Part 1

by Sheila Whittington

 From the time my sister and I were very young, my mother told us we descended from royalty. When I first started printing my name, I was instructed that under the small 'c' following the M in McDermott, we were to put a small horizontal line. Under the line we were to print two small 'x's'. This was to show that we were of royal descent (eventually we dropped both the line and the x's). In addition, my father always told us that we were, at one time, to inherit land in Ireland - but we had somehow lost it (through no fault of our own, of course).

Other than those two items, very little was known of my father's background. We knew that his grandfather Patrick was Irish and married Margaret Brannon in 1889 in Leeds England. They then came to the U.S. where they had three children (one of whom died at six months) - another of whom was my grandfather, Patrick. They returned to England, where the youngest ten children were born. They returned to the U.S. around 1922 and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. Of further interest was the fact that Patrick's wife Margaret had four surnames by which she was known - more fodder for research. And so it began.

Upon my retirement from teaching, tracing my Irish family was one of my goals. Several relatives throughout the years had gone over to Ireland (my father included) but had not been able to find the land worked by our ancestors, nor the cemetery where they were buried. Although Patrick's children were deceased, many of his grandchildren still lived in Providence, so this was my first stop. The eldest granddaughter found a piece of paper which had been given to her by her mother, many years before. On this paper were several names: Edward, Thomas, Hugh, Peter, Richard, Terrence, Patrick and Mary Anne. On another sheet she had written that Thomas came to Chicago, Mary Anne had married Terrence Boyle, the family came from County Sligo. On this same trip I went to the library to look up Patrick's death - and found not only his, but his brother Richard's. From there I checked out the voting records and traced addresses through the years, copying down any addresses where they lived. Using this information I discovered when each of Patrick's children came to the U.S. and that they had all lived with Richard at one time or another.

My husband had been involved in his own family search since his retirement several years before - and had taken a trip to England to meet with a cousin who had also been researching the same family. He was not averse to a trip to Ireland, therefore, in order to research my family. Previous to this momentous first visit I had researched the family in various genealogy sites, as well as attended a workshop on researching in Ireland. All these told me that my task might be difficult.

On one microfiche I managed to find the birthdate (Jan. 24, 1866) and birthplace of Peter, son of Edward and Anne McDermottroe, registered in Gurteen, District of Boyle, County Sligo. On a film I found Edward and Anne's date of marriage, October 4, 1846 in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. I had also been informed that if you went to the Library on Kildare Dublin, there were genealogists there who will help you, free of charge. So, we booked five days in the students' quarters of Trinity College, and headed to Ireland.

We landed at the Dublin airport about 6:30a.m., caught the bus to downtown, then left our luggage at Trinity College as our rooms were not ready yet. We headed right for the Kildare Library, and were first in line when it opened. As we had been told, two genealogists were on hand to help in our research. By knowing about Peter's birth in 1866 (apparently births prior to that were not necessarily available), the genealogist was able to find my family's townland - Tawnymucklagh, in Monastereiden, Roscommon County. To add to the confusion, the boundaries between Roscommon County and Sligo County had changed over the years - so we were not sure exactly where my ancestors originated.

Over the next few days we were sent to many other areas of Dublin: Joyce House, where records of births, deaths and marriages were kept, the Land Offices where we found records of the land - who lived there and when - as far back as 1850, and the County Courthouse where we found my great uncle's will following his death, leaving all his assets to his wife. Each time we found information, we returned to the Library, where we would be sent forth on yet another mission. We found ourselves becoming quite familiar with downtown Dublin - but our research left little time to explore the sights.

Finally, after five hectic days in Dublin, we returned to the airport where we rented a car to head into the countryside to find "the family farm". This was not my first time driving on the other side of the road, so that was not a problem. What was disconcerting were the tiny backroads, hardly wide enough for one car - but meant for two. Each time you met another car, each had to pull over onto the grass, and the branches of the trees brushed your car, as you inched past each other. We had attached a Canadian flag to the car, hoping that as tourists we would be given a little more leeway in case we made mistakes (on the roundabouts especially). We had no difficulty finding Monastereiden, but were not sure where to go from there. So, in good Irish fashion, we headed to the pub. Now Monastereiden is a very small village: a Church, a school, about 10 houses, and a pub. So we dropped in at the pub and showed the owner the map we had copied at the Land Offices showing each plot of land. We were looking for 1A and B, 88A and B. The pub owner took the map into the pub where several "senior" Irishmen were passing the time, and together they decided that we wanted Kelly's - third house past the Church.

