★★★★ Reviews #genealogy “WDYTYA” in Michael Crichton style

Larry Kenyon from California writes:

I read the Kindle version of “Where’s Merrill?” on a flight to Ireland, and it kept me engrossed enough to read it in the one sitting. If you are into genealogy you will no doubt enjoy this novel, based on a real research case. I couldn’t help thinking I was reading a Michael Crichton story, but with a genealogy theme. I’m ready for a follow-on case, this time involving Ireland and Irish history rather than the U.S.

NHVest - collage-for-website-header-2Nancy H Vest from North Carolina writes:

Where’s Merrill? is described as a genealogical thriller. That is an accurate description! Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down until I knew the truth about Merrill. There are actually two stories going on in this book – the story of Merrill and his family, and the story of the researchers learning about this family’s history.
The author used dates and place names to keep the reader abreast of what was going on, and he did well with this. Interaction between the main characters is believable, but I especially enjoyed the secondary characters, like the townspeople, who added spunk to the story.
Reading Where’s Merrill? gave me a sense of how others might feel when I talk about the many members of my own family during one conversation. At times I felt like I needed to make some notes as to who was who, and I assigned some details to the wrong people as I read along. That is to be expected, though, with a story of this kind. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story at all since I was able to quickly regroup the cast and details in my mind.
Long narrative paragraphs are present in several places which made me want to skim over and rush past. I am a short paragraph kind-of-girl.
The author asked me if I’d like to review Where’s Merrill?, and he provided me a copy. That in no way has influenced my review. I liked this story, and I enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it easily to anyone who enjoys a mystery that is light on graphic violence. There were twists in the plot, and I was truly surprised by a few of the revelations.

Link to Nancy’s Blog

The beauty of South Sligo

I have long been aware of the hidden beauty of my “back yard” in South Sligo, but as an early-riser, my appreciation has always been limited to scenic viewing during daylight hours. So I was was both surprised and proud to find that my home patch features regularly in the stunning night-time photography portfolio of Damien Stenson. Damien is a very talented Galway-based landscape photographer but he specialises in night photography – as displayed by the breath-taking imagery shown below.

These four examples were taken from the shores of Lough Talt, nestled in the Windy Gap of the Ox Mountains. A big effort is underway to promote our tranquil backwater as a tourism destination to a worldwide audience. I am not alone in wishing this venture the greatest of success while conversely hoping that the trickle of rambling tourists never becomes a torrent of couldn’t care less litter louts. A tranquil backwater needs places of tranquility – even at peak season.

DS3DS4DS5DS6The bright comet-like object in the night sky of the photo above is the International Space Station passing overhead during a film exposure of several minutes. I am far from being a knowledgeable student of modern photography techniques so head over to Damien’s Facebook page for all the technical blurb about how these wonderful images were captured by a true magician of the lens.

Dozens more memorable pictures, mainly from the West of Ireland at night, can be viewed at www.damienstenson.com

The Burning of Tubbercurry

I am always fascinated by the fact that there are still living witnesses in our parish who saw from afar the local town of Tubbercurry ablaze, during a night of infamous terror. This event occurred in October 1920, so our witnesses are aged 100+. There must be something in the South Sligo water because we have more than our fair share of centurions. Obviously, the number of survivors is dwindling yearly – but the tale is etched into the consciousness of all elderly and not so old Tubbercurry natives.

Wolfe Tone Square

               Tubbercurry 100 years ago

Nationalist rebels had been active in South Sligo for 50 years when the Irish War of Independence erupted at the beginning of 1919. Decades of anti-British sentiment saw ordinary Irish men and boys take up arms against their oppressors. Tubbercurry and surrounding districts instantly became a hotbed of secret IRA military offensives. Well-organized small units in each parish soon became masterly at the new art of guerrilla warfare. Constabulary and judicial targets were attacked in surprise overnight raids, and then the IRA soldiers disappeared back to their farms and cottages. The perpetrators were very difficult to distinguish from innocent civilians, thwarting British military leaders who were more used to fighting a visible army.

By 1920, a pattern of IRA ambushes followed by indiscriminate British-backed reprisals had been established, leading to ever-greater atrocities. The British Government sent in WW1-hardened troops to assist the overrun Irish Constabulary. These mercenary war veterans were ill-disciplined and regularly counter-attacked non-military Irish businesses. As a result, the whole of Ireland rose up to ensure that British rule over the island was ended once and for all.

IRB soldiers

            A typical Flying Column unit of IRA soldiers, young and old

Wartime events in our locality reached a terrifying peak on the night of 30th September 1920. An IRA Flying Column unit successfully ambushed a police and military patrol on the outskirts of Tubbercurry. The aim of the mission was to kill, wound or capture a recently-appointed Police Inspector, thereby sending out a loud message of local defiance. After a gun battle, the Police Inspector was fatally wounded, and the IRA retreated without suffering any losses. The British reprisal attack was swift and brutal. A company of “Black and Tans” entered the once-sleepy town of Tubbercurry and proceeded to burn the shops and homes of suspected IRA sympathizers. As the town was composed of adjoining terraced streets, soon the whole town centre was ablaze with women and children in fear of their lives. A small number of town-based IRA Volunteers could not quell the outrageous violence of an out-of-control British Army.

Read local Commander John Brennan’s witness statement to gain a full overview of the nature of the frightening War of Independence in Sligo: 1918 Tubbercurry Volunteers

After 30 months of fighting a losing battle, the British called a Truce and political dialogue about Home Rule provisions commenced. Then a short but tragic Civil War broke out as squabbles about the governance of the new Nation got out of control. Peace eventually prevailed in 1922. Local memories are long – but somehow, former enemies were graciously forgiven and Tubbercurry re-emerged from a charred past as though nothing had ever happened. That’s how it is today, and that is why it’s amazing, considering that living witnesses are still around.

My Brick Wall

In genealogy circles, the common term for a seemingly insurmountable research dead-end is a “brick wall.” Professional genealogists have the experience to know that a classic brick wall cannot be scaled – but if you keep digging, and dig deep enough, you might just be able to squeeze part-way through a hole and take a peek at the other side. And what you see might convince you to give up trying to go through that brick wall; it’s pointless. There was nothing of value on the other side. On the other hand, a glimpse of something bright and shiny might inspire you to reverse back a bit, head off to the side (not losing sight of that wall), nudge forward and eventually come out somewhere on the far side of that brick barrier that was holding you back for so long. Then you can start to try and make sense of things in a strange new place, but you can, eventually – if you stick around.

