Pilgrimage to Ireland, Part 4: Roscrea & Ikerrin, Tipperary

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©2014 Caitriona Meagher, Roscrea, Looking Toward Clonan, artist unknown, image given to C. Meagher by G. Cunningham

©2014 Caitriona Meagher, Roscrea, Looking Toward Clonan, artist unknown, image given to C. Meagher by G. Cunningham. With gratitude to them!

Those who know me from many years back on Jane Lyon’s Y-IRL list serve or from my earlier web sites will no doubt recall my excitement about discovering Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, published in 1890. Its compilation of myriad facts and details became my bible, not only through which to learn about my father’s surname, but as a means to begin to study the history of Ireland herself. Names of places that had seemed so difficult to pronounce or remember eventually became familiar, and the differences between provinces, counties, baronies, townlands and civil or religious parishes, among a great many other things, also became clear. That boundaries and jurisdictions continually changed, as they do in all developing civilizations, reminded me to always note the time frame of an historical detail, as one decade’s information might vary greatly from another’s, some event having caused any number of ripple effects.

©2014 Janet Maher, Monainha Graves

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha Graves

While we may know that the original location for the Meaghers was in northeast Tipperary, in and near the town of Roscrea, we also know that due to all the turmoil over the centuries individuals and families chose to (or were forced to) spread further throughout Tipperary, relocate to other regions, or leave home entirely. From the time of Oliver Cromwell’s entry into Ireland question marks pepper every Gaelic Irish surname’s history. O’Meagher’s text underpinned and provided a context for everything I had learned so far. My studies of surnames based in the Tippeary/Kilkenny/Laois area had brought me to a point of simply wishing to walk or drive through particular areas in real time, gaining a felt sense of the distances between places.

What of Roscrea, the main town within the barony of Ikerrin (Ui Cairin), associated with the O’Meachairs/Meaghers/Mahers? After all the dispersals, transportations, emigrations, deaths, how relative to a current Maher from another country might Ikerrin be? It was in this questioning state of mind that I looked forward to meeting Caitriona Meagher on my journey—someone with whom I had become an email correspondent in the past year. Caitriona, and her cousin, Anna, whom I was also delighted to have met the following week, are among perhaps very few members of the Meagher/Maher clan who know and can point to locations that show their family connecting back to O’Meaghers mentioned in Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s work. Caitriona’s family still lives within an extended area of land upon which Clonan Castle once existed (“Clonyne/Cloyne” in Some Historical Notices, depicted on pg. 18). It was with great excitement that I went to visit her, and I am so grateful for the thrilling day we spent together.

©2014 Janet Maher, Clonan Cows

©2014 Janet Maher, Clonan Cows

We met at her mother’s home, and Caitriona immediately brought me outside to the perfect spot from which to look out over all of what used to be the barony, a wide circle recessed in the center, spreading out for miles. The base had been a lake with about a two acre island in it — Lough Cré (Inishnameo), the Island of the Living. Gesturing outwards she told me, “All the castles were along the ridge, around the perimeter,” and she pointed to the division where Ikerrin left off and the land of their kinsmen, Ely O’Carroll, began. Through binoculars we could slightly make out two partial castles directly across the way (which I found the following day). She explained that Clonakenny Castle (Caisleán Cluain an Chaoinaigh), toward our far right, was in the safest section, protected by all the other outlying castle communities. Although we did not see them, Caitriona said that evidence remains of ancient ring forts in the area too, and that farmers through the ages have avoided them, both for superstitious reasons and in honoring their historic importance. The image at the head of this essay shows some top portions of Clonan Castle at the horizon (“bumps” that interrupt the curve), evidence of the castle’s formerly great size, the top of which could be seen from within the town of Roscrea over a mountain.

A few days ago, when looking into the Tithe Applotment records of around 1826, I noticed that among the many Meaghers living throughout that extended area in the early nineteenth century, several clustered into townlands within the civil parish of Roscrea, and several clustered within the townlands in the parish of Bourney. I asked Caitriona about this via email and she explained, regarding the Roscrea area, “If you could imagine making a 3.5 mile diameter circle, and then walking out the front door in Clonan and putting it down on your left, then all of these places would be in it.” Regarding Bourney, she said, “If you made a similar 8-ish mile circle and put it down on your right, these places would be in it.” I love that there now is the memory of our standing in place looking out over it all, to which she can make such a reference that I, in turn, understand!

