Wednesday, May 13, 2009

McDonnell Roots

This column didn’t run for two weeks last month because I went back to Ireland to find the cottage where my great-grandmother, Kate McDonnell, lived. Traveling with me were my wife, my mother, Mary (Haggerty) McLaughlin (84) and her brother - my Uncle Joe Haggerty (90). They knew Kate - their grandmother - when she was an old woman and they were children.

My mother and uncle are spry, but I suspected the red-eye flight from Boston would wear them out. We landed in Shannon at 6:30 am Irish time and, figuring they would need to rest, I arranged an early check-in at a B&B in nearby Doolin so they could lay down while my wife and I toured the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. Instead, they opted to come with us. We toured County Clare all day and came back to O’Connor’s Pub in Doolin that night. After dinner and a couple of pints of Guinness, I was nodding off and I had to drag the two senior citizens out of the pub so I could go to bed. They had more staying power than I did.

The next morning, we took a ferry to the Aran Islands. Weather was unusually good and Joe said it was the best day of his life. Aran natives speak Irish (Gaelic) as a first language, but switched to English as they graciously answered our questions. The next day, we toured Connemara in County Galway. Day four, we toured County Mayo, then went to a pub while my wife climbed Croagh Patrick in the drizzle - a mountain that looks just like Baldface in Chatham, NH. On day five we arrived in Crossmolina.

Great Grandmother Kate McDonnell left a village near Crossmolina in County Mayo and emigrated to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania somewhere around 1880-85. If people from northern Mayo went to America, that’s where they tended to go because they’d know people who’d gone over before them. I’ve had to reconstruct Kate’s story because a great-aunt’s detailed records were lost in a flood. From what I’ve gathered, Kate wasn’t born in Crossmolina but her father moved the family there “from the south.” South Mayo? South Ireland? We don’t know. The McDonnells went to Crossmolina with another family - the Haggertys or “Hegartys” as they spell it there. Were they poor? Hungry? Politically oppressed? All three? We don’t know. Peter Hegarty evidently wanted Kate McDonnell, but something took him to Donegal. When he returned, he learned Kate had gone to Pennsylvania. He followed her there and married her when she was sixteen. We could think of that as a nice love story, but there’s another version: When Peter went to Donegal, Kate emigrated to avoid an arranged marriage. He pursued her to America and called in the obligation. I’d prefer the first story were true, but who knows? Kate didn’t talk about Ireland. Whatever happened, their first child was my grandfather, John Haggerty, born around 1886. I knew him. He died when I was six.

As was the case last summer when I was in County Donegal looking for Great-Grandfather James McLaughlin’s farm, Mayo people went out of their way to help us find Kate McDonnell’s cottage. Another relative had visited there thirty years ago and found it, but her directions weren’t specific except that it was in a hamlet called “Rathkell” near Crossmolina. There are lots of McDonnells and Hegartys thereabouts, but I couldn’t use the local records because neither Kate nor Peter had been born there, hadn’t died there, hadn’t married there, and didn’t have children there. Also, they left nearly a hundred thirty years ago. However, we found what we believe to be the ruins of her cottage.

The McDonnells and Haggertys interest me because, unlike every other branch of my family, there’s no apparent history of alcoholism. Kate’s father, Mark, had been a schoolmaster banned from teaching, and that jives with Irish history I’ve studied. In their efforts to Anglicize Ireland, British conquerors passed laws prohibiting many aspects of Irish culture such as speaking Gaelic, practicing Roman Catholicism, or teaching Irish history. Most of these “Penal Laws” were repealed by the early 1800s, but discrimination lingered all over Ireland into the early 20th century, and in Ulster into the 21st.

Mark McDonnell taught his own children however, and a good education was unusual in a poor Irish immigrant girl like Kate among Wilkes Barre’s coal-mining families. When her husband, Peter, died at forty of black lung disease in the mines, Kate took her family to Boston so my grandfather wouldn’t follow him into the hole. She placed a high value on education for her children too, and my grandfather was the only one who didn’t go to college. He apprenticed as a cigar roller - a trade that went the way of buggy whip makers. The McDonnell/Haggerty branch of my ancestors were “lace-curtain” Irish, whereas the rest were “shanty” Irish I hate to say, but the more research I do the more that notion is reinforced.

Next I’ll research the Sullivans and the Fitzgeralds, both from the south of Ireland somewhere. Great-grandfather Eugene Sullivan became a cop in Cambridge while Great-grandfather John Fitzgerald played piano in Boston barrooms. Both were known to be over-fond of whiskey. Should be interesting.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip, Tom. So glad that you were able to take the old folks and that your search was, at least in part, successful.
Loved the photos and am looking forward to a CD of this years trip. Ruthie

Anonymous said...

One of the things we have in common-a family history of alcoholism. It makes me wonder just how many families who immigrated from England and Ireland who didn't have a history of drinking/alcoholism.

Thank you for sharing your trip. It sounds like everyone enjoyed themselves and you are right when you say that the older generation has much more staying power than the younger generation has some days. I know a lot of older folks who can run circles around me and not even think twice about it.


Carol Haggerty Willoughby said...

Hahaha... I knew Dad and Mary would be able to go the distance. They were too excited to miss anything AND they've been known to debate and chat until 4:00 in the morning. I find, sometimes, I can't keep up with Dad either.

Thanks for the story and pics, Tom.

Anonymous said...

...hi Tom, thanks for the history lesson, and mostly thanks for being honest and up front about your roots.

Many times when I hear people's linage they are related to some king or prince, or related to some great aunt who is 3rd removed from some cousin's father's wife and was notoriety, it somehow transpires that fame to the person telling the story.

I never hear about being related to some commoner, or horse shoe cobbler, or worse to Aunt Josephine who just liked to stay home and bake bread.

Akin to Star Trek conventions, where one would see everyone dressed up as some high ranking officer or famous alien. Never see many red shirts or custodians...



Maria said...

I see that this was posted years ago, but I found it digging desperately for a connection between McLaughlin's and the McDonnells. I have a pedigree via Gedcom, whereas I am related to a "James Ruan McLaughlin". Hell if I can figure out how. I see that Charles William McLaughlin SR. was born in 1804 in Northen Ireland and died in Pennsylvania.

There is a mention of Ruan's as well in this pedigree. James Ruane born in 1801 from Carrareagh, Mayo....he died in Philly.

The McDonnells I am related to were from Mayo and moved to the Scranton Pittston area.

I have not the first clue where my blood ties into this group. Do you have any suggestions?


Tom McLaughlin said...

Well, Maria, lately some doubt has been raised about my ancestors even being named McDonnell. Some in my extended family think the name is mistaken for McDonald. I'm still not sure. I have not gone too much further with that thread of ancestry since writing the article eight years ago. That line of my ancestry has only been expanded in the realm of Peter and Kate's descendants, most of whom moved away from the Scranton area to the Boston area.

Sorry I cannot be of more help.