Category Archives: Mayo Emigrants

Discovering landmarks and Family History on Blacksod Bay, County Mayo

Continuing along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, rain and low grey cloud were my only companions as I headed into this remote Irish-speaking part of County Mayo. Although visibility was reduced it was still possible to enjoy some lovely sights. The Irish-only road signs were something of a challenge at first, even though I am used to our bilingual signs here in Ireland and Irish-only signs in Donegal, and other Gaeltacht areas, these places were not familiar to me. However, once I figured out that ‘An Fod Dubh’ meant ‘Blacksod’ and that therefore ‘Chuan and Fhóid Duibh’ was Blacksod Bay, I chugged along happily in the beautiful Mullet Peninsula that protects Blacksod Bay from the worst of the Atlantic weather.

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Trá Oilí or Elly Beach

This eye catching beach is one of many big sandy beaches in the area. It sports the Blue Flag, one of the world’s most recognised eco-labels, indicating that it complies with a specific set of criteria on water quality, information points, environmental education, safety and beach management. Raining or not, this is a good beach for swimming!

Tír Sáile – the North Mayo Sculpture Trail –is the largest public arts project ever undertaken in Ireland.  Several of these sites are located here on the Mullet peninsula. This work is entitled ‘Deirbhile’s Twist’ and I like that it was formed by raising large granite boulders already lying around on the ground and arranging them into an eye catching feature. This is located at Falmore which is a beautiful location, even in the mist!

Saint Deirbhile (Dervilla) is a local saint who arrived at Falmore in the 6th Century. Arriving by donkey she was pursued by an unwanted suitor who,so the story goes, was very attracted to her beautiful eyes. Rather drastically she plucked them out to discourage him and he left, heartbroken. Water gushed from the spot where her eyes fell and after bathing her sockets her sight was restored. The ruins of her convent are here near the seashore with Deirbhile’s Well nearby. Modern day pilgrims believe that water from the well can help cure eye complaints and they come here for special devotion on August 15 each year.

Ruins of Dervilla's Monastery

Ruins of Dervilla’s Convent

And then on to the site I was particularly interested in – Blacksod weather station, situated at the end of the peninsula.

This is Blacksod Lighthouse, looking very unlike a traditional lighthouse, perched atop an old granite building that dates from 1864. This is a very significant place because it was from here that a weather report issued on 3rd June 1944 changed the course of history. The World War 2 D-Day landings scheduled for June 5th were delayed because of the hourly weather report lodged by Irish Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney, which indicated that there would be adverse conditions in the English Channel for the following few days. Blacksod was of particular significance because it was the first land-based observation station in Europe where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. Ted’s report on June 3rd mentioned a rapidly falling barometer and strong winds which would have augured badly for the planned invasion. A further report from Ted at 12pm on June 4, said ‘heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900 feet and visibility on land and sea very clear’. This meant that better weather was on the way for the south of England, and so Operation Overlord went ahead on June 6th 1944 with calm clear conditions in the English Channel.

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Plaque at Blacksod Lighthouse

There is a nice little harbour alongside the lighthouse, Termon Pier, which was almost totally deserted when I was there with only rain and wind to be heard and seen and a few currachs pulled up out of the water.

Winds were picking up the rain was relentless so it was time to leave. I was delighted that I had made the trip out here and discovered a few sights, in spite of the conditions.  Suddenly there was an incredible noise that almost deafened me and for the life of me I could not figure out what on earth it was.  On turning round I saw a helicopter had just taken off from right beside me, as  there is a Helicopter Landing base beside the Lighthouse!

A helicopter lifts off

A helicopter lifts off.

