Tag Archives: The Great Hunger

“Driving” From Cloyne to Midleton, Cork, Ireland.

The Internet and our beloved Google has expanded our world’s in so many incredible ways, something we particularly appreciate as bloggers posting our writing online and not only sharing it with all sorts right around the world, but also have conversations and read their work as well and gain personal insights of what it is to be someone else and live somewhere else.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve dabbled in visiting places overseas via Google Earth. Just to remind you I live in Greater Sydney, Australia and there’s a lot of ocean in between where I want to go and also several continents. Not easy to get away for the desired length of time, and there’s the expense and then covid was added to the mix. However, as bad as covid’s been, it has opened up International communication online and being able to zoom in anywhere, tune into live stream, and then there’s Google Earth and that took on another dimension when I realized that I could take photos on my phone while on my travels, and they weren’t half bad. Of course, not on par with my Nikon SLR but mostly more than adequate.

St Colman’s Roman Catholic Church.

The other interesting thing about traveling via Google Earth, is that you in effect get dumped somewhere in the vicinity of where you wanted to go, and have to come to and get your bearing. So, for someone like me who gets lost in the real world and can’t read a map, there’s been no magic fix traveling via Google Earth. The only difference is that I’m not getting worn out trudging back retracing my steps like I did in Amsterdam back in 1992, and I also had a 20 kilo pack on my back to complicate matters further. It truly is wonderful, particularly as my husband and I are close to still being in lockdown. We can go out. It’s people we need to stay away from. I won’t lie. As an extrovert, it’s tough but the alternative is sobering.

What took me on this journey from Cloyne to Midleton was very simple: How far is it from Cloyne to Midleton? My 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, was an Irish Famine Orphan, and there is mention of her being born in Midleton and Cloyne and I wanted to cover my bases.

By the way, I’ve mentioned Bridget before (including my last post). In essence, Bridget was plucked out of a cesspit of starvation, fever and certain death in Midleton Workhouse and given free passage and a trunk full of goodies to start a new life in Australia.

There is also a complicating twist to this story. Two maybe three of Bridget’s sons married Aboriginal women and some of their descendants were removed from their families in a process called the “Stolen Generation”. I know of at least one descendant who was placed in an institution called the Cootamundra Girls’ Home. So tragic. I am new to all of this, and the cultural nuances involved. There seem to be parallels in how the Irish and the Aboriginal people were treated by the English under colonialization, but the Irish also moved onto Aboriginal land. So, it gets messy and I’m descended from it all, and yet innocent of the actions of my forebears. However, I am trying to undo some of my own ignorance and find out a bit more, but it’s a process.

Cloyne Tower

Meanwhile, we’re in Cloyne. It’s a village of about 1, 803 people and 350 houses (2016) and it’s a whole 7.7km from Midleton. So, really only a long stone throw away. In about 560 AD, Saint Colman mac Lenene (who died in 604) founded a monastery in Cloyne, and the round tower was constructed later, and dates back to around the 10th century, and is approximately 30m high and 16.25m around when measured about 1.5m above the ground. The stone in the tower is dark purple sandstone. Since then, a lightning strike in 1749 caused some damage to the top of the tower. I’ve also read that you used to be able to climb up to the top of the tower, but the state of disrepair and the threat of being sued have conspired to keep it out of bounds, which is such a shame as the view from the top would be incredible.

Although I know I’d struggle up that ladder, it’s calling me!

However, I had a bit of a false start when I first touched down in Cloyne. I landed on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere, and can’t help wondering whether the dog had fiddled with the coordinates. It happens, you know. So, I reset the dial. Phew. This time I’d landed right near Cloyne Tower.

Like something straight out of a fairy tale, of course I envisioned Bridget climbing up that metal ladder and up the wooden stairs to the top. Of course, she was just a little girl then with long, dark flowing hair and of course she ran all the way to the top with an energy I can only dream about now. It was also long before the Great Hunger ravaged Ireland, and transported her to the workhouse and ultimately Australia. Of course, this is a romantic view where she is always smiling, and laughing with her friends. There is no sorrow in this early vision. I want her to simply be a child. A child whose future isn’t darkened by looming shadows but is free, because she didn’t know what lay ahead, and neither do we.