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha Sign

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha Sign

Despite all the dispersions, before the Great Famine there was once again a very large concentration of Meaghers/Mahers in the area of the clan’s origin. Given the Meaghers’ interconnected ties through fortuitous marriages with Butlers and other Norman Old English landlords, and their ancient claims to the lands in the area, not only would some of them have found their way back to their ancestral homes, but many from the laborer class may never have been forced to leave. We know that throughout Ireland there were instances of upper class Gaelic families having their properties taken, but being “allowed” to remain as laborers on what had been their own land. The newly planted landlords needed workers, and, especially within the midlands, many landlords became absentee, which left the locals much to their own devices as before the upsets. Some who had been transported may have later been able to return as tenants, sometimes through agreeing to suppress their religious practice or through the kindness of those whom Martin Callanan categorized as “friendly Protestants” (Records of Four Tipperary Septs, 1938).

Whether they remained in place or relocated, by mandate or by choice, all Meaghers, Caitriona confirmed, anciently came from this area. Although the surname has been scattered to the winds over centuries, for any Maher/Meagher looking into their Irish history, we can know that some deep ancestor had lived here at one time. Although I had felt this to likely be true in theory, I was so glad to hear her say this aloud! Yes, we all come from here. Period. And our line at some cellular level is, thus, ancient. In conversing about this later with Anna, she called it a dynasty, noting parallels to ancient lineages in other countries in which that term is commonly used. O’Meagher history was richly documented by Joseph Casimir O’Meagher, and there likely do not exist paper trails deeper than those that he found.

©2014 Janet Maher, Ely O'Carroll Sign, Dublin Road, Tipperary

©2014 Janet Maher, Ely O’Carroll Sign, Dublin Road, Tipperary

Caitriona noted that originally Irish land was not registered to a certain owner. This came later, with British rules. “We o Meachairs would have floated around the barony a lot before that. Then we began to settle in certain areas.” The ancient family groups (tuathas) worked their common lands together, moving into different fields as their own farming practices determined and using naturally occurring land formations as designated perimeters of their properties, which extended great distances. Early on, struggles would have been simply about trying to maintain or expand their holdings and protect them from encroachment by other native Irish.

©2014 Janet Maher, Interior, Monaincha

©2014 Janet Maher, Interior, Monaincha

The web site of Ireland’s Reaching Out group explains Roscrea’s “long and proud heritage” as “stretching back over six thousand years,” and O’Meagher’s “notices” bring us back to before the time of Saint Patrick’s conversion visit to Ireland. He referenced a seventeenth century text by Rev. John Colgan, a Franciscan friar in Louvain, who wrote of Saint Patrick’s travel in 470 A.D. to the area that became the barony of Lower Ormond (Butler), baptizing, Mechair and two other “brothers of that nation—men of power…the sons of Forat, son of Conla (son of Tadg, son of Cian, son of Olioll Olum).” O’Meagher explained the Milesian linage of the surname as descending “from Fionnachada, son of Connla, son of Cian, second son of Oiliol Olum, King of Munster in the third century.” (pp.13, 14)

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha, Tipperary

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha, Tipperary

Caitriona brought me to two ancient ecclesiastical sites of at least equal importance to others that are more well-known and have been somewhat restored. Both tie to the ancient history of the O’Meaghers/Mahers. The monastic site of Monaincha (Bog of the Island) and the Sean Ross Abbey, founded by Saint Cronan, brought more references in O’Meagher’s book completely to life for me, enhanced by recently hearing historian George Cunningham’s fascinating narration about them. (An MP3 version of his audio tour may be purchased here.)

To follow the growth of what Mr. Cunningham called “the cradle of Christianity” in this area, we look first to the abbey that 7th century Saint Cronan founded at Sean Ross, in a wild and remote section of Ikerrin. When he realized that the place was too far away for people to locate him, he moved into the main town and founded Saint Cronan’s Monastery in Roscrea. Here, his monk, Dimma MacNathi, scribed over forty days and nights the famous Book of Dimma, contained in the collection of Trinity College’s library. An ornate shrine was created to contain the book, financed by Lord O’Carroll, in the 12th century. Around the 1480s the monks wanted to get away from the bustle of the city and returned to the more contemplative location of Sean Ross. This became the parish of Corbally (Corville). O’Meaghers continued to be priors, and O’Meaghers were buried in the graveyard there. Remains of a medieval church are also still there, however, the area is now known more for its special education school for those with learning disabilities, Saint Anne’s, which was begun in 1971. Its earlier modern incarnation, beginning in the 1930s, was as a convent home for unwed mothers. It was there that Michael Hess and his birth mother, Philomena Lee, tried to find each other. This heart-breaking story was made into the film, Philomena, last year, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

