A Letter from Ireland:
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Have an Ancestry Brickwall? Here’s a new way to look at it.

Do you have a Brickwall in your Irish Family Tree? Here is a new fun way to look at it – and we might even get you talking about brickwalls as “badgers” in the future. What? Read on and find out just what we mean.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world today? We’re in Milwaukee attending the Irish Fest so I’m about six hours behind my normal self – hence the delay in the letter today!

We’ve met up with some wonderful people and heard a lot of great music over the past two days – I can heartily recommend attending if you ever get the chance. In many of the conversations I was led into, I noticed the same type of question coming up again and again. You might be familiar with this type of question – it starts with: “I have a brickwall in my family history research…..”. So, I thought we’d be a little playful today and relieve some of the tension you might feel when you’re staring up at that ancestry brick wall! Let’s have a look at two Irish surnames that build a brickwall all of their own.

Before I start with today’s letter let me ask you a question, have you solved the riddle of your Irish surname? If not don’t worry we’re here to help. Each week we share a letter with our readers, sharing stories of Irish counties, Irish surnames and heoric Irish individuals. We also provide resources to help you on your way in your Irish ancestry journey. Want to join in on the fun? Simply signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here.

I’m sipping on a cup of camomile tea as I write (aren’t I the smoothie!) – and I do hope you’ll join me with a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter.

Right, let’s have a look at the Irish surname “Brick” and the Irish surname “Wall”!

The Irish Surname “Brick”.

Yes, “Brick” is an Irish surname. It’s an old Irish Gaelic name that came out of County Clare many centuries ago – but is almost exclusively found in County Kerry today. It comes from the word “Broc” – which is the Irish for Badger. Maybe you have a badger or two where you live?

So, the “descendants of Broic” – or the O’Brics were anglicised as “Brick” from about 1600 AD in Kerry. In fact, if you ever happen to drive around the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry, you’ll pass a very nice pub and brewery (which means you have to stop) called “Tigh Bric” – meaning the “House of Brick”.

That’s our first Irish surname today – now, on to the second.

The Irish Surname “Wall”.

The Irish surname “Wall” can be found in many parts of Ireland today – but especially in the south-east of the island. It comes from the Irish “de Bhál” (pronounced de Vawl) which came in turn from the French for the Norman surname “de Valle” meaning “from the Valley” or a “valley dweller”.

The de Valle families arrived in Ireland about 1200 AD – and various branches spread over the country through the following years. Today, it has been almost exclusively anglicised as “Wall” and is found in quantity through counties Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny.

How about you? Do you have either of these Irish surnames in your family tree?

Breaking Through those Bricks and those Walls

So, I think we should drop the phrase “Brick Wall” when talking about the obstacles in our family history research. Instead of saying “I have a brick wall..”, we can now say “I have a Badger from the Valley in my family tree…”. I’ll know what you are talking about and you will know (while putting a smile on your face) – but everyone else will look at you like you have two heads. How about it?

If you have an ancestry “Badger from the Valley” that you are facing at the moment – do let me know in the comments section below. I’m sure you’ll work through it eventually – one badger at a time!

That’s it for this week, as always do feel free to share your stories, comments and Irish surnames in your family.

Slán for now,

Mike and Carina.

  • Fran Thurston Doucette says:

    I thought we had solved the problem. The name is Bulger(Bolger) from County Laois. The name on the family crest is O’Bolguidhir. I was under the impression the origins were ancient and they were animal whisperers and healers. But some cousins insist they came over in the invasion of the Normans and the named was Boulgier. I will not argue the point and records that old are scarce in Laois. So it is a brick wall as of right now. Maybe someone will have an answer.

  • Kathie says:

    My “Broc de Bhal” is my great great grandfather Timothy Madden. No idea from where in IRE he came. I know he was in Maine, USA by 1836 and then moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1853. Not one document I’ve found has his Irish home listed. Although I have names of baptismal sponsors of his 7 children born in Maine, not one is named Madden, therefore no possible siblings to research. I’ve checked Canadian records…dead end; checked for parents in IRE…dead end. He really is our elusive ancestor. Finding the ancestry of his wife is just as bad! What a family! 🙂

  • Donna Lillis-Lynch says:

    Hello, after reading this I won’t be using Brick Wall again, but that is how it feels. My surname in Ireland is Lawless in USA when my grandpa came over it was changed to Lillis. I can’t find anything other than census 1901-1911.

  • Jim Pearce says:

    I have a Badger from the Valley, and so do a number of people looking for this Badger, posting on message boards, always with no results. I have a letter, written by my great aunt, indicating that this Badger was in the Grocery Field, “but could not be very successful,” because he married a Charlotte Flynn, daughter of Thomas Flynn, who once ran the Hyperion Exchange, and later, ran the Cork Mercantile Exchange, until his Son-in-Law, the Badger, took over and became the Badger from Cork.

    He was born in 1702, somewhere, married in Cork, to Anne White, and died in Cork, in 1777. On the way, he had five children, one named John Augustine Pearce, which stated the known lineage, post Badger John, or James Pearce.

    I say known, because no one really knows where he came from. My Mother always thought he was an alien from space; my Aunt surmised that the Badger, Mr. Pearce, or Pierce, or perhaps one of the many derivations of Pearce, was looked at as a failure, with my Great Great Aunt going so far as to write the hint, “there are many grocers in England.

    But I’ve always wondered why or how he was accepted in the Irish community of Cork, if he was English, and how he became later associated with O’Conner, and others who apparently both praised, and perhaps used the Cork Mercantile Exchange, until its eventual demise.

    Anyway, it remains my personal “Badger of the Valley”, and in turn, perhaps someone else’s Badger, always ending just before James Pearce.

  • Sharon Hull says:

    My hopes for my badger from the valle is to find my great grandmother’s parents who came from around County Cork. She arrived in the U.S. around 1880’s was born in 1861 and I assume she and her brother James came from there but there is nothing I can find on the parents, hence my badger from the valle. Her name was Lenora Buckley brother’s name was James. She married another Irishman when she arrived (although I don’t know what city she arrived in) last name Mulligan, they had my grandfather Charles Mulligan and the rest is history. I will eventually find my way to the green room I am certain.

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