A Letter from Australia to Ireland

While the people of Ireland migrated to the four corners of the world, one destination was picked for many of them, the far-off land of Australia.  In this letter, we meet a reader who shares the story of her family's journey from Wicklow to Melbourne.

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A Letter from Australia to Ireland

One of our readers – Jennifer Connolly – wrote to us from Melbourne in Australia early last year and we decided to write a number of replies to her questions in the form of a letter. I think it illustrates the shared themes that we notice from all of our readers from Australia – maybe you notice some of your own story in there?

I do hope you enjoy – and thanks to Jennifer for sharing:

Jennifer: Hi Mike, lovely to hear from you, and a “Gidday” from me here in Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA.

Mike: A very “Gidday” to you too, Jennifer!

Jennifer: The surname I am most focused on is Connelly, which is my maiden name. My married name is Doyle, and as you can see they are both of Irish origin.

Mike: You’re right there, Mary. Connelly is found over many parts of Ireland while Doyle comes from the Irish for “dark foreigner” (a reference to Danish Vikings) and is found in the south-east of Ireland for the most part.

Surnames of County Wicklow

Jennifer: I know quite a lot about some of my ancestors from Ireland from the Connelly side, but I am totally stuck with what happened to the parents of the two young boys who came to Australia. Just to fill you in a bit, I know that two Connelly brothers, James  aged 16 (who was born in County  Wicklow, Ireland in either 1849 or 1850), and Patrick junior, aged 13, set sail on the clipper ship called the “Underley” on December 22, 1866 from Liverpool and arrived in Melbourne,  Victoria, Australia in February or March 1867. James Connelly was my Great , Great, Grandfather and he was the one born in County Wicklow, Ireland. The parents names are Patrick Connelly (Senior) and Mary Swain.

Mike: Nice to have those facts, Jennifer. I had a look through the available online records, and discovered that James was baptised in Ballyconnell, County Wicklow on December 17th, 1848 while Patrick was baptised in the same location on April 27th, 1852. It’s a nice part of the world in the south east of County Wicklow, near to the market town of Tullow. Swain is an interesting surname (also goes by Swan and Swayne). It’s old Norse for servant, and has been in Ireland since the 1200s.

Jennifer: I’m intrigued as to why these young boys came to Australia on their own, seemingly, by unassisted passage, (so the Government didn’t pay for their passage) and I presume their older sister Mary was already here, and perhaps they came to live with her. I only discovered they had a sister when I typed  the names of their parents , on Google, and up came the Blue Mountain, Victoria , cemetery records showing a Mary Connelly with the same named parents. What a wonderful find that was and quite unexpected!

Ballyconnell, County Wicklow

Mike: It was indeed, Jennifer. It just goes to show that a simple search can throw up so much. Sometimes, when people ask me a question – I put the facts of their question into Google – and out might pop a forum where they asked the question on previously. They have been given an answer by some kind person, but have never seen it. Makes me look very good! Mary was also born in the same parish as Patrick and James in March, 1836. However, I would be a little suspicious that this is the sister of the two lads given the wide gap in ages. Regarding the lone passage to Australia – I think that’s where we start to look at the stories of other emigrant families to Australia. Let’s call it a mystery, or a good story in the making, for now!

Jennifer: Mary Connelly,  married a Patrick Murphy, in Australia, and he, Mary and two of their daughters who died quite young, one at six, and the other at age sixteen, are all buried there. I have since found out that they had about four other children as well. Mary, from her death record, was born in 1836. It didn’t say where, but I presume in Ireland, and she was quite a bit older than James and Patrick. I know Mary must be the sister  of James and Patrick  Connelly because they  share the same  parents, and I  know that James Connelly’s son, and later family members all had their children’s birth records showing they were born in the Blue Mountain, Victoria area. It’s all a big mystery, one that I would love to solve.

Mike: As I mentioned previously, it’s possible that this Mary may have been a cousin rather than sister. Always good to stay open minded on this unless you have solid evidence. But, it is possible that she is the sister.

