Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Tale Told in Numbers


In examining the history of Limerick County in preparation for our research trip to Ireland, one thing stands out: the devastating loss of people sustained by this county through the last two centuries. Knowing that there was a Great Famine, for those of us who never went through it, is only a cerebral knowledge. It is when we see the fingerprints of the devastation that we begin to realize the decimating effects of that tragedy.

For instance, the population of County Limerick had been rising modestly through the decades of the early 1800s, until reaching a peak population of just over three hundred thirty thousand in 1841. By the time of the next census, the devastation had struck the island, decreasing the population by a full twenty percent.

Not all those absent from home were victims of starvation. Some missing from that 1851 count were, of course, absent by dint of will, having made their way to a better place by virtue of begging, borrowing or stealing their passage to a land across the ocean.

Stephen Molloy, my husband’s second great grandfather, was among those who were missing from that 1851 census. Very possibly, his wife, though left behind by her husband, had by then also taken flight to the New World.

Even by the time of the 1861 census, the rate of population decrease in County Limerick had kept up at almost the same percentage as in the previous decade. The decline continued, in fact, until after 1926—though by then at a much slower rate. By 1936, there was the modest beginning of an uptick in numbers, alternating a few times with slight decreases, until the county's population, at last count in 2011, arrived at just about the same tally as it had been in 1871—just under one hundred ninety two thousand . It had taken well over a century to regain what had been lost in population—and a partial gain at that, since it attained to only the level following the most severe losses.

While those are my reflections on seeing the numbers just for County Limerick, that radical change was likely reflected in the other counties of Ireland as well—particularly those on the western side of the island. Perhaps that is the reason my husband’s ancestors all seemed to hail from western counties—and a strong argument for our unaligned Kelly line to have come from anywhere other than the Dublin of oral family tradition.

Along with the Falvey and Kelly lines of County Kerry and the Flanagan and Molloy lines of County Limerick, there was one other set of ancestors whose Irish origin we already have confirmed: that of the Flannery and Tully families of County Tipperary. While they likely were as strongly impressed to leave homeland in those same famine years, the particulars of this couple from farther north on the west coast of Ireland made for an entirely different story.



Above: Watercolor "Near Land's End," by Irish civil engineer, songwriter and poet Percy French; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Let the List-Making Begin


Well, we’ve got money on it, now: we’re headed to Ireland. Not that I needed this to make things official. There was no question about it, we were going. But it is nice to at least have paid for the tickets. Sometimes, those pesky details can be so insistent on immediate attention.

Now that we are beyond those formalities, I can attend to the other innumerable details clamoring for the intrepid traveler’s attention. How is it that I find myself keeping not one list, but several? There’s the housing, transportation and logistics list. But that is dependent on the itinerary list. Which is dependent on the local repositories’ schedule list. Which can’t possibly be completed before the surname research list reaches the peak of perfection. Which it won’t. Not, at least, before our late September departure.

Sometimes, I feel as if I am overseeing the management of a PERT chart, not the mere single-page listing of “Places to Go and Things to See.”

Of course, it doesn’t help when I get smitten by the Ooh Shiny Syndrome and wander around blogs promising the best advice in genealogical research travel—or forget that, just travel in general.

Like this blog I subscribe to, one about Irish archaeology, which just happened to put out this post on Irish Castles and Forts in Photos. Nice. I got lost in that one.

Not that any of my husband’s forebears grew up in Irish castles. But it wouldn’t hurt pulling off the road if our travel route happens to bring us by one.

Between now and take-off, rest assured I’ll be pulling the pertinent details together from all these lists—well, minus the shiny bunny trail wish lists—and combining them to craft a master list. As part of my participation in the Dublin research program at the end of our Ireland visit, I’ve been consulting with the professional genealogist hosting the event, gaining her assessment of what work may still be done before arriving in Dublin. My success in that area will help determine what remains on my pre-research travel itinerary. That is where visits to the local repositories—county libraries, archives, or local history centers—will come in handy. All those places will need to be contacted, available resources inquired about, and times of operation confirmed.

It sometimes seems like a full time job, just following up on all the possibilities. Sometimes, it seems like there is so much to pack into such a short time. Sometimes, I sink into this black hole of fear that maybe I’ll get there and find there is absolutely nothing to research. And I wonder, “What then?”

