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Gaffaney Trip to Ireland

Results of a Family History Search in Ireland in 1975

by David Gaffaney

I spent three weeks in Ireland during August 1975, travelling on a Rail’Road rambler Ticket, which allowed unlimited bus and train use for two weeks for 20 pounds. A few of these days I spent on family history.

Helen Felling provided this information: that her Grandmother, Ellen Ward Rooney, wife of Thomas Rooney, was buried in the Parish of Clonfert, Parish Moore, Kilbegley Cemetery, Co. Galway. Also, this: a note from her mother, Margaret Murphy Rooney, which stated that Pat and Stephen Ward’s last known address in 1847 was Parish of Clonfert, County Galway, Parish Moore. Helen suspected these of being possible brothers or parent of Ellen Ward Rooney.

It happens that the Kilbegley cemetery is in County Roscommon, although it is only ten or twenty miles from the Co. Galway line.

I arrived in Athlone, Co. Roscommon on August 25th. Since I was in the vicinity of the Kilbegley Cemetery, I went to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul (perhaps also called St Peter’s, although I don’t remember for sure its name; there are probably two Catholic churches in Athlone), and I asked the priest if I could see his church birth records. He was very busy, but was kind enough to spare some time. We went into the rectory where he pulled out a large, thick volume of births, written in the original hand, that went back as far as 1786.

Although he said he did not expect we’d find any Rooney’s, we looked under these years: 1817, 1820, and 1827. 1817 was the year Tom Rooney was born. We did come across just one, a Marian Rooney, born in November of 1820, whose parents were Michael Rooney and Catherine Madden from Thomastown (which is over toward Clonfert or Ballinroe, Father said). Father said that Rooney is an uncommon name in the immediate vicinity; that there are Egans here to burn (and indeed there were a lot of them in the register); that McCool sounded like a North-of-Ireland name; that Martin sounds like its more toward the Roscommon side of Athlone.

There were no Killeens in the book and no Tracys, but there were some Doyles, some Coyles, and some Wards and Murphy’s for the years we looked under. This volume alone had thousands of names in it, and I believe he had two such books there.

I asked this same priest if he knew where the Kilbegley Cemetery was. He explained its general location, toward Ballinasloe.

The following day I took a bus in that direction. The driver let me off along a side road and pointed me up half a mile. I walked along and found it, an old one, a couple of acres in size, surrounded by a stone wall which I crawled over. In a small corner were a few new stones of recent deaths, But the larger part of it was filled with stones perhaps a century old. These stones were made of slate or shale on which lichens love to grow, sometimes completely covering the shallow inscriptions, some of which the weather has already eroded beyond reading. Many of these old stones had tipped over or had broken off, and grass grew unrestrained around them all. I examined nearly every one of these markers; most could not be read. I deciphered no Rooney’s (which didn’t mean there weren’t any), but did see a Killeen or two, as well as the following inscriptions on four different markers:

    In loving memory of Bartholomew Ward
    died 16 Aug 1904
    His wife Rose Ward died 17 July 1912

    INRI Lord have mercy on the soul of John Ward
    who died 7 Feb 1898 aged 78 years. Also his
    son Michael died 21st Jan 1853 aged 3 years.
    Also his son Thoms who died 8th March 1869
    agd 6 months. His wife Mary Ward died March
    15th 1884 aged 58 years. Walter Ward died Jan
    25th 1928 aged 30 years. Erected by his loving
    wife Mary and his son James Ward. Pat Ward
    died 20th June 1939 aged 80 years. His wife
    Kate Ward died 15 Nov 1939 aged 77 years.

    In loving memory of Thoms Ward (Kidlawn) died
    24th June 1952 aged 49 years.

    Erected to the memory of John Ward J.P. Balinasloe
    died Dec 4th 1899 aged 71 years and his wife Mary
    Ward died December 20th 1910 aged 73 years.

