Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!


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©2011 Janet Maher, Saint Patrick, Maynooth, Ireland

©2011 Janet Maher, Saint Patrick, Maynooth, Ireland

A most happy upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day to all! May your days be full of warmth, wisdom, and good cheer! I’m excited to be able to say that I’ve booked my trip to Ireland in May and am beginning to plan the adventure/pilgrimage. If possible, I may post along the way and share photos here. We’ll see if that develops. If not, I’ll be sure to share my thrills upon return.

Heads up to folks in Connecticut! Robert Larkin, member of the Connecticut Irish-American Historical Society and Cheshire Historical Society, and scholar of the Connecticut Irishmen’s involvement in the American Civil War, with particular emphasis on the Connecticut Ninth Regiment Volunteers, will be giving two excellent talks this Monday and Tuesday.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, Monday, March 17,  he’ll speak about  the Connecticut Ninth at the Mary Taylor United Methodist Church on the Milford Green, 168 North Broad Street, at 7p.m.  This talk will be sponsored jointly by the Milford Historical Society and the Orange Historical SocietyCaptain Lawrence O’Brien’s artifacts (uniform, sword, writing desk, etc.) will be on display along with other items.

On Tuesday night, March 18, at 7:30 he will be speaking for the Irish History Round Table at the Knights of Saint Patrick Hall, 1153 State Street, New Haven. He “will describe where the population who claim Irish heritage is the largest (USA, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Argentina and Mexico). The talk will feature statistics as well as selected stories about interesting and famous personalities, including military men, politicians, and entertainers.” Both events are free and open to the public. 

He tells me that at the Knights of Columbus Museum, 1 State Street in New Haven, an exhibit about the Civil War is currently in the planning stage. Although it will not open for another year, initial discussions have focused on possible three dimensional items to include. “As Sgt. James Mullen of the Ninth CT was the first Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Lt. Col. John G. Healy of the Ninth CT was the first Grand Knight of Council No. 20,” he is hopeful that information and artifacts from this regiment will be included in the exhibition. He welcomes anyone’s suggestions for other “three dimensional” items to include.

Gach mian leis go maith a thabhairt duit! All good wishes to you!

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved


More on DNA Testing


©2008 Janet Maher, William Maher Gravestone

©2008 Janet Maher, Waterbury Gravestone from Queen’s County/Laois, Ireland

Some of you may recall my previous ambivalence about DNA testing. Having entered the pool, so to speak, I am changing my tune. “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

As we see from the genealogies of small early communities of emigrated groups into areas outside of Ireland, Irish families frequently became intertwined through marriages among their neighbors. We may forget to consider that this would likely have been very much so in the Old Sod. There is a strong probability that families in the seventeenth through nineteenth century Irish townlands had been related in various ways to other surnames in their area and in neighboring counties. Not only would they meet in the dailiness of their lives, but their reach to other communities would extend when they attended festivals, fairs, and other popular religious and social events. Groupings in Griffiths Valuations and other “census substitutes” should perhaps not simply be looked upon as names of random neighbors mixed among particular surnames, but, instead, as potential clusters of inter-related families.

In scholarly genealogical research we seek paper trails that evidence linear tracks through the generations, and try to find as many supporting details as possible. Making the leap to another country and landing in the correct physical location might be a very long shot without specifics that factually anchor an ancestor there. With so many given names repeated throughout the generations, searches often turn up too many possible needles in a given haystack. Honing into a county is important, but until one finds the specific neighborhood within a specific town, s/he may forever only feel “warm”.

When documents are missing and it seems impossible to bridge one continent to another, DNA testing may help to close, or at least narrow, the gap. I now realize that DNA testing can actually help to clarify a hunch, and I believe that it has the potential for allowing one to be able to eventually prove a location beyond a reasonable doubt. One can then focus upon specific needles in the haystack—while retaining one’s awareness of the other nearby needles, but not allowing them to steer one entirely away to unrelated tangents.

Lyn-David McMullen (Laighin Daithi Mac Maolain), the surname administrator for the Mullen-McMullen DNA group, has recently been incredibly helpful to me in generously explaining basics about the DNA tests. With his permission I will attempt to share some of that here. Although it seems unlikely that any of us would be able to find and/or track them all genealogically, by our sixth generation back, as our two parents became multiplied by two more each, etcetera, we all ended up with 128 ancestors! Three types of tests may shed light upon a few more of them than our paper trails have led us.

Through the DNA tests we may be able to  establish relative connections by comparing common segments in individuals’ DNA test results, and to learn whether a connection is through a male or female line. Some people may share one common male or female ancestor, but fall under different branches of descent (as we also find in our traditional research).

The Y-DNA test tracks the male “agnatic” line, through the “Y” sex chromosome. Others who match will share the male surname, or derivations of it. How close or distant a relationship is depends upon the number of identical markers in the Y-DNA string, particularly at the slow-moving, more stable, ones. These shared markers determine the “TMRCA (time to most recent ancestor)”. An introductory Y-DNA 12-marker test will begin to “open the door”, but to truly find connections with other males it is necessary to test a greater number of SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) segments. SNPs pertain to deep ancestral origins going back thousands of years. Markers are also compared for the more recent family relationships among those who share identical SNPs. Mr. McMullen wrote, “For our closest relations, we usually match perfectly on the first 25 markers.” For those starting out, the 67-marker test would be more useful, as it will provide deeper information beyond the basic ethnic ancestry. Mr. McMullen said that the 66th marker (DYS492) is a particularly important one to compare. At this point there occurs a branching of SNPs, going either to a P312 or U106 branch. (The marker number for P312 is 12, and for U106 is 13.)

For both men and women it is possible to take two other types of tests, which are broader and farther reaching than that of a surname line. These are autosomal (atDNA) and mitochondrial (mtDNA, the female “X” sex chromosome), which look for common female ancestors. Cousins, as might be presumed, have decreasingly less DNA match material the farther away they are from a direct line.

