Climbing the Family Tree

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, 2005

My lunch appointment in Dublin never confirmed a location, so I sleep in and delay my departure from Knockanbrack. Mary has generously offered to loan me a package of photographs – some a hundred years old – to bring home, scan and mail back to her. We go through them and for those that are not already labeled we write on the back who is in picture.

Departing, even at 11:00 AM, is far to soon for Mary.

I drive northwest through Tipperary and on to Cashel, taking a brief detour for a few photographs. Then it is a straight shot on the motorway to Dublin.

Dublin is a more cosmopolitan city. Many more people of color, Asians and Europeans than I have seen elsewhere. And this is seemingly not a new phenomena – during my stay I will order a sandwich from an Asian women with and Irish accent and purchase an item from a black woman with the same. It is an old “big” city. The buildings are no taller than what I saw in Limerick, but there is more litter and graffiti that is rarely seen in the west. It has the accumulated soot and dirt of centuries upon it. There is also big city traffic.

The maps are good and I find the guesthouse on the north side. I arrive around 3:45 PM. As I enter this building the co-owner gives me his card -- my hosts are Mary and Joseph, and my room at the inn is waiting. But this Joseph is a Romanian immigrant.

I decide to spend the evening catching up. After checking my e-mail, I do my last preparations for the work in London and catch up on these blog entries. That done, at around 8:00 I walk to a pub / restaurant several blocks down the street for dinner. Above the mantel in the dinning area are three photographs of Bill and Hillary Clinton during a Presidential visit. The friendly waitress speaks with a clipped German accent. The menu includes stir-fry, Mexican, Cajun, and pasta entrees. And this “historic neighborhood pub” is one of four owned by the folks. Dublin is an international city.

After breakfast, I fully catch up on my work and send out e-mails. Shortly after lunch I take the short bus ride into the center city. There are bus lanes along most of the major roads and bus transportation is well used. The double deckers are full and frequent, and even so there is much traffic.

As luck would have it, I get off a block from the Abbey Theater – I take photograph for my daughter the aspiring actress. I spend some time wondering the city and then head for Trinity College. I stroll down O’Connell Street. It is a beautiful, wide boulevard with statues of Irish heroes dotting the median. I find the College. You enter into the main court through an archway in the building facing College Square and what had been the Parliament during colonial rule. The architecture is wonderful and it has the feel of a rich academic environment – adjacent to but separate from the many attractions and distractions outside.

I follow the signs for the Book of Kells. I purchase my ticket and walk through the fascinating exhibit on how these works were done on by Irish monks over a thousand years ago. I learn many things including the fact that velum was originally made of calf’s skin and that is what the pages of these books are made of. I then have the opportunity to look at four open books – two are the Book of Kells and two are similar Irish bibles hand transcribed in the 7th and 8th century. They are quite amazing.

Next it is up the stairs to the Long Room that turns out to be the original College Library. This huge two-story room is full floor to ceiling with very old books. There are display tables down the center aisle containing texts used during the schools history. The first is a first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Farther along are first editions of books by Newton, Faraday, and others. There are anatomy and medical books that would fascinate Amanda. It is an inspiring room. Even though it is an Anglican school, this room makes me wish I had studied here.

As the sun is setting I wander through the Temple Bar area – an old section on the left bank out side the College filled with wonderful pubs, restaurants and shops. I stop at a shop to purchase some gifts fro family back home and then circle back to a place that advertised real Irish food and Music.

Oliver St. John Gugarts’s has a pub with modern music on the first floor, a pub with Irish music on the second, a restaurant on the third and guest accommodations on the forth. I start on the third floor. The food is Irish – I order a chicken casserole from a 1780 recipe – and the excellent wait staff is a mixture of all but. After dinner I walk down to the second floor. About 8:45 PM the next group on the daily 12-hour rotation of musicians begins playing. A few years ago, with my asthma I would not be able to enjoy the music but now all pubs and restaurants in the Republic are smoke free and I heard on the radio that the success of this has inspired the North to propose a similar policy. Here I am in Dublin, sitting in an Irish Pub, sipping Baileys and listening to very good Irish music – a dream that I had not expected to become reality even 4 weeks ago. All that is missing is my wife Amanda, or my friend Russell here to enjoy it with.

With a busy three days coming up as the 10:00 hour approaches I reluctantly depart. I stroll across the Half Penny Foot Bridge and then back down O’Connell Street. I catch a bus and by 10:30 I am in my room.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The McCarthys

Thursday October 20

First thing in the morning, I sit down with Mary and her daughter Katie and record as much information as I can on the Martin family. I also get information on my Grandmother’s sister Lena McCarthy O’Neill who did not have any children. Mary has kept the funeral cards of all the older relatives.

