William Clancy

Transcript of William Clancy
Interviewee: William Clancy
Interviewer: Sarah Altinbasak
With commentary by: Ara Mayian
Transcriber: Sarah Altinbasak
Date: May 23, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Total Time: 33:25 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

SA: Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in Ireland?

WC: Oh god it was the greatest place in the world. We lived in the outside of the town of Westport. The town itself was designed by a French man, I don’t even (unintelligible) something, and right down the town we had a river that we called the Mall. And it had beautiful bridges on it, and fish. We used to fish there as kids and play around there. .Every day we went to school, you know, we’d pass the river and… School wasn’t one of my favorite things back in those years. I went, we started out you go to the Christian brothers, and you start out with the Convent of Mercy, the sisters, and some of them didn’t show a lot of mercy. But I took a *** as long as I could till I was ready to go to the Christian brothers. And then probably six years old right, that’s after three and a half years in the convent. And I didn’t care for the Christian brothers either. They were kind of brutal. They carried leathers in their pockets that were maybe about a foot and a half long and about a half an inch thick.

SA: Uh huh.

WC: And then they beat the dickens out of ya’.

SA: Really?

WC: Uh huh, sometimes for no reason. Sometimes you got a large charge out of it whatever. But anyways, I decided I didn’t like…. So what I did on this particular occasion, I go to church in the morning, which is right on the other side of the river. And when I see that all the kids are gone, I hop into a confessional box inn there that belonged to the arch bishop which meant that nobody would be using it. Ok?

WC: I did that for two weeks and nobody missed me from school. But then one of the locals that comes into church, one of the old ladies there, she spot me one day. She turned me in, and I’m back at school again.

SA: Uh huh.

WC: And I could go into detail about school but that’s like ten to twelve years of brutality and a lot of cases. We had a couple of nice teachers, couple of nice brothers. But those who survived is the others that bothered you so much. As a matter of fact on my little finger there, this little white mark, that was from a letter, from a beating that I took, when I was in I think second grade maybe…

SA: Second grade?

WC: Yeah, but they did this, and you don’t tell your mother and father about it cuz you’d get another lickin’ from them.


WC: You know, when you’re in school you belong to them. When you’re home you belong to your parents. But anyways, about the good times. We lived it was atop the country. My grandmother was only a couple blocks away. My cousins lived there. I had cousins all around, and friends that we went to school with. And we’d go up the hills and be playing cowboys and Indians. Oh god we’d be climbing the trees and picking crabapples. I mean, and we’d light fires and we’d stew them. We even tried capturing some pigeons, and ***** for dinner you know…

SA: You would eat pigeons?

WC: Well yeah they’re swabs. You’d pay dearly for them here if you had them in a restaurant. But these were all the things we did, I mean we had a whole orchard of crabapple trees and some of those apples were so big and long, if you eat a lot of those at one time you’re getting sick. It happened to my brother I mean, doctor was called in, and he said, “Did he eat apples?” and we said, “Yes he did.” And he said, “That’s why he’s sick.” Anyways our…. We used to also hunt with dogs and we’d take our dogs and go out into the countryside and we could be gone for oh gosh six, eight hours and loved every minute of it. Sometimes you didn’t catch anything because, you didn’t care. You were out there for a good time anyways. So you know a lot of exercise and it was a lot of fun. And the countryside was beautiful. And we lived also off the Atlantic Ocean and one of the famous mountains in Ireland, probably the most famous mountain in Ireland. It was out there cuz I could see it out my bedroom window. It was like a volcano. And that was known as ProPatrick, that’s where Saint Patrick fasted for forty days and forty nights for the Irish. And one request he made of God is that he could judge the Irish on the final day. And God granted him that wish. And he said, “There’ll be no more fires or floods or whatever.” So that sounds good to me.