Autosomal results might produce different matches, even between siblings. Different companies produce different match results due to their particular sets of people tested. Differences can also be attributed to the fact that siblings get different combinations of gene-containing DNA chromosomes from each parent. The levels are retained for different lengths of time and become progressively weaker over generations. In order for people to be considered IBD (Identical by Descent) the largest chromosome segment/s that match must be at least 5.5 cM long and have 500 or more matching SNPs on that segment. If two people are in the same direct line, they are called “Common Matches”. Having family members take different tests might be helpful in gathering a range of DNA information that would be genetically shared among them.

Dr. Maurice Gleeson, an expert on autosomal DNA research, offers several online explanations and is a frequent speaker on the subject. He explained that one’s first cousins share common grandparents; second cousins share common great grandparents; third cousins share common 2nd great grandparents (gg); fourth cousins share common 3rd great grandparents (ggg); fifth cousins share common 4th great grandparents (gggg) and sixth cousins share common 5th great grandparents (ggggg). Another of his pages contains excellent illustrations that accompany his explanations about how DNA is contributed through the female and male sides of one’s ancestry.

He explained that autosomal tests look for matches among each person’s 22 pairs of chromosomes that exist beyond our sex chromosomes. These are written as “cM”, centiMorgans, and include the mixtures of lines created through married combinations. The autosomal test looks for a common ancestor back in time to about the 4th great grandparents. It reveals regional connections and both male and female cousins, determining how relatively close or distant in ancestry they might be to the one being tested. According to Dr. Gleeson, “the autosomal DNA test will detect 99% of your first and second cousins, 90% of your third cousins…but only 50% of your fourth cousins, and a mere 10% of your fifth cousins.”

According to Mr. McMullen, the “Family Finder” portion of the Family Tree DNA testing program tests the X chromosome, which is passed on by a mother. “A male can only get his X from his mother, thus eliminating his father’s entire half as the source for anything that shows up on his X…The man’s mother has two X copies, one of which came primarily from her mother and, one from her father, but they can be partially mixed. The copy that came from her mother’s mother, could be either from her mother, or her father’s mother, while the one that came from the mother’s father can only have come from his mother.” Given this information it seems especially important to look fully at lines on both sides of one’s ancestry, as threads between both sides may have mixed in any number of ways into the present.

DNA particulars are further explained by scientist Roberta Estes on her blog, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy, where she also discussed the concept of haplogroups, “ancestral clans”. If a mutation is discovered in a line, a new haplogroup forms, and all descendants from that point forward will carry that mutation in their DNA. Links on her site lead to other informative postings she has made and questions she has answered for others.

There are offerings of free DNA tests for people of certain surnames for which administrators would like to build larger groups.  This includes the Meagher/Maher surname group that wishes to focus upon those individuals who moved away to other places beyond the common ancient ancestral region in northeast Tipperary (which would be most of the Mahers, having been widely dispersed after the invasion of Oliver Cromwell in 1649-50). They have “particular interest in lineages that immigrated to Australia or New Zealand prior to 1930, or that trace to Cos. Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry, or Cork, with no known connection to Co. Tipperary.”

Although I have so much more to learn, our DNA clues have already provided me a means to fine tune my research on both sides of the pond, for which I am very grateful. I will probably always want to learn more, but heartily agree with Roberta Estes, who wrote, “Even if you do nothing more, it’s fun to identify your clan. It’s the only way of extending our genealogy back in time beyond surnames.” 

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

Old Saint Joseph Cemetery



©2006 Janet Maher, Wrafter/Bowes/Maher/Walsh/Wall Stone

©2006 Janet Maher, Wrafter/Bowes/Maher/Walsh/Wall Stone, Saint Joseph Cemetery

In 2006 I put up my first Irish-oriented web site, which included transcriptions from several old Irish cemeteries in New Haven County, Connecticut. Complete transcriptions for Saint Francis Cemetery, Naugatuck, is included, along with many photographs, in my 2012 publication, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut. My original intent for this book had been to simply focus upon Saint Francis Cemetery and explore relationships between people in it, perhaps following that with similar publications. But the project grew into a much more vast endeavor.

A group from the Connecticut Irish American Historical Society recently produced an excellent publication—Early New Haven Irish and their Final Resting Places: The Old Catholic and Saint Bernard Cemeteries. This was one inspiration for me to go ahead and publish my photos and transcriptions for Old Saint Joseph Cemetery, in Waterbury, Connecticut. I had taken the images and transcribed many of the stones between 2006 and 2011 while simultaneously working on my large book. My focus was upon finding the Irish surnames and the oldest graves, particularly ones that cited an original location in “the old sod”. I copied all sides of the stones, as possible, noting the line breaks. In this publication they will be alphabetical, however, not mapped and organized by section, as I did in From the Old Sod.

In Old Saint Joseph Cemetery, Waterbury, Connecticut, an abundance of Irish immigrants came from Queen’s County (Laois), in addition to several other towns and counties. I will include a couple of short essays about this cemetery’s link to Ireland and about the early Irish settlers in Waterbury (some of which I also discussed in From the Old Sod).

Old Saint Joseph Cemetery is to Waterbury what Saint Francis Cemetery is to Naugatuck, what Saint Mary’s Cemetery is to Ansonia and Derby, and what Saint Bernard Cemetery is to New Haven. These very special places contain the remains of many of the earliest Irish Catholic immigrants into settled in the Naugatuck Valley in New Haven County—and they contain beautiful monuments. For each cemetery there is a second one that extended family connections into subsequent generations. For Naugatuck the second cemetery is Saint James, which can be seen when traveling past on Route 8. For Ansonia/Derby this is Mount Saint Peter’s, and for Saint Bernard’s it is Saint Lawrence Cemetery. For Waterbury, this is New Saint Joseph Cemetery, just a short way up the street from Old Saint Joseph, and Calvary, in another section of town.

