His Last Trip

His Last Trip: An Irish-American Story, is a biography of my maternal grandfather, Willie Diggin, a 1913 County Kerry emigrant who died in Pittsburgh 10 days after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. The book evolved from this January 2009 story I wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

William Diggin.jpeg

William Diggin, sometime between his 1913 U.S. arrival and 1924 marriage.

The 213-page book, self-published in December 2013, also explores Kerry’s Lartigue monorail; Ireland’s struggle for independence; the streetcar system and social conditions of Pittsburgh before World War II; and Catholic culture and religious practices in Ireland and the U.S. during the late 19th & early 20th century.

The book “provides a fascinating snapshot of one family’s Irish-American experience and how their lives were shaped by circumstances here and in Ireland,” Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh wrote in a blog post.[1] The Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania said, “The author’s meticulous family research presents a rich story of churches, people, and events that readers will recognize and warm to … A true delight to read–even if you’re not Irish.” [2]


Copies of the book are available at Carnegie Library and the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh; the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pa.; and the Archives of Irish America at New York University. In Ireland, the book is on the shelf at the County Kerry Library in Ballybunion, a mile from where my grandfather was born.

In May 2013, I posted a 12-part blog serial to recognize the centennial of Willie’s emigration. It is linked here in its original format.

Day 1: An Introduction
Day 2: Queenstown
Day 3: His Kerry Roots
Day 4: Majesty and Misery
Day 5: His Catholic Faith
Day 6: Emigrants Before Him
Day 7: America
Day 8: Streetcar Motorman and Citizen
Day 9: Husband
Day 10: House and Family
Day 11: Great Depression
Day 12: His Last Trip

One thought on “His Last Trip

  1. Edward Stewart

    Enjoyed reading your reconstruction of your grandfather’s journey. My great grandfather, Patrick Hickey (1858-1927) left Kilelton/Cloonaman near Ballylongford a generation before your grandparents in 1880. Recent records of the Petty Courts Sessions for County Kerry show him being prosecuted as a 17year old along with his father for fishing for salmon in the tidal lands of the Shannon at Kilelton without a license for their boat or net. If they were unable to pay the fine of a pound each along with the court costs they were to be sentenced to a month in jail.
    Later records detail the proceedings to evict Patrick’s mother, Hannah Hickie, from her house and lands in Cloonaman. The battle went on for at least 7 years but I assume ultimately she was evicted. Ironically the landlord evicting her was as you probably know, William Hickie of Kilelton House, one of the rare Catholic families who had managed to hold on to a fairly large estate.


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