Shortly after noon, Mary and I get in the car and I drive to Ballyferode in Glenroe. This is land that was owned my Grandmother’s brother David. David also went to America although not at the same time as my Grandmother, Great-Aunt Mary and Great-Uncle George. The family story is that fellow travelers reported David cried with homesickness the entire six weeks over by ship. He soon sent back word that he wanted to return. My Great-Grandmother collected money from the family and sent David a ticket home. He then bought 27 acres of land and built the house my father visited in 1946. The land has since been subdivided and homes were built by his son David. We are going to the son’s home and near by are the homes of David’s children and several nieces and nephews – all buildings built by David. The younger David himself left Ireland for a period – going to England to build houses – and then returned to his family’s property.

We sit with David, his wife, one of his daughters and a nephew – also David. I hear stories of my father’s visit. My cousin Timmy Cronin (who was later best man at my mother and father’s wedding) was also on leave visiting his Cronin relations that Christmas and bicycled over from a nearby town. I see photographs of Dad in uniform and of my Great-Uncle David’s family.

The nephew David’s mother (the older David’s sister) has passed away and his father is in a nursing home. He has never married. He has been doing research on his branch of the family and shows me his notes. He will send a copy to me when he finishes and I will send him copies of what I have.

We have a grand traditional meal. The one thing I find odd is that the pitcher in the middle of the table contains not sparkling water, but 7-up. I have noticed that 7-up is a popular drink here and tend to recall that it was something my Grandmother had in the fridge also. I have also noticed that ice is not frequently used here and when it is it is only a few cubes.

After lunch we spend some time in a memory room they created a few years back. The walls are lined with old photographs and drums from the pipe and drum band David had long ago hang from the ceiling. They tell me they will make copies of some of photos and mail them to me.

We then get into two cars and drive down the lane to David’s late father’s house. This is where he grew up and where my father stayed when he was in Limerick. Then it is off to Curraghtuk in Ballylanders – where my Grandmother was from.

We stop at the home of Maureen (McCarthy) Kelly – the daughter of one of my grandmother’s younger brothers. They own the McCarthy land now.

They bring us to the site of Martin home (my great great grand parents and no close relation to my cousin Mary Martin’s late husband). All that remains are stones that form the rough outline of the cottage. In a touching moment David takes out his bagpipes and plays. He says that he knows that his father and grandfather played the pipes in the doorway of the house that once stood here and that he had always wanted to continue that tradition. When he heard that I was coming and arranged for us to visit the site he decided this would be the day.

We then traveled a bit further down the lane to the house Mary Anne and John McCarthy built. The thatch roof has been replaced by slate. Although occupied not too long ago, it is in need of maintenance, but its thick walls seem as solid as when it was built well over 100 years ago.

Back at Maureen’s home there is more food and more tea. She shows us George Martin’s will. It is dated 1908 in and is in wonderful condition. It leaves the 28 acres and other items in trust to Mary Anne McCarthy (his daughter) or David McCarthy (her oldest son). Several things catch my eye.

First, Mary is listed as a widow. In 1908 the oldest of this single mother’s eight children would have been 20 and the youngest 9. I seemed to recall that my grandmother and her younger sister and brother had left Ireland in 1910 or perhaps 1908 – this always perplexed me. If it were the earlier date, she would have only been 19 years old, George only 18 and Mary only 17. Now knowing that her mother was a widow with all these young children at home, it is more understandable that they might have left to relieve the burden on their mother and hopefully send back money from America. Having only once left New England, when I traveled to Georgia to go college just shy of my 18th birthday, it was a bit scary. It is hard to imagine the courage it took to start a 6 week sea journey to a new world at this age – knowing that it was unlikely you would ever be able to return. When my mother died when I was 25 and I became guardian of three of my teenage siblings that was difficult. What was it like for Ita at 19 with two younger siblings in tow?

Second, the will includes references to close relatives named Twoomy and Cassidy who had gone to America. At the Martin Farm, the descriptions on the back of the photographs of the family gatherings included those names saying that we were at their house in Concord, MA. So more of the pieces fit together. A copy of the Will is to be sent with the copies of the photographs.

We stop by Mary’s brother Patrick’s house. He was just released from the hospital that day and is puffy. He is glad however to have gotten out in time to meet me. I have a good conversation with his son Liam, an engineer who is trying to develop an online sales internet site.

