“Walk in the footsteps of Margaret of New Orleans” is your invitation from the commemoration committee for beloved Margaret Haughey of Carrigallen and New Orleans.

The Story of Margaret of New Orleans

Mother Margaret was a remarkable woman, who was considered by countless thousands of all creeds to have been a living saint. A woman of unsurpassed charity, she was a champion of the underprivileged and the destitute. She had been a washerwoman and a peddler, yet when she died she received a state funeral.
Margaret Gaffney was born in Tully South, Carrigallen in 1813, the fifth child of William and Margaret Gaffney nee O’Rourke (Margaret was descended from the O’Rourkes of Breiffne). History states that William was a small farmer and possibly a tailor but it was difficult times in Ireland in the 1800’s and they decided to emigrate to the USA in 1818 when Margaret was five, but could only manage to bring the three youngest children with them: Kevin, baby Kathleen and Margaret. The three eldest children remained with their uncle, Matthew O’Rourke. Sailing ships might take up to six months to reach America in those days because of storms, but they eventually reached Baltimore after a very harrowing voyage across the wild Atlantic Ocean. They were there only a short time when sadly, baby Kathleen died. But the family had yet to endure more tragedy.
William and Margaret had settled only a few years when both died within days of each other in 1822 with Yellow Fever and are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Baltimore. Margaret was homeless now, at the age of nine and her brother Kevin disappeared and was never heard of again. However, a Welsh lady, Mrs Richards whom they met on the voyage took Margaret into her care, where she may have worked as a servant but received no formal education. Margaret later worked in domestic service and married Charles Haughery in 1835 in Baltimore Cathedral. He was in poor health and was advised to take a sea journey after they moved to New Orleans, so Charles returned to Ireland, his native country and became ill once again and died. A daughter had been born to Margaret and Charles which they called Frances, before he left, and Frances died at some months of age after Charles’ departure for Ireland. Margaret was now all alone for the second time in her life and she was still only 23.
At that time in New Orleans, the Sisters of Charity under the guidance of Sr. Frances Regis, managed the Poydras Orphan Asylum. Margaret was deeply moved by the plight of the orphan children and she offered her assistance to the sisters. It was here that she found her true calling, showing great energy and business acumen. She was made manager of the institution after some time.
Margaret was about to take up another new challenge unknowingly as the epidemic of Yellow Fever in 1853 had rendered thousands of children homeless and orphaned. She visited the homes of the sick – Protestants, Catholics and Jews, Negroes and Whites alike. Such were the numbers of orphans she encountered that Margaret started a new project for homeless babies and children in the form of a “Baby House” – an orphanage. It took 16 years to clear the debt off it, mainly paid for by herself. Later came a bakery known as Margaret’s Bakery. This was a great success making her well off. The bread supplied the home market and some produce was exported. She handed out bread to the poor free.
Other homes opened in the 1850’s and 1860’s and all of the asylums and homes for the poor were supplied with bread from the bakery virtually free and still her bakery flourished as did her charitable work.
At the age of 69, Margaret contracted an incurable disease. Pope Pius IX sent his blessing and a crucifix to her. She lingered many months cared for by her friends the Sisters of Charity and she died on the 9th February 1882. The New Orleans newspapers were edged in black to mark her passing. Margaret was given a state funeral and her body was interred beside her good friend Sr. Regis in St. Louis Cemetery.
A monument in the form of a statue produced from Carrara marble was erected in her memory at Margaret’s Place, New Orleans and was unveiled in 1884 by orphans from the city. It was the first monument to be erected in the US in honour of a woman. The statue bears just one word- “MARGARET”. Margaret left her considerable fortune to charities and signed her will with an “X”, a poignant reminder of her humble beginnings.
You can visit Margaret’s Birthplace in Tully, Carrigallen on Saturdays and Sundays during the months of July and August from 2.00pm to 5.00pm and other times by appointment.
There is also a Facebook page dedicated to Margaret.