Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

March 17, 2013

Memories of living on Beaver Island


Born in 1878, Andy was the son of Mary Ellen (Roddy) and Bernard “Barney” Gallagher, who came from Rutland Island off the coast of County Donegal. Mary Ellen, a midwife, brought many of the island’s babies into the world. She also was a designated “wailer” at island wakes.

Andy was a commercial fisherman known for his singing during an era before radio when singing, fiddling and storytelling were major forms of island entertainment.

U.S. folklore historian Alan Lomax reportedly recorded islanders in Andy’s net shed in 1938 as part of a national Library of Congress effort in the 1930s to capture and preserve early American folk songs, stories and music.

Like many of Beaver Island’s Irish settlers, Lizzie’s parents came from Arranmore Island, also off the coast of Donegal. She died in 1975 at age 93.

The couple had five children, including Smith’s mother, Marguerite, born in 1913. She was the first member of the family to leave the island to attend college. She later married Gregg Smith Sr. in 1939. After World War II, they eventually became the owners of the Boyne City Citizen.

Smith said the family’s Beaver Island history and his Irish heritage mean a lot to him.

In the 1980s, he and wife Dee took their then grade-school daughters Markelle and Joelle to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to hear the Lomax recording of Andy Mary Ellen Gallagher singing.

“It was amazing and I want to do it again,” he said. “The island was full of characters, and I’ve not heard the stories I grew up hearing in a long time.”

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