There is still the get together at a Hotel in Michelstown tonight. We return to the Knockanbrack to prepare. I meet Mary’s son Patrick, his wife and two year old son. Mary is tired and asks Willie to go with me this evening. We head out at 9:00 and arrive at about 9:30. A small group is waiting for us – those we had dinner with earlier and a few more. I am stunned when over the next hour over 20 more people come in to introduce themselves to me. I am welcomed “home” by all. I sit and chat with several of the small groups that form and listen to the stories. It sounds as if my father’s and later my Uncle’s visits have been talked of with relative frequency over the past 58 years. And there was sadness when my grandmother died in 1975 and communication was lost. I am asked if anyone in the family still lives at 87 Alder Street – an address well remembered by many. The younger folks report asking their parents if they know the whereabouts of their relatives in America and are very happy that I made the effort to reconnect – “it is more than we have done.” All these people have on short notice turned out to meet me and I am honored, humbled and grateful – and I am told that many more wanted to come but could not . . . this time. I am also happy that I have clearly been a catalyst for many of them to reconnect with relatives that (like at home) they only tend to see at funerals.

Many encourage me to “return with my family in the summer when the weather is good,” and to “bring my sisters along.” A number tell me that they would be happy to have us stay with them if we don’t wish to stay at a hotel or especially if that would make it possible for us to come home sooner – that between the cousins they were sure there was room for all.

It is a wonderful and overwhelming night that ends after 1:00 am only because the hotel has turned many of the lights in the lounge off in an effort to close up – otherwise the conversations could have continued for hours more. As my Dad would say, “these are good people.”

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Martins

Wednesday October 19, 2005

The Martin dairy farm at Knockanbrack is at the top of a hill several miles outside of Galbally. This 20 acre piece of property has been in the Martin / Kelly family for at least 5 or 6 generations. It was left to Willie when his father passed away 3 years ago. The have 40 cows which produce approximately 150 liters of milk a day.

When my grandmother’s niece Mary Condon married John Martin 53 years ago, there was no electricity or running water. At some point part of the house burned and was rebuilt. The new portion is attached to the remains of the old stone building which now serves as a storage shed. The house sits just over and below the top of the hill to protect it from the cold winter winds. From the front pasture you look out on the Galtee Mountains and from behind the “shed” (barn) you look on the rolling hills of Limerick.

Mary and John Martin raised 10 children in this small home that contains the accumulation of generations. The walls are covered with family photos, religious prints or photos of the late Pope John-Paul II. Mary has been to Lourdes on several occasions the most recent this past summer. She has one brother and is in good health at age 72 although she did suffer a heart attack a few years back and is on medication. All but two of the children – Willie and Michael – are married. Willie and Michael live at home and all but one of the others live relatively near by. Catherine Ita (Katie) is named for my Grandmother.

Like their father and Grandfathers before them, many of the children, are farmers and with the exception of Patrick who is a carpenter, the remainder work in the meat packing plant. This is the main industry in the area although it employees far fewer than it used to. Jackie is on disability from the plant with disk problems in his back. Michael suffered from a severe case of Scardosis several years back that affected his lungs and other vital organs. He was in the hospital for nine months. The treatment was high doses of steroids. He survived but lost the hearing in one ear and some in the other, lost some of his eyesight, and suffered some neurological damage. He speech is often difficult to understand and he can become obsessed with tangents or fantasies. Although he requires close supervision, he can help Willie. The rest of the family members are in good health.

Simply keeping up with the daily chores is more than enough for one man – even with Michael’s help. And he has been making improvements required by the EU regulations. Willie laments that he doesn’t have time to keep up with the mounting number of maintenance and clean-up tasks he would like to do. Despite the hardships, there is great generosity, many smiles and much laughter in this family.

I walk in the door to a warm welcome and a seat by the fire. Food and drink is constantly being offered. While I am not a big tea drinker, I soon learn to sip tea with milk and sugar – sense it is constantly in front of me. While the family does not drink much, I am provided with a small glass of brandy before bed.

They have been going through stacks of photos and papers in preparation for my arrival. I had expected to see photos of family I had never known, but I am stunned to see pictures of my immediate family that I had never seen: me at 3 ½ months in my grandmother’s arms; my mother, father, uncle and aunt sitting on a coach together, my mother and grandmother, my grandparents, and on and on. As a child I have vague memories of going of to family gatherings at someone’s home in the country – I know that the Cronin’s are their but I can’t remember whose house it was. But here are photos of these events with carefully written descriptions on the back in my grandmother or my Great-Aunt Mary’s handwriting.

There are also photos of the Great-Aunts and Great-Uncles who stayed in Ireland and my Great-Grandparents. There are photos of the house my dad visited when on leave from the army the Christmas of 1946 and a photo of the thatched roof house my Grandmother grew up in.

Mary Martin tells me that she would often come across her mother in the fields or milking a cow with tears in her eyes. She would ask what the matter was and Bridget would say she was thinking about her older sisters who went away to America when she was very young and whom she would never see again. When she was older she saved money to go to America to visit Ita and Mary – but she did not want to go alone and her sister Lena was afraid to fly and Mary who was not afraid to fly had all the children to look after.

