Category Archives: Ancestry

Postcards from Moneygall, Ancestral Home of Barack Obama

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America and his wife Michelle,  visited the village of Moneygall, Co. Offaly on a wild, windy day, 23 May 2011, retracing the steps of a relative from 6 generations before him, Fulmouth Kearney, a maternal g.g.g.grandfather, who left this tiny village in 1850 and  headed to U.S.A. Fulmouth Kearney’s father was a shoemaker in the area.  The small house is on the site where his relatives once lived. The President and Mrs  Obama sipped Guinness in Ollie Hayes Pub. I just love the image on the wall by the door of the pub (it’s not really George Bush standing there !)

Moneygall is a pretty little village carefully looked after by the residents – every house had window boxes and flowers in full bloom when I passed through  on Sunday on  my last stop for ‘Heritage Week. A few short years ago, thousands of vehicles passed through this  little village every day as it is situated on the busy main Limerick to Dublin road.  The village is now bypassed,allowing the villagers to reclaim their special place. Here you can stop and relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on the link with Barack Obama.  Papillion, the winner of the Aintree Grand National in 2000, was bred in this area, and was the most famous Moneygall personality before Barack Obama!

When Obama addressed the crowds in Dublin earlier in the visit,he used the Irish translation from his famous ‘Yes, we can! , which translates to ‘Is feidir linn’.  This can be seen on the  flower tubs in the village.   Well done, Moneygall!  Is feidir linn!

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Filed under Ancestry, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish_American

Titanic 100:Bi-lingual commemorative plaque for Addergoole 14

Addergoole – Ireland’s Titanic Village – is so-called because no fewer than 14 friends and neighbours set sail on the Titanic for a new life in America. 11 of these drowned in the freezing Atlantic waters. (See my earlier post here recounting the extraordinarily moving annual commemoration that takes place in this village in the West of Ireland.)

A commemorative plaque is to be unveiled in Castlebar, the main town in County Mayo, from which the emigrants departed by train. The Addergoole community has been instrumental in ensuring that this plaque be in both the Irish and English languages – a further fitting tribute to their kinsfolk, most of whom spoke only Irish when they left their friends and family on that ill-fated journey, a century ago.
The memory of the Addergoole 14 is indeed in the safe hands of the community that has not forgotten them.

Read the news story here. 

Well done, Addergoole!Another fine example of the excellence and dignity with which your community upholds the memory of your people!

Further Reading:

The Irish Times

Addergoole Titanic Society

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Filed under Ancestry, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Mayo Emigrants

Titanic 100: Officer’s letter to go for auction

A hand written letter from Titanic’s Chief Officer Henry Wilde  is up for auction. The letter dated 7 April 1912 was penned while the Titanic was in Southampton. This is an item from the Irish Independent newspaper that has  some interesting pictures.

Click to read on…Titanic officer’s letter to go under the hammer on 100 year anniversary – Europe, World News – Independent.ie.

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The Future of Our Past – from Clare Roots Society

Clare Roots Society recently hosted a Genealogy and Family History Conference in Ennis, Co Clare with the theme ‘The Future of our Past’. The audience included attendees from Switzerland, the United States of America, New Zealand, Australia and the UK, as well as Irish from far and near.

The Edge of Clare . Image Wiki.Commons from Flickr by atomicpuppy68

Clare Roots Society is an Ennis based amateur family history, genealogy and heritage group in County Clare.  Established in 2006, it has members at home and overseas, many of the latter being actively involved in transcribing historical records, thereby making family research so much easier for researchers.Among their varied activities they have organized the recording of graveyard inscriptions, some school rolls, parish records and that most unique of Irish records,mortuary cards. In addition they organize workshops and lectures and work closely with Clare County Library, which in turn is  host to a myriad resources and is a model for every county library in Ireland.

The ‘Future of Our Past’ experience was a first for me, who dabbles in Family History. It was with some  trepidation that I headed off to Ennis one wet Saturday morning in October. Not being from Clare, and the only known tenuous connection with the county being that my father’s cousin’s husband was stationed at Loop Head Lighthouse as a keeper some decades ago, only added to my lack of confidence!

Soon after arriving I had made contact with a some  fascinating and interesting people from a Yahoo Genealogy Group to which I subscribe –  from USA and Australia as well as Dublin and Sligo, and there too as one of the conference speakers was Dr Jane Lyons , owner of the website From Ireland  who also established the Yahoo group Y-IRL.