©2014 Janet Maher, Michael Hess Grave at Sean Ross

©2014 Janet Maher, Michael Hess Grave at Sean Ross

O’Meagher’s book contains an excellent map that shows the island of Monaincha (formerly Inchanambro) without the lake, revealing two amoeba shaped ends connected by bogland containing an Abbey Church, Abbot’s apartments, two churches, surrounded by “the ancient Wood non-a Bog” and remains of the Abbot’s orchard. O’Meagher explained that Thaddeus Meachair (Blessed Thaddeus) had become Bishop of Cork and Cloyne after the resignation of William Roche in 1490 (pg. 16). One of the authors of the Annals of the Old Masters in 1664 added a reference to the ritual of crowning O’Meagher rulers, noting that “the steed and battledress of every Lord of them belong to the Comarba of Cronan and Inchanambro…” He further explained that Saint Cronan was the patron saint of Roscrea, and Comarba referred to his successor. Inchanambro, “also in O’Meagher’s country, “was the name of ‘the island of the living,’” later called Lady’s Island. Signage from the Office of Public Works and their Destination Cashel explained that Elarius (St. Elair, or Hilary), who died in 807 A.D., had founded “an important monastery” on the Island of the Living, which began to follow Augustinian rule in 1140 A.D, where the monks remained until 1485. Monaincha’s high cross base was created in the 9th century, but the Celtic cross head dates from three centuries later. Around the grounds of the church are several old graves, including some small Famine Stones. Inside there are still some monuments for a few of the primary people that had been associated with Monaincha. Much of the bog was harvested for fuel over the centuries, leaving only the footprint of a small raised landscape supporting this once quite significant medieval sacred site, two large trees seeming to bravely protect what is left.

©2014 Janet Maher, map of Monaincha, J.C. O'Meagher, Some Historical Notices of the O'Meaghers of Ikerrin

©2014 Janet Maher, map of Monaincha, J.C. O’Meagher, Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin

Giraldus Cambrenis, Gerald the Welshman, wrote about The Monastery of the Island of the Living (Mainistir Inse na mBeo) in 1187. He said, “There is a lake in North Munster with a large island which has a church of an ancient religious order. No woman or animal of the female sex could enter this island without dying immediately. This has been put to the proof many times by means of the cats, dogs and other animals of that sex, which have often been brought to it as a test, and have died at once.” O’Meagher noted that Cambrensis visited there in 1185 (pg. 13). P. W. Joyce explained in 1911 that the miraculous tradition was that it was said to have not been possible for anyone guilty of a great sin to die on the island. Even if they were very ill, it would not be until they left the island that they could actually die. Likewise, if people tried to bury on the island “an unrepentant sinner” who had died somewhere else, there would inevitably be some problem that would not make the burial possible. Even after the monks left the island, the church and its grounds were frequently visited. “About two centuries ago,” Joyce wrote, “the owner drained the lake, forbade all pilgrimages and burials, destroyed the tombs, and had a circular fence built around the church.” (LibraryIreland)

Caitrionia explained, “At Móin na hInse we have a long series of documents from the Holy See dealing with the Priory in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was a place of importance and its Prior one of the more outstanding dignitaries of the diocese, so that very many Papal Mandates are addressed to him to deal with the unfortunate disputes which were then so common in the struggle of laymen to gain control of the clerical revenues. The connection of the O Meaghers of Ui Cairn and their control of the Priory is almost continuous throughout the whole period…In A.D. 1350 the Pope issued an Indult to Thady O Meagher and his wife to choose their own Confessor…No doubt the O Meagher succession and control continued up to the Reformation.”

©2014 Janet Maher, Marty Maher Dedication

©2014 Janet Maher, Marty Maher Dedication

We also had a look from a distance at Clonakenny Castle, recently privately purchased, and Caitriona brought me to see an honorary plaque in a local church cemetery for Marty Maher, about whom a John Ford film was made (The Long Grey Line, 1955). We ended back at her mother’s home, where we had a wonderful visit and enjoyed tea and scones at a beautifully laid-out table. Caitriona’s brother and his daughter also stopped by. I am grateful to Mrs. Meagher and her family for the warm welcome, and to Caitriona, who parted the veils for me in such a way that I felt, “OK, I can go home now!” only partway into my journey. I look forward to building a friendship with Caitriona and Anna into the future.

A recent green-energy effort has established a large section of windmills in the area, named after the area’s sacred site. They may be a disturbing hindrance to some local residents. They proved, however, to serve as excellent landmarks for me, as I recalled seeing them from Clonan, and various other angles as we drove around. I found myself in the following days near some of the spots that Caitriona introduced to me, each in various relative proxmities to the windmills. More about Tipperary in Part 5!

Thank you to Caitrion Meagher for her contributions to this piece!