Like so many other natives of Waterbury who have early Irish (or Italian, or other nationality) roots, Old Saint Joseph Cemetery has long been near and dear to my heart.  Memories of grave visiting in this cemetery during adolescence and young adulthood are layered upon annual Christmas visits as a child to Holy Land (see links below). When I moved away, visits back home always included solitary pilgrimages there, and I introduced the ghost town of Holy Land to a great many people who had never heard of it. Somehow going back up that mountain to witness its devastation (this time as an “impartial” artist) was as important to me as the excitement I had once felt as a child going down into its replica catacombs.

After the death of my father, when I was 19, I became especially drawn to the peaceful stillness that could be found in cemeteries. Little did I know that several decades later I would become so deeply involved with researching and preserving history that extends in myriad directions from these sacred places of my past.

Tragically, in the beginning of October, 2011, a small group of individuals severely vandalized the historic New and Old Saint Joseph Cemeteries. Two hundred and fifty-five headstones were knocked over or broken in Old Saint Joe’s alone. On my next trip into town I anxiously drove through all the familiar sections trying to assess the damage and loss as if I was visiting an old garden of my own. By then most of the damage had been removed, but the clean-up was not complete. Upon another trip I saw, thankfully, that one particular stone which had been gone had returned. Still, there is another layer of memory now of an abuse that may never go away for many of us who still visit this cemetery.

One man’s extraordinary visionary artwork, simultaneously an act of devotion, was mindlessly destroyed over time, a sadness for those of us who remembered nearby Holy Land’s celebrated days.  But outrageously vandalizing a cemetery on a large scale—several cemeteries, in fact—was particularly shocking to many of us. (Religion, or lack thereof, doesn’t even enter the equation.) I think this event is the main reason I decided to publish what I’ve already gathered together. Life is short. I’m on sabbatical. Who knows when I’ll ever be able to slip this extra project in later?

So here I am again, planning to come back up for another research trip, watching the weather. I’ll proofread my transcriptions, which will give me a better sense about the ones that may no longer be there, and allow me to find any that I may have missed. I’ll also go back into the archives for a few more things, but vow not to let this endeavor take me over again. This will be a simple book, but one that I think will have been worth producing.

While looking into some Irish Waterbury history information online I have come upon some sites that I’d like to share here. I would also like to “plug” the great article that Neil Hogan wrote about Irish women who worked as servants after their emigration into Connecticut – Connecticut’s Irish Domestics. This will be a new project to be published as a future CTIAHS book. Neil will be speaking this Thursday, January 24, at 5:30 p.m. at New Haven Museum on Whitney Avenue. I wish I could go! If you are anywhere near, try not to miss it!

Some Irish in Waterbury, Connecticut Links:

• Irish Immigration in Waterbury, CT

Brass City Life

Waterbury Life (the Abrigador section)

The History of the Waterbury Irish

Bob O’Rourke Touted As Irish Mayor For the Day

Waterbury Time Machine

Holy Land U.S. A. – which now has a new cross! (1., 2.3.)

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa



When we seek to learn of our ancestors’ lives in Ireland, we need to particularly consider when they emigrated. Had they been able to choose to leave, to purchase their own passage and sail as one might today? Had they given up or sold off their holdings in Ireland to their landlord or to a relative, offering more stability for those they left behind? Had there only been enough property for one sibling to inherit, necessitating immigration or upwardly-mobile marriages for the rest? Had they been involved in some form of rebellious activity that caused them to keep low profiles and try to avoid arrest? Did they intentionally cover their tracks so as not to be found? Had they been forced to leave their homes, their counties, Ireland herself? Were they indentured servants, required to work for seven years to secure their freedom in America? Had they been part of the overcrowded “coffin ships” of the starvation years, or might they have stowed away secretly on a vessel that traveled across the ocean for another purpose? Had a party been held for them before they left, or had they quietly slipped away from their neighbors in the dead of night?

Until we learn any of these answers we may continue to wonder. Many of our ancestors seemed to simply appear at some point in time in some place, and it is only through the story of their descendents—us—that we begin to make our own hypotheses backwards in time.

There had been shortages of food in 1740-1741 Ireland (“the forgotten famine”) and crop failures in the latter part of the nineteenth century, including a “mini-famine” in 1879 (An Gorta Beag) that was concentrated on the west coast. Although these did not cause the vast number of deaths as had occurred between 1845-1847, they did cause families to relocate to more urban situations in Ireland and to emigrate in large numbers. Many had begun to leave in the 1840’s, if they could, and there was a deluge of immigrations in the 1850’s, of those who had survived the previous decade. The latter part of the nineteenth century seemed to have brought in another large wave of Irish immigrants to New Haven County, Connecticut, where there were many factory jobs to be had, a vast improvement upon the backbreaking labor that the immigrants of the 1820s provided.

For those Irish Catholics who arrived in Connecticut just before the most dire years of the potato blight, settling into established Congregationalist towns seemingly without difficulty, other sets of questions might be raised. Had some been middle-men favored enough to have been landlords themselves? Had the predominance of Anglo-Irish surnames in early nineteenth century New Haven, Waterbury and Naugatuck, Connecticut, pointed to some form of familial stability through fortuitous marriages that had occurred in Ireland? Had, for example, my great great grandmother Butler and her family made it financially possible for my great great grandfather Meagher to emigrate and for their youngest child to leave a fortune that is still awarded annually as a scholarship? While we may never learn the true answers to such questions, especially where records no longer exist, it may at least be assumed that ancestors who first appeared in the census of 1850 or later had likely survived starvation years in Ireland in some form.

Recently a particular book became helpful to me in considering the lives of the later Irish settlers in America. Several years back I had started reading Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s Rossa’s Recollections 1838 to 1898 Memoirs of an Irish Revolutionary, but I found it to be too disjointed to follow and had to put it down. I needed instead to do more research and better understand the times in which he lived and the events about which he spoke. Rossa’s Recollections began as a collection of articles he published in his newspaper, the United Irishmen, between 1896 and 1898, while living in New York. The book found me again when I could more fully appreciate it.