Y-IRL Group meet at Clare Roots Society genealogy Conference, Ennis October 2011. Picture by Jim McNamara

Apart from the pleasure of meeting new people, the conference itself was a terrific success.  Although tailored for Clare, the lectures were of a general nature and were filled with useful information for a novice like me. The topics ranged from a very poignant account of  Irish men who fought in the First World War, delivered by Liam Curran, to Gregory O Connor from the National Archives who demonstrated  the often fascinating and quirky wealth of information held in legal and court documents. We heard about the notorious Black & Tans from Jim Herlihy who was followed by Jane Lyons telling us about the importance of graveyards and encouraging us to document the inscriptions before they wear away.  After lunch, Antoinette O’Brien from the Corofin based Heritage Centre gave an animated account of the records held by that centre and Dr Nick Barrett, of ‘ Who Do You Think You Are?’ TV  fame led us on an excursion into the world of family history as portrayed in the media. Finally the renowned John Grenham from the Irish Times Irish Ancestors website gave useful pointers and assessments for the resources that are available for anyone looking up their past in Ireland. He also posed an interesting question about information now on computers – emails are now used and not letters; much valuable social history  is shared on social networking sites; How might researchers in the future access this information or will it all be lost forever?

The entire series of lectures is available on DVD from Clare Roots at very reasonable cost. I heartily recommend it to anyone who has an interest in looking into the past, whether for research, just for fun or on a serious mission to find who your ancestors are.

Clare Roots Society staged a wonderfully successful and professional conference, with a list of speakers second to none. Congratulations and thanks are due to them and we look forward to the next one!

Further Information

The DVD of the Clare Genealogy Conference  

John Grenham  

Clare Heritage Centre  

Clare County Library  

Dr Nick Barrett 

Clare Roots Society  

Dr Jane Lyons  

The National Archives of Ireland

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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Who do you think you are ?

Digging up the Ancestors from Irish Bogs

We have news of another Bog Body found yesterday (11 August 2011) in Ireland by a worker harvesting peat.
The body was found in Cashel Bog in County Laois, and unlike many earlier bog body discoveries, this one was actually seen before it was ripped from the ground by the harvesting machine, so it has been possible to examine it where it lay. First indications are that it may be over 3,000 years old!

NMI and Bord na Mona workers examine the body in Laois. Picture RTE TV

There have been hundreds of bog bodies discovered in the peat wetlands of Europe over the last few centuries, about a hundred of which have been in Ireland. The cold, acidic and anaerobic conditions in peat bogs ‘pickles’ bodies so that they resemble brown coloured mummies. Skin and internal organs are preserved, but the bones are dissolved by the acid. The body discovered in Laois seems to have been placed in a leather bag. The legs are protruding and have been preserved, while the remainder of the body protected by the leather has not been preserved to the same extent, if at all.
It is estimated that about 1/6th of Ireland is covered in bog. As children, we were constantly warned about the dangers of ‘falling into a bog hole’ and often heard stories of people who vanished without trace,the assumption being that they had not heeded the warnings of parents!

When a bog body is discovered it is a truly unusual event. The question invariably arises as to how it got to be there in the first place. It is unlikely that someone whose head and torso is inside a leather bag  was an errant traveller who fell in. That leaves the possibility that the bog was used as a burial-place. However, some of the human remains discovered have signs of torture and or execution, with evidence of hanging, strangulation, stabbing and bludgeoning. So were they people who had been put to death for crimes against society, were they murdered by vagabonds, or could they have been ritually  sacrificed?

Clonycavan Man at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin. Picture Sven Shaw Commons.Wikimedia.org

In 2003 two bog body discoveries were made in Ireland: In  February near Clonycavan on the Meath/Westmeath border and, just weeks later in May some 25 miles away, at Old Croghan in County Offaly. Known as Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man, neither body was intact. Both these bodies were subjected to an array of tests and analysis using modern medical imaging techniques, pathology and other scientific methods, and were carried out by an international group of experts. Radiocarbon dating showed that both had died about the same time, some 2,300 years ago.  Clonycavan Man appears to have suffered a blow to the head that smashed open his skull, while Old Croghan Man showed signs of having been stabbed, beheaded and dismembered.  Ropes made from hazel were threaded through his arms.  Ned Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland, in researching locations of bog bodies found in Ireland reported that there were some 30 to 40 instances of such remains found on or near ancient borders or boundaries. This would indicate the likelihood of human sacrifice. ‘My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign’ he told the BBC.  ‘Bodies ‘ he said, ‘are placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries to ensure a good yield of corn and milk throughout the reign of the king’.