That’s when I tell myself: if only we walk the paths these ancestors likely walked—in towns we’ve found in those specific Irish counties I’ve listed—that will satisfy us. As genealogy fanatics, we are plagued with the addiction of always wanting more: just one more generation, just another name, just the rest of those vital statistics. That constant state of always wanting more simply translates into the feeling that what we already have is not enough. But it really is. This is a trip of a lifetime, and what we find when we get there will be more than we’ve ever had before.

When I think of it that way, it helps me become the sort of grateful that makes a trip like this all worthwhile. Even if I find nothing when I’m there.


 Above: Photograph of Blackrock Castle in County Cork, Ireland, circa 1895; originally appearing in a catalog printed by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1905; courtesy United States Library of Congress; in the public domain.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Being “More Irish Than the Irish”


As I pursue the history of the counties of Ireland from which our family’s ancestors originated, I become more and more plagued with a question: just who were those original Irish, anyhow?

I’ve wanted to prepare myself, as best I can, for our genealogical research trip to Ireland in October, and have systematically been reviewing what can be found on the history of the Irish counties of Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Mayo. In addition, I’ve been researching the historic roots of the surnames of particular interest to our family: Falvey, Flannery, Flanagan, Kelly, Molloy, Stevens and Tully.

While I haven’t gotten far into this process, it has resulted in a few observations. One, of course, is that every name in Irish history—no matter how obscure to this innocent bystander—seems to be prefaced by the adjective, “famous.” If not, the term substituting for that would be, “infamous.” “Legendary,” “noble,” and “chief” feature prominently on that list as well.

A closely related observation is that the Irish history seems to have been full of turmoil. If you, as a non-Irish reader, had assumed the main stage in this conflict would have been between the native Irish and their English aggressors, think again. That was only part of the story.

And yet, who were those original Irish? It becomes harder and harder for me to determine. (I’m certainly not willing to pursue an advanced degree in the subject, so perhaps when my anthropology-studying college student achieves her ultimate goal, she can enlighten me on the murky pre-dawn-of-history origins of the “Irish race.”) As I push back through the centuries of war, bloodshed, political intrigue and double-crossing, I keep striking the perpetrators off my list. No, not the British. Not the Normans: they were the very ones for which that phrase, "More Irish than the Irish," was once coined. Besides, they came after the Danes, who came after those other Norse invaders. With a sequence like this, I begin to wonder, “And who came before them?”

Since I have a solid address for our pre-1850 Molloy and Flanagan families in the southeastern portion of County Limerick, I took a look at the history of both the county and city of Limerick. Just as castles elsewhere on the island revealed the turmoil inherent in regional history in other parts of Ireland, the strongholds of Limerick told the same story, taking me from the Uí Fidgenti of the fourth century through traces of the last vestiges of one sept around the barony of Upper Connello—the very location in which the deserted Ann Flanagan Molloy had been addressed by the letter from her suddenly-emigrating husband.

The Uí Fidgenti were undoubtedly not the first in the region that we now know as County Limerick. Likewise, they were not the last to arrive there as invaders. Various factions of Vikings whose struggles besieged the area gradually gave way to invading Normans. With the point often being made that the Normans so adopted Irish customs as to be known as “more Irish than the Irish,” I begin wondering to which, of all these foreigners encroaching upon the Irish island, my husband owes his “Irish” heritage. After all this history, was he even Irish, at all?

A little detour into the world of genetic genealogy added one detail to bolster that speculation: my husband’s Y-DNA test returned, offering the possibility that his roots included some Viking origins. Does a Viking ancestor claiming turf upon the shores of Ireland make one Irish? Or Norse? Or do we simply succumb to the obvious result of having been awash in centuries of the history of foreign conquest, and claim for his ethnic heritage, American?


Above, right: Historical map of the island of Ireland in 1450, designating the areas held by native Irish versus Anglo-Irish lords or the English king; map released into the public domain by its creator, Wesley Johnston; courtesy Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Yeah, Yeah, Another “Great Chief”


Could it be that the Irish all descend from Niall of the Nine Hostages just as everyone is supposed to be descended from Adam?

In researching the history of the surname Molloy—and all the requisite spelling variations I must keep in mind as well—it doesn’t appear there are many helpful clues emerging. The original Irish name was evidently Ó Maolmhuaidh, and the breakdown goes as follows:
            Maolmhuadh: Proud Chieftain or Great Chief
            Maol: Chieftain
            Muadh: Noble, grand, or big.

