Sometimes an adventure can take you far beyond your wildest imagination. In 2017 we took a driving adventure around Ireland with hopes to visit the area that my great-great-grandparents raised their family before their children started to travel to America. We planned to drive to County Mayo, explore a cemetery or two, and drive through the town our ancestors called home. Our giddy excitement on our plans sent our current Ireland family on a search on other possible places to visit – and found the diamond in the rough.
Our family history has been traced back to a little town in northwest Ireland called Crossmolina. By our Chicagoland standards, this little town was in the middle of nowhere. My mom planned a 12 day trip across Ireland with our final five days around the area our ancestors were from in County Mayo. We stayed in a slightly larger town, Ballina, for two evenings while we explored the area.
The day of our arrival we first went to the hotel and got settled. Our original plan was to head out the next day with my mom’s cousins and explore the area. We quickly had a change of heart. We didn’t fly across the ocean and drive almost 1200km at this point to wait another day — we got back in that car and went exploring! About 15 minutes west of Ballina we entered the small town of Crossmolina. This is where my great-great-grandparents raised their family before my great-grandparents ventured to America.
On this first day, we drove through town, ate lunch at a local pub (with what was the best dessert selection the entire trip!) and explored a few sites that would have been the location of my great-grandparents homes. Most were right in town within walking distance of the town center. Most locations were either rebuilt (a small, recent subdivision where a single house probably once stood) or no longer existed in number. We then took another 15-minute drive to Addergoole Cemetery and was awestruck at the scenery we had to pull over so I could snap a few photos, including this one of Nephin. After our day at the pub, walking around town and cemetery, we thought we had the best adventure of the trip. The next day, we spent was with our family, and both Ireland and America O’Donnell clans were in for a surprise.
When you think of cousins, you think of everyone just about your age group. Chances are, however, if you come from a say, large Irish Catholic family, that the ages of siblings could range more than just a few years. This theory would mean that cousins birth years could spread across a few decades. My grandfather’s generation did just that. My grandfather and his siblings were born between 1912 and 1921. His first cousins, who stayed in Ireland, were born between 1935-1940. Over the past twenty years, my mom has been a pen-pal with John, my grandfather’s first cousin, and his wife Maureen. Their four daughters (my mom’s second cousins) still live in Ireland and knew we were coming for a visit. They also knew our main goal (aside from meeting all of them) was to visit the actual ancestry sites of our family. So they started reaching the area before our trip – and found a “family home” that they couldn’t wait to share.
The next day Mary and Susan picked us up at our hotel and we drove back to Crossmolina to see the sites of what they found in researching the family past. The amazing part to us was that they had NEVER been to the area. This little country is half the size of Illinois but they never hopped in the car to this area! We drove around Crossmolina and stopped at some of the sites the day prior, others we hadn’t known about. They hadn’t known about the cemetery (and we didn’t have the time to drive there!) but they wanted to bring us to the site of Anthony & Honnor O’Donnell had built their home and raised their family prior to moving into town. We started towards the mountain that we had driven past the day prior – and then started to drive toward it.
To this day, I don’t understand how we made it to the site without a map. Susan, Irish cousin extraordinaire and our driving guide for the day, got from Crossmolina to the site without once looking at a map. Pure magic. On our way up the mountain, about a 20-minute drive from Crossmolina, we learned that Anthony &
We were awestruck. This little shack, built in the late 1880s was still standing. When we reached the site once again the skies cooperated and the sun broke through and the rain stopped. This is the view we had once out of our car, check out the video on YOUTUBE We were even able to explore around the outside of the house as we didn’t let a little mud get in our way. Actually, there was a lot of mud – did I mention all the rain? Too much mud to get into the house, but these long arms were able to capture some pictures while standing ever so carefully on some well-positioned rocks.
We spent quite a bit of time just enjoying the view, taking in the history that my great-great-grandparents (their great-grandparents) had five children in this home who would one day have family spread across the Chicagoland area as well as around Dublin.
As we went back down the mountain, we noticed another home on the south side of the road. It was in quite a state of disrepair not far from where we had been. We knew there was another family that lived close to the O’Donnell family (the Forde family). Not to ruin the mood of our great adventure, but what if THAT was the house the O’Donnells lived in, and not the one we just spent time looking at and taking hundreds of photos at! Our hearts sank, but fears were shortlived.
As we drove down the hill on the narrow road, a tractor was heading up and had pulled off far to the right as we approached it. Having the same attitude as we did the day prior, we stopped the car and we rolled down the window to ask questions. Peter was the nice gentleman who was driving the tractor and we asked if he knew anything about the land. Then we quickly explained why we were asking as it probably wasn’t every day that a truck full of five ladies goes poking around the top of the mountain asking who lived there 100 years ago. He confirmed that not only did both the Forde and O’Donnell families live in the area but that we were correct, the O’Donnell family lived in the home we were at. He even stated they refer to the fields as the O’Donnell and Forde fields to this day. You really couldn’t write a better ending to our adventure for the day, and we were even smiling as the rain returned on our drive back to our hotel.