Mary reminds me of my grandmother. She is short with a rounded body. Her eyes sparkle when she smiles and she smiles often. She has a subtle sense of humor. As do most her she has a large statue of Mary. Without the room to create a separate grotto, she has placed this statue along with one of Jesus in the greenhouse along with some other statues she has collected. She laughs when she said that some might be surprised to see Mary and Jesus and Laurel and Hardy standing together.

The power in the neighborhood will be turned off for most of the day tomorrow while the electric company upgrades the system – another cousin (the sole surviving child of my grandmother’s oldest brother) has offered to have us to dinner at 12:30 while the power is out and to then show me some of the older family homes.

I go to bed feeling at home and delightfully overwhelmed with information.

Lost in Limerick

Wednesday October 19, 2005

On Wednesday morning I headed out to meet my cousins. I drive back southeast, past the Shannon Airport on towards Limerick City. I arrive at there late morning and drive around for a quick viewing and to get my bearings. I usually have a good sense of direction and this city seems like it is laid out on a pretty regular grid, but somehow it is confusing. I follow the signs for the information center – they lead me on a circuitous route that takes quite a while.

At noon I find the information center, and park in the garage across the street. The garage is attached to a small shopping center so I stop for lunch. This place is called Arthur’s Quay. There is a poster showing a map of the medieval Limerick sitting on an island in the River Shannon and surrounded by its wall. It turns our that for several centuries from when Limerick started having a mayor, the mayor was almost always a member of the Arthur family. Seeing the walled city ruled by Arthur, even though they are set in England, it makes me wonder if this formed any inspiration for the Arthurian books I love to read?

The Information Center is really a store – no free maps here. It seems nothing is free in Ireland – street side parking and even the use of public rest rooms is pay as you go. I suppose that is good but I kind of like not having to worry about having the right change in my pocket. I ask if there is nearby place where I can check my e-mail – I need to send out some things for the work in London next week. The woman at the counter directs me to the Library that the map in front of her says is also the location of the Ancestry Office. It was the Ancestry office that I paid to do the research on my Grandmother that resulted in the documentation to gain me foreign-born Irish citizenship. Since in the report they had suggested that there was information on generations preceding my great-grandparents, I had wanted to visit them anyway.

After walking about the number of blocks I had estimated from the map taped to the information center counter, I realized I was lost. I found a map on an information board in a pedestrian mall. I figured out where I needed to go and immediately set off in the opposite direction. Again I determined I had somehow made an error and returned to the map. I realized that is was upside down relative to where it was located. This time I found the Library but even though there was a sign saying it was here, I could not find the Ancestry Office. The woman in the Library informed me that the office had been permanently closed last February – very disappointing!

She also informed me that while I could use their computers to check my mail I could not use my own. She directed me to an Internet Café down the street. They said the same and directed me to another Internet Café near the bridge where I entered the city. I recognized his directions because I had noticed that the bridge was named the Sarsfield Bridge, which I remembered was my step-grandfather’s middle name – it is hard to forget a name like that. Since time was short I decided to check the trusty map on the information board. Yup, if I hadn’t checked, I again was about to head off in the opposite direction of where I needed to go.

I found the Internet Café, and finally successfully did something I set out to do. Turns out that it was located about one block from where I had parked the car two hours earlier. My wife would not be surprised that for me, Limerick sort of turned out to be a bad joke!

I continued southeast to Tipperary. I chuckled at the sign that said “Welcome to Tipperary – You’ve come a long, long way.” This seemed like a nice place. It was a bit larger than Tuam and also had a nice downtown. It had the first sign I had seen for “Free Public Parking.” It was about 3:00 and the children were getting out of school. It was nice seeing all the boys looking neat in their green sweaters, white shirts and green ties.

I was on the final leg now, heading back southwest into County Limerick. My grandmother grew up in Ballylanders in the south east corner of the county, near where the boundaries of Limerick, Tipperary and Cork intersect. Her niece Mary Martin lives one town over in Galbally (in Irish Bally means town, so this would be similar to a place name like Georgetown).

As I drove toward Galbally the countryside seemed much more familiar than Galway. Tree canopied roads with leaves beginning to turn. Rolling hills and small mountains with evergreens crowning their tops. Far fewer stonewalls.

At just about 3:30 I pulled into Galbally. It is smaller than Tuam and it too is an attractive little downtown. I found the Catholic Church. A man in a waiting car broke into a twinkling smile reminiscent of my grandmother and said “My name is Willie, follow me.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Galway City

Tuesday October 18, 2005

I knew that Claddagh was a fishing village on Galway Bay. I thought it was a good ways away. It had not occurred to me that in the days when Galway was a walled city, what made Claddagh a separate village was it being outside the walls – as was the adjacent area on the other bank of the River Corrib, known as Fishmarket. This is where my great-grandfather moved as a young man to find work – and found a wife. Somehow this adds even a bit more significance to the Claddagh ring my wife gave me and is a replacement for my wedding band that was lost in the river that runs behind our house.

