By Peter Biggins
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This was my first trip to Ireland. My son Brendan had run the Dublin Marathon the previous Halloween. My son Edward had been to Co. Clare to celebrate the 70th birthday of his father-in-law, Daniel O'Brien. My wife and siblings had all been there before me.
I have not been to many places in this world, but I came away from the Western countryside of Ireland thinking it must be the most beautiful of any. And, the people must be the most hospitable. Where else can you go and knock on the doors of perfect strangers, and be invited in for tea? Needless to say, I hope to return soon.
As preparation for the research trip, I developed a new Web site called: Biggins/Beggan Irish Roots. I talked to several Biggins families while on the trip to Co. Mayo, but was not able to establish a specific relationship. I did get the feeling, however, that the most likely source of Biggins ancestors in County Mayo would be in the south near the County Galway border.
(On a second trip to Ireland in Fall 2007, I met with Gerard Beggan in Carrickmacross, County Monghan. Irish historian, Father Peadar Livingstone, told him in 1969 that the Biggins/Beggan name originated as a branch of the Maguires of County Fermanagh. The Biggins families that lived across the road from my Patrick Biggins in Illinois were from County Monaghan. And there is a record of a Patrick Biggins born in Drumgill, County Cavan, in 1807, the same year my Patrick was born. In 2008, I had my DNA tested and found that I matched up with a number of Maguires, lending credence to the Peadar Livingstone theory and connecting me with the DNA of the Three Collas.)
Biggins is a relatively rare name outside of County Mayo. I found it a refreshing experience to go somewhere and have people recognize my name and not ask how to spell it or mistake it for Higgins.
I have been doing research on my ancestors and my wife's since retiring in 2002. The results thus far are shown on PetersPioneers.
Gaelic-American Club. Several months prior to the trip, Don Cavett, a genealogist, piper, and singer, invited me to monthly meetings of the Gaelic-American Club's genealogical group. There I met many people who encouraged me to go to Ireland. Bob Kelly, who had been to Co. Mayo many times, was particularly encouraging and lent me back issues of "Ireland of the Welcomes". The Gaelic-American Club is in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Aer Lingus. After riding four trains (Metro North, "6" subway, "E" subway, and Air Train) from Darien, Connecticut, I flew Aer Lingus from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Shannon Airport in Ireland on April 26. Aer Lingus jets are named after Irish saints. On the way out it was St. Maeve. On the way back it was St. Laurence O'Toole. These are both Airbus 330s with GE engines. Maeve was a warrior queen of Connaught (the western province of Ireland that includes Co. Mayo). Laurence was the first native-born Archbishop of Dublin, in the 12th century.
Hugh and Loretto O'Malley in Westport. That afternoon, I met with Hugh and Loretto O'Malley at the home they own on Bridge Street above Jester Pub in Westport, Co. Mayo. Loretto is the cousin of a friend, Marie Whitla O'Reilly. Marie and her husband Kieran, who were born in Dublin and live in Connecticut, are friends of ours. Marie's mother and Loretto's father were Morans whose parents owned a hotel, grocery store, saw mill, and pub on Cornmarket Street in Ballinrobe. Marie, a frequent writer on Irish topics, had provided me with articles she had written and put me in touch with the O'Malleys to help me get oriented. Hugh and Loretto were certainly helpful. The conversation was most enjoyable. And the tea and dinner were excellent.
Westport is in the heart of O'Malley country. Hugh's father was the co-founder of Clan O'Malley in 1957.
My great great grandmother was Bridget O'Malley (1830-1903). Bridget married William Stanton and emigrated to Chicago in 1872, following their daughter Mary who had emigrated eight years earlier and married John Foy. There was not time enough to look for a relationship with Hugh's family.
Loretto and Hugh have a luxury two-bedroom apartment that they rent called Anchor Buildings. "It can comfortably accomodate up to four adults or a small family. With a large kitchen/dining area, enormous living room, and a full complement of modern conveniences, you can enjoy your vacation on your own terms." The Web site is as impressive as the apartment.
On subsequent trips to Ireland in September 2007 and October 2009, I again enjoyed the hospitality of Loretto and Hugh. On the last trip, they gave me a booklet about Grace O'Malley entitled "Grania Uaile." It is based on a lecture delivered by Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Healy, LL.D., at the Town Hall in Westport, on January 7, 1906.