My personal brick wall (shown below) is a beautiful thing and pointless. Well, if you look closely enough, you will see that there is no pointing. No mortar. There never was. It’s a work of art; ancient Irish art.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WMy wall is the gable-end of an ancient Irish stone barn. It has withstood all weathers for over 200 years. It is a State-protected structure, and I am the Protector because it sits on my property. I wish that this meant that the State would contribute to the upkeep of the structure, but no! Oh no – as the private Protector, I am expected to privately raise my own funds and get on with the Protecting without a cent of State assistance. Of course, if my beloved wall ever falls down, then I am in big trouble … with the State – who would not hesitate to prosecute me for trying my best, spending a fortune, but ultimately failing, alone, in my lifelong task.

Aclare: back then, and now

Thanks to Gordon Parker, a remarkable snapshot of forgotten life in a village in rural County Sligo has re-surfaced and returned home after over 50 years. Gordon’s family, based in London, recorded the image below in Aclare village way back in August 1961 when touring Ireland on a summer holiday. The rare, high quality colour picture was captured by using the now defunct Kodachrome camera film with the resultant photograph then developed and mounted as a slide, for viewing through a projector. The age of the digital camera has made all that processing a thing of the past … like an ass-cart.

1961 August - Aclare, Sligo

The village is full of asses …. in 1961

The date of Gordon’s photo is significant, i.e. August. The village of Aclare was full of animals and other eccentric characters because the Parkers passed through on the Summer Fair Day. The (sometimes infamous) history of this once well-known and important livestock trading fair has been discussed in previous posts. Refer to Aclare Fair Day and Old Fair Day (Revived).

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

The asses have all gone; never to return

A story every Irish Ancestry Researcher should read

Here’s a tale that resonates with my own research into the origins of an elusive O’Connor from “somewhere in Ireland” told here: Johanna

Never give up. You just never know ….

[courtesy of Mary O’Connor Tossell and Irish Central]

“The O’Connor family bible came into my possession after the death of my grandparents. I noticed within it, a few pages with lists of family birth, death and marriage information dating back to the mid 1800s that I’d never seen before. Not long after, I received a 1924 newspaper article celebrating my great grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary from a second cousin, with lots of family details that were new to me. I realized there was a lot I didn’t know and, ironically, those that could help with any questions were no longer here to answer them. I will forever berate myself as to why I hadn’t thought to I ask them when they were still alive.

In the spring of 1997, armed with this additional information, I hoped an answer to a seemingly unanswerable question might now be within reach. I was inspired to embark on a grand journey, to find the answer to my quest.

Where in Ireland did my O’Connor family come from?

I didn’t have a clue as to a townland nor even a county. I really only knew the names of my great grandparents, and that one of my ancestors was born in Ireland. (I wasn’t even sure which generation!) I thought the next step should be to try to find out who was buried in our O’Connor cemetery plot back where my grandparents came from in Vermont, hoping that might lead to a birth place in Ireland written on a tombstone or a burial record. If not, I thought at least it would help to locate their vital records once I determined exact dates.

While inquiring by phone long distance at the family cemetery, a very kind person going the extra mile at the rectory in Brattleboro, Vermont said:

“Wait, there’s another plot of O’Connors”.

“What?!”

To my great surprise as it turns out, she revealed the names of my previously unknown to me, great great grandparents. I never even knew they were buried there. If she hadn’t bothered, I may never have known! No mention though, of a birthplace other than merely “Ireland” and alas, no indication either on the tombstones themselves.

So, my emigrant ancestors were Maurice O’Connor and his wife Catherine Martin, both born 1822 according to the gravemarker. It was they, I later came to find out, who made the trek across the Atlantic during the worst part of the so called Irish Potato Famine; 1847, aka Black ’47, the year of the “coffin ships” into Quebec….or maybe I should say the starvation! Oh, but don’t get me started on that one, that is for another time to tell.

Next step was to try to locate Maurice’s death listing from the Brattleboro town clerk’s office to obtain the month and day and maybe a birthplace, as I now had a year of death from the cemetery information. I was merely calling to find out how to go about getting a death certificate if you only had a year i.e. 1898, when the clerk asked me to wait while she checked. She had gone to a dusty shelf and pulled out the ledger for 1898! Would you believe it, she actually went through it month by month to finally find Maurice’s death listed in October of that year, on the 20th – evidence of yet another kindness that advanced my quest that much forward.

But wait, that wasn’t all. As she went across the line of information she read aloud, and came to this:

Parents: Hugh and Johanna O’Connor

Wow! The names of my great great great grandparents. As I was only looking for dates, that was a pretty exciting, unexpected find in itself! Ah yet again, it only said “Ireland” as a birthplace. At least I now had an exact death date. Maybe I could find an obituary that might mention a townland.

By the end of 1997, I was getting rather depressed. I had already tried searching the Brattleboro church and cemetery records, tombstone markings, birth, death, marriage certificates, funeral parlor papers, Vermont Federal Census films, town directories, Vermont genealogy societies, U.S. naturalization papers, passenger lists, civil war veterans & Irish railroad worker references, and the local Family History Center (the Mormons). If I was lucky at all; they said merely “Ireland” as a birthplace. The naturalization papers I obtained from the National Archives in Waltham, Ma. had “Great Britain” even. But no townland mentioned, ever.

I had run out of ideas on how to find a townland in Ireland for my emigrant ancestors… after all this searching I still had no clue where my O’Connor family came from in Ireland. It was beginning to dawn on me that there was a possibility I might never find the answer to my quest.

It started to haunt me, “Would I ever know?” It was at this point that I remember thinking aloud to myself…

“Come on Maurice and Catherine, give me a hand here!”

It was only a few days later that I received an envelope in the mail from the Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vt. I had all but forgotten having written, months earlier, requesting a search in their microfiche for an obituary in the local 1890s era newspaper. When I hadn’t heard from them, I figured they didn’t come up with anything. But now I had this envelope, I’ll never forget, it was on Jan 3rd 1998…

I realized immediately the significance of the information this envelope may contain. I paused before opening it while I weighed this thought in my mind… Either it had, or it did not have my great great grandfather’s obituary in it. I knew full well this might be my last good chance to find out the place in Ireland where my O’Connors were from … and if not there… Well, I can honestly say I was almost afraid to find out what was inside.

My hands were shaking as I opened the envelope to see what lay there in…

I gasped, as it was a photo copy of a newspaper page. Could it be… an obituary? I could barely take in a breath as I read:

THE VERMONT PHOENIX

Obituary

“Maurice O’Connor…died Oct 20, 1898…he was born in 1823, at Mt. Brendon, Co Clare, Ireland

Oh my Gosh! There it was! My eyes filled with tears as I realized after all this searching, at last, in black and white;

THE TOWNLAND!

My excitement was short lived…I was anxious to see exactly where Mt Brendon was, so I got on the internet to look for maps of County Clare. I found some good maps. But after much of what turned into frantic searching, I sadly realized, there is no such townland called Mt Brendon then or now in County Clare!

Now what? I was very discouraged.