While this blog has been devoted to things Maher, behind the scenes I have also continually worked to flesh out the rest of my family and all our other 100% Irish surnames—including O’Donovan. This is what led me to my bookshelf to pick Rossa’s Recollections back up. So, although this first post of the year is about an O’Donovan, I feel that it could stand as a parallel example extending to the transplantations of the O’Meachairs from Ikerrin—and any number of old Irish families from their original sites—throughout other parts of Ireland and the world.

The overarching emigration story is, of course, equivalent to that of all immigrants, and the particulars in relation to Ireland are equivalent to that of so many other countries that have been aggressively colonized by others. That story continues to be played out globally, century after century. Although I don’t mean to dwell on history that others have long sought to put behind them, as a relative newcomer to an active awareness of my ancestors’ roots, I find that I cannot help but continue to pick at the scab in order to try to understand things better for myself.

O’Donovan Rossa and his family survived what he refused to call The Great Famine and he, like so many early families with old Gaelic roots, held a hatred for the “plunderers of his land and race” throughout his lifetime. His book left no holes barred in these regards. Rossa was thirteen in 1845, the first year of the potato blight in which the Irish were forced to continue to supply England with the harvests they raised, even as their own source of sustenance vanished. Rossa’s uncle and family had sold their property and left for America four years earlier, and they gradually brought the rest of the family over beginning in 1847, after Rossa’s father had died and his family had been evicted from their home. Within a year one brother was taken in by his aunt’s family in another area of Ireland; another brother, already in America, sent for his mother, brother, and sister to emigrate there, and Rossa remained alone in Skibbereen, where he lived with another family in one of the poorest parishes in southern Ireland.

A living link between old Ireland and individuals he knew and to whom he was related in America, Rossa filled his Recollections with first-hand memories of a pivotal period, when the hearts of families were equally stretched between both shores of the Atlantic Ocean. He recalled the mourning and wailing that accompanied the goodbyes when a family member spent their last night in Ireland before emigration, particularly on the day of his own family’s departure. While the children could begin new lives in a new world, Rossa explained that for the elders it was much more difficult away from anyone they knew, akin to trying to transplant a fully grown tree and expecting it to thrive. We should keep this in mind regarding our own oldest ancestors, many of whom may not have been able to read, write or even speak English.

Rossa held distain for the Irish who gave up their (and England’s) native religion in order to survive and prosper. Rossa’s family, also like so many others, took pride in not having “taken the soup,” and were assured by their parish priest that there was honor in giving up all that one owned rather than giving up one’s faith. The family losses, like premature deaths, experienced through emigration were also felt by mothers who lost their sons to soldiers who came into the towns to take young Irish boys as recruits for the English army. Others joined American armies and famously populated many of the regiments during America’s own colonization efforts, her fight with England, and during her Civil War. Rossa’s brother was in the Sixty-Ninth Pennsylvania Regiment; another served on a warship; and his brother-in-law was in the Sixty-Ninth Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Rossa took a different route—he became one of the first members of the most famous of the historic secret societies formed with the intention of freeing Ireland from English rule. He recalled his own contribution of the name, the Phoenix National and Literary Society, that began about 1856 and had about forty members. (Rossa liked the association with the mythical bird that would rise from the ashes of a previous one.) Two years later, James Stephens arrived in Skibbereen to recruit Phoenix Society members into his own Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood. He carried a letter of introduction from James O’Mahoney to one of the members, and Stephens first initiated Dan McCartie. McCartie initiated Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa the next day, who then initiated Morty Moynahan, and on the movement grew, spreading throughout Ireland and into America as the Fenians.

While there is more to say about this vein of the recollections, I would rather turn to another aspect that I found to be very interesting—genealogy. The great Irish scholar of Irish language and professor at Trinity College, John O’Donovan, helped O’Donovan Rossa untangle some of his own family history. Originally from Rossmore, the parish of Clonoulty, in south Tipperary, Rossa’s family’s lands were taken and the family had to move several times until they finally found a place in which they could settle. This was in Ross Carberry, County Cork. His great grandfather, Donacha Rossa, had six sons, and these six family lines extended far and wide throughout southern Ireland and into America. Several of Rossa’s stories underscoring his own family connections struck home to me, as I continue to seek linkages between various extended points of my own research to others’ and between people who settled in the same places through what I perceive as wave migrations. (I understand this phrase to mean the continual bringing over of people that they knew and were related to in Ireland, to settle in the same vicinity that they did, initially.) Many of us very likely have relatives now in disparate places who live by surnames about which we have no knowledge, but whose ancestry derives from the same set of roots in Ireland.

Forbidden by copyright to quote from Rossa’s book, which would lead me to writing much more, I can only recommend that others read it, and I now have happily added it to my Pinterest board of recommended Novels and Memoirs About Ireland. Rossa’s Recollections may be read online through Open Library and on Google Books and purchased through several venues, including Amazon. My copy was published by the Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2004.

His book. O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life: Six Years in Six English Prisons, may be read online on Internet Archive and as a Google Ebook.

For more information about Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa see the following links:

New York Times Obituary, June 30, 1915

Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

• Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

Patrick Pearse’s Graveside Oration of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

Oration at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa by P.H. Pearse

Fenian Brotherhood and O’Donovan Rossa

88 Years Ago: O’Donovan Rossa, uncompromising Fenian, dies in New York

The United Irishmen and the Convention of 1880

Photo from O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral

Republican Sinn Féin Cork City and County

O’Donovan Rossa GAC Magherafelt

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

The turning of the year at Newgrange


With all good wishes in this new year, I share Angela’s post about this year’s Winter Solstice sunrise at Newgrange. Angela is the excellent author of “A Silver Voice From Ireland.”

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

Newgrange Burial Mound.  Image Wiki Commons.

Newgrange Burial Mound. Image Wiki Commons.