Riverside House. During my trip to Ballinrobe, I stayed at The Riverside House, a very nice B&B on Cornmarket Street. It is run by Anne Mahon. Anne and her family had lived in Staten Island and New Jersey for a number of years before returning to Ballinrobe.
When I arrived at Riverside House, I told Anne that I was researching Biggins genealogy. To my surprise, she told me her aunt Katie Grimes married Thomas Biggins in Glencorrib. By the time I left, she was able to give me a brief family tree for this Biggins family. I posted the tree on this page and it subsequently was seen by several relatives who were "Googling" their ancestors.
The tree is now shown under "Biggins from The Neale and Ballynalty" on Biggins/Beggan Irish Roots.
Michael and Bridie Biggins of Ballynalty (see below) sent me Glencorrib National Schools, 1854-2004, which contains an article by Peg Biggins about her mother, Katie Grime Biggins, entitled "The Experiences of Katie Biggins in America."
Walks. Each morning before breakfast, I took five-mile walks in the countryside--taking a different road out of town each day. This was lambing season, and there were two-week old lambs running around the fields everywhere. The road to the Neale was perhaps the best walk. You had to remember to walk on the wrong side of the street because people drive on the wrong side.
On Saturday morning, I viewed the start of the weekend's trout fishing competition. I also spent time talking with Dominick Curran, the person in charge of the competition, who told me how it works and gave me a copy of the program from last year's World Cup competition.
I did research at Biggins Bar every night for six nights, enjoying a couple pints of Guinness each night. I was able to verify what my brother Bill had always told me, that Guinness tastes best in Ireland. Bill had traveled to Co. Mayo following his discharge from the Navy during the Viet Nam conflict.
John took it upon himself to ask his aunt Anne Biggins Duffy to put together a family tree. He also put me intouch by phone with another relative Patrick Hogan. The resulting tree is now shown under "Biggins Bar, Ballinrobe" on Biggins/Beggan Irish Roots.
Biggins Bar is a favorite place to purchase flies for fly fishing. John's father Sean was an avid fly fisherman. After his father's death in a car accident in 2003, John established the Sean Biggins Memorial Cup for the best Ballinrobe angler in the annual World Cup Trout Fly Angling Championship at Lough Mask, a few miles west of Ballinrobe.
Established 1863. John Biggins says that Biggins Bar is the oldest continuously operating bar in Ballinrobe. As indicated on the sign, it was established in 1863. It originally was in the Farragher family. The first Biggins proprietor was John Biggins, grandfather of the current owner, who married Mary Farragher. According to a 1987 guide to the history and folklore of Ballinrobe, Itchy Feet & Thirsty Work, by Bridie Mulloy, Biggins Bar "is possibly the oldest license in town. The license was originally for a house in Brewery lane - off Bridge Street - but through the goodwill of Colonel Knox, for whom Sean's maternal great grandfather was gardener, a house was leased in Bowgate Street which still prospers."
Bridie Molloy died just before my return trip to Ballinrobe in October 2009.
The parish church in Mayo Abbey is St. Colman's Church. Kathleen Delaney wrote in response to a telephone call that Fr. Biggins was born in Castlebar in 1872 to Denis and Mary Biggins. He was baptized on December 24. His mother was from the Killeen family in Claremorris. He was ordained at Maynooth in June 1898. In 1896 St Patrick's College Maynooth had attained the status of a Pontifical University for its courses in Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law. At one time, Maynooth was the largest seminary in the world.
Fr. Biggins became the Parish Priest (Pastor) at Mayo Abbey in 1931, having come from Castlebar. At Mayo Abbey, Fr. Biggins renovated the church interior, put down a boarded floor, studded the walls, and painted the inside. He built the curate's residence. An unassuming man, he was well liked by the people. For some years before his death he suffered from heart trouble. He died February 8, 1950, aged 77 years, and is buried in the New Cemetery where the tombstone to his memory was erected by the parishioners.
Michael has been Mayo County chairman for the Irish Farmers' Association since 2002. Michael and Bridie have five children.
