Welcome to the “Irish Homelands – Member of the Month” feature for November, 2016. This month, we are heading to County Kilkenny!
Each month, we travel to the townland, village, town or city associated with a Green Room member’s ancestry (to become one of our Green Room members of the month, you need to be a Green Room member and then go to this page to fill out an application).
Introducing our Member of the Month for November, 2016.
Our September 2016 member of the month is Ed Leonard from Pennsylvania in the USA! His Neill and Foley ancestors came from County Kilkenny. Hi Ed!
Although this article is written about Ed’s ancestors – it is open for all Green Room members to participate and enjoy! You will find video, pictures and commentary – and it is all best viewed on a laptop or PC rather than a phone.
We will start with Ed and the story of his ancestors – then share what we discovered, and put it into the context of the land and events around County Kilkenny in the mid to late part of the 19th century.
We also want to mention two more of our members who contacted us with ancestors from the area:
- Peggy Wilson – her Fagin and Connor ancestors came from County Kilkenny.
- Eunice Hawkins – her Dwyers came from Johnswell in County Kilkenny.
- Robert Meehan – his Skerry and Walsh ancestors came from Knocktopher in County Kilkenny.
- Jeff Ford – his McCormack ancestors came from Kilkenny City.
- Alice Kühner – her Collins and Roach ancestors came from County Kilkenny.
- Courtney Bayne – her Fleming and Kelly ancestors came from Thomastown in County Kilkenny.
- Mary Tarrant – her Cantwell ancestors came from County Kilkenny.
- Des Dineen – his Brennan, Foley and Purcell ancestor came from County Kilkenny.
- Laurie Haramis – her Archer family came from County Kilkenny.
- Anne Keating – her Byrne ancestors came from Tullowbrin in County Kilkenny.
How about you? Do you have any ancestors that lived in County Kilkenny? Do let us know in the comments section below.
Now, have a look at the brief video below to see more on what we plan to do – then you can read more detail on our briefing below the following introduction video:
What We Were Asked To Do.
Ed contacted us with the following information and request:
My Kilkenny surnames in Ballynamona Townland near Thomastown are Neill/O’Neill, Foley, and Walsh.
My Neill/O’Neill research began with my great great grandmother who is buried next to my great grandparents Patrick O’Neill and Catherine Cashin O’Neill and her daughter Ann (Anstice) O’Neill Brittin Kingston, New York. Her stone led my sister to find her children’s baptisms in Thomastown Parish. The oldest records are her 1784 baptism in Bennetsbridge, and the 1784 baptism of my great great grandfather (Patrick O’Neill).
There is a Thomas Neill listed in Griffith’s Valuation of Ballynamona and it is thought he is my great grandfather’s brother. I wish I knew when my Neills came to Ballynamona. I guess they were there before 1784. There are still O’Neills living in Ballynamona townland at the moment.
If I had to pick one wish it would be to learn more about my great grandfather’s brothers, Thomas and Michael. I bet during the Hunger Years something was published extolling the virtues of Ulster County, New York to the Irish. Or maybe someone from Kilkenny wrote back after settling in Ulster County. I wish I had that reference.
Have you seen Jerpoint Abbey? It is very close and has some O’Neill burials. Have you visited Newtown Jerpoint, which was the “lost” town serving the Abbey? The owner gives tours. My Neill ancestors might have worked at Jerpoint or Newtown, or at the Earl of Carrick’s Mount Juliet estate.
Before I go on – a note on the names. You will see us going between Neill and O’Neill quite a lot in the feature. For much of the 1700s into the late 1800s, many Irish surnames were without their “O” – only regaining them from the late 1800s. As as result, the “Neills” that we talk of in the early 1800s did not use an “O”, whereas their descendants on the homestead today are “O’Neills” – got that? Right, Ed – let’s see what we can do for you – and all of our other Green Room members!
What We Discovered.
Ed provided us with his known set of family connections, but we thought we’d better do a bit of research before we travelled to County Kilkenny – to get our story straight before we asked any more questions. We then cross-checked his facts with some Irish records, and came up with the following tree of our own to help with our travels:
The entries shown in red are the additional records we discovered. The question marks show guesses or unknown. Next, we go through the records we discovered.
Records we discovered:
Ed provided us with some details, and hints that he had discovered quite a few records. In truth, we felt he was very lucky as he had uncovered records going back to the late 1700s. While that is unusual in Ireland, it is a little more likely in this part of Ireland.
Births, Marriages and Deaths.
