Monday, January 6, 2014

Stories Mom Told me: St Patrick and where the Farrells came from in Ireland

St Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland.
From Wikimedia Commons.
We hear time and time again the warning that we should not listen too hard to family stories and that our pursuit of authentic family history is best served by solid research based on documentable facts. What to do when all leads and avenues run dry while that family story lives on? The answer: follow the only lead you have and fully investigate that family story.
Mom's own mother, Emma Susan (Whetstone) Williams (1896-1956) told Mom that her own grandmother, Mary Elizabeth (Farrell) House (1835-1919), said that they came from the place in Ireland where St. Patrick drove out the snakes. She was very clear about that. The place where St. Patrick drove out the snakes. Hmm. What to make of that?
Much has been written about St. Patrick and his life and times. Some could be fact and some could be fiction. The legend of the snakes might possibly fall under the fiction category... maybe. (Don't want to anger the saints!)
Of course the place to start is with the facts about the family. Thomas and Judah/Judith/Judy, his wife, were both born in Ireland, he about 1795 and she about 1815. They married about 1831 and their first child was born in Ireland in 1835, that being Mary Elizabeth, Mom's mother Emma's grandmother who told her where they came from.
They had a second child, Catherine (Farrell) Boxwell (1838-1910) in Ireland as well. By 1842 when they had their first sons, James and Thomas, they were in America and residing in Cumberland, Allegany, Maryland. Records seem to indicate that they immigrated in 1841 and that Thomas stated this on a naturalization record. I have not been lucky enough to see the original of this as it eludes me no matter where I turn. All I have is an index. Darn.
By the time of the 1850 US Census, the family is living in Morgan County, West Virginia (then Virginia), and Thomas is working as a farmer. Thomas died in 1851 leaving his wife with seven children.
But wait, let's get back to St. Patrick and the location of those snakes driven out. Where exactly did they all come from in Ireland? Mom thought that maybe one time she heard from a fellow Farrell researcher that they came from County Clare. I tracked this lady down and she doesn't remember that, but it's been many years ago she said, and she doesn't keep up with it all anymore. Maybe it was County Clare, but maybe not.
Now I have to say right here that I don't know where they came from in Ireland, not with proof certain, so I don't want you to be reading along thinking that this is one of those stories in which a lot of hard work paid off and the family story is proven or disproven. It's not like that at all. I'll probably be working on this for years and years, and I don't mind. I like the work.
I'm taking what I can from Grandma Emma's repeating of the story she heard from her own grandmother, that she came from the place in Ireland where St. Patrick drove out the snakes. I had searched a little around that topic a long time ago and come up empty. It was quite a while back and the internet wasn't what it is now. But the best recent clue came from TV and a Smithsonian Channel show, Sky View: The Emerald Isle. In it Croagh Patrick is identified as the very place that St. Patrick is said to have driven the snakes from Ireland. It's a beautiful spot overlooking Clew Bay in County Mayo. When watching the Sky View program I was reminded of the family story and ran to the computer to start searching all over again.
Were there any Farrells at all in County Mayo? Because family stories aside, if no Farrells lived there, it's no good at all. I figured that there should be some in Griffith's Valuation of 1856-57, that is if (big if) the family had ever resided there. Yes, there are Farrells all over the place. And the names Thomas and James appear often. That's encouraging.
What does this all mean now? Not a lot to go on. Just an interesting family story and a possible connection. I've just started looking. They were Catholics and that will help. If I'm lucky, I might find their marriage record and a baptism record for Mary and Catherine. It's going to be a long hard search with no guarantee of any results. And I don't mind a bit.
Mary Elizabeth (Farrell) House (1835-1919) who said they came from the place in Ireland where St. Patrick drove out the snakes, and her husband Samuel Albert House (1832-1917).

Her daughter, Catherine Elizabeth (House) Whetstone (1865-1946).

Mom and her mother, Emma, and grand daughter of Mary Elizabeth Farrell.
Photo from Aunt Betty's archive.

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