Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981

Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981
Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Bucket List: Things to do before I die

The Bucket List: Things to do before I die.
By Kevin J. O’Brien
Any Genealogist with Irish Roots who had never set foot on Irish soil would put a trip “home” at the top of their Bucket List (for those unfamiliar with this idiom, it refers to the film of the same name where aging best friends decide to do all the things they have always wanted to before they “kick the bucket”). 
I am not ready to die yet nor is there any foreboding reason for me to make a Bucket List of my own, but after telling a friend, Bonnie O’Hara at Buffalo’s Irish Center about my recent adventures in Ireland she said, “Well, you can cross that one off your Bucket List.”  I never thought about this but she was right.  This was a dream come true for anyone with Irish heritage and even more profound for a genealogist.
My brother, Ned and I visited Ireland last year for 10 days and stayed at our cousin’s house in West County Clare outside of the tiny Village of Mullagh.  This is about 4 miles south of Miltown Malbay.  While there, we visited the O’Brien Ancestral Farm in Killernan Townland, County Clare.
My grandfather, John O’Brien, 1875-1959 left his home in May of 1900 for America.  His family lived and worked the farm until 1948 when his spinster sister, Maria O’Brien sold the farm to young man, James O’Connor who helped her work the farm.   Maria was up in years and moved in with her niece, Delia Lahiff in the Kilnaboy Parish, County Clare.  Delia was a daughter of Katie O’Brien Ryan of Dromoher, Kilnaboy. 
At this time the O’Brien Ancestral home and farm was vacant.  The new owner, Matt and Teresa Hogan of Ennis were using the farm as a “holiday home.”  Matt Hogan loves the scenic area of small farms, low hills and small rivers, just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean.  They found it a perfect place to raise a few horses and his pet donkeys. The daily farm chores of the farm fell to a neighbor, Michael Walsh - Michael’s ancestors were neighbors of the O’Brien family for over two hundred years.  Our families are listed in the 1826 Tithe Applotment Books as paying tithes to the protestant church in the parish and again in the 1855 Griffith’s Valuation of Lands.   I am sure, if the records exist, one would find a marriage somewhere in our lineage between the O’Brien and Walsh families. In Ireland the boys and girls didn’t look far to find suitable matches.
As Ned and I drove up the lane to look at the house  Michael Walsh was feeding the horses and donkeys.  After receiving a warm welcome, he offered to show us inside.  His son, a plumber was working on the heating system that had been added to the home.  Ned and I crossed over the threshold and entered the home of our ancestors.  We were thrilled to be in the place and took plenty of pictures.  Who knew if we would ever get back inside this “our home”?
Before we left Ireland we stopped by the Walsh’s home to personally thank Michael and his wife, Geraldine for this wonderful experience. Michael wouldn’t let us go without a cup tea.  We sat by the warm fire and talked.  As it happened, I found out that Geraldine and I are third cousins through my paternal grandmother, Molly Moroney.   This led to a long conversation about relations and ancestors during which she asked if Ned and I would be interested in staying at the O’Brien farm on a holiday.  “Of course,” I said, stifling a shout.  She explained that Mr. Hogan was very particular about his holiday home but since we were family after all, she would ask him.  I immediately promised the labors of my brother, Ned.  I told her to be sure to let Mr. Hogan know Ned would wash the floor everyday, feed the horses, clean the stalls and anything needed on the farm. 
The following week Geraldine Walsh let us know that Matt and Teresa Hogan approved our request to spend our holiday at the ancestral home.  It didn’t take long to make reservations and plan the trip.  We decided to go at the same time the following year, as February has reasonable flights and there are not as many tourists driving on the wrong side of the road trying to kill you.  We only have to worry about ourselves being on the wrong side.
We arrive early one afternoon at “our home.”  Matt Hogan’s, nephew was working in the horse stalls and gave us the keys to open the house for our two week stay.   It is hard to describe the feeling that went through me as I entered this house knowing I would be calling this our home for the next two weeks.  The house has changed over the years with the addition of modern conveniences that we all find necessary. But the walls of the home are original and over two feet thick.  The windows and entrance doors are recessed from the inside of the house leaving a two foot shelf for each window and a small entranceway at each door.  That evening, Ned and I lit a turf fire in a small cast iron stove in the west bedroom to take the chill out of the house.  We settled down, eased ourselves into our beds and went to sleep like our ancestors had  for 200 years.  We were home.

An Irish Pilgrimage to the grave of my Ancestor - Brian boru

An Irish Pilgrimage to the grave of my Ancestor

Brian Boru


By Kevin J. O’Brien



Visiting the final resting place of an ancestor is the aspiration of every family historian.  This is the place where the story may end for some or may just begin for others.    My pilgrimage gave a kind of closure and a unique opportunity to place my surname and family in a time and place of great importance in Irish History.


This was definitely on my “Bucket List” of things to do before I join my ancestors I have so desperately tried to find.   


Brian Bóroimhe, or more usually Brian Ború), was an Irish king who united all Ireland for a short time and died at the battle of Clontarf in 1014 fighting the foreigners. The O'Brien Clan regards him as their progenitor.


After a number of trips to Ireland and over thirty years of extensive genealogical research, including a promising DNA match to The O'Brien, Prince of Thomond,  The 18th Baron Inchiquin (Lord Inchiquin), 10th Baronet of Leamaneh, Conor Myles O’Brien and other O’Brien male descendants from various parishes and townlands across County Clare, I decree my family as descendants of Brian Boru.


My brother, Ned O’Brien and I were visiting my wife’s McCabe family in Monaghan Town, County Monaghan when we decided to take the short drive to the city of Armagh and visit the resting place of our ancestor.  It was our first trip to Northern Ireland which added to the excitement.  When you approach Armagh you can see the two cathedrals in the skyline.  Our first stop was to Saint Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh.  There we found the memorial plaque mounted on the outside wall to honor our ancestor, Brian Boru.  After a short prayer for our O’Brien family, we toured the inside of this magnificent cathedral and there I lit 3 candles for my children and offered a prayer for their health.  This was a first for me, lighting candles and saying prayers for my children in a protestant cathedral.  After our visit we drove down the hill and up the next hill to the present Catholic St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, Northern Ireland.  This was built to replace the medieval Cathedral, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, which has been retained by the Church of Ireland since the Protestant Reformation.  We walked in just after the Mass had started and took our seat and until the Mass was over. 



Ned O'Brien says a prayer at the burial site of ancestor Brian Boroimhe,

High King of Ireland at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Co. Armagh, Ireland