We used the RootsIreland paid service to search for records belonging to Ed’s ancestors and discovered only some minor additional detail. E.g. Ed mentioned that David was the father of Catherine Foley, but we discovered he was a Daniel. We also found the siblings of Catherine Foley and Patrick O’Neill. This may make a difference in future searches when untangling family relations!
Irish 1901 Census.
We like to use the Irish census to get our bearings. Doing a search in a known townland will give you the names of the families still extant in the area by 1901 – and offer keys to searching for more modern Civil records. In this case, we can see the occupants of Ballynamona in 1901 by clicking here. We can see that along with the Neill families mentioned, we see the landlord Blakes as well as Cody, Comerford, Connor, Dawson, Haw, Hoyne, Power, Shea and Walsh families.
Next, we roll back a little in time – post famine – Griffith’s valuation was taken for the area in the 1850s. Click here to see a list of Occupants of Ballynamona about that time. We see a few different Neill individuals mentioned as tenant farmers: Thomas, John and Patrick.
Now, what we needed for our trip to Kilkenny was a bearing on where the Neill homestead was still likely to stand. We reviewed the Neills listed above, and noticed that while they had land spread across the townland, their houses seemed to be concentrated in a particular “Clachan”- or small grouping of houses typically belonging to an extended family. You can see it here:
So, that gave us our target for this homelands visit.
Tithe Applotments of 1830.
Rolling back even a few more years, the Tithe Applotments give us a limited snapshot of the location of a family in Ireland. In this case, Ed wonders when his Neill family came to Ballynamona – was it before 1787? Well, for many Gaelic families in Ireland, the late 1600s through the 1700s saw the mass migration of families from good land to poorer land. However, in this case the Neills are already on good land so the chances are that they did not move far, merely for marriage or opportunity.
Click here to see the Tithe Applotments of 1833 for Ballynamona. We find plenty of Neill individuals mentioned: Patrick (a number of times) and William (a number of times). Is it possible that this is our Patrick senior and maybe a brother, William?
Before we start our visit on the ground, let’s have a look at the Neill and Foley surnames.
The Surnames and Families of County Kilkenny.
Let’s start our introduction to County Kilkenny by looking at the family names provided by our members whose ancestors came from County Kilkenny:
In general, the following are the original Irish Gaelic names of the region:
Bergin, Bolger, Buggy, Costigan, Dunphy/O’Donoghue/Donohoe, Fitzpatrick, MacBreen, Murphy, O’Brennan, O’Brody/Broder/Broderick, O’Brophy, O’Coveney/Keveny, O’Dea, O’Carroll, O’Delany, O’Horahan, O’Kealy, O’Keefe, O’Kelly, O’Phelan/Whelan, Shea.
And the following are the main Norman/English names that arrived in the area from the 1100s:
Agar, Cody, Archer, Aylward, Blanchfield, Bryan, Burtchaell, Butler, Cantwell, Cleere, Comerford, Cotterell, Corr, Dalton, Deane, Dobbyn, Dollard/Dullard, Erley, Fanning, FitzGerald, Forrestal, Freney, Grace, Hackett, Howlin/Holden, Lawless, Power, Purcell , Roche , Shortall, Strong, Sweetman, Tobin, Wall, Walsh, Wandesford.
Note that neither of our names – O’Neill or Foley are listed above. Both of these names originated outside the area covered by County Kilkenny – but became numerous in the region in later years. Right, let’s zoom in to the surnames that belong to our member of the month – the surnames Neill and Foley.
The Surname Neill.
The surname O’Neill is very prevalent in Ireland – both within the history books and within many families of today. However, it is easy to lose sight of the source of this name – it comes from the first name Niall – which was a very popular first name throughout Ireland. Overtime, the O’Neills of Ulster became the best known O’Neill family on the island, but there are a number of other unrelated O’Neill sources throughout the island.
Neill/O’Neill is a popular surname in Kilkenny – if you look at John Grenham’s map below you find it in quantity in the southeast.
It is thought (reference County Kilkenny Genealogy Page) that the O’Neills of Kilkenny came out of the “Uibh Eoin Fhinn” tribe of families – located in the south-east of County Tipperary – north of the town of Carrick-on-Suir. If this is the case, then our Neills of Kilkenny did not go far in their trip to County Kilkenny.
This map shows the distribution of the Neill surname in the 1850s (used with permission of JohnGrenham.com – click here to see the live map) and gives an idea of how the Neill families settled in different pockets of Ireland.
By the 1911 census, there were 436 Neills listed in County Kilkenny (and many more O’Neills).
How about you – do you have the surname Neill/O’Neill in your family tree?
For now, let’s move on to the surname “Foley”.
