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The Quest – full circle – rehashed for my brother, who now thinks on such things.... :)

©Shers Gallagher 2017

August 2011 found me sitting in a Westport B&B, having come to this North-western region of Ireland in search of my Irish 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 Schuler ní Gallagher, has sadly passed away, along with her two brothers, William and Raymond (officially spelled ‘Ramon’, as neither grandparent could spell well in those days).  Their father, William (Bill) Emmet, was the 8th son of 10 children to Felix Peter Gallagher (b. 02 August 1863) and Anna Marie Murray Gallagher (b. 12 August 1866). 

Felix, my great-grandfather, was born in urban Westport to Bridget Gallagher ní McIntyre and her husband Martin. They were a Roman Catholic family, but documentation is sketchy for all born before the official Irish registry that began a year later, in 1864.  

My great-grandfather Felix, I found out, was born on Bridge Street; and, not only was he born on this street, but a large number of his relations were as well. This was because, in the mid-1800s through the early to mid-1900s, the Gallaghers owned the 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 being one of them. For those unfamiliar with Molloy’s, it’s the establishment of the world renowned ‘Chieftains’ flute player situated just opposite what once was the Gallagher public house and grocers. Molloy's too is known by the name rather than a business number. 


Today the old publican house of the Gallagher’s has been turned into a restaurant, called Café Sol Rio. And I felt myself lucky to meet its owner, a lovely woman with the married name of Lambert and daughter to Matt Malone, once furrier, business relation and personal friend of the Gallaghers, she told me, adding that it was a friendship that had remained strong throughout the years.

The Gallaghers, I was also informed, had not only owned half the block of Bridge Street in their heyday, but they’d also run a small factory on High Street. This is the street that crosses Bridge Street on the north side. Today you can locate it by the stone grey statue and small roundabout in front. There’s also a chipper (fish & chips shop) where a section of the factory once stood. I’m not keen on greasy food, but a friend travelling with me ordered some chips while there and said they were tasty. In the factory’s zenith, candles were made out of big vats of tallow, those working the craft being called chandlers back then. They also tatted lace, fashioned women’s bonnets and undergarments, such as corsets.  

 The Gallaghers in their prime were a wealthy family, I was told by a local historian. So why my great-grandfather sailed to America in his youth was a mystery to me. I mean, why leave a prosperous lifestyle you were born and bred to? Well, there may have been two reasons, according to Patrick Gallagher, a 4th cousin I met during my trip. (N.B. Patrick inherited and now operates the Valley House on Achill Island just west of Westport.) Patrick went on to say that my great-grandfather Felix (cousin to his grandfather Edward) might have left because of a better opportunity. I did know that Great-grandfather Felix had gone on to stay with cousins sponsoring him in Illinois and ended up marrying a first cousin while there.

Another reason, though, could have possibly been because he’d joined the IRB (old Irish Brotherhood). The IRB later became the IRA; but, in Felix’s day, the IRB was a resistance group, not at all like the latter terrorist organisation. Regardless, those youth involved in the IRB were sought after for subversive actions to the Crown of England. And, at the time, several had fled to either England or America with many returning again when they were no longer sought after. 

Here’s a bit of history for those interested in this time: 
the political figure Daniel O’Connell had been instrumental in achieving Catholic Emancipation from the English crown in 1829, which largely eliminated legal discrimination against the Catholics. Now this was no small achievement because the Irish Catholics then comprised 75% of Ireland’s population. Yet Home Rule, which was O’Connell’s major concern, was never achieved. And the Home Rule movement soon created a divide between the Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists. It was Home Rule that sought the restoration of the Irish Parliament. But the unionists continued to support Britain with Home Rule supporters countering them at every step. The conflict heightened during the career of Charles Stuart Parnell (founder of the Irish parliament, land reform agitator and charismatic repealer). And this man who led the Irish Parliamentary Party as its MP through the period of Parliamentary nationalism in Ireland -- between 1875 and his death in 1891 -- had an enormous effect on the lives of young men like my great-grandfather, Felix Gallagher. 

The Murrays too were a familiar Westport family hailing from Bridge Street. And though he could read and write (which was a BIG thing back then because it 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 also born on Bridge Street (Westport, Co Mayo - 1830). Her father was James B. Gallagher and mother, Catherine McHugh, both Westport born and bred residents, themselves.

It is purely speculation as to why Felix really did venture to America in the prime of his youth. But, again, his sponsorship by his later father-in-law Dennis Murray surely played a part in the decision. And like many other Irish expats, Felix Gallagher chose to remain in America for good, sealing the deal by marrying the Murray daughter, Anna Marie, who would have been either first or second cousin to Felix on her mother’s side.  


Back to the present day.... I’ve managed to trace my Gallagher family on Bridge Street in Westport around the time of my great-grandfather’s existence in the first Irish census (1901). The then head of the Gallagher clan would have been Felix’s Aunt Margaret, a widow at 73 years who ran the public house and grocers. Her daughter Nora (39) assisted her. Edward (34) was a union clerk. (Remember this is also who directly links me to my 4th cousin Patrick Gallagher on Achill Island). And there were two other daughters: Agnes (31) and Kathleen (29), registered as music teachers. Patrick told me later that the story about Agnes and Kathleen got richer, as they were not just any ordinary music teachers. They’d been imprisoned and, while jailed, had formed a prison band -- the original jailhouse rock! Admittedly, I was delighted by the story, having got more than I’d ever believed imaginable out of my quest to find the missing pieces of what was once to me a puzzle of this up until now obscure branch of my otherwise well-documented family tree. 


The Gallaghers were – and are – indeed a colourful lot, but the story doesn’t stop here. When visiting the local Catholic church -- Saint Mary’s on James Street -- I was told by its parish clerk that the Gallaghers had held a 900 year lease on the still standing stone house adjacent to it. Old Bishop Gallagher had arranged for rental payments of a guinea a year to be made till the last remaining occupants turned the house back over to the parish. 
These were Paddy and Agnes Gallagher (who’d remained in the house throughout the 1960s). A kindly groundskeeper unlocked the door and let me enter the old Gallagher home, but I was only allowed on the first floor as above lived parish priests who were occupying the rest of the house. 

[Shers in front of the old stone house]  


                                   
[Inside the stone house -- where I had an incredible experience of feeling bathed in the light of my ancestors, a feeling of coming home.]  
                                      
[Shers and her 4th cousin, Patrick Gallagher – The Valley House, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland 2011]  

And that’s my wonderful tale of the Gallagher family of Westport in County Mayo   -- Sláinte!  

Aisling Books 

Comments

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

    ReplyDelete
  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 kasteiner@comcast.net. 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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HUGE apologies for not getting back to you soon, Kim. I messaged you on Gmail and hope you had a lovely time visiting NW Ireland. Hope too that you got to meet Patrick and Alice Gallagher at the Valley House on Achill. Alice is actively on Facebook too! Cheers

      Delete

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