I have always been fascinated with local history. Because I live in an area that once contained a population that was 80% Irish or of Irish descent, and am of Irish descent myself, it was not too much of a leap to try to research my Irish roots. The records on this web site began with my own research and expanded as I began to fill notebooks of records from various Irish parishes in search of the origins of friends and acquaintances.
I've begun with Kilmoremoy Parish of Ballina in County Mayo because this seemed to be the center of a number of queries. My own Gallagher family claimed to be from Ballina but they do not appear in the records. Since the Irish often gave the name of the nearest market town when asked about their homes, it is likely that they actually came from one of the smaller parishes in the area.
Crossmolina is another parish that has connections to my family. While I do have a number of records from there, I am concentrating on completing the Kilmoremoy baptisms, marriages and obituaries before I complete the Crossmolina records. I also have records from Addergoole and Kilfian which I will be posting as time allows.
My reason for posting all of these records is to give family researchers a starting point if their families came from Mayo. I will continue to separately list the names that appear in the records. Some may have been from out of the parish, but if the researcher is looking for a particular name, the lists will help.
Here and there, I've tried to insert a little bit of Irish history. Many of our ancestors spoke little about their homes in Ireland. For them, leaving must have been traumatic since they knew they most likely would never see parents or siblings again in this lifetime. Just an inkling of their history might add to an understanding of what they endured and and how much courage it took to come here.
Below is a picture of the Methodist Chapel which is just off Hiss Street in Ballina. Because Ballina had industry, such as it was, in the form of a slaughterhouse for livestock, a mill, a tannery and a tobacco processing plant, it attracted people from all over Ireland, although primarily Ulster and England itself. Many faiths were represented among the population in addition to the established Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church. There was a solid though spmewhat small congregation that worshipped here.
Although, the focus of this website is on information that I have been able to find in Catholic church records, it is only right that I mention the fact that in addition to the Church of Ireland, there were other congregations in Ballina. I am in the process of reading a memoir by Rev. Thomas Armstrong, who ministered to the Scots Presbyterians who had made their way to Ballina. Rev. Armstrong was responsible for the Connaught Mission, largely funded by the membership in Scotland.
Many of the Scots who moved to Balliina and the townlands around were associated with the linen trade. They were flax growers, weavers and dyers. They were angered by the process in which their fine handiwork was managed for sale in that they were forced to sell to a British "middleman" who in turn, sold to retailers and exporters. The prices they were paid for their work was, as the expression goes, pennies on the dollar. The middlemen and marketers profitted handsomely from their work, which adorned the homes of some of the greatest houses in Europe. Because Mayo was a "depressed area," whatever they earned from their work was significantly more than most local people and they were then able to enjoy a higher standard of living.
The memoir, My Life in Connaught, is fascinating for a number of reasons. Rev. Armstrong's commentary on the conditions in County Mayo before, during and after the Great Famine is worthy of note. He and other clergy made sincere efforts to work to improve the dismal living conditions endured by so many of the native Irish. In addition to their material assistance, especially during the Famine, they also attempted to establish schools to teach modern methods of agriculture to the boys and needlework and weaving to the girls. Unfortunately, most Catholic families would not send their children to these schools because they also included religious studies to which the RC clergy objected.
Rev. Armstrong lived among the Irish of Mayo for about forty years. From time to time, he describes rituals that he believed were based upon superstition and magic. He gives a detailed account of a "devotion" at the Holy Well of St. Kumin. He writes " The last Sabbath of July" is observed as a day of particular sancitity. It is known as "Garland Sunday" probably from the practice of laying flowers at the graves of departed saints or friends. In Irish it is called 'Douagh Chulumb Dhu,' which means the Sunday of the Black Dove. A number of Holy Wells exist in Ireland, some believed to be the burial sites of saints. A religious service called a Patthrn ( Rev. Armstrong apparently spelled it phonetically) in honor of the patron saint is observed. The heads of all who participate are uncovered and the feet are bared. Reverence is offered at the Holy Well and prayer is offered. In a kind of procession, the crowd circles the well endlessly. Beads are told and then the procession moves to the graveyard where a similar ceremony is performed. Returning to the well, a rag is deposited on its covering and sometimes earth is carried away as a treatment for disease.
Following the devotions, the people crowd to tents that have been erected on the hill where there are intoxicating drinks to be had. There is music and singing but as the evening progresses, there is quarreling and fighting. In olden times, there was bloodshed but the presence of the constabulary has quieted things down."
The ritual described by Reverend Armstrong was actually a "pattern" which cultural anthopologists date to the pre-Christian era. The ancient Irish believed that wells were a door between this and the "other world." Cemeteries were often located near these wells in order to allow the dead access to the living if need be. The procession around the Holy Well would have followed strict guidelines in the number of times the passage was made and the prayers and recitations chanted by the participants. Moving to the graveyard, the same ritual was repeated at the presumed site of the local patron. While Reverend Armstrong regarded the whole affair as so much hocus pocus, an understanding of the origins of the ritual would have been instructive, giving a view of a cultural remnant of the very distant past.
For all of his forty years in Mayo, Rev. Armstrong did not understand what he was seeing. Irish Catholicism blended some of the oldest traditions in the culture with the Christianity taught by St. Patrick and the other missionaries who converted the Irish. Rituals that were significant to the ancient Irish were incorporated into those of Christianity. While the participants of the event described by Rev. Armstrong might not have known the origin of the practice or its historical significance, it no doubt predated Christianity in Ireland. In another part of the book, he condemns a practice in a fishing village in that an "idol" is brought forth and devotions are made to it and then it is returned to safekeeping in a house until the following year. No doubt, the "idol" is a patron of the village and his protection was sought for fishermen going out to sea and to insure a profitable catch.
While Rev. Armstrong enjoyed the esteem of his Scots congregation, he was not successful in converting large numbers of the native Irish. It is evident from his book that he was a very fine man. Unfortunately, he did not possess any affinity for the native Irish and did not trouble himself to learn the rudiments of their language. Rather than educate himself on the significance of rituals such as the ones he described, he disparaged them as so much superstition that needed to be eradicated in order to save the souls of the natives.He was not alone in this view, the British policy toward Ireland was to completely anglicize the people, erasing their history, banning their language and outlawing components of their culture, including their adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. Although he served his own congregation well and with much admiration, he made little headway with the natives, which he expresses with great disappointment in his book.
Above is a view of the Presbyterian chapel where Revernd Armstrong was stationed. It is located on a side street in the center of Ballina. Like the Methodist, the Presbyterians had a small but stable population.