Ann McCarthy Cash, A Fairy Tale Life
by Kathleen Reynolds
The Ireland of Ann McCarthy Cash’s childhood wasn’t a current visitor’s version of green rolling hills and bucolic splendor. Rather it was of dampness, cold and hunger. For Ann grew up in the poorest part of Limerick, the same setting as Frank McCourt’s book, Angela’s Ashes. In fact, her mother knew Angela.
“We had no money,” says Ann. “My father left my mother with six children while he joined the British armed service for work. He died when I was six.”
The pittance her mother made as a scrubwoman barely kept her children fed. “We lived with my grandmother because she had a small pension,” Ann says.
To Ann, school was a reprieve. “I wanted to learn things. But there was no one to guide me.” Yet there was a spark in Ann McCarthy that went beyond her wild red hair.
“I was always in trouble,” she says, which included an unauthorized trip into town one day. “It was the beginning of my fairy tale,” says An
For at Woolworth’s, Ann met a well-dressed tourist who took a liking to her. The feeling was mutual. Unbeknownst to Ann, the woman was the acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Jessamyn West, author of The Friendly Persuasion (shortened to Friendly Persuasion for the film). Jessamyn’s husband was Harry Maxwell (Dr. Mac) McPherson, who at the time was superintendent of the Napa Schools. He went on to found Napa Valley College and had an affinity for Ann because of her interest in learning.
At the end of their vacation, Jessamyn and Mac presented Ann’s mother with an unusual request. “She asked if I could come to America to live with them,” Ann says. “My mother didn’t want me to leave, but knew she knew it was a chance at a better life.” After much discussion, Ann’s mother agreed that she could go, if they took her sister Jean as well. Ann says she was frightened yet excited to leave Ireland. “In fairy tales, there’s also a dark side,” says Ann.
Ann was raised in the Catholic faith and, in 1956, the Church held great influence over the Republic of Ireland citizenry. Their concern was a Catholic child going to live with West and McPherson, who were Quakers. After many months of wrangling to obtain visas, West turned to her second cousin, Richard Nixon, then Vice President of the United States, to intercede with the American Ambassador William Taft in Dublin. Two days later, the girls had their visas.
Jean didn’t embrace America nor connect with Jessamyn. By 1957, homesick and not adapting, Jean returned to Ireland. Ann stayed and the family moved to Napa. She was happy in school and comfortable with Jessamyn and Dr. Mac, but nostalgic for her family and Ireland.
“St. Patrick’s Day here made me sad. In Ireland, we’d wear green ribbons in our hair. We’d visit graveyards and talk about those no longer with us. There were bonfires in the neighborhood square and we’d sing the old songs. It was always lovely.”
Ann returned to Ireland a few years later, but was met with no enthusiasm. “Jean had told them that I was the cause of her being sent home, which wasn’t the truth.” Ann was now a stranger in two lands. “I didn’t fit in here or there.” Her only option was to go to work to help support the family. She and Jean found factory jobs in Birmingham, England. A year later, Jessamyn and Mac visited.
“They wanted me to return to California and I wanted to go. By then I’d missed a year of school.” Her previous visa problems remained, but ultimately, she returned to the United States.
At Napa High she had numerous friends and at 17, met a tall, dark-haired boy named Alan Cash at a party. “There was something about him and as I stood there talking, I don’t know what came over me. I put my head on his chest.” She told Jessamyn that she was going to marry him.
They dated for two years. During that time, Alan attended Napa Valley College and was in the National Guard. Ann worked in San Francisco at the telephone company. They eloped to Carson City when she was 19. In those days, the groom needed to be 21. Alan’s mother had to send a telegram to authorize the marriage.
Like many newlyweds, they worked, scrimped and saved, but both attended colleges. “Alan got his master’s degree at Cal Berkeley and I graduated from San Francisco State,” she says. “Education was always important to us.”
Alan went on to teach for 16 years at Berkeley Unified School District, then sold real estate before settling into his current career as co-owner of Schrette Insurance. Ann’s varied career included being a member of the Board of Education, Director of the Napa Valley College Foundation, and as a partner of Cash Malmgren Communications, consultants for non-profits.
In his final years, Ann left work to care for Mac, who had formally adopted her in 1990. He lived to be 99. died in 1984. Ann’s sister Jean eventually returned to the United States, but neither have visited Ireland since their mother passed away.
To update Ann’s fairy tale, the couple have two “amazing” grown daughters, Lysa and Mollie. Both received excellent educations and pass their love of learning on to the Cash’s five grandchildren. Now St. Patrick’s Day is a very happy celebration.