Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Visit to My Great-Grandmother's Birthplace in Ireland

My Great-Grandmother Helen Mullen-Mason was born in the townland of Pollaturick in Co. Galway, Ireland. I just returned from my first visit to that area in May of this year. This is my summary of my visit.

I began my first official visit to Ireland, other than the airport a couple years ago, in Dublin where I spent 3 days exploring in and around Dublin on my own. With limited time I thought I might not make it to Kilmainham Gaol. I'm glad I was able to fit it in because it's an important place to learn about Irish history. The story of the Plunketts is memorialized in a song called "Grace". When I heard the song sung at Murray's bar in Dublin I understood what it meant because of my visit to the gaol.

I took a day trip to Cashel to where I toured the ruins and the town.

On day 4 in Dublin I joined a bus tour. I joined the "Treasures of Ireland" tour with Trafalgar. Our tour ate at Nancy's Hands, an historic pub in Dublin, on the first day of our tour. The next day we left Dublin for a tour of Glendalough. We wondered if it might be closed because there was supposed to be a security sweep for a visit of the Prince of Wales the next day? Lucky it wasn't. Glendalough was one of my favorites sites in Ireland. The tour group that visited the next day got to meet Prince Charles on his tour of the site.

From Glendalough we went to Waterford, and then to our hotel in Cork. During our stay in Cork we visited the town of  Cobh, the port where my great-grandmother would have boarded her ship bound for America when she was 18 years old. A tour guide walked us around the beautiful town explaining its maritime history.

The next stop on our tour was Killarney where we stayed in one of my favorite hotels the Killarney Avenue Hotel. Loved the atmosphere at this hotel, plus they have a great nightly show featuring Irish dancing and singing. My room had a great view too. Also an awesome park and garden were right across the street. 

Killarney was a base from which we explored the beautiful National Park and Blarney Castle. We took horse cart rides through part of the Killarney National Park where we took in the beautiful views and spotted many deer.

We also spent a few hours at Blarney Castle. I didn't kiss the Blarney Stone. Instead of kissing the stone I spent a few hours walking around the beautiful gardens admiring the gorgeous Rhododendron that were in bloom. I wish there were benches to sit and admire the gardens, there are no benches.

The next morning we walked around Killarney National Park and up to Torc Waterfall which was very beautiful.

The gardens in Killarney National Park contain Monterey Cypress trees which have actually thrived in the Irish climate. They seem to do better in Ireland than California.

After our morning walk in the beautiful warm sunshine we headed to the Ring of Kerry where the weather was much cooler and overcast. I loved the drive around the Ring the scenic views of the rocky land with rock walls, and the stone cottages with sheep grazing are exactly the views I envisioned and even better.

Isolated homes and cottages stretching to the sea create bucolic views. Wild Rhododendron grows all around this area. The purple flowers are pretty but are considered a weed, and efforts are being made to eradicate it.  

That evening our tour group enjoyed some great food and entertainment at a cottage at Muckross Farm. It was a nice cozy venue for good conversation and entertainment without the noise of a pub. 

After two nights in Killarney we moved on to Limerick our base for the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs are spectacular and a must see in Ireland. 

After our adventure at the Cliffs we spent the evening at a castle enjoying some entertainment with dinner.

The next day I waved goodbye to the tour I spent 6 days with as the bus left to take some of our group back to Dublin for their flight home. I headed to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park which I found to be outstanding. If you're interested in the history of Ireland, and what life was like for ancestors living there, this is a must see. When I first entered the park I thought it was just a few houses and the castle, which if that were all was pretty impressive. Instead of just a few reconstructed cottages and Bunratty Castle it extended even further beyond what I originally saw with reconstructed mills, a church, farm buildings, a large house, a school, and small town. All trades are represented in the reconstructed cottages and other buildings.

In the evening after my tour of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park I headed 72 miles north to Tuam in Co. Galway. It was a Friday evening and traffic on the main street in Tuam was crazy. I didn't think they would have traffic jams there but there are only a few roads that everyone uses.

After dumping off my bags at the Corralea Hotel I was able to do some site seeing around Tuam. The Corralea Court has undergone some renovations since the Google Street view. I didn't recognize it when I got there. The interior seems to be newly renovated too.

It took me about 15 minutes to cover most of the town. A local election was taking place with an Irish ballot measure on divorce. It's likely the election added to the traffic jam. I ran across many people still campaigning for their candidate, and waiting for the polls to close. Interesting to see how campaigns are conducted in rural Ireland.

I was able to look inside the Cathedral of the Assumption, but the older church St. Mary's (now church of Ireland) was locked. Disappointing that Temple Jarlath's ruins were locked and gated off.

For the next 3 days I divided my time between exploring Tuam, Milltown, and Pollaturick.

Day 2 I ventured out of Tuam to Milltown and Pollaturick, the area where my ancestors lived, and my great-grandmother was born, about 9 miles from Tuam.

I had mapped out exactly where the Mullen house and property were located using Griffith's Valuation maps. Before heading over to the house I wanted to talk to some of the neighbors to confirm I had identified the correct property. The first person I spoke with said he lived in Pollaturick for 30 years, a long time but not long enough to know the early history of the area. He described the land I pointed to as Walsh land, which threw me off. I then spotted another neighbor pulling into their driveway and asked what he knew about the property. He also talked about the Walsh family, but did know that Mullens also lived on the property. He remembered a Michael Mullen associated with the property. Michael was the brother of my ancestor Patrick. Michael died in 1939, while my ancestor Patrick died in 1930. The brothers had split this property after their father died. A daughter of Michael took the property over after he died. It seems all of the other members of the Mullen family migrated elsewhere, or had died. An owner of the property is currently in a nursing home in Clare.

