I made my first trip to Ireland in May of 2007, with The Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA) group, of which I am the webmaster.
I signed up for a research week in Dublin as well as the week of sightseeing in Mayo and Sligo.
My husband Charlie joined me at the end of the second week, and we drove to my ancestral townlands.
I knew my ancestors' townlands before I went. My great grandfather,
Patrick Coyne, was born in
Doocastle, Kilturra Parish, County Mayo, right on the border of County Sligo.
His mother was Margaret McGettrick from Moylough, Curry Parish, County Sligo.
My great grandmother, Mary Dever, was from Letterilly, Inishkeel Parish, County Donegal.
Patrick and Mary both emigrated to America in 1880, and met and married in Boston in 1885.
My knowledge of Patrick’s family came from a letter written by his niece in Ireland in 1937,
about the family tree. The facts I have been able to research show that she was correct in
every detail. During the research week in Dublin, I studied the parish records and found
baptisms for some of Patrick’s siblings. Patrick was born before the register was recorded.
Patrick’s father, Michael Coen, is listed in the Griffith Valuation in 1857, living in
Doocastle. (Only Patrick used the Coyne spelling – the rest of the family used Coen.)
Michael was still alive when the 1900 census was taken, aged 70, along with his son
John (Patrick’s brother). The Griffith valuation cancellation books show that John
took over the land in 1912, but Michael was not in the 1911 census, so there must be
some delay in the Griffith records. John eventually bought the land when the laws
were changed to allow Irish farmers to purchase their farms.
The Griffith map for Doocastle in 1857 shows the plot of land the family lived on,
very close to a prehistoric monument called Doomore Fort. I hoped that I
would be able to locate the fort, and from there, the family farm.
While in Castlebar during the second TIARA week, we went to the County
Library and looked through their records. I was able to obtain more
up-to-date maps of Doocastle. The librarian was very helpful, and
brought me an article from the Swinford Echo, 1961 called “The Memoir of Joe Mor”
by John Garvin. about “Joe Mor”, who lived in “Doo Castle”. As I read through,
I realized this man was my great-great-grandfather’s landlord.
Joseph Myles MacDonell – aka Joe Mor – was described as one of the ancient Irish chieftains,
born several hundred years too late. He was spendthrift, gambler, sportsman, politician and
bankrupt. Upon his accession to Doocastle, his first action was to clear a number of
tenants off the land and plant “the big wood” in their stead. Although there actually
was a Doo Castle, it was in ruins, and Joe lived in a thatched cottage close to the site.
When Joe was the Member of Parliament for County Mayo (1846-47), he used Doo Castle as his
address. Unfortunately, no one was fooled. There was a curse or prophecy saying that
Joe Mor “would see the birds flying through his blackened rafters”. When Joe read a
reference to himself in an English periodical, suggesting that the Honourable Member
for Mayo would be better engaged in keeping the cattle from eating the straw roof of
his “castle’ than in acting as a legislator in the Mother of Parliaments, Joe threw
the paper in the fire, and the resulting sparks set the roof aflame! – thus fulfilling the prophecy.
Another story tells of a liquor dealer in Dublin who sold a quantity of fine wines
and spirits to Joe. After a long wait and many requests for payment, the dealer
decided to pay Joe a visit. Joe was regaling his friends with expensive wines
for which he had not paid. Despairing, the dealer tried one more time: “Joe, wouldn’t your friends prefer drinking punch?”
“Of course they would”, said Joe, “a great deal more!”
“Well, why serve them expensive wine, then? Why not give them punch?” asked the dealer.
“Because”, confided Joe, “where would I get the money to buy lemons?”
Joe kept a pack of beagles which had been reared from pups boarded out on his tenantry.
He released a wagon-load of hares in the locality, first stipulating that all his
tenants should destroy their dogs so that his beagles should have a monopoly of the
hares. On another occasion, to win a bet about whether his dogs could track in the
dark, Joe sent out two of his servants with pieces of foxskins concealed in the
linings of their coats unknown to themselves, and then released the beagles after
them. Had they not guessed what he had done, and climbed trees, the beagles would
have killed them, for it seems they could indeed track at night!
It is amazing to think that my great-great-grandfather, Michael Coen, was one of Joe’s tenants!
When we drove to Doocastle, armed with ancient maps, we had some trouble
identifying the right plot. I stopped and asked the postmistress, and she
told me of an old Coen house, but it did not seem to be in the right place.
I asked her if she knew Doomore Fort , and she said “Oh yes, we used to play
there as children”. Following her directions, we came to Doomore Fort, and
there beside it was an old house, in good condition, but empty. I took my
pictures, nearly sure it was the right place, That evening, at the B & B, the
owner called Michael Coen, the owner of the local petrol station, who lives in
Doocastle. I explained what I knew of my family, but it wasn’t until I said “They
lived in the Ballyglass area of Doocastle” that Michael knew who my family was. He
confirmed that I had taken photos of my great-grandfather’s house. The family had long since died or moved away, but I had my thrill!
Doomore Fort, Doocastle
Coen House in Doocastle
Next, we drove to Moylough, the next township, but lying in County Sligo. We found a
marker commemorating the finding the “Moylough Belt”, a prehistoric and very beautiful
belt containing saint’s relics, currently residing in the National Archaeology
Museum in Dublin.
Moylough Belt Sign
Frustrated at being unable to find any recognizable landmarks,
we pulled into the church car park. I poked my head into the adjoining community
center, but they seemed to be holding a meeting, so I left. A woman came running
after me, saying that they were giving a lecture about Moylough, and we were
welcome to join! She gave us tea and sandwiches, and we listened to the speaker.
After the talk, he introduced himself as Brian Cahill, recently retired School
Superintendent for Moylough. I explained my quest, and he studied my maps. My
great-great-grandmother’s three brothers, John, Lawrence and Martin McGetrick,
were all listed in Moylough in Griffith’s Valuation. Martin had plots 3A, 3B, 3C, and 3D,
along the road. Suddenly Brian realized: we were standing on the plot! Martin had
donated the land on which the church was built! “Old Tom McGetrick must have been
your relation!” said Brian. “He lived right along here, next to the school, and he
would let us pick his apples as we passed by. The public well was on his property,
and since there was no water in the school, we all made a bee-line for the well as soon as we got out!”
McGetrick's Lime Kiln
Brian took us to the house, barn, fields, lime kiln, well, and the spot where the old
thatched-roof church had stood. There was a fine but unoccupied two-story house, for
this family had been well off. One of the plots was planted with fine shade-trees. “Only a
wealthy man can afford that”, Brian said. Old Tom McGettrick had died a bachelor in 1984,
the last of his family. Brian directed us to the graveyard, on the far side of Tubbercurry,
where we found the family plot. Tom’s father was Martin’s son John, so Tom was my second cousin, twice removed.