A Letter from Ireland:
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Looking for County Donegal Ancestry

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In this letter we chat to a reader who is trying to track down her County Donegal Ancestry. It’s a very interesting story – and all set around the most northerly village in Ireland!

County Donegal Ancestry

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world today? The weather is good here – a nice autumn’s morning – and we’re looking forward to our trip to Glasgow in Scotland next week as we follow the Irish ancestral trail in that part of the world.

Before we go on, a quick note to say that a brand new series of the Letter from Ireland podcast has resumed – go here to listen to Carina and guests talk all about the traditions linked to Ireland’s Holy Wells.

I’m having a cup of Lyon’s tea this morning as we chat, and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into the letter. Today we feature a letter from one of our Green Room members, Marie Irwin , as she chats about the life and times of her family and their origin in the very north part of County Donegal.

A Story of County Donegal Ancestry.

Marie: Hello Mike, a very warm welcome from sunny North Queensland to you.

Mike: Nice to meet you too, Marie. A little bit cooler here I would say!

Marie: My name is Marie Irwin, maiden name of Friswell. I live in Townsville, North Queensland with a population of around 200,000. The city is on the coast with the Great Barrier Reef on our doorstep. 

I have been researching my family as well as my late husbands for nearly 30 years, it was very hard in the beginning with hardly any records available on computers.

Mike: We travelled to Australia in 2018 as part of our Letter from Ireland tour, but never made it as far as Queensland – hopefully next time! As you say, the availability of records through the internet has transformed ancestry research. 

Marie: I have so many Irish Ancestors that I am trying to locate, but I would start with my Canning Family. My Great Grandparents John Harvey Canning and Jane Martha Wallen – my County Donegal ancestors.

John Harvey Canning was born on the 20th March 1831 at Malin, Donegal son of Charles Canning and Mary Dowling. He married Jane Martha Wallen daughter of John Kennedy Wallen (school teacher) and Elizabeth Stirling of Kilmacrennan on the 23 December 1856 at Templemore, Derry. 

They then sailed to Australia on the HMS “Castilian” arriving in Melbourne, 10th June 1857 as assisted immigrants. They went on to have seven children, my Grandmother Cassandra Caroline Canning being the youngest.

Mike: Canning is one of those surnames quite localised in Donegal and surrounding counties, where it can be of English origin (post 1600s arrival) or a version of the Gaelic surname “Ó Canainn” – which was most usually anglicised as “Canon”.

Marie: According to his Police Service record he was born in 1831 in Malin, Donegal also my Grandmother’s Birth Certificate states the same.

They immigrated December 1856 on the Castilian to Melbourne where they spent two years, before going to Tasmania and then onto Rockhampton in Central Queensland, then Cleveland, retiring to Lytton Brisbane,Queensland.

Mike: Very interesting. Malin is what I believe to be the most northerly village in Ireland and a lovely part of the world. John Canning certainly went from one extremity to another!

Marie: He Joined the Rural Police Service and was in charge of the Spring Bay Area, he left Tasmania to go to Rockhampton in Central Queensland where he joined the Queensland Police Force as Chief Constable. He was transferred to Cleveland as Sergeant in Charge of a large area, until he was discharged on a Pension in 1881.

Mike: John certainly did well in life – from a small village in rural Ireland!

Marie: I have the remains of a letter dated Malin 4th May 1880 sent to my brother John talking about getting in the crop and cutting the turf. Unfortunately the piece with the senders name is missing, but I’m pretty sure its his brother Henry Canning.

Mike: Those pieces of correspondence are so priceless. They offer a wonderful insight into life at the time, give the main events of the day and often mention family and neighbours in a time-stamped fashion. Lucky you to have such a priceless heirloom.

Marie: I have been to Ireland twice now with my sister, the first was an organized Coach tour  and then about three years ago, My sister and I flew into Dublin, hired a car and started to visit Curragh Chase outside of Limerick where my de Vere Hunts came from and we toured around before I had to be in Belfast to take part in a Genealogy course for a week.

We then headed for Ballyliffin in Donegal where we stayed for four nights, using it as our base, onto Malin, where we had lunch and we hope walked in our Canning footprints, visiting the church and finding Henry Canning’s headstone. I had always wanted to visit Ireland as did my late husband as his Grandfather was born in Bessbrook, before the family immigrated to Australia.

Mike: How nice that you have managed to visit twice – that is quite a journey. I think that you certainly walked in the footsteps of your Canning ancestry in County Donegal as you travelled the main sites in the village and surrounding townlands. 

Marie: I would like to locate information on my Great Great Grandparents, Charles Canning and Mary Dowling who were married 7th April 1819 in Dungiven, Derry. Charles died 4th July 1871 in Drumcarbit Co Donegal aged 83 and Mary died 24th August 1862 aged 64 at Malin. Thank you, Marie.

Mike: I did see the death record for Charles Canning (your Gr Gr Grandfather) and it was reported by Henry Canning – I presume this was his son, your John’s brother.

I also saw the marriage record for the wedding of Charles and Mary Dowling in Dungiven. It was typical for a groom to travel to the home of the bride for a marriage (and also for the baptism of their first child). I notice that the witnesses were Henry “Waller” and Martha Canning. I find it coincidental that “Waller” is so close to “Wallen” – this may be a transcription error – and the Henry mentioned may actually be a Wallen.

Here are the next three steps for further investigation here in the Green Room:

  1. Find out just who the marriage witnesses mentioned above were and how they are related to the two parties.
  2. Determine if the Cannings were in Malin prior to Charles getting married in Dungiven, or did they move there following their marriage.  
  3. Surface relevant records for the presence of the extended Canning family in Malin – and develop a fuller picture of the life and times of this family in the area.

I look forward to discovering more alongside yourself and our genealogists in the Green Room. What do you think?

Thank you to Marie for sharing the story and background of her Canning ancestors in County Donegal.

We hope you have a great week. Do feel free to Comment below if you want to share a story or a surname in your Irish family tree – or just want to say hello!

Slán for this week,
Mike & Carina.

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