I believe the larger house on the family property in Pollaturick was likely built by the father of Patrick and Michael Mullen. Patrick Mullen Sr. is listed as living on lot 1 in Griffith's Valuation so we know he lived in Pollaturick from at least the 1850's. The neighbor I spoke with said one of the ruined buildings on the property likely dated back at least 200 years. A map produced between 1837 and 1840 does show a house in that area facing the same direction.

The helpful neighbor gave me a ride down to the house and opened the gate so I could get a better view of the out building. This neighbor knew Mullen family members had settled in Chicago and a relative had become a Nun. I assumed he was referring to Sister Mary Kathleen?

Visiting the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park helped me understand the layout of the Mullen house. I wondered how a family of  possibly 7 members could live in a two room house. Lofts were a way to extend the amount of space without adding a full second floor. Below you can see a window high on a side wall. This window likely provided light for a loft room.

Here are some examples from the Folk Park of how the lofts were laid out. It seems a detached ladder provided access to this space. The ladder could be moved to provide more space when the loft wasn't in use. When I first saw the loft rooms I was thinking how did they get up there? Until I spotted the ladder.

Here you can see the back of the Mullen house has been over taken by bushes and trees. It looks like no one has been living there for decades. There is an old bicycle and other items stored in the old house. It looks like the house may have been used as a barn before the property was abandoned?

I explored Pollaturick until the late afternoon. I made friends with the local animals and admired the amazingly beautiful blooming Hawthorn.

I think May must be one of the most beautiful months to visit Ireland. Since the sky was overcast I don't think I ever got a picture that did justice to the beauty of the blooming Hawthorns with their pink and white blossoms. These bushes were planted along fence lines.

Here are some pictures showing hawthorns clearly used on fence lines. The thorns on the tree or bush will definitely keep you on the right side of the fence.

In the afternoon I explored Milltown about 1 mile away. I loved the name of a local bar named  Mullarkey's. I took a look a the local catholic church which was very nice, and signed the guest book. The town stretches for about a long block with most of the amenities you might need other than an ATM, which I could not find. I tried to get cash back at a service station but couldn't?

The next day I headed back to the Milltown area, this time to visit a cemetery where Michael Mullen is buried, a great-great uncle of mine. The location of the cemetery is very nice with a view of a stone bridge on one side. Visiting the cemetery and reading Michael's tombstone I remembered that Michael had married a Mary Ruane, something I forgot when I was talking to the locals. My ancestor Patrick married a woman with a similar name, her name Mary Huane. The similarity of the names caused confusion in the old church records, and also confusion when I talked to neighbors in Pollaturick. They brought up the name Mary Ruane, but that wasn't my ancestor. Michael's tombstone says Mary Ruane is buried in Addergoole Cemetery. My own ancestors graves are unmarked.

The marker's placed on Michael's grave also cleared up why everyone associated the Mullen family with the Walsh family. Markers for Michael and Mary's grandsons are placed on the grave and their last name is Walsh. One grandson died in the United States. So this is where Walsh comes in. This saved me some research. Although I don't know who Bridget Mullen married? Could she have married a Walsh also? I need to find out who this great-aunt married?

After visiting the cemetery I headed back to Milltown to explore the park on the beautiful river Clare.

There are some historic artifacts scattered around the park. I was so happy to see the baptismal font from the old Milltown Chapel at the park. My great-grandmother would have been baptized with water from that font, and other ancestors.

A combination potato washer and animal trough is also on display at the park.

Of course you'll also find mill related artifacts at Milltown Park. 

I guess the ruined structure below is part of an old mill?

I admired this manor house near Milltown. Not sure of the history, but it is beautiful. 

After my morning exploration of the area I was able to make it back to Tuam in time for a church service at St. Mary's Church in Tuam. A church service is the only way to get inside. It was worth it. It's a beautiful church. I was so happy to get the opportunity to see the Hiberno-Romanesque Arch and other surviving portions of the ancient church, which dates back the the 12th Century, and the old high cross that used to stand on the main road before someone ran into it. It's possible some of my blood relatives attended church here before the Reformation? 

After church I headed to a supermarket to pick up something for a late lunch. I walked around the market and didn't see anything interesting except Irish potatoes. There is a cafeteria connected to the market housed in the old archbishop of the church of Ireland's Palace. I decided to eat there and the food was very good.

The restaurant at the Corralea Hotel is also very good.

Now that all the beer kegs were empty it was time to leave Tuam.

Before leaving Ireland I did some sightseeing around Galway City.

There are really beautiful abbey ruins in Claregalway. The ruins are from a medieval Franciscan abbey.

I went into a shopping mall in the city of Galway to escape a brief shower and was surprised to find the old city wall enclosed in this mall.

I took a bus from Galway across the country to Dublin to catch my flight to the next leg of my journey in Spain. The earlier showers had stopped and rain soaked Dublin was looking good in the sunshine as I took a last look before saying goodbye.

It was a wonderful first trip! I look forward to returning to Ireland again and exploring more of the country in the west.