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha Windfarm

©2014 Janet Maher, Monaincha Windfarm

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

Pilgrimage to Ireland, Part 3: North Tipperary, Clonmacnoise &

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©2014 Janet Maher, View from Margaret & Alfie's

©2014 Janet Maher, View from Margaret & Alfie’s

During the first days before my clothes arrived I learned to drive on the left side of the road and navigate with increasing ease through the country. My second AirBNB hosts proved to be the ideal support system. Margaret O’Farrell and Alfie McCaffrey were very helpful in following up on my lost luggage and with my puzzling through various technology issues—getting my phone to transition properly, figuring out if my throw-away phone from three years ago might work with a new chip, trying in vain for my GPS to kick back in (which it never did) and even helping me arrange visits with people I was trying to meet while my phone was in limbo. After three days I felt that I was leaving new friends. In Lorrha, Northern Tipperary, this couple has been renovating a large, stately home with their own tender loving care. Like so many a place in which good personally-grown food and fascinating, friendly conversation is a staple, Margaret and Alfie’s kitchen is at its heart. (Pay the extra to have dinner with them at night, which became extend visits in our case, lasting until 11:30 or so.)

©2014 Janet Maher, Old Farm, Lorrha, Tipperary

©2014 Janet Maher, Old Farm, Lorrha, Tipperary

Outside, chickens and roosters wandered as they will among the grass, flowers and trees, joined by their two dogs, with additional sound effects from a drove of pigs in the back. Frisky fellows, the pigs sometimes rule the roost, getting out from their pen and requiring hours of tracking and coaxing back to their own digs. From the kitchen porch, which runs the entire width of the house, it is possible to see the *Devil’s Bit section of the Slieve Bloom Mountains—the landmark for things Maher/Meagher. We had the most enjoyable breakfast looking in its direction on my last day, shared with a friend of Margaret and Alfie who had volunteered to help repair the woodshed roof. Pure bliss to eat outside amid so much beauty and such excellent company!

While navigating the way back and forth to their home in the woods (follow the signs for Birr and Portunma), I was able to venture north into Offaly County and into and around Roscrea, my primary destination on the first part of this Maher-related journey. Alfie had recommended also seeing Birr Castle, with its impressive Science Center, including a 72-inch long reflecting telescope built in 1845, and its note-worthy gardens. I came into Birr too late on the day I was venturing in those parts to do more than a drive-by, so this is now on my list for a hoped-for Next Time. At the end of my journey the following week I learned that the castle, owned by the Earls of Rosse, had once been owned by Meaghers. (More research needs to go into verifying that.)

* The Small Gap of Ely, in the parish of Barnane-Ely was written about by Joseph Casimir O’Meagher in 1890. (The O’Carrolls ruled over Ely, with close ties to the O’Meaghers of neighboring Ikerrin Barony.) He explained the nickname for the dip in the mountains with the following tale: “The Devil, driven to frenzy by his want of success among the inhabitants of Ikerrin, took a bit of their mountain in revenge, but finding it too heavy was obliged to drop it in the ‘Golden Vale,’ where it became the Rock of Cashel, afterwards famous as the residence of the Kings of Munster, and the site of one of the finest cathedrals in the west of Europe. The rock would about fill the gap in the mountain. Another story is that he dropped the bit in Queen’s County, and that the Rock of DunaMase was thus formed.” (Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, pg. 127.) (That there is a large cross at the top of this mountain was a surprising parallel, I thought, to that of the locally famous one in my hometown in Connecticut, of the same vintage, recently restored to great success and celebration. Had I more time I would have taken a hike to the top of the Devil’s Bit—#2 on my Next Time list.)

©2014 Janet Maher, Alfie , feeding his rooks

©2014 Janet Maher, Alfie, feeding his rooks

Another place that was closed during my visit, but seems worth a tour if staying so nearby was Redwood Castle, especially for those with Egan or Kennedy roots. (With that in mind, I include here an image of a place I passed on the way out of Limerick. For those with Killduff roots, here is a photo of a former Killduff Castle, now on the grounds of  St. Anthony’s Nursing Home, Pallasgreen, Limerick.)

©2014 Janet Maher, Killduff Castle, Limerick

©2014 Janet Maher, Killduff Castle, Limerick

Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis) was part of my reason for staying in North Tipperary, as we had not ventured into that area on my last trip to Ireland with my husband.  I wanted to see the place that had been mentioned so often in my studies about Ireland’s ancient history. This settlement, which dates to just before the death of its mid-6th century founder, St. Ciarán, grew to be the most desirable conquest for invaders over the centuries. Wealthy monasteries throughout Ireland were targets for their valuable ceremonial objects, and Clonmacnoise was also known as the primary site of achievements in literary and artistic high craft production during the centuries of religious rivalry in the country and in relation to Rome. Its location on a high ridge overlooking the Shannon River made it a major intersection of trade and travel.