Oh my goodness! Let me see what else. There so many things. We used to burn peat, which we called turf for the fires. You had to go to the bog and dig the peat and stack it up and let it dry out. Then you’d make big stacks of it and you’d bring it home, set it alongside the house. That’s what you kept to burn a fire, that’s what kept you warm, that’s what used for cooking and also occasionally wood, you’d cut some lumber, plenty of lumber around where we lived. It was really one of the most beautiful places. I look out my bedroom window which is like on the second floor and I’d look on the big field with hills in it. You’d see the rabbits playing out there, and you’d see the horses playing out there. I could look and see *** in the distance, I could see ** which was the Atlantic Ocean out there, and ***, and it’s probably one of the nicest places on earth. And I’ve seen a lot. We’ve got some beautiful places here in America and I’ve seen a lot of those and they’re fantastic, but I think when you grow up and you experience all the beauty of a country, God this is really good ok? And thank goodness, let’s see, we used to…. The big thing was to go to a movie on a weekend, and you’d sit there and you might watch three or four, the same thing over and over again, and always the cowboys that we enjoyed n***, and Roy Rogers, and so many of those.

Ok, and it, we spent a lot of time with each other. We used to play games in the house, like in the winter. There was always something to do. We always made entertainment. We played football. We played hurling. Now, you probably don’t know what hurling is. Hurling is very much like I would say maybe like the hockey…

AM: It’s like field hockey…

WC: Field hockey, basically almost the same kind of club, got a little rounder base on it. We had a ball we used to call the “splitter.” You know when you take that up, and “WANG” you go there and look up. I had my nose broken twice with it. You know, it’s understanding the hurling, the football, and your school pals, and all the different functions that you had And everything that like I said, we had all at that time in our home. We had no electricity. I think when they finally brought electricity out, we were probably one of the first homes to have electricity, and I mean, you *** off the switch, you turn the light on and off, and it’s a miracle right.

We had water, we were very fortunate in our home, we had a bog tank that collected rain water, and that’s what we used for washing and the clothes, for baths, or whatever. But for drinking you had to go to the well. And the well was down by my grandmother’s. I’d say about a block away. You’d bring your pails. You’d bring the water back. We’d drink our water whenever we needed it. It seemed no qualms, anybody that was asked to go for water, they automatically did it. It wasn’t like our kids. And it was one of there was seven of us. I had five brothers and two sisters and the boys didn’t have a problem getting along too much. We used to fight a lot with our sisters. That seemed to be sort of the thing to do at the time, although I can’t remember a lot of it now. You know, I still hear from my sister.

Anyways to make a long story short, my father he worked for the Lipton Tea Company. They had stores in Ireland and England and he was a manager of the store in our town. He’s originally from the city of ***, county ***. And he’s a pretty sharp man for his age. He got a big promotion when he was a stock boy in Lipton in ***. And they transferred him to West ***, and he was eighteen, so big promotion. And of course he met my mother. She was living with my grandmother down the, we used to call it the *** gate. And the *** has so many stories, so many families there, aunts, uncles, cousins, and during the war lot of cousins that came from England, and they all piled into the ***. So we had lots of family. It was the greatest thing in the world. On a Sunday afternoon, we’d all congregate down at my grandmother’s house and it was great to see so many family sit around, taking walks, and I mean there was all kinds of space around there. But everybody would get together and it was my grandmother God rest her soul. She’d be up and be baking the Irish soda bread, fixing the **, the apples pies. Oh my goodness, there were so many things going on. There were so many memories. They will never be erased I think.

But anyways I go on to my schooling; you might call it here, Junior High and its coming probably in the ‘50s, early ‘50s. My father decided… let me back track a little bit. He left Lipton’s and opened a business of his own, a grocery business, with an uncle of mine. It didn’t work out as he had planned so he decided he was going to move. So he’s either moving to Australia or to America. So, he comes to America in 1951 I believe. And, he was in New York working for A and P. One Christmas he came down to Chicago to visit his brother in laws here and their wives and my aunt Sarah was one of them, and my uncle Harry, and uncle Mart. And they wouldn’t’ let him back to New York. They said, “Oh You’re gonna stay in Chicago!” He said, “Hey that sounds alright to me”. So he sent for his belongings in New York and set up shop in Chicago.

Then he’s working on getting the rest of the family out here, and that’s a big deal when you’re planning to…. Especially with so many kids, you have to go to the embassy, which is on the opposite side of Ireland. Dublin is on the east and we’re on the west. We have to go up there. We had to stay a night up there. You go to the embassy and the doctors examine you, and you’re asked all types of questions and you raise your hand and you swear an… I was a kid at that age. I was probably fifteen I think, and so its nervous because you don’t know. But thank the lord we all passed and we were given the visas to come to this country. And in 1954, my older brother and myself, my dad arranged for us to fly out here. So we came here. And the same year, I think it was in June or July, my mom brought the rest of the family by boat cuz she had a lot of luggage that she had to bring with her so… In those years, it was difficult to find an apartment with seven kids.


