Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Derry: where Jo finds great grandparents

When planning my itinerary I built in a rest week that I would spend in Derry. The plan was that I might sleep a lot, drink a few guinness in an Irish pub and quietly potter around in the library or records office to see if I could track down family of my grandfather who left Derry in 1926.

Moneymore - not what I was expecting
Well best laid plans flew out the window really fast ...

My paternal grandfather left Derry as a 23 yr old in 1926. He came to NZ and married my grandmother in 1929. He never said a lot about Ireland, never wanted to go back, never talked about his family in Derry.

My Mum had been searching for years, had even hired a researcher in Derry to see what they could find, and no luck. All we had was Grandads birth certificate and the marriage licence of his parents, Patrick McBride and Eliabeth Wilson. We hoped there might be family somewhere, cousins for my father. Dad passed away a few years ago without us ever finding family but I have always wanted to trace those Irish roots. This was my chance.

On the first day I found a candidate for what could possibly be my great grandmother Elizabeth in the Derry City Cemetery. The electronic records were inconclusive so I sent an email to the records office to see if I could view the actual register. Of course; come on over! I was there in 20 minutes flat!

Font where my great grandfather was
baptised in 1864
The Records Office staff were wonderful and after flipping through a catalogue card drawer and hauling out original register books it was official I had found my great grandmother Elizabeth AND also her husband Patrick, my Great Grandfather plus 2 wee babies that were Patrick's but not Elizabeth's. There was a wealth of information on those registers - none of which was available on the electronic records. I also found the place of birth for Patrick and Elizabeth plus the names of both of their parents. I had so many leads now and things clicked into place very quickly as I spent a frantic couple of days using electronic databases tracking down leads to piece the family together.

I checked and cross checked and I am certain that I am correct. Long story short my grandfather's paternal line came from Donegal, his mother was a Callaghan and they were Roman Catholic (not presbyterians from Derry as we thought). Patrick changed his religion 4 times and married 3 times and lied about his age consistently throughout his life. No wonder he had been so hard to track down!

I visited all the places and addresses in Derry where I knew the family had been. On a whim, I took a hire car over to Donegal, and using my phone  and google maps found my way down one way mud tracks to Moneymore, where Patrick and his siblings had all been born. Just on dusk, then the credit ran out on my phone and data roaming stopped worked (Donegal is in another country to Derry) and than I found myself at a muddy paddock. Moneymore was a paddock!! Frantic reversing, an 8 point turn, desperately found my way back to the highway. Relief! I had visions of being stuck in the Donegal countryside overnight. I saw a road sign for Newtoncunningham - birthplace of Patrick - so I swung into the only pub in sight and collapsed with a glass of wine relieved but also disappointed.

Ballintoy Harbour - Greyjoy's turf in Game of Thrones
The waitress asked who I was and what I was doing. Oh she said, there are still loads of McBrides down Moneymore way, its a rural area with scattered houses and farms, and I'm a Callaghan! I'll ring my mammy. The luck of that happening was astounding. I went back the next day and photographed all the McBride and Callaghan headstones, then went back to the actual church Patrick and his siblings had all been baptised in.

I left exhausted but happy; I'd worked for hours at a computer, driven places, stomped around cemeteries and had only 1 day off sightseeing along the northern Ulster coastal scenic route (went to a number of Game of Thrones sites.


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