There had been distinct roles with which Gaelic families were associated. Those that included members of high-ranking religious status had their own ecclesiastical settlements, centered upon a family church around which an extended community worked and lived. The once vast settlement of Clonmacoise contained not only a cathedral and a round tower, but a nuns’ church, and ones associated with St. Ciarán and the surnames Kelly, McLaughlin, Dowling, McLaffey, Connor, and Finghin. There are also remains of several other kinds of buildings, a castle, a sacred well, four high crosses, and other many other artifacts, including a section of an ogham stone and more than 600 portions of ancient grave slabs.

©2014 Janet Maher, Clonmacnoise Cross

©2014 Janet Maher, Clonmacnoise Cross, replica

Three of the high crosses have been removed for their protection from their original location to an on-site museum. Replica ones have been in their places to weather outside since 1992-93. Portions of three additional high crosses from the site are preserved in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, along with such masterful art objects as the Crozier of the Abbots and the Shrine of the Stowe Missal. The Cross of the Scriptures (replica shown here) is considered to be one of the best of Ireland’s historic crosses of this extensively decorated kind. It honors the King of Meath and King of Tara, thus High King of Ireland (879 to 916), Flann Sinna mac Maelshechnaill. At the turn of the 14th century the Gaelic clans regained control of Clonmacnoise from the Anglo-Normans, and power shifted to the MacCoghlans until the 17th century—a time of devastation in Ireland as the formerly Catholic England and Ireland were re-envisioned by King Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell.

On the day I visited Clonmacnoise I was met with a powerful silence and stillness. Although there were far more people wandering the site with me than I expected, we all seemed to be held in a trancelike quiet as we individually absorbed an awe-full sense of the former importance and immensity of this place, now a relic of itself. Ireland’s Office of Public Works has done an exceptional job in stabilizing this and many other irreplaceable sites, touchstones to the country’s stature and nobility in the ancient world.

©2014 Janet Maher, Clonmacnoise

©2014 Janet Maher, Clonmacnoise Ruins

 

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

Pilgrimage to Ireland, Part 2: Limerick, Travelers &

©2014 Janet Maher, Limerick Mural

©2014 Janet Maher, Limerick Mural

As I pick back up most of the rest of my life, I’m trying very hard to hold onto the memory of these last two weeks. While the Baltimore sun glared down on me yesterday I found it especially pleasant to recall being wet and even a bit chilly at times, needing an additional layer or two. With the loss of spring, Baltimore’s weather quickly becomes the kind that my mother used to say “takes the starch out of you.” Yesterday I willed myself to remember, instead, my feet sloshing within my sneakers, pants glued to my legs as I plunged into the high grasses of a graveyard coated with the remains of the previous downpour as Jane and I looked for a particular stone one afternoon. Mind over matter worked like a charm.

When driving along quiet roads in Ireland one nods or raises one’s hand in greeting, actively looking into the eyes of another. In Ireland people also talk about the weather. A greeting and mutual acknowledgement of a beautiful day is common, or comments about yesterday’s beautiful day as we mutually anticipate the current weather to change. And change it does, constantly, which accounts for perfect weather in my book, including the rain. I love the description of misty Irish days as “soft,” and I love the cloud-filled skies both before and after the rainfalls, one set made up of velvety grays, another set an endless array of postcard-worthy compositions. I have been waking these past few mornings thinking I’m still somewhere in Ireland. I welcome this sensation for as long as it takes for my soul to completely make its own journey back.

©2014 Janet Maher, Cashel Tree

©2014 Janet Maher, Cashel Tree

On my first afternoon and night in Ireland I came upon some contrasts—other realizations beyond the island’s contemporary and ancient beauty. The economy is indeed in dire condition, as I’d known from the global news. But several times throughout my trip I heard the statement voiced, “There is no money in Ireland.” When I shopped at Penny’s that first afternoon, trying to find something to put on other than what I’d been wearing for three days in transit, the place was packed with women and girls shopping. The amount of activity was surprising. There seemed to be more people inside that store than had been on the sidewalks. Were the more expensive clothing stores as well-populated?

After I got back to the place where I was staying, showered, changed and re-emerged, considering an attempt to find someplace to eat, I encountered even less, and different, outside activity. I wandered around the area, passing a small group of twenty-somethings drinking beer on a church’s steps, one woman’s face covered in bruises, then headed across a bridge into a neighborhood. When it turned out that the likely eating establishments were closed, I asked an elderly woman who was walking with packages from recent shopping if she could tell me where I might find a cafe nearby. She seemed startled that I addressed her and hurriedly told me there was no such place there, to walk in the other direction, and proceeded to get herself home. Along the river toward the next bridge I passed another small group of young people who seemed oddly threatening. Soon I was near Penny’s again. Turning to walk up the block I almost came face to face with three young women prancing in my direction in skimpy clothes and make-up so overdone that they looked to be in costume. Just beyond was a group of about twenty young people, mostly male, hanging out aimlessly.