I left here very pleased with my foray into this area, and with the few treasures I had discovered. However, the Mullet Peninsula had one more surprise in store as not far along the road I  came upon Ionad Naomh Deirbhile, a local Visitor and Heritage Centre.

img_1292Although they were about to close I was invited in for tea and a homemade scone and here discovered the story of The Tuke Fund assisted emigrants. It is not always recognized that hunger in Ireland did not end with the famines of 1845- 1852 and 1879. Hunger and deprivation were a fact of life in poorer districts of the western seaboard in particular, with hundreds of families needing relief into the mid 1880s and beyond. James Hack Tuke (1819-1896) was an English Quaker who made it his mission to aid people suffering from starvation and deprivation in the West of Ireland. One of the features of the Tuke Fund assisted migration was that only entire families would be facilitated, thereby freeing up smallholdings for another family. The emigrants were provided with the fare and money to enable them settle in their new locations.  In 1883 and 1884, 3,300 emigrants left North West Mayo and Achill, boarding ships in Blacksod Bay.  They sailed on 10 separate voyages, for Boston and Quebec. There are impressive storyboards at the centre, where descendants of those who left here almost 140 years ago are welcomed. One such family arrived while I was there. It is reckoned that over 2 million people are descended from these North Mayo emigrants

The research on the Blacksod Tuke Emigration scheme was carried out by Rosemarie Geraghty, I believe for her thesis. Rosemarie has researched the 10 ships manifests that carried these families to their new lives in what she describes as the time of the  ‘forgotten famine’  and is absolutely delighted when descendants arrive here in search of their roots. I asked her what the charges are for family research and she said ‘They left here with nothing, we are never going to charge them to know where they came from.’ Rosemarie is ably assisted by Norah Cawley, a superb scone maker who makes visitors feel very welcome indeed. I have been to many a family research centre before, but never one like this – with such enthusiasm, warmth,  passion  and great scone making!

All of this information with family names  is available free to view, and is searchable under various headings, at http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie . They just love to hear from anyone wherever in the world whose ancestors may have left this beautiful place over 130 years ago.

On what was a miserable wet grey cloudy day, how lucky was I to discover such wonderful silver linings at the Mullet Peninsula and on the shores of Blacksod Bay!  More treasures of the Wild Atlantic Way – Beidh mé arais arís!

 

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

References

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/how-blacksod-lighthouse-changed-the-course-of-the-second-world-war-30319681.html

http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/

http://www.museumsofmayo.com/deirbhile.htm

 

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way – A detour via Swinford

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The Museum of Country Life Turlough Park Co. Mayo

After Westport I headed inland to the small town of Swinford, calling into Turlough Park, where the National Museum of Ireland houses its Folklife collection.

Nearby is Turlough Abbey supposedly dating from the mid 5th century. It is in a wonderful location on a hill with great views all around. There are some very interesting carvings in the walls.  You certainly are aware that you in are in a very ancient place.

So on to Swinford,where our great-grandmother lived the final years of her life at the railway Station House. I was surprised that this lovely little town looked so run down with many closed and boarded up premises. I was reminded of the journalist, the late John Healy who wrote about the deprivation of rural areas in his book No One Shouted Stop (The Death of an Irish Town), published 1968. Not much has changed in the intervening decades. At the top of the street is a very poignant sculpture of a woman and child dedicated to the women who remained home while their men sought work abroad in the 1950s.

On the cut stone railway bridge there is a plaque commemorating the arrival and closure of the railway station and the thousands who travelled on it.

The Catholic Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, Swinford – I wonder if our  great-grandmother would have climbed these steps every Sunday

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Just a  short drive from Swinford is Pontoon. I had long wanted to visit this place as I had heard it was a place of great beauty. And so it is, a place where two lakes – Lough Conn and Lough Cullin meet, with great trout fly fishing.  The two loughs meet under the bridge. The village was once a popular place for dances, and now sadly the hotel has closed down.

This is a beautiful unspoilt part of County Mayo, and well worth a slight detour to enjoy a different type of countryside, with lakes and rivers. County Mayo is sparsely populated which adds to its charm. I will return to the county to explore its great Wild Atlantic Way on my return journey ..and that will be a post not to be missed!

