Our Irish Family History Tour

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, my sister and brother and I recently took our Irish family history tour.  We visited the following townlands:

  • Gubnaveagh, Leitrim – the birthplace of my grandfather, James Francis Sweeney (left at age 29)
  • Ballaghboy, Sligo – the birthplace of my grandmother, Anne Maria Horan (left at age 20)
  • Carrownamaddy, Roscommon – the townland of my mother’s paternal ancestors, the Brennans

The trip exceeded all our expectations.  We visited old family cottages in all three townlands and met cousins for the first time.  Having covered the Horan part of the journey in my last blog entry, I’ll discuss the Sweeney and Brennan visits here.

Most of the Sweeneys that lived in Gubnaveagh, Leitrim emigrated to America around 1900.  I can trace the family back into the mid-1800’s, but it gets a little cloudy before that.  The Sweeney’s seemed to have sub-let a parcel of land in the 1800’s from the Gannons, but were only officially added to the lease in 1869.  However, an entry for that parcel in a 1739-1810 book is recorded as “Gannon and others”.  If I had more time in Dublin, I could have obtained this record at the Deeds office to see who the “others” were.  Maybe I’ll call and see if they will pull the record for me.  We also saw a book called “Mountain Echoes”  about the people in the area and it shows the Sweeney property on a hand-drawn map.

Of my grandfather’s 7 siblings, only the oldest, John, stayed with the property.  John had no children and when he died, Thomas Sweeney returned from America to take over the property.  When Thomas and his wife died, the property was sold.  Last August, I met the owner of the property, Michael Mohan.  My cousin, Jim Murphy, connected with Michael’s cousin when talking about their Providence roots.  Another small world connection.  On this trip, Michael took us out on the property to see the old 2-room cottage ruins.  It’s not hard to imagine why the grown children left for America with such cramped living quarters and little promise for their future.

After the Sweeney stop on the tour, it was on to the Horans, and then the Brennans.  My mother had an extensive family tree of the Brennans and I searched Irish and US census information to enhance the tree.  I was able to pinpoint the townland through my searches.  We  intended to visit the old St. John Cemetery to look for tombstones.  However, while in the cemetery we were approached by two members of a local historical society.   One of the women called her 86 year old father who came down to talk to us.  He directed us to the Brennan’s house.  We knocked on their door and were welcomed by three Brennan brothers.  We had a great chat and they took us out to the remains of the cottage which was occupied for generations until the 1960s.

They showed us a book written by Diane Dunnigan, about a cousin, Margaret Brennan.  “A south Roscommon emigrant: Emigration and return, 1890-1920” takes an interesting look at the cycle of emigration and permanent return.  I opened the book and saw the “left side” of my family tree.  It was an odd feeling to stumble upon a perfect matching family tree.  The book was lacking information on my side of the tree that had left Ireland in the mid-1800s.   Reading the book has really helped me understand the Brennans that stayed in Ireland.  I emailed the author and she is interested in my Brennan information.  We will set up an interview in the coming weeks.

Now that I have a rock solid base to my Irish ancestry, I plan to keep pushing for more detail.  After that, it will be on to a new family history tour searching the roots of my grandmother, Florence Elizabeth Gaetz, who emigrated from Nova Scotia.  This time, my wife will be with me since her mother’s ancestors also emigrated from Nova Scotia.

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