Merrill’s young girlfriend

Teenager Sabrina who Merrill promised to marry ….

but he didn’t, and so she sued him.


A Soothing Poem for our Times

An Irish-French Catholic writer composed the following poem concerning her recollections of living through the Great Famine as a young girl. The message of hope is apt for the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic crisis enveloping our world. Thank you, Kitty.

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Kathleen O’Meara [aka Grace Ramsay]

(1839 – 1888)

A bizarre and mysterious 1906 NY immigration sailing arrival record

Upon first inspection of the Ellis Island immigration record dating from September 1906 (shown below), the Ship’s Officer of the popular Transatlantic steamer, the SS Baltic, seems to have gotten bored with logging the nationality of dozens of Irish immigrants. It appears that this man had other things on his mind. Naughty thoughts.

Take a look at the curious entries written downwards in Chinese style under column headings 9 & 10 – following a curious mathematical equation I have yet to decipher.

The writer of these words creates what appears to be an advert for a raunchy naked revue show titled “In A Bath Tub.” We are told that this theatre production “will make the women jealous of the men” and that “your heart will beat faster, your nerves will tingle with rapturous delight.” The advertised show seems to be rather obscene for the Edwardian era, even by New York City’s standards …. and it is. The unexpected words added to the 1906 record were not added in 1906!

No ordinary sailing record

My research indicates that the bizarre extra words were probably added in 1926. The anonymous writer, perhaps a disgruntled Immigration Inspector, has created a witty and sarcastic revue advert telling the scandalous tale about a large party thrown by Earl Carroll, a seedy NYC Theater Impresario in February 1926. At this gathering, reportedly attended by 500 invited guests in the Prohibition Era, Mr Carroll sought notoriety by paying a 17 year-old girl to sit naked in a bath tub full of champagne. The party guests were encouraged to fill their glasses from the tub. This sordid story hit the headlines when a reporter from the NY Mirror decided to break the oath of secrecy sworn by the other 499 guests. I can only guess that the cheeky Immigration Official at Ellis Island was fascinated by this tabloid journalism, and decided to record his creative composition for an unwitting Irish genealogist to discover in 2019.

For the [true] record, Earl Carroll was subsequently arrested and sent for trial over the affair. He was acquitted of having committed any serious crime, such as serving alcohol when it was banned, or exploiting a girl barely out of high school. However, the jury convicted Mr Carroll of committing perjury in court when a lie in his version of events was exposed. He was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, in 1927, but only served around 6 months behind bars after being paroled early. Upon release, Earl Carroll immediately returned to his role of producing lewd shows to make your nerves tingle, etc.

Earl Carroll during his trial in 1927

Questions remain, of course. Exactly why did the immigration officer defile this particular record, and did his superiors ever detect the adulteration? And can anyone solve the cryptic mathematical equation?

Irish Fake News in 1887

The concept of fake news reported in the media is not a new thing. For time immemorial, journalists with the power to promote their opinions to the masses have abused this privilege. Modern-day social media has just highlighted this phenomenon with the likes of President Trump never happy if some journo or blogger dares to question his scary New World Order.

Back in 1887, in Ireland, Tory or Conservative politicians were being bombarded with cries for help from mega-wealthy landlords whose poverty-stricken (mainly Catholic) tenants could not afford to pay their exorbitant annual rents to occupy their ancestral homesteads. Westminster rapidly passed laws to permit violently enforceable evictions of debt-ridden tenants on Irish country estates. The right-wing Press did its bit to convince the world that Catholics were “bad” and part of a dying religion, while Protestantism was the way forward for all God-fearing decent folk. In other words, Catholics deserved what Catholics got, however brutally delivered – because they were not rich and didn’t live in mansions, and establish newspapers and promote capitalism.

I spotted the article below originally written by an Irish Times journalist in January 1887. On first reading, it seems to simply state a few indisputable statistics – but on closer examination, you can see how the numbers were manipulated to present a rosy picture to blinkered Protestant readers which was far from the truth. Fake news at its worst.

Hang on a minute ..

Let’s review those facts:

  • An increase of 45 million Protestants worldwide to 150M represents a quadrupling. Really? More like a tripling, or thereabouts, I’d say.
  • By comparison, an increase of 60M Catholics to “only” 180M total represents a gain of one-fifth. No – there are one fifth more Catholics than Protestants worldwide according to these uncorroborated figures. The Catholic population has actually increased by 50%.
  • 75% of Protestants can speak English in 1881. How wonderful! If only he could get those German founders of the religion to speak English, then the reporter could really boast about his righteous Anglican religion.
  • 168,500,000 of Catholics could not speak English in 1881. How awful. Shocking!
  • In 1801, about a third of the British & Irish population were Catholics. Probably about right – and no problem to any true Christian – BUT …
  • The author of this piece reckons that 91% of the remaining population were Protestant. I would dispute that. There were several religious denominations in 1801, and a fair proportion of agnostics and pagans.
  • The population of the British Isles trebled from 1801 to 1881. The population of predominantly Catholic Ireland halved – but this is not mentioned.
  • Some called it a natural disaster, others genocide – but the mid-19th century Great Famine of Ireland is not referenced in the Irish Times religious survey report. 1.5 million Irish Catholics were wiped off the island’s population statistics within a few years, a million of whom suffered avoidable premature death; a further 1.5 million disappeared during the following decades through continued enforced migration.