The Surname Foley.
The surname Foley comes from the Irish “Foghladha” – meaning a “plunderer” or “pirate” – a nice description that worked its way into the first names of some individuals of ancient Ireland. The surname Foley is well established in many areas in the south of the island, with a particular focus on the Waterford and Kerry areas. The name came out of what is now County Waterford – know more as the Déise in earlier times, and indeed, Foleys were considered “Lords of the Déise” at one point.
This map shows the distribution of the Foley surname in the 1850s (used with permission of JohnGrenham.com – click here to see the live map).
By the time of the 1911 census, there were 242 Foley individuals listed in County Kilkenny.
How about you – do you have the surname Foley in your family tree?
Right – here is the plan for the rest of this feature. We will take a nice, slow meandering tour through the places and history of County Kilkenny – before we land in the place that the Neill and Foley family lived and worked.
And we do hope we’ll have you for company!
However, just before we move on – how about a bit of music? Here’s a question, if you are a group from Kilkenny – what should you call yourselves? How about “The Kilkennys”! Here they are taking “The Rocky Road to Dublin”:
A Trip To County Kilkenny – And Down Through the Ages.
The County of Kilkenny has a rich overlapping of Gaelic, Norman and English history. The county system in Ireland was created by the Normans after their arrival on the island in 1169. Kikenny was one of the first areas to be “shired”, the county taking it’s name from the town of Kilkenny.
The town – now City – of Kilkenny comes from the Irish “Cill Chainnigh” meaning church of Ceannach (or Canice) – an Irish saint who set up a church in that area about the sixth century. This was in the old Irish Kingdom of Osraighe/Ossary – which was part of the province of Munster at the time. The Kings of Ossary had their main seat around the town of Cill Chainnigh by the 12th century – and were ruled by the Mac Giolla Phadraig family, who later took on the name of Fitzpatrick.
Ossraige was one of the main battlefronts following the invasion of the Normans in 1169.
In 1192, William Marshal arrived in Osraige to claim land through his marriage to the daughter of Strongbow and the daughter of the King of Leinster. He began construction the first iteration of Kilkenny Castle. With this, Marshall and his Norman knights took control of southern Osraige (County Kilkenny) and expelled the Fitzpatricks to the north of the region.
By the late 1300s, members of the Butler family purchased most of southern Osraige, Kilkenny Castle and formed the Earldom of Ormond. During this time, the City of Kilkenny alternated with Dublin as the main seat of English power in Ireland. By 1352, the County Kilkenny that we recognise today was taking shape.
Right, enough history for the moment – enough to say that you could be kept very busy examining the history of the area for many’s the winter month.
For now, I think it’s time to head off on our trip to the lovely County Kilkenny, what do you think?
The weather forecast was looking good as Carina and myself set out on a bright autumn morning. The trees were looking their best, and we hit the road from Cork to Waterford realising that this trip would be no hardship at all.
Our aim was to head to the place where the River Nore enters the sea – and then slowly work our way up the River to the City of Kilkenny.
The Nore is one of three rivers in the southeast that make up what are known as the “Three Sisters” (the others being the Suir and the Barrow). It rises in County Tipperary – near the Slieve Bloom mountains and heads southeast through Kilkenny until it arrives at the sea at the City of Waterford. It think it’s relevant that it rises where we think our O’Neills came from in ancient times, as I have often noticed that local migratory patterns follow a river that is already familiar to a family.
When we arrived in Waterford City, we headed north to the Wexford town of New Ross and then crossed the “border” into County Kilkenny.
Our first stop was in major Hurling territory – Inistioge. Have you ever heard of the game of Hurling? Well, if you are from Kilkenny, you would know that it is practically a religion in these parts. They have numerous All-Ireland titles under their belts. This short video gives you an idea of what is involved in Hurling (watch out for the black and amber stripes of the Kilkenny team):
The town of Inistioge bridges the wide River Nore in the hills of south Kilkenny. It’s a nice place for a stop, and you might almost think you were in the middle of an English village (with cricket on the green) if it were not for those Hurling sports fields.
It was clear where we needed to head next – we came from the town of New Ross, and it was off to our destination of Thomastown and Kilkenny City.
Working our way up the Nore, we came into Thomastown.
Like many of the villages and towns in Kilkenny, Thomastown was established as a crossing-point for the River Nore. In this case, Thomas FitzAnthony, one of William Marshal’s Lieutenants, was granted land in the area in the early 1200s. He built a walled town, and many fortifications including Grennan castle. Given its proximity to a fast-flowing river, about 13 mills operated in the area over the following years right up until the 1960s.