Well I kept digging. I did find a village called Brandon, in County Kerry, on the eastern slopes of a mountain called Brandon… could this be it? … and would that mean I’d have to conclude my ancestor did not know what county he was from!? By this time I was really starting to doubt the usefulness of my newly discovered “find”.

Actually the more I thought about it, maybe County Kerry was the place to search… after all, it did have a Mt Brandon! In the meantime, I saw another site on the internet about tourism in Ireland and County Kerry where the village of Brandon was on the Dingle Peninsula; and was looking at prices of Bed and Breakfast places etc. … mistily dreaming about a someday trip to the Mt Brandon area; in the event that it might prove to be the right place….

When low and behold, begosh and begorrah, I spotted an email address for The Stone Cottage B&B in a town called Dingle whose proprietors at the time were named Becky and Michael O’Connor. What the heck, on an impulse, knowing full well it may be for naught, I emailed them.

I received an email back from them the next day. They were not my O’Connors (yeah, I knew I was just stabbing in the dark!)… but Becky did say there were O’Connors in the area of the village of Brandon, and that I should visit the O’Connors Pub and Guesthouse in Cloghane (pronounced Cla HANE) near to Brandon sometime and ask them. As I wasn’t planning a trip to Ireland any time soon, I instead wrote to the O’Connor Pub and Guesthouse that was mentioned and sent what family history I was aware of … and then promptly put it out of my mind. No use getting my hopes up. Still, wasn’t it nice of her to suggest though?

About a week later I got a phone call …from Ireland! It was the proprietor of the guesthouse, Sean O’Dowd! Although not an O’Connor- his wife was, for which I congratulated him on (haha!). But alas, his wife’s O’Connors also were not related to me either. (Of course, what was I thinking?) Searching for O’Connors in Ireland is like looking for Smiths or Jones in the U.S. (BTW I have discovered O’Connor is one of the oldest of Irish Gaelic surnames, and has a great and glorious history!)

Mr. O’Dowd gave me some hope though about the discrepancy regarding Mt Brandon being referred to as being in County Clare but actually being located in County Kerry . He suggested that if my ancestor, being an Irish Gaelic speaker (Dingle is a Gaeltacht {Irish speaking} area to this day), that the pronunciation of “Mt Brandon, Co Kerry” in the Irish, might sound like “Mt Brendan, Co Clare” to the untrained ear… and as Maurice, my ancestor, did not read or write (surely a result of the Penal Laws against Catholics. Oops, there I go getting off on a tangent again!) he would not have even recognized such an error himself.

2006 DP5Oh and then there was this; Mr O’Dowd also said he would talk to some other O’Connors that he knew for me, who lived on “the other side of the mountain” from the O’Connor guesthouse in Cloghane. (Mr O’Dowd lived on the eastern side). I thought it was really nice of him, but wasn’t expecting much, … after all, there are 30 thousand O’Connors in County Kerry! Considering after all, we weren’t even related, wasn’t it nice of Mr. O’Dowd to bother!?

(For O’Connor researchers; This particular sept of O’Connors {there are 6 separate clans}, calls itself O’Connor-Kerry. Contemporary descendants of this sept are by far the most numerous, and those from Dingle are called the Dingle O’Connor Branch of the O’Connor-Kerry.)

Now get this…The very next day, Jan 22, 1998, I was coming into the house carrying groceries when I heard this curious voice leaving a message on the answering machine…. It sounded Irish! I dropped what I was doing and quickly picked up the phone. It was a man who introduced himself as ‘Himself’* O’Connor of Bally – – -, Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland. (on the western side of Mt Brandon.)

*’Himself’ of course gave me his name but because so many genies have contacted him asking for help I’ve had to remove his name and location for his own sake (and mine!)

‘Himself’ told me he read my information given to him by his dear friend Sean O’Dowd of O’Connor’s Guesthouse and wanted me to know that his great great great grandparents were also called Hugh and Johanna O’Connor. The same names as my great great great grandparents… and they too had a son Maurice who emigrated to America …the same name as my emigrant ancestor! ‘Himself’ descended from a son John of theirs and as it turns out, I might be descended from John’s brother Maurice!

He gave me a marriage date for Hugh and Johanna in 1810; and a birth date in 1821 for Maurice (which fit with what I had… which was a range of 1820-1823 from varying answers in the Vermont Fed Census films, and his gravestone, and the obituary).

He also gave me the names of his Maurice’s siblings, with many familiar given names that I also have in my family; but then again, what Irish family did not have a John, James, Catherine and a Mary back then ?! (BTW I read that 29% of all the women in Ireland were named Mary in the 1850’s!) He also gave a possible explanation for the non existent Mount Brandon townland given as a birthplace …

Its because Maurice O’Connor was born on a cliff in the foothills of Mt Brandon! He left County Kerry because the farm his father had purchased for him had a landslide in 1847 the same year my Maurice emigrated. He said he had a lot more information for me, that he would write it all out. If this really was my Maurice, Wow…. what a find!! I could hardly believe it. I was so excited hearing all this, my hands were shaking trying to write it all down. I could barely read my handwriting afterward and I almost forgot about my quickly defrosting groceries!

There was only one flaw in it all…

When I was young, I remember asking the question; “Why of all places, did our family end up in Brattleboro, Vt ?” The answer was: “That’s where the work on the railroad ended.” …also family history had it that; “The brothers moved on to Chicago to look for work there”. But ‘Himself’ said his Maurice was the only one in the family of that generation to have emigrated, his brothers had not. Hmmm…. as my family was so vague about our roots I wasn’t even sure which generation worked on the railroad … was it my great grandfather John or my great great grandfather Maurice? The real question was, could ‘Himself”s Maurice really be MY Maurice? I needed to do a bit more research to prove the connection… but I must admit, my instincts told me this was probably my family.

There was something strangely eerie about it all, something I didn’t pick up on ’till later, when I was replaying the answering machine message for my husband that ‘Himself’ had started to leave before I picked up.

… it was that ‘Himself’ sounded so very much like my dad ! It was just as if it was my dad talking with a brogue! It was uncanny! It also made me feel like I really had spoken with the Irish descendants of my ancestors from “across the pond”!

To top it all off, ‘Himself’ owns “Tigh ‘Himself'” in Bally – – – Co Kerry. That’s Irish Gaelic for ‘Himself”s Place… a PUB!! What better spot to have a pint and toast your mutual Irish ancestors than Tigh ‘Himself’!? Is that the Luck of the Irish or what?

Please read on, the story doesn’t end here…it gets better!

I thought I would share another tidbit with you about my O’Connor genealogy research, I think its kind of romantic… also some of the info may be helpful to other researchers.