A left-wing Catholic reporter in 1887 could have summed up the stats as follows:

Following the cruelest of extermination plots, the Catholic population of Ireland remains at around 3.5 million, as it was at the start of the century. More remarkably, the percentage of Protestants in the British Isles has not changed significantly during this time despite the faith’s followers not having to endure mass starvation.

Which variation is fake news?

Gearoid O’Neary is not aligned with either denomination mentioned above. He prefers to focus on the truth.

An earlier “Tour round Ireland” with images (part 3)

Other European tourists made tours round Ireland even earlier than John Barrow in 1835. Almost 60 years earlier, an agricultural reformer from England called Arthur Young completed his “Tour in Ireland” in 1776 in preparation of a book of that name. Arthur wanted to see how the Irish natives ran their farms. Sometimes he was impressed (in the wealthier east of the country) and at other times, like most visitors to the west of Ireland back then, he was alarmed by what he saw; uneducated and poverty-stricken peasants living in primitive cabbins AND paying premium annual rent to Anglo-British landlords for the privilege of remaining at their ancestral homesteads.

For any budding builders or DIY enthusiasts, as an accomplished artist, Young even drew sketches of traditional Irish cabin homes and showed us how they were constructed. So if you want to buy a cheap plot of Irish land out west and build your dream 18th century authentic cottage, here’s how you go about it:

construction of a cabin

Construction of an Irish cabin (in 4 easy stages)

And here’s what Arthur Young observed:

“If the Irish cabbins continue like what I have hitherto seen, I shall not hesitate to pronounce their inhabitants as well off as most English Cottagers. They are built of mud walls 18 inches or 2 feet thick, and well thatched, which are far warmer than the thin clay walls in England. Here are few cottars without a cow, and some of them have two. A bellyful invariably of potatoes, and generally turf for fuel from a bog. It is true, they have not always chimneys to their cabbins, the door serving for that and window too: if their eyes are not affected with the smoke, it may be an advantage in warmth. Every cottage swarms with poultry, and most of them have pigs.”

Of course, Arthur failed to appreciate that the pet pig roaming around the cabin was also a great source of warmth, particularly on a chilly night when cuddling up to the snoring swine was of great comfort.

1777 cabbin

Here is an eighteenth century Irish Cabbin that some hardy buck produced earlier, prior to the introduction of chimneys into rural Irish architectural designs.

A few years later in 1790, a Frenchman named Charles-Étienne Coquebert de Montbret took his tour of Ireland while working as a commerce agent in Dublin. Charles-Étienne was fascinated by the culture of the west of Ireland and marveled at how its native inhabitants endured hardship without complaint. Charles-Étienne also made his own sketches of unfamiliar sights observed, and wrote accompanying texts in the French language. Below, I have reproduced one such article kindly translated by NUIGalway.

cabin plan in French

Floorplan of cabin and sketch of hearth with pot and crane

Translation: “For 5 guineas, one can have a cabin with three rooms, i.e. the kitchen and two behind the fireplace, one for the potatoes where they receive the smoke which preserves and improves them, the other for sleeping in. Only those intended for sowing are kept in earth. The Irish eat a little herring with their potatoes. One is enough for an entire family. One can buy 3 for one sol (penny). Potatoes are measured by the stone, weighing 16 pounds. They are cooked over a very hot fire, in an open pot, with little water; when they are cooked the water is drained off and they are put to dry beside the fire.
A cabin costing 2 guineas has no fireplace. It costs 5 to 6 shillings to have a stonemason build one of these cabins. Their outer face is of bare stone, the inner is rendered with earth and sand from the road. They are roofed with sods laid on a herringbone arrangement of lats, the thatch pinned into it with other thin lats and often held in position with ropes and weighed down with stones. They sleep naked on the straw which covers the floor, under a very large blanket of felted wool, without sheets.”

An earlier “Tour round Ireland” with images (part 2)

More desirable properties viewed and commented upon by John Barrow in County Mayo in 1835:

better cabin

A better sort of Mayo stone cabin

better interior

“Even while the small farmer is able, from his surplus produce, to pay his rent, his condition is far from enviable, but might with a little management be improved. If he can afford to keep a cow and a pig, he generally admits both to be partakers of the same apartment; and though his cottage may be a degree better than that of the labourer, yet it is kept equally filthy; everything within it being soiled with smoke and soot, and the puddle and the dunghill invariably found before the door. The rent of such a cottage, if built by the landlord, may be about £2 a-year; turf, 30s.; the man’s clothing 40s.; the woman’s 30s.; and four children, say 30s.; making altogether £8 10s. The rent, say of three acres and a cow-grass, £9. The routine of his crops is, potatoes, barley, and oats. The barley is sold to be distilled into whiskey, and this and the pig contribute to the payment of rent and fuel; and the potatoes, the cow, and the oatmeal, supply the family with food. The females are employed in spinning linen and woollen yarn, and in knitting worsted stockings; of the woollen yarn is manufactured a kind of frieze, druggets and flannels, the common wear of the peasantry: after supplying the family clothing, the surplus helps to pay the rent.”

common cabin

A common Mayo stone cabin

“Ballaghaderreen is the end of the first stage, and our road to it was by French Park, so called, I believe, after the family to whom the property belongs, I saw little or no cultivation, and the cabins I passed were for the most part wretched mud hovels, many of them worse than I had yet seen in Donegal or Fermanagh. 
The whole country wore a sad appearance of poverty; and yet, on driving into the above-mentioned little village with a long name, I was much surprised to find the street full of people attending the fair, all well dressed, the men, generally, in light gray-coloured coats of home-manufactured frize, with large metal buttons; and the women wearing large cloth cloaks with hoods covering the head, some of which were thrown back, and displayed a clean, tidy-looking muslin cap.”