So no doubt this was “Ward” territory. But someone I met who lived in this vicinity had told me there was a Rooney living nearby. So up the road I continued. About three miles later I found the farm. His wife told me that he had just left for town, and I remembered him passing me on his bicycle and waving, about a half mile back.

But she, the wife of Michael Rooney, gave me this information about his family: They originally came from Clonfad Oldtown or Coreen (Coren Castle), which, if I remember, wasn't too far away from where they are now -- perhaps the next county over.

Michael had two aunts, Sarah Rooney, and Bridget who died in March 1975 at the age of 94, just five months before! Bridget used to tell of crossing the Shannon River in a storm to get home. Michael has two brothers. Patrick has a pub in Cloone, Co. Leitrim; Thomas works in England. His one sister, I think lives in Ballinasloe. Michael is the youngest of the four.

Michael and his wife (I failed to get her name) are in their mid-thirties, as a guess, and have four children:

    1. Thomas born about 1965
    2. Gabrielle 1967
    3. Enoreen 1971
    4. Yevonne 1974

His address:

    Michael Rooney
    Co. Roscommon, Ireland

After this pleasant visit, and tea and bread, and wide-eyed kids staring at this stranger with a funny accent, I asked Mrs. Rooney directions to the Parish of Moore. It was just down the road a mile or so.

Fr. Charles, the cure, was not in so I left a message for him with the family across the road, who had a dairy farm. The mimeographed letter is a result of that note and the goodness of Mrs. Whelan. I also found from Mrs. Whelan that a man who used to keep the Kilbegley Cemetery records had died and a man named John Harney now owned his place. That may be significant if the records are still on that place.

In downtown Dublin there is the National Library, a good place to do some research on family history. If there are records in a parish of baptisms, marriages and deaths, the parish in Ireland has the originals and teh National Library has microfilmed copies. However, to see the microfilmed copies one must have written permission from the pastor of that parish. In this library is a Catholic Register listing current pastors of all parishes in Ireland. It is right at the main desk. There is also an Index to Parish Registers, showing which dates each parish has records for. For example, I found these:

    St. Mary's, Athlone: parish of Ardagh
    Baptisms: 3 May 1839-30 April 1852; 1 Feb 1853-28 Dec 1855; 1 Jan 1856-26 Feb 1868
    Marriages: 24 Jan 1834-26 Dec 1851; 9 Feb 1854-5 Feb 1863; 5 Jun 1819-17 April 1827
    Deaths: 4 June 1819-29 Dec 1821
    Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths: 1 Jan 1813-24 Sept 1826; 4 Feb 1827-17 March 1827
    Diocese of Tuam, Parish of Moore:
    Baptisms: 17 Sept 1876-26 Dec 1880
    Marriages: 22 Jan 1877-19 Nov 1880

The National Archives in Washington, D.C. shows complete shipping lists for all emigrants coming into the port of New York between 1820 and 1860. The National Library of Ireland in Dublin also has microfilmed copies of these lists. I spent a couple of hours scanning the list (for Gaffaneys) for July 1st-25th, 1856 (there were a lot of names listed!). Maybe Canada has similar lists, and if so maybe this library has copies -- I didn't check. The information these lists give is: 1) the person's name 2) the age 3) occupation 4) country of origin 5) country of destination. At the head of each list is the name of the ship, the port it left from, the captain, the date, and how many died on board.

In the genealogy office in Dublin Castle, not far from the National Library, there is a book called Griffith's Primary Valuation of Ireland. It is a census of landowners, going back to at least the early 1800's. On page 29 (I think the 1850 census) I found this name:

    William Rooney
    Co. Roscommon
    Union of Ballinasloe
    Parish of Moore
    Culliagmore (=Townland or Township)

Also, from the man who worked in this office I got these suggestions: 1) the name 'Rooney' he thought originated in Dromore (wherever that is). It is now a common name in Ireland. 2) that 'Martin' is an even more common name, originating probably from the Connemara region of Co. Gallway.