Bridget (Delia) O'Grady (nee O'Malley) 1874

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Bridget (Delia) O’Malley O’Grady

November 16, 1874--September 16, 1955

She  was the seventh of eight children of Michael & Catherine O’Malley in Kilsallagh, County Mayo, Ireland.  The only one of her generation to emigrate to America, she sailed from Queenstown, Ireland, in 1895 and arrived in Philadelphia at the port on Delaware & Washington Ave.  She remained in Philadelphia for a few months with friends from the ‘olde sod’.  She worked as a domestic (maid) and then a cook for wealthy families in NJ and in 1898 she returned to Philadelphia to work.  She married Martin Grady (also from Mayo) on February 11, 1902 in a traditional Irish Catholic wedding.  She never talked about these days, but later, I learned that while working, she became an excellent cook.  She later shared this gift with my Dad after he married my Mom.

She & Martin had nine children who were taught about their Irish ancestry; their faith; and their committment to family.  Her life had many sorrows.  In 1905, her daughter Catherine perished at the age of 19 months by scalding when she pulled over a wash tub of boiling water.   Her world was shattered when Martin, her husband, died suddenly during the beginning of the Spanish Flu in September 1918.  There was no insurance; no ready cash; no income at all.  She refused the “widow pension” because she would have to give up her home and her children would be put into orphanages.  She chose to become a “scrubwoman” to keep them together. Her love of family was so evident to all who met her.

She worked as a scrubwoman/janitress in nearby public schools before and after school hours to earn enough money to keep the family together.  Her childhood friend, Mary Gavin, emigrated in 1919 and became a boarder for life.  The house at 1812 S. 9th Street in Philadelphia was small--it had 3 tiny bedrooms.  Mary had the back room, the boys were in the middle and Delia and the girls slept in the front bedroom. Since the older girls were either working or in school, Delia had to tie the baby, Austy, in a chair in order to leave him at home with Thomas who was often out of school with illness.  Then in 1921, Thomas died at age seven from complications of pneumonia and asthma.

My grandmother’s home was a haven for young Irish immigrants.  Many boarded with her and her family in the tiny overcrowded home until they found work, including her brother Patrick’s daughters, Kate, Nora, and Mary; and her brother Michael’s daughter Kate, and many others.   She became their American home base, their Irish Matriarch in Philadelphia. The young immigrants looked to her for encouragement and support in their new lives. In spite of her widowhood and poverty, her house was the center of social enjoyment for friends “who dropped by” to visit or some homesick immigrants brought by others.  There was no money, but they had love, friendship and caring to share.  It was a way of keeping the love of Ireland alive and continuing into the next generation.  It was also a way of helping the young immigrants to find spouses within the Irish Catholic community.  She taught that there’s “always room for one more—I’ll just add another potato to the pot”.

Someone would play an accordion or fiddle, the carpet was rolled up and the furniture was pushed to the wall--and dancing, singing and fun was shared by all.  1812 S 9th Street turned into a little bit of Ireland!

This love of shared music and the joy it brought was instilled in her children; my Mother and Uncle Marty joined with a charity group that performed “Variety Shows” for the poor in the local Charity Cancer Hospital.  My Mom met my Dad there—and the tradition continued.  

The O’Grady clan gathered at the small family home for holidays and for many Sunday dinners.  Mom-Mom was proud of her family and celebrated every happy occasion; however, she always made us 'sing for our supper'. Before we could go home, the grandkids would sing to her--even when she was bedridden! The songs were almost always Irish--and I remember learning the very sad "Irish Soldier Boy" to sing to her when I was about 5 yr old. She also liked the "Boys from the County Mayo" and many others. The children learned to sing the songs as soon as they were able to help clear the table, wash or dry dishes.  

As each adult chose a song—and continued to sing it at every gathering—it became “their Song”.  If one adult in a family didn’t sing—then it fell to their spouse.  The list of songs is long:  Uncle Marty serenaded us with Rose of Tralee & Rose of Killarney; Uncle Jim sang “An Irishman’s Dream”; Aunt Nora’s song was “Irish Lullaby”; Uncle John sang “Shall my soul pass through Ole Ireland”; my mother sang “Moonlight in Mayo”; my dad tortured me with “I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen” and he tried my mother’s patience with “the Irish Beer Song”; we all sang in English “The Irish National Anthem”; my cousins & I took turns singing “Black Velvet Band”;  “Four Green Fields”; “Skibberreen”; “The Wearing Of The Green”; “Cockles and Mussels”;  “Danny Boy”; “If I Were A Raven; and many more.  