Soon there seemed to be utter desolation of a kind I had only experienced in American inner cities. The streets twisted and turned with only an occasional figure darting quickly into a doorway, a few pairs of men talking to each other outside corner bars, and a couple or two wandering as I was, with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on their faces, and maybe one on mine. There was no grime or litter about, however, only an absence of activity and a feeling that the area had been abandoned. Perhaps this was the kind of neighborhood about which Frank McCourt wrote and I hadn’t wanted to believe existed. Eventually someone walked in my direction who looked kind, and I asked him to direct me to my landmark, which proved to be not too far away. I decided to call that day’s adventure to an end and simply headed back to my room. It would only be upon my last night in Ireland that I learned of the bustling center of Limerick, with many a business that would have appealed to me, only a few blocks further had I walked in the opposite direction.

©2014 Janet Maher, Lookind Down #1

©2014 Janet Maher, Looking Down #1

The feeling of emptiness occurred in other ways afterwards, though, thankfully, without including a sense of potential danger. It seems that throughout the midlands beautiful towns are closing up shop as nearby malls have attracted business away from the small locally owned ones, and the population itself moves to larger cities or other countries. In Shannonbridge, County Offaly, I wondered if I had arrived in the town too early in the day. Where was everyone? Besides the few cars that were parked or had passed me on the road I only saw two men out repairing a wall. They assured me that the tourist office I stopped at would open in a couple of minutes if I waited. Did it actually ever open that day?

Having not yet gotten the hang of the routine of recharging my camera and phone batteries each night, downloading pictures and thus making ready for my tomorrows, I had arrived in Shannonbridge with a full camera and had left my phone (which takes great snapshots) back in the room charging. I’d hoped to find good postcard versions of the beauty I was seeing right then, but had to suffice with the still images I captured in my mind. This lovely town with its own view of the River Shannon drifting past, flowing under the bridge for which the town was named, was the homeland of my great aunt’s husband and his family, the Martin’s. It was the first of many small towns that I visited in order to locate my research in a physical form that I could feel directly and observe at first hand, imagining my ancestors in place.

The landscape of the Irish countryside would once have been full of communities and teeming with people. The Great Hunger and several other famines and epidemics denuded huge swathes of territory over the centuries, but the global economy throughout more recent decades has continued to take a severe toll. Dr. Irial Glynn, a Marie Curie fellow at the Institute for History in Leiden University, explained much about the current Irish emigration problem in an online podcast he made for the History Hub. He explained that more than 400,000 Irish have emigrated since the Famine and that now the country is losing its young at a disturbing rate—particularly its male population, who have difficulty finding work in their own country. Unemployment is over fourteen percent today, up from six per cent in 2006. Currently about forty per cent of Ireland’s 15 to 19 year olds are out of work, as are more than twenty-five per cent of her 20 to 25 year olds and sixteen per cent of her 25 to 34 year olds. Immigration was just over 13,000 in 2007, but had risen to more than 40,000 in 2011.

Many Irish immigrate to Great Britain and send money back to their families, reminiscent of the nineteenth century era of immigration into the United States and other countries. Dr. Glynn explained that after World War II, almost all countries had “boom” times, except for Germany and Ireland, in which there was never an industrial revolution. Irish workers could find seasonal employment and many settled in the greater London region. Today, however, when there is a global economic slump, it is difficult to find work anywhere. I heard upon two separate occasions during my visit about young Irish men going, or considering going, to work in the mines in New Zealand or Australia. As in centuries past, here once again young Irish men are taking on the most difficult manual labor opportunities to afford themselves and their families a better future.  One women I met revealed that of her several children, some of them have emigrated to the United States, Canada or Australia. As Dr. Glynn quoted, “in times of crisis Ireland tends to spit out its young.”

Aideen Sheehan, wrote in December for Independent.ie that almost 250 people per day leave Ireland in search of a more stabile financial future. United States immigration data suggested to Sheehan “a brain drain of talent as they include 1,171 Irish people with ‘extraordinary abilities or achievements’, as well as 1,259 athletes, artists and entertainers.” In his article was embedded a poignant video of families being reunited at the airport during temporary trips home for Christmas. Meanwhile, as they do in every other country, political parties vie for power and promise that they will fix the many problems. Local elections were being held during my stay, and telephone poles everywhere were covered with posters for political candidates.