The farm has been in his family for hundreds of years. Michael took me over to his mother's house for a visit. Her name is Norah and her maiden name was Biggins. Norah has a brother John Biggins in Boston. Her husband, Thomas Biggins, died in 2003 at the age of 82. I was served tea at Norah's house and then dinner at Michael's house. Following that, Michael took me on a tour of the farm and down to Headford to see his son who was working at the cattle sale.
Michael referred me to Eamon Martin who is doing genealogical research. Eamon, who is married to Frances Biggins and lives in Dublin, has provided some interesting information on Peeter Beaghan in the 1650s. Peeter who was given 673 acres of land in Co. Mayo to partially replace land confiscated in Co. Monaghan. Cromwell confiscated land owned by Catholics east of the river Shannon to compensate soldiers who helped put down a rebellion in 1641 and to reduce the influence of Catholics east of the River Shannon. Peeter's new land consisted of seven parcels in Shrule (Muckallgee, Balynalta, Carrownaheele) and Mooragagh (Killinebringe, Carrowmore). This information is included in the Book of Survey and Distribution on Martin Ryan's Shrule Web site. Peeter also received land back in Co. Monaghan. One explanation may be that he bought land from soldiers who had received it.
Michael also referred me to his niece Kathy Keane who is doing genealogical research. She has emailed me a family tree that allowed me to create a Biggins descendants chart for Michael's great great grandfathers on both his mother's and father's sides. The resulting chart is now shown under "Michael Biggins, Chairman of Mayo IFA" on Biggins/Beggan Irish Roots.
Biggins Foodstore. Included in the book is an article about the Biggins Foodstore, which was situated directly across from the Glencorrib Church from 1947 to 1996. It was owned and operated by the Michael (Mick) Biggins (1909-1986) and Bridgie Diskin Biggins family. Initially, they sold cigarettes, papers, and general groceries, but over the years the store became more of a general store selling drugs, clothing, and hardware. Mick and Bridie had seven children who eventually helped out in the store: Michael, Mary, John, Bernadette, James, Bridget, and Patrick.
On a return trip to ballinrobe in 2009, I discovered that Monsignor Shannon had retired in 2008 and died shortly thereafter. He had been pastor of St. Mary's for 24 years. The new pastor is Father Conal Canon Eustace.
Based on baptisms in the 1870s and 1880s, it was possible to reconstruct five Biggins families from St. Mary's Church in Ballinrobe. The resulting chart is now shown under "St. Mary's Church in Ballinrobe" on Biggins/Beggan Irish Roots.
St. Mary's is especially known for its stained glass windows by Harry Clarke.
National Museum of Ireland--Country Life. On Sunday afternoon, I visited the Museum of Country Life east of Castlebar in Turlough Park, Co. Mayo. This branch of the National Museum was opened in 2001. It portrays the lives of ordinary people who lived in rural Ireland in the period 1850 to 1950.
Martin has developed an excellent Web site called Shrule.com which has an amazing amount of genealogical information for southern Co. Mayo. Included are baptisms and marriages provided by Fr. Michael Crosbie for Shrule and Glencorrib parishes. Martin explained the genealogy work he is doing and put together a CD with a lot of helpful information files, and displayed his extensive mapping resources for Co. Mayo.
I had encountered Martin's Shrule Web site prior to my trip and called him in advance. Martin graciously agreed to get together and also referred me to a friend Gerard Biggins who lives in Dalgan Park (northeast of Shrule). Gerard said he had only recently returned to Ireland from England, where he and his family had lived for many years. So, he referred me to his nephew Michael Biggins in Ballynalty, and that is how I came to meet with Michael.
Biggins in Castlecarra. On the afternoon of the bank holiday, I visited Ballintubber Abbey and Moore Hall, about 7 miles north of Ballinrobe. During the trip, I stopped by a cemetery in Castlecarra to look for Biggins stones. Someone asked me who I was looking for and I said Biggins. She said there was a Biggins family two farms down on the right. So, I went and knocked on the door, gaining a measure of confidence when I noticed that there was a Biggins sign just to the right of the door. Thomas J. Biggins and his wife Grace invited me in and served tea.