Farther on, after heading west ….

“The country we now passed through was wretched in the extreme, and the land bore a very stony and barren appearance, except where we came upon an enormous extent of black bog, whereon was not a blade of grass or any living thing, animal or vegetable, for the eye to rest upon. This bog was infinitely the largest I had hitherto seen. The cabins, which were wretched-looking hovels, were generally built of stones loosely heaped together, without mortar or even clay. You must not suppose they were either Cyclopean, Pelasgic, or Etrurian, though, like the latter, they were polygonal, but composed of such polygons as nature or accident had made.
Some of the inclosures of the fields were of the same construction, which is of so convenient a fabric, as to render any kind of gate unnecessary, an article of rare occurrence in Ireland. If a cow or cart is to be driven in or out, it is only by pushing down a gap in the wall, and piling up the stones again in any fashion. Altogether, this part of the country presented a more general appearance of poverty than I had hitherto met with; and the turf dykes, clay ditches, and stone walls, did not contribute to improve a view, which in itself was sombre and melancholy in the extreme.”

Extracts from John Barrow’s book “A Tour Round Ireland” published in 1836.

An earlier “Tour round Ireland” with images (part 1)

In 1961, Lily Parker toured Ireland with her family and camera, capturing 61 images of Irish coastal sites in colour. A similar tour was carried out much earlier by John Barrow, a draughtsman, in 1835. This bewildered tourist was able to create sketches of some of the strange sights he saw, to accompany his comments in text. On returning to England, Barrow employed James Lee, a renowned wood engraver, to prepare his sketches for publication in a travel journal as engravings. The resulting book, published in 1836, was titled “A Tour Round Ireland.”

Here are some images and observations from when Barrow passed through north County Mayo.

hovel near the foot of the Reek

Hovel near the foot of the Reek

I had here [the quay near Westport] the pleasure of making an acquaintance with Captain Shallard, chief officer of the Coast-guard Service. In taking a drive in his car to the foot of the Reek (as Croagh Patrick is familiarly called), we passed some of the most miserable hovels that I have yet seen, even in the flats of Mayo,—so bad that, without having convinced myself of the fact, I should scarcely have supposed them to be the habitations of human beings, but rather as sheds for the cattle, the more certainly so, had I seen the head of a cow, or some other four-footed beast, peeping out of the doorway, which I understand is no uncommon occurrence. Many of these cabins are built of stones, loosely heaped together, with no window; and the only place for the light to come in at, and the smoke to go out, is through a small hole in the miserably-thatched and sometimes sodded roof, at all times pervious to the rain, and through the doorway. No picture drawn by the pencil—none by the pen—can possibly convey an idea of the sad reality. The inmates, as may be supposed, are wretchedly clad in rags and tatters, and the children almost in a state of nudity.

Barrow had an interest in architecture and he referred to the cottages he saw in Mayo as “stone cabins” and put them into three categories: better, common and worst. The “hovel” shown above was obviously considered to be in the worst category primarily because it had no windows. Note how the thatch on the roof was kept in place by a series of basic anchors, namely lengths of rope with heavy rocks attached to each end. I witnessed this ingenious way of keeping a thatched roof attached to a house as recently as the year 2000 when I first saw the ancestral Neary homestead in Tullinaglug, County Sligo. Dear old John Neary used modern breeze blocks for his roof anchors … but he only slung them over the roof when a storm was forecast. This meant that the blocks were in place for the majority of the year in the west of Ireland, and only removed for the short Irish summer!

worst cabin

The worst class of Mayo stone cabin

Only 0.3% of People Have One Ethnicity in their DNA, Showing Our World is a True Blend

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

When I started writing a blog that is mostly concerned with genealogy, I never expected to also be writing about Irish whiskey. However, strange things do happen. In this case, there is a genealogy lesson to be learned for all of us: Only 0.3% of people have one ethnicity in their DNA, showing our world is a true blend.

The following announcement was written by the folks at Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey:

Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey partners with MyHeritage DNA to unlock the ‘Beauty of Blend’

Only 0.3% of people have one ethnicity in their DNA, showing our world is a true blend

To celebrate the launch of ‘The Beauty of Blend’, Tullamore D.E.W., the original triple blend Irish whiskey has partnered with MyHeritage DNA, the leading destination for family history and DNA testing, to create a limited edition branded DNA kit which will allow people all over the world…

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Unclaimed Persons Celebrates Ninth Anniversary and Launches New Website

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

The following announcement was written by Unclaimed Persons:

Every life is worth remembering, and this month Unclaimed Persons (UP) celebrates its ninth anniversary helping to unite the remains of deceased individuals with their next of kin.

Alone in death and tucked away on dark shelves or cold gurneys in morgues across the country, thousands of deceased individuals whose names are known to coroners, medical examiners, and a handful of friends have no known family members to claim their remains. Homelessness, mental illness, long-term estrangement, deaths of all apparent next of kin, and other circumstances have severed familial connections. Ever-increasing caseloads and shrinking budgets make it nearly impossible for many medical examiners, coroners, and investigators to find these individuals’ relatives without help.

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The second Neary / O’Rourke marriage

It was great-aunt Maggie Neary’s 132nd birthday on 6th April 2017. Right on cue on this birthday, a long-lost photo of Maggie on her wedding day in 1913 emerged from an old family chest. Margaret Neary married John O’Rourke, a fully qualified NYC Civil Engineer originally from Leitrim, on 18th June 1913 in the Bronx.