Some of the company played accordion or fiddle—and they always brought it out for family times.  My sisters and some cousins were semi-professional Irish step-dancers—and they had to perform.  Those of us with two left feet danced the waltz, polka, “Shoe the Donkey”, and so on.  We learned to bless ourselves in Gaelic, as well as the Our Father and Hail Mary—and thought we were Irish first, and American second!  “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”  has been sung at every gravesite here in the US—even to some of my generation buried within the past few years—especially if it wasn’t allowed in the church.

We grew up on the all the Rebel tunes!  So, in the fall of 2004, when we were on a train from Dublin to a small town in County Cork, we hummed along with a group of Irish politicians who’d been celebrating the installation of one of their own to a major government position.  My sister & I were ‘caught’ singing along softly—and the gentleman who was the Magistrate of Limerick demanded we join them.  We had to admit we grew up on Rebel songs which weren’t PC at the current time.  They got us to search our memories for songs and we sang the entire trip to Limerick City.  It was only after the officials left the train that we found out this WASN”T DONE!  The conductor allowed it only because of the high political ranking of his passengers!  

The family never asked why she changed from Bridget to Delia*--it was said that one of her employers suggested Bridget was too Irish!  However, I found out that Delia is a nickname for Bridget--and her sister-in-law, Bridget Grady, lived next door to her.

Delia was a charitable woman in spite of severe financial and personal hardships.  She hosted card parties, coffee klatches and sold chances to help her parish church.  Her home became a starting place for her nieces, Nora, Catherine, Mary as well as many others from ‘Home”.  She was extremely proud of her Irish heritage but became a naturalized so she could vote.  She was proud to be an American.  Women weren’t able to become naturalized until after the 19th amendment in 1920 gave women the right to vote.

After World War I, the neighborhood began to change from mostly Irish to Italian.  She became friends with her new neighbors in spite of the language barrier.  She spoke with an Irish lilt and her Italian neighbors spoke little or no English.  She couldn’t pronounce their last names, so I knew them as Lena, the butcher’s daughter; Tony the fruit stand man; Rosie the shoemaker’s daughter, and so on.  When she died, her neighbors of many years cried and sent large floral arrangements with a broken heart; a stopped clock and many other signs of their affection for the “Irish Lady”.

When the kids weren't around, she loved to watch WRESTLING on TV! Gorgeous George was one of her favorites!  I’m told she had a hearty laugh that was seldom heard after her stroke.

She had a stroke in 1951 when her daughter Nora, who lived next door, died suddenly.  After that she was mostly bedridden with rare trips downstairs to her old platform rocker.  I remember her beautiful blue eyes that always seemed sad.  Like many grandparents of limited means, she delighted in slipping a nickel or quarter or whatever she could to each grandchild as she was kissed.  Her patience was amazing.  When a reaction to medication caused an itchy rash over her entire body, she would ask us to rub for her.  Her hands were covered so she couldn’t scratch the rash and infect it.

She prayed through her bed-ridden years; her faith was such that she never asked WHY?; she asked God and all her family above to take her ‘home’.  She was an inspiration to her children, to their spouses and to her grandchildren.  She showed by example how to live in spite of loss and hardships.  She instilled a sense of pride of country; pride in our Irish heritage; in our Catholic faith, in being honest, hard-working, and caring--and most of all, be proud of our family.   

I can still ‘see’ her in her bed--this old woman with skin red and itchy from a reaction to medication and sock mittens on her hands to keep fom scratching and causing infections; her thin, long white hair plaited into a ‘wrath’ around her head; her beautiful blue eyes; I can hear her tell me to love my parents, that they were ‘good people’, high praise back then.  I remember her blessing me when I was little, telling my Dad to take care of me and to pray I would be spared to grow up.  She thought I resembled her long-dead son, Thomas.

She continues to be an inspiration to her decendants; no matter what sorrow, what physical or financial hardship is visited upon us, we look to her example for the courage & strength to keep on. She was an amazing woman who loved her family, her faith and her Irish heritage above all.  She showed us how to have fun inspite of tough days.

Additional Information
Date of Birth 16th Nov 1874  
Date of Death 1st Sep 1955  

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