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Searching For Roots

We, like many Americans, have a curiosity for genealogy and since we both descended from Irish immigrants (and others) we have found fertile ground for our puzzle solving inclinations. We do view this as a puzzle and not a reflection of our own self-esteem or self-worth. On the other hand, this activity does answer some “why questions” and does explain some views and habits of our relatives and consequently, some of ours.

This is a story about our search for MY roots here in Ireland. Although it is our story, it is still relatively generic and it is similar to stories we have heard from others. We entered this activity with some research, and a little unwarranted trepidation.

First I’ll talk about the research (or rather Carol’s research). Carol started with basic genealogy research: old letters, marriage licenses, citizenship papers, prayer or holy cards, obituaries, etc. She then bought a subscription to We had a letter from Jack's Great-Great Aunt to his Great Aunt in the 1940s as a starting point. She had immigrated to America with some of her family and later returned to Ireland. This was our pointer to the Beara Peninsula and our search, but you can only go so far with family records and on-line resources and then she had to progress to the GRO and the National Library.

Periodically, I make a business trip to Dublin. For the last three or four months Carol has been traveling with me and while I was working, she has done additional research initially at the General Register Office (GRO). At the GRO they have many of the civil records for Ireland. First one searches through the indexes and, when you find an interesting record, you ask for a copy of the actual record for 4 Euro. Carol has been rather “legalistic” about this process. She requires two corroborating pieces of information before declaring someone a “relative” and she had started to make progress initially starting with my Great-Great Aunt’s letter (with the names and ages of all her kids) and my Great Grandfather’s US citizenship papers … she made great progress at first, but the search became very slow and laborious. This is when she found the National Library.

There are some additional records at the National Library, but the genealogy specialist brightened up when Carol mentioned the Beara Peninsula. She informed Carol that there was a gentleman named Riobard O’Dwyer who wrote a three volume set of books (each several hundred pages) on the genealogy of the Beara Peninsula (yes, the Beara Peninsula of West County Cork) a very rural part of Ireland. From the research Carol had done, and this book, we were prepared for the next leg of our search: a trip to the Beara Peninsula.

The trip started on Friday of a bank holiday weekend. Our trip was about 270 km and a little less than four hours, about half the length of Ireland North to South. We checked in at a Bed and Breakfast with a great view of the Coulagh Bay from the Beara Peninsula called (surprise surprise) the Coulagh Bay House B&B. We then headed off for a pint and dinner in Eyeries Village. So, we headed off to the two Pubs and Aunty May’s (since renamed Eyeries Bistro) for dinner. We were quite lucky because the pubs were warm and friendly and Aunty May’s (the only restaurant) was quite good. So you might ask why Eyeries? My great grandparents were both born on the Beara peninsula. My great-grandfather in Eyeries and my great-grandmother in the next hamlet down the road, Urhan. Eyeries is the bigger of the two Villages with fewer than 100 people. Both these villages are on the other side of the peninsula from the big city, Castletownbere, a town of about 800 people.

Coulagh Bay House B&B

Views of Coulagh Bay and Eyeries

My great-great Aunt(my great grandfather’s sister) emigrated to the US along with many of her siblings and then returned by herself, married a gentleman who did the same thing and had four kids. Two emigrated to Dublin and two to London, so no relatives in Eyeries from that side of the family. My great grandmother’s younger brother stayed, although many of his siblings emigrated. He was much younger and had children much later. We met one of his sons and a daughter (ages 83 and 74) these would be my grandfather’s 1st cousins (my 1st cousin twice removed).

Now, a discussion of our unwarranted trepidation. When we arrived in town, we of course headed for the pub (a nice pub with a beautiful view of Coulagh Bay at sundown) … and started “chatting up” the bartender. He didn't have much knowledge of Donovans in the area, but was very friendly and suggested that we talk to Riobard O’Dwyer (the Beara peninsula genealogy author). After a dinner of fantastic local seafood, we headed to the other pub and started “chatting up” the bartender who knew our family. She was trying to remember the married names of some relatives and called her friend to check. She also pointed us to a pub in Castletownbere that is run by relatives on my great-great-grandmother's side. She also told us we should talk to Riobard…

Aunty May's in Eyeries

The Old Town Pump, Near the former Residence of My Relatives

The next day we drove the “Ring of Beara” which is the other side of the bay from the “ring of Kerry”. This is a very rocky, wind-swept peninsula with lots of sheep and cattle, lots of scenic coastal views … and a mining museum.

