Thursday, January 15, 2009

In search of Irish roots: A long and winding road

I have known that I was Irish for as long as I can remember. As an American kid who enjoyed "dressing the part" on holidays in school (red and pink for Valentine's Day, red and green for the Christmas season, a special dress for my birthday...), I looked forward to St. Patrick's Day. I proudly wore my green. At one point I received a T-shirt that boldly proclaimed, "Proud to be Irish". It was only the beginning of my collection of "greenwear". Today I have many more appropriate St. Patrick's Day articles of clothing and accessories, particularly because St. Patrick's Day celebrations go on for such a long time for Irish dancing families such as mine.

Having a knowledge of my Irish heritage was one thing. Having specific information about it was another thing entirely. I began seeking details about my Irish ancestry as a young lady in the form of questions to my grandparents. Later my research became more formal and serious - I wanted to learn the details about my family's history.

One particular piece of information that I sought was the specific locality in Ireland of my ancestral villages. Where in Ireland was I from? I wasn't content just to continue researching my family on this side of the Atlantic, I wanted to know where in Ireland I would need to visit when I finally planned my long-awaited trip.

It was many years after my initial queries to my grandparents that I finally learned the county of origin of one of the branches of my family. My great-great-grandfather Patrick Tierney's name had been lost to our family for at least two generations. After discovering his name and piecing together data from census records, city directories, vital records and newspaper clippings, I was able to gain an overview of his life - from young boy living through the Great Famine, to Irish immigrant, to husband, father and laborer in Boston's North End. It was the Declaration of Intent within his naturalization papers, which I received from the National Archives in Boston, that gave me the clue to his Irish county of origin. Handwritten clearly on this document was the phrase "County Tipperary, Ireland".

Learning this news was very exciting to me - now I could at least hone in on one county in Ireland. No matter that it was a very large county: it was my family's ancestral home.

After learning this exciting news our family had a little celebration of sorts, complete with the singing of a round of the favorite: "It's a long way to Tipperary". It certainly had been a long way to Tipperary. I had been in search of specific knowledge about my family's origins in Ireland for so long, and now I was finally able to hone in on one county. Well, for at least one branch, that is. Now to narrow down my roots within Tipperary, and start working to confirm the Cowhey family's roots in Cork and/or Limerick, starting with my immigrant ancestor Patrick Cowhey. Then I've got work to do on my Donnelly, Foley, McGonigle/McGonigal, Graham, McCue, Rogers, Kennedy and O'Neill lines. I detailed my research plans for a few of my family's branches during an earlier edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

So many avenues for this one Irish genealogist to pursue! Now to find some cousins interested in working along with me. Just imagine once I find all of these ancestral villages, what a long and wonderful trip I'll be taking to the homeland of my ancestors!

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