The results of the investigations into this latest discovery are eagerly awaited so that we might know how or why she or he died. In the meantime, we can say for sure that Cashel Man or Cashel Woman was someone’s child, may have had brothers and sisters and may have been a parent themselves. Who knows, he or she may well be one of our own family ancestors!
Kingship & Sacrifice is the title of an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland that  is centred on the theory of bog burials on political or royal boundaries and has exhibits from Ireland and beyond. It is in Dublin, Kildare Street and admission is free.
Further Reading
Ireland’s Peat Bogs How Bogs are made.
The Bog Bodies  A Timewatch Documentary on the National Museum investigation into the Bog Bodies.

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Death of an Irishman

Just a few days ago, the state senate of  Rhode Island in the United States of America passed a resolution by 33 votes to 3 calling for the state Governor to pardon John Gordon, an Irish immigrant hanged in 1845  for the murder of a powerful local mill owner.

Amasa Sprague was a successful mill owner in Knightsville, Rhode Island. The Sprague family was powerful and influential,with a brother William a United States Senator.

The textile plant provided employment for many immigrants who flocked to the locality throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The immigrants, many of them Irish, were disliked by the Protestant ruling classes, not least because of their religion and because many of the earlier settlers who had arrived before the Famine refugees, had set up good businesses.

Nicholas Gordon had  established a local store, having arrived from Ireland in the mid 1830s. The county from which he emigrated is not known. His business was doing well and he sent for the remainder of his family, including his mother Ellen,and three brothers William, John and Robert who arrived in 1843. Nicholas held a licence permitting the sale of alcohol.  Amasa Sprague was concerned that his workers were partaking of alcohol that was interfering with their productivity. He and Nicholas Gordon clashed about this, but eventually Sprague used his influence to have the alcohol licence revoked.

Also at this time, there was political unrest in Rhode Island. A movement led by Thomas Dorr sought to extend suffrage to all white men and not the small number of wealthy property owners who had the vote.  There was unrest in May 1843 with Dorr and his mainly poor Irish immigrant supporters on one side and the conservative ruling class, the Law and Order Party  on the other. The unrest lasted several weeks, the Dorr rebellion was put down and, with the help of Amasa Sprague, Thomas Dorr was imprisoned.

When Amasa Sprague was beaten to death on December 31st 1843, suspicion fell on both the followers of Dorr and on the Gordon family. Both  had apparent reason to dislike Sprague. Eventually however, 3 of the  Gordon brothers were arrested. John and William stood trial in April 1844, with Nicholas Gordon’s trial set for later. Leading the defence was a supporter of  Dorr’s movement, paid for by donations from the large immigrant Irish population. The prosecution was led by the Attorney General, leader of the Law and Order Party and the case was heard before 4 members of the state Supreme Court.

As widely reported, John Gordon was convicted of the murder of Sprague in a trial that was full of prejudice against the Irish and against catholics. The jury, as was the case at that time, consisted of landowners only and they were instructed to ‘give greater weight to Yankee witnesses than Irish witnesses’. The case for the prosecution was based on contradictory and circumstantial evidence. An appeal was heard by the same judges who had presided over the trial and not surprisingly, was rejected.  On February 14th 1845, John Gordon was hanged.  A huge crowd of Irish emigrants from Rhode Island and others from neighbouring states, protesting the verdict, attended his funeral. Sadly, the exact location of his grave is not known.
Nicholas Gordon was eventually released on bail, having been tried twice, each time with a hung jury. He died in debt in 1846. William was found not guilty.

Arguments that John had been wrongly convicted, by reason of  racial and religious  bigotry and circumstantial evidence, began immediately.  Doubts over his conviction led directly to the abolition of the death penalty in Rhode Island, seven years later. Capital punishment was restored some years later, but no one was ever again sentenced to death and it was abolished finally in the 1980s.

The campaign to clear John’s name has run for almost 166 years. Hopefully it is now nearing the end and the last man hanged in Rhode Island will be exonerated.