Just under 10 years earlier, Maggie’s eldest sister Mary Neary married John’s eldest brother, Charlie O’Rourke at St Philip Neri’s Catholic Church in the Bronx. A family tale in New York relates that Maggie’s older sister Bridget once courted John O’Rourke and hoped that he would eventually propose marriage. This romance was progressing steadily as John completed his Civil Engineering studies – and then Maggie Neary arrived on the Bronx scene when she sailed to New York with her brother Matthew in 1905. Poor Bridget Neary’s dreams were dashed when John & Maggie started to “walk out” together at weekends. A few years later, John O’Rourke’s engineering career was flourishing and he was ready to settle down. John proposed to Maggie, and Bridget Neary returned to Ireland broken-hearted. A year after arriving home in Tullinaglug, Bridget married a Sligo man at St Attracta’s church in Tourlestrane – maybe on the rebound.

Meanwhile, Maggie & John married and conceived 5 children, the last being Eileen born in 1925. Eileen O’Rourke’s daughter Maura sent me this great photo on Maggie’s 132nd birthday … after a root about in an old family chest.

1913 photo (Maggie Neary on her wedding day)

More Merrill revelations – 5 years on

It is both commendable and crazy that I and a few other genealogy super-sleuths have been searching for Merrill for a whole five years now. Why bother? Well – the case of Merrill’s mysterious disappearance 80 years ago and the consequential investigations in the 21st century do provide hope for family historians still searching for more mundane snippets of info to bolster their Family Tree.

Just this week, I discovered Merrill’s middle name for the first time. I always knew the initial – E. I will not disclose the name or research source, just yet (because it’s not in the Where’s Merrill? book), but I was rather disappointed by the name after years of speculation and theorizing. I had guessed that the name had Biblical connotations which didn’t suit Merrill’s thoroughly modern lifestyle in the 1920’s and 1930’s – hence he kept it secret from everyone, at work and in social circles. Something like Elijah or Ezekiel came to mind; a name that a Christian regular non-attendee at church might like to hide in Midwest business boardrooms and bars.

Anyway, the choice of a child’s name says more about the child’s parents than the poor youngster-cum-adult who has to live with the moniker into old age …. normally. A second discovery this week was a photo of Merrill’s father taken not long before Merrill “disappeared.” It prompted me to compare it to the earliest photo I found showing William Harrison, father of Merrill. Both of these are shown below.

My great-aunt Margaret


A great photo of my great-aunt Margaret Neary aged in her early 20’s shortly after her arrival in New York from Tullinaglug in 1905. My grandfather Ned was aged 10 when he waved goodbye at the Sligo homestead to Maggie and his 18 year-old brother Matthew (who traveled with Maggie). He next saw Maggie 30 years later when she visited Tullinaglug in 1935 to show off her youngest child named Eileen [O’Rourke]. Later that year, Ned named his second daughter Eileen – yes, my godmother Auntie Eileen [Jones]. Shortly after 1935, Ned and his growing family left the tiny Sligo cottage and moved to Withnell, Lancashire in England.

At least Ned did meet his siblings Maggie and Matthew. His eldest sister Mary left Tullinaglug for NY before Ned was born – meaning that he never ever saw her! This year, I had the pleasure of showing one of Mary’s American grandsons around the Tullinaglug homestead.

5.0 out of 5 stars – Read this!

I really enjoyed “Where’s Merrill?

1934 October (Merrill)I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. The story is interesting and creatively written. It takes you through the process of the genealogist, Jed, who you get to know while he is researching Merrill. As the process is never a straight path, you get Merrill’s imaginative story as it unfolds. Using different coloured text when alternating from past to present was very clever. There are diagrams of Merrill’s family tree as you go along and new people are found and added. The diagrams are handy, though it is written clearly enough that you can follow along without having to refer to them. Anyone having an interest in genealogy would want to give this a read!

Assemblage artist Susan Moloney’s review of “Where’s Merrill?

A search ending that every Irish Ancestry Researcher will embrace

Back in 2014, we were thrilled to read about the gradual success that a determined Mary O’Connor Tossell from Florida had in tracking down the Irish roots of her O’Connor ancestors. The process took almost 20 years! As Mary told us, looking for a specific O’Connor family in Ireland is like searching for relatives called Smith or Jones in the USA or UK – but without an inkling of their address.

Read the full, fabulous tale of Mary’s ups and downs in the excellent published article by clicking on this link: A story every Irish Ancestry Researcher should read

Now – in 2016 – the story has the ending it deserves: Mary being welcomed back “home” to County Kerry by her O’Connor cousins at the very property her ancestors abandoned way back in the Black year of 1847. Of course, as we learned, the old homestead is now used as a cow-shed, but this didn’t hinder Mary’s unbridled joy at literally standing in the footsteps of her Irish forefathers. Mary kindly wrote to me to try and express her feelings, and share a few photos of the momentous occasion, as follows:

I cannot put into words what it was like seeing and being in “the cow house”… it was a very emotional experience; it was a bit overwhelming. My cousins who helped me make the connection greeted me with a big hug and a kiss on both cheeks… it was beyond all my expectations. Some of my other new-found cousins traveled from County Kildare and County Clare in Ireland to meet me in Dingle. It was the end of an incredible journey ….. I was back among “my own ones.”
My message to researchers… Never give up! And now we have DNA!

