My Northern Ireland Roots

My Northern Ireland Roots


My family in Northern Ireland, where they lived, and how they lived between the years 1800 through 1900.

The beginning, as I was told...

  • Philadelphia, PA, USA

The "family story" as I remember if from my mother was mysterious, and inaccurate.  She was the youngest child out of nine born in Philadelphia, PA.

"Grandpop and his brother, mother and step-father, or real father came to Philadelphia in 1884.  The step-father or father was a drunk, and the mother had to take in laundry to support the two boys."  She didn't have any idea if her grandmother took in laundry in the town where they lived, or if it was in Philadelphia.  She also thought that the step-father or real father dropped his family off in Philadelphia, and he went on to Australia.  The reason for going to Australia was he was running away from something or someone.  She also said a half sister was born on the ship on the crossing from Ireland to Philadelphia.

Since my mother didn't know the exact date of the disembarking, and she didn't know the name of the ship, I turned to, and  I looked up all of the ships that came into Philadelphia for each month for 1884.  Not an easy task.

Finally, through Gen.Forum, I got a few answers from a "cousin" in London.  I gave him three names, and a few dates.  With just that small amount of information, he provided me with much more information than I ever expected!  What he gave me was insight into my grandfather's life between the time he was born and 12 years of age.  He explained, and proved that my grandfather and his brother were born with a different surname than my mother or anyone else knew.  I found out who his biological father, and biological grandfather were, where his parents married, where they lived, where his grandparents lived, when they left Ireland, and where they lived in London.  My new cousin provided copies of the marriage registrations, and the death registration of my biological great grandfather.  I now have the registration of the second marriage, too.

In 2004, I attended the First Gathering of the Clan.  It was more than I expected, much more.  A friend, Carolyn, and I flew to Dublin, then took a train to N.I.  We missed the last bus to town, so we got a taxi. Our woman taxi driver was fun, and helpful.  We met-up with her shopping at one of the malls; I felt as though I had just bumped into a friend.

We got to our hotel, met the man I met online, and tried to thank him over and over again for bringing me to that moment in time.  Later, we met the young man who had arranged for the gathering.  He outdid himself, the entire weekend was filled with things to do. He had the mayor present a plaque to me at the Gathering--a very handsome man, with a necklace of jewels around his neck that must have weighed 50 pounds or more.  We all got our picture taken for the local newspapers, and I was the only person from the US.  There were about 100 cousins there.  Lucky me!  How fortunate can I be?  A dream come true thanks to two very giving, and sincere men I had never met.  I have pictures of the churches, the town, the waitress who got me out of a downpour early one Sunday morning.

I was taken to the town hall to look for records regarding my family, then to the church where my great grandmother was married to her first husband.  Then to other churches, the shopping district, the country-side.  I was introduced to Champ, and Gammon.  My friend and I explored the town where my ancestors lived.  We visited a wonderful old Irish woman who lived close to the base of the Mountains of Mourne; she had the most magnificant view out her kitchen window I have ever seen.  We saw Silent Valley, Lake Spelva, ate pizza in a quaint town on a loch, saw the Irish Sea, and the home of yet another cousin.  We walked around Belfast, got there by the local bus, which was wonderful in itself.  Guess I think everything we did was wonderful.  We ate breakfast in a bright, fairly new bakery almost every morning.  The traditional Ulster Breakfast was a wee bit too much for my friend and me.

What I found out about my ancestors was my great grandmother had the maiden surname that my grandfather used as his last name.  His real father died when he was about seven, and his brother was about two.  Their mother, at that time, probably took in laundry to support herself and two children.  Their father was a barber.  Later my great grandmother married a man whose last name was her mainden name!  Confusing.  Shortly after that marriage, the four of them went to London to live with her older brother.  It was there that the baby girl was born in the latter part of 1883, and I'm not so sure she wasn't a twin who died at birth.  At some point, they all sailed for Philadelphia, and settled in sometime during 1884.  My step-great grandfather was a shoe repairman.  They lived in a row house near the west shore of the Schkuyll River.  In 1894, my grandfather was listed as living with the entire family. He married in 1894, and his first child was born in 1895.  In ____, another child was born.  In 1895 the first child, now 13, died of meningitis.  That is the year I lost track of the step-father.  Maybe he decided to go back home, or go to Australia, he still had a daughter, a wife and two step-children.  No one seems to know.  He has a common name, so he has been difficult to track.

My grandfather didn't drink alcohol, maybe because his father was a drunk.  He told an aunt that he never wanted to go back to Ireland, so he must have been unhappy there.  My mother said he had a lot of respect for the uncle in London with whom they lived with until they sailed to Phila.  Grandpop liked tea, loved to fish, and he ate eel (sounds gross).  I suspect that since they lived near water in Ireland, they ate a lot of fish.  His grandparents and great grandparents lived through the Famine because they didn't live where the Famine occured.  I have seen the tombstone of my great great grandfather, I think.  I'm in the process of getting facts on it from the church where he is buried.  Finding the tombstone and others with my biological great grandparents is another fun story.  I owe Joseph Patrick Cunningham for that.

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