Monthly Archives: June 2014

God, she struck me till she tired of it

“God, she struck me till she tired of it”  These were the words of Hannah Herrity, describing one of the many beatings administered by her father’s second wife.

The story of Hannah Herrity, produced by Dunfanaghy Workhouse

The story of Hannah Herrity, produced by Dunfanaghy Workhouse

Hannah Herrity lived through the hunger and deprivations of the Famine in Ireland. She told  her life story to a Mrs Law who befriended her and who wrote her story exactly as Hannah recounted it. These oral history manuscripts recording  the life of  “Wee” Hannah as she is known, now form the basis of a  permanent exhibition in the Dunfanaghy Heritage Centre, located in the old Dunfanaghy Workhouse, County Donegal.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse, Co. Donegal

Dunfanaghy Workhouse, Co. Donegal

Hannah Herrity was born in Derryreel, just outside Falcarragh, County Donegal, Ireland in 1835 or 1836. She was the eldest child of a local travelling tailorman and his wife Susy. In the early years of the Famine (probably 1847 or 1848) Susy died in childbirth with her 5th child. Hannah describes how her poor mother suffered and tells of her being laid out with the newborn baby beside her and how she felt her father’s tears of sorrow falling on her hair and face…Hannah would have been about 9 or 10  years of age.

Hannah’s father married a neighbour girl to care for the four surviving children, but as Wee Hannah recounted,”God help us, it was the black day for us he took her”. She was subjected to many beatings – neighbours would rescue her and allow her to stay at their home, safe from the enraged stepmother.

The soup pot at Dunfanaghy Workhouse

The soup pot at Dunfanaghy Workhouse

At the height of the Famine, Hannah sometimes had  to go to get the ‘broth’ in the village, each family having a ticket depending on the number in the household. She staggered and crawled home with it, too weak with hunger to walk properly, and so ravenous that she was tempted to help herself to the contents.  There were four houses that had land to grow oats in Hannah’s locality, otherwise people like the Herrity’s went hungry. Hannah did not seem to get her fair share of rations at home and often the neighbours would give her food, knowing that she was being starved by her stepmother. Two of her younger brothers died during this time.

Following a particularly severe beating and fearful that she might be killed while he was away, Hannah’s father arranged for her to go into service with a kind old lady in Doe who fed her and kept her happily for three years. After the old lady passed away, Hannah went to work for an unkind man who paid her badly and worked her hard and did not give her sufficient food and here her health began to fail. Eventually poor Hannah had to leave employment and had to walk over 60 miles (100km) to the hospital in Lifford where she remained for a year, and where, even though she was sick, she had to work.

Eventually Hannah ended up in Dunfanaghy Workhouse. She  described the horrors of life there with a particularly cruel matron ..”well there’d be maybe seven or eight dead in the morning..And god help us, she would strip the bed clothes down off them, and they’d be pulled out on the floor..the weemen said you’d hear the head of the corpse cracking down the steps till it was put in the dead house below”

A Seven Body Coffin as used at the Workhouse. The bottom slid open so it could be reused

A Seven Body Coffin as used at the Workhouse. The bottom slid open so it could be reused

Hannah survived the awful experience and spent many years afterwards travelling about from farm to farm taking work where she could get it,wandering the roads around Sheephaven Bay,finding kindness in some houses, and none in others. Eventually she could no longer work and took to begging.

Engraved glass on the door to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre

Engraved glass on the door to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre

She came to the attention of  Mrs  Law, wife of the local member of Parliament, who arranged for a one- room cottage to be built for Wee Hannah in Parkmore, and here she lived out the remainder of her life in relative comfort. The neighbours were good to her and saw that she did not want for anything. Mrs Law  interviewed Hannah and recorded the story of her eventful life exactly as Hannah told it.

Hannah (Heraghty) Herrity appears on the 1911 census, as the head of her little household in Parkmore. Here we can see where she applied her mark to the census record as she was unable to read or write. She died in 1926 at about 90 years of age. Thanks to Mrs Law, Wee Hannah’s story  is heard by hundreds of visitors to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse, a real reminder of the brutality of life for  the poor in 19th Century Ireland.

Sheephaven Bay and Dunfanaghy from Horn Head. Image Wikimedia Commons

Sheephaven Bay and Dunfanaghy from Horn Head. Image Wikimedia Commons

Outside Dunfanaghy there are three graveyards – the Catholic one and the Protestant one and  between the two is the Paupers Graveyard where victims of the Famine are buried.  Wee Hannah Herrity lies beside her friend Mrs Law in the Catholic part.


I am truly grateful to Dungfanaghy Workhouse for sending me the beautiful image below of the marker in the Famine Graveyard. It is a very fitting tribute to those who are interred here in a ‘no-man’s land’ between the two other graveyards. Basic, stark and rugged – such was their lives and deaths.

imageWee Hannah’s story played out in the general area where I grew up. I lived  some 14 miles from her home and at one time my great uncle was a catholic priest in Falcarragh and my grandmother was his housekeeper. I wonder did they know her?  Hannah worked out at Horn Head at one time, a beautiful headland that I saw every day from my bedroom window. At one point she told of being out in the snow and falling into a drain in my own Rosguill area. Growing up, we never heard of a person like  Hannah, making her way alone through life in such deprivation and hardship.

