A death record that I discovered for one James Maher in Connecticut near the town of my family, and age contemporary with my great great grandfather, listed his parents’ names and a place of birth, Kildare. This was quite unusual, as most of the earliest death records that I have looked for are missing, and those that can be found typically only say “Ireland” as a birth location. There were, of course, many James Mahers in Ireland as there are in America, but in honor of this one we intentionally visited Kildare.
We spent our first night in Ireland in Kildare City and had the first of extended conversations with people we met in the most authentic-looking local pubs. Two men in particular, part of a group of regulars who stop in for a pint after work (one whose family is Dunne) were extremely friendly and helpful. John thought I looked surprisingly like one of the Maher women whom he knew, which warmed my heart no end, though I had to wonder if there might not have been a touch of blarney in that.
Another advised me above all else during our stay, listen to people. And it is true that every conversation revealed ever more, often in small, tossed off comments that would anchor a thought or definitively answer a question of mine. At breakfast, when we asked the waitress for our first set of directions, she pointed to someone sitting at the counter, a retired schoolteacher, and said that he could tell us anything about the history of Ireland. While we were finishing our coffee he came over, sat down with us and we conversed (with me mostly enraptured and taking notes) for more than an hour. It was from him that I learned, among a great deal of other things, that I had the right to use the “Ní Mheachair” surname. (Typing it here for the first time was as emotionally significant as the first time I acknowledged aloud that I was an artist.)
We had not intended to try to find any “living Mahers” in Kildare, but an uncanny thing happened when we were slightly lost outside of town looking for Old Kilcullen Graveyard. I got out of the car to ask for directions in a neighborhood store and the proprietor said, “Here’s the person you need to talk to,” pointing to the customer standing next to me. As we turned to look at each other I was stunned to see my father’s eyes and face and became riveted by the stranger’s quiet voice and gentle demeanor, so like his (and my brother’s, who seems increasingly like our father). Maybe this was the person John thought I should meet! So, in my memory we did meet – here was “a Maher,” I do believe – though it was early in our journey and I didn’t dare intrude on this man’s privacy nor ask anything beyond how to get where we meant to go.
At the time of Saint Patrick the walled town of Kilcullen was ruled by the Kings of Leinster, whose primary location was one of the ancient hill forts, Dún Ailinne (Knockaulin) (2.,3.). Saint Patrick is credited with having begun a monastery in Cill Chuillinn where a round tower was built in the 11th century. At Kilcullen’s High Cross and Round Tower (Ardchros agus Cloigtheach Sheanchill Chuillinn), are remains of two high crosses, ruins of an old church and several graves (no Mahers). The base of one cross, carved on all sides in high relief designs, includes an image of Mac Táil, who was ordained by Saint Patrick. Mac Táil (of the adze) defended the monastery against the Vikings in the early 10th century. A Bord Fáilte Éireann sign at the Round Tower explained that round towers “were used as refuges and as store houses for church valuables during the Norse raids in the 9th-10th century A.D. and served as watch towers and belfries. During the insurrection of 1798 during a successful Irish stand, the upper portion of the tower suffered some damage.”
One of the oldest graves in Saint Francis Cemetery, Naugatuck, Connecticut, is that of Nicholas Brennan, from Kilkenny. At present it hasn’t been determined whether his family was related to the group that arrived from Kildare in 1860, whose intermarried branches through the decades seem to connect with just about every other Irish Catholic family in town–including mine. I believe it is possible that the tombstones I have transcribed from Kildare could tie into the Naugatuck Brennans. In a different part of Saint Francis Cemetery, a Talbot grave also cites Kildare as the origin of that family.
Selected Transcriptions: Old Kilcullen Graveyard
1. Erected by His Children In Memory of Their Beloved Father CHRISTOPHER TALBOT, Kildare, who died 5th June 1887 aged 66 years. His son JOHN who died 23rd January 1903 aged 34 years Also Their Beloved Mother ANNE TALBOT who died 2nd September 1906 aged 64 years. MARY HARTE Daughter of CHRISTOPHER TALBOT who died 13th August 1914 aged 48 years Also His Son PATRICK who died 4th October 1916 aged 50 years. Also their cousin KATIE TALBOT who died 2nd February 1919 aged 36 years. And Also His Daughter LIZZIE CONNOLLY who died October 2nd 1924 aged 50 Years. R I P
2. Erected by JAMES DUNNE Osborne Lodge Kildare To the Memory of His Son PATRICK JOSEPH who died 2 April 1917, Aged 25 Years. The Above JAMES DUNNE Died At Whitestand House Kildare [13th?] Feb 1927 Aged 86. KATHERINE DUNNE, Wife of JAMES DUNNE died 15th July 1956 Aged [88?] R. I. P.
3. Pray For The Soul Of JAMES BRENNAN Old Kilcullen Who Died On The 1st Feb. 1884, Aged 64. Also CATHERINE BRENNAN Relict Of Above, Who Died 15th December 1911 Aged 95 Years. R I P
4. (Lichen, very difficult to read) This stone was erected by Daniel Brennan in memory of his Father, Patrick Brennan, who departed this life August [?] [1861?] aged [?] and his Mother [Mary] Brennan (too much lichen to read the rest).
5. (Lichen, very difficult to read) Erected by Michael Brennan of [….pool?] in memory of his [?] Mother Mary Brennan who died Old Kilcullen April the 19th [1870?] aged [and his] Father [short name] Brennan who [unreadable] Rest [unreadable] Old Kilcullen [?] the [?]
6. DENIS BRENNAN Who Died [?] Feb.  Aged [?8] Years. Also His Wife MARGARET BRENNAN who died 30th March 1946 Aged 87 Years and Their Granddaughter MARGARET who died 10th March 1948 Aged 5 Years.
7. (Celtic Cross Monument) Pray For The Soul Of FRANCES BRENNAN Died 16th May 1948 Ages 38 Years And Her Husband JAMES BRENNAN Died 24th Jan. 194 Aged 62 Years.
©2011 Sinéad Ní Mheachair (Janet Maher)
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