GET THIS! Back in the mid 1800’s to the early 1900’s, the Irish from all over the states posted notices in the “Boston Pilot” newspaper, in search of missing friends and loved ones. This was “the” place to put such a notice. The 6th vol. in a series of 8 books is recently out, covering up to the U.S. civil war period which has gathered all these notices in $45 a piece volumes… quite a hefty price for only one volume even… so not expecting anything, but wanting to rule out a major source of info, and to take advantage of a very kind offer… look what I found when someone on the internet was generous enough to offer to do lookups in her volume, the first of the series:

“The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot” (Volume 1 1831-1850. page 236, 13 November 1847, Information Wanted

OF CATHERINE O’CONNOR, wife of Morris O’Connor, daughter to James Martin of Graan, near Dingle, co Kerry, who emigrated to Quebec last summer, with her brothers, John and James Martin, and is supposed to be in Upper Canada. Any information respecting her will be thankfully received by her husband, who is separated from her by the adversities of fortune. Address, Morris O’Connor, care of James O’Connor, Cabotville, Mass.

WOW! Turns out Graan is a phonetic pronunciation of Garrane, Co Kerry, its in the adjoining parish of Kilmalkedar, next to where Maurice was born, in Kilquane Parish which ‘Himself’ O’Connor told me about when I last reported to you. If this is the right Morris and Catherine, which I think it is, that ad was placed by my great great grandfather! Prior to this I didn’t know if they were married in the U.S. or Ireland (looks like Ireland), I didn’t know Catherine Martin’s father or brothers names!, nor when they emigrated nor where they were from in Ireland!

This could be an answer regarding the “brothers going on to Chicago”, and ‘Himself”s Maurice’s siblings not having emigrated at all… it may have been **Catherine’s Brothers** who moved on to Chicago! That’s IF its a match of course. I’ve also read that the Irish back then used the terms brother and brother-in-law interchangeably. Now I just needed proof…. something to make the connection between my U.S. O’Connor/Martin info and ‘Himself”s O’Connors in Ireland.

Note: Neither Catherine nor Morris could read or write, can you imagine how desperate they must have been, and how helpless they were to try to find each other when they didn’t even speak English in this new and vast country?… countries I should say; America and French speaking Canada !

Epilogue – When I sent the “Missing Persons” ad information to ‘Himself’ O’Connor, he talked the very reluctant local priest in Ballyferriter Roman Catholic parish near Dingle (which contained Kilquane and Kilmalkedar civil parishes) into letting him look at the actual parish records, in Latin! – which by the way, haven’t been filmed by the LDS (the Mormons) like most of the rest of Ireland and the world really….and guess what…

‘Himself’ looked up the marriage record for his Maurice O’Connor; married Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1846 and spouse; Catherine Martin (parents James Martin and Catherine Moriarty)!… and the whole Martin family births, marriages, just like the ad, in Garrane!!!

IT WAS THEM!

This confirms the Dingle connection to my Maurice from Brattleboro Vt, and my newly discovered 3rd cousin ‘Himself’ O’Connor and family in Bally – – -, Dingle, Co Kerry! I was so excited! And when I said that to ‘Himself’ he said;

“Oh, don’t be excited, it’s just us.”

Ever since I started my research over a year ago I’ve had this idea; that someday, if I ever found where Maurice was born, that I’d bring a bit of dirt from Maurice’s gravesite in Vermont with me for a future visit to Ireland. So how about this… ‘Himself’ told me that the very same land that Maurice was born on, near Mt Brandon (the real townland name by the way, is Clash) is still in the O’Connor family to this day!! Between his Irish brogue and his unique (to me) vocabulary; I wasn’t sure and couldn’t quite make out what he said next… I thought he said:

“The house still exists.”

“Still exists! You mean, I might be able to see it?”

Then I thought he said, “Yes, but it’s a cow house now.”

(Cow house?)

“‘Himself’, What do you mean by; ‘it’s a cow house now’?”

(obviously, a city girl <G>) …after a long pause he said, “Mary…. its where we keep the cows. Now what did you think it was, girl?”

So much for my romantic notions of bringing back a bit of Vermont to Mt Brandon! On second thought, I think maybe Hugh and Johanna’s gravesite would be appropriate don’t ya think? and by the way… Catherine and Maurice must have gotten together after that ad was placed in Nov. 1847 sometime by the next summer; around August of 1848; because my great grandfather John James O’Connor, was born June 17, 1849!

I heard again from my 3rd cousin; ‘Himself’ O’Connor in Ireland… (or should I say ‘Himself’Ó Conchúir; he does!) He sent me a letter; with family group sheets included (with notes in Irish Gaelic!). After searching parish records in Ballyferriter Roman Catholic parish **confirming** our family connection he told me this, which is really what I wanted to share with you;

“We are sure now, that our Maurice Ó Conchúir, is the same man you are looking for”… and later he finished with:

“We are sure now, you are ours.”

‘Himself’ signed it with: “Le mheas mhór, ‘Himself'” (with great love, in Irish Gaelic) Pretty neat, eh? It gave me goosebumps when I first read it… and it still does.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my story, and that it encourages you to keep trying! Máire Ó Conchúir Tossell aka Waterlilys@aol.com.

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Is your Irish ancestral name ‘cast in stone’?

The spelling of ancient Irish surnames evolved over time. Originally, they were written in the unique Irish language; a strain of the Gaelic tongue spoken by ancient Britons. During more recent centuries, these names were converted to the Anglicized versions in common usage today. In reality, the accurate spelling of a family name was of little importance to most members of the family, as they were invariably illiterate or semi-literate at best. Our Irish ancestors were more concerned with the pronunciation of names because heritage tales were passed down the generations by word of mouth, rather than in written text.

The situation regarding phonetic genealogy can become more confused by the influence of local dialects in many parts of Ireland. My own surname of Neary is only pronounced as Neary in the east of Ireland, as well as in England and America where family branches re-settled after emigration. In the west of Ireland, where the Neary clan has its roots, the family name is spoken as Narey or even Narry using the local accent. As a consequence, this is how the name appears in many old documents. The record-keepers of the day simply wrote family names as spoken by informants with very little concern for spelling accuracy.

This scenario must be borne in mind by family history researchers when delving into Irish ancestry. Often, quite bizarrely, the first step in the research process is a reassessment of “your name.” Could it be that your Irish family name, as used by every forefather in living memory, was not your name at all?

An example of this genealogy conundrum is demonstrated in the images below. A large extended family in Massachusetts, descended from Irish immigrants, were always known as McKay, McKey or Mackey – but which surname was correct. The answer was proved to be “none of the above”!

I found that my particular research subject, Irish-born John McKay, adopted and used the McKay name in America for over four decades. Most of his siblings also accepted Americanized names when establishing their own families near to Boston. As a result, when John McKay died in 1913, his US death certificate notifies the world that John McKay, originally from Tipperary and son of Patrick, died in Chatham MA, aged 95.

