Ireland – In Search of Ancestors

Ireland – In Search of Ancestors

Ireland was always part of my life, even though I was a third generation New Zealander. All of my Irish maternal great grandparents left Ireland in the 1870’s. Ireland was clearly imprinted on the souls of my grandparents, who were first generation New Zealanders.

I was unaware of exactly where my ancestors had come from in Ireland, but I was certainly aware that we were the green, not the orange, and what that meant. I did not know my maternal great grandparents, but my grandparents and their siblings were very devout catholics.

Family occasions always involved the singing of Irish songs, and news of Ireland was eagerly sought. This was despite my great grandparents never returning to Ireland. Neither my grandparents, or my mother and her sisters ever visited Ireland. My mother loved New Zealand, and had no desire to travel, other than to visit Ireland. She never managed to get there.

In 1953 the first of the family visited Ireland. My grandmother’s youngest sister departed on her grand adventure, which included visiting County Kerry, where her mother, an O’Sullivan, had come from – Kilgarven and Kenmare. My great aunt returned with photographs of the houses where her mother and grandmother lived.

A cousin visited Kenmare and Kilgarvan in 2000. Armed with our great Aunt’s photographs, my cousin identified both properties. The Kenmare house in Henry Street, is now a shop – Finnegans Bicycle Hire. Toys and gifts can be acquired. The current owner of the premises showed my cousin around. Another cousin visited recently, and was also shown around.

When I visited the owner was absent, so I did not get a tour. Even though the house today bears little resemblance to the house 1953, or to Nan’s house, I found it quite moving to see a place where my ancestors had lived.

My great grandmother, Mary, was born in around 1861, only 8 years or so after the potato famine ended. Her father was a farmer, but as an Irish Catholic, he would have been relegated to work as a tenant farmer. The house in Kenmare would not have housed just one family, and would not have been as pleasant as it looks today.

Years of poverty followed the potato famine. There would not have been many opportunities for a young women like Mary in Ireland. She emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in Napier in 1880. She was a general servant.

I don’t imagine Mary had seen very much of the beautiful country around Kenmare. She would have known little of the history of the area, which has ancient roots. There is a large stone circle going back to the Bronze Age. It is thought that Vikings raided the area.

In the year Mary was born the Poor Clare Sisters arrived in Kenmare, and established the lace making industry in response to the poverty which followed the great famine. Did Mary learn how to make lace? If so, it would have been little use in New Zealand in 1880.

I like to think that Mary saw at least some of the beautiful scenery around the Ring of Kerry and Ring of Beara near Kenmare.

My other great grandparents came from Tipperary and Kilkenny. My great grandfather, James O’Neill, was born in Galmoy near Johnstown, Kilkenny in 1836 and my great grandmother, Mary Tyne was born in Ballingarry, Tipperary in 1847.

They married in the Templetuohy Roman Catholic Church in 1870. James was described as a servant.

On my first visit to Ireland I attempted to find Galmoy. I was staying at the Bishop’s Palace in Cashel, only 42km from Galmoy. Just over half an hour’s drive I was told. These were pre GPS days. I had a decent paper map. I drove around in what seemed ever diminishing circles, consulting the map and following numerous signs pointing to Galmoy, I ran out of time, and never located Galmoy. Epic fail.

Cashel was a very beautiful little town. I was staying in the old Bishops Palace, below the Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel is an archaeological site of medieval ecclesiastical buildings and is also known as St Patrick’s rock. St Patrick is said to have arrived there in 432AD. Brian Boru was crowned High King there in 990AD. At least I had the consolation of exploring the site, and imagining the ancestors had probably seen the Rock.

I had been intrigued by the round towers in Ireland, and had just visited Glendalough in County Wicklow, so was very pleased to see the 12th century round tower on the Rock. It is the oldest surviving structure on the site.

My second visit to Ireland, with a GPS, a lot more information and accompanied by Lolly Girl as my navigator was more successful, although still a challenge. Galmoy was elusive. The GPS was not up to the task. Nor was Lolly Girl. We retired, hurt, to a pub for lunch.

We request the wifi password. “Why should I” was the response. Well, you say free wifi on your menu. So, “why should I” was the response again. I am getting ready to rip ears off. It turned out that the password was whyshouldI. Very funny (not).

Together with the GPS, paper maps and information from the why should I pub, we managed to find Galmoy. No evidence of any O’Neill in any of the cemeteries. We did discover and explore the Grangefertagh Church and Round Tower near Johnstown. The monastery was attacked by Vikings in 861. It was attacked again and burned in 1156. The round tower is the only part of the original monastery remaining – founded 5th-6th century.

My ancestors must have seen this.

