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The journey from Ireland … and back

The coast of Cork, Ireland: The home of my ancestors The Gathering 2013

The coast of Cork, Ireland: The home of my ancestors. Photo courtesy Ireland Tourism.

Where it all began: A harrowing story of loss in Ireland

This year, I will be Going home to Ireland as part of a massive tourism initiative called The Gathering 2013. Read on to find out why I am so drawn to returning to the homeland, and why this is the perfect year to go.

In the late 1790s, rebellion against British occupation was in the air in Ireland, inspired by the new democracy of the United States. But though many pitched battles were fought and up to 25,000 died, the 1798 Rebellion did not gain enough momentum to succeed. In the end, Ireland lost more than it gained and the reprisals were swift and brutal. Cork was one of the counties that suffered suppression, and my ancestors were among the victims. They lost their land, their linen business and much more.

The day the soldiers came

Sometime during the 1798 Rebellion, my great-grandmother (times seven), Clara Carty, witnessed British soldiers tying up her 17-year-old brother Bill to a lamp post and killing him with their swords. The soldiers then went back into the house, where they made Clara clean the sword with the family linen. Many, many years later, when she was an old woman and long settled in Canada, she told this story to her parish priest, Father James McCormac of Brudenell in remote eastern Ontario.

He had pressed her to finally talk about “what happened the day the soldiers came” because she had kept it locked inside her entire life. The memory of it made her so sick that Father McCormac anointed her before leaving. Clara (Carty) Whelan died on March 31, 1868 at the age of 88. She is buried in the Brudenell pioneer cemetery and I have visited her grave.

Cork, Ireland:  The Gathering 2013, Whelan family photos

The homestead in Brudenell, Ontario.

This is the beginning of my family in Canada, as far as I know. I have traced my grandmother Mona Whelan’s line back to Clara; and from her back to County Cork Ireland. Though I have travelled all over the world, and lived in Tokyo and Delhi, I have never been to Ireland, and I don’t know any other relatives who have, either. But this September, I will be Going home to Ireland as part of a massive tourism initiative called The Gathering.

The Gathering, Ireland 2013 The Gathering 2013

The Gathering is a year-long festival of events all across Ireland to entice and entertain visitors, especially the Irish diaspora. It’s a celebration of Irish culture, history, people and places. To learn more visit The Gathering website; The Gathering Facebook page; and check out the travel offers on the Ireland Tourism Canada site.

Clara Carty married John Whelan, a man 27 years her senior, in Castle Town Roach, County Cork after the Rebeliion, but before emigrating to Canada. I can only imagine how much she wanted to get away. And then one day they stood on the pier at Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork and boarded a ship bound for Canada.

All of this I have learned from from a family history given to my mother about 20 years ago. We are descended from the union of John Whelan and Clara Carty, who were the first generation in Canada; my grandmother Monica Whelan Garrison was the fifth generation; and I am the 7th.

Ireland, The Gathering, tourism, ancestor photo

My great-great grandmother Bridget Hanrahan, who lived to be 102 years old

For five generations, the Whelans and other kin lived in Irish settlements in eastern Ontario. My grandmother Mona Whelan broke the mould and married a non-Irish man, and moved to the big city, Toronto, where she gave birth to my mom, Barbara Garrison, in 1930.

I’ve raided the attic, and combed through dusty old photo albums that smell of antiquated memories, to find photos of the people listed on my family tree. Then, I scanned a couple dozen, and I will be posting them on my Ireland blogs as I start to get ready for my trip to the “mother country.”

Cork, Ireland:  The Gathering 2013, Whelan family photos

An old Whelan family photo album.

I’ll be introducing you to some of the people in the photos — like my great-great-grandmother Bridget Hanrahan, a steely pioneer lady who lived to be a sprightly 102 and remembered a rope hanging from the ceiling “in case the Indians attacked.” Or my grandmother, who sometimes spoke as if she had sprung from the very soil of Ireland, though in fact she never set foot in the country.

So please follow along with me as I take one of the most meaningful journeys of my life as I trace my roots back to Ireland and walk in the footsteps of my late, lamented ancestors.

Posts in this series

  1. Going Home to Ireland
  2. The Journey from Ireland and Back
  3. On the Whelan Trail in Eastern Ontario
  4. In Search of My Ottawa Valley Irish Roots
  5. My link with Ireland: Nana
  6. Journey to Ireland for The Gathering: Part One 
  7. Journey to Ireland for The Gathering: Part Two

Genealogical Resources for finding your family history in Ireland

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19 Responses to The journey from Ireland … and back

  1. Shalu Sharma February 16, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Very fascinating story about yourself and your origins. You know, there is some resemblance between you and your great great grandmother. You should definitely visit Ireland.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Babies tossed from the roof in this bizarre Indian traditionMy Profile

  2. Carla February 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    What a wonderful opportunity to see a beautiful place and learn more about your family! I’m sure it will be amazing in many ways. Looking forward to reading about it!
    Carla recently posted..When not to take a nap on vacationMy Profile

  3. Claire February 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Amazing that you can trace your family back so far. My ancestors were also form Cork, but they never left, so I’m still here if you need any help planning your trip. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I’ve also been visiting India since 2005!