SA: Sure.

WC: So we wound up down on Mohawk, 2013 N. Mohawk, Saint Michael’s Parish. God, we loved it down there. But the whole thing was we had to get north – close to the aunts and uncles. I would say probably within a year or so, maybe a year and a half, we moved to the north side. In those years I met my wife… God it was that long ago, I guess it is. But anyways… but her family, they were great. They’re from the same part of the country ***, but maybe forty miles distance in that town of ***. And they were all great people. Oh god! You know I’ll tell you about my family and you know, there were so many of them, there were. It was constantly expanding. Then I meet my wife to be and this family is starting to spread out. We had so much family. It was the greatest thing in the world. And we have a lot of it today, even though today the last of my mother’s family…. Now she was one of eleven kids, and she died a year and half ago and she was 106 years old. She had a beautiful life. She took care of us, my dad the same thing. He was 96 when he died in 2002, January the 1st and we were very blessed to have parents like that. So getting back to my wife…

SA: How old were you when you got married?

WC: I was twenty one when I, the wife and I on Memorial Day, May the 30th of 1959 , we were married.

SA: In this country?

WC: In this country, yes. And we had something like 800 people at our wedding reception. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. And…

SA: In Chicago?

WC: In Chicago. It was down on Southport, at the Viking Temple, was the name of the place Iit had two floors. It was really great. And that’s…. We spent some time… our honeymoon – we went to Ireland for a few weeks. Her dad was with us and we really enjoyed it thoroughly. And even though I was only out of it for five years or whatever, it just…. Even at sixteen I felt that I was the adult already. But it’s amazing what you learn as you go along. So anyways we started to…. I suppose we can’t do anything unless we have a paycheck. So my dad was working for the Food for Less Company here, you’re familiar with the Food for Less Company?

SA: No.

WC: Food for Less?

SA: No, never heard of it.

AM: Kroger’s like. It’s like Dominick’s in the city.

SA: Like the supermarket?

AM: Yeah, it’s a supermarket.

WC: Kroger’s the largest food chain in the U.S., just not in Chicago anymore. So I started to work for Kroger. And when I was eighteen I was promoted to Assistant Manager in the store. And a couple of years later, let’s see how long, I worked for them for fifteen years. Then I wanted to start my own business which I did in 1966. I opened a convenient food mart down on 55th near Kedzie Avenue. And I was pretty successful with that, so successful a year later I opened another store in Mount Prospect, and another year after that I opened a store at 1130 S. Michigan. I was known as Clancy’s on the Avenue. I eventually sold the two convenient food marts I had, and stayed with the Clancy’s on Michigan Avenue and I was there for twenty six years.

The building I was in, it was a high rise. It had a commissary on the first floor. It was the first development of the South Side. Across from the building, Grant Park, and the IC [Illinois Central] station was next door. Of course you go there now all you see is the high rises across from Soldier Field. You go across to Michigan and Indiana, that where the former mayor lived down in that area. I saw the development of Printer’s Row, and all of the conversions of the buildings down there into condos. And I mean it was fantastic to see such development in a few years. And today, it’s still growing down there. If you get down to Roosevelt Road there, and you go across the bridge and there’s so many shopping centers and stores. It’s unbelievable. Like I said, I was there for twenty six years and none of my kids were really interested in the grocery business. I decided to sell the business which I did and I went to work for the Chicago Department of Health. I went to work for the food protection program. So I was still in the food business. And I was proud to say I think I had a lot to offer. I made a lot of changes. A lot of my ideas were used to make changes and to help the businesses and it was a good thing. They are still good today. This food certification program was one that I was sort of responsible for and I’ve always prided myself in working with so many great people. Harold Washington College, the Illinois Restaurant Association. In Harold Washington College we had, oh my goodness, it was so many wonderful people there that we worked with to make a lot of changes that we did. So, I spent thirteen years with the city and I love this city. I went into retirement. And that was in 2004. So I’ve been retired since my wife was a probably my greatest supporter…

WC: You know you need a woman. Every man, every successful man has a woman pushing. Right?


