It’s a Long Way from Tipperary to New Jersey

It's a Long way from Tipperary to New Jersey! The following is based on a letter from Lynne Klemens from New Jersey in the USA - and we have a conversation about the likely details around her County Tipperary ancestors, which I have surrounded with plenty of beautiful pictures of County Tipperary.

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It’s a Long Way from Tipperary to New Jersey

A few weeks ago, we announced our new reader of the month competition. Each month, we take one of your stories or letters, and feature it here with comments from myself.

So, here is our reader of the the month for February – Lynn Clements from New Jersey in the USA:

Lynn starts off: Hello Mike, I have a story to share with you regarding my Irish ancestors. My father was all Irish and his four grandparents settled in New Jersey. Two arrived as children with their mother in the 1850s – their mother was my great great-granny Bridget O’Rourke. She lived to be 99 years old and had settled, as a widow with 2 children, in New Brunswick, New Jersey by 1854.

Mike: Nice to meet you, Lynn. What a fantastic age your Bridget lived to – and what a life, coming to a new land with just herself and two small children.

Lynn: When I first began researching my family history twenty years ago, I came across a newspaper interview celebrating Bridget’s 99th birthday. The interview took place in 1916 and was filled with interesting facts of her life and the times. I learned that the names of Bridget’s parents’ were Edward O’Connor and Mary McDonald. Her father was a surveyor for the first Irish railroad. Bridget said she was from Tipperary but I did not know if that was the city or the county. I searched various records in the US and in Ireland but could not find anything on this family.

blog 11 Mike: What an interesting connection with the first railroads in Ireland. The first Irish railroad appeared in 1834 – up to that time much of the cross-country traffic would have been by road or canal. I’m sure your Edward was kept very busy.

Lynn: Finally I asked a second cousin who had actually grown up in New Brunswick and who had first given me a copy of a photo of Bridget. Upon asking him if he knew just where Bridget was from, his reply was Templemore, Tipperary. Sure enough, upon my search of the parish records of Templemore, I located a Feb. 1817 birth of a Bridget to Edmund Connors and Mary McDonnell. The correct person, just slightly different names to the ones I had been searching for.

I discovered this couple also had a son two years before Bridget and a daughter two years after, all in the parish records of Templemore. I was elated to find this information. My theory is that because Bridget may not have been able to read or write, she never saw the printed names of her parents in the newspaper article or anywhere else. Perhaps her accent made the names out to be different than what they really were or am I making too much of the name differences?

Cahir Castle, County TipperaryMike: That’s wonderful to track down such an early record – they are not always so forthcoming in Ireland. The surname “Connors” was much in use in the south half of the island. Overtime, it was often used interchangeably with O’Connor. On McDonnell – I can see the confusion with McDonald – they sound very similar to a lot of people. McDonald and McDonnell essentialy have the same root – “son of Domhnall”. The McDonnells of Tipperary were part of the same group as the O’Briens who came out of County Clare at one time.

Now, we got our Green Room genealogists working on your records. It seems that Edmund (a very popular mans name in Tipperary and used interchangeably with Edward) were living in the townland of “Forest”, just to the south of Templemore town, when they had your Bridget.  By 1828, the family had moved into the town of Templemore where they lived on Mary Street.

Lynn: Bridget married a John O’Rourke but I could not find any O’Rourkes in Templemore parish records so I’m not certain John was from there. According to family oral history, Bridget’s husband was “killed by a stone thrower” and she left Ireland soon after.  Their children were Ellen who was born in 1848 and William who was born about 1850. According to a US census report, Bridget had borne another child that was no longer alive. My guess is this child died in Ireland.

Roscrea Castle

Roscrea Castle

Mike: Our Green Room genealogists found Bridget and Johns marriage record – June 5th, 1842 in Templemore. They were married just three years before our Great Famine. It also appears that John O’Rourke actually did come from around the Templemore area. Here is how we arrived at that conclusion. John and Bridget had a boy called William in 1845. This child did not live for more than three years, and they also named their next boy William according to Irish custom (the second William was born in 1847 rather than the 1850 you mention above).

In Irish naming patterns, the eldest boy is typically named after their paternal grandfather. Now, add this to the fact that Rourke is quite an uncommon name in County Tipperary. We went looking for possible William Rourkes (John’s father) in Tipperary and found one in the townland of Castleleiney (Templeree Parish) just outside Templemore town. This was in the Griffith’s Valuation of the 1850s. There is a strong chance that this was John Rourke’s father.


Surnames of County Tipperary

Anyway, Bridget did not move far from her home on Mary Street. She set up house with John and their children on Jail Street, also in Templemore town. It was a commercial street where people both lived and plied trades such as blacksmith, shoemaker, cooper, cutter, hairdresser, butcher (just some of the tradesmen we found listed on Jail street in the early 1850s). The street is called Bank Street today.

Lynn: I know Bridget arrived in New Jersey with her 2 children by 1854 or 1856. I have read of some violence due to the Famine in the Tipperary area and wondered if stone throwing might have been common. Stones may have been the only weapons the poor people had.

blog 15

Holycross Abbey

Mike: I’m sorry to hear about the death of John in such a violent manner – the faction fights in Tipperary were coming to an end about that time and this may have been an isolated incident. It would be great to do a review of the court proceedings at the time and see if there is more detail available.

So many people died of disease and starvation in Ireland from 1845 to 1848. It was a very bleak time. Maybe Bridget had someone in New Jersey who she could travel to? It must have taken her a lot of time, effort, courage and money for her to eventually pick up and go.

Lynn: My Bridget supported herself and her children by becoming a laundress in a hotel first in New Brunswick and then by becoming a housekeeper for first one wealthy family in the area and then another. Supposedly these wealthy people “looked after her interests” and Bridget had purchased her own little house by the 1870’s. The house still stands in New Brunswick, NJ. Since I also live in New Jersey, I’ve been able to pass by Bridget’s little house and think of the strength she must have had in starting a new life here in the US.

Mike: It must have been a dream-come-true for Bridget to work through her hardships and eventually own a place of her own. It is so nice that the house still stands and that you can pass it and think back on her life and times. We look forward to seeing a picture in the Green Room. All the best, Lynne Klemens.

Mike: All the best to you, Lynne.

So, I do hope you enjoyed that letter from Lynne – and just some of our own thoughts and responses. Congratulations again to Lynn and we will contact you shortly with details of your prize. We do look forward to you sharing your further discoveries as we go forward.

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

Slán for this week, Mike & Carina.

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