On the day of our visit to Dunfanaghy Workhouse last year torrential rain made photography difficult.  A future project will be to take photographs of Hannah’s Places for this blog.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse is well worth a visit. Here you will hear Hannah’s story in her own words. The exceptionally friendly and helpful staff are very knowledgeable about the area and they have an excellent coffee shop!  ‘The story of Wee Hannah as told to Mrs Law’ is available in their shop. Visit their website at


Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Oral History, Social History Ireland

So..where are the bodies buried?

A  few weeks ago a good friend Chris Goopy, shared a post on Facebook that immediately caught my attention.

Roscrea Castle. Image Wikimedia Commons

Roscrea Castle. Image Wikimedia Commons

It was a story that epitomized all that is  spoken of and celebrated in the Irish character – helpfulness, friendliness and hospitality. The story is set in Roscrea Co Tipperary.

Very few towns in Ireland can boast a castle, friary ruins, a round tower and a high cross, but Roscrea can. Roscrea is a small  pretty town in County Tipperary, that not only has these fantastic links back to her history, but also has very active and obliging members of Ireland Reaching Out.

Ireland Reaching Out  was a government backed concept that captured the imagination as it was genealogy in reverse. The idea was to train local volunteers  at parish level who would make contact with their diaspora with a view to getting them to reconnect with their roots. It was  very succesful in some parishes. Ireland Reaching Out has now teamed up with Ancestry to facilitate training at local level under the title of Reaching Out Together and it is to be hoped that this new partnership will put give a new lease of life to the original concept.

Ireland Reaching Out is however alive and well and thriving in Roscrea – This story was written by Eamon Horan who is  involved with the very active Roscrea Reaching Out and tells  of a search for relatives of a lady from New Mexico and is reproduced here:

Round Tower. Image Wikimedia Commons

Eamon wrote:

”So where are the bodies buried?

This story of graveyard searching all started with a letter I received posted from of all places Albuquerque, New Mexico. And yes, it’s along long long way from here to there but the subject matter of the letter was Intriguing and the challange it offered was just what was needed in March morning of 2014. All the training which I had taken over the previous two years with Ireland Reaching Out could now be put to good use. Here was a challenge worth the chase.

The letter writer Mary Leonard ( retired nurse ) was coming to Ireland in April with the hope of reuniting with her long lost Irish family specifically her Great Grandmother whose family named Dwane (misspelled on entry to the U.S. as Duane) had lived and worked in the Roscrea region but like millions of others had emigrated to the U.S. in 1846 fleeing, as they were, from the beginning of the worst tragedy in Irish history the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor). Mary had gathered a lot of information from earlier family stories and writings and was able to lay a good foundation to a potential search and of great help was info that her brother had recorded of his findings on a trip to Roscrea in 1950. He had found two headstones of the family in the Catholic cemetery of Roscrea with the correct family names and dates.

So my search seemed on the face of it to be very simple find those two headstones in the local cemetery and bingo another satisfied customer. Wrong. There is nothing simple about searching for families in the Roscrea group of parishes. Roscrea is divided into two provinces, Munster and Leinster, three Counties,Tipperary, Offaly (King’s) and Laoise (Queen’s) and numerous rural Parishes surrounding the town for many many miles all with their own graveyards. Many many graveyards. However, the notations on the headstones were recorded in 1950 as follows. Erected in memory of Hugh Dwane, born 1826, died 1869 by Mr & Mrs Henry Trench and their son Henry Bloomfield Trench in gratefully remembrances of faithful services from boyhood until death. And beside it the other stone reading erected by Hugh Dwane in memory of his beloved father William Dwane 1848 age 57.

Roscrea the town boasts of 1000 years of history and its cemetery reflect that longevity but I was satisfied by our local undertaker who has a database of local graves was the first point of contact. He assured me that he was not familiar with the name Dwane and to his knowledge there were no Dwanes buried in his domaine. I had a little root around myself but in vain. But as I am Roscrea born and of an advancing age I remembered the name Trench (headstone) was from a bye gone era of Landlords who occupied three large houses, Sopwell (Ballingarry, N.Tipp), Cangort(Shinrone)and Redwood (Lorrha) with large tracts of lands attached.

