You might think that finding “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” would pose a challenge to any researcher but I struck it lucky with a circular letter I posted out, back in 1987, to any relatives I could identify. You see where I was indeed fortunate was that Mary married a Bavarian man, George Mathias KUNKEL, which made name searching so much easier. I suspect I’d have been stymied if she’d married Michael Ryan, for example.
Anyway my circular letter found its way to one of George and Mary’s surviving grandchildren, Anne Kunkel. Anne was an absolute goldmine! Not only was she a grandchild but she had lived with George and Mary on their farm at the Fifteen Mile, near Murphys Creek, Queensland. She obviously knew her grandmother very well and she had so many stories to tell me about their lives, and also the relatives. Anne was that precious person, a reliable witness. All the bare-bones data I had from births, deaths and marriage indexes, which I might add were much more restricted in those days, were confirmed by Anne, with one exception: one child had been born Elizabeth but thereafter known as Louisa. What I did know from both the oral history and the certificates was that the O’Brien parents were Michael O’BRIEN and Catherine REDDAN.
The other precious thing Anne gave me was the gateway into the O’Brien ancestry. She could tell me Mary’s parents’ names, her siblings’ names, whether they emigrated and to where, as well as the women’s married names. You can imagine just how important all this was.
Anne told me that Mary emigrated with her sister Bridget O’BRIEN, that they’d been six months at sea and “had a job before ever they got here”.. You can read a recent post about how I may have found her emigration here.
Anne also knew that Bridget had married a man named John WIDDUP and lived in New South Wales. I was lucky to have another unusual name to pursue and was able to order Bridget WIDDUP’s death certificate on which her son had provided Bridget’s place of birth as Broadford, Co Clare, even though he’d got her mother’s name incorrect. My Bavarian grandfather had only ever provided “County Clare” when asked that question for certificates.
And so the story unfolded. I was given the link to 4th cousins in Sydney, and thanks to work trips there I was able to meet with them. They held a treasure trove of family photographs, funeral cards and anecdotes. Their ancestor, Honora O’Brien, Mary’s sister, had remained in Ireland and married a man name John GARVEY from Ballydonaghan townland, Bodyke. During the 1886 evictions, Honora and John very nearly lost their home. Over the decades that followed a number of Honora’s children emigrated permanently or temporarily to the United States, but several also came to Sydney where their aunt Catherine was living.
Honora Garvey remained in Ireland throughout her long life. Her husband John pre-deceased her on 4 March 1888. Honora died, aged 76, on 12 January 1917 at Ballydonaghan townland and her son Denis was present at her death. She is buried in the old Bodyke cemetery, County Clare, and is remembered on the far side of the world in the stained glass windows of St Peter’s Church, Surry Hills. The windows were donated by her Australian-based family in her memory.
Catherine O’Brien, emigrated to Australia and married a man who was also from Broadford (Glenomera), Patrick HOGAN. The Hogan and Garvey families lived close to each other and maintained close family relationships over many decades, retaining knowledge of their kin in Ireland and America.
Meanwhile back in Ireland, sister Margaret O’Brien married William McNAMARA and settled in Killaderry townland in Broadford. Another sister, Ellen O’Brien, married Thomas KINNANE from Hurdleston townland (various spellings), Broadford. This couple, with children Tom, Michael and Mary, reportedly emigrated to New York. I haven’t spent much time trying to find this family but should add it to my research list.
One brother, John O’BRIEN, who was baptised in 1848, remains a mystery. Not only does he not feature in the oral history, I can find no trace of him beyond 1859/60 when he appears in the parish register as a witness to two baptisms. (The Broadford parish register is available on microfilm
Mary’s brother Thomas O’BRIEN remained in Ireland and inherited the family farm after his parents’ deaths. In due course it moved out of the family, a fact which can be traced through the Griffith Valuation Revisions. Thanks to the assistance of the local clergy I was put in touch with the man who owned it in 1992, and he generously showed me the land.
It’s easy to see just how important it is to get your message out there, and find a reliable person to share the oral history. And in case this all sounds too idyllic, let me tell you that my grandfather was George and Mary’s eldest grandchild and would have known them well. Although he lived next door to me all my life, I never heard any of this from him because he was disenfranchised from his family, and also I was probably caught up in my own pre-teen world.
The other significant aspect of the story is the importance of chain migration for the Irish, with one person in the family following another, as well as their determination to select which migration option best suited them.
If you would like to share your story here, please let me know. I promise not to harass everyone with requests.