Castlecarra is two miles northwest of Moore Hall. Thomas' father Patrick and his grandfather Joseph were from the townland of Cloondaver in Robeen parish, which is about two miles southeast of Moore Hall. Before that the family lived in Roundfort, which is east of Ballinrobe and south of Hollymount. Before that, the family was from around Glencorrib in far south Co. Mayo.
Thomas has a brother Gerald Biggins in Deerpark who works for the Irish Pride Bakery in Ballinrobe, a brother John Biggins who is a farmer in Cloverhill, and two sisters.
I was the second Biggins from America to visit Thomas and Grace. The first was Brian Biggins of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, who visited them ten years earlier. Brian's great great grandparents, Patrick and Mary Maloy Biggins, were from Cloondaver. Brian's great grandfather, James Biggins, was born in Cloondaver in 1834, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1851, and married Ellen Welch in 1869. In 1996, before Brian visited Thomas and Grace, he had sent a letter to my son Edward in New York hoping to find information about a Biggins ancestor who lived in New York. Edward passed this "strange" letter on to me, and Brian and I corresponded by mail. For the first time in my life, I did a little genealogical research. No connection was found between our families, but I received a great introduction to Biggins genealogy. This correspondence with Brian Biggins added materially to the tree shown below.
In October 2007, Mary Hughes Biggins, wife of Thomas Biggins' brother John, found this page while researching her husband's ancestry. In January 2009, she was able to make significant contributions to the resulting chart now shown under "Biggins from Castlecarra" on Biggins/Beggan Irish Roots.
Biggin in Ballinrobe in 1782. On my way to a visit to the cemetery in Ballinrobe, I spotted a stone sign embedded in the wall of a house saying "This House Built By Thomas Biggin - 1782." The sign was on a building just after you turn on the Ballyglass Road heading north out of Ballinrobe.
On my return trip to Ballinrobe in 2009, I talked to Tom Watson, who lives across the street from the sign. He said the row of buildings where the sign was were built by the Courtney Kenny family. The Kenny family had lived in the Ballinrobe area since the late 17th century and owned a brewery and flour mill there. The buildings on the Ballyglass Road were built for the miller and other skilled workers. The theory is that Thomas Biggin was a journeyman stone mason and chiseled the sign into the side of the building during construction. It was plastered over but uncovered when the plaster was redone in 2004. The former Kenny home, Robe Villa, is on High Street, around the corner from the Biggin sign.
See Maggie Land Blanck's Web site for some great 2004 photos of the buildings above when they were being refurbished, as well as the Kenny home and flour mill and other places in Ballinrobe, and old photos of Ballinrobe.
Foy in Kiltarsaghaun. I had found on the website of Bridget Walsh Deese (1919-2005) that my great great grandparents, Dominick and Anne Walsh Foy had been married on February 21, 1843, in the Parish of Ballintober (also called Ballintubber) in Co. Mayo. Witnesses were Thomas Walsh and Mary Foy. The bride was said to be from the townland of Kiltarsaghaun (also called Kiltharsechaune), just south of Killavally (also called Killawalla). Killavally is 12 miles northeast of Ballinrobe, 10 miles south southwest of Castlebar, and 8 miles southeast of Westport. It is at the north end of the Partry Mountains, in the eastern foothills. Kiltarsaghaun comes from the Irish "thairseach" meaning "door steps." Prior to the Great Famine (1845-1847), the village was so densely populated that it was said that the "door-steps" were almost on top of each other.
George Henry Moore's agent for Kiltarsaghaun was Malachy Touhy who leased it to tenants and also lived there. In the Griffith's Valuation of 1857, there were 36 families with 810 acres, or about 22 acres each. There were no Foy families, but four Walsh families: Patrick, Patrick junior, Richard, and Thomas. This Thomas Walsh could be the one who was a witness at the marriage of Dominick and Ann Walsh.
On Tuesday, May 2, my last full day, I picked some low-hanging fruit and did a little Foy research. I met with Fr. Frank Fahy in Ballintober at Celtic Furrows, who gave me baptismal dates for two children of Dominick and Anne: Patrick Foy on February 12, 1847, and John Foy on May 7, 1848. John Foy is my great grandfather. Dominick, Anne, and their son John appear in the U. S. Census in Nunda, New York, in 1850. Patrick does not appear, so he must have died.