References

Special Collections Publications paper 12. Accessed DigitalCommons@University of Rhode Island.ons.uri.edu/sc_pubs/12

The Murder of Amasa Sprague

Further Reading

Hoffmann, Charles and TessBrotherly Love: Murder and the Politics of Prejudice in Nineteenth Century Rhode Island. Boston, University of Massachusetts Press,1993.

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The Titanic: A Night to Remember in Mayo

An artists impression of the Titanic Sinking. Image from commons.wikimedia.

On the afternoon of Thursday April 11th 1912, the RMS Titanic weighed anchor just off  Cobh – then Queenstown- County  Cork, Ireland, and set sail for America. On board were many people leaving Ireland in search of a better future. Included in their numbers were a group of 14 men and women from the County Mayo parish of Addergoole, on the shores of Lough Conn.

The weather was fine and the voyage went smoothly for the first few days. By Sunday April 14th, the Titanic had travelled some 1,400 miles and was east of New Foundland. Most passengers were asleep when, at 20 minutes before midnight, she struck an iceberg that ripped a 300 feet long gash in her side.

Shortly after midnight on Monday April 15th the order was given to prepare the lifeboats.  At this point, hundreds of the estimated 2,207 people on board were already doomed as the total lifeboat capacity was estimated at 1,178.  At 12. 25 am the order was given to load the lifeboats with women and children, and by 1.15 am, 7 had been lowered.

An eyewitness report :  ‘They called out three times in a loud voice:  ”Are there any more women before this boat goes?” And there was no answer. Mr Murdoch called out, and at that moment a female came up whom he did not recognize. Mr Ismay said: ”Come along, jump in.” She said: ”I am only a stewardess.” He said: ”Never mind – you are a woman; take your place.”

The ship began to list and was tilted steeply when the last boat containing 44 people was lowered at 2 am. Hundreds of people were still on the deck as the water got higher and higher. The ship’s orchestra played ‘Nearer My God to Thee’.  This is sometimes thought to be a romantic invention but, in a book of eyewitness accounts, several survivors and members of the crew attest to hearing the orchestra playing ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ as the lifeboats pulled away.

The stern  lifted out of the water and at 2.18 am the lights flickered and went out. By 2.20 am, the Titanic was almost perpendicular in the water and she slipped into the icy depths.  One eyewitness recounted: ‘After she reached an angle of 60 degrees, there was a rumbling sound, which he attributed to the boilers leaving their beds and crashing down. Finally she attained an absolute perpendicular position and then went slowly down’

An estimated 1,522 people lost their lives.

Included in their number were 11 of the hopeful emigrants from Addergoole:

John Bourke and his pregnant wife Catherine

John’s sister, Mary

Nora Fleming

Mary Mangan

James Flynn

Delia Mahon

Pat Canavan

Bridget Donoghue

Catherine McGowan

Mary Canavan

Three of the women who had left Addergoole just days earlier were among the 700 who survived. They were  Annie Kate Kelly, Delia McDermott and Annie McGowan.

The Lahardane Bell. Picture courtesy of Addergoole Titanic Society

At Lahardane Church there is a bell that is used in an annual commemoration of the people from Addergoole  who were on the ill-fated Titanic. On the 15th of April each year between 2 am and 3 am, they remember their kinsfolk. At 2.20 am, the bell tolls  slowly in memory of those who were lost. The tolling is followed by jubilant ringing in celebration of the three lives saved in this terrible tragedy. Each year, in the still of the night, the bell’s lonely toll and joyful rings resound across the lonely landscape of Mayo.  It is then silent until the following year. Many of the bell ringers are family members of those who left their community 99 years ago.

This is a unique and very moving tribute to the lost members of this community, and to those who survived. The 15th of April is indeed their ‘Night to Remember’.

References

Beesley, L. Gracie, A. Lightoller,Bride, H,  1960. The Story of The Titanic as told by its survivors.   Jack Winocaur, Ed. Dover  Publications . Accessed at Google Books

Addergoole Titanic Society

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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Mayo Emigrants, Oral History

Derryveagh Evictions III: The Scattering

The 10th of April 1861 was the third day of the brutal evictions ordered by the cruel landlord John George Adair, on his estate at Derryveagh, Co Donegal. By 2 o’clock in the afternoon of that day, the work was done. The Deputy Sheriff, Crookshank, and his 200 men had changed the landscape and changed the lives of a group of unfortunate and powerless people who were already living in hardship. Liam Dolan in his ‘Land War and Evictions in Derryveagh’ states:

”By two, Wednesday afternoon, the terrible work had been accomplished and a deathly silence fell over the whole area”.

