A Warm Irish Welcome

September 22, 23, & 26, 2019 – Ireland

Written by Diana

We are back from our U.K. & Ireland adventure, but still catching up the blog.

Please note the dates.

September 22, 2019

My maternal grandfather was Howard O’Morrow. I have been able to trace this branch of my family tree to my 2nd Great Grandfather, Edward M. O’Morrow, who was born in Ireland in 1808. I’m not sure what town he was born in or what year he immigrated, but he died in Canada in 1880. Based on family stories and the fact that the years match up, I’m confident that he left Ireland due to the Potato Famine. Blight devastated the potato crop and during the seven years between September 1845 – 1852, one million people died, and one million people were forced to leave. 100,000 tenant farmers were exiled to Canada in 1847 alone. When we left Northern Ireland and drove to the Republic of Ireland, our first stop was Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum.

This was the home of Denis Mahon, the first landlord to be assassinated during the height of the Great Famine of Ireland in 1840’s. The tenants and their families were starving and delivered this letter to him, but resorted to violence when their letter received no results.

The landowners were responsible for taking care of the starving tenants. They determined it was cheaper to assist in their emigration, rather than pay for their upkeep in the workhouse. The ships they provided were so crowded with already weak passengers, that the mortality rate was often as high as 40%. There is a memorial on Grosse Ile in Quebec, Canada to the 5,000 Irish who did not survive the voyage and are interred in mass graves on the island. The home of Denis Mahon, called Strokestown Park was musty and not well preserved. The National Famine Museum, on the same property, was well done. It took a sad, complicated tragedy, and presented it in a balanced and understandable way.

Edward M.’s son, Edward Dean O’Morrow (my Great Grandfather), was born in Canada in 1862, immigrated to the thumb area of Michigan as a young man in 1881, was a dairy farmer, and died there in 1944. The fact they were able to own their own land through homesteading and their own hard work, certainly shows they were successful in their new country. What pride they must have had in owning their own land and farm, when generations before them were at the mercy of the landowners as tenant farmers in Ireland.

September 23, 2019

Our second day in Ireland was an exciting one. It seemed like we fit three days worth of fun into one. The first thing we did was visit the Barack Obama Plaza. (If this makes you groan, just chalk it up to us needing diesel.😀) When Barack was President, researchers from Ireland determined that he had Irish heritage on his mom’s side. They decided to name a service plaza near his ancestral home after him. Michelle and Barack came in 2011 to the tiny village of Moneygall, where they met his closest living Irish relative. On the second floor of the plaza, there is a very nice museum that celebrates the many U.S. Presidents that have Irish roots.

Imagine how thrilled we were that Michelle and Barack O’Bama were back for a visit!

Next we visited the nearby town of Toomevara. Before computers and ancestry.com, one of my distant relatives researched the O’Morrow family. He put in a lot of effort, traveling, and even taking classes in Irish history. He still was unable to find much information. He determined that our Irish ancestors were not landowners. He also shared that his research showed that the O’Morrow name went back to either O’Mara, Mara, O’Meara, or Meara. Since Toomevara means “Tomb of the O’Mearas” we felt that this was a good place to start. Jim had a feeling that we should go to St. Joseph’s Parish and check out the cemetery. We were able to find O’Meara and Ryan (Edward M.’s wife’s maiden name), but they were too recent as we were looking for graves of their possible parents which would have been from the early to mid 1800’s.

We decided to go inside and check out the church, hoping the rain would let up some. A couple came in the vestibule and were putting out new bulletins, so I figured they were local. I asked if they knew how old the graves were in the cemetery and the man became very excited when he heard we were from America. He has a sister in California and he insisted that he help us. He wanted us to get in his car, so he could take us to the people in town that know about its history. We thanked him, but declined his offer. He said we could walk then and insisted we come with him. He was so determined to help us, that we took off for what we thought was to be a short walk with him. First we went to the post office, because the postmaster knows a lot of the area history. The post office was closed for lunch. So we continued on in the rain and wind several more blocks to the priest’s house who also knows the history of the parish. Unfortunately, the priest was not at home. Neither did he answer when our new friend called him on the phone. Next stop, back across the road, and down a ways to the gas station. Our friend William was greeted by the locals as we walked up in the rain and wind. While Jim and I were wearing our raincoats, he led this whole adventure in his sweater! Yes, we looked out of place.

William asked the young woman behind the counter if her parents were there. She called her father on the phone, and he came to the store to help us. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. Her father Richie suggested we needed to go to Nenagh Heritage Centre and see Nora who is the genealogist. Richie said once I got the details from Nora, to come back to him and he would find the graves for me! Unfortunately, the museum was closed that day. When we got back in the motor home I broke down and cried. I couldn’t believe how these people had gone out of their way to make us crazy Americans feel so welcome.

We topped off the day with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. The weather cooperated so we could get in a short hike. Beautiful!

September 26, 2019

On our last day in Ireland we went to the Nenagh Heritage Centre to speak with Nora. After some initial confusion, Nora was able to explain that (O)Morrow and O’Meara/Mara are two different surnames. Morrow is Protestant (which fits with my heritage) and O’Meara/Mara is Catholic. Morrow is now more common in Ulster than in England where it originated. This is important information and will help my further research.

Next up, we meet up with some good friends who are off on an adventure of their own! We spent a fabulous day with them exploring a distillery and a ticket office. That will round out our time in Ireland before we return to England. Be sure to tune in for that post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

15 thoughts on “A Warm Irish Welcome”

  1. Wow! To actually meet a former president and his wife is something you’ll never forget! And in a foreign country! You certainly found out more about your Irish roots than we did, but then you also asked more questions and did more research than we did. We were just happy to be in the vicinity of where our ancestors were from. Both of us could really feel a connection, though. I hope you are able to continue your research and learn more now that you are home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s amazing how real those cardboard cutouts look. Sorry for any confusion. There is also a life size statue of both of them out front that we noticed as we were driving away. We also felt a connection and commented that much of the scenery would have looked the same as when my ancestors lived there.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was off the trail Gaelyn, so it was good that Nora was able to point me in the right direction. I sure would have liked to have claimed those wonderful people in Toomevara though. It was so close to Barack’s ancestral home, that I was sure we were cousins!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How amazing a story about the help from the couple in Ireland. Those stories have to be told so we all remember life is full of great people. I’m enjoying reading about your trip.

    Karen and I were at the RV park laundry and I found a book to read – with lots of photos – regarding American history. I don’t recall the year it happened but at some point the steerage class tickets on ships coming to America was reduced to $10 each. They could earn that money back in a week with a job in America. At the time wages here were three times that in Europe. Apparently the shipping companies also received money from various governments which they used to build more and larger ships. As I recall the article stated it was cheaper to ship people to America than to deal with the issues in Europe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting, Mark. My Scottish and Irish relatives immigrated to Canada in part because the United States had passed laws about overcrowding on ships. A big part of the problem during the Potato Famine was that the people were already starving to death when they were placed on the ships. Also we learned that the Titanic was the first time that meals were included for steerage passengers. Prior to that steerage passengers had to bring their own food for the voyage.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jim. I heard about the potato famine growing up, but also did not know the details. A fact that I find interesting is that by 1890, two of every five Irish-born people were living outside of Ireland.

      Like

  3. How overwhelming to find such friendly and helpful people in a place of your roots. It still runs in your blood too! I love that President Obama also has Irish heritage like so many of our past leaders. Those cliffs are beautiful. Your research really paid off for this wonderful adventure! Glad I’m finally getting caught up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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