Older than the Pyramids in Egypt and older than Stonehenge, Newgrange is the jewel in the crown of ancient sites in Ireland.  Engineered  about 3,000 B.C. Newgrange is an enormous  mound that covers an area of about an acre. Constructed by some of earth’s earliest  farming communities in the Boyne Valley, Newgrange, and similar mounds at Knowth and Dowth  are a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. Originally thought to be a burial mound, Newgrange may have been an ancient temple. It is famed for the fact that for a few days around the time of the at the Winter Solstice, the long passage to the interior is lit by the rising sun. The exact date and time of the Winter Solstice varies slightly from year to year. In Ireland in  2013 it will occur today( 21, December  2013) at precisely 17:11 p.m.

Newgrange was engineered…

View original 176 more words

2013 in Review


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Thank you to all who followed my blog this year, and especially to those who made comments and became followers. As I have been writing privately, compiling much of my actual family history research for my actual family, I have not been posting here as much. I’ve also been venturing far afield from the “Maher” topic, and have gone back to my studio, where art-making takes precedence again, as it always used to.

July will mark my third year as a blogger. May wonders never cease! I’ve contemplated taking this site down, but am currently thinking I’ll give it another year. Returning to Ireland is on my agenda in 2014, and that will undoubtedly instigate new discoveries and reasons to write. I welcome suggestions from readers – what more would you like to see here?

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for Maher Matters. 

Here’s an excerpt from their stats:

“The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.”

Thanks again for viewing! Wishing you all good things in 2014!

©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

Nollaig Shona Dhaoibh! Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise Dhaoibh!

Mom's Ceramic Angel, circa 1950

Mom’s Ceramic Angel, circa 1950 ©2013 Janet Maher

My mother made some beautiful ceramic pieces in the early 1950s. Even when I don’t decorate for Christmas, I must at least bring out one of her angels. Here is the one without the broken wing. As one of a pair, it symbolizes my brother to me. The one with all the repairs is more like myself! She is currently part of the ever-changing assemblage on our kitchen sink window sill, joined by a few other tokens that give a nod to Christmas this year.

For those who read my blog, I offer a new board on my Irish-related Pinterest site. This one is Novels, Memoirs About Ireland, and I hope that anyone looking for some Irish reads may find it helpful. (I welcome others’ recommendations!) The first link, This Is How It Ends, jumped off the shelf to me recently in the public library. I am currently enjoying it, but don’t yet know how it ends! The rest are from my own Irish library and I heartily recommend them.

All happy wishes to you in the upcoming weeks - Nollaig Shona Dhaoibh! Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise Dhaoibh!

May our planet be healed. May all who suffer find solace, sustenance and peace in this season and in a better new year.


©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

William Smith O’Brien in Ardagh, Co Limerick


In 1848 William Smith O’Brien, along with Thomas Francis Meagher, Terence Bellew McManus, and Patrick O’Donoghue, leaders among the Young Irelanders, were “sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, and [their] remains placed at the disposal of her majesty the Queen, to be dealt with according to her royal pleasure…The men’s verdicts were commuted to the more usual ‘transportation for life’ to Van Dieman’s Island/Tasmania, Australia, from which, with the help of others, Meagher escaped to America in 1852…” (“From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley,” pp. 63, 64). I recommend Blanche M. Touhill’s book, “William Smith O’Brien and His Irish Revolutionary Companions in Penal Exile,” and John Martin’s “Jail Journal (or Five Years in British Prisons,” along with this blog post.

A Silver Voice from Ireland has written here, beautifully and personally, about her visit to William Smith O’Brien’s former home in County Limerick and recounted his role in Irish history as a dedicated supporter of those discriminated against by the British monarchy. She included a great image of Meagher and O’Brien with their jailor in Tasmania.

Also see the “Release of Mrs. Meagher, Ballingarry,” in which an episode more than fifty years later was reported, as one Mrs. Meagher was “released from Waterford Jail, after spending a term of three weeks for the great crime of being found walking or standing on the lands from which she and her husband were unjustly evicted by their landlord, Michael Morris, JP., coal merchant, Fiddown…” (http://ballingarry.net/people/mrsmeagher.html)

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

smithobThe anniversary of the birth of William Smith O’Brien, Young Irelander, is an appropriate time to record his strong association with the area in which I live in County Limerick, Ireland.

William O’Brien was born on 17 October 18o3, second son to Sir Edward O’Brien, Baron Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle, Member of Parliament for Ennis, County Clare and Charlotte Smith, daughter of  the wealthy William Smith, an attorney,of Newcastle West, County Limerick. The O’Briens had accumulated large debts and the marriage to a wealthy Smith was a fortuitous one. Cahermoyle House, in Ardagh, Co Limerick was a property acquired by William Smith. William O’Brien (as he then was) inherited Cahermoyle House and lands of about 5,000 acres from his grandfather William Smith, and in honour of his grandfather, he adopted his name and from now on became known as William Smith O’Brien.

William Smith O’Brien followed in his father’s footsteps…

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Researching Irish Family History in Connecticut


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©2011 Janet Maher, View from Rock of Dunamase, County Laois, Ireland

©2011 Janet Maher, View from Rock of Dunamase, County Laois, Ireland

Recently I presented a talk for the Naugatuck Valley Genealogy Club that I’d like to post (in part and expanded) here. I hope it may be helpful for researchers at any stage of experience.

Many years ago I worked at a public library. This was where I first encountered people actively looking up information in city directories. It seemed to me like such an odd thing to do, as if they were stalkers! I remembered this ironically when poring over the archives of Naugatuck Historical Society city directories myself. Preserved moments in this format initially helped me locate primary people throughout decades of time as I began to envision a larger picture. Now I feel much more poetic about this and other kinds of research we do in the world of genealogy, which is ultimately about honoring our ancestors while learning about who we, ourselves, really are. One thing is certain. Our stories are not simply lying in wait for us—neither physically nor virtually, details all neatly in place somewhere—unless we or one of our relatives already did actual research and published it. The pieces of our stories, however, may be lying in wait everywhere.