This third post in the series marking the 150th anniversary of the Derryveagh evictions looks at the fate of the dispossessed.

A Derryveagh Family- From an article by Paul J Mc Geady, Donegal Genealogy Resources.

The names of these people and the townlands where they lived, live on in lists. Unfortunately as there are differences in family names and numbers in particular townlands, it is hard to know which list is the definitive one. However, at the end of this post, I have included the names of the families and the townlands, according to one such list, from the Londonderry Standard.

So what became of these unfortunate families? Where did they end up?

Records from the Workhouse in Letterkenny list the people who went there and provide information on their occupations, their townland of origin and their date of entry. Many of these would have left the workhouse when their prospects changed – if work became available, to go to live with relatives, or perhaps to emigrate.

Others who had been offered temporary shelter, in Cloughaneely for example, may well have stayed in the area, as perhaps would those who found shelter with relatives and friends. May McClintock suggests in her publication that many may have indeed stayed in the general area, around Creeslough, Glendowan and Churchill.

A third tranche, mostly younger people, and many probably children of the people evicted, took advantage of the Donegal Relief  Committee Fund and availed of assisted passage to Australia. The Donegal Relief  Fund had been set up in Australia in 1858  for the assistance of people from Donegal who were in dire circumstances. The geography of the county in the bleak and cold north west with its barren, mountainous terrain, together with the decision by land owners to end the practice of allowing tenants to graze their sheep on the upper slopes in summer, gave rise to an annual famine lasting about three months. Following supplications from the local clergy in Donegal, the Donegal Relief Committee in Australia raised funds to help with immigration. The relief fund appears to have operated from 1858 when large numbers of people from Gweedore, Cloughaneely and Tory Island availed of the opportunity for a new life ‘down under’. Following the Derryveagh evictions, new pleas for help were made by the local clergy with the result that many young people had an opportunity to leave for a new life in Australia. And so in January 1862, 143 persons from Derryveagh joined 130 Gweedore people who departed Plymouth on a sea voyage of 3 months or more. That more family members  left Ireland is a certainty. England and Scotland were close to home and were accessible relatively cheaply. It is known that many went to Australia, some ended up in New Zealand and a number also went to America. The nature of the records at the time – where addresses recorded on ships lists often state the county of origin and not the townland, together with the preponderance of similar family and first names provide a challenge for researchers.

One researcher in particular stands out in the telling of the story and tracing of the families of Derryveagh. She is Lindel Buckley, a direct descendant of a family from Glendowan. Her great great grandmother who lived in Stramore, just to the south west of Altnadogue, and whose sister had married a Sweeney from Derryveagh, emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s. Lindel has located and transcribed hundreds of  historical records from Donegal and of relevance to Donegal, and has made them available without charge on her website Donegal Genealogy Resources. Her extraordinary compilation has been and continues to be an inspiration to many. Through her work and her enthusiasm, she is one of the people who keep the Derryveagh story alive.

A new book, written by local school teacher Christy Gillespie and his pupils, documents the personal stories of the people who were evicted in Derryveagh and was launched last Saturday by the Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Bruce Davis and the local historian May McClintock. Aptly named “A Deathly Silence” this new book will hopefully interest a new generation and give  new insights into the people who are the key figures in this story,the people of Derryveagh.

THE  DERRYVEAGH PEOPLE BY TOWNLAND

BINGORMS

Hanna M’Award (Widow) and 7 children. – evicted and house levelled.

Joseph M’Cormack, wife and 5 children – restored to possession as caretaker.

ALTNADOGUE

Hugh Sweeney ( Widower) and 2 sons – evicted and house locked.

James Sweeney, wife and 8 children- evicted and house locked.

Owen Sweeney, wife, mother and 8 children – evicted and house locked.

MAGHERNASHANGAN

James M’Monagle, wife and 6 children- readmitted as tenant until November.

John Brady, wife and 5 children- readmitted as weekly tenant.

Francis Bradley, wife and 5 children -readmitted as weekly tenant.