SA: Sure

WC: And helping. She was fantastic. At this I would have to say, when we got married, I pulled her out of Loyola University. She had a year – two years in there – already right, to get married. But she went back to night school and started working on you know…. She whatever it was that she needed. She made sure that whatever she took she’d get credt for and she did that for I dunno how many years till she got her Bachelor’s. And she continued and she worked with me at the store. And she took care of the kids growing up, and her mom was fantastic at that time with helping the kids. I had five boys and two girls, no four and two.

AM: If you miscount in this city its ok.

WC: That’s true. Well anyways…What was I saying?

SA: You were saying she’s wonderful.

WC: To give you an idea, while she was doing this she starts teaching. That woman! She first started down on 44th and King Drive at a school down there. Then she went to *** school, but she’s doing all this and going to night school and everything else. She got her Master’s degree. She got her doctorate degree and she’s a rare person. So she continued working when I was in retirement, and a few years later she decided to join me. Then she went back working part time and she did that for a few years. And now we’re sort of…. We’re so busy with grandkids and baseball games and basketball. It fills our life and even though we’ve had some setbacks: me with my smoking and my lungs and my emphysema and I just had an aneurism removed from my leg…Hey, I’m in great shape, I can still get around. I’m doing good. I’m 76 years old. We have so many friends here and family. How long have I known you? (Looking at Ara) Probably fifty years…

AM: Probably fifty, sixty years…

WC: And I deal with our church. It’s the nicest thing in the world. You know, my wife was born in this neighborhood and raised in this neighborhood and married in this neighborhood. It was really great…

SA: How long have you been in Edgewater?

WC: Since 1957.

SA: So when you came you came and moved straight to like Edgewater…

WC: Michael’s down in like.

SA: Right.

WC: That’s where we were first. Then we moved to Montrose and Hermitage and we were there for a few years. And that’s when I was trying to tell ya, I met my wife. Her mom said, “You know you need to have a home.” So she worked in getting us the down payment on a home. It was the greatest thing in the world. Lovely people. And here I am today and I’m thankful for what I have, what this country has given to me. I saw what it took to get in here, and that’s what it takes. It’s very difficult when we read the papers and we look at the politics and but that’s another story that I don’t want to get into, and I think that’s really my story.

SA: I just have one more question.

WC: Sure.

SA: What do you consider your cultural identity to be?

WC: Oh I would say I’m definitely Irish, but I’m Irish American. Ok? And I’d die for this country. I had a brother who was a marine who died for this country back in 1965 in Vietnam. Other brothers that served in the…. I didn’t serve in the service but I said, “We would all die for this country without a doubt.”

SA: Ok.

WC: Ok?

SA: Ok.

AM: Does this mean I have to call your wife doctor now?

WC: Oh you didn’t know that huh?

AM: No.

SA: I’m trying to think if there was another question. Do you have any Irish traditions you still follow here?

WC: Well, there were certain…. Ok, we’re members of the Irish American Heritage Center. I was never much of a dancer but I enjoyed a lot of the shows that they put on and especially on St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, I love to see the kids dance. Kids are the greatest thing. You look at the costumes they are wearing, and you see their little feet moving and making the noise and it’s really beautiful. I love still some of the food. My wife had a cousin and his wife that just visited last week. They were on their way to Canada to visit her twin sister and they brought us some of the Irish bacon, the Irish sausages, and the black pudding. Now, I don’t know if you know what that is…

SA: I have no idea what that blood pudding is…

WC: Well it’s made from blood, ok? When they kill usually the sheep or whatever, they add ingredients to it and they boil it. And they slice that, put it on the pan with the bacon and the sausage and the eggs and the sliced potatoes, Oh!!! What a feast!!!

SA: I would have to try that sometime.

WC: Well some of the… a lot of the places that the bars that sell food or whatever, you go there. You get the Irish breakfast any time of day just about. So, that’s my life, but encompassing all my life is my God, so I guess that’s probably the most important thing.

SA: Well thank you for sharing.

WC: Not at all, it’s been a pleasure.