My visit to Ireland is a four-handed affair.
The first was the family history bit in County Mayo, over the past few days.
Much work on this has already been done over many years by relatives, which led me to the Culnacleha Crossroads.
This is where, in 1841, my bit of the Cunnane family lived. Later, at the time of the potato famine, one of the sons emigrated to Liverpool and moved to Derby where he married. The couple were my Great Grandparents.
A distant cousin visited this place about 30 years ago and found only ruined cottages with no roofs. Now, the ruined cottages must all have been renovated to smart houses during the Irish boom years of the 1990s.
There's no church nor graveyard in Culnacleha, so no tangible place to start research. But in Tulrohaun, the next hamlet, there's a Post Office and a cemetary. The cemetary holds four Cunnane headstones covering the years 1912 to 2009, but nothing as far back as 1841.
A local farmer asked me what name I was looking for.
"Cunnane." I said, as it's spelt and as we always say it in South London.
"Arrh, C'nyon!" he said.
The first item of research - how to pronounce it!
"There're no C'nyons in Culnacleha, don't know if ever there were in the 1800s. There's two C'nyon houses in Carrowmore West about two miles along the road. The rest are up in Bricken."
Well, it's Cunnanes of the early 1800s I'm looking for rather than modern-day C'nyons, but everything's useful and lots more interesting info was to come my way.
I felt a pull to The Post Office (started work there nearly 50 years ago) so set off to find the Tulrohaun Post Mistress.
Despite the hamlet comprising only four houses and the graveyard, it took a bit of searching, as the Post Office is just one room at the far end of one of the houses, the end away from the road.
Well, the Post Mistress is about 70 and had a complete record of all headstones in the cemetary, with photos, in her sideboard. And confirmed what the farmer had told me earlier.
"Also," she said. "Try the priest at Bekan. All the others around here are too young to know much. He'll be sure to be able to help. All the records are there."
The next stop for now was Logboy Church in another hamlet adjacent to Culnacleha. No cemetary and hardly a house that I could see. Inside was one pew dedicated to the family of Martin Cunnane of Carrownedan, a hamlet in the wrong direction from Culnacleha.
Then on to Bricken church. By now I had found that all these hamlets have three or more spellings. Many of them have similar names, so it gets a bit tricky. Bricken can be Brickeen, or Brickin.
Anyway, no Cunnanes there, nor in the tiny graveyard. But there were a few huge headstones in a tinier enclosed area, for the Crean family, from the 1870s to the 1950s. That's OK, I'll be visiting Tom Crean's South Pole Inn down in the South, a week and a half later, with Mike.
But in the Church I bumped into an elderly local.
"Come outside," he said. "I'll show you a Cunnane house just across the field. But it's empty now, has been for many years."
He then reeled off a list of names of the folks who lived there. All now in the Tulrohaun cemetary if I heard him correctly.
The empty house in Bricken.
Next was Bekan church and its cemetary. This is quite a way from Culnacleha, but the records (such as they turned out to be) are here. Lots of Cunnanes as well, from 1918 to 2010. And a memorial pew in the church to Mrs John Cunnane of Treenreevagh, a hamlet way over the wrong side from Culnacleha.
A few days earlier I had looked on the internet at the guides to the records in the National Library of Ireland, and the National Archives.
Both announced that in the Parish of Annagh, which is where all this research is taking place, (and includes the shrine at Knock), the only old records surviving are baptisms from 1875 to 1880.
Not much, as later confirmed by the priest at Bekan.
"I don't know of any Cunnanes ever researching their history. Hardly any old records exist around here," he told me.
On first arriving in Mayo I visited the library at Claremorris, the main town in this area. The librarian had some useful books, one of which explained that Mayo was a particularly poor county (and Annagh one of the poorest parishes I think).
If a parish couldn't afford people who had the skills to write, then no records were kept.
"When someone died, the villagers would just take him into a field and look after him in the simplest way. No record would be made," I read.
Taking photos at Culnacleha Cross Roads I met another local couple. They confirmed that there were no Cunnanes in Culnacleha, and that two houses along the road in Carrowmore West were in the Cunnane family, but that one had been empty for quite a while.
I suppose one of my most notable discoveries has been the pronunciation of the family name.
A parishioner in the church in Bekan, and cemetary workers I met there, both said, "C'nyarn is the fancy way of saying it, if you're clergy or someone. Otherwise it's C'nyon."
Another discovery was in Bekan church. As well as the pew dedicated to John Cunnane's wife, about a third of all the pews there carry this label:
And a bit of further research revealed that in Knock Folk Museum is a document showing the indenture of one William Cunnane, son of John Mark Cunnane, as apprentice carpenter to James Sloyan, Carpenter, of Knock. Dated 23rd September 1895.
By then, his cousin who had emigrated to Liverpool about thirty years earlier was bringing up a few children in Derby, one of whom was Peter, my Grandad, born 1879.
All this rather brings me to the conclusion that the Culnacleha arm of the family may well have been somewhat isolated from all the other Cunnanes, for some reason or other. Geographically, the majority of them lived around Bekan with quite a few to the south around Bricken and others just to the northwest in Knock. Culnacleha is out of that area, to the southeast up against the boundary with Roscommon.
Maybe that's what led at least one of them to emigrate to England.
Moving on, I'd set aside a day to visit the National Library of Ireland and the National Records next to Trinity College in Dublin. Which I did earlier today.
One of the books I'd browsed in Claremorris library warned about the practicality of this: "You're quite likely to be spinning through miles of microfilm stuffed full of names, examining the names starting with A and then B and C, suddenly finding you've arrived at the Ts with no awareness at all of having read the Ds, Es, F,G,H.... Winding all the way back will be needed and trying to stay awake for 20 minutes at the second attempt!"
Yes, it's almost like that. The helpful librarian, agreeing that no births, deaths or marriage records exist for the period I'm looking at, suggested a few ancient survey publications:
"The Tithe Applotment Book of the Irish Church Temporalities Commission. Diocese of Tuam, Parish of Annagh, January 1835."
So I toddled off to the grand reading room here:
Only matched by the fat armchairs and tables in the grand gents toilet.
Which one to fall asleep in?
With the microfilm loaded, a spin of the viewer revealed page upon page of spidery, faded and creased handwriting, hardly legible, and not in any order.
So just for posterity I copied a couple of pages on which something resembling the word 'Culnacleha' appeared in the left hand column.
What do you think?
The other columns are for the name of the landholder followed by acreages held, quality, rents paid etc, repeated twice for 'Titheable' and 'Untitheable'.
There was a little entertainment to be had in deciphering the entries under 'Quality'.
I could make out Arable, Bog, Rock & Bog, Stoney, Bottom Pasture, Inferior. Others were so technical I couldn't make them out at all.
I tried one more of the librarian's suggestions. A learned journal entitled 'Persons Who Have Suffered Losses in Their Property in the 1798 Rebellion'.
Another few miles of microfilm.
(By the way, I discovered from an old map that there are Irish miles and English miles, or Miliarium Hibernicorum and Anglicorum)
I found the records for the County of Mayo in the last Miliarium Hibernicorum of the film. There were no Cunnanes among the persons suffering losses.
So that's about the end of that - for now...
Next up: a visit to Dublin's BMW dealer for the Clancy Centenary Ride to Belfast via Donegal.
Posted by Ken Thomas at October 22, 2012 08:48 PM GMT
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