Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McLaughlin Roots

Carrickabraghy Castle keep. All that's left of it on Isle of Doagh

Thirty years ago, I learned that my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin, emigrated to Boston from Isle of Doagh on the Inishowen Peninsula (pronounced “In-ish-own”) of Donegal with his brothers Michael and Jeremiah. They had a sister, Sarah, who stayed. Ever since, I’ve wanted to find the old homestead. Last week, I did.
Neal "Dick" McLaughlin and wife, Marge

If I’d put off the trip much longer, I wouldn’t have found it. Eighty-year-old Neal McLaughlin is the only one left there who remembers stories of my great-grandfather’s family and it took me three days to find him. Inishowen is loaded with McLaughlins - which they pronounce “Mac-Loch-lan.” The only name more common is Doherty, because the O’Doherty Clan defeated the McLaughlin Clan back in 1244 AD. Everyone I spoke to asked if James had a nickname. There are so many McLaughins that extended families get nicknames. For example, one of Neal’s ancestors was named Richard and called “Dick,” so Neal became “Neal Dick” to distinguish him from other Neal McLaughlins. Locals pronounce it “Nail Deck.”
Isle of Doagh, looking west at the Atlantic

The only other information I had was that in 1921 or 1922, my great-great-grandfather (whose nickname was “Wee John,” Neal told me) sold the family homestead to someone named McGonagle. According to family stories, Great-grandfather James went back to Ireland to settle the estate and bring back Michael’s and Jeremiah’s shares, but he stayed for seven years and returned to Boston with nothing. James liked to drink, and that’s where the money went. His brothers were not pleased of course, and may have come up with other nicknames for James Wee John, like “Shithead” perhaps. Though the brothers had emigrated more than a hundred years ago, I hoped that some older people in the neighborhood might have heard stories about James’s seven-year frolic in the 1920s. Neal McLaughlin - “Nail Deck” - had.
Isle of Doagh

It rained my first three days in Ireland. On the fourth I got to Inishowen - the northernmost tip of the country - and the sun was shining. My wife was sure we’d be killed driving on the left-hand side of its steep, narrow, winding roads, but we made it. Isle of Doagh is stunningly beautiful. One road leads to it across a boggy field, and then it’s sheep and cattle pasture, stone walls, limestone outcroppings, beaches, cliffs, grassy dunes, and the ruins of a castle - all surrounded by shallow bays and the Atlantic Ocean. As we explored, I wondered why James would leave such an enchanting place.
Yours truly with Glashedy Island behind off Isle of Doagh (Glashedy means "Green on top")

The first person we met was Mary McGeoghan, walking on the beach. She referred us to Marie McLaughlin, who lives at the end of the beach next to the ruins of Carrickabrachy Castle (built by the O’Dohertys). Marie is one of the “Castle McLaughlins.” I gave her my information but she couldn’t help me. She referred me on to Lily McLaughlin, (which she pronounced “Lally”) on the other side of the Isle. Neither Lily nor her many sons knew of James either. For three days, I knocked on doors and most people mentioned “Nail Deck” (among others) as someone who might be able to help me.
My wife, Roseann, at the castle

Neal lived in another part of town called Cloontagh (pronounced “Cloincha”) which means “gathering of houses” in Gaelic. He was on the phone when I walked up. He didn’t know me, but waved me inside anyway. When he hung up, I introduced myself and explained what I was looking for. He had a twinkle in his blue eyes as he listened patiently to my information. Then, to my great delight, he said he knew the family. He remembered stories about “James Wee John,” as my great-grandfather was called back then, and chuckled as he told me one: Sometime during James’s seven-year-frolic, a child was born and people were planning a Baptism celebration. James volunteered to take a chicken home to pluck and clean for the dinner. When it came time to cook though, James didn’t show up with the chicken. He’d gotten into some poteen (Irish moonshine - pronounced “pa-cheen”) and was found passed out in a field with the half-plucked chicken next to him.