Genealogical research is often referred to as a puzzle, but, as an artist by primary profession, I’ve come to think that the process is actually more like making art. Those who do puzzles usually have a reference image already printed on a box cover to which they can compare their progress. In doing genealogical research, by contrast, we have no idea what might be revealed until we finish collecting all the unknown elements and eventually become able to put them together in some logical, beautiful way. That is a creative process. In many ways, I feel as if what I have accomplished in this area has been the most difficult and most rewarding work I have done in my life to date. It has, however, required all my skills acquired over a lifetime as an artist, and those of a hitherto-unrealized professional scholar to uncover what I have. These experiences and struggles joined in opening a new world to me. I feel that this work has been entirely worth doing, and is important for posterity—not typically the feeling I have after mounting an art exhibition! The work would probably never have been done if I had not decided to commit to a challenge that seemed to have fallen intentionally into my lap, then simply roll up my sleeves and begin.

©2006 Janet Maher, Maher-Martin graves, St. Francis Cemetery, Naugatuck, CT

©2006 Janet Maher, Maher-Martin graves, St. Francis Cemetery, Naugatuck, CT

Simultaneous to creating a beautiful product, family historians and genealogists search for TRUTH. This is where genealogy takes a turn from the act of art-making. In this type of endeavor we need to be careful about accuracy, which leads us into the scientific method. Even as novices we need to approach our project as if we would actually become experts about our particular area of research. (Thank you to the person who once told me—received, albeit, in utter disbelief—that I would become an “expert” on the Mahers!) This means that not only must we gather information from far and wide, but that we must spend the extra time trying to be as thorough and accurate as possible. It is important to find some way to keep our notes in order, to look for multiple sources of the same information, and to document EVERYTHING. Anyone should be able to find the information we present by retracing our foot- and endnotes to our sources, so they can decide for themselves if we were correct in our findings and hypotheses. (This is decidedly NOT like art-making, where we create as we will and call it complete as we feel.)

We develop our research methods along the way. One friend introduced me to her system of keeping three-ring binder notebooks for every family or person, including clear slip sheets that protected documents and were able to contain varied sized pieces of paper. This seemingly small tip was extremely helpful, affording me not only practical advice but also hinting at how vast an undertaking this project might end up becoming. (Forewarned is forearmed!) We all eventually end up with many different kinds of computer files, physical boxes of stuffed folders, overflowing shelves, data in family tree software, as well as, publicly and/or privately, trees on Ancestry.com. In addition to good storage systems, I highly recommend investing in a good magnifying glass. It will become the handiest of tools!

©2012 Janet Maher, portrait of the author's great grandfather

©2012 Janet Maher, portrait of the author’s great grandfather Maher, born in America to Irish immigrants

We typically start with very little information beyond the knowledge of our immediate family. Like artists, we dare to face a blank beginning and trust that something good will result, worth the time we’re willing to invest into a long and complicated process. As we sense how some information relates to other information, more and larger questions emerge. We may find that we need to pause and go off on what could seem to be a wide range of tangents. We might, for example, need to study more about an aspect of history in order to better understand the context for a small but important fact that we found. We will likely read a mountain of books about topics we never dreamed would some day become fascinating to us.

We often work on different parts of the amorphous overarching story at different times, allowing some parts to rest until other aspects come into the mix that will allow earlier topics to develop further. This multi-faceted activity requires an all-consuming focus (generally unavailable) that will allow for a larger view to develop over myriad tiny details. It is an organic, intuitive process that requires open-ended time and a fair amount of wandering in wonder. As in art, in the world of genealogy we know that our wanderings are simply part of the path toward other discoveries and that the work is also part of the satisfaction.

We try to picture our ancestors alive in order to holistically grasp who they were or might have been. We imagine ourselves as flies on their walls. What would they reveal if the veils between us suddenly dissolved? We try to speak with whomever is alive, available and willing to share stories about the time and place that our ancestors inhabited. This, if it is possible, is the most important gift. The concrete memories that another person has, the little details that would rarely be found in an archive, best illuminate the humanity of the people with whom we are hoping to connect through our research.

It is only recently that someone told me that into the twentieth century the last of my family’s first generation Irish-American ancestors pronounced our surname in Naugatuck in the Irish way, with two syllables, not in the way I was taught to do, with one! That is one of many treasures living people have made possible for me along this journey.

©2012 Janet Maher, presumed Leary-Farren families, Naugatuck, CT

©2012 Janet Maher, presumed Leary-Farren families, Naugatuck, CT

We look for everything that pertains to individuals in our various tree branches—vital records, baptism and marriage data, voting registrations, bits about them in newspapers, yearbooks, military and land records—anything that might provide more clarity. I am interested in also finding every person’s tombstone. What is inscribed on it? What does it look like and what might that say about the person? Who is buried nearby?

Importantly, for Irish-Catholic immigrants and their descendants, the witnesses at weddings and baptisms may be invaluable for helping to establish connections between people. While many Connecticut church baptism and marriage registries were microfilmed and can be viewed at the Archdiocese of Hartford, some were not filmed and several early books have long been lost. Whether or not one would be allowed to look at records in a rectory is a gamble. The Immaculate Conception Basilica in Waterbury, for example, will not allow this. To see early Immaculate Conception records one must make an appointment at the Archdiocese (and bring your magnifying glass along!).

Data helps to inform photographs, and so can images help to inform data. There are many articles about estimating dates of old photographs through the fashions of the time and types of photography produced. One book I recommend is Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900which provides a broad study of cultural, photographic and clothing history. Since childhood I’ve had an artist’s sense that if I stared at certain photographs long enough and puzzled over them, eventually they would start to reveal themselves to me. Similarly, as I learned in adulthood more about my family’s history, certain characters from the past who peered out from old photos seemed to will me to find them and give them a chance to live again through my researching and chronicling of their life stories.