Galway City is a combination of old and new. It is somewhat similar to Boston. It seems a great place to visit but not really a place I think I would like to live. While my hometown of Lawrence – the place that my grandfather settled in when he went to America – is not on the ocean and is not as big, it does share some important characteristics. Both cities are divided by a river with one canal running parallel on each side and, periodically, spillways – and the rivers are both crossed by three bridges.

This river creates a vista to the dome of the Catherdral of St. Nicholas – a church opened by the late Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, a church leader revered in my youth. The old church is where likely where my great-grandparents wed and is where their first child was baptized. The city has done a beautiful job of creating a river walk between one canal and the river. Pedestrians and cyclists move along it from one bridge to the next.

I start at Fishmarket and wander around to Claddagh. At home we have a flock of domestic mallard ducks and one gray goose. Each morning I open their pen and they dash through a gate and into the river. I chuckle each time since in recent years the old fence has decayed and I have removed most of the sections. All that is left at that end of the yard is the gate that the ducks continue to scurry through each morning. In the evening I go out with their food and my “quack quack” is returned in chorus and ripples appear on the water as our flotilla returns home for the night.

As I approach the new boat ramp at Claddagh, there are gulls and mallards and to my dozens of Swans on the water. I am as surprised to see the ducks and swans swimming together in Galway harbor, as folks paddling up our river are to see our ducks swimming wing to wing with a goose.

Soon it is raining. It is clear that this does not faze people here. Rugby practice continues. For most including me it has become business as usual.

I wonder if the building my great-grandfather lived in is one of the ones along the dock or if it has long since been replaced. As I wander through the old parts of the city, I think that he likely walked these same streets with his bride to be. He was an “older man” in his early 30s and she only in her early 20s. I stop in a bookstore and find a street map of Galway City and look up the Suckeen Lane – the street she lived on, but there is no listing.

At the appointed hour of half six, I phone back a woman who responded to one of my letters to folks with the surname of Fox. Her elderly mother received the letter and it was passed on to her. Valerie Fox Egan is about my age and tells me that she is quite sure that her family is not related to my great-grandmother, Delia Fox. Her family is from Clare Galway and moved to Galway City after my great-grandparents met and moved back up to Tuam. However, her family did have a shop on Suckeen Lane and she can tell me where to find it since the name has long been changed. Even though it is dark now, I follow her directions and find a short street that I think is Suckeen. There is a house at number 10. I don’t know if it was her father’s house or not. Someday I would like to go to the Galway City library and look at the old maps and find out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Monday October 17, 2005

My great-grandfather lived and my grandfather grew up on the Galway Road. It is now a relatively main road – part of the National system. As a result most of the buildings do not date back to the 1800s – it is unlikely his home still exists.

I pass St. Mary’s Cathedral – Church of Ireland – and follow the signs for the city center. I come to the cross roads of a very nice downtown – The Square. Here I find my lodgings, the Corralea Court Hotel. Parking is through a tunnel, barely wide enough for a car, into a back yard. It is a tasteful, modest rehabilitation of an old building. I have a room with twin beds and a bay window over the sidewalk looking out onto the main streets and the square.

Tuam is a people proportioned town. The buildings are not too high and the streets are not too wide. There are a good variety of establishments. The only thing I notice as different from the main street back home is the number of restaurant / pubs and the existence of off-track betting parlors. The sidewalks are active but not crowded. There is a small-scale vibrancy that is pleasing.

It turns out that Internet service is via a DSL line and I didn’t bring an Ethernet cable. Sandra, a delightful young woman expecting her second child on Christmas, suggests the Internet Café down the street. I ask if they have a map and she mentions that the Library is across from the Internet Café and has old maps of the city that might help me in my quest.

I find the Internet Café, bump into the owner and ask if he knows where I can purchase a cable. He doesn’t but his assistant could make me up one if I come back in a half hour. After a pleasant lunch, Carl, a pleasant pony-tailed young man has the cable. I ask if I can hook up my Mac there to send some e-mails before my excursion. He is unfamiliar with Macs and is willing to give it a try. It works smoothly and when I ask how much I owe him he says he has learned something useful so nothing.

Unfortunately the Library is closed on Mondays – and this week only, Tuesday also. There will have to be a next time.

I walk over to the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Tuam is a separate Archdiocese from Galway City. This is a very pretty church, in many ways similar to St. Mary’s where Amanda and I were married – but smaller and brighter. A striking difference is that each of the Stations of the Cross that surround its interior are beautiful large paintings.

