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.