©2014 Janet Maher, Horse Heads, Co. Tipperary

©2014 Janet Maher, Horse Heads, Co. Tipperary

In trying to understand what I experienced during my first night in Ireland, I was told that the young women I saw might have been Travelers, a minority culture with early Irish ancestry. I recalled the biography of Nan Donohoe, published by Sharon Gmelch in 1986, about an Irish traveling woman who lived this entirely different kind of life in our own times. Gmelch is a professor of Cultural Anthropology and other topics at the University of San Francisco. My memory of her book was of awe for the hard life that the Traveler population of Ireland survived in their own insular universe. Working for cash doing hand labor included “tinkering” for the men, the repairing and producing of metal products and other types of small commodities for sale. The tightly knit families would move from place to place continually through the seasons and when forced to leave by people settled in areas they encroached upon. Having pulled Gmelch’s book down from my library, I intend to reread this, and to seek out her other books about Tinkers and Travelers: Ireland’s Nomads, Irish Life and Traditions, and a new book co-authored with her husband, Irish Travellers: The Unsettled Life, due out in October 2014.

My host at one of my AirBNB locations (a service that I heartily recommend, even given my first night’s experience) explained that Travelers may be found all throughout Ireland, often setting themselves up in places like abandoned railroad bridges. Apparently, they might be able to claim a parcel of land permanently if they successfully remain in place there for ten years. No longer a horse-drawn carriage society, they live in mobile homes and small trailers. Some have acquired a great deal of money and live in mansions. While traveling between towns in Tipperary, I suspected that I may have driven past a Traveler cluster, a cropped portion of the presumed encampment photo included here. Although I had watched the 2007-2008 television series, The Riches, which I stumbled upon on Netflix, I had imagined that the premise of the series was an entire fantasy. I had not been aware that this culture also took root centuries ago in the United States and in other countries, and that there are Traveler settlements in such places as Murphy Village, South Carolina, and White Settlement, Texas. The stories in modern times are far from romantic.

I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of Irish politics, its economy, its immigration situation nor its Travelers. Nor do I profess to even comprehend the complex workings of my own country’s equivalent social and political concerns. Being in another environment in a manner beyond that of a tourist, however, did help to bring new awareness to my own various micro and macro realities. Perhaps there is too much about the global present that unsettles me, leading me continually back to a relatively safe fascination—the searching for links between the dead and the living in undeniably beautiful places to which I have some personal connection. It is upon this aspect of my journey that I will concentrate the rest of my Pilgrimage posts.

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

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Pilgrimage to Ireland, Part 1

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©2014 Janet Maher, Leaving Ireland #1, Shannon Airport

©2014 Janet Maher, Leaving Ireland #1, Shannon Airport

I don’t know how the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” would have affected me if I had not seen it upon my return flight from Ireland. It seemed, however, to be somehow perfectly symbolic in that context. I did not cry this time as the plane rose into the air toward home, but I did at the end of the film, and smiled broadly at many points along the way. Thank you for the movie, U.S. Airlines. With it you redeemed yourselves from my three-day ordeal that was the trip over, filled with delayed and cancelled flights, and an entire day and a half in the Charlotte, NC, airport, only completed by my arrival in Ireland with my bag still in New York. (But that’s another story.)

©2014 Janet Maher, Secret Life of Walter Mitty

©2014 Janet Maher, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A pilgrimage is associated with a long journey that the dictionary clarifies as “especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage” or one “made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.” For untold millions of people who have lineage in Ireland it is possible, even at the most basic tourist level, to make a pilgrimage there. Ireland, indeed, is a sacred place. Ireland is about majestic beauty and ancient history, but it is equally about the people themselves who welcome us back, understanding our craving to psychically anchor ourselves from within our ancestors’ homeland.

This pilgrimage, my third journey there, was the culmination of eight years of serious, passionate, intentional research as I sought to learn about Ireland’s history and my own family lines. Traveling alone, this time was an even stronger and more focussed act of devotion in honor of my ancestors. My O’Sullivan, O’Mahony, O’Donovan, and Halloran (Ó Súileabháin, Ó Mathghamhna, Ó Donndubháin, Ó hAllmhuráin) relatives had pointed me to the general areas of Counties Kerry, Cork and Limerick. My Murphys, Ryans and Walshes (Ó Murchadha, Ó Riain/Mulryan, Middle English walsche “foreigner,” also Welch) might have been from almost anywhere in the areas in which I have traveled, so many were the instances in which those surnames appeared. But history itself and enough other clues made it possible for me to get very close to the home bases of my Meagher/Maher, Butler and Phalen/Whalen (O’ Faoláin) ancestors. It was especially for them that I drove my (ridiculously expensive) rental car 1,756 kilometers “keeping between ditches all the way,” with two additional trips, including to Dublin, in my friend Jane Lyon’s car—those times with her behind the wheel.