Jennifer: Perhaps the parents died in Ireland, I can find no record for either of them in Australia, so it makes me think they never came here, but I could be wrong. I have tried to search records from the county Wicklow area, but have not come up with anything matching the names, not for James, or their parents marriage, with dates that match. There is such a lot of repetition of names, so James and Patrick Connellys come up a lot, but nothing that seems to match the family. Or the marriage of Patrick Connelly and Mary Swain.

Mike: Well, we’ve started to unravel some of your questions with the given records above. It shouldn’t be too hard to find some more with a little extra digging. However, be aware that civil records only came into place in Ireland for Roman Catholics in the 1860s. Before that, we rely on church records – which can be a little “gappy” in places.

Jennifer: The fact that the two boys left from Liverpool, may mean the family was living in England at some stage, or, perhaps, and you would probably know this, maybe all Irish immigrants to Australia had to leave from England? I wonder did any ships leave directly from Ireland in those days, to come to Australia?

Mike: Many of the passages to North America and Australia left from Liverpool. Your Connelly boys most likely departed from Dublin for Liverpool with direct onward passage to Australia.

Jennifer: Another very interesting side to the family is that James Connelly married a Frances (nicknamed Fanny) Flanagan. Her  Father, Anthony Flanagan,  was a convict who was sent to Australia for life, at age sixteen. (His original death sentence having been commuted to life in Australia). Obviously, a very naughty boy!!!!! He was sentenced at King’s County , which I am told is now called County Offaly. Surprisingly, after he became free, he married a Frances Burns, who I’m told was the prison overseer’s daughter. Her Father’s name was William Burns.

One of many Doyle’s Bars in Ireland

Mike: Goes to show, you never can tell! Coincidentally, Burns/Byrnes was the most numerous surname across Wicklow – so there may have been a natural affinity there. On the “naughty” bit, you did not need to be very naughty to get shipped off in those days. We dealt with a family from Tullow in The Green Room. Their young son was caught stealing a cloak, sentenced to transportation – then, the rest of the family stole something so they could accompany their young family member. Strange times indeed.

Jennifer: I feel such an affinity with Ireland, and a strong pull to visit there, as I have a strong Irish Heritage from my Mother’s side of the family too. Her maiden name is Kerr, which I always thought was a Scottish decent name, but was told once by an Irish man that it is Irish.

Mike: In my mind, Jennifer, when your family spends a number of generations in Ireland – it makes you Irish! We have a great melting pot of old Gaelic Irish, Vikings, Normans, English, Welsh, Scots, Huguenots etc. All Irish. Kerr can be directly of Scottish origin, and found in quantity in the counties of Ulster. But, it can also be a version of Irish Gaelic names such as Carr and Kerrin.

Jennifer: When I hear Celtic music it’s like it speaks to my soul somehow, and so many of us in the family have lovely singing voices.

Mike: Right, we’re going to have to hear those voices! What sorts of songs do you sing? One of the songs that your Connelly ancestors would have been familiar with in their area of South Wicklow into Carlow would have been “Follow me up to Carlow”. Might be time to learn that one!

Jennifer: I was also told by an Irish man, that County Wicklow is a beautiful place.

Mike: It is indeed, Jennifer – a lovely place of great farmland, lakes, wild mountains and all down to the sea! And in the middle of it all, you have the very lovely, sacred place of Glendalough. It also seems that it may be time for you to start to think about planning a trip – now that your ancestral homelands are coming into focus?

Jennifer: Anyway Mike, I hope I’m not boring you with all this, it’s getting as long as “War and Peace” lol. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. My name is Jennifer Joy Doyle. I  was born Jennifer Joy Connelly.

Mike: Not at all, Jennifer. A great letter of introduction. I even had to leave some out! Some of those replies should help you get to the bottom of your Irish family – and we’ll give you plenty of help along the way!

So, did you enjoy that letter from Jennifer? Something else happened after we penned this letter. Jennifer joined our Green Room, and coincidentally we were in Wicklow filming a Homelands feature for another member – and we came across the church in Ballyconnell she mentions in the letter, spoke to the caretaker, took pictures, shot video and shared them all! So, full circle there.

Again – the very best of wishes to all of our readers from Australia for the week that’s in it. I’ll leave you with just one piece of music that will be forever associated with Australia in my mind – I first heard it live from Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy in the 1970s – and it’s their version of “Botany Bay”:

Slán for now,

Mike and Carina.

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