Mary in the most special cow-house in the world

[The former home of Hugh & Johanna O’Connor of An Chlais, and their son Maurice who emigrated to America during the Great Famine]

Book #review – ★★★★★★ – Can you award a book 6 stars?

What an incredible captivating read.

So much so that “Where’s Merrill?” is the first book in years that I’ve read twice. After the first chapter or so I was hooked and it was my sole activity until I had finished it. This fact-based novel is a great advert for the practice of genealogy. I loved the idea of different colour text creatively used to distinguish the different activities occurring in different eras and countries involved in the “Where’s Merrill?” saga. Never come across that before in all my reading years.  Will be on the lookout for any further works by this writer.

D …. Formby…. UK.

Get the book here!

The Top 100 Most Common Surnames in Ireland in 1890

Are your Irish ancestors represented here?

Where's Merrill?

1. Murphy26. Wilson51. Sweeney76. Kenny
2. Kelly27. Dunne52. Hayes77. Sheehan
3. O’Sullivan28. Brennan53. Kavanagh78. Ward
4. Walsh29. Burke54. Power79. Whelan
5. Smith (McGowan)30. Collins55. McGrath80. Lyons
6. O’Brien31. Campbell56. Moran81. Reid
7. Byrne32. Clarke57. Brady82. Graham
8. Ryan33. Johns(t)on58. Stewart/Stuart83. Higgins
9. O’Connor34. Hughes59. Casey84. Cullen
10. O’Neill35. O’Farrell60. Foley85. Keane/MacCahan(e)
11. O’Reilly36. Fitzgerald61. Fitzpatrick86. King
12. Doyle37. Brown62. O’Leary87. Maher/Meagher
13. McCarthy38. Martin/MacGillmartin63. MacDonnell88. MacKenna
14. Gallagher39. Maguire64. MacMahon89. Bell
15. O’Doherty40. Nolan/Knowlan65. Donnelly90. Scott
16. Kennedy41. Flynn66. Regan91. Hogan
17. Lynch42. Thom(p)son67. Donovan92. O’Keefe
18. Murray43. O’Callaghan68. Burns93. Magee
19. Quinn44. O’Donnell69…

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Great Read !! #bookreview

I was always taught that when you start reading a book you have to be captured almost instantly – certainly within the 1st chapter – to know whether it’s worth reading the rest of it …well I was certainly captured with “Where’s Merrill?”

Amazon - Top Ten Thrillers

I can tell you that !!!!

M T Cooper (somewhere in England)

You can choose your friends – but not your Ancestors

Where's Merrill?

A recent purchaser of my novel “Where’s Merrill?” posted a mediocre review, and made the following bizarre observation:

“Write about someone more interesting next time”

Considering that this true story is sub-titled a genealogical thriller, and that it is now listed for sale as a genealogy reference book as well as a fictionalized thriller, the reviewer seems to have completely missed the point about Family History research. You cannot choose your ancestors. They are who they were. They are not made-up characters or a figment of a fantasy writer’s creative but far-fetched mind. It took all my willpower to not commit the author’s Cardinal Sin of responding directly to the negative reviewer with my personal feelings about the ridiculousness of their publicized opinion.

When you research your own family history, you might start out with a little knowledge about your ancestors’ backgrounds based upon memory or passed-down tales. However, when…

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Not-so-romantic Ireland of old

Where's Merrill?

In my work as a professional genealogist, overseas clients who are the descendants of Irish immigrants regularly relate to me the passed-down stories of why their ancestors had to leave the beautiful island of Ireland. More often than not, these tales are wildly romanticized having been created by ancestors who lived centuries ago, safe in the knowledge that their claims could not be checked out; well, not in their lifetimes anyway.

I have heard a story about a Kerryman who once lived in a grand castle until he was forced to flee Ireland as part of a honorable settlement between warring clans, thereby bringing peace forever more to his native region. Then there was the Corkonian Catholic who passed every course on offer at Trinity College with flying colours only to find that jealous business-owning Protestant families would not employ his inventive engineering skills, so he had to relocate to America to…

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The Top 100 Most Common Surnames in Ireland in 1890

1. Murphy 26. Wilson 51. Sweeney 76. Kenny
2. Kelly 27. Dunne 52. Hayes 77. Sheehan
3. O’Sullivan 28. Brennan 53. Kavanagh 78. Ward
4. Walsh 29. Burke 54. Power 79. Whelan
5. Smith (McGowan) 30. Collins 55. McGrath 80. Lyons
6. O’Brien 31. Campbell 56. Moran 81. Reid
7. Byrne 32. Clarke 57. Brady 82. Graham
8. Ryan 33. Johns(t)on 58. Stewart/Stuart 83. Higgins
9. O’Connor 34. Hughes 59. Casey 84. Cullen
10. O’Neill 35. O’Farrell 60. Foley 85. Keane/MacCahan(e)
11. O’Reilly 36. Fitzgerald 61. Fitzpatrick 86. King
12. Doyle 37. Brown 62. O’Leary 87. Maher/Meagher
13. McCarthy 38. Martin/MacGillmartin 63. MacDonnell 88. MacKenna
14. Gallagher 39. Maguire 64. MacMahon 89. Bell
15. O’Doherty 40. Nolan/Knowlan 65. Donnelly 90. Scott
16. Kennedy 41. Flynn 66. Regan 91. Hogan
17. Lynch 42. Thom(p)son 67. Donovan 92. O’Keefe
18. Murray 43. O’Callaghan 68. Burns 93. Magee
19. Quinn 44. O’Donnell 69. Flanagan 94. MacNamara
20. Moore 45. Duffy 70. Mullan 95. MacDonald
21. McLaughlin 46. O’Mahon(e)y 71. Barry 96. MacDermot(t)
22. O’Carroll 47. Boyle 72. Kane 97. Moloney
23. Connolly 48. Healy 73. Robinson 98. O’Rourke
24. Daly 49. O’Shea 74. Cunningham 99. Buckley
25. O’Connell 50. White 75. Griffin 100. O’Dwyer


  • These survey results are based upon all Irish birth registrations in the year 1890.
  • McGowan is an Anglicization of the Irish surname MacGobhann, with Gobha meaning blacksmith in English. As a consequence, many McGowan families became known as Smyth or Smith after further Anglicization.

