The diaspora returning to Ireland has proved a perfect opportunity for people to unearth the stories behind their family trees, writes Arlene Harris.
THE Gathering has proved to be a huge success, with more than 1.7m visitors to Ireland between March and May — an 8.1% increase on the same period last year, and trips by North Americans were up almost 13%, at 282,300.
And perhaps it’s because there’s no nation better than the Irish to come up with ways and means to celebrate, when given any excuse to do it.
TJ Waters from Ennis, Co Clare has long been interested in his family history and the onset of The Gathering proved the perfect opportunity for him to unearth the anecdotes behind his family tree.
“I wanted to record the history of the Hurley and Waters families who joined forces when my parents Todd Waters and Mary Margaret Hurley were married on 24 June 1947,” he says. “The narrative of these two families in many ways mirrors that of Ireland and all our people. It opens at the time when the country was devastated by the Great Hunger, when well over a million Irish perished and another two million left our land never to return.
“The roots that were put down then by our distant relatives across the globe are the bedrock of today’s diaspora.”
The idea behind TJ’s book only really became active a year or so ago, and the notion that so many families had stemmed from the one marriage became a huge source of interest to him.
“The book has been on the boil for a few years but I only got serious about it 18 months ago,” he admits.
“It was a back-burner project that simmered gently for a while, boiled over occasionally and then settled again in the back of my mind before resurfacing at other times — it just simply refused to go away and I soon discovered that the family history now contains the names of over 600 people and 150 different family surnames as it continues to grow bigger and stronger every day.”
Since putting together the book on his family history, TJ gathered together 100 members of his clan for an event entitled ‘The Meeting of the Waters’. Over 100 people attended the February ‘gathering’ and the family historian now hopes that his record will help future generations to learn about their past.
“I did all the laying out and typing of the book myself, got it printed by RealPrint in Ennis and bound in Kenny’s Bindery, Galway,” says TJ. “I published 50 copies for our Gathering for which I suggested a €20 contribution per copy (to help cover costs) but embarrassingly for me, I ran out of copies on the day but have reprinted it — I would say in total, the book has cost around €4000 to date.
“I don’t intend to offer it for general sale but I am happy to provide a copy to anyone who is interested enough to want one. As I have identified 175 family names and 630 family members on the family Tree, perhaps I may have much greater “sales” than I ever imagined.”
Paul Condon comes from a large Tipperary clan who are scattered across the globe. This summer he hopes to have as many of them in one place as possible.
“My grandparents Edward (Ned) and Elizabeth Condon were born in 1879 and 1866 respectively outside the village of Newcastle near Clonmel in Tipperary,” he says. “They had 14 children, seven boys and seven girls, including my dad Patrick who was born in 1919 and died in 2011.
“84-year-old Michael is the only one of the original fourteen children who is still alive, living in Connecticut, USA. About two years ago I set up a Facebook group to try and link in all the cousins and there are now about 60 of us in the group. In January I floated the idea of a family reunion and there was great enthusiasm for it, so The Gathering was born.”
The Condon family gathering takes place in Clonmel this weekend and Paul is confident that over 100 people will attend.
“About 100 family members are coming together tomorrow from the US, with many more coming from the UK and mainland Europe,” he says.
“My grandfather’s brother Thomas was Mayor of Clonmel in the early 1900s, so I have arranged to kick-off proceedings with a visit to the Town Hall and to get a history overview from one of our councillors.
“Then we have an event in our local tennis club, where most of the original siblings spent much of their youth and my father was life vice-president. The club is running the Condon Cup tennis competition that day, an event which has run every year since my father in set it up 1977 — that will be really special.
“Saturday evening will be the main event and I’m hosting a party in my house. Then on Sunday, we go out to Newcastle by bus to trace our roots to the original location where our grandparents came from.
“I wanted to do this while my uncle Michael was still alive. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since it was first mooted so he will be very emotional about bringing his family back to Ireland and meeting all the others. If everyone who says they are coming turns up that weekend, it will be fantastic.”
Aine Hyland (nee Donlon) was born in Meath and lived most of her life in Dublin but her family originated in Bandon and she is planning a gathering to celebrate her heritage and to bring family members together.
“My mother was Peggy O’Brien, the youngest child of John and Sarah O’Brien, who got married in Bandon in 1893 and had 11 children,” she says. “Sarah was born in Desertserges near Ballineen in West Cork in 1875. She got married at the age of 18, having met her husband for the first time at the altar rails in St Patrick’s Church, Bandon on their wedding day.
“John died in 1915 so Sarah reared and educated the children and lived for a further fifty years, until her death in 1963. She was a courageous and strong-minded woman — as well as rearing her children, she was also active in the War of Independence and the Civil War and was a passionate supporter of Michael Collins (inset above). “She carried guns for him under her Bandon cloak and provided shelter in her home for men “on the run” during the War of Independence. “She was threatened by the Black and Tans several times but this did not deter her and in recognition of her service to Ireland, she was awarded a Service Medal inscribed and a Service pension, by the Free State Government after 1921. In the early 1960s, she lived with my parents in Dublin and as I shared a bedroom with her in the final months of her life, I decided that the Year of the Gathering – which is 50 years after her death — was an opportune time to celebrate her life and pay tribute to her legacy.
“She has a total of 60 grandchildren, more than 120 great-grandchildren, and over 70 great-great grandchildren to date. Almost all of these have been traced and invited to our Gathering on August 10th.
“I visited my grandmother’s grave in Bandon three years ago and found that it had become neglected and overgrown,” she says.
“Having arranged to have it cleaned, I remembered that 2013 would be the 50th anniversary of her death so thought it would be an ideal occasion for a Gathering of her descendants.
“Our event will include a visit to the family graves and a walkabout around Bandon, ending in the Innishannon House Hotel for a reception and dinner. We are also making a collection of photos from all branches of the family and plannig a slideshow during the evening of the gathering, as well as reminiscences, reunions and music and celebrations. I am also compiling the story of the O’Brien family since the marriage of John and Sarah in 1893 to date, and this will be printed and distributed among the family.
“Organising this event has been fascinating, great fun and a real labour of love. It is a small return for the love and care my grandmother gave to all of us when we were growing up.”
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