4 November 2009
1 hour, 58 minutes, 45 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Charles Fanning was born in 1942 in Norwood, Massachusetts to Frances Patricia and Charles Fanning. His ancestors hailed from Galway and Cork. He attended public schools in Norwood before attending Harvard University where he received a BA in English literature in 1964. Fanning then attended the University of California at Berkley for a semester. He graduated from Harvard with an MAT in 1966, University of Pennsylvania in 1968 with a Masters Degree and in 1972 with a PhD. Before finishing school, Fanning began teaching at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts where he taught for 20 years. He formed an Irish Studies program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale which remains today. Fanning has published extensively on Irish America and Irish American literature. He is now retired, and at the time of the interview, working on a novel and finishing his memoir.
Excerpt No. 1
Finley Peter DunneDisc 2, Track 2, 26:24–30:00
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
CF: But yea, John [Kelleher] and then Tom Brown talked about Mr. Dooley and what a brilliant guy this was. They also liked, the thing about him was that he also hated to write. Legendary Mr. Do – Finley Peter Dunne he hated…
LA: And he was under more pressure
CF: He was under pressure that’s the only way he got anything done. He’d be there, there’s stories that the copy boy would be standing at his elbow and he finished the thing off. And Tony Garvin showed me one of the manuscripts he had.
LA: Hand written?
CF: Yea, maybe one thing crossed out. Hand, maybe one or two words crossed out in three page tablet thing.
LA: And they were about a thousand words?
CF: That’s what they were, about a thousand, yea. And it is literature, it’s beautiful stuff, it’s just amazing stuff. So yea and then Tom, I was interested in Mr. Dooley and Tom said you can follow this and this is why. Because I think there are all these pieces. He collected pieces and his letters show that, which I got to read later, you know I looked at all these old columns and not many of them could be read by a taxpayer. They were too radical, very anti-establishment very anti-… um… the, um… you know they’re stories about working people who get victimized by the system essentially, you know and um, and also by their fellow Irish Americans because the great, the great story of assimilation and you leave certain things behind. And the tension between assimilation and community, those pieces just have that. And they’re beautiful. But when he put the collections together he did not put in some of that stuff. He thought it was too radical, it was too parochial. Why would anybody be interested in a story about this kid this guy who works at a mill or this guy who gets hanged for um… for murder down in Bridgeport in Chicago so he excised some of the pieces.
LA: Like the Petey Scanlon piece?
CF: Yea, yea exactly yea or the mother Clancy, the Galway woman who speaks Irish to her kid and the people in the neighborhood think she’s a witch ’cause they don’t understand what she’s saying. And how she’s too proud to come and ask for help to the society for the relief of the deserved and the poor and finally they get so hungry that she does go down and she comes up in front of Darvey, the real estate man who’s head of the committee and she says what she has to say. And he’s all plumped up and he says “Ah my good woman, we want to help you but we have to investigate your case. And we’ll get back to you.” And she goes home and she never comes back in again and they find out that she’s starved to death. And a piece like that he didn’t publish.
Excerpt No. 2
“Irish-Yankee” IntermarriagesDisc 1, Track 3, 23:17–29:51
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
LA: And the intermarriage in your family, was there tension there between the bride and the groom and their families?
CF: This had happened in the previous generation. But yes indeed there was –
: There must’ve been a religious issue too.
: Oh yea, oh yea for sure, yea. This gets into the story of my great-grandfather who bailed. I could do that. Should I do that?
TD: Yea, sure.
CF: Phillip Fanning was the immigrant, Irish immigrant married to another Irish immigrant. His firstborn was John Fanning. He was my great-grandfather. He married a Yankee, Sara Rebecca Radcliffe. She was descendant of Radcliffes and Drapers going back to, you know, the Mayflower and all that. But they weren’t, they hadn’t made a lot of dough. They were significant figures in the next town which is Dedham which is an old line Yankee town founded in 1636. Norwood had previously been a part of that but it splintered off in 1872. So he married Sara Radcliffe. It definitely was not a good thing for either family. It was just… really splintered things. They had one son, my grandfather, one child: Charles Winslow Fanning was his name. Winslow was another name going back on the Yankee side. Sara died of tuberculosis at the age of 38 and um…
LA: Which is an Irish…?
CF: Oh the Irish disease. Can I have some of this? [pours tea] I think that is part of the bitterness, I really do that she died of the Irish disease. Anyway it was like 1884 or so that she died. My grandfather was seven or eight years old. Shortly after the death of Sara, my great-grandfather abandoned his son and went west and we did not hear from him again. And how I found him is another story but my grandfather then was raised by his grandmother, Sara’s mother who was her name was Draper. Her family had been… they were DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] types in that there was a documented story about one of them who at the time of Revolutionary War, they had a kind of an inn in Dedham on the Post Road. Her son was colonel in the Revolutionary War, she melted down the pewter spoons for bullets, yea. That’s what you hear but apparently its true.
LA: It’s believable.
CF: At least it’s written down, it’s written down. And she is the patron saint of the Dedham chapter of the DAR, it was the Mary Draper chapter so here she is and um, here’s my grandfather being raised as a Congregationalist by his grandmother so he’s in touch with all that. He’s in touch with the Yankee side going all the way back. (pause) Where were we going with this?
LA: Just the lineage coming forward and how it’s…
CF: Oh that’s right and the friction. There was certainly a Catholic-Protestant, Irish-Yankee thing going on there and I think that’s partly what drove my great grandfather away.
LA: And so then do the Fannings remain Congregationalists or when they start to marry again with the Irish they go back…?
CF: They, they, well my great-grandfather Charles Winslow Fanning married (pause) another Yankee woman, Mary Shed. But she was half Irish so it’s all, there is the split but it’s always within the families which is kind of interesting. Mary Shed and they had, but she was, she was being raised as a… she was a Catholic I think because her mother had been an Irish Catholic, also a two-boater.(1)
LA: New Brunswick?
CF: New Brunswick, yea, St. John’s… So my grandfather, more or less orphaned raised by his grandmother, marries Mary Shed, they have five kids. The kids are being raised Catholic, although it’s not what I would call a heavy-duty Catholicism and this carried over into my generation as well. We were not heavy duty Catholics in that… you know the story, the [John Patrick] Shanley type stories about growing up in the parochial school being hammered by the priests and nuns. We did not have that. We did not go to the parochial schools. The election was that we would go to the public schools it was maybe party economic cause there was a tuition but it was more, my family were, they were really outsiders and they liked it that way.
- Tara Dougherty (TD)
- Linda Dowling Almeida (LA)
- Courtesy of Charles Fanning
- A two-boater is slang Fanning used in the course of the interview to describe immigrants who landed first in Canada, stayed there for a time and then boarded a second boat to migrate into the United States, in particular, Boston, Massachusetts.