I ask a woman cleaning if she can direct me to the Church Cemetery. It is a 10-minute walk across the Catholic girls’ school, past several Catholic colleges and down a residential street. I wander through looking for the name Corliss or Corless on any of the stones. About mid way through my search it begins to rain. I work my way back toward the road and find one very old stone but this Corless does not appear to be related.

I walk back to the hotel thinking how even though many of the buildings have been replaced; these are the same streets my grandfather had walked. Even though he died long before I was born, there was an opportunity to get to know him here.

After drying out at the hotel, I tried the Internet again. It turns out that in this case an Internet room means they supply the DSL line you supply the dial up ISP – I have broadband cable at home and certainly no Irish phone number to dial. I went down to the pub for a light meal – soup and salad. As I headed back up to the room, through the glass of the door I saw a hearse go by followed by over a hundred people. I ran up to the bay window and witnessed a scene right out of Angela’s Ashes. Except for the cars, it was a scene that had played out for my grandfather as it was appearing before my eyes.

After a good night’s sleep, I check out on Tuesday morning. I return to the Internet Café to confirm that the cable works properly. Even though it is not his normal time Carl is there and greets me by name. He checks out the cable – it is fine – and allows me to e-mail some things, again no charge.

I walk down to the Church of Ireland’s Cathedral. The two Cathedrals almost balance each other with The Square as the fulcrum. Unlike its RC counterpart, however, this church is heavy, its grounds cramped and its doors locked.

My last stop is to check out a few bookstores. One is very good and I pick up three books including one called Glimpses of Tuam, and an Irish / English dictionary.

When I return to get the car the gates to the tunnel are closed. This is a courtesy for a funeral that will be coming by soon (I think the body that was transported from the funeral home to the Cathedral last evening), but if I am leaving now they can open them for me. Minutes later I am heading for Galway City.

Monday, October 17, 2005

To Ireland

Sunday and Monday, October 16 and 17, 2005

After a 40-minute wait on the tarmac while the crew counted and recounted the number of passengers, American Airlines flight 212 took to the sky shortly before 10:00 PM.

I had the window seat in a row occupied by a group of five. The mother and her son – who could hardly wait for his Tuesday Birthday in Ireland – were on my side of the aisle. An 18 year resident of Maine, Mary was returning with her family to her County Mayo home.

After a quick meal, I attempted to get some sleep – an objective partially thwarted as the sticker under my window explained that “FAA regulations require that the seat recline be restricted to ensure that the emergency exit is kept clear.” A little over 3 hours later I was awakened as the crew handed out snack boxes consisting of Wheat thins, peanut butter, strawberry jam, raisins and a fig-newtons. We were informed that we would be arriving in Shannon in about an hour and that the local time was now 7:15 AM.

I witnessed a fast forward sunrise as our high-speed easterly progress accelerated the transition from dark, to dawn to morning. I had left 7 days of rain in Massachusetts and the forecast was for seven days of rain in Ireland. We sailed over thick white moisture filled clouds. Then through a break Ireland appeared below us. While the images have been conveyed by many it is still wondrous to see this land that is divided by stone walls into an endless variety of roughly rectangular patches each miraculously a slightly different shade of green than all its neighbors. Even the small islands have not escaped this patchwork cloak.

Mary tells her son we are flying over the River Shannon. It strikes somehow, that River Shannon and County Clare roll off Mary’s tongue yet somehow at home River Shawsheen and County Essex would have a dissident sound. As we approach the airport sheep graze peacefully below us.

The plane lands at 8:15 AM IST (which is the same as GMT and the same as 3:15 EDT!), we made up half the delay in-route. A fellow traveler suggests I forgo the currency exchange window (Euros) and instead use the bank machines where I will get a better rate. With baggage in tow I am soon bused to the Hertz parking area. The attendant asks if the economy car I have rented is large enough (it is) and if I can drive a stick shift (I can). I hadn’t really thought about driving here. It did occur to me that they likely drive on the left instead of the right but with my work trips to the British Virgin Islands I am used to that. What I had not thought about is that unlike the BVI, the cars here also have the steering wheel on the right. It will take some time getting used to shifting with my left hand and checking traffic behind me by looking up to the left and down to the right. One other problem – they are out of maps. It is a good thing I have some that I printed from MapQuest but I will need better.

As I leave the airport at 10:00 am, it is clear that Ireland is a land of roundabouts – some very small. I think about the folks who have visited New England from the mid-west and been baffled by these – we have few in comparison. It is odd going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. I stop at a gas station for cash from the ATM, a map and a Vanilla Coke. I know my body thinks it is only 5:00 AM but I need some caffeine.