Another Irish Drowning Tragedy ~ this time inland

On the morning of Thursday, 4th September 1828, twenty people travelling from the village of Annaghdown to Galway city on the rickety old Lough Corrib ferry boat Caisleán Nua were drowned. The boat was overloaded with too many passengers trying to get to Galway Fair, and the additional freight of timber and ten sheep did not help matters. In fact, it was one of the sheep that initiated this sailing disaster.

The Connaught Journal newspaper of September 4 published this harrowing account of events in the evening edition:

An old row-boat in a rotten and leaky condition, started from Annaghdown early in the morning, a distance from Galway up Lough Corrib of about eight miles, having, it is calculated, about 31 persons on board, who were coming to the fair of Galway; the boat and passengers proceeded without obstruction until they arrived opposite Bushy Park within two miles of Galway, when she suddenly went down and all on board perished except about 12 persons who were fortunately rescued from their perilous situation by another boat. Eighteen of the bodies of these unhappy creatures were taken out of the lake in the course of the day and presented a most heart-rending scene, being surrounded by their friends who came to identify them, and by whom they were removed in a boat to Annaghdown.

The boat was in such an unsound state as to render her unfit for the passage. The unfortunate accident happened by a sheep putting its leg through one of the planks, which produced a leak, in order to stop which one of the passengers applied his great coat to the aperture and stamped it with his foot. In doing so he started one of the planks altogether, which caused the boat’s immediate sinking, having been overloaded; ten sheep, a quantity of lumber, and about 31 persons being on board.

Eighteen of the bodies have been found; 12 have escaped, and one is missing. Major Dickson and a party of the 64th Regiment attended and rendered every humane assistance in their power. An inquest was held on the bodies by John Blakeney Esq., Coroner, at which James O’Hara, Esq., M.P., and J. H. Burke, Esq., Mayor, attended, and the jury returned a verdict of “accidental drowning”.

The following are the names of the persons drowned and taken out of the lake: Bridget Farragher, Mary Costello, Judith Ryan, Bridget Hynes, Mary Newell, Winifred Jourdan, Mary Flynn, Bridget Curley, Catherine Mulloy, Mary Carr, Michael Farragher, Michael Cahill, John Cosgrove, John Concannon, Thomas Burke, Patrick Forde, John Forde and Timothy Goaley.

P.S. two more drowned bodies were later discovered these being Thomas Cahill and Mary Ruane, making a total of 20. John Cosgrove, a local man, saved two women, but was also drowned in trying to save a third victim of the tragedy.

Annaghdown Pier memorial

                             Annaghdown Pier memorial

The following poem was composed by the renowned travelling blind Irish poet, Antoine Ó Raifteiri, as a lament to the twenty people drowned at Menlo, Galway, on that fateful day in 1828.

Original Irish version of “Eanach Dhúin” [Annaghdown]:

Má fhaighimse sláinte is fada bheidh trácht

Ar an méid a bádh as Eanach Dhúin.
‘S mo thrua ‘márach gach athair ‘s máthair
Bean is páiste ‘tá á sileadh súl!
A Rí na nGrást a cheap neamh is párthas,
Nar bheag an tábhacht dúinn beirt no triúr,
Ach lá chomh breá leis gan gaoth ná báisteach
Lán a bháid acu scuab ar shiúl.

Nár mhór an t-íonadh ós comhair na ndaoine

Á bhfeicáil sínte ar chúl a gcinn,
Screadadh ‘gus caoineadh a scanródh daoine,
Gruaig á cíoradh ‘s an chreach á roinnt.
Bhí buachaillí óg ann tíocht an fhómhair,
Á síneadh chrochar, is a dtabhairt go cill.
‘S gurb é gléas a bpósta a bhí dá dtoramh
‘S a Rí na Glóire nár mhór an feall.
English language translation:
If my health is spared I’ll be long relating

Of that boat that sailed out of Anach Cuain.
And the keening after of mother and father
And child by the harbour, the mournful croon!
King of Graces, who died to save us,
T’were a small affair but for one or two,
But a boat-load bravely in calm day sailing
Without storm or rain to be swept to doom.

What wild despair was on all the faces

To see them there in the light of day,
In every place there was lamentation,
And tearing of hair as the wreck was shared.
And boys there lying when crops were ripening,
From the strength of life they were borne to clay
In their wedding clothes for their wake they robed them
O King of Glory, man’s hope is in vain.

A nice short story

The sun was shining again in Claddagh, at last. The previous two months had been very dark, almost black on some days, then simply gray and gloomy for long periods afterwards. Jed and Sue are putting the finishing touches to the springtime overhaul of their front garden as Postman Pat’s little green van glides to a halt by the river bridge.