Of course, that is the explanation for just one of “a number of distinct Irish names” which eventually were anglicized to become Molloy. Or Malloy. Or…well, you get the idea.

The surname’s purported history makes for a great story. Coming from the southern branch of the large Uí Neill, claiming descent from—yes, you guessed it—Niall of the Nine Hostages, the family was part of a powerful group prominent up through the English “administration” of Ireland. Reviewing the map of medieval Ireland, it’s easy to see the family’s stomping ground would be around County Offaly.

On the other hand, the surname Molloy could have come from a second family, known as Ó Maoil Aodha—“descendant of the devotee of Aodh.” These people claimed the area around County Roscommon and the eastern portion of County Galway. Aodh was apparently known as a saint, and the “maol” root of the name may have referred to the tonsure of the early Irish monks. At any rate, if you are not familiar with what a tonsure is, a clue might be the meaning that has been handed down through the ages: bald.

I assure you, from what I know of current members of this branch of the family, “bald” was not a feature shared with the holders of this surname’s origin.

Then again, perhaps our Molloys came from a third group. Originally called Ó Maolmhaodhóg (try saying that one fast, three times), the name meant “descendant of the devotee of Maodhóg.” Yes, another saint. However, I noticed that name had also been anglicized as Mulvogue—a far cry from Molloy—and traces its roots to the region around Ulster.

With these various regions and counties of Ireland, I became concerned about locating just which county, specifically, from which our Stephen Molloy might have originated. After all, he wasn’t showing up in the County Limerick townland where he had sent that last-minute letter to his wife. It was not helpful to notice the list, in the “Irish Ancestors” section of The Irish Times, indicating each of the counties in which the surname—and its many variants—had appeared. Bottom line: there were no Molloys listed from County Limerick. Nor—just in case he had decided to jump the county line—in County Cork. The closest possibility for a Molloy at the time of the Griffith’s Valuation—just about the time Stephen Molloy fled the country—was in County Tipperary or County Waterford.

Just as Stephen Molloy found it compelling to flee his homeland in 1849 for a city an ocean journey’s distance, he may have, in like manner, arrived a few years earlier in whatever town the family of Ann Flanagan claimed. And, having gained her hand in marriage, once again moved on.

Not very noble of him, despite the surname he carried. Of course, there might have been another side to his story, but it’s one we’ll likely never learn.



Above: James Brenan, "On the Way to Market," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bogged Down


“Here,” my friend Sylvia announced, tossing a copy of a slim tour guide on the table where we were meeting for coffee. “You’re going to Ireland; you can use this.” She had found the book at a second-hand store and thought immediately of me. After all, it’s no secret I’ve been preparing for this research trip to Ireland for months.

The book was the 1995 version of the Alfred A. Knopf  travel guide, Ireland. Crammed full of more detail than you’d ever want to know about the country, as a used book, it was understandably outdated. But hey, Ireland’s been around a long time. Things couldn’t have changed that much. At least, not the old things.

The book was so full of details, in fact, that the print was hard for me to read without a stronger pair of glasses. I resolved to read it later, tucking it away amidst profuse expressions of gratitude.

And promptly forgot about it.

While my current course of preparation calls for my review of surname histories and meanings, along with delving into the history and details of each county in Ireland we’ll be visiting, my method inevitably had to hit a snag.

That snag came the other evening, when I was ambushed by this overwhelming sense of exhaustion. That inexplicable feeling didn’t go away with a fresh morning’s arrival. I was doomed to lose a day: sick. When my characteristic nervous energy collided with a rather dysfunctional malaise and I found myself doing uncharacteristic, mindless tasks like dusting individual slats of the venetian blinds, I knew it was time to surrender. I grabbed a few books and hit the sack.

In a fevered stupor, I flipped through the pages of the Ireland volume Sylvia had given me. Now, you have to understand, this is not your usual type of travel book. It is a small volume, yes, but it is crammed with everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-Ireland, and then some.

So, before I got to the cities—or even the requisite castles—I found myself flipping through pages on the flora and fauna of the countryside, the bountiful fish in the rivers and lakes, the prehistoric stage-setting of the ice age. This book really knew how to take you through it all, starting on the ground floor. Yep, the dirt.