©2010 Janet Maher, Three Women (including the author's gg grandmother)

©2010 Janet Maher, Three Women (including the author’s great-great grandmother, from Ireland)

In order to try to identify unmarked photographs we may need to learn more about an entire community. Who else might have ended up in photographs that were saved over the decades? Who made up the extended families? What groups were individuals involved with? Where did everyone live? Who were their neighbors? The earliest Irish settlers of Naugatuck, Connecticut, were a very tight and interconnected community. Studying their neighborhoods and intermarriages became illuminating, combined with an in-depth focus upon the first Catholic cemetery, where so many of them ended up buried together.

©2010 Janet Maher, Woolen Mill, ca 1870s-80s, Naugatuck, CT

©2010 Janet Maher, Woolen Mill, ca 1870s-80s, Naugatuck, CT

Tools for Irish and Other Research in Connecticut

In Connecticut it is necessary to become a member of a genealogical organization recognized by the various departments of Vital Records (such as the Connecticut Society of Genealogists) in order to be able to do independent research. The Connecticut State Library website clearly explains what is allowed to be accessed. Do not assume that finding an immigrant’s death record will neatly provide the person’s parentage or his or her townland in Ireland. If one is lucky, however, a county might be listed and a mother’s maiden name. The early records usually do not include parents’ full names, and the birth place listed is usually, simply, Ireland (hence the title for Irish genealogist Jane Lyon’s premier web site — From Ireland).

Early in my years of researching in Connecticut I would plan to stay over in hotels or with very generous friends and family members. I was primed for (mostly) standing up throughout the days taking notes in various vital records offices, always prepared with cash to purchase certain ones (at $20 a pop!). I eventually learned that it is possible to rent microfilm from Utah that can be read at one’s nearby Latter Day Saints Family History Center. Thankfully, I happen to have one about 45 minutes away from where I live, and after renewing a film three times it remains on semi-permanent loan there. This allowed me to look at some Connecticut and Irish data when I cleared time to go out there, without the pressure of having the reels sent back within a few weeks.

Like places in Connecticut include: New Milford Public Library, and Family History Centers in Goshen, Newtown, Southington and New Haven. In these offices one can sit and study to heart’s content or until the places close, then come back again another day. In some, digital copies of the records can be saved to a thumb/flash drive and taken home.

Newspapers and microfilm can also be accessed at the Connecticut State Library, some of which can be checked out three reels at a time via interlibrary loan. See their web site for a list of what is available in their collection (in addition to clicking on other links I’ve provided here). You can also purchase a card to easily use their copy machine and not need a pocketful of change. By researching in these ways to find index information, it is then possible to go to a Town Hall and purchase copies of the necessary documents—a much more convenient way to go about things.

All town libraries have some kind of local history collection, and the main Silas Bronson Library branch in Waterbury is a good size. This library also has nineteenth century newspapers on reel that can be researched. With a library card you can access Heritage Quest from home via most libraries, and, likewise in some libraries, Ancestry.com. (At some point you will likely bite the bullet and pay for your own subscription.)

In Middletown the Godfrey Memorial Library is a treasure-trove of a collection, and they offer an online subscription membership, as does the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. I have also found the publications of the Irish Genealogical Society International, based in Minnesota, to be quite good. Their Sept back issues that focused upon Irish counties were very helpful when I started out.

I had a subscription for a few years for Newspaper Archive, which has three Connecticut papers in its database, one of which is the Naugatuck Daily News. (Some of these may also be available on Ancestry.com.) The early papers were full of excellent tidbits about people visiting each other between cities and states and other human interest events that may help tie people together in one’s research.

Boston College hosts a database of October 1831 – October 1921 Missing Friends postings in the Boston Pilot Newspaper by Irish nationals and immigrants trying to find one another. This can prove to be of help in one’s research, as can finding evidence of ancestors in the Emigrant Savings Bank.

©2011 Janet Maher, Saint Brigid's Well, Kildare, Ireland

©2011 Janet Maher, Saint Brigid’s Well, Kildare, Ireland

Research about Irish immigrants is especially difficult if critical documents do not exist. Given all of the above, one might still not find important missing pieces. While learning how and what to research in America, it is necessary to simultaneously attempt to comprehend the history of Ireland, particularly in the era that a known family member had lived there. Historical clues might suggest possible reasons for a family or individual’s emigration and even, perhaps, why they might have kept “a low profile” once they arrived in their newly adopted homeland. Maybe there was a good reason that one’s ancestors cannot be definitively found in a passenger-list database.

It is important to know that the earliest decades of Anglo settlement in America were vehemently anti-Catholic (the majority religion of the Irish people), and to recall that religion was the primary weapon used by the English monarchy against the Irish over the centuries. Those who sought their own freedom claimed territory that was already inhabited by Native Americans, a variation on Ireland’s own colonization. Colonial America was predominantly Puritan, as was Oliver Cromwell, who succeeded in devastating Ireland in the seventeenth century. Some members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans came into early Connecticut, which was predominantly Congregationalist, where a few other Protestant sects were also allowed in. Religion ruled the day for our earliest ancestors, whatever their persuasion.

The eventual overt entry of Irish Catholics into a very settled Connecticut society pre-Irish Famine and throughout the 1850s was no small thing. How this played out in all the different towns varied, particularly during the pre-Civil War era of the Know-NothingsThe earliest Irish Catholics, while bound and determined to establish and feel free to practice their religion in America, also likely tried to assimilate as quickly as possible and not make waves among the established ruling class. They sought to be considered Yankees, first and foremost. They often would seek to marry an American, which might help ensure future economic stability, as such alliances with Protestants, other non-native or Anglo-Irish residents had done in Ireland. That so many early Irish-Americans nonetheless died unmarried might have been partly attributed to their difficulty in finding an established or otherwise suitable spouse who was also Catholic or who was not still prejudiced against either the Irish or Catholicism.