Patrick Bradley, wife and 4 children -evicted and house levelled.

John and Fanny Bradley, a brother and sister, both deaf and dumb – allowed to retain possession.

Roger O’Flanigan, wife, brother, mother and 4 children- evicted and house levelled.

James Gallagher, wife and 7 children – evicted and house levelled.

SLOGHALL (STAGHALL?)

Daniel Friel, wife, mother, brother, and 1 child- evicted.

William M’Award, wife and 2 children- evicted and house levelled.

James Doherty, wife and 1 child- evicted and house levelled.

James Lawn, wife and 9 children – readmitted as tenant until November.

CLAGGAN

John Bradley, wife and 3 children – evicted and house levelled.

Michael Bradley, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled.

Catherine Conaghan (Widow), sister in law, brother in law, and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

WARRENTOWN

Edward Coyle,wife and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Knocker Friel, wife and 6 children – evicted and house levelled.

Knocker Kelly and two servants – evicted and house levelled.

William Armstrong (Widower), and 3 children-evicted and house levelled.

Rose Dermot, Orphan – evicted and house levelled.

ARDARTUR

Daniel M’Award, wife and 6 children- evicted and house levelled.

Charles Doohan, wife, son and  2 grandchildren – evicted and house levelled.

William Doohan, wife and 4 children- evicted and house levelled.

John Doohan, wife and 5 children -evicted and house levelled.

Connell Doohan, wife – retained as weekly tenants.

Patrick Curran, wife and 5 children – evicted and house levelled.

DRUMNALIFFERNEY

Owen M’Award, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled

Mary M’Award (Widow) and 3 children -evicted and house levelled.

CASTLETOWN

Bryan Doherty (Widower), mother, sister and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Hugh Coll, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled.

Patrick Devenney, wife and 2 children -evicted and house levelled.

John Friel, wife and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

Michael Friel and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Robert Burke, wife – evicted and house levelled.

Charles Callaghan- evicted and house levelled.

John Moore, wife and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

Manus Rodden, brother and two sisters – orphans- evicted and house levelled.

Bernard Callaghan, mother and brother – evicted and house levelled.

SHREEHAGANON (SRUHANGARROW?)

Edward Sweeney and 3 children – evicted and house levelled.

Daniel Doherty, wife, father and 2 children -evicted and house levelled.

Bryan Doherty, wife and 4 children-evicted and house levelled.

– From the Londonderry Standard, Glenveagh, April 10th 1861.

References:

Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.

McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Families evicted from Derryveagh

Donegal Relief Fund- Australia. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources



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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish_American, Oral History, Social Justice

Celebrating Irishness: Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney

Charles Feeney was born to a working class family in New Jersey, USA in the early 1930’s. His father’s mother hailed from near Kinawley, in Co Fermanagh, from where she emigrated to the USA.

Charles 'Chuck ' Feeney

In the 1960’s he co-founded Duty Free Shoppers, which sold luxury goods ‘duty free’ in Honolulu and Hong Kong and which eventually became hugely successful, making the partners very wealthy. DFS was to become one of the largest liquor retailers in the world and in 1997, Feeney sold his interest to Louis Vuitton  Moët Hennessy (LVMH).

In 1988, the Forbes Rich List ranked Feeney in the top 20 richest people, with estimated wealth of €1.3billion.  But, in reality his wealth was much less as he had in 1982 transferred much of it – reportedly between $500 million and $800 million –  to a charitable foundation, The Atlantic Foundation. Based in Bermuda to avoid disclosure requirements in the USA and to give Charles Feeney the anonymity he craved, The Atlantic Foundation was the first of The Atlantic Philanthropies.  A very private and modest man, the story of Charles (Chuck) Feeney was not well known until the 1990s when in an interview with The New York Times he revealed that he was the benefactor of one of the top 5 philanthropic foundations in the world.

In 1987, the Enniskillen Bombing had a profound impact on Feeney.  His grandmother having emigrated from the same county, meant he had family roots here and he became determined to try to effect change  in Northern Ireland.  He  joined with other Irish Americans liaising between the White House and various parties in Northern Ireland to try to broker a peace agreement.  He had as a particular and personal  agenda the aim of encouraging the Republicans to join in mainstream politics and he personally funded the Sinn Fein Office in Washington D.C.  for some years.  (Atlantic Philanthropies is precluded from funding political parties.)