1913 MA death (John)I had to use many unconventional research techniques before I was able to verify that John McKay was not really a McKay, or a McKey, or a McAnything! In this case, a strange but delightful twist in the tail permits me to reveal John’s true name by displaying it “in stone” via his grave marker. It would appear that the surviving offspring of John McKay knew all along that he was not a McKay, even though the male American lineage continued to be known as McKay! As shown below, John’s real and ancient surname was respectfully engraved on to his tombstone. Note that the dates of birth and death match up perfectly with the death cert of John McKay.

John Mulcahy & Ellen Donovan HeadstoneAs you might appreciate, it is difficult to interrogate computer databases to investigate a chosen ancestor’s background if you unknowingly have the incorrect surname. Doubly so in this project … because John Mulcahy’s father was not called Patrick, as written clearly on his death certificate. His father was Perry, an Irish nickname for Peter – but that’s a story for another day.

Merrill was obviously not the only person who left a confusing background trail to bamboozle researchers, generations later. In Merrill’s case, it was deliberate.

St Patrick’s Day – Breaking News

I cannot be the only person in the world that marvels at the marketing expertise of the Saint Patrick of Ireland corporation. Somehow, during the mists of pagan times, an immigrant holy man wandered across our ancient (wet and multi-dull coloured) isle of Ireland. Our forefathers liked what he had to say. He came across as an alright-sort of fellow, on good terms with the heavens above, but his name was a bit of a mouthful – so we called him Patrick, and he didn’t seem to mind.

Our Patrick got a big following (before the days of Twitter) and so we called him a Saint, particularly for walking up big mountains without decent hiking boots. We could spot him a mile off because of his distinctive clothing … which was never green.

So let’s all raise a glass of the British-owned, world-renowned, unique black beer called Guinness …. and celebrate the life of a Welshman who wasn’t called Patrick and didn’t wear green. This is the definition of “Irish” yes? Party. What the hell.

saint-patrick blogBy the way, you can get my novel for free via Smashwords for this St Patrick’s Day weekend by entering this code: PM77U at St Pat’s Thriller

The Good, The Bad, and Dad

DadonrightThe photo above featuring my father always caused amusement and curious interest when it was viewed in the family photo album, particularly after his untimely death at the young age of 54. The snap was christened “The Good, the Bad, and Dad” by his irreverent sons, more in recognition of their liking for Spaghetti Westerns than any comment on my dad’s colleagues. You see, my dad is on the right, and we don’t know the identity of the other two young men. We don’t even know where the photo was taken, except that my Irish dad was conscripted into the Royal Navy upon resettlement in England, and he once told tales of sailing around the world, with stop-offs on exotic islands in SE Asia. Perhaps this photo was taken in Borneo, or somewhere like that.

So we don’t really know if the tall handsome man on the left was “Good” or if the shorter streetwise lad in the middle was “Bad” – but thankfully we do have a single picture of Dad as a cool-looking bachelor boy exploring the world. I have learned from interviews with Dad’s old Irish school-friend, Eddie Moran, that my father was an accomplished horseman. My grandfather Ned Neary kept horses and donkeys at the old farm in Tullinaglug, and Eddie and my dad rode them bareback-style whenever Ned was occupied elsewhere.

My dad’s life was not fully appreciated until he was gone. His strife involved escaping from poverty in rural Ireland, living in a tiny run-down old two-roomed Irish cottage with a thatched roof, but Dad ended up providing a spacious six-bedroomed detached house with attractive gardens for his large family, of which I am one. Not a bad return for a poorly-educated manual worker … and he saw more of far-flung Asian destinations than I’ll ever see.

The short poem written on to the image is courtesy of Linda Goetsch, a fellow genealogy fanatic. “Remember Me” is rapidly becoming the genealogist’s equivalent of the Lord’s Prayer. The words just seemed 100% appropriate to accompany The Good, The Bad, and Dad.

A Family Tragedy (and a valuable genealogy lesson learned)

Many years ago, when I started researching my Family Tree, I did not have a clue about my grandfather Ned Neary‘s birth family. After some time, I eventually discovered that Ned was the youngest of twelve siblings; there were six boys and six girls. I knew nothing about any of them, except for Ned, and even he was referred to as Edward or Ted in my lifetime. It appears that “Ned” dropped his Irish nickname after leaving County Sligo in the late 1930’s in favour of the more Anglicized abbreviation of his baptismal forename. Ted Neary moved across the Irish Sea to England, and I suppose that the Irish immigrants of the day had to “fit in” and grudgingly accept the monikers which their new neighbours and workmates applied. However, back in Sligo, everyone remembered Ned as Ned, if you get my gist.

Anyway – I was not long into my ancestry research project when I set myself the challenge of tracking down each of grandfather Ned’s deceased siblings, and finding out about their lives. Both Ned and my father (Ned’s oldest child) were dead too, so they could not help my quest.

When researching the six Neary sisters, my new-found great-aunts, I soon learned that three of these ladies had got married in New York City, and had their own families, thereby introducing me to many second cousins. Three of my new cousins had an interest in their family history, and so they could recall passed-down tales about the three Neary sisters who lived their adult lives in the Bronx, and kept in regular touch with each other as an extended family. There was also mention of a fourth sister who emigrated to NYC in her youth but returned to Ireland broken-hearted when one of her siblings stole away her boyfriend – and married him! This sister was identified to be Bridget, and her return to the homestead led me to more fascinating ancestral tales – but more about this saga will be saved for another day.

So, I was left trying to trace the lives of just two Neary girls, amusingly called Annie and Fanny. I was getting nowhere until my oldest “new” cousin advised that there was a vague family lore tale about a Neary sister who died in a house fire in America, aged in her 20’s (he thought). Another cousin added some more detail: this Neary girl used to work as a domestic servant at a big house, somewhere in upstate NY. Which of Ned’s sisters burned to death? Was it Annie or Fanny? If only Ned was still alive to tell me about this “secret” tragedy.

Back in Ireland, I set about getting the first and main part of the jigsaw in place. Fanny was the youngest of the Neary sisters, and she appears in the 1911 census of Ireland, living alongside even younger Ned at the family farmstead in Sligo. I had an inkling that Fanny was not our fire victim because she would have had to have emigrated just after 1911 (to have died on American soil) and there was no sign of Fanny boarding or disembarking from a transatlantic ship during the 1910’s. My uncles and aunts (and elderly Sligo neighbours) were not aware of a Fanny Neary, so what happened to Fanny? A long search culminated in the discovery of Fanny’s death record. She died in the old Sligo town Asylum Hospital aged just 24 after contracting a form of TB. Poor Fanny – it seems like no-one could remember her time on this earth almost 100 years later. She is remembered now.