 

 

 

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Postcards from Cobh Co. Cork

Just about a 15 minute drive away is the fascinating town of Cobh, County Cork. It was known in earlier times as Queenstown, then as Cove. The spelling was then changed to the Irish Cobh (‘bh’ in Irish sounds like ‘V’), so pronunciation remained unchanged. This seaport on the southern coast of Ireland features large in the history of our nation. Sitting on what is one of the world’s finest natural harbours, Cobh has witnessed the emigration of millions of Irish whether by transportation to penal colonies, or in search of a better life in the New World. It is a poignant place, where so many of our people last stood on their home soil. My uncle was one of these who left for America from here and the sight of Cobh as they pulled out to sea stayed with him as a sad and tearful memory for decades.

Stark figures indeed!

Stark figures indeed!

Cobh has also figured large in maritime history. Nearby is Haulbowline the base for the Irish Navy and Spike Island with its 18th century star-shaped fort and a former prison.

The beautiful cathedral church of the Diocese of Cloyne stands over the town.

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Designed by Pugin and opened in 1879, St Colman’s is on the site of the old Bridwell. This beautiful building dominates everything around. The spire was added to the structure later and completed in 1915. The largest Carillon  in Ireland and Britain comprising 49 bells is here and following restoration it is now considered one of the best in the world. Cast in Loughborough, England and weighing some 25 tons, the bronze bells were transported from Liverpool to Cobh by courtesy of the British Navy, as no civilian vessels could make such a delivery during World War 1. The bells are not rung with ropes but are played with a keyboard with pedals that move the clappers. I was here at 4 pm which is one of the times when the hour chimes are followed by a tune. It was quite an experience to hear them ring out over the harbour!

Cobh has very steep little lanes leading down to the water’s edge,with colourful houses and quite a nice assortment of buildings.

Way below the imposing spire at the water’s edge is a delightful park, known locally as The Prom. Restored and upgraded several times, it was constructed in 1805 and  renamed Kennedy Memorial Park in the 1980s. I am not sure what connection JFK had with the town.

Cobh famously was the last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic on her maiden voyage. The old White Star Line offices now house the Titanic Experience Exhibition. It was from here that the 3rd Class passengers embarked, while the 1st and 2nd class passengers embarked from the jetty at the old railway station.  Sadly the historic 3rd class pier has fallen into disrepair. (I have written posts on the TITANIC in the past, links to these are at the end of the post)

But Cobh is associated with another major maritime tragedy. On 7 May 1915, 101 years ago tomorrow, the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania sailing from New York to Liverpool was torpedoed by a German U Boat, off the County Cork coast with the loss of 1,198 lives. Although she sank within 18 minutes of being hit, 761 passengers survived. This incident is considered to be the catalyst for the entry of the USA into the war. In Cobh there is a fine monument commemorating the tragedy where many of the survivors and the dead came ashore.  The monument in the main street is directly in front of the building which was used as a morgue for the dead in 1915.

In the Kennedy Memorial Park there is a wall in remembrance of the survivors of the disaster.

194 of the Lusitania victims rest in three mass graves and 24 individual plots at the local cemetery. The mass graves contain 23 bodies, 52 bodies and 69 bodies respectively, with names of those buried there carved on 3 glass memorials.

These sad memorials are in the very historic graveyard that bears witness to a number of tragedies at sea, with many sailors resting here. It is worthy of a visit to experience some of the history and to marvel at some of the stonemasons craft.

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The Republican Plot

Back in the town, one of the most famous sculptures is dedicated to Annie Moore and her brothers who sailed from Cobh to join their parents in New York. Annie was the first person to pass through Ellis Island.

Cobh is a town that has so much to offer that it would take a number of visits to cover it all. I am fortunate that it is almost in my backyard, so I will be there on a regular basis, to explore its beauty and other aspects of the fascinating history of the place.

Previous posts on the Titanic

A Mayo village devastated by the Titanic disaster.

