Monday, November 21, 2011

Old McDonagh Had A Farm...

This is the view right down the road from our Great Great Grandfather's (Michael McDonagh) farm in Derrygolagh, County Sligo, Ireland. What once was the family farm is now part of a forest of fir trees, just steps from the borders of Sligo and Rosscommon Counties. It is a beautiful, remote area. We wouldn't have found it at all if not for our cousin Liz - who scouted out the landscape back in the Spring of this year. She forwarded detailed maps with handwritten notes and landmarks so we could walk the land that our ancestors plowed.

Following Liz's directions, we first visited what is believed to be the cemetery where our Great, Great Grandparents are buried. Some of the headstone are now merely 'stones' worn by weather and time.

A beautiful resting place

We also stopped at another cemetery to see if we could find family names on the stones, but none of our McDonaghs or Morrisroes were there.

We then made our way to the parish church, St. Kevin's. We know that our ancestors worshipped, baptized their children and buried their loved ones here.

This photo of St. Kevin's around the time it was founded, was taped on the back wall of the church

Suzanne and I spent a better part of the morning chasing down the parish priest, Father Finan. I had written him back in August requesting to see the parish records. We checked all three churches under his purview, stopped by the Parish House, and even checked the closest pub ... all to no avail. Apparently, at each place we stopped we had 'just missed him' by minutes!! Everyone we spoke with told us that Fr. Finan was a kind and most humble man. We're sorry we never got the chance to meet him. We did get to see a lot of the 'auld sod' while we were chasing him, though!

For cousin Liz...I knew you were with us during the trip!!

To 'back-pedal' just a bit, I should say that we visited all these sights on Monday, November 7. We departed County Donegal on Sunday morning, Nov 6th. We took our time driving down the western coast of Ireland, stopping in a few small towns along the way.

That evening, we checked into the first castle we had ever slept in - Markree Castle. It was beautiful! We were just one of three rooms occupied in the castle that evening. A bit spooky, but we sat by the fire in the entrance hall and the staff told us stories about the history of the castle and which rooms were haunted. Thank goodness our room wasn't one of them!!

On Monday afternoon, we left County Sligo and made our way toward Dublin. We were meeting our cousins, Eileen and Phyllis, in town that evening. We didn't spend enough time in Sligo - there was much to see and the folks there were most welcoming. We hope to return there one day soon.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Running for Charity!

I'm interrupting the travel log of our trip to Ireland to share some exciting family news!

My sister-in-law, Kim, ran her first marathon last Sunday, Nov 13 in Richmond, Virginia! Kim ran to benefit her sister Allison's charitable foundation Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation . Allison founded this entity in 2001. Both Allison and her Dad, Dick (who is one of my favorite guys ever!) suffer from Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT). To find out more about CMT and to read a detailed account of Kim's marathon accomplishment, Click Here

On Sunday evening Kim reported:

I ran the marathon in 5 hours and 41 minutes.
It was a fabulous experience. I am really sore but still in amazement of what i did!!!

Here's my niece, Kate cheering her Mom on to the finish line:

And my Brother, Chalie with Kate and Allison (founder of HNF) lending support for Kim's herculean effort!:

This is a huge accomplishment for Kim - one I know she is very proud of. The entire family shares that pride! I'm hoping to cheer her on in person one of these days... Perhaps when we move back East :-)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Meeting our Inishowen Family

How beautiful and rugged is the coast pictured above?! That's the view from Malin Head, the northern most point in Ireland. Breathtaking! This is where my paternal Great Grandfather lived and worked in the 1800's. He was born in 1839 - just around the time the Great Famine struck Ireland. It's amazing he survived at all, let alone marry twice and father 15 children!

I have spent the past 3 years tracing my ancestors in Ireland, England and Canada. I have met some really incredible folks along the way. All the research culminated with a visit to County Donegal to finally meet my cousins - descendants of my Grandfather's sister Philomena.

