Mom and the Girls' Trip to Ireland - 2016

Beyond the Pale



Though they had a rough voyage in crossing the Atlantic, my great-grandpa, John Connell Swift, and his sister, Little Aunt Mary, safely reached America and settled for a brief time in New York, where their brother and sister, Martin and Bridget, were already living.

After a few years, during which time John found work driving horses on the Erie Canal and Mary worked as a housekeeper, they followed Martin and Bridget to Oneida, Illinois, settling in a community of other Irish immigrants. There, John was a partner in a teamster business, hauling goods for farmers during a time when the rail lines were still being developed in that part of the country.

John became a naturalized citizen in 1858 at the Knox County courthouse in Galesburg, Illinois. He saved his money to buy land, and whenever he could spare a few dollars, he sent it back to Ireland to family members because he remembered how hungry he had been while he lived in Ballylee. Sometimes he sent passage money, and those who came to America eventually found their way to Iowa to thank him. Over the years, he paid the passage for as many as seventeen others to come to this country.

While in Oneida, John met his wife, Mary C. Rimmer, through their mutual friends the Sullivans. In 1864, they married in Galesburg, Illinois, and the following year, they moved to Iowa by horse and wagon. He had seen land near Ainsworth that he considered the best farm land, and he set his sights on a piece of ground adjacent to one his brother Martin purchased.

John and Mary's union was a long and happy marriage, producing fourteen children, though touched by the tragedy of losing three of their babies as infants.

John C. and Mary Rimmer Swift family, 1895

John C. and Mary Swift family, circa 1895. Back row, left to right: Julia, Margaret, Teresa, Mary Emma, Agnes, John and Kate. Front row, left to right: Martha, George, Mary Cecily, Martina, John C. and Gertrude.

Little Aunt Mary, too, moved to Iowa. She supported herself as a housekeeper and caring for others. She worked hard and saved enough money to buy her own house. When she died in 1920 at the age of 87, she left money in her will to pay for her funeral and gravemarker, a "high mass of Requiem," sums of various amounts to nieces, nephews and others, and a hundred dollars to the St. Vincent's Orphans Home of Davenport, IA.

Mary Anna Swift (Little Aunt Mary)

Mary Anna Swift (Little Aunt Mary)

They never forgot Ballylee, and John made sure that his children and his grandchildren knew about his family roots in County Galway. He died in 1919, at the age of 87 years and is buried in Washington, Iowa. Today, 166 years since he left his Uncle Paddy's cottage in Ballylee, John Connell Swift's descendants number in the hundreds. Several of them have traveled to Ballylee to see the place which was once home to their immigrant ancestor. And in the generations to come, I expect several more will make the trip, too.

Update - July 2016
A few months after we returned from our trip, I had the opportunity to travel back to Washington, Iowa and visit some cousins. We went to Elm Grove Cemetery, where I left a little bit of Ballylee on the resting places of my great grandfather and his sister, Little Aunt Mary. May they rest in peace.

Placing soil at John's grave

Placing soil from Ballylee at John C. Swift's grave

John C. Swift's resting place

Mary Anna Swift's grave

Little Aunt Mary's grave

Other stuff and 2023 trip

This page was last edited on 09-Apr-2023

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