The Neary fire victim now had a name – Annie – if the fire story was true. My NY-based cousin Patrick Reilly became fascinated with the “Annie Neary Fire” story as well. As he said (with his legal training), the accidental death of an American would lead to an Inquest, and a house fire resulting in fatalities would be reported in local if not State-wide or national newspapers. Patrick decided to pay a visit to St Raymond’s cemetery in the Bronx where he knew that Neary and Reilly family graves existed. His hunch proved to be very wise. Patrick came across a weather-beaten old gravestone in the Catholic burial ground, sandwiched between newer grave markers of non-family members, which had been overlooked before. The faint but distinct name of Annie Neary was all that could be clearly deciphered from a long inscription. Patrick attempted to retrieve more data by “stenciling” the remaining characters of Annie’s memorial stone. The month of death was April, but the day and year were less clear. After close scrutiny, Patrick insisted that the date began with a “1” [of course!] and ended with a “9”. The second and third digits also looked like nines, but obviously this could not be. Patrick was aware that his Neary ancestors do not show up in Bronx registers until after 1900, and so a logical conclusion was drawn that Annie must have died in April 1909.

We now had a name, a date indicator, and a primary cause of death: FIRE. It couldn’t take much more research to unearth the truth …. could it?

Well … two years later, every reasonable research avenue had been investigated without success. Patrick visited Historical Societies and Vital Records Offices in counties to the north of New York City where the wealthier American families once had country retreats serviced by domestic staff. No sign of Annie – and no notable house fires in the first half of 1909. I searched accessible US newspaper archives, from NY and surrounding states. Still no sign of Annie – but (worryingly) a lot of fire fatalities in the papers in the 1900’s decade, and a lot of US history learned along the way.

Something was clearly not right. Maybe the dramatic “house fire” story was an over-exaggeration. Maybe Annie did once suffer minor burns, and then contracted an illness, and passed away without any great newsworthy fanfare.

A new and final, last-chance saloon research plan was devised. “Let’s retrieve any NY death certificates which feature a female called Ann Neary (or similar) whose year of death ended with the figure 9”, I suggested to Patrick. Whilst we are at it: “How about any deaths that end in the year 8 or 0, just in case the monumental engraver’s etchings have been misread.” As a (by that time) experienced researcher, I also confounded Patrick by proposing that matching namesake deaths from the 1880’s or 1890’s should not be ruled out. Weather-battered carved digits can play havoc with the logic of the human brain, I opined. “And don’t take it as ‘carved in stone’ that April was necessarily the true month of death. The headstone might after been erected years after the death, when accurate recollections had faded.”

We found that there were more than quite a few death certs which met the revised search criteria. Okay – let’s narrow it down to namesake death victims who were teenagers, or aged under 40. That’s better – a handful – and so Patrick ordered the documents for collection from the NY State archives within a few days.

I was staggered when Patrick sent me a copy of the last NY Death Certificate he had added to his list, shown below:

1899 NYC death cert (Annie Neary)

My great-aunt Annie, and Ned’s sister, had died in a fire on the night of 7th April 1899. She was aged 21 years. Back in Ireland, Ned was just five years old. We can only imagine the heart-rending grief in the tiny Neary cottage in Tullinaglug, days or weeks later, when the news filtered through.

The death cert gave us all the answers we needed. Annie was burnt to a cinder in the attic room of a multi-storey Manhattan home overlooking Central Park in New York City; a room reserved for the servants of the wealthy Andrews family. I am somewhat relieved and grateful that Annie’s employer, Mr Wallace Andrews, repeatedly tried to rescue his domestic staff trapped in their upstairs rooms. These rescue efforts cost him his own life. Annie’s oldest sister Mary was called to the Fire Station House in order to formally identify the charred remains. God knows how this task was completed, technically and emotionally.

The full story about the 1899 fire in central NYC is recalled in this initial New York Times article: 1899 THIRTEEN PERISH IN DOUBLE FIRE

I was shocked to learn that dramatic fires in the dry timber homes occupied by American city dwellers at the turn of the 20th century were frighteningly commonplace. A fire in one house often spread to a whole block.

So what’s the genealogy research lesson? Well, everything, really.

A family lore tale says that a relative died in tragic circumstances. First, identify the NAME. What happened? It’s probably based on the truth. Why would anyone make this stuff up. When did it happen? Focus on relative’s ages (at the time) rather than calendar years. If your family suffered a tragedy, say 20 or 30 years ago, you are more likely to say something like “I was aged about 25” rather than “it happened in 1989,” for example. Annie Neary was said to be in her twenties when her life ended in sheer terror and panic, far from home. She was only 21 and this tale got told to her sisters’ young grandchildren, who only half-listened, years after the event.

Where did the event happen? The grandchildren retained some memories of the oft-repeated obituary. Annie worked in “big houses” owned by ultra-wealthy NY families. In the summer months, she worked in second homes (mansions) located north of the city, around Westchester County, where the Andrews millionaires liked to escape to a cleaner environment. Not quite “upstate” but “up the State” for an Irish immigrant unfamiliar with American geography. But for most of the year, Annie Neary would be found cleaning out fireplaces and re-lighting fires in the 67th Street town-house of her employer. Annie’s brothers and sisters were very proud of their sibling. She was a much-loved and trusted member of the renowned Andrews [domestic] household.

ANgravestone1909#8And finally, rely on the eyes of your on-the-ground research colleagues. I was sent a photo of Annie’s tombstone which according to Patrick asserted a date of death ending in 9. I agreed, from long-distance, but I eventually started to question Patrick’s interpretation of the inscription. I put doubt into his mind, which was wrong. This error cost us unnecessary time and expense. We have since learned that Annie was buried in the Bronx in 1899 because she had an uncle (John Stenson) who was settled into this booming Irish neighborhood – but the death year always did end in 9.

When the dust had settled, Patrick and I re-visited lessons learned. Why did the clerk with the burial register at the Bronx cemetery never inform us about Annie’s burial in 1899? Answer:  …. because we kept saying that she died after 1900, and most likely in 1909. As it happens, when we specified our burial date, the clerk could tell us who else shared the grave and who paid for the burial plot. Priceless (early US) family history information which was almost lost forever.

And why did we never find the name of Annie Neary in newspaper reports of the many fires in New York city and state which occurred just over 100 years ago? Answer:  …. because some indexing systems only list the names of the primary fatalities (e.g. Andrews), and other automated scanning systems do not pick up “unfamiliar” surnames of American immigrants, especially if the newsprint is faded. Poor little Annie, the chambermaid, all the way from Tullinaglug; there she was on the bottom line of this New York Times front page article, all along: 1899 NYC fire (NYT)

So when investigating initially obscure ancestral events, maybe the research mantra should be:

  • Trust your experienced intuition. You know the family better than anyone.
  • Focus on the facts, and only the facts, however vague and irrelevant they may sometimes seem.
  • Disbelieve what your ancestors recalled at your peril.
  • Keep an open mind, but do not introduce unnecessary doubt.
  • Most of all – stick at it. Answers, or extra clues, can be found in the strangest of places.