    • Bonnie White March 18, 2013 at 7:08 am #

      My many times great grandfather emigrated to NY state from county cork in or about 1843. Our original name was Kinsella. Now unfortunately, it’s Kingsley. Many of the Irish ended up with english names. We have been unable to tract down his brother and sister who also came to the US after he did.
      Bonnie White recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  4. Mariellen Ward February 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Claire, Awesome to hear from you and I hope we can connect while I am in Cork. This whole Ireland-India connection is interesting to me … I see some uncanny similarities between the cultures that’s making me go hmmmmmm…. and ommmmm, too :)
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..The joy of coming home to Canada!My Profile

  5. Sofie February 18, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Interesting post. I’m curious about the following stories on your family history.
    I know my dad once looked up his ancestry and traced it back to a night from the Netherlands (not so strange, as my father’s father was Dutch). I might dig a little deeper into that one day myself.
    Sofie recently posted..Zakynthos: snorkeling, turtle nests and ashesMy Profile

  6. Edna February 18, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    I’m a total hibernophile, to the point where I think I had to have been Irish in a previous life (I even play Gaelic football here in Paris and have met more Irish ambassadors on my travels than I have American) — I love the old photos and can’t wait to follow along with your story and your trip back for The Gathering!
    Edna recently posted..A Sunday in the MaraisMy Profile

  7. desi Traveler February 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    I had no idea about the conflict in Ireland during historical times.. These pictures are of teleporting magic.
    desi Traveler recently posted..The Old Baobab Tree In NewsMy Profile

  8. Linda @EcoTraveller February 19, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    Sounds like it’s going to be an amazing trip! I’m from Northern Ireland, but married an Aussie who’s family are from Cork, so we’ve visited a number of times. It’s a wonderful part of the world. Don’t miss out on Kinsale, it’s picture perfect. Hope it all goes well :)
    Linda @EcoTraveller recently posted..Love is All Around ~ Hearts in NatureMy Profile

  9. Cj Thapa February 21, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    I enjoyed your post with the story behind and collections of old photos. it is great of your grand parents that they shared with you and you are here now with this story.

    Thank you.
    Cj Thapa recently posted..Great Himalayan Trail in NepalMy Profile

  10. Lance February 21, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    I was just reading about the Gathering in Ireland. We loved our trip there a few years ago. Your genealogy and tribute to your family is beautiful! My clan hails from Ireland and I descend from the great Orr family. I’d love to find a way to go this year for the celebration.
    Lance recently posted..Ephesus and Pamukkale, TurkeyMy Profile

  11. KatieC February 22, 2013 at 5:13 am #

    Wow, this is amazing, I found your blog yesterday, am having a look through it, suddenly I see mention of Cork.
    So guess where I live? yep, Blarney, County Cork. If your travels include Blarney Castle, please give me a shout :-)

  12. Mariellen Ward February 26, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    KatieC, Wow, that’s cool that you found my blog and you live in Cork! I would love to go to Blarney Castle. I’ll let you know when I am in the vicinity, cheers.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Ask me a question about travel, India, writing or bloggingMy Profile

  13. Mariellen Ward February 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Thanks for the tip Linda, I will keep an eye out for Kinsale. I understand that Cork is very beautiful, very picturesque.

    Lance, is that the same family as Bobby Orr — who is considered to be one of Canada’s greatest hockey players ever? As a child I lived in Oshawa, and he had played for the Oshawa Generals in the minor leagues, so he sometimes made appearances in town.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Ask me a question about travel, India, writing or bloggingMy Profile

  14. Mariellen Ward February 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Edna, I have not heard that term,”hibernophile.” I wonder if I will feel the same way after visiting Ireland. I have a feeling I might fall in love with the place and never want to leave …. let’s see …
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Ask me a question about travel, India, writing or bloggingMy Profile

  15. Mariellen Ward February 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Shalu, interesting that you note a resemblance … didn’t see it myself, but I am really glad you did. I wonder if I will see other people who look like me in Ireland; I have often been told I look Irish.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Ask me a question about travel, India, writing or bloggingMy Profile

  16. Cathy March 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    My ancestors are also Whelans. My brother traced our heritage back to the 1600s. But we are from the Whelans in Wicklow County. Some of my relatives made a visit to Wicklow County and were amazed to find that our immigrant great, great grandfather’s name was still remembered. At least they knew the Irish descendents. They had a wonderful reception from residents. Hope you, too, find long, lost relatives and enjoy Ireland. Good luck.

    • Mariellen Ward March 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

      Hello Cathy, Thanks for your comment — I like to think we’re related :) I am really looking forward to my trip, and I hope I experience some magical connections with Ireland … methinks I will
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..What’s the story? Is travel in India safe?My Profile

  17. Marilyn September 9, 2013 at 12:43 am #

    I loved reading your research and story of Irish ancestry. How exciting. I am from Michigan. US. I have been trying to track my ancestors to Ireland for some time now. Thomas Burns on my father’s side immigrated from County Cork (caught the boat there) to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1800’s. Have not been able to verify his wife’s name. One of their sons, his namesake, Thomas, was born in Ireland in 1853 then immigrated from Canada to Michigan and my father still lives on the land he settled. They were all farmers of course. I was able to trace my mother’s side to County Tyrone. However, all the “Irish” in my life growing up came from my father. I have known about The Gathering for a few months now. Wish I had been able to participate. I would have loved to gone and to possibly find a very distant relative. Or like you, find my “Irishness”. Can’t wait to read your Blog to catch your experience! May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back.

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