There is a very interesting feature in the centre of town – this church was the old Protestant church in the town, but it is now a private residence. It is built on the site of an earlier monastery – and later still, the old Roman Catholic church would have existed just behind the building we see here. It would have been that old building that the Neills and Foleys would have attended in the early part of the 19th century.
We decided to head out of town, to a place we have heard of many times. A few years back, a Waterford farmer by the name of Joe O’Connell bought up some land just beside the townland of Ballynamona – and slowly discovered that he had something special on his hands. You see, within the boundaries of his land lies the deserted town of Newtown Jerpoint – and within that town lies the grave of someone we all know well (at least once a year!).
Joe kindly offered to give myself, Carina and yourselves a personal tour of this very special place. So, the video is a little long (almost 8 minutes), but I think you will enjoy the sights of this lovely part of the world as well as Joe’s very special storytelling ability!
Thanks very much Joe. Now, what do you make of that! Have you ever visited Jerpoint Park? Maybe it’s time to work it into your future plans. You can see more on Jerpoint Park by clicking here.
Although we were very close to the homelands of the Neill and Foley families, we felt we should first head up the River Nore into the City of Kilkenny – to get our bearings and share just some of the sights of this lovely medieval city.
Our first stop was Saint Canice’s Cathedral – a great place for tour. Probably the highlight for us was the trip to the top of the open-round tower – it’s very unusual to be allowed inside these buildings.
Inside the cathedral, you will find many tributes to the local ruling Butler family – here is a typical Norman tomb with full armoured effigies and hunting dog.
One of the unusual sights from the top of Saint Canices is into the now defunct Smithwicks brewery – and of course, every brewery needs a ruined church at it’s centre! However, the presence of this church reminds us that brewing was at the centre of trade for many religious orders across Europe over the centuries.
Just up the road, we stopped at the unmissable Kilkenny Castle. If you are ever in the area, do take the full inside tour. This was a residence for the Butler family from 1300s right down to the 20th century. Here is Carina giving you a short glimpse of the outside on a lovely Autumn’s day:
There is a tradition of stone and marble quarrying and crafting all around this part of Kilkenny, and indeed, Kilkenny has picked up the nickname of “The Marble City” over the years.
Ed Leonard comments on that fact that his Neills worked in the quarries on arrival in the US – well, there were plenty of limestone quarries all around their townland, and they may have worked in these quarries on a seasonal basis.
I think its a good time for another musical interlude – what do you think? Here we have the Wolfe Tones with “Highland Paddy” – it starts with:
“One evening fair as the sun was shining
Through Kilkenny I did ride …..”
I hope you enjoyed that – now on with our tour of Kilkenny City.
One of the nicest things about Kilkenny is the way that it has held on to it’s medieval structure. Here we see one of the many slips (alleys) that led from the main street down towards the River Nore.
The “Rothe House“, named after a local prominent family is another feature not to be missed simply for the reason that it houses the Kilkenny Genealogical Society. We hoped to get some pointers on our visit, but there were no Genealogists on hand to help. Unlucky! However, after a lot of pressing, the busy lady on reception cryptically told us to “seek out Donie Sheridan of Sheridan’s Pub – he’ll put you straight”. So, seeking Donie we did next!
Before we go, I’d like to share a piece of music and video that shows off many parts of Kilkenny City. It’s called “Kilkenny Blue Eyes” from Seán Brennan (another fine Kilkenny name). Also, many people comment on just how much “Country” music there is in Ireland – and it is very popular. After all, it did come from Ireland and Scotland originally. So, now for some Irish “Country” music:
We took the road out from Kilkenny and came to Bennettsbridge, another milling village associated with another English family – the Bennetts. This was also the parish that Catherine Foley was born in the 1780s.
We took a little detour on our way to Ballynamona – to Stoneyford village where a certain Mr. Donie Sheridan lived.
Where the Neill and Foley Family worked and lived.
It was hard to miss Sheridans pub on the crossroads just outside Stoneyford village. We asked a man who was sweeping up outside (a great way of getting work done while not missing anything) if he knew Donie Sheridan – and quickly realised we were asking the man himself.
Donie turned out to be the main man in the area for many of the family histories and is in the middle of writing a book on the same. He started to go through the ins and outs of many of the Neill families in the area down through the years – and we quickly realised that we could offer Ed Leonard a way less than this man (typical of many local historians in Ireland) could offer in the way of details and questions answered. You can just some of the work that Donie gets up to on his Historic Graves page (another great project) – just click on any of the Graveyard names to see a wonderful local history unfold.