April 11 1912. Titanic sails from Queenstown.

April 13 1912 Titanic sails in calm waters

April 14 1912. Iceberg Ahead! Goodbye all!

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants, My Travels, Titanic

April 14 1912: Iceberg Ahead! Good Bye all!

As RMS Titanic steamed towards New York, several iceberg warnings had been issued during the day of April 14 ,1912.

At 11.40 pm, with many passengers already in bed for the night, the lookout shouted ‘Iceberg Ahead’! Despite frantic attempts to manoeuvre the huge vessel, she hit the iceberg, ripping plates from her hull and leaving a huge gash in her side. Within minutes there were 14 feet of water in parts of the ship and the flooding continued relentlessly into each ‘watertight’ compartment.

25 minutes later, on April 15 1912 at 5 minutes past midnight an order is given to prepare the lifeboats. If all are filled to capacity over 1,000 people would have to stay on board as there are not enough of them.

At 00.45 am the first lifeboat is lowered, with only 28 people on board – it had space for  65.

At 2. 05 am there are 1,500 still on board the liner but there is only one lifeboat  left to be launched. The water is now just below the promenade deck.

The huge ship is now listing and people on board rush about in panic, trying to escape the freezing waters. At 2.17  Titanic’s bow plunges underwater and as all the heavy machinery slips forward, the lights flicker and go out.  The ship breaks in two and the bow disappears into the icy water. Three minutes later, at 2.20 am the stern section which had risen up into the air, plunges  into the icy depths.

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Jeremiah Burke from Cork, Ireland scribbled a message and put it in a bottle as the Titanic went down. He was lost. The bottle washed up some years later and the note was given to his family. His family has donated it to Cobh Heritage Centre. Image thejournal.ie

At 2.20 am in the village of Lahardane in County Mayo in the west of Ireland a bell will peal 11 mournful peals, followed by 3 joyful peals in memory of the 14 people from this small community who were passengers on the Titanic. 11 of them were lost and 3 survived. It is probably the only location in the world where the last moment of the great Titanic is remembered ever year at the exact time of the sinking.  Of the approximate 2,227 on board, about 713 survived. Lahardane’s commemorative bells peal across the land to remember all of those lost and saved.

References:

History on the Net

BBC History

Addergoole-Titanic.com

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April 13 1912: Titanic sails in calm waters

On this night 101 years ago, the RMS Titanic is sailing through calm waters. Just over 48 hours earlier she had departed Queenstown, County Cork. Passengers on board expect  to dock in New York on April 17, four days from now.

Among them are wealthy Americans who, having completed their tour of Europe are returning home in the most luxurious and fastest liner on the Atlantic route. Here too are hundreds of emigrants who have bidden farewell to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends all across Europe, and are now looking forward to a new life in a new land.

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Members of the Orchestra on board Titanic. Image Wikimedia.Commons

As they steam towards their meeting with destiny in just 24 hours from now, many 1st class passengers may be enjoying and dancing to the music of the on-board orchestra, while many others begin to settle down for the night. The calm conditions  make for a comfortable night’s sleep. The 128 children on board are probably already settled. For many of them –  for most of them – this is to be their last night alive.

References

Wikipedia.org

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April 11 1912,Titanic sails from Ireland

On the afternoon of April 11 1912, the Titanic picks up her last 123 passengers at Queenstown County Cork, Ireland. Joining the 2,105 already on board are 113 who will travel in 3rd class, 7 for 2nd class, and 3 as 1st class passengers.

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Waiting on the Queenstown quayside to join the RMS Titanic
Published with permission of artist.

For some on board, this was a great adventure, crossing the Atlantic on board a luxurious new ship. Many may have been excited by the prospect of a new life in the New World, while many more would be feeling great sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, not knowing when or where they will meet again.

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The last known image of Titanic as she departs Queenstown.Image Wiki.Commons

And so the RMS Titanic steams out of Cork Harbour for a meeting with destiny no one on board could envisage.