I had a short walk around Cloyne, and managed to miss one of it’s main attractions – a monument to Christy Ring Christy Ring won eight All-Ireland senior hurling medals, nine Munster titles, four National Leagues and 18 inter provincial Railway Cup medals with Munster. However, I have to admit I don’t know much about hurling. So, that’s another aspect to my Irish heritage which has gone by the wayside, which isn’t so strange considering I’m Australian and in Monopoly parlance “just visiting”.

Anyway, I wasn’t planning to linger in Cloyne today, although the possibility of legally or illegally climbing up the tower is appealing. Rather, I’m here to get some sense of the drive from Cloyne to Midleton, and I was delighted to find River Road is the road which takes you out of Cloyne to Midleton. This River Road had been mentioned to me in one of those family history chat sites. Apparently, some of the Donovans were living there so this is a great find with something of an “X marks the spot” feel to it (except that I have no idea of where the actual x was, but it’s a darned sight closer than here.)

Driving from Cloyne to Midleton through the tunnel of trees

I follow this road through what appears to be a tunnel of trees and I’m just relishing all this lush green Irish foliage and never-ending rows of rustic stone walls.

Then, I reach a huge roundabout and I think I had to turn right to get into Midleton, but big roundabouts are no less confusing on Google Earth than they are in real life and it’s just as easy to get lost although you’re not going to wind up in the morgue if you get all your directions completely muddled up and go round the wrong way straight into a truck. No, in this regard, Google Earth was rather kind. I could sort of diagonally scoot over the top, hold my breath and much to my relief spot the sign to Midleton. I’m almost there!

Main Street, Midleton 1920’s

I don’t know what I expected to find in Midleton. Ideally, I’d find somebody who knew all about Bridget. The bits I don’t know. After all, there are two main parts to Bridget’s story…the Irish and Australian bits and it’s not that easy to join them up, especially when I haven’t even been able to find a death for Bridget in Australia (or her husband George) and you can’t just stick a Wanted Ad up on a telegraph pole when you’re looking for your missing ancestor and where and when they were buried. That said, many would say that she’s entitled to her privacy and if she’s been this hard to track down when I’m rather relentless, perhaps it’s time to leave well enough alone. However, I’m not giving up yet. There are still a few stones left which haven’t been turned.

Anyway, I did manage to find Midleton Library. That might be helpful.

I also just enjoyed walking along these streets she and my other forebears trod all those years ago. She was 19 years old when she arrived in Sydney and I wonder if she had a sweetheart she left behind. Or, maybe, he was one of the million or so who perished during the Great Hunger. Or, he sailed to America onboard one of those dreaded “coffin ships”. I don’t know. Moreover, while we’re talking about all I don’t know, I’m wondering why we didn’t study something about Irish history over here in Australia given those so many of us have Irish heritage. Humph. I don’t really need to ask I already know. There’s lots about Australian history we didn’t touch on at school. So, I shouldn’t be surprised.

However, as I mentioned in my last post, while I didn’t find any connection to Bridget Donovan in Midleton, I a sixth sense led me to Midleton Bookshop, and it just so happened that I looked up their web site to see what might be in their front window, when i felt a magnetic attraction towards a book by Irish author, Michael Harding. I’ve since bought two of his books and listened to quite a number of his podcasts. He’s such a find. Here’s a link to that story here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/02/19/irish-author-michael-harding-midleton-bookshop-ireland/

Michael Harding – You never know who you’re going to find when you head off on Google Earth.

Well, I might pop back later and add a few more photos. It’s really late and my head is spinning. I have really loved visiting Cloyne and Midleton, wandering around the streets and wondering about Bridget Donovan.

I would love to hear from you and hope you’ve had a great weekend.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Caught In The Never-Ending O’Sullivan Maze

Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself caught in the ultimate avoidance device -the Never-ending O’Sullivan Maze.