View the Beara Peninsula in a larger map

Yes, a mining museum in Ireland. This was the site of the Allihies copper mines that operated from ancient times until the mid to late 1800’s and are now closed. This is how my great-grandfather was already a “miner” when he immigrated to Butte Montana. The mining museum was very informative … and had an area devoted to Butte Montana, the birthplace of my grandparents and my parents. This is a part of Ireland that emigrated to Butte, partially because of their mining skills, partially because of the ties of family and friends. The old timers in town still knew that my great grandmother ran a boarding house in Butte Montana where Irishmen, particularly from the Beara Peninsula area, were welcome.

Old Mine Engine House

Slide from Butte MT Slide Show

After our drive we visited a pub in Casteltownbere that is run by my 1st cousin twice removed. We just asked for her to chat for a few minutes. An hour later we left the pub and headed to her brother’s farm, the old family farm from my great grandmother’s family. We arrived at the farm to just introduce ourselves, make small talk for 4 or 5 minutes. We left an hour later after several pictures and a large Irish whiskey. We also met our 2nd cousin once removed and our 3rd cousin, her son.

Pub in Castletownbere

We then headed back to our B&B for a nap….

Our very nice hostess at the B&B let us know that Mass would be that night (Saturday) at 8:00 pm. We also talked about our travels and our visits and … she suggested we knock on the door of Riobard O’Dwyer ….

We headed into town about 7:00 but the Church wasn’t open yet, so we went to the pub and spent several minutes discussing the propriety of having “just a glass of beer”(vs a pint) just before mass. We decided it would be OK to have just one glass(a half pint)…Mass was very nice and warm and well attended. During the “kiss of peace” , we were warmly greeted by an elderly gentlemen and his wife. After dinner we revisited Aunty May’s restaurant …. We had to do a re-do since they had muscles on the menu per my inquiry the previous night -- and they are the only restaurant in town. The muscle appetizer was great as well as the dinner.

Catholic Church in Eyeries

Muscle and Brie Appetizers with Fish and Scallop Main Courses

After dinner we started our walk up the hill to our B&B … on the way we heard a police siren … a few minutes later a line of cars entered the town behind the local policeman with horns blaring. The under-14’s Gaelic football team had won the County Cork championship… we knew this because it had been announced at mass ….this is a HUGE thing in Ireland… We found ourselves standing on the side of the road cheering on the team next to the same elderly gentlemen who sat behind us at mass … Carol asked if he was Riobard … he was …. Carol thanked him for his book and we chatted for a while in the street in the cold … and we didn’t even have to knock on his door…

Jack and Riobard

For those of you who are into movies and television, Eyeries has something for you. The 1977 film, The Purple Taxi, was filmed here. A couple of decades later in 1997, a TV movie series was shot here and was called Falling for A Dancer. A few years later another TV movie was filmed called Ondine. Currently a movie called Byzantium is being shot and is about the current fad in films ... vampires.

Sunday morning we headed home. Before heading out of town, we found the general location of my great-grandfather’s family farm. The farm was between the town of Eyeries and the shoreline…. About 1 mile away. Seeing the farm explained a few things … First, it wasn’t all that big and there were 9 siblings in that generation. It wasn’t going to be a sustainable farm for one member of the family, let alone split 9 ways. Second, I am not real knowledgeable about farming, but I have a sense that any land that naturally grows plants with needles and stickers is generally not very fertile ground … most of this farm land was covered with palmetto type plants with needles at the end of each leaf…. Not much was going or is grown on this land.

Views from Old Family Farm Location up to town and down to the sea

On the way out of town we finished driving the ring of Beara and headed back to County Galway… after a successful weekend of searching for our roots … and resolved to return for another visit.

See You In the Pub!

Jet Lag Jack

Cemetery View on Beara Peninsula

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