meath Hill home Frank suffered a stroke and died later that night.

But this American dream wasn't really over. Alice Loughran had three children. Frank Eugene Clarke had a daughter. Jenny Doyle had two girls and two boys, one of whom was killed in 1918 during the Great War. James Clarke had six children with Mary Jane who died in 1911. In 1913, James married her cousin Mary Ann Holran and had three more children. One of his older boys served in France during that same war and came home with a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

 The American dream of Frank and Catherine continues today in all their descendants which is in its seventh (possibly eighth) generation in the USA.

1.  I would like to acknowledge and thank two cousins whom I happened upon during my research. One, Kevin McGlynn, actually took a phone call from a  guy who said that he was a distant relation. The other, Tricia Mudd, returned a letter from a stranger asking about her family. They are both descendants of Alice Loughran and had invaluable information which they readily shared with me. I am grateful to both that they did not treat me like your typical lunatic who calls or writes.
2. The grandchildren of Frank and Catherine who although they were born after their grandparents were deceased had the stories that inspired in me the desire to learn more about this family. (John L. Clarke, Chester Clarke and Catherine Moench)

Written  by,
John C. Clarke   (Great Grandson and 4th Generation American)

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