“There’s a lovely smell in my van for a change,” says Pat.

“You had your fortnightly shower then, Pat? Or was it the auld tin bath in front of the turf fire?” quips Jed.

“Nah – it’s coming from the back here. Look Sue. In this parcel with your address on.”

Sue picks up the scent as Pat waves around a bulky padded envelope. “Mmm. Lovely!”

2015 candle“It’s my guess it’s from the States, and I’ll bet you 50 Euros it’s a scented candle from one of Jed’s genealogy groupies,” challenges the old sage, Pat.

“Patrick, you con artist. I can see the Air Mail stickers from here – and they’re not groupies; they are my valued clients. And a special few are now my even more valued friends.” Jed approaches the bridge and gives cheeky Pat a playful slap across the back of the postman’s balding head with one of his gardening gloves. Sue studies the parcel, and declines Pat’s ridiculously tempting offer to make some quick bucks in the roadside guessing game.

“You must think we were born yesterday, you old rogue. Look at this sticker, ‘description of goods – candle’ and it gives off a heavenly smell. Voila! There’ll be no beer money contribution from us today, Mr Postman.”

“Aw shucks, Sue,” says Pat with a wink, getting ready to depart the scene.

Jed and Sue come together and embrace each other, and the parcel. “It’s from Connie!” they both declare out loud in unison.

“…. and Tom, I bet,” mutters the know-all mailman.

“No more bets, please, Pat. Drive on.” Jed and Sue wave Pat away, but he’ll be back for more fun soon.

1961 Photographic Tour of Ireland (part 11)

Where would the Parkers head next after Donegal, after leaving the Republic and heading into Northern Ireland in 1961? Yes – of course – to see the famous Giant’s Causeway. And what a great photo Lily took ….



  “It’s a load of old basalt” says Gordon


                                                Fancy a Bushmills, Lily?

Onwards, round the North Antrim coast road past Cushendall, approaching Waterfoot. Here it is – one of the most photographed natural arches which is actually “unnatural.”


This arch, cut into the red sandstone rocks at Red Bay, was designed and constructed by Francis Turnley to allow faster and more direct access between Carnlough, Waterfoot and Cushendall. Perhaps Gordon’s dad, John, remembered this image from the old Gallaher’s cigarette cards which featured Ireland’s most scenic places.

Red Bay

2015 Red Bay

1961 Photographic Tour of Ireland (part 1)

Over the next few days, I am going to treat you to a unique Tour of Ireland captured on 61 marvelous photographs taken in the summer of ’61. This was the Parker family’s holiday album, and it has been kindly shared by Gordon Parker.

Gordon was aged about 15 years when his parents, John & Lily, carefully planned a road trip tour of Ireland as their summer break. Considering that the family was based in North London, with no Irish connections, this was quite an adventurous plan for the time in question.


What makes this family holiday interesting for us is that Lily Parker had developed a keen interest in photography, so the whole tour was captured on Kodachrome II – a new camera film introduced specifically for the burgeoning colour slide market. I am no photography expert, but I find that the old slides are  quite unique and rich in warm colours, and they avoid the glare of modern digital snaps.

Thankfully, Lily’s son, Gordon Parker, has now painstakingly converted each 1961 slide into a 2014 digital image – so we can all re-live the highlights of the Parker’s 1961 summer holiday.

As with all family holiday shots, the majority of Lily’s pictures were scenic landscapes (which rarely change over the decades), but she did manage to capture several images of everyday Irish life from over 50 years ago which are very special, and which will bring back memories to many.

The Parkers route plan took them straight to the west coast. As with most Irish holidaymakers today, the vacation only kicked off in proper style when their car reached Kerry, arguably Ireland’s most scenic county. Lily did not take out her precious camera until the family had spent a night in Killarney.

1961 Gordon & John Parker near Killarney

John Parker & son, lost in               Kerry’s beauty

Her first shots of her husband and son, and two street scenes in Killarney town, are tentative and relatively normal. It seems like Lily needed to see the Lakes of Killarney to kick-start the creativity of her subsequent photographic images.



As you will see over the coming days, Lily Parker captured many, many special images of “dear old Ireland” in 1961.




                      Everyday life in Killarney in 1961



                                          Killarney Cathedral (through an alley)




                                         The Gap of Dunloe (from Killarney)




                                                                    Drung Hill


                        The Gap of Dunloe from below Moll’s Gap, County Kerry




Where’s Merrill? …. where’s the novel

Now available in paperback:

Where's Merrill?

The e-book version of Where’s Merrill? [A Genealogical Thriller] was published on 28th February 2013 and subsequently released in paperback during 2014. It is available to purchase for just a few dollars from:


© LULU or


WM manuscript cover blog #1 copy           #1 AMAZON Best-Seller 2014

Go on …. read it and try to help solve some lingering mysteries

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Murder in Medieval Kilmactigue

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WThe oldest memorial stone in the graveyards of Kilmactigue parish in south County Sligo commemorates the death of a local resident in the 16th century. The image  on the right obviously portrays the more modern recreation of the inscribed obituary of Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn which can be found at Banada Abbey cemetery. The story behind the premature death of Tadhg (pronounced as Tigue or Ty-g) reveals the perils of being an Irish literary artist in Medieval times. As shown, Tadhg Dall was a renowned Poet and Scholar who was often asked to recite his nationalistic compositions in the courtyards of provincial Irish lords and clan leaders.