Foy in Derreennascooba. Fr. Fahy also provided baptismal dates for five Foys whose parents were John and Bridget Gibbons Foy. A search of parish records at the National Library in Dublin in 2007 indicated that these five Foys as well as Dominick and Patrick above were all born in Derreennascooba. The name Derreennascooba comes from the Irish, "Doirin na Scuaibe," meaning "The Little Derry or Oak Wood of the Broom." The 1857 Griffiths Valuation shows that Derreennascooba consisted of 590 acres shared by 13 tenants, 45 acres on average. There was one Foy tenant out of the 13: Thomas.
With directions provided by Fr. Fahy, I drove to Kiltarsaghaun and asked at a shop owned by Michael and Maureen Walsh, which included the Killavally Post Office, if there were any Foys around. Michael referred me to Norah Brady in Kiltarsaghaun, five farms up the road on the right. I knocked on her door and found that she was the granddaughter of Patrick Foy, who had brothers named Dominick and Thomas and sisters named Catherine and Mary. Parish records show that the parents of these Foys were John and Bridget Gibbons Foy and that their children were all born in Derreennascooba. The 1901 Census shows this Foy family in Derreennascooba, headed by John Foy, 65, farmer. His wife is Bridget, 60. Living with them were three children: Pat, 28, Thomas, 26, and Catherine 20.
On a subsequent trip to Derreennascooba in 2007, I met Norah Brady's sister-in-law Margaret by chance while walking down the road there. She invited me in and told me that where she lived was the original Foy farm. Margaret then referred me to Norah's brother Charles Kerrigan who lived a few miles away in Killadeer townland, Ballyheane. Charles invited me in and provided additional information, which is reflected in the chart of descendants of Thomas and Mary Tracy Foy. Charles and Norah had grown up in the home in Derreennascooba where Margaret now lives.
Walsh Shop. At the Walsh shop, Michael Walsh gave me a 160-page soft-cover book entitled Killawalla: The Road to Our Hearts, published in November 1999 to mark the millennium. In the book were a 1969 photo of Norah Brady’s children and one of Norah's mother Maisie Kerrigan (nee Foy) and a grandson. The Walsh shop is a grocery, a news agency, a light hardware store, and Post Office.
In April 2003, Western People reported on “Signs of Life”, an exhibition of thirty unique screenprints by Virginia Gibbons on show at the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. The article said, "Virginia is an American-born artist who is now resident in Mayo in a cottage just six miles from where her great grandfather was born, and these works capture the spirit of place, ambience and cultural tradition, as well as Virginia’s own responses. “Signs of Life” is an exhibition of powerfully evocative abstract imagery by an artist of proven artistic vision."
After showing me around their home, the McCarthys not only gave me tea and but also invited me to stay for an American dinner of hotdogs.
Bill and Ginny were the first Americans I had met in Ireland. It was interesting to see how they had adapted to life in Ireland. And what a gracious couple!
Professor Carroll. After turning in my Opel at Hertz, and not being reimbursed for the flat tire, I proceeded to the Aer Lingus terminal at Shannon Airport. There I was greeted with a long line of people checking in. As I was resigning myself to the wait, I struck up a conversation with the professorial-looking person in front of me. This was only the second American I had met in Ireland. His name was Stephen Carroll and he was an emeritus professor of Management and Organization in the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He was originally from Boston and still has family there. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He had been making a speech in Limerick on industrial psychology. His brother has been doing genealogical research on their Carroll ancestors, and they have been to Co. Tipperary for meetings of the Carroll clan. I told him that my wife was a Carroll from Co. Limerick, and he offered to put me in touch with his brother. He, like Marilyn, has not been able to establish a relationship to Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), signer of the Declaration of Independence, or his cousin, John Carroll (1735-1815), first Bishop and Archbishop of the Unites States (Baltimore).
In January 2011, I started an Ely Carroll DNA project which has identified the Y-chromosome DNA of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Marilyn's second cousin Michael Patrick Carroll, however, has been found to have the DNA of the Mulryans and Learys rather than Ely Carroll.
Just the Beginning. There still is plenty of research to be done on our Biggins ancestors. It could take seven or eight more trips. Then it will be time to go to Limerick for the Carroll family.
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