Monday, 30 May 2016

What I Learned from Jimmy

There is a man named Jimmy Duffy who does family history research in this area. I had contacted him before we came and sent all the family details he asked for. He said he couldn't be certain which of the local families was mine, which seemed like an honest answer.

Bill has a 'found' cousin whose wife's family is also from County Donegal and she wrote about an amazing experience of her family search there, down south around Killybegs. Her advice to me was to talk to the local people. So I did. I talked to the people who had the caravan site, to the people at the tourist board, at the library, in pubs, men on the street...  Jimmy's name came up a lot, as in 'You should talk to...' Even knowing that he couldn't really further my search, I asked if he could meet up and we did. 

We talked for three hours. 

One funny thing was that the man he would guess was my ancestor lived next door to his ancestor in 1823. This came from a rent book in Dublin. I've not encountered this genealogical source as yet, but he says they are still pulling old ledgers out of dusty boxes so I might still learn something useful.

I mentioned that I never see my family name except in cemeteries. Not on business signs, football team photos, school band photos (I did find one of those in Letterkenny), not in history books. The one mention in the Atlas is of a woman who was killed down in Donegal town during the war in 1916. He said that was good, that it wasn't a terribly common name. Mind, the common names in the Rosses are everywhere: Gallagher, Sweeney, Duffy, O'Donnell, Sharkey, Boyle... I have trouble enough keeping my Patrick's and my Bridget's straight, but having seen the repetitive nature of the local names I wouldn't even attempt family history if I lived there.

It may be that the members of my family who didn't die in the famine had emigrated. Another reason there aren't many of my name around is that there was a generation around the 1840's that had seven daughters. This is why so many people I talked to said, I had a Aunty / Granny / my wife's family had ...  That and some of the male line got killed off in an accident, about which I'll write later. Everyone knew the name, it just wasn't in visual evidence.

A couple of things Jimmy said stuck with me, one I'd heard before: there was no famine, as in there was plenty of food around when people were starving. Yes, the potato crop failed, but there was a lot of grain and dairy foods being exported for profit.  There was plenty of food around, only poor people couldn't afford it. I had read this elsewhere, so it wasn't news. I still find it shocking.

The other idea he mentioned was that the Protestant landlords were no worse about collecting rents than the Irish chieftains had been. That was a new concept, but it makes sense. Renters never get a free ride, regardless of the landlord. 

We talked briefly about the Ballymanus disaster. He was describing that all the coffins were gathered in the local hall and all 'waked' together. I found out why it's called a 'wake'. He told me that back in the day peoples' biggest fear was of being buried alive (my grandmother used to worry about it, I remember). So the family would sit with them for a period - usually 2-3 days - in case they 'woke up'. I'd never heard that before and it makes perfect sense. 

Another thing we talked about was naming conventions. A couple in the pub Bill and I met had said that the first child was always named by the father, the second by the mother, the third by the father, and so on down the line.  Jimmy said that the convention was that the first son was named for the father's grandfather, the second son for the mother's grandfather, the second son for the father, the third son for the mother's father. The exception might be that a child would be named for someone who had died very young...and every family has a Bridget! Not sure how all this applies in my family, will have to look at that.

We talked about the name Grainnie (pronounced GRAW-nee) which is Anglicized to Grace, Graicy or Gertrude. Manus is not a usual name, it tends to be unique to a given family, which is helpful. Bryan (pronounced BREE-an), in this area is a variation of Bernard / Barnard / Barney, common names in my family. 

We talked about DNA testing, the possibilities and the obstacles. He reckoned only younger persons would be up for it; older people would worry that they would be cloned! 

And finally, Jimmy's wife might be a member of my family! Must see if she minds being cloned -- I mean tested!

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