“That sounds like James,” I said.
Carrickabraghy Castle keep from another angle

Neal, who is a retired farmer and building contractor with six sons, went on to tell me that Wee John’s house and ten acres were sold to James McGonagle for £160. Neal’s family owned the land around it then and still does. He knew James Wee John’s sister, “Sarah Wee John,” who married a Doherty and was “not long dead.” He said my great-great-grandparents - Wee John and his wife Winifred (nee McCarron) - are buried in the cemetery next to the chapel in Clonmany, just inside the gate, but don’t have stones.
"Wee John's" Lane with newer buildings to the left and right

Later, we drove to the old homestead. “There’s Wee John’s Lane,” said Neal. Up a sloping lane was a small house Neal remembered being built when he was a boy and now is used for storage. Stone sheds attached to it were older and probably existed during Wee John’s time. A still newer house and garage about ten years old stood nearer the road. The property displayed a typical evolution that can be seen everywhere as Ireland became prosperous.
Great-Great Grandfather "Wee John's" place, now a barn

I imagined how the place must have looked a century ago when Wee John lived there - very likely a modest, thatched-roof stone cottage with a low doorway. That’s what most of Ireland would have looked like then but little of that old Ireland remains. Few people are leaving the country these days. Affluent Ireland has an immigration problem now.


Tom said...

...I say we start a revolt and beat the O'Doherty clan once and for all!


'the other tom'

TS said...

Hi Tom.

I believe the "Wee" refers to the "Irish Curse" which I hope has not been passed down to you and yours and perhaps explains James's propensity to drink. I'd also like to know, in your tree, if you are related to the Mc Laughlin's of Charlestown that Howie writes of in "The Brothers Bulger"?

Welcome back.

- Tom

Tom McLaughlin said...

Hi ts,

His nickname was "Wee John," not "Wee Johnson." Neal didn't tell me any stories about complaints from Mrs. McLaughlin.

My American ancestors did live in Charlestown around the Bunker Hill Monument. They tended to work as longshoremen near the Navy Yard. My father grew up there too. As for Howie's book, I didn't get that far into it yet, but I'll pick it up again and check it out. I suspect he would have referred to the mobster named "Punchy McLaughlin" from the fifties and sixties though, to whom I am not related that I know of.

My father moved to the suburbs after getting a job at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford and I grew up in Tewksbury.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic article, Tom. A perfect amount of history and character. It makes me want to travel to the McLaughlin corner of Ireland and meet some of these characters.

I had a similar experience running into distant relatives in County Cork one Spring and it was certainly and exciting moment in my life. I ran into gentlemen at a bar one night and he had the same exact name as my late grandfather. We both agreed we were related and drank many, many toasts in honor of this. No poteen, I'm afraid (probably a good thing).

Anyway, time to get back there. Visiting distant relations in Quebec isn't as exciting. And while I love that province, the relatives up there aren't nearly as friendly.

Tim - Waterbury, VT

Tom said...

...love the picture, using it for desktop wallpaper.

Hey Tim, what relatives in Quebec? My wife's from there and NB.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I took almost 1400 pictures in northern, eastern, and central Ireland with my new Nikon D-60. Of them all, the Carrickabraghy Castle shot here is one of my top ten favorites. That it was taken in a town full of McLaughlins is that much more meaningful, even though it's an O'Doherty castle.

After the defeat in 1244, the clans became allies. Though I haven't gone back that far in my geneology research yet, I'm sure I'll find Dohertys in it.

Tom said...

...can't beat 'em, join 'em?

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom Mclaughlin , those are quite the nice pictures you have there. I was wondering if you had taken them. because they are quite wonderful. While I am on the topic of pictures, that is quite the nice picture you have of your self, I ould have never guessed you were 57.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I took the castle picture on this post and the others about Ireland. Any of the pieces about local Maine or NH issues have my photos on them too.

Since Google Images borrows my stuff, I borrow from them as well. The Obama pictures and many of the others are from Google Images. If you click on them, you'll see where they came from.

Lisa said...

Dear Tom,

I also agree that you have some nice pictures on your page. I agree with "Anonymous" about you not looking as though you were 57. You still look young, enjoy your youth Tom. Once again, thank you for all that you have to share.