I was most interested in Ballingarry, where Mary Tyne was born in 1847. The Battle of Ballingarry, part of the Young Ireland Rebellion against the British occurred in 1848. I had hoped to find a Tyne as a participant. So far, I have not been successful.

Our rental car died near Ballingarry. Lolly Girl and I had very little battery life on our mobiles, but we did manage to contact the rental car company. Their response – you picked up the car in Belfast, what do you want us to do. Before the battery died I articulated exactly what I wanted them to do. They indicated that the car would be picked up some hours later by a Kilkenny company, then the phone died. Lolly girl volunteered to walk up to the village to find a phone, and hopefully a taxi to get us back to Kilkenny. We abandoned the deceased rental car, got a lift back to Kilkenny at great cost, to await the arrival of a replacement car, rather than sit by the side of the road near Ballingarry – beautiful as it was.

My great grandparents arrived in Napier, New Zealand on 4 January 1878 on the Renfrewshire. James was described as a farm labourer on the passenger list.

James went on to become a successful businessman in Hastings New Zealand.

James O’Neill, bottom left, at the marriage of his son Martin, top left on 30 April, 1917. Top right is my grandfather, William.

Travels with Lolly Girl.

Travels with Lolly Girl.

New Zealand, Istanbul, Oslo, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Australia


Lolly girl and gma go back a long way. Further than I care to think about. From child brides in a small parochial country at the end of the earth, to mature travellers. Having dispensed with the child grooms, and seen our children grow up and move on, we had no ties. The world was our oyster.

Lake Taupo, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehi

Gma dispensed with the husband, and escaped the small parochial country fairly early in the piece. Lolly girl still lives in the small parochial country, but that country has matured, and is currently a far kinder place than the place to which gma escaped.

Lolly girl and I are not alike, but the differences make for a harmonious relationship. I am a relaxed traveller. Lolly girl, on the other hand, is a very anxious traveller. Her anxieties have occasionally saved us from disaster when my relaxed mode of operation would have had us stranded.

On a recent visit to Oslo, my city mapper took us to a wharf from which we were to depart on a trip around the fjords. Gma is happily sitting in the sun, relaxed and not bothering about the fact that there was no boat in sight, and no people. Lolly girl, getting anxious about no boat and no people indicates that she is going to “make enquiries”. Gma rolls her eyes, and continues to lounge in the sun. Turns out that we are on the wrong wharf, and only just had time to get to the correct wharf, where a queue of thousands were waiting for the boat. Last on, meant worst seats.

Early on we had travelled together to London, and around places nearby. Lolly girl was born in a south coast seaside town in Sussex, and had migrated with her family to the parochial country at the end of the world as a child. She was moderately comfortable travelling in the country of her birth, where the language was similar to that of the parochial country. She was less comfortable with the journey.

On one occasion the landing at Heathrow was aborted and our plane roared up into the fog covering London – an obstacle on the runway we were told. As we circled past Windsor Castle for the third time, Lolly Girl was extremely anxious. “What if we run out of fuel”. We won’t, we will go elsewhere to land”. “Nooo, we can’t X is waiting at Heathrow to meet us.”

Lolly Girl’s biggest challenge was joining Gma in Istanbul. Gma had been travelling in Eastern Turkey, and was returning to the antipodes from Istanbul. Lolly Girl was in London, and had to travel on her own, and get herself from the airport to the hotel in Istanbul. Neither Lolly Girl or Gma could believe it when she booked on line, and actually hit the “buy” button on the airline site.

There followed a few weeks of “oh my god, what have I done” from Lolly Girl, which ramped up when demonstrations began in Taksim Square. Our hotel was in Sultanahmet on Kennedy Cardesi, just down the hill from the Blue Mosque. Geographically we were a reasonable distance from Taksim Square, so after consulting the map, Lolly Girl relaxed – kind of.

Lolly Girl emerged, triumphant from the taxi at the hotel in Istanbul, ready to explore. She took everything in her stride. The incredible beauty of the mosques overcame any residual anxiety Lolly Girl had for her first encounter with Islam.

We were sitting on the terrace of our hotel, overlooking the Sea of Marmara one evening, when the relaxed mode moved abruptly to not relaxed. Plumes of smoke could be seen from Taksim Square, and what appeared to be a naval boat came chugging into view.

A glass of wine restored equilubrium, even though the smoke from Taksim Square was still billowing. The boat had disappeared from view.

After an epic fail of our GPS in Scotland – which instead of taking us north toward Ballater, took us up a road which became narrower and narrower and then turned into a track, ending at the grand gates of a mansion beyond, Lolly Girl decided we needed paper maps as a back up. Gma does further eye rolls, but Lolly girl was not daunted.