It was not until 2007 when Conor O’ Cleary, a  well respected correspondent of The Irish Times, published a book : The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly  Made and Gave Away a Fortune, that the truth about Feeney became known.  (Feeney had decided to cooperate with the author to promote ‘Giving While Living’ and inspire wealthy people to donate their wealth during their lifetime). Also in 1997  RTE, the Irish television service,  aired a TV documentary, ‘The Secret Billionaire’  looking at the life of this  extraordinary man.

Universities in Ireland, notably University of Limerick, Dublin City University and Trinity College, Dublin have benefited from donations from the fund of over $1billion.  Many philanthropists will endow projects in return for recognition, but this has never been the case with Chuck Feeney who has shunned public recognition such as honorary degrees, and having buildings named in his honour.  One of my favourite stories that exemplifies what Chuck Feeney  is all about, relates to  Queens University, in Belfast, who in 2007 were building a new library, costing  £44 million. It was to have been called the Sir Anthony O’Reilly Library.  Tony O’Reilly had contributed £4 million in return for ‘naming rights’. Chuck Feeney on the other hand had anonymously provided £10 million  and it was his wish that this should not be made public. (Tony O’Reilly later withdrew his wish to have the library named after him in 1999!)

Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney does not own on a house, he does not own a car and his $15 plastic watch is now famous!  He lives modestly, having said that a man can only wear one pair of shoes at a time.  He has never strayed far from the sense of community he was born into –  one of helping his neighbour, and he has the ability to empathize with people less fortunate than himself who lead difficult lives and who may not have enough to eat.  And so this week, the week of St Patrick’s Day, will see Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney, extraordinary Irish American,  inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame.  There is no doubt but that his benevolence has had a huge impact on life and society in Ireland, and continues to do so through funding for social issues from The Atlantic Philanthropies, including fighting ageism, of particular interest to this blogger.

The website of The  Atlantic Philanthropies can be viewed here.

For more on the Irish American Hall of Fame click here.

To see more about Conor O’Cleary’s book on Charles Feeney, click here.

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Filed under Ageism, Ancestry, Family History, Ireland, Irish_American, Living in Ireland, Seniors, Social Change, Social Policy

Irish Family History

It is  estimated that there are about 80 million people who make up the Irish Diaspora.  If even a tiny fraction of these are asking ‘Who am I ? ‘ it would be a significant number. But oh! the frustrations, as there is a dearth of  Irish records available for them to dig into!

Our Census records for 1831, 1841, 1851 went up in flames in the Four Courts in 1922; the 1861 & 1871 records were officially destroyed; the 1881 and 1891 records were ‘pulped’.  We are left with the 1901 and 1911 census records. These are the only family specific records available to people trying to trace their roots, their specific earlier generations.  The census records enable us to open the door,  peer into their kitchens ,and see who was sitting round their  hearth on a particular  evening  and who was missing.

There was no census in Ireland in 1921 because of the War of Independence. The next census undertaken was in 1926.   In Ireland we have a ‘hundred year rule’ that prohibits the release of information until a century has elapsed.

The  period from 1911 to 1926 saw seismic changes to society, socially  and politically.  Emigration,  First World War,  Independence, Civil War… these  occured in this period.  The 1926 census is an invaluable resource for tracking the changes and  identifying the ravages on families and districts as a result of those turbulent times. It is not however,  due for official  release until 2027.

There are various campaigns underway pressing for the earlier release of these precious records.  The  rising tide of interest in Family History among people at home and those scattered across the globe should be good reason to focus the attention of the decision makers. Perhaps they will become tourists as a result of what they find!

Stephen C Smyrl had a very eloquent and informative article on this very topic in the Irish Times in January last.  I urge you to take a few moments to read it …just click  here.

There is also an online petition addressed to An Taoiseach (which presumably will be  updated after polling on Friday), urging the early release of these records  which you can see here.

UPDATE: Today I saw on the Irish Family History Bloghttp://irishfamilyhistory.ie/blog – that Fine Gael has stated in their manifesto : ‘Fine Gael will examine the feasibility of releasing the 1926 census to stimulate genealogy tourism.’

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Filed under Ancestry, Census 1901, Census 1911, Census 1926, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, National Archives, Who do you think you are ?