I was reading about the dirt of Ireland.

It was the bogs the book was talking about: how the peat came to be, how it was ever changing, based on the wet-and-wetter climate shifts. The book delved into the details of the bogs, their preservative powers, their characteristics, their uses. Cutting the peat. Stacking the peat. Burning the peat. Even using the peat as a break for flood waters coming down those lush, picturesque hills.

Out of my stupor, I suddenly realized: wait! This sounds familiar!

You see, five thousand miles away from Ireland, we have peat, too. Lots of it. Just to the west of us, in northern California, we have a whole river system carved out of peat: the San Joaquin Delta region. It’s been cut and stacked for levees to protect from flooding. It’s been farmed. It’s even burned—a phenomenon described to me upon my arrival in California as a student, years ago. I've seen it, myself. Yes, this dirt can burn.

While it’s unlikely I’ll be touring any peat bogs in Ireland next month, I suddenly feel an affinity for this place so far from home. I can relate.

And when my Irish-archaeology-pursuing daughter, the college student away in Ireland, starts chattering about the latest discovery of ancient remains unearthed from the peat, it won’t feel quite so foreign any more.

While I’ll soon be up to getting back to my research—and my latest sequence of examining the local history of those Irish counties—after this feverish interlude, I won’t be looking at it with the same eyes. Somehow, that far away Ireland won’t be examined so much for what is different about it, but for what they and I hold in common.

There might be a lot more of that than I had supposed.



 Above: Line drawing of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from "Chart of the Sacramento River from Suisun City to the American River by Cadwalader Ringgold, 1850," originally captioned, "Mark for entering the second section of the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River;" courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Of Kings, Crooks and Commoners


Why is it that the history of the origin of any given surname seems to begin with an illustrious warrior or powerful king? Apparently, Flanagan—one of the surnames in my husband’s genealogy—had such a glorious genesis. Said to originally be “Ó Flannagáin,” the name meant male “descendant of the ruddy one.” The name—originally a popular given name—was taken from the old Irish root, “Flann,” signifying red or ruddy. Of course, experts cannot decide whether that “Flann” referred to red hair or a ruddy complexion. Let me assure you, no one in my husband’s family has either the hair or the skin tone to match those descriptions.

There are some glorious legends claiming that the head of the Flanagan clan—or sept, as it is sometimes labeled—was “of the same stock as the royal Connors” line. On the other hand, some sources state that there may have been three separate, unrelated, clans by that same name in Ireland. Considering that the Flanagan septs were said to be located in counties Roscommon, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Offaly, it is easy to see the name would be widespread across Ireland.

No, wait: did that range include counties Waterford and Westmeath? Wait! Forget Monaghan?

Will somebody please make up his mind?!

Even better, according to some, those Flanagan forebears in Fermanagh claimed descent from the famed—and prolificNiall of the Nine Hostages. Perhaps that is why that Flanagan name is so widely distributed.

By the time the Flanagan surname arrived to contribute to the gene pool from which my husband sprang, there seemed to be nothing illustrious about it: our Flanagans were commoners—with possibly a criminal thrown in for good measure (note the William Flanagan tried in County Cork on the fourth listing in this database; no guarantee that he was ours; just a family tradition). And they shared that plain destiny with many others; Flanagan had become the sixty-ninth most frequent surname in Ireland, and quite widespread in the other nations to which the famine-stricken Irish had fled.

For those of us wishing to retrace the steps of our Flanagan forebears, that widespread territory claimed by those original septs makes the search just a tad bit more challenging.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Having Fought and Conquered


Not far from our Kelly and Falvey ancestral connections in County Kerry lived two additional great-great grandparents in my husband’s family: Ann Flanagan Malloy and Stephen Malloy—he of the mysterious letter and unannounced flight from his homeland in 1849.

Having saved a copy of a copy of that old family treasure, I was feeling pretty smug about my abilities to pinpoint Stephen Malloy in the Griffith’s Valuation. After all, the address on the letter’s envelope brings me virtually to their hundred sixty five year old doorstep. How hard could this be?

Having worked hard, visit after visit with Uncle Ed, the family’s keeper of the ancestral details, I felt pretty good about all the material I had compiled, and I was certain this preparation would pay off handsomely, once we land in Ireland in a month.