As it happened, it was as well that Lolly Girl had paper maps when we got to Ireland. The GPS was unable to cope with numerous places, and on several occasions took us up a roads which led nowhere near our destination. It was beyond the ability of the GPS to take us to a village in Kilkenny, where a part of my family had originated. Actually, it was also beyond the ability of Lolly Girl and her paper maps to get us there. We retired, hurt, to a pub for lunch. Lolly girl accosted a staff member for directions, and we finally made it to Galmoy.

Gma considers it a huge fail if directions have to be sought, and refuses to ever ask for assistance. It is very fortuitous for our travels that Lolly Girl is happy to ask for directions. If she wasn’t, we would be driving around in ever diminishing circles forever, never getting to our destination.

The distrust of the GPS can have some issues. On a trip to the Lake District, the GPS was working well. Lolly Girl nevertheless had the paper maps to hand. Approaching huge roundabouts, just as the GPS lady started instructing which exit to take, Lolly Girl would instruct me which exit she thought we should take, drowning out the GPS lady, and occasionally had the GPS lady hysterically yelling at us take a U turn. Finally we had to decide which of the GPS or Lolly Girl was excess to requirements.

Gma generally drives. One year Lolly Girl borrowed a car in London, which she had to drive. The car was a Porsche Boxter S.

Lolly Girl was anxious about the drive out of London, and most anxious about driving a Porsche. Our first journey was to York. We did all right under the circumstances. Going through a red light on a roundabout 5 minutes from home set the pace.

Driving up the M1 was memorable. Here we were in the Porsche crawling in the far left lane, with every other vehicle overtaking us, including big trucks and buses, the latter towering over us like a huge block of flats on wheels. Our windows seemed to be level with the top of their tyres.

We then journeyed south to visit the seaside town which Lolly Girl had come from, in Sussex. Lolly Girl was far more relaxed – the A roads suited her better than the M1. It had been snowing heavily, but the roads were cleared. Lolly Girl’s friends were not relaxed about a Porsche being parked in the street, so their car was unceremoniously moved onto the street to allow the Porsche to be locked into the garage.

It was rather fun emerging from the Porsche at country petrol stations. We whooshed into the forecourt – the young male attendants came rushing out. The looks on their faces when Lolly Girl and Gma unfolded themselves out of the car was priceless.

Gma is generally the travel agent and tour group leader. A more agreeable travelling companion than Lolly Girl would be hard to find. No matter how hideous the accommodation or travel turns out, she does not complain. Gma had booked a serviced apartment in Reykjavic. It looked very pleasant on its website, and was very close to everything. Emerging from the airport bus, Gma was quite suprised at the direction the city tripper was taking us. It certainly wasn’t the direction Gma thought it would be.

It turned out that the serviced apartment owners had several buildings, and put us in a different building than Gma had booked. The apartment was a hovel, for which we had paid non hovel prices. Lolly Girl was extremely kind about the hovel, and its smell, although she did produce a bottle of french perfume which was liberally sprayed around the hovel.

The act of travelling makes Lolly Girl anxious. We were catching a train from Copenhagen to Oslo, with a change at Gothenburg. On reaching the Copenhagen railway station, Lolly Girl zips off to ascertain which platform we were departing from. “Its not on the list of departures.” We were early, so sat down to wait, with Lolly Girl darting off to check departures. Anxiety sets in when trains later than ours are on the board.

Gma goes off to check the departures board, found the train and platform. Seems Lolly Girl was looking at the arrivals screen. When we arrived in Gothenburg, our train for Oslo was there, but locked. We did have about 45 minutes, but because it was not possible to reserve seats, people started standing in front of locked doors to make sure they got their seat of choice, and somewhere to stow their bags. Gma was consuming coffee and not inclined to move from her sunny spot to stand in a wind tunnel for 20 minutes. Lolly Girl put up with Gma’s indolence for fully 5 minutes, then moved off to stand behind the first person in the line at the locked door of choice.

Gma idly wondered if Lolly Girl had any idea of the scrum which eventuates when the doors open, and thought about warning her that coming in from the side was more effective if you were not the first person in the queue, and that using your suitcase as a weapon was required.

The doors open. Gma loses sight of Lolly Girl as the crowd surges forward, the side flanks moving in with precision. By the time Gma gets on the train, Lolly Girl has secured the 2 best seats in the carriage, and has obtained spots for the bags. Gma is duly grateful, and graciously declines the offer to sit at the window. Lolly girl is quite shaken by the experience of kill or be killed, although she most admirably was not killed, and reigned triumphant.

Some of Gmas happiest travel experiences have been with Lolly Girl. Getting drunk and disorderly with Lolly Girl around the world for the rest of Gma’s travelling life would be a joy.