Now Canadians are quite friendly people, as are the Irish - so I had no qualms about just knocking on the door and inquiring about our lost farmland. Mrs. Kelly answered the door, then called her son Colm to meet us. She was quite excited to meet a couple of Canadian tourists, and invited us in for tea. Over tea and cookies, we talked about my family research and where the land was. (It was not lost on me that my great great grandfather had married a Kelly, and this was now Kelly land). So Colm offered to take us over to the land, which he did after his mother found us some rubber boots as it had rained earlier. The land was right across the road, down a long lane - so we drove. He then walked us all around the land, explaining what it would have been like when our family was there - small plots of land divided by stone walls. Each plot would have been about 60 x 100, each family (there were five houses on this land at this time) having their own plot. The stone walls have since been taken down, opening it up to one large field - a fact he is sorry about. He described the apple tree that was hundreds of years old which had, by mistake, been cut down. He walked us to the far end of the land which overlooked Loch Gara and explained that all this land, including part of the Loch, belonged to the landowners. They would have fished in the waters, and taken out the turf for cooking and heating their houses. It was truly a beautiful spot.

Heading back toward the lane, he stopped and explained that the foundation we could see would have been one of the five original homes - so we pried out three stones for souvenirs. The old shed which was still standing, which now held machinery, would have been where the animals were sheltered - and the loft where the hay and grains had been stored. We took pictures of all of these things. Back at the house, Colm then called his brother who had done some family research, and he in turn faxed his information, along with other information about the McDermott family. Unfortunately, his research did not include dates, nor did it go back as far as when our two families merged. Promising the Kelly's to return if we ever came back to Ireland, we headed for the cemetery.

The cemetery, just outside of the village, is built on the remains of a Monastery, hence the name Monastereiden. My husband and I wandered quickly through, scanning each stone for a familiar name. The cemetery had an unkempt look and was difficult to walk around as the ground was very uneven. Finally, we had to admit defeat - the stone was not there. But, in order to explore every avenue, I found myself in the centre of the cemetery pulling the vines away from a very large stone - and finding the name McDermottRoe. This was the missing stone. The name on the stone was Edward McDermottRoe - my great uncle who had stayed on the farm when his siblings left the area. He had died February 1, 1912. Buried with him was his wife Kate (nee Fitzpatrick) and my uncle Peter - one of Patrick's sons who had been sent to Ireland when Edward was ill. Peter was to inherit the land from Edward, but unfortunately he died just before Kate - and the land reverted to the Fitzpatricks - and that is how we lost our land. (But I digress, as I only found this information out on subsequent visits to Ireland). The stone was about six feet high, and surrounded by bushes and vines which had imbedded their branches right into the stone. We pulled back as many as we could, and vowed to bring clippers with us if we ever returned. Happy with our find, we returned to the bed and breakfast we had booked in the area.

The next few days were spent wandering around any cemeteries we passed as we drove up and down the back roads. One of the many times we got lost, we stopped to ask a young lady the way - she and her young sons were piling up peat in the shed, to be used in the winter - and she invited us into her home, which was over 400 years old. True to the hospitality of the Irish, she invited us for tea and explained how turf was collected, cut and stored. Armed with new directions, we drove to the Genealogy Centre in the city of Sligo, hoping to glean more information, but were told that we would have to pay them for any research done. We declined. Our plane back to Canada left the next day, so we headed for the bed and breakfast we had booked near the airport. Early the next morning, we returned the car and booked our seats - only to discover that my husband had left his journal of the trip at the B&B. Now we have only the memories and the pictures - and a resolve to return.

Copyright Biatach 2014

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