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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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Irish History

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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Filed under Ancestry, Ireland, Irish History

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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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Irish American, Social Justice

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