The sun is shinning through some clouds and finally I am headed towards my first destination: my grandfather’s boyhood home of Tuam, Galway. A two to three hour drive over rolling hills, passing through small Victorian style roadside towns dressed in bright colors, passing by cows and black-faced sheep and more cows, and occasionally a few horses. Seeing sign after sign, I begin to wonder if every fifth house or farm isn’t a Bed and Breakfast. As lunch time approaches, I approach Tuam.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Things Get Even More Interesting

As I was packing my bags for my flight, the phone rang. It was Mary Martin in Ireland. She just wanted to confirm that I was coming and to be sure I had her phone number. I told her that I was leaving for the airport in an hour with the number in my bag and I would call from Galway for directions.

She said that was grand and that she had been talking to the various cousins and they were planning a get together at a local hotel on Thursday evening in order to meet me!

It should be quite a week.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Origins of an Adventure

All of the previously posted family history is based on some of the documented research I performed in Massachusetts or some of the work by researches at the Galway and Limerick Ancestry Offices.

As part of my consulting practice I have been doing work for an international public / private partnership called the West Africa Water Initiative. In late September 2005, the Partner hosting the group’s 6th Headquarters Meeting asked me if I would be their facilitator. The meeting is scheduled to be held in London, UK on Monday and Tuesday October 24 and 25, 2005.

They established a budget for my round trip travel. I found a flight from Boston to Ireland to London to Boston that cost less than what they had budgeted for round trip to London and they said that would be fine! So I am going to leaving on Sunday evening the 16th and arriving in Shannon Ireland the next morning. I will spend the week in Ireland and then fly over to London the following Sunday. Then I will be flying back to Boston Wednesday evening the 26th.

My plan is to spend the first two days in Tuam and Galway City, County Galway. Then I am going to spend two days in Ballylanders, County Limerick (where my farther visited his family in 1946). Then two days in Dublin (including a business meeting).

Now here is the cool part. When I got agreement that they would pay the plane fare by way of Ireland, I went online and found an Irish phone listing. Based on the family histories, I looked up Corless and found two listings in Tuam, four in Galway City and another six in the general area. I also looked up Fox and found seven in Galway City and bunch in the surrounding area. I looked up McCarthy and while there were none in Ballylanders, there were over 20 in adjacent towns. I also looked up Martin and found four in Ballylanders and a half dozen in surrounding towns.

My thought was to send letters introducing myself, saying I was looking for cousins, giving the family information I had and asking that, if they were related, could they call or e-mail and might I meet them when I was in Ireland -- next week. International airmail postage costs $0.80. It didn't seem to make sense to spend the money to send letters to all these people especially when they lived in small towns and likely knew or were related to each other. So I sent letters to the people in Tuam and in Ballylanders and then selected one person per town from some of the towns closest to the known locations selecting folks with first names were the same as from the family.

I mailed 23 letters Tuesday, October 4. On Monday, October 10, the phone rang and a sweet voice with a strong Irish accent said "Is this John Corliss." I said "yes" and she said "This is your cousin Mary Martin." We chatted a bit. She seemed to clearly remember Dad's visit and asked if he were still alive. She said when she saw the letter she wondered if it was from him but she knew he was older and she was now 72. She said she would be happy to see me when I came over. I told her that I had not yet decided where I would be staying when I was in the area on the 19th and 20th but I would let her know and would be very happy to come by for a visit. She promptly said well you can stay with me if you would like. I then talked to her son Patrick to get some additional information and told him of her invitation -- he encouraged me to accept saying he had a brother who looked after the place and while they might put me to work during my stay, they would love to have me visit. So that is the plan. He said it is quite a large family in the area and so I would likely meet many relatives.

Now here is the "God thing" in all of this. This particular letter was addressed to John Martin -- as it turns out Mary's husband who died 3 years ago. I sent this letter thinking that John Martin might be a descendent of my great-grandmother's parents. It turns out this woman is the daughter of my grandmother's youngest sister -- Bridget (McCarthy) Condon and just happened to marry a man named John Martin! If she hadn't married someone named Martin she would not have received the letter!

I also received a phone call form the daughter of one of the women named Fox in Galway City. She said she did not know her family history and if we are related but would be happy to talk to me when I get to Galway. I also received two e-mails – one saying they were no relation and the other saying that while they were not related a colleague was a friend of a number of Ballylanders’ McCarthy and would pass the word along.

So it is shaping up to be quite an adventure.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Corliss’s of Lawrence, Massachusetts

Ita McCarthy worked as a maid for wealthy families in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts – including one of the two founders of Cherry and Webb, Touraine (aka CWT) woman’s clothing stores. She met laborer James Corliss and they were married on June 29, 1924. They were both a few weeks shy of their 35th birthdays.

