Claire Josephine Foley
10/11/1924 - 1/18/2020
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Claire Foley, the heart and soul of the Irish community in Portland, who died on January 18, 2020, in Walnut Creek, California after a short illness. Prior to her death, she had spent Christmas in Ireland, her first in over 70 years, reconnecting with family and attending her sister Eileen’s “Month’s Mind,” a service honoring her older sister, Eileen Burke, who passed away in November, 2019. As Claire visited the people, sights, and sounds of her childhood, she was hailed again and again as a “mighty wee woman.” She was indeed small in stature but determined to overcome any adversity that entered her life.
Claire arrived in America from Kilchreest, Loughrea, County Galway in 1947, nearly three-quarters of a century ago. The journey was hard and she questioned her decision to leave Ireland. As the SS Washington steamed into New York harbor, she committed herself, then and there, to fight off homesickness by promoting Irish culture wherever she went. And promote it she did. She actively engaged in her new Irish community, taking lessons in Irish from the Irish Language Society of Boston as well as classes with Maire Concannon through the Irish American Club of Maine. She hosted a group in her home for those who wanted to learn and she looked for people to engage in conversation. Claire loved set dancing and ceilis, and above all, traditional Irish music. She counted among her friends many musicians, and hosted lively music sessions in her home. She particularly loved the fiddle and the accordion. She would sit front row and center at every performance or dance, or as close as possible to the fiddle player. If an accordion appeared, she would smile and say, “Now, it’s official!”
In her quiet but steadfast way, Claire moved mountains. She was not a leader who looked for the spotlight but one who led by example. Among her proudest achievements was her role in founding the Maine Irish Children's Program, bringing together Catholic and Protestant children from the conflict in Northern Ireland to experience summers in Maine. It was a place of peace, where they could have fun and be children, get to know one another and discover that they were far more alike than different. It was Claire’s hope that they returned to Northern Ireland instilled with a new sense of understanding, acceptance and unity to pass on to others. The Irish American Club, The Center for Cultural Exchange, and The Maine Irish Heritage Center were also focal points in her life and she supported them as they grew.
Claire came from a large Irish family, the Wards of Ballacurra. She was the 8th of 11 children born to Bridget, a homemaker and John Ward, a farmer. She emigrated to England at a young age, then to America, where she met and married a Northern Irishman, Jim McAleese, in Brooklyn, NY. In 1954, they had a daughter, Dorothy. When Jim suddenly became ill and died in September of 1955, Claire moved to Maine to be close to her sisters and their families. Five months after Jim’s passing, in February of 1956, she had their second child, Patricia, in Portland. Claire’s family was her center and support as she raised her two daughters. While working at the Mercy Hospital as an EKG Technician and Medical Records Clerk she befriended many of the Sisters of Mercy, who also provided care and support.
Eight years after Jim’s death, Claire met and married Tom Foley, a native of Portland who worked for the Maine Central Railroad. She took a job as a Switchboard Operator there, working opposite shifts but in the same building as Tom. Claire’s third child, Sean Foley, was born in 1963 and a new chapter in life began. She became a communicant of St. Patrick’s Church where she served as a Eucharist Minister, member of the Women’s Fellowship Group, and donated her trademark Irish Knit sweaters to fundraisers and charity. She also became a loyal fan of the Boston Red Sox.
In addition to her parents, Claire is predeceased by her siblings, Mary, Chris, Prin, Patrick, Jack, Josephine, Eileen, Jim, and Peggy. She is survived by her sister Bridie of Portland, as well as daughter Dottie and her husband Dickran Keosaian, long-time residents of Belmont, MA, daughter Pat McAleese of Pittsburg, CA, with whom Claire spent winters, and son Sean Foley and his partner Gary Card of Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC. She had two favorite grandchildren, Aram and his wife Oli, and Julia and her husband Dave, together with their children, Charlie and Sam, her much loved great-grandchildren. Claire is also survived by her goddaughter, Maureen, many nieces and nephews, (all of whom were her favorites), living in the US, Ireland and England, as well as dearly loved friends in Maine, California, and beyond.
When her favorite musicians gather to play and they strike up Haste to the Wedding, we’ll all rise and think of the twinkle in her eye when she heard this tune, a favorite of her father’s and hers as well. We’ll take comfort in knowing that she did keep the promise she made near the Statue of Liberty all those years ago. Good on you, Claire Foley. Now the lights are out in Loughrea.
Le cunamh De (with God’s help), Slan abhaile (Safe home).
Visiting hours will be held 4-6pm Friday, February 7th, 2020 at A.T. Hutchins Funeral and Cremation Services, 660 Brighton Avenue, Portland. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at St. Pius X Church, 492 Ocean Avenue, Portland on Saturday, February 8th at 10am. Burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery in South Portland. A celebration of Claire’s life will take place at the Maine Irish Heritage Center from 12 to 3pm. In lieu of flowers, Claire’s family requests donations in her memory to The Maine Irish Heritage Center, PO Box 7588, Portland ME 04112, to continue their work promoting Irish culture and all things Irish.
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