Tadhg was descended from a family of respected professional poets from the north of the Connacht region in the west of Ireland. He was given the distinguishing middle name of “Dall” because he was blind, and this is the Irish language word for blind. He made his home in the townland of Coolrecuil in Kilmactigue parish. Tadhg’s brother Maol Muire also rose to prominence as an Archbishop of the Tuam Diocese.

For centuries, the Ó hUiginn family had been aligned to the O’Conor clan of Sligo, their historical patrons, but by the 1500’s, the O’Hara’s had the upper hand in the south of the county, and Kilmactigue became the O’Hara stronghold. It appears that Tadhg Dall’s bravery in speaking out about the injustice meted out by the ruling O’Hara’s to his fellow parishioners, cost him his life.

An inquisition held at Ballymote in 1593 recorded that Tadhg Dall had died at Coolrecuil on the last day of March 1591. Many years later, a special chancery inquisition in 1617 provided further details of the circumstances of Tadhg Dall’s untimely death as he entered middle age. The 1617 inquest notes tell us that members of the Ó hEadhra (O’Hara) sept from Cashel Carragh, Kilmacteige, were detained in 1591 for murdering one Teige Dall O Higgen his wife and childe in the year one thousand five hundred ninetee and one or thereabouts”. Apparently, Tadhg had composed a satirical poem which narrated the actions of six “robbers,” all called O’Hara. The ruling Lord of the Manor was outraged and reacted by ordering that Tadhg Dall’s tongue be cut out. The obedient perpetrators clearly went even further and butchered all the inhabitants of the Ó hUiginn cottage in Coolrecuil.

The ancient poetic works of Tadhg Dall and his forefathers were preserved in early 17th century manuscripts created by banished Irish exiles living on mainland Europe. Fortunately, Tadhg Dall’s bloodline was also preserved because his nine year-old son, Tadhg Óg Ó hÚigínn, was absent from his childhood home when the murderous O’Hara gang spilled blood in medieval Coolrecuil. Tadgh Óg’s grandson, Pól Ó hUiginn also became a scholar and preacher of repute, although he defiantly converted to Protestantism after falling out of favour with his Roman Catholic peers.

In a perverse way, the gruesome events of 31st March 1591 at Coolrecuil have permitted historians to compile the oldest definitive Family Tree of a non-aristocratic resident of Kilmacteigue parish. Here is the upper part of the Ó hÚigínn tree covering the pre-18th century years which rarely feature in typical Irish Ancestry research projects.

1315 Irish FT #1

Do you believe in Fairy Stories?

Bridget Boland & husband Michael Cleary

Bridget and her husband Michael

Bridget Boland was born at Ballyvadlea, between the towns of Drangan and Cloneen in County Tipperary on 19th February 1867. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Patrick Boland and Bridget Keating. She attended Convent School in Drangan and was later apprenticed to a dressmaker. On 6th August 1887, she married a local cooper [barrel-maker] named Michael Cleary, after which she worked successfully as a dressmaker and egg seller. The couple remained childless and Bridget was recognized to be an unusually independent woman for this era in rural Ireland.

After her mother died in 1894, Bridget developed a habit of visiting the so-called fairy forts in the district. Local superstition named such places as haunts of the fey folk. Perhaps Bridget was seeking supernatural help to overcome her infertility.

Bridget became severely ill on 6th March 1895. Her headache, fever, and congestion were diagnosed as bronchitis by the local doctor, but family members thought that her lassitude indicated a clear case of fairy stroke. Michael Cleary, in particular, became convinced that his wife’s spirit had been stolen by the fairies.

As a consequence, for the next nine days, Bridget was forced to endure the rigours of a secret fairy trial. Bridget’s family and neighbors confined her to the house, and then doused her with urine and hens’ dung to keep the evil fairies away. Next, Bridget was force-fed all manner of odious potions and dry herbs. At the peak of the “trial,” Michael scarred his sickly wife with red-hot fire brands in an effort to force the occupying fairy within Bridget to release her good spirits, and enable her to make a recovery. The wicked fairy was not to be overpowered, and retaliated by weakening Bridget even more.

In the predawn hours of March 16th, Bridget was dressed in her best clothes and taken before the hearth where her husband doused her with lamp oil and burned her to death. Bridget’s body was then wrapped in a sheet and buried in a shallow grave in a bog ditch little more than 1000 yards from the Cleary cottage. The body was discovered five days later and a coroner’s inquest was held. Nine of Bridget’s family members were arrested on charges of murder. The subsequent trial became a religious and political showcase in which different parties attempted to quash potential Home Rule for Ireland by denigrating the whole population as superstitious primitives. Prominent Catholic churchmen who attempted to defend the actions of a grief-stricken family were duly rounded on and made a laughing stock as supporters of supernatural nonsense. “What is the difference in believing in God and his angels, as opposed to the Devil and his demonic fairies?” This was the national argument in the Spring of 1895.

1895 photo (Bridget Cleary's grave, Drangan)

Four stones between the cemetery wall and the crucifix indicate Bridget’s final resting place

In the end, Michael Cleary was convicted of manslaughter and served fifteen years of his twenty year sentence at hard labor. Bridget’s elderly father, Patrick Boland, served six months hard labor. Several cousins and an uncle of the deceased also served sentences between three to five years.

Bridget’s body, unclaimed by her incarcerated kin, and untouched by the local RC church reluctant to associate themselves with a scandal so steeped in superstition, was quietly buried one evening by two constables just outside the churchyard wall at the Drangan and Cloneen Parish Church, not far from her mother’s grave within the Holy Cemetery.