Further research of the headstone with reference to ‘Bloomfield’ confirmed that the mostly likely big House where Hugh Dwane worked through his lifetime was ” Cangort” in the historic village of Shinrone, Offaly. So my first graveyard search then took me and my brother (search helper) to the old Church of Ireland in which the Barack Obama ancestors are to be found. But no luck. So next step was to call on the local historian Noel McMahon who lives in the village and has two books published on Shinrone. Noel and his wife Margaret are avid gardeners and I was delighted to get a tour of their quite outstanding garden a haven of tranquility. He pointed out that there were pictures of a Dwane Priest and Sister in his books who were most likely related to my search family and he suggested that the ancestors were most likely buried in the ancient Kilcomin Church grounds two miles from the village. a place set apart, home to St.Cuimin who founded his Abbey here in 630 AD.

So a search of the graves followed with great expectations of a find but, alas, no luck. Next day I met Mary Leonard in her Roscrea B&B owned and operated by another Shinrone person Marie Warren who was keenly interested in a successful outcome to her guests search. We could not have this guest coming all the way from New Mexico going back home without finding her beloved ancestors. I should add that Mary on arrival immediately set to search the archives of St.Cronan’s Church, Roscrea and the surrounding graveyard herself but here again to no avail.

Next day Mary & I drove to the next most likely Graveyard C of I in the village of Ballingarry, N.Tipperary, burial place of the ‘Trench’ families. Here we diligently searched and searched but hear again no Dwane’s. And so back into the car and off to see the ‘big house’ of Sopwell home to one of Irelands largest Landlord families up until the 1960’ies. On our way I passed a bungalow and noticed two people working on their very beautiful front garden. I stopped reversed and sought advice as to the whereabouts of our elusive Dwane family. What a delightful surprise, it could only happen in beautiful Ireland. Yes, he (John Ryan) was familiar with that surname and seeing as the day was nice and sunny they dropped the gardening put on the wellies and joined us in our search.

John and his very jovial partner joined us in my car and directed us to a very hidden graveyard, Uskane near Borrisokane. But ,alas, no further joy. No Dwans. I was beginning to dispair but Mary was loving the whole Irishness of our tour. But John had an ace card to play and he led us to the house of Michael Delahunt ( Sopwell) whom I now know to be the foremost authority on names of families, burial places and graveyard recordings in N.Tipp. Without his wonderful help given friendly & freely I am afraid our day would have been a failure. Michael evidently has spent his life’s work in researching and recording the graveyards of North Tipp and this all long before the invention of the modern computer. His ‘front room’ is his library of all that has been forgotten in N.Tipp. Michael actually knew the recent family of Dwans and had a detailed knowledge in his memory of where the ancestors were buried he then went on to sketch out on the ground with his walking stick the last known house of the Dwane family in the district just a mile or so from his front gate (now bulldozed). Things were looking up, Mary was getting excited. But wonder of all wonders Michael referred back to his countless journals of grave recordings in his front room and was able to come up with the exact location of the two elusive Headstones of the older Dwane burials. Surprise, surprise. He said, with conviction that we would find those stones where? Back inside the front entrance to ROSCREA’s cemetery 100 yards to the right from the Franciscan Archway.

It was getting late when we arrived back in Roscrea and the search was now in a delicate state of anxiety, would we find the elusive headstones or not. Would Mary go back to Albuquerque, New Mexico empty handed with stories of half crazy Irish people leading Tourists on make believe headstone tours. Well the finale to any good story is, of course, the one with the happy ending and so it was for this search. There within feet of where Michael Delahunt said they would be were the headstones much to Mary Leonard’s delight and to my great relief. And so we adjourned to the local Alehouse to celebrate our good fortune of reuniting Mary with her long lost family. Mary flew home to New Mexico a very happy Lady with stories to tell.

But the story didn’t finish there. A few days after her departure a fellow IROxo enthusiest, Ann DeRoe who lives in Shinrone called to say that she had discovered the modern burial place of the family in Shinrone R.C. graveyard and has a connection to living relatives who possibly live in Portumna. Mary Leonard’s Brother & family are now planning on visiting Ireland and hope to make the connection with living relations after 150 years of seperation. And the lesson to be learned from this story is that Ireland Reaching Out is a really worthwhile concept connecting the Diaspora (all 60 million)back to their roots and hopefully Tourism Ireland will be a major winner in the process. All this in keeping with my earlier career working then in Canada for Air Canada but my heart was always ‘home in old Ireland’ land of wanderers dreamers of exiles but ‘not forgotten people’.”


The Franciscan Friary Roscrea. Image Wikimedia Commons

What a heart-warming tale this is and surely one that will inspire many of our diaspora to have a go at tracing their ancestors. Not only that, but a few days earlier I had heard first hand from Janet Maher ( of  a very similar experience she had in tracing her ancestors in the same general area in recent weeks.

I am grateful to Eamon Horan for giving his permission to reproduce his story here, and to Joe of ‘Roscrea through the ages’, who facilitated contact with him. Thank you both!


Useful links

Roscrea through the ages on Facebook

Ireland Reaching Out

Irish Genealogy Toolkit is a free site run by Claire Santry and is an absolute must for anyone tracing Irish Ancestry.

Irish Genealogy News   is a blog run by Claire giving all the latest news on Irish Genealogy.


Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Irish Diaspora