I'll recount the happy occasion of our meeting after sharing with everyone the story of my incredible good fortune and simple 'Irish Luck'. I also believe that divine intervention had a hand in bringing some amazing folks into my life. See if you agree:

In March 2011, having reached the limit of genealogy information available on-line, I decided to look for a genealogy expert based in County Donegal. The records I needed to extend my knowledge of my ancestors were in Ireland. Most held by local churches. I also needed someone who had experience with obtaining public records and interpreting the 150 year old land records of the townlands of the County. After looking at many options, I found Boyd Gray of West Ulster Genealogy. Boyd and his business partner Barbara worked doggedly for months. They found siblings of my Great Grandfather Daniel and siblings of my Great Grandmother Susan. Boyd even made a trip to Culdaff in July to meet with my cousins and photograph the homes (or remnants of) my Great Grandparents. They solved the mystery of what happened to my Grandfather William's brother, Phillip. Phillip's name appeared on the family gravestone, though no one knew the exact story of his death. [He died in what appears to be a fishing accident off the coast of Wales] So many other little details were traced with enthusiasm - at times I was overwhelmed just taking it all in! Here's a photo of Boyd, who I was so thrilled to meet in Culdaff on Saturday evening, Nov 5th.

My second occasion of Irish Luck came in the form of an email from a wonderful lady named Ellen. Upon booking our flight to Ireland, I sent a letter to each of the parish priests in the towns we planned to visit. [We also visited the parish and family farm of my paternal grandmother's family in County Sligo]. The priest in Malin Parish responded to my request to view the parish records almost immediately. He informed me that he had forwarded my request to the Parish Archivist - who would search the records on my behalf. The letter included the names of my Great Grandfather and both his wives. Ellen is the Parish Archivist. She also happens to be our third cousin! What luck! She was able to put me touch with Paul and Maureen, who are also third cousins, living in England. We exchanged information, spoke on the phone and sent photos to each other. We also filled in a lot of 'blanks' on each others family tree. Amazing! Here's a photo of me, Ellen and her friend Mary, taken on the evening of our 'Clan Gathering':

On Saturday morning, Nov. 5th Ellen and her sister Margaret met us in Malin Town to give us a tour. They picked us up at 9:30 and we spent a good part of the day together. We had some really good conversations and laughs. I was so overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness shown by these two wonderful ladies. Here are some of the sights we saw that morning:

Another view of Malin Head

This cottage appeared in the pages of National Geographic & on a cereal box!

Suzanne braving the strong winds on the peninsula

Hmmm, I wonder if they are related?!

Locked out of our own pub!!!

That's Margaret on the left, Ellen on the right. Pumpkin Head in the middle!

Just one of the three rainbows we saw that day!

Remnants of a family homestead

This was once the home of our Great Grandfather, Philip Farren

This is Mr. McLaughlin, who allowed us to walk his property to get to Philip's house. Mr. McLaughlin provided a wealth of information about our ancestry - just by knocking on his door! Thank goodness for Ellen - Suzanne & I would never had dared!

This is Margaret and her husband. Suzanne & I will be helping Margaret with a project in the near future. [more about that later!]

Mr. McLaughlin's cows... I think we disturbed their lunch!

Finally, the big evening event was upon us... we were finally going to meet our cousins! This branch of our family - still living in the town where our Grandfather, "Willie" was born - are the children and grandchildren of our Grandfather's sister, Philomena. The second we walked into McGrory's Pub, there were hugs and kisses and smiles exchanged all around. In those smiles I saw familiar features... there was no doubt we were related! Suzanne and I were so touched and grateful that some of our cousins drove nearly two hours to be at the gathering. Eleven of us settled in nicely, enjoying a few drinks- (soda for me as I was driving those narrow Irish lanes!) and sharing a delicious meal. Here's the few shots I managed to take... we were all so busy laughing and talking, I'm lucky I got these!

Left to Right: Suzanne; Cousin Mena; Jamsie and Mary (Jamsie is the son of Philomena so he's our Dad's cousin/our 2nd cousin); the side of Ellen who is leaning over to talk to Kathleen, (the widow of Jamsie's brother, Danny and mother to 11 of our cousins!); and cousin Catriona - who, along with our cousin Eileen in Dublin, was instrumental in getting everyone together that evening!