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In Dublin’s Fair City

Last weekend I was in Dublin for a family occasion and stayed – for the very first time – in the rejuvenated  docklands  at Sir Rogerson’s Quay. I have long wanted to see at first hand the cleverly designed, harp shaped new bridge over the River Liffey …and there it was – right on the doorstep of our hotel! In the quiet traffic free hours of a Sunday morning I took a stroll along this lovely part of the South Bank.

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The Samuel Beckett Bridge, having ‘the appearance of a harp lying on its side ‘

The Samuel Beckett Bridge carries both vehicles and pedestrians and is, in my opinion,one of the most beautiful structures in Dublin.

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The Convention Centre, Dublin

Right alongside the bridge is another stunning structure – the world-class Dublin Convention Centre, with its tilted glass cylinder  beautifully reflected in the  Liffey waters.

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The Dublin Convention Centre from Samuel Beckett Bridge

The Convention Centre dissected by the stays of the Samuel  Becket Bridge.

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A view of Dublin City through the Samuel Beckett Bridge

Looking back towards the City Centre, some of Dublin’s iconic structures are framed by elements of the bridge. The tall building is  Liberty Hall. Built in the 1960s it is renowned for its non pleasing appearance, but is nevertheless an integral part of the Dublin sky-scape. In total contrast, the green dome is atop one of the most beautiful buildings in Dublin, the fabulous Gandon designed  18th century Custom House. The tall spire to the right of the dome is the Monument of Light, otherwise known as The Spire, reaching 121.2 metres into the Dublin sky.This very elegant and modern  stainless steel structure has been part of the Dublin skyline since 2002.

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Liberty Hall, The Custom House and The Spire ‘through the eye’ of Samuel Beckett Bridge

Another view of 3 of Dublin’s iconic structures, all on the north side of the River Liffey,  from the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

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Ulster Bank Headquarters, on the Liffey South Bank, from Samuel Beckett Bridge.

Equally iconic, although a recent addition to the Dublin sky scape, is the glass, multi-roofed building that is  the headquarters of the Ulster Bank. It looks very spectacular at night especially when approaching the city from the north side.

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The Jeanie Johnston Replica Famine Ship.

Moored  between Séan O’Casey Bridge and the Samuel Beckett Bridge, with the Custom House in the left background, is the replica famine ship, the Jeanie Johnston. Built about 2002 in County Kerry, she is a replica of the original that sailed between Tralee in County Kerry and North America from  1847 to 1855. The Jeanie Johnston was  remarkable in that no life was ever lost on the difficult voyages between Ireland and the New World. She is open to the public. I boarded her when she was tied up in Fenit, County Kerry, some years ago and she is well worth a visit to see at first hand what the living conditions were like for the emigrants who sailed in her.

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Statue of Mayo-man Admiral William Brown, ‘Father of the Argentine Navy’

A few yards from the Samuel Beckett Bridge, on the seaward side, stands a statue of  Admiral William Brown, or Guillermo Brown as he is known in Argentina. This illustrious Irish emigrant  changed the history of South America. This piece is from the Connaught Telegraph :

”Admiral William Brown, the hero of Garcia, Montevideo and Los Pozos, is acknowledged as ‘the father of Argentina’s Navy.’But he was even more than all that. He was a champion and friend of human liberty and the emancipator of a whole nation. In fact, the entire continent of South America owes him a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that he was one of the world’s foremost and greatest men of action, and that his exploits and heroism have profoundly influenced the course of history.”

Feb13 Book Launch + Dublin 036Beyond the statue of Admiral Brown, looking seaward there are reminders of the history of the old Dublin Port when ships were once moored along these docks.

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The modern Dublin Port in the distance, with these once busy quays now providing an excellent recreational, commercial and residential amenity.Feb13 Book Launch + Dublin 035Reminders of the past are all along the quay wall.

References

http://www.jeaniejohnston.ie

http://www.con-telegraph.ie

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