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The Quest – full circle

©Shers Gallagher 2015

While sitting in a Westport B&B I began writing about the last part of my quest, having ventured to the North-western region of Ireland in search of my Irish roots. I had already spent several summers in Ireland, teaching and visiting...exploring the countryside with old friends. However, on a visit in 2011, I decided it high-time to look into my roots with my two aunts in mind – Darlys Gallagher Weiss and Laverne Gallagher Robinson – my mother’s sisters still alive and well. My mother, Marvel Gallagher Schuler, sadly passed away too young to die in 1986. Joining her sometime later were her two brothers, William and Raymond.  Their father, William (Bill) Emmet, was the 8th son of 10 children to Felix Peter Gallagher (b. 02 August 1863) and Anna Marie Gallagher ni Murray (b. 12 August 1866). 

Felix, my great-grandfather, was born in the urban district of Westport, County Mayo. He was son to Martin Gallagher and Bridget McIntyre, also born and raised in urban Westport. They were a Roman Catholic family, but documentation is sketchy for all in Ireland born before the official Irish registry that began a year later, in 1864. 

My great-grandfather Felix was actually, I found out, born on Bridge Street. Not only was he born on this street but a large number of his relations were as well. This is because, in the mid-1800s through the early to mid-1900s, the Gallaghers owned half of Bridge Street on the even numbered side. Most all the building numbers have been done away with in modern times, establishments now recognised by their business names. The famous pub of Matt Molloy’s (establishment of the world renowned ‘Chieftains’ flute player) is situated just opposite what was once the Gallagher public house and grocers. Molloy's is also known more by its name rather than street number. And the old publican house of the Gallagher’s has since been turned into a restaurant, called Café Sol Rio. I found myself fortunate to meet the proprietor, a lovely woman with the married name of Lambert but daughter to Matt Malone, who was a furrier by trade and business-relation / personal friend of the family throughout the years.

As for the Gallaghers, I've been told that they not only owned half the block of Bridge Street in their heyday but also ran a small factory on High Street. This was connected to and running north of Bridge Street, which today you could locate by way of the stone grey statue and small roundabout in front. Where a section of the factory once stood is currently a chipper (fish & chips shop), and my old friend travelling with me ate there - greasy and delicious food. In the factory’s zenith, it made candles out of big vats of tallow. Those doing this task were called chandlers back then. As an aside, factory workers also tatted lace and fashioned women’s bonnets and undergarments (such as corsets).
While in Westport, I sought out a local historian who disclosed to me that, in their prime, the Gallaghers were a wealthy merchant family. So why my great-grandfather left for America in his late youth was somewhat of an enigma. I mean, why leave a prosperous lifestyle you were born and bred into? 

Patrick Gallagher, a 4th cousin I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of during my stay, inherited the Valley House on Achill Island (just west of Westport). And this hotel / pitch & putt / pub he runs with his wife, Alice, and their two teenage daughters. Over a beer, Patrick told me there were usually two reasons a young man such as my great-grandfather Felix, cousin to his grandfather Edward, would leave home like he did: One was for better opportunity. But that would seem silly to one born to a rich family. The other would be because of having joined the IRB (old Irish Brotherhood), which later became the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and gotten into some trouble. Regardless, the IRB had been more akin to a resistance group than that of the later terrorist organisation. Still, those youth involved in the IRB were sought after for subversive actions to the Crown of England; and, many at the time fled to America only to return later when they were no longer being looked for. 

Daniel O’Connell had been instrumental in achieving Catholic Emancipation from the English crown in 1829, which largely eliminated legal discrimination against the Catholics. This was no small achievement, because the Irish Catholics then comprised 75% of Ireland’s population. Yet, Home Rule, O’Connell’s major concern, was never achieved. And the Home Rule movement soon created a divide between the nationalists (mostly Catholic), who advocated the restoration of the Irish Parliament, and the unionists (mostly Protestant in fear of being in the minority dominated by the Catholics). The unionists continued to support Britain while the Home-rule advocates countered them at every step, a conflict heightening during the career of Charles Stuart Parnell. Founder of the Irish parliament, Parnell was known as a land reform agitator and charismatic repealer. I’ve no doubt that such a man who led the Irish Parliamentary Party as MP through the period of Parliamentary nationalism in Ireland (between 1875 and his death in 1891) had an enormous impact on the lives of young men like my great-grandfather, Felix Gallagher. 

In any case, it's pure speculation as to why Felix left for America in the prime of his youth. But another factor involved was that his immigration had been sponsored by Dennis Murray. The Murrays were another well-known family living on Bridge Street at the same time as the Gallaghers. And, though he could read and write (which was a BIG thing back then which separated the scholar from the commoner), Dennis Murray listed himself as a labourer upon arriving in America. His wife, Bridget Gallagher, either aunt or first cousin to Felix, was another born and raised on Bridge Street (b. Westport, Co Mayo - 1830). Her father, James B. Gallagher, and mother, Catherine McHugh, were also Westport born and bred residents.

Back to Felix.... He, like many other immigrants of his time, chose not to return to Ireland but remained in America to marry the Murray daughter, Anna Marie, who would have been either first or second cousin to him on her mother’s side. 

So.... I've been able to trace these Gallagher relations of mine  - all hailing from Urban Westport  - to the first Irish census in 1901. The then Gallagher family head would have been Felix’s Aunt Margaret (73-year-old widow), who remained running the public house and grocers with her daughter Nora (39) assisting her. Edward (34) was a union clerk and my direct link to my 4th cousin Patrick Gallagher on Achill Island. And there were two other daughters: Agnes (31) and Kathleen (29), they were registered as music teachers. 

Patrick told me later that the story of Agnes and Kathleen got richer, as they were not just any ordinary music teachers. They had been prison convicts who not only taught music but also formed a prison band…the original jail-house rock.

I must say that I got more than I had bargained for in my quest to find the missing links of this till recently obscure branch of my otherwise well-documented family lineage. The Gallaghers were – and are – indeed a colourful lot. The icing on my cake was when I discovered that my Gallagher relations had also had a 900 year lease on the stone house adjacent to Saint Mary’s Parish Church on James Street, with payment made of a guinea a year till the death of the last remaining occupants, whom I was told by the parish clerk were Paddy and Agnes Gallagher. 

The clerk added that the couple had died some time in the 1960s, which was when the stone house was returned to the parish. After this interesting titbit, the grounds-keeper kindly gave me a personal tour of the old Gallagher home, of which I've now taken several photos of in hopes to delight my aging American aunties. ;) And, though I was let into the private residence, the grounds-keeper only allowed me to tour the ground flour, as the upper levels were currently occupied by resident priests. 

Still, while inside I had an incredible experience of feeling bathed in the light of my ancestors, a feeling of coming home.
And that’s my wonderful tale of the Gallagher family of Westport in County Mayo -- Sláinte! 

[Shers in front of the old stone house]                                        

[Shers and her 4th cousin, Patrick Gallagher – The Valley House, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland 2011]  

Aisling Books 


  1. The stories make the photo's extra special !

  2. Hello,
    I was randomly doing research on family history and came across your post. Felix P Gallagher is my Great Great Grandfather (I am related thru Annie Gallagher, sister to William Emmet). I have been researching for awhile and have been stuck with my research, so coming across this, was amazing. I would love to chat with you regarding this. Is there an email I can contact you at? You can contact me at I am traveling to Ireland in April and will be visiting Westport and Achill Island. I would really love to hear from you!!!!!!

    Thanks Kim


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