Well, you might ask where and what on earth this is. If you’re looking for a physical address, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Hang on. There are actually physical addresses after all, but what this maze is referring to is nutting out my O’Sullivan family history and entering all these people into an online community at Wikitree. This is a free online database, which allows me to document and share my research and connect up with cousins without feeding the Ancestry machine. I am a great fan of the “free economy”.

Before I get stuck into the whys of the O’Sullivan Maze, I thought I’d launch off with the whats (or is it the whos?) Actually, it is a who. Who were the O’Sullivans? Next question: why do they matter?

Some would argue that they’re rather random and remote ancestors of mine. Although I don’t mention it very often on the blog, my surname is Curtin, although I’m actually known more by my married name, although I’ve only half-changed the legal documentation after 20 years of marriage. To reach the O’Sullivans, we need to go via the Curtins.

James Curtin, son of John Curtin and Bridget O’Sullivan with his wife, Charlotte Merritt

The story begins with John Curtin, who was my first Curtin ancestor to arrive in Australia. He was baptized on the 1st July, 1831 in the Parish of St Finbarr’s, City of Cork County Cork, the fourth child of Thomas Curtin a stevedore on Cork Harbour and Mary Scannell. On the 5th December, 1853 he sailed out of Liverpool as an Able Seaman on board The Scotia, and arrived in Sydney on the 2nd April, 1854.

On 5th September, 1855 John Curtin married Bridget O’Sullivan at the more humble, original St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney . John was aged 22 and Bridget was around 19 years old.

Bridget O’Sullivan was born around January, 1834 in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland to Daniel O’Sullivan and Mary Egan. They were living at Jones Lane, Mallow when she was baptised on the 20th January, 1834 by Father DM Collins who went on to become part of a delegation of Irish priests to lobby the English government for support during An Gorta Mor or the Great Hunger. Her sponsors were Edward Foley and Johanna Leary. Bridget had two younger sisters, Catherine and Mary Ann. The O’Sullivans sailed out of Plymouth on the 6th July, 1851 arriving in Sydney  on the 8th October, 1851. Shipping records state Daniel O’Sullivan’s occupation as Farmer’s Labourer and Mary Ann was a dairywoman. Bridget was 15 years old. She could read and write and worked as a General Servant.

The O’Sullivans didn’t just come out to Australia because they had nothing better to do. Rather, there were probably two forces at work. Firstly, there was the An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger or “Irish Famine”) 1845-1852, and the discovery of gold at Bathurst, NSW on the 12th February, 1851. When you put those two forces together, it was a no brainer. Moreover, Daniel’s brother David O’Sullivan, and Mary’s brother, Denis Egan, were already out here, and had paved the way.

Irish Signs at the Porterhouse Pub, Surry Hills.

That was how the O’Sullivan maze through Sydney’s Surry Hills and Paddington began. Around 1890, Daniel O’Sullivan’s brother, Denis and his wife Hanorah Cahill arrived in Sydney with their four children and youngest son, John Paul, was born in Sydney after they’d arrived. Their daughter Catherine Agatha married Thomas Edward Augustine Plasto on the 24th May, 1879 Sacred Heart Church, Randwick. They had six children before she died on the 25th November, 1891 and her husband went on to have an additional eleven children with his second wife. Fortunately, however, they’re not part of this maze, and the Plasto children were just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, before Denis and his family arrived on the scene, we had Bridget who had married John Curtin, and they had nine children. Before you start thinking they bred like rabbits populating Surry Hills, Paddington and beyond; three of their children died as infants.

Meanwhile, Bridget had her two sisters living nearby and I guess this is where I’m heading with this story…a story of three Irish sisters arriving in Surry Hills and the various ups and downs they and their descendants experienced. However, before I can really delve too much into the story, there’s the scaffolding of the actual family history and how these Irish families in Surry Hills and Paddington intermingled both genetically in families and as community. That’s what mathematicians refer to as the “working out”. You always need to be able to show your working out (if even if it’s as tedious and boring as those genealogical passages in the Bible.) You can’t just go from A to Z without being able to show how you got there.

