Exploring an unknown country by car for 12 days can be an adventure, especially when you’re 40-ish years old driving your 60-ish-year-old mother and 16-year-old niece around. We made a great trio and did we had goals. Some were to explore Ireland and learn more about there area where my great-grandparents lived before immigrating to Chicago. Since my mom & her sister have spent many years researching our ancestry so we knew quite a bit. They lived in County Mayo, from a small town called Crossmolina. We even had a cemetery name of their final resting place – Addergoole Cemetery. Mom was determined to visit but after a Google Earth search and satellite view, I was a little leary on our adventure. To put it simply – it looked spooky.
O’Donnell Family Tree
Our O’Donnell family tree branch first appeared in the United States in the early 1900’s. Anthony and Honnor O’Donnell (my great-great grandparents) had 5 children. Two of those children died in their late teens/early 20’s – Mary & James. Their other three sons, Johannes (John), Anthony & Patrick hold the rest of our family story.
Patrick came to the United States first and settled in Chicago. Next, Johannes (John) sailed over in September of 1912 to join Patrick in Chicago. Rumor has it that Johannes originally held a ticket on the Titanic, but switched to the September sailing, possibly due to finding out his wife, Mary Margaret, was expecting their first child, Mary, who arrived in late 1912. They stayed in Ireland for a time and joined Johannes (John) in 1913. Johannes (John) and his wife Mary, would eventually have three additional children, James, Eileen, and John – the youngest being my grandfather.
Anthony stayed in Ireland with his parents and had three of his own children, Bernadette, John, and Mary. Apparently, the O’Donnell family had a real lack of imagination when it came to naming their children. If you think it is confusing reading it, try researching it. Bernadette and Mary both made their way to Chicago eventually. John, however, stayed in Ireland. He was part of our adventures during our trip as he and his sister, Bernadette, are still alive and now the last two of my grandfathers’ generation. He told us that had actually planned on joining his sisters & cousins in Chicago but the day before he was to leave a storm had ravaged Ireland, knocking out most of the power lines. He worked for the power company, and his boss simply asked him to not go. So he stayed. He worked to restore power and stayed, eventually became a Dublin police officer, married and had four girls who all still reside in Ireland.
Based on our Ancestry research, we knew that Anthony and Honnor O’Donnell had remained in Ireland, with Honoria’s death in 1926. Per our research records, she lived in Crossmolina, County Mayo and was buried in Addergoole Cemetery, located near Lahardaun also in County Mayo.
So, a few weeks before our trip we “plotted” out our adventures which had to include the cemetery. We had our hotels already booked, so we knew when we would have time to visit random family locations. With two days planned to explore County Mayo we wanted to see the towns of Crossmolina and Ballina where some family lived. There also is a Titanic memorial located in Larhardaun we wanted to stop at as well, which happened to be on the path to the cemetery.
The spooky part started when I Google Mapped the cemetery. For such a small country (Ireland is half the size of Illinois) this little cemetery really looked like it was in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t even ON Google Maps (it is now, thanks to yours truly) so I couldn’t even tell what type shape it was in. When I googled the cemetery itself I found one very old reference to it with a map of the plots, which was a bit reassuring that we would at least find what we were looking for.
Considering that my ancestors lived in this area, traveled between the towns of Larhardaun and Crossmolina in the early 1900s, before automobiles were popular, it was humbling to imagine them going from the town to the cemetery as we made our drive. It took us well over 20 minutes, and I’ve been known to drive a bit on the fast side.
Approaching Addergoole Cemetery
Once we were approaching what we hoped was the cemetery, we drove past two men talking on the side of the road. We learned early in our trip just to wave to everyone, but you could just see it in the facial expressions that they knew we weren’t from around there. What I wish I would have seen was our facial expressions when we finally crested the hill as we approached our destination.
The weather this day was partly cloudy, with more clouds than sun most the time. Every now and then a sprinkle of rain would start then stop. Don’t forget the wind.
Good ol‘ Irish winds, coming right off the water. When we arrived, we had to open the cemetery gates to enter and were not disappointed by what we saw. The cemetery was a mix of old and new but most impressively the most beautiful view of the water, Lough Conn. There was even a landing dock at the one end, assuming they used (use?) boats to transport across the lake. Here is our video from when we first arrived: ADDERGOOLE VIEW
Thankfully, this little cemetery in the middle of nowhere was the most organized cemetery I have ever been at. They had a map, with each stone listed by number and location. Because of this, we were able to quickly located the names and then able to begin our search for the headstones. They were still a bit tricky to find. There are headstones well over 100 years old and time has certainly taken its toll – so the map was quite helpful to confirm we were looking at the right headstones.
When we first found Honnor O’Donnell’s headstone we couldn’t read it at all. We could make out a few words (mainly her name) but you could tell there was much more information on the stone, including names and ages of her children. Most frustrating part of the headstones is that they don’t place birth years on the stone, just age of death and year of death. This means when researching ancestors you may be off a year on a date of birth. Slightly frustrating, we were so hoping to obtain as much information from the headstone as we could. We could hardly read the inscriptions.
Since we don’t normally frequent cemeteries, we didn’t think to bring paper or anything to possibly grab a stone rubbing of the headstone. No paper, no crayons – nothing. Then we tried taking photos, both with our cell phones and digital cameras, in hopes we could adjust or filter the images to make it more legible. No luck. We thought it was a lost cause, and were quite deflated (that’s my code word for cursing a bit) that we came all this way and couldn’t even read the headstones. Then it happened. A break in the clouds, just a peek of sunlight at just the right angle and WE COULD READ EVERYTHING. Every single word, every date, every town inscribed. It was amazing and actually bloody creepy all at once. We were able to read Honnor O’Donnell’s headstone and then went over to read Nelly O’Donnell’s headstone. Nelly, and her husband Anthony, were the parents of Honnor’s husband, Anthony. (Again, the names. So annoying).
The most amazing part of this entire adventure was reflecting back on what life was like over 100 years ago. Not only was this a small town, but it was a small town that was spread over a wide area. There were not many cars – this area wasn’t considered wealthy so if there were cars, they probably weren’t owned by my family. This meant burials would have been by horse & carriage with mournes possibly walking. We drove from the cemetery back to the main road/center of town. VIDEO PART ONE and VIDEO PART TWO. It took us well over five minutes. In a car. Going probably faster than I should have been. This drive was only into town – they still had to travel from the church and/or their homes. When you look at the one photo, below, that I posted of the headstone you will see a mountain behind it. This is where Anthony and Honnor O’Donnell built their home (which is still standing) and lived with their five children.
We are all hoping to return again one day – with plans to explore the town further, research more into baptismal records and even try to locate Anthony O’Donnell’s final resting place. (Honnor’s husband, not Nelly’s – again, being a bit more creative with names would have made this so much easier). Until next time…