Over these couple of weeks I visited again with friends I had met three years previously, and met “in real time” new friends with whom I look forward to remaining in contact. The power of the Internet to forge these connections and make these meetings possible has never ceased to amaze me. I have felt even more strongly, however, that my ancestors themselves have been gradually parting the Red Seas for me over all these many years. That Jane and I are now as if in parallel universes across the Atlantic Ocean, that we are joined at the hip in this quest to bridge my Connecticut research with her Irish research for particular families, and that we are in the present together (whether physically, virtually or on the telephone) is nothing short of a miracle!

Irish Hospitality ruled the days of my journey. I often felt as if I was moving through a fairy tale in the place where fairies originated. Locations I had researched and sought to find were revealed to me clue after clue, person by person, each in a different way, with one detail often literally pointing to the next. As happened upon many occasions in Connecticut, I would sometimes be emotionally overcome and moved to tears right on the spot due to some revelation. It may indeed be that with this trip my great great Maher grandfather has been found! More research will be necessary, but my new friend, Oliver, seems to have pulled aside a curtain that had been drawn for decades.

I will attempt in a series of posts to share the highlights of this trip. Come back again to read them. Also, please have a look at my book’s Facebook page, and consider purchasing my book, which is still available on Amazon.com or from me via Paypal or by check (P.O. Box 40211, Baltimore, MD, 21212).

Remember, not all who wander are lost. The roads do rise up to meet us, the wind will be at our backs, the rains will fall softly upon our gardens, and God does—and our Ancestors do—hold us in the hollows of their hands.

©2014 Janet Maher, Leaving Ireland #2

©2014 Janet Maher, Leaving Ireland #2

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

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Coming to Ireland!

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©2014 Janet Maher, St. Patrick's Church Window, Vox Hiber Hi Ocum

©2014 Janet Maher, St. Patrick’s Church Window, Vox Hiber Hi Ocum

When I speak with my friend, Jane Lyons, owner of the amazing web site, From Ireland, she reminds me what an unbelievable work of fate and luck our meeting is. That I have been studying a particular subset of Irish immigrants into New Haven County, Connecticut, and have found several of the specific places from which they arrived, and that Jane has been studying the same from her end is one phenomenon. That we have become friends, that she flew all the way from Ireland to attend my first book signing, and that I could bring her to the primary cemeteries in Waterbury and Naugatuck and point to the specific graves that link back to her neck of the woods is another. That I will be spending the last part of my huge Irish research trip with her and that we will be scouring together the area that I have honed in on is a true miracle! What were the odds back in 2006 when I was just learning how to do Irish research that I would be, essentially, collaborating across the ocean with the person who set me on my path and showed me the way? Although I am no longer on her massive listserv, Y-IRL, she has been at my home in America, we talk on the phone, and I will be at her home in another week! (Although I thanked them in my book, I thank again the members of Y-IRL who gave me so much welcome advice all those years ago.)

On this trip I am thrilled that I will also be meeting people I feel to be friends that I met “in real time” when my husband and I were in Ireland three years ago. I will also be lucky enough to meet some new friends that I have only conversed with through email. This is truly a dream! While it is a bit unnerving to anticipate driving on the left side and managing my way to and through so many places alone (until I get to Jane’s), I am grateful for my husband’s support in this “obsession” which is clearly not yet over. He’ll hold down the fort—and water my garden—while I proceed upon this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am eternally lucky on so many fronts!

Last week several of us attended a visit to Waterbury Connecticut’s third Catholic Church — from 1880, St. Patrick’s. I’m including here a photo of a portion of one of its majestic windows, the bottoms of which include The Lorica of St. Patrick all the way around in Gaelic. This image illustrates Patrick’s dream in which an angel showed him a scroll upon which was written “The voice of the Irish call you.”

As the voice of the Irish is calling me loud and clear, I wish you all well in the big spirit of it all!

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

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The Irish of Waterbury!

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flagB&Wcprt I am very happy to announce that I am writing a new book about the Irish of Waterbury! My partner will be John Wiehn, the director of the Prospect Library in Connecticut. Our work will be published by The History Press in their American Heritage series, with a proposed release date of Saint Patrick’s Day, next year. John and I will be doing a scanning session this coming Monday, May 6, at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall in Waterbury from 3 to 7 pm. Come to 91 Golden Hill Street between those hours if you are interested in being part of our project. We are seeking your great images and stories about your Irish and Irish-American ancestors who found their way to the former Brass Capital of the World and made their mark upon it!

©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair

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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

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More on DNA Testing

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©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

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Old Saint Joseph Cemetery

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©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

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