The Poteen Wars

Retrieved evidence verifies that the wild residents of the Ox Mountains in County Sligo, and in particular the Catholic parishioners of Kilmacteigue living by the Windy Gap overlooking Lough Talt, were highly-regarded distillers of some of the finest Mountain Dew ever sipped in Ireland. Highly-regarded, that is, by fellow aficionados of the home-brewed spirit known as Poteen. The British authorities and later the Civic Guard of the Irish Free State took a different view to the producers and imbibers of duty-free liquor.

As a result, an ongoing clandestine war was fought around the south Sligo mountains and boglands for centuries. The policing agencies always boasted of victories in isolated skirmishes, but truth be told, the distillers were never beaten. The “illegal” trading of mysterious lethal brews still persists to this day – albeit that the receptacles containing the wondrous concoction are more likely to be discarded white lemonade bottles these days (if the plastic does not melt).

The newspaper articles below give a “taster” of the never-ending Poteen War:

1923 A Poteen Case

                 1923: the judge and police know the flavour (of                                         confiscated hooch)

1926 Poteen #2

                                   1926 …. One -Nil

1926 Poteen #3

                                            1926 ….. Two – Nil

1926 Poteen Captures

                                          1926 …. Three – Nil

1926 Poteen Making

1926 ….. Three – One (Cloongoonagh fights back)

1926 Poteen Traffic

1926 ….. Three – Two (no prosecutions in No Man’s                                             Land)

1926 sick cow

1926 ….. Three – Three (if all else fails, use the sick                                                     cow defence)

“ANOTHER ONE” led to the Civic Guards retreating to their Barracks in Aclare. The Poteen Pushers could not be stopped. Casual visitors to Cloongoonagh carried on their everyday business. Christmas was coming. Everybody was happy – even the Guards and the Judge, sampling the finest Mountain Dew prior to enjoying their fattened goose dinners.

If you want to know how to make Mad Man’s Soup follow this link at your peril:

Poteen Making

The Fair Day in Aclare


(Recounted by John Sheerin, 25th February 2001)
 

“On the fair day each townland had its own area where they kept the cattle.  The people from Gurterslin and Drumartin areas always parked near the entrance of the village on the low road. The people from Tourlestrane, Carrane, Tubberoddy and Coolreagh parked from the barracks up the high road.  Carrowloban, Kincullew and that area parked down the main street. The Killassers parked on the bridge.  Each townland had their own place to park.  When the cattle were sold they were put into Leheny’s yard. Then they were loaded on to lorries up the road.  Before my time, the pigs were taken to Sligo. The farmer of that time would bring the pigs by horse and cart to Sligo. They would bring loads of meal and flour back on the return journey. 

There were a lot of pubs in Aclare in those days. Some shops had both groceries and hardware on sale. There was Kathleen Feehely, Loftus’s, Higgins’, Ellen Haran’s (which became Mayes), Bradleys, Flatleys and Quinns. We had the fair winter and summer.  Each farmer herded his animals in a cluster. The villagers from each townland would hold their animals together up against a wall or steer them around the street. Everyone watched their own cattle. 

The sheep were on the backway. They were held with the dogs. They stayed together. When they had walked ten miles they were damn glad to stand for a while. When they were bought they were taken home on carts. 

Aclare market, Co. Sligo

                                     1961 Aclare Fair Day

The country people brought the banabhs in on carts.  They’d sell them in front of Gallaghers. Touhy’s from Ballaghaderreen came with lorries for banabhs, which they kept in crates. 

On the fair day the village was hard to pass through. It was noisy with voices bargaining, donkeys braying, the mooing of cows and baaing of sheep. The smells were strong. The place used to be in an awful mess when the day was over and the animals were taken home. The next day the County Council would come and sweep the streets. There was no water or electricity that time. We didn’t get the electricity until the 50’s. In the late 50’s we got the water on tap. 

Of course there was many a row on a fair day. When the tinkers were around we often had fights with them. Mind you, not on fair days. One day there were only two guards in the barracks and a row got up. The guards came looking for help to put the troublemakers out of the village. Four or five of us tackled them with the guards. We put them out over the bridge and gave them a good hoisting. Nobody got injured and there were no bad feelings. The fair days were great.  I miss them.  They ended sometime in the 60’s.  Then the mart was started in Aclare by Kennedys.  That continued for about ten years. 

The village had a shoe maker called Dinny Walsh. Kate Fahy was another shopowner. She sold sweets. Other owners were Bretts, Sheerins, McAllisters and Evans. Each shop had a hardware section. Charlie Brett was the blacksmith. Years before I remember there were three bakeries in Aclare; Loftus’, Higgins’ and Lundys. There was also a cooper who lived down at the edge of the river where the car park is now. I don’t remember him but he was in it. There was also a butter house down along the river.  

But getting back to the fair day. It was one of the best fairs in Ireland. The jobbers used to come from Sligo, Ballina, Northern Ireland and Roscommon. The fair was held on the last Wednesday of the month. We stayed in the shops and protected the outside by putting barrels and bars on the streets. These stopped the cattle coming up on the footpath and breaking the windows. 

The jobber would come along and ask the farmer the price of the animal. They made the bargain and finished the thing with a slap of the hand. The deal was made. After that they’d go into the pub and have a drink.”

There’s two “L’s” in Tullinaglug

Hughie insisted that there was “two L’s in Tullinaglug.”

Morris retorted that he should look at the old maps. “There’s definitely three L’s in Tullinaglug.”

“Bollix!” shouted Hughie. “There’s Molly Moran’s well, and there’s Neary’s well. Behind the cottage, by the cow shed.”

There’s no answer to that. It’s true.

John's cottage and his auld Raleigh bike

The well’s round the back

Where’s Merrill? …. where’s the novel

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:

© AMAZON or

© LULU or

© SMASHWORDS

WM manuscript cover blog #1 copy

          #1 AMAZON Best-Seller 2014

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

All-Ireland Inquest

Dear Danny,

Went to the Roaring Cock yesterday lunchtime for a pint and the post-All-Ireland inquest discussions. I overheard this bar-room conversation between two locals:
“What time did you leave on Sunday?”
“I dunno. I woke up in Charlestown, early hours Monday. Why – what time did you leave?”
“I dunno.”
“So – did I see you on Sunday?”
“I think so.”
The Irish really know how to celebrate big sporting events.

Gearoid, Ha ha, brilliant ! I was really sad to hear The Green and Red had been beaten again; I thought they might have done it this time around. I’m sure mighty craic was had whatever. Did you watch it in the Cock ? I was wondering if the Killybacside gang were for Mayo or Donegal.