And here's a photo of the family just as the evening was about to end:

Left to Right: That's me and Suzanne; cousins Catriona, Josephine and Mena; Kathleen; cousin Neal McGrory (proprietor of McGrory's pub/ our Great Grandmothers were sisters!); and sitting in front Jamsie and wife Mary.

That evening in Culdaff will remain in our hearts and memories forever. All of our relatives were so forthcoming with the stories of their lives and what they knew of our families here in the US. We shared many stories - some hysterically funny and some so very tragic. We shared with them the losses we knew of... the deaths of our Grandmother Kathleen, our cousins Patty and Valerie; and the loss of our Aunt Kathleen. We were not alone in our losses - our Irish family had witnessed tragedy as well. The exchange of information regarding our losses helped to identify common illnesses that seemed to run in the family. This will benefit all of us, knowing that there might be a genetic link to some of the maladies that have affected our ancestors and our contemporaries.

I should also mention here that our cousins are an accomplished lot. They are all successful in their chosen professions and have beautiful families. In the past week I have seen incredible photos of the next generation of cousins - they are a stunning group of children - all with angelic faces (and I'm hoping a bit of devilishness too!). The evening was just the beginning of all of us getting to know one another. I can tell you though, I really like knowing that I'm related to such wonderful individuals. I can't wait to see all of them again! As you might guess, we are expecting them here in California and in Philadelphia in the coming months/year. I'm looking forward to sharing more fun times and having our kids meet their Irish cousins!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Handsome Irishmen...

Aiden & Barry

...that we just happen to be related to!

Suzanne and I were so happy to share dinner this evening at the home of our cousin Phyllis! While Phyllis' beef stroganoff was delicious (really, really delicious !) it came in second to the delight of meeting her family! Pictured above are Aiden (age 8) and Barry (12). Below are Aiden, David (14) and their Dad, Walter. Not pictured are the lovely hostess (who, like most Moms was multi-tasking all over the place) and beautiful Ava Beth (age 4).

I'll be able to share more photos of all the 'next generation' cousins soon. For now, I wanted to keep my promise to Aiden that I would show his handsome face to all our friends and family in America! I also want all of the American cousins to see their Irish cousins, too! So, Maddie, Josie, Kate, Jack, Liam and Zach - say hello to just a FEW of your 3rd cousins!

Aiden, David & Walter

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Belfast and the Antrim Coast

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

On Friday morning we were up early, having decided to take 'the long way' along the Antrim coast to Co. Donegal. The drive along the coastal route is reported to be one of the most beautiful in the world. The route passes through quaint villages and historic sites. It's main attraction is that it leads to the Giants Causeway, a designated World Heritage Site.

First thing first, we headed to the St. George's Market to stock up on provisions. We planned to have a picnic lunch at one of the many picnic spots along the way. Suzanne picked out Welsh and Irish cheddar cheeses, apples, grapes and a freshly baked load of crusty bread. Here's a few photos from the market:

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

After an hour at the market, we said goodbye to Belfast and headed North along the coast. Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle. I should mention here that we had the most beautiful sunny day for our sightseeing. We had been told by many people that it had been raining non stop for the past 6 weeks. We also had good luck in the fact that we arrived at the Castle about 10 minutes before a giant tour bus. We had the Castle to ourselves for most of our visit!

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

By the time we made it to the Giants Causeway, it was 2 PM. It is a dramatic coast line with rock formations that make a natural staircase to the sea...

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

In true Murphy's Law accordance, our planned picnic by the sea ended up begin more of a 'take out' meal than we expected... I drove while Suzanne used a knife 'borrowed' from the hotel to slice the cheese. She ripped chunks of the crusty loaf of bread to fashion little sandwiches for us both. Not quite what we had in mind, but fun and delicious nonetheless ! We arrived in Co. Donegal ay our B&B just as it was getting dark. Another beautiful day in Ireland.