Once I actually sat down to find any proof of that location in Griffith’s Valuation, however, I felt as if the motto of the ancient Flanagan sept had turned to mock me. Certavi et vici—“I have fought and conquered”—might have been how I felt going into this round of research, but it certainly wasn’t the way I saw myself afterwards.

Researching Flanagan as a surname in the United States had been a challenge. As I worked my way backwards in time from the family’s location in twentieth century Chicago, I had to be careful to include all possible spelling variations of the name. Not only did I research Flanagan, but I included Flanigan and Flanegan—as well as the same permutations tacked onto a version of the name including two n’s: Flannigan and Flannagan. Put that together with such typical—and, unfortunately, common—Irish given names as William and Edward, and it did, indeed, take on the sense of a struggle.

I had managed to work my way backward to two tenuous connections with the Old Country: the family’s oral tradition that, before his arrival in Chicago around 1860, William Flanagan had been sent, on account of a petty crime, to Australia; and the family story of his sister Ann’s desperate journey to Boston, seeking her missing husband, Stephen Malloy. As doubtful as I’ve learned to be about family traditions, I felt I had conquered that doubt, with letter in hand, once I gleaned the address where it had been sent in County Limerick.

An additional hint on William’s own headstone had clinched it: stating he was from Parish “Ballygran” in County Limerick, the details dovetailed nicely with the letter’s address.

But when I tried locating any proof of that residency in the Griffith’s Valuation, I was defeated. First, there was no “Parish Ballygran”—nor any such parish with the correct spelling, Ballyagran. That is the name of a Catholic parish, not a civil parish.

Scrambling to a forum populated by people understanding the specifics of how the Irish historically addressed their letters, I learned that the Catholic parish likely spanned the county border, and also took in more than one civil parish. Thankfully, on the website I had been using to search the property survey, there was a way to search by place name. Using that option, I found confirmation that the civil parish was called Corcomohide, and that Ballyagran was considered a village within the borders of that civil parish.

The best part of utilizing that search option was that the next step offered to show the complete listing for the village of Ballyagran.

The bad news was that there was neither Flanagan nor Malloy in the listings—no matter how the surnames were spelled.

Where were they? A person couldn’t have gotten more close to pinpointed detail on their residence than that letter from Stephen to Anna. While I noticed a few entries listed as “vacant,” I hardly could take comfort in finding those. There were no other details to go by in those “vacant” listings. But that did bring up a point.

The property survey known as Griffith’s Valuation generally comes with a set of dates: 1847-1864. Seeing those dates may put a researcher in mind of serial processes, such as the United States census, repeated every ten years. Thus, just like there is an 1870 census and then an 1880 census, one might reason that the Irish property survey was repeated periodically as well.

That is not exactly the case. Apparently, Sir Richard Griffith was appointed Commissioner of Valuation by the British in 1827, but did not begin his duties in Ireland until the requisite maps specified by legislation for his task were made available in 1830. Then, in the process of completing two separate valuation surveys, he began with the townlands survey, which was completed in the 1840s. Only at the completion of that first survey did he begin a second, more extensive "tenement" survey.

The question, then, becomes: when was the valuation completed for the specific county and parish in which our Stephen and Ann Flanagan Malloy resided? According to a chart provided by Wikipedia, County Limerick’s valuation was completed 29 June of 1853. However, checking the site from which I obtained the actual data for the Corcomohide parish, opening up the detail window shows the publication date listed as 1852.

While it would have been helpful to know the exact date for completion of the survey in the specific areas of interest, why squabble over details? I need to keep in mind that Stephen Malloy left Ireland for Boston in 1849. While I can’t be certain when his wife left home in her unsuccessful quest to find Stephen, there is a good possibility that she was no longer in Ireland by the time of the valuation. Or, perhaps, she was one of the Anne Malloys listed in other parishes in County Limerick, having had to give up the property where she was living at the time of Stephen’s abrupt departure. There is no way of telling from the scant genealogical data that can be gleaned from Griffith’s Valuation.

It is aggravating, indeed, to find yourself caught in that sliver of time in which all available search tools will not suffice your own particular research need. In the Flanagan and Malloy case, though, I still can hope to find a marriage record in any remaining parish documents, or possibly a baptismal record for their infant daughter Catherine. If nothing else, I can at least hope for a good Irish map to steer me to the back roads of Ballyagran. In barely a month, I may just be walking down that very path.
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