Danny, as you should know – Mayo & Sligo are in the Connacht province, and even though Mayo “bet” Sligo in the Connacht final, healthy local tradition says that you support your neighbours – even after defeat. I know it’s the opposite in Lancashire. Could you ever support Burnley in the FA Cup Final if they beat Blackburn Rovers in the semi!! Then again, this FA cup final could only ever be played on Fantasy Island.

Donegal play in the Ulster Championship. They are close neighbours but they’re separated by a small strip of Leitrim. We were glad that the GAA final involved two teams from the West for a change, but the Green & Red flags were flying in our parish on Sunday. My great-grandmother was a Mayo lady, so I cheered them on too. I was first in the Roaring Cock on Sunday morning (before the bar officially opened), escaping early from yet another midday funeral mass. I even beat old Hughie O’Gara to the bar, and he is a permanent fixture on the bar stool by the turf fire. I took my car home when I was only 1 or 2 jars over the limit, and vowed to return if Mayo got off to a good start. They didn’t. Two goals down in no time. Game over – barring a miracle. So I got sozzled at home, channel-hopping between Premier League soccer, GAA & Formula One.

I think Mayo’s failure just contributed to excess partying in the Cock for no good reason at all. Many say they cannot remember the second half – or the next few hours – or the closed door session after midnight, etc. Where do they get the stamina? Years of practice, I suppose.

Gearoid, I am so happy. I slept ! I went out for dinner with the Dublin/Nottingham girls and had a few beers before I leave Pamplona; I put the earplugs in to drown out the phantom snorer and was dead to the world. Today’s another day. I woke at 6.00am today pleasantly surprised to have slept so well. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that ”Foghorn Leghorn” had kept half the dorm awake again. In the spirit of the Camino, I gave a spare pair of earplugs to an Australian pilgrim who looked like she was more in need than I was.

Early start for me too, today, Danny. Got to research some Dubliners called Costello, a typically Irish surname – but they turn out to have been the Costa family originally from Lucca in Tuscany 200 years ago, and then they started to appreciate their Italian heritage in the 20th century and they start calling themselves Castello after further emigration around the world. Irish genealogy is never straightforward, especially as many Irish folk “adopt” forenames in adulthood which were never mentioned on their baptism records. I have Irish three aunts; my dad’s sisters. They were always known to me in Lancashire as Maureen, Eileen & Doreen. It turns out that they were born as Mary, Attracta & Joan ….. and even Hughie O’Gara (Cock fixture & fitting) was never christened as Hugh or anything like!

Danny, as you’ll appreciate, drink-driving around our parish involves keeping your vehicle in the two well-worn ruts in the single track lanes separated by the green strip of overgrown grass which has sprung up from the ancient tarmac last laid decades ago. It is impossible to leave the road, but meeting a fellow drink-driver coming the other way is a difficult challenge. And if the approaching fellow traveler is perched upon a rusty old red (unlicensed) tractor, then take evasive action. My shiny new motor now has the scars of one of these encounters.

But a bump or two on the family car is like a badge of honour around here – as is the 12 months driving ban for those heroes daft enough to venture into town after a few pints in the village “shops”. Liver complaints are unheard of – but bowel cancer seems to be the price you pay in old age for a lifetime of living off nothing more than Guinness soup. The recommended local medicine for bowel cancer is more Guinness, so that’s alright then.

By the way – Happy Arthur’s Day! Will you find a pint of the black stuff beyond Pamplona – if you dare venture off today.

Arthur’s Day is a great Irish invention which now ensures that the 12 month wait for Paddy’s Day is halved. It’s always better to have a reason to get totally “locked” as the Dubs say. But with Arthur’s Day falling midway between the GAA Football Final and the All-Ireland Hurling replay this year, there won’t be much turf cut this week ……

Which reminds me – a great headline in the Western People this week, as follows:No sun, no silage, no turf, no Sam – a Bad Year for Mayo.

Up Galway, in the replayed hurling final. Might venture out for a drink.

Gearoid , that cracked me up. You should write a book. Oh I forgot , you already have! Did you see the news? Rioting in Pamplona by Spanish austerity protesters.

The Spanish are mid-table rioters as far as I can see on the TV news. Be thankful you’re not passing through Athens. The Greeks really know how to trash the place.

Meanwhile, in parallel to your long trek, the 9-Day West of Ireland Drinking Olympics reached midway on Arthur’s Day. I gave up work early and ventured into the main stadium (aka The Roaring Cock) at about 4pm to check on progress. After patiently waiting for landlord Con’s middle daughter, Mae O (from Sligo), to set me up the perfect pint of Guinness, I jokingly asked whether I was too early for the Happy Hour free black stuff which I knew officially commenced at precisely 17:59. Hughie O’Gara in his familiar corner piped up that in Charlestown they had free drinks for two hours. Now Hughie has an odd Sligo accent which combined with the effects of a mild stroke makes him speak in a strange Dalek-like tongue. To me, it sounded like Hughie said that our Mayo neighbours were offering “free drinks for chihuahuas” – so as my pint settled right on cue, I was able to raise my glass to the regulars and exclaim (as per the Guinness TV ad) –
Chihuahuas!
Hughie didn’t get it. He just said, “I’m not kidding ye. Two hours.”
The session had been re-invigorated. Mae O gave everyone a free pint ahead of time as we giggled like kids and saluted our hero – “TWARTA!”

Next up, Matt The Truth explained that a new word had been invented locally. He told us that the definition of the word is – “to fall into a drunken stupor whilst watching your sporting heroes not unexpectedly let you down yet again in the biggest match of the season.” He advised that this word is DEJAVOODOO.

And then we saw the story in the Irish Independent newspaper on the bar top, wherein a Hong Kong business tycoon is offering $50 million to any man who will “woo his lesbian daughter”. This headline gave ample scope for a prolonged debate about different folk’s interpretation of the art of wooing, especially if the lady prefers to bat for the other side. As you might expect, the conversation degenerated and made young Mae O blush, and cannot be repeated here. Pious Peter was cringing, and said with his lisp, “Now, that’s what I call wooed [rude]” – so I retorted with “as the Chinese millionaire said to his spread-eagled dyke of a daughter.”

My drinking companion, innocent 89 year-old bachelor ‘uncle’ John asked his usual question when female homosexuality is raised. “What do lesbians actually do?” he enquired. Matt The Truth gave him a subtle clue when he said that there’s two lesbians who live on his lane, and they grow a lot of courgettes. John was baffled and advised us that he prefers cabbage.

Sore knees are nothing. My guts are starting to ache this week. Is it the porter, the side-splitting craic, or both?

Keep going Dan. You’ve progressed about 1.5 inches along the Camino map on my 12″ screen.

camino de santiago

Where’s he heading?