Bridget Curtin’s sister, Catherine Murphy and husband Thomas had a grocery store at 410 Crown Street, Surry Hills. She did in 1895 and this photo was taken a block away on the corner of Fitzroy and Bourke Streets in the 1930’s. However, I thought it made a good parallel and I’m sure this woman, like Catherine Murphy, would’ve had her finger on the pulse and known what’s what in the community.

I have no sisters. I don’t have any idea of what it is to have a sister, and I’m barely in touch with my brother. I don’t want to idealise these relationships or create a closeness that wasn’t there. After all, perhaps these sisters had some intractable falling out and while they almost lived on opposite street corners, perhaps the emotional distance was an impenetrable void.

Charlotte Curtin and sons outside their grocery store on Cleveland Street.

That’s the trouble with writing non-fiction especially using real people with real names. Ideally, you somehow manage to walk in their shoes rather than turning them into a reproduction of yourself. Placing your stamp on their forehead. That is something I take rather seriously, and to be honest my efforts to reach the truth more often than not prevents me from writing anything at all.

My grandfather “Robbie”” and brother “Eddie”. Their mother’s handwriting was on the back of the photo.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m doing now. I’m transferring my who begat whom into this Wiki genealogy thing online. I don’t know why I started doing this. Well, I sort of do. I was talking to a friend and discovered a mutual connection via the Spora family and I was trying to nut it out. Bridget O’Sullivan’s niece, Johanna Maria Murphy, had married Gaetana “Frank” Spora and they’d had eight children. Three of their sons headed out to Rylstone near Orange taking the family out West. It’s interesting to see where all these various branches of our family tree headed of to.

Bert Curtin (left), and son Bob (my grandfather)

As it turns out, our family also sounds like a roll call of Irish Australia: Curtin, O’Sullivan, McNamara, Murphy, Donovan, Maguire, Quealy, O’Neil. They lived on Crown, Fitzroy, Albion, Arthur, Campbell and Ann Streets Surry Hills and also in Paddington and Woollahra. My grandparents made the radical move of crossing over the Sydney Habour Bridge after they got married in 1940. They starting out in Mosman, and settled in Lindfield, a suburb which came to represent their house within the family. My father and most of his siblings married outside the Irish-Catholic fraternity, which could well be a good thing. I married Geoff from Tasmania, and even then my kids managed to gain an additional O’Sullivan to add to two from me. I am yet to find out if mine are related. However, the Great Great Grandfather from West Maitland was actually born in Albion Street Surry Hills and his mother was Mary Sullivan, daughter of John Sullivan and Mary Bourke also of Cork. Small world…!

Anyway, I blame the mad lunatic in me who is in self-imposed lockdown trying to avoid the covid menace for all of this. The official stats clocked up to a massive 45,098 cases today and the graph just keeps soaring straight up. It’s covid soup out there and our family is madly trying to prepare for the likelihood that someone is going to bring Covid home, and how we’re going to manage that seeming inevitability. I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon trying to access RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests). There’s been no mention ANYWHERE about making them available for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Trust me. I’ve looked. It’s like we don’t exist. Physically I can’t queue for half an hour let alone 4-5 hours, and if I don’t have it, I don’t want to catch it while I’m waiting either. We can’t take our kids to be tested either. Indeed, that is even more of a no-no. Perhaps, they’ll have to walk. Who knows? I could be reading books, going for walks, baking, playing my violin and yet for some mad reason, I started working on this. The only explanation I can come up with is escape. Pure escape. No one would ever think to find me here – corona virus included.

Do you have Irish heritage? Or perhaps you’re Irish yourself? Maybe you have no Irish blood whatsoever, but you’d still like to have a chat. You’re all welcome. The cricket is on the TV but I’m ignoring that, and I can offer you a cup of tea, some leftover gingerbread house, but it’s a bit more difficult to offer you a seat on the couch.

Best wishes,

Rowena