With that, we knew we were on the right track as we headed to Ballynamona to see if we could find the original Homestead of the Neill family. Here is a screenshot of the lovely Ordnance survey maps from the early mid 1800s. You can see that group of Neill houses we mentioned earlier in the middle of the picture (just under the letters ONA). Please see original here – select your area and historic 6 inch map.
We found our way there easy enough, just on the turn of a lane we came across a group of old and modern buildings. That looked like our “Clachan” from earlier. We rang the “Irish Bell” (park the car with the engine running just outside a farmyard – you’ll get the dogs barking and the farmer will often follow).
Sure enough, out came the owner who turned out to be Billy O’Neill – one of Ed Leonards cousins. Billy was a little video and camera shy (he explained his absent sister was the Genealogist in the family). But, when he warmed up he was telling us how the Neills had been there for many centuries. He even had names for all the fields around. We asked about a mountain in the distance and all he could say was “that’s the enemy” meaning County Tipperary (Tipp had just beaten Kilkenny in the Hurling final).
So- that is just one of the old Neill buildings just behind Billy. Did one of Ed’s ancestors actually live in that building? We don’t know for a fact – that will require some more detective work on the part of Ed. Here is Carina with a video view of the building and farm.
Billy pointed us in the direction of Jerpoint Abbey – a beautiful old ruin just up the road from his homeplace. He also mentioned that we would find some local Neills buried there.
We were just in the door, when we had most of the staff and stonemasons helping us on our search for the Neills on the side of gravestones that require a little “love and attention” to interpret properly.
However, we did find some of the gravestones – specifically for William Neill an his family. You might remember William mentioned above in the Tithe Applotments. It seems that William and his line took on most of the tenancies in Ballynamona – and we were also informed that the Neills were buried in some further local graveyards as well as in Thomastown itself. But, that is to be a search for another day.
Seeing as we were just up the road, we felt it only right to head to the luxury of what is now Mount Juliet Resort and Hotel. Back in the day, this would have been the seat of a branch of the Butlers – Earls of Carrick – and it is very possible that the Neills spent time working on their local estate. There is also a very nice love story attached to the building of this house – you can see more here.
Back in Thomastown, we headed up to the present Roman Catholic church. As it replaced an earlier church when it was built in 1867 – we still found some artefacts that would have been known by the Neills in the early part of the 1800s.
This font outside the church was, we believe, used in the older church.
We bumped into a man caretaking the building – and went exploring with his help.
Here we see Carina, talking about just some of the items we found on our tour of the church.
Here is a view across the graveyard beside the church, all the way over the Grennan Castle – built by Thomas FitzAnthony, the founder of the modern town of Thomastown.
That wraps up our trip around County Kilkenny, Thomastown and the townland of Ballynamona – all on the trail of the Neill–Foley family. As always, we like to conclude a visit to an Irish Homeland with a video capturing just some of the sights. Here we go with a composite video for County Kilkenny:
We hope that this article provides all of our readers with Kilkenny Roots – including Ed Leonard – with a good base to discover more about the details of their ancestors. We hope that you enjoyed this tour around County Kilkenny with a look into the life and times of the Neill-Foley family.
This feature opens up a lot of questions for Ed – and questions his current assumption of lineages etc. I think Ed has some more leads to open up his research on his Neill/Foley ancestors – especially in making contact with Billy Neill’s sister and Donie Sheridan. We’re happy to help him develop the “investigation” further in the comments section below. What do you think? I know we have many top class “investigators” inside our membership!
I do hope that we uncover answers to these questions, and more, as we move forward.
How about all of our readers? Were any of your ancestors from County Kilkenny? Do let us know in the comment section below.
In the meantime, here’s a video of Carina with a few nice comments in conclusion:
I hope that Ed now has some more information (and inspiration) with which to continue his research and discoveries.
There we are – our featured Green Room member of the month – Ed Leonard from Pennsylvania in the USA! Thanks very much for providing us with the details of your family, Ed – we hope it was a pleasurable and useful experience for you – and for all of our members.
What about you? Do you have details, stories or questions to share about the Wicklow ancestors in your family tree?
As always, let’s keep this article and story “active” – open to updates and corrections as time goes forward. We do hope that Ed and his family will come up with new facts and family stories. Perhaps another Green Room member will add their own research of this name and location to the story?
If you liked the Irish Homelands feature – you can see see more of our features by clicking here – as well as those we have planned.
Remember, if you would like to be one of our Green Room members of the month, you need to be a Green Room member and then go to this page to fill out an application).
Slán for now, Mike and Carina.