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Loretta A. Murphy

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Local Author Pens Novel Dealing with Irish Heritage and Molly Maguires
Sunday, April 15, 2007  10:37:00 AM

by Loretta A. Murphy

Newspaper Article by John Usalis on "The Pipes Are Calling", The News Item

Local author pens novel dealing with Irish heritage and Molly Maguires


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ASHLAND — Anyone who reads the novel, “The Pipes are Calling,” will find themselves caught up in a romantic historical fantasy that will take them to Ireland and Schuylkill County, from the 1870s to the present day, with the Molly Maguires saga as a backdrop.

For the author, Loretta A. Murphy-Birster of Ashland, the novel is also an expression of her own genealogical research and her interest in the infamous O’Donnell House murders.

“I have always been a writer and I knew there was a book inside,” said Murphy. “I began to do some genealogical research because I was planning to visit Ireland and didn’t want to go until I had more of a link.”

Murphy has three scheduled book signings:

• Saturday, Feb. 17, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Mahanoy City Public Library.

• Saturday, Feb. 24, from noon to 3 p.m. at Ashland Public Library.

• Saturday, March 3, from noon to 4 p.m. at WaldenBooks in the Fairlane Village mall.

If you have a copy of the book, bring it along and the author will sign it. If not, she will have copies with her that will be available for sale. The book is also available online at WaldenBooks, Amazon, Borders and at the publisher’s Web site at

In addition to her interest in her Irish heritage and local history, Murphy also enjoys singing, songwriting, performing and playing the tin whistle. She is a regular performer with the Catholic Churches of Ashland Drama Group, which regularly presents live programs at Christmas and Easter.

Murphy became interested in the Carroll family as part of her family line and any familial connection to what happened at 3 a.m. Dec. 10, 1875, in the village of Boston Run that led two murders in the O’Donnell House (Ellen McAllister and Charles O’Donnell) called the “Wiggans Patch Massacre.” Others living in the home were assaulted but survived.

The house, which was located in Mahanoy Township along state Route 4030 between Gilberton and Mahanoy City, was demolished Nov. 17, 2006, due to its dilapidated condition.

“I had been interested in the O’Donnell House long before I wrote my novel,” said Murphy. “Since high school, my interest in the Molly Maguires was fueled by some old family stories that led me to believe one branch of our family, the Carrolls from Port Carbon and New Philadelphia, had Molly connections.”

The romance novel tells the story of Maggie Carroll, a mother of two who longs to visit Ireland, and Galen Devlin, an Irishman working the tourism trade in post-9/11 New York City. And then there’s the modern-day leprechaun called Thomas Terrance O’Toole. Best read the book to find out his part in this intriguing story.

Murphy was born in Baltimore and came to Schuylkill County when she was 2 years old. As she grew up and became more interested in her family history, which included some possible connections to the Mollies, Murphy has tried to make a more concrete connection.

“My fascination was strengthened when I began to do the genealogical research that led me to James Carroll,” she explained. “James was hung for his alleged connection to the Benjamin Yost murders in Tamaqua. James Carroll was married to Annie O’Donnell, the niece of “Nanny” or Widow O’Donnell, the matriarch of the O’Donnells of Wiggans Patch and owner of the O’Donnell homestead. Jack Kehoe was married to Mary Anne O’Donnell Kehoe, the widow’s other daughter and sibling to Ellen McAllister and Charlie O’Donnell, who were murdered in the December 10th massacre.”

One of Murphy’s ancestors was also a Carroll, and she believes there may be a family tie.

“My great grandfather, Charles Carroll, owned a tavern in the little patch of Cumbola between Port Carbon and New Philadelphia around this same time period Although I still have not connected James and Charles officially, I believe I will eventually,” Murphy said.

The title of the book comes from a popular Irish folk song.

“I always loved the song ‘Danny Boy,’ so I thought it would be fun to take the song and build a story around it,” said Murphy. “I did a lot of research on it and it seems that no one is quite sure what that song is about, but there are enough story lines that you could really take it anywhere. So I took my family research and started to use that story to build a fictional novel.”

Murphy began to pen the novel in 2001, with the interest in the O’Donnell House peaking when she began to work in Mahanoy City and drove passed the vacant home on her commute to and from Ashland.

“I started working at the Mahanoy Area School District as a kindergarten and elementary school nurse,” she said. “My daily drive took me right by the O’Donnell house, although I didn’t know it was the house at the time. It looked familiar, but it took a bit until I put together the connection.”

Her interest sparked a personal campaign to save the house, including a petition drive. The structure may be gone, but Murphy hopes that an historic marker will eventually be placed to indicate an important site in the history of the Molly Maguires.

Murphy also wrote a poem about the house called “The Ballad of the O’Donnell House.” (See sidebar to this story.)

“A few chapters into my book the song about the O’Donnells crept into the pages,” she said. “Before long, my present day heroine and hero were joined as characters by their Irish descendants and the book began evolving into two connecting stories — one set in the post-9/11 present and the other in 1875.”

Her research into the Mollies and the house was helped by a retired Shenandoah Evening Herald journalist and editor and history buff.

“In 2001, I started doing the minstrel in Mahanoy City and I met Bill O’Brien,” said Murphy. “I started working with Bill and he would bring me information about the Mollies. He always called the house the ‘Molly House.’”

After she learned more about the house, Murphy decided to incorporate the incident into her novel.

“The last picture I took of the house, eerily enough, with the bulge in the front as it buckled, made the home look like it was with child. Ironically, like poor Ellen when she was murdered,” she said. “I never expected it to be demolished.”

“The story is pro-Hibernian. It tells in a fictional account what many of us who support pardons — as John “Black Jack” Kehoe received due to the hard work of Joe Wayne and the local men of the Ancient Order of Hibernians — for all those who were hung as Mollies. We believe that these brave men were innocent. Many were railroaded to the gallows. They were guilty of no crime other than to anger the coal barons and their allies through their efforts to unionize and create better working conditions for themselves and their families.”

Murphy said that while it is considered a romance novel, she said that the historical, humorous and adventurous aspects of the book will keep all readers anticipating what will happen on the next page.

“This story will make people laugh and cry,” she said. “There is plenty adventure, murder, mystery, and mayhem to go around, along with a trans-Atlantic leprechaun by the name of Thomas Terrance O’Toole, who somehow ties it all together.”

©The News Item 2007

The Pipes Are Calling

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House Inspires Author to Pen Book - 4/15/2007 10:30:00 AM

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