The Corliss’s had two son’s James and then John Michael (born November 30, 1927). During World War II, James enlisted in the army. John enlisted toward the end of the war and ended up being stationed at Nuremberg, Germany. On leave over Christmas, he visited two of his Aunts – Mrs. Bridget Condon and Mrs. Lena O’Neil and at least one of his Uncle’s in Limerick.

In February 1947, James Sr. died at age 57. With the death of their father, one of the two brothers could be discharged. John returned home and James became a career military man, reaching the rank of full Colonel before retiring.

On May 5, 1955, 27-year old John Corliss married 21-year old Rosemary Kennedy. A little over a year later on September 8, 1956, John Michael, Jr. was born. After several years John and Rosemary separated and in 1963 they divorced. Rosemary married Philip M. Walsh and had three more children: Kerry Ann, Kathleen Elaine and Joseph Timothy. John (aka, Jack) married Marguerite Conway and fathered two additional children: Deborah Marie and Denise Patricia.

Rosemary had a long banking and bookkeeping career, including position at the Arlington Trust Company, Derry Bank & Trust and Sanders Associates. In 1982, at age 48 Rosemary died of Lung Cancer and Emphysema.

John Sr. worked for Bay State Gas Company for over 35 years before retiring. Jack’s passion was politics –something he learned from his father. He was a friend and key ally of then County Councilman Paul Tsongas, helping him get elected to first Congress and then the United States Senate. He served as Paul’s congressional aide and was good friends with Governor and Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. He was also a friend of Senator John Kerry. The long-time Chair of the Lawrence Democratic City Committee, 1989 he was named Democrat of the Year by the Greater Lawrence Democratic Party. When the city of Lawrence changed its form of government, he became the first City Councilman to represent his neighborhood. He served as Vice President and President of the Lawrence City Council, before retirement. In 1997 at the age of 70, he died of colon cancer.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The McCarthy’s of Limerick

Farmer John McCarthy and his wife Mary Anne Martin lived Curraghtuck, Parish of Ballylanders, County Limerick Ireland. Their families had lived in the area for several generations.

The McCarthy’s had eight children: four boys and four girls. In1910 or shortly thereafter, the second, third and forth oldest children: Johanna Ita (born on July 9th 1889), George (born approximately December 9, 1990) and Mary (born December 17, 1891) immigrated to the United States. The three siblings ended up settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

George entered the Navy during World War I. He died at age 32 in 1924.

The two youngest daughters Bridget (born on December 28, 1894) and Helena (aka, Ellen or Lena) and at least one of the brothers remained in Ireland.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Corless's of Galway

Patrick Corless was a laborer who in 1855 rented land on Galway Road in the Townland of Killaloonty in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. His ancestors were likely of the Ui Maine. Early known as MacCoirleasa and later MacCathail and Mac Carluis. Cathal is equated to Charles (The Surnames of Ireland By Edward MacLysaght). So perhaps they were descendents of – sons of – Charles. In the records, the spelling of the last name varied from sibling to sibling since it was often spelled not by the person – who did not know how – but by the recorder. It appears as Corless, Corles, Corliss, Corlis, etc. In Ireland today, the spelling seems to have been standardized as Corless. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the United States, two spellings survive: Corliss and Corless. There are also a Protestant clan of Corless’s who hale from England.

In the early 1870s Patick’s son Michael, also a laborer was living at Fishmarket in the town of Galway. He met Bridget Delia Fox a spinster (unemployed woman). The Daughter of John Fox, a laborer, she was ten years younger than Michael. She lived with her family on Sikeen Lane, Townland of South Parks, Parish of St. Nicholas, Galway, County Galway.

On September 28, 1875, Michael, 33, and Delia, 23, were married. Their first child, Delia, was baptized nine months later on June 29, 1876, in St. Nicholas Parish. The couple went on to have eight more children – all baptized in the Arch Diocese of Tuam, from Galway road.

At the end of the century things were not good for the family, Michael, now 58 was without an occupation. Their youngest daughter Mary-Kate died at the age of eight in the Workhouse in Tuam. The 1901 census, lists Delia, now a Fish Dealer, as the householder in Killaloonty with 3 children still at home: 12 year old James (born July 3, 1889), 15 year old John (born February 17, 1887) and 17 year old Honor (born June 11, 1883). I child born in 1885 was baptized but no name was recorded – it is assumed that the child died and birth or very shortly thereafter.

In approximately 1910, James Corliss, left Ireland and ended up settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA. It is not known if any of his siblings also immigrated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Beginning

One friend, in encouraging me to write this blog and share the experiences of my journey, said that it was a bit difficult to follow without knowing the players – that a score card of sorts was needed.

So I will start out with a series of postings that provide relative brief background information on the major groups of people.

I hope it is more interesting than boring! ;-)