Catholic laborers in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries had significantly less means in both Ireland and America than those with aforementioned ties, unless they had finally been able to become educated, enter the merchant, health care or teaching professions, or become part of the wave of Catholic middlemen—i.e. sub-leasing rent collectors. Those who were once noble had been stripped of their ancestral lands. Some sought, or were forced into military service in other countries. Some were able to rise into some level of public service, although information about such individuals is not as difficult to find. There are no bounds to the kinds of details that factored into the quality of life that Irish were able to lead both in their homeland and once they emigrated, particularly in their ability to acquire and retain property.

Many emigrated as outlaws, slaves, or indentured servants and began their American chapter in relative obscurity. Many who worked in the coal mines, quarries, laying railroad tracks, building roads and bridges, or other grueling physical jobs likely experienced life in conditions far worse than those which they had left in Ireland. Working extremely hard, earning very little money, many died quite young, some from the infectious illnesses that spread quickly through communities. (Tuberculosis appeared amid many of the families I have studied.) There may have been few or no records at all generated about many of the early Irish in America, especially if they lived and died here between the census years.

I’ve spent some time studying databases that contain indexes about Irish men and women who were considered convicts—even for such actions as stealing food during times of starvation. It could well be that someone’s elder siblings and/or parents were convicted of crimes, killed or deported, lost in such ways to the genealogical winds.

Whether we find what we need or not, in this collaborative endeavor, I, for one, am grateful for the wonderful people I’ve become involved with over the last seven years. Some have helped me learn to do this kind of research and others have been willing to share their families’ stories with me. All have helped to build a picture of early Irish New Haven County through our various perspectives and lenses, and I am bound now, in turn, to offer guidance to others. There will always be more to learn and to do in our time available, even as life pulls us in so many other directions. I have returned 180 degrees back to my studio practice, although I suspect that I will never entirely leave this research. It may simmer quietly on the back burner, so to speak, forever. I, however, am somehow altered due to what I have learned about my own lineage. For that grounding I will be forever grateful.

I have honed in on a particular area of Ireland and am interested in scouring that location in the way that I have New Haven County and the Naugatuck Valley. I am even more interested in revisiting my new-found Irish friends and meeting in person potential future ones. I have untangled some of the origins of Kilkenny-based Meagher families who have Connecticut connections, and even found Maher links to the original Sisters of Mercy in America and New Zealand. However, I can’t help but still hope to learn more about my TEN southern Irish immigrant direct ancestors with two intermarried other lines—not only all there is to learn about the illusive Meaghers!

May those who read this have much success in finding all you still seek and true Irish luck in also finding happiness and friendship along the way!

©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

NEHGS Announcement and Upcoming Presentation in Naugatuck!


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Civil War Monument and Headstones, Saint Bernard Cemetery, New Haven, CT ©2007 Janet Maher

Civil War Monument and Headstones, Saint Bernard Cemetery, New Haven, CT ©2007 Janet Maher

Thank you to the New England Historic Genealogical Society for announcing the publication of my book, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut, in their current issue of American Ancestors. They are among several locations that own a copy for their library. I have begun to receive emails with questions about the cost and content of my book, so I’d like to take this opportunity to provide that information again here, as well as to announce my upcoming talk for the Naugatuck Valley Genealogy Club on Saturday, October 12 at the Naugatuck Historical Society, in Connecticut. This will follow a brief business meeting at 1 p.m., and it is open to the public.

My talk and Power Point presentation will include selections from the 363 images of people, places, details and maps included in my 400-page book, and I will discuss methods of finding illusive information when doing this kind of research.

From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley explores the history of Ireland through the perspective of religion and centuries of discord that led millions of Irish Catholics to leave their native land. It traces the origins of the Catholic Church in Connecticut, then to several Irish families whose personal stories extend to the present. It includes complete transcriptions and section maps of the first Irish Catholic cemetery in Naugatuck, Saint Francis. My research of particular families in the Naugatuck Valley has led me to the location in Ireland from which many of the early settlers and priests originated. More general information may be found throughout this blog (where the info is more specifically Maher-related) and on my Irish-oriented Pinterest site.

My book, which lists for $65.95, will be discounted for those interested in purchasing a signed copy on that day. Whether or not you can attend the talk, mention this blog posting to purchase it for $60 with free shipping in the U.S. throughout the rest of this year. (Makes a great Christmas present!) Send your check to me at P.O. Box 40211, Baltimore, MD, 21212, and let me know if you would like it inscribed.

Table of Contents 


I: Background Ireland; Arrival of the Normans; Conquest of Ireland; Rebellion; Thomas Francis Meagher; Some Potential Connections Between New Haven County and Ireland

II: Catholicism in New England; Catholic Churches; Christ’s Church, Saint Mary’s Church, New Haven; Immaculate Conception/Saint Mary’s Church, Derby; Catholic Schools in Early New Haven; Early New Haven County Cemeteries; Early Catholic Waterbury; Catholic Schools in Waterbury; Old Saint Joseph Cemetery

III: Catholicism in Naugatuck; The First Catholics; Saint Anne and Saint Francis Churches

IV: Vignettes of Selected Families: The Butlers; The Brennans; The Martins; The Conrans; The Learys; Some New Haven Mahers; Adelaide Maher Quigley, Thomas Maher, Matthew Maher, Michael O’Maher; Anthony Meagher, John Maher, Jeremiah Maher; Ireland and America Letters; Josephine Maher and Family

V:  Saint Francis Cemetery Transcriptions: Sections A & B; Sections C, G & Portion of H; Sections F & Portion of H; Sections E & Portions of D, H; Section H; Modern Section; Tombstones That Cite A Location in Ireland


Appendix: Selected Additional Photographs


Image Identification


I welcome anyone who has read and (I hope!) feels positive about my book to comment here, or add to the lovely review that one reader wrote on Amazon.com. Thank you all for continuing to follow and read this blog, and I look forward to sharing my labor of love with any who can show up on October 12!

©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved