Mom and the Girls' Trip to Ireland - 2016

Beyond the Pale


Kiltartan - part 1

May 17

Today was a full day -- and Mom managed all of it superbly! That is the best news. She was able to go up and down the stairs (slowly) with one of us just near her but not necessarily supporting her. To get in and out of the car or the wheelchair still required some help lifting or steadying, but she has not had a pain pill or an Advil and hasn’t even used a cuss word for the past 24 hours.

We started our day with a yummy Irish breakfast -- what Brenda described as a "light breakfast," but it included her homemade scones, brown bread, toast, scrambled eggs, bacon (rather like what we'd call Canadian bacon), orange juice and coffee/tea. I cannot imagine what was left out if this was the light version.

breakfast at Kinvara

By 10:30 a.m., we were at the doors of the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Gort, and Sister DeLourdes was there and ready. After speedy introductions, we packed her in our car, and with Sara driving to Sister's directions, off we went. She took us to dozens of places around Gort, starting with a little meadow enclosed in bramble-covered stone walls not far from Thoor Ballylee. The meadow was empty, but somewhere in the enclosure – we cannot be sure of the exact spot -- was where the Thomas Swift family home stood nearly 200 years ago. This is where their children were born – Martin, Bridget, John, Mary and Catherine (who died before reaching adulthood.)

Thomas Swift family home site in Ballylee

Thomas Swift family home site

I duly photographed the empty field from all angles. (I'll examine those images closely later to see if any spirits of the Swifts appear in them.) That stop was followed by others at home sites of the Connells/Larkins, the Cusacks, other Swifts, Sister's own Fahy family, Mary McDonnell, John Cooney, Brendan Downey, Benny Downey, and other Swifts. While we were still in Gort, Sister pointed out a building across from the old Glynn Hotel (where Martha, Steve and I stayed during our 1992 visit.) The place known as the O’Donnell’s Pub today was once the home of Honoria Swift Hynes, a first cousin of Great-Grandpa Swift. Aunt Agnes visited Honoria at this location in 1911.

Our visit to Thoor Ballylee was brief, but we plan to return here on Thursday morning before we leave the area. Volunteers and contractors were busy in the cottage and tower, cleaning and repairing all the damage done by the winter flooding. The December storm (Desmond) dumped excessive amounts of rain in an already saturated landscape, and the flooded streams inundated the entire lower floor of the tower and cottage. The water had been as high as the eaves of the thatched roof, so the workers are presently gutting the building and making needed repairs to get it in shape for reopening in June. We did not want to get in their way, so we just peeked in the first room and went back out (except for Martha, who stayed in there quite a long time, taking pictures.)

Mattie Farrell, Molly Daniel, Sister DeLourdes Fahy, Roberta Clark at Thoor Ballyee

Mattie Farrell, Molly Daniel, Sister DeLourdes Fahy, Roberta Clark at Thoor Ballyee

Thoor Ballylee

Thoor Ballylee

at Thoor Ballylee

Martha, Annis and Roberta at the
cottage at Thoor Ballylee

It was at Thoor Ballylee, where Sister had asked a friend, Mattie Farrell, to meet us. He was a cheerful, charming man who lives near Ballylee (in Dromorehill) and remembers some of our cousins from the past (the Larkin family in particular.) He had beautiful white hair and a face that radiated a smile all the while we were with him.

From Ballylee, Mattie accompanied us toward the Dromorehill townland, which is not a long distance (less than a mile), and it was an easy walk for John C. Swift from his home to the old tower.

We stopped at a pretty meadow with an old iron gate. There was a modern house in the adjacent lot, but in the meadow is where the Patrick Connell and Mary Hynes home once stood. Later it was the home of their daughter, Bridget, who married Michael Larkin. Mattie Farrell, our guide to this spot, remembered the sons of Bridget Larkin, and his face lit up when he mentioned them. This was the spot from which John C. Swift and his sister Little Aunt Mary emigrated in 1850. They had been living with Uncle Paddy before emigrating, and it was to his Uncle Paddy that Great-Grandpa sent money that elicited Paddy’s reply in this letter dated 15 May 1880:

Bally Lee, Ireland
15th May, 1880

My dear Nephew,

I received your very kind and welcome letter and check, value four pounds. And my dear nephew, I return you my best thanks, and love for your kindness in these trying times. May you or yours never want for health or means is the humble prayer of your fond uncle.

My dear Nephew, your kind remittance is of the greatest service in this hard time. May God bless you and yours.

My dear Nephew, I am delighted to hear that both you and family are enjoying good health as the departure of these lines leaves me and family at present, thank God, for all his kind benefits.

My dear Nephew, this country is in a very poor way. In all the relief that came, we did not get as much as one stone of India Meal and the people are getting the relief that is better off than what we are. However, we have to struggle on with many thanks to you as you are the best reliever to us. Indeed I may say nearly all the parishes are in need of relief. But, please God, in eight or ten weeks more people will be expecting their own relief with God’s blessing. All provisions are very dear but the potatoes are all done up now.

On the Fair Day of Gort, 10th May, when I received your letter, I went to pay my rent. I was short of the 10 which I had to borrow to pay up my half year’s rent or else we should give up the land. I received ten from my daughter two months ago, Miss Mary Malone, and I was most thankful to her for it.

My dear Nephew, I am sending you my love and blessing on my bended knees, for your very great kindness. I shall never forget you or your family.

You see, the landlords are not the best in these hard times. They have to get the rents, work or play.

I called on William John Nolan. He told me he received your letter but did not answer as yet with regards to sending you a boy. My dear Nephew, if you wish, I have a young man who I could recommend to you. A good working young man in case it would answer. Now, his name is Michael Walsh. If you wish to pay his passage, he will have no further delay.

Patrick Linskey's address is Boston, Massachusetts-Mtford. If I had Martin’s address, I would like to write to him. Let me know how all of you are looking or are ye getting old looking?

Your step-mother is well and in good health. Her daughter is gone to Queensland twelve months since. All the Cusacks are well. Also the Cooneys are well.

All my family joins me in love and blessing to you all. No more at present from your fond uncle. Thanking you again, my dear Nephew, I remain
your very affection uncle

Pat Connell

It was at the gate to Paddy Connell’s home where I deposited the little bit of soil I brought from John C.'s grave. (I did it on bended knee.) Mattie instantly appreciated the symbolism of that, asking me if I would like a little soil to take from that spot. I agreed that just a tiny bit might be okay, and he reached his hand through the gate and dug deep down into the thick grass there, pulling up a pinch of soil for me. So I have officially mixed a little Iowa with Ireland, and now perhaps I can take a little Ireland back to Iowa so that Great-Grandpa Swift can rest under a little piece of Ballylee.

Paddy Connell home site

Paddy Connell home site

sod from Iowa

Leaving a bit of soil from the grave
of John C. Swift

Taking soil to Iowa

Mattie reaches into the grass and pulls up
a bit of soil from Ballylee

From there, we drove in a northwesterly direction, pausing briefly at a site where Great-Grandpa's good friend, John Cooney was born. During their 1980 visit, Mother, Mike and Esther met a grandson of John Cooney – Brendon Downey. When they shared with him the contents of a letter written by Bridget Larkin in 1911 to Great Grandpa Swift, Brendon was moved by the line which read, “your good friend John Cooney is buried also lately.”

“John Cooney was my grandfather,” said Brendon. “I remember when he died. I was just a lad. I went to his funeral.”

Mother spoke often of that visit with Brendon and his wife, Mary, who invited them in their house for tea. Only days before our departure from the U.S. for this trip, thanks to some information that came to me via Uncle Mike and with confirmation from Sister Delourdes, we learned that Brendon Downey is our cousin. (His mother, Mary Cahill, was a granddaughter of Catherine Connell, a sister to Mary Connell.)

I was so excited at this new development on the family tree, that I called Mother right away to tell her.

“I knew it,” she said. “Or I felt it.” And that’s true -- she and Uncle Mike had each told me on separate occasions that they recalled that Brendon told them there was a kinship between their families, but he was not certain of the specifics.

continue with Kiltartan, pt 2
View a map of the places we visited in County Galway
Other stuff and 2023 trip

This page was last edited on 09-Apr-2023

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