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Quirk Family History

Author: Martin J. Quirk III 

As a young child I learned that my name was Irish. I was taught to be proud of my Irish ancestry, I wore green every St. Patrick's Day, and I walked in the St. Patrick's Day Parade every year with my grandfather; Martin Joseph Quirk II. As I investigated my cultural heritage for this project I began with the "Quirk" side of my past because it is my name. I have read through many old notes that my paternal grandmother had written, I have called family members that I haven't seen in some time, and I have even searched in Internet for sources. 

The origin of the name Quirk or originally O'Quirke, is Gaelic for O'Cuire meaning "heart." The name is traditionally thought of as being Manx, that is from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Originally the name is of Scandinavian origin. The Isle of Man was a major Viking center from where they based their plundering and settling activities in Ireland, Wales, and England. A name in Danish or Norwegian that begins Qu is similar to one starting with Mc or Mac in Scottish or O' in Irish: it means 'son of'. The irk part relates to the Norse word Kirk (in Gaelic "Cuirc") meaning Church. Therefore it is possible that my ancestors were in some way related with the church. This could mean that they were the sons of people who worked at the local church or maybe were orphans who were looked after by the church. 

The connection to the Church was intriguing to me because my grandfather and his brother were both orphans at St. Thomas Orphanage in Louisville when they were very young. As I have learned, my great-grandfather Marin Quirk I, migrated to America with his wife and sisters around 1900. My great-grandfather was the second born of twin boys. He migrated to America because his twin brother inherited the family farm in Ireland simply because he was the oldest male. I have not found the actual date of migration, but I know it was sometime around 1900. However, I did learn that at the time of migration the name Quirke (as it was in Ireland) was changed to Quirk so that people would not read it as "quirky".

The Quirk farm in Ireland is still owned by members of my family. They are still lower working class cow and sheep farmers as they have been for over 140 years on that land. The farm house itself is very primitive, without central air or heat, and apparently they burn dried cow manure for heat in the winter. Even in what I would call strange living conditions, I think that maybe my great-grandfather felt marginalized by his family, and that's why he came to America. He was a Quirk and grew up on that land, however it was no longer his home so he withdrew from that dominate group. Therefore, he left Ireland entirely and made a new start where he could attempt to break out of the lower class status, and assimilate into a new society to raise a family. 

My great-grandfather Martin Quirk I settled in Louisville, KY with his wife and two sisters, and ran a small grocery store at 8th and Breckinridge. The family lived in the apartment above the store. Unfortunately, around 1911, when my grandfather was about one year old, my great-grandmother died of typhoid. After a year or so, my great-grandfather was so distraught that he drank himself to death. At this point, my two year old grandfather, and his four year old brother entered St. Thomas Orphanage.

As I think about my family and all the hardships they must have faced by coming to a new country, trying to blend into a new culture, and then trying to make it after having lost a loved one like a wife or mother, it really makes me feel for those immigrants that are moving to America now. I don't believe that in today's world, we "Americans" realize that our families are the same as many of the Bosnian, Mexican, Cuban, and Russian families that are living here now. Even though we stem from various cultures, each of us have to assimilate into society and make money for our families or else we won't survive.

As for my family, we are still surviving. My grandfather and his brother were adopted by their Aunt Nora after 12 years in the orphanage. She had recently gotten married and they had the means to help two young men get their start in life. My grandfather, Martin II, finished high school at St. Helen's in Louisville and started working for L&N Railroad. Over the next 25 years, he went from sweeping floors at L&N to becoming head ticket agent, where he would travel to big cities to sell passage on the train to people at big conventions. During this time he also managed to graduate from the old Jefferson School of Law in Louisville, however he never became a lawyer.

Eventually my grandfather went on to be vice-president of Baker-Bohnert, an industrial rubber company that became incorporated in the 1960's. When my grandfather had retired, he had gone from being an orphaned son of a poor, working class family to making his own living in the upper middle class. I think that by this time my family had been accepted into the mainstream society. Before this time my great-grandparents had tragically died and the Quirk name was struggling. My great-grandfather's sisters had all gotten married and started families, but it wasn't until my grandfather and his brother grew up and started working that they realized their father's dream of making it on his own and having his family accepted into society.

As I think back on the values that my grandparents and parents have taught me, the reflect the middle class value of meritocracy in that everyone has a chance, and if I work hard enough, then the hard work will pay off and I will succeed. My grandparents also taught me the importance of saving money. They started a college fund for me when I was born, and I still have a little of that left. I believe that they wanted me to do well in school so that I could get through it, and then be able to start my own life, even after they were gone. This is an example of delayed gratification in that working hard all through school will be worthwhile in the future. Lastly, but most importantly, they stressed the need for religion and going to church. The Quirk family has a long history of being Irish Catholic and my family is still very religious today. As I now begin my own family, I hope to pass on these values to my children, and raise them in the same tradition and history that has sculpted my life.

I am very proud of these roots. I am glad that I have started this study into my family because it has been something that I've wanted to do for a long time. Now that I have started working this very large puzzle, I am anxious to put all the pieces together. I have written to John Quirk in London, England because I have learned that he has done some studying on our family. He also has the address of the Quirk farm in Ireland and I hope to write to them to learn more about what it's like there. I have included a "Quirk Family Tree" that I have started drawing. The tree is no where near complete, but I am looking forward to embellishing it as well as examining the other branches of my family. There is so much information out there and what I have realized is that I am part of that history.
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