Ireland Revisited, Part 10

On the Famine Trail in Search of Ancestral Roots

June 11 - 26, 1997


By Lewis and Betty Nolan


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Part 1: Memphis to Dublin

Part 7:  Cork, Kinsale

Part 2: Carlow, Site of Nolan Homelands

Part 8:  Dingle Golf Links

Part 3: Kilkenny, Waterford, Crystal Plant

Part 9:  Dingle's Famine Cemetery

Part 4: Youghal, Dingle Town

Part 10: Ballinasloe, County Galway

Part 5: Dingle Peninsula

Part 11: Strokestown Famine Museum

Part 6: Great Blasket Island

Part 12: Donegal

Photo Album Index

Part 13: Drive in Northern Ireland


Sunday, June 22, 1999 - To Ballinasloe, Lewis -

            After breakfast and a farewell to Noreen, we paid our bill and departed the Wine Rock Guest House, driving north and east from Dingle toward the Nolan ancestral village of Ballinasloe. We detoured to the coastal village of Ballybunion, site of the fabulous golf course of that name which is usually near the top of the lists of the "great golf courses of the world."  A Bachelor Festival, sponsored by Harp Lager Beer, was underway and the village and golf course were crowded with men in their 20s and 30s and single women interested in meeting them.

            In contrast, during our 1991 visit Casey and I walked on the course without a tee time reservation and still played right away, with nobody in front or to the rear of us. But what was then an elegant clubhouse and pro shop had been extensively remodeled in the last year or two and made even more plush, probably to reflect the club's stature and appeal to vacationing golfers from around the world. But the fees seemed to be about the same, 30 Pounds (about $45) for the New Course and 40 Pounds for the Old Course. Those prices are amazing when compared with the price of a round at a top course in the U.S., $150 and up.

            I didn't play Ballybunion this trip, but did purchase a sweater and a gift or two. We were surprised to see several mobile home parks in very close proximity to this great course. Back home, million-dollar homes would have occupied the choice land facing the course. We were also surprised to see a good-looking horse, probably a male thoroughbred, wandering the streets of town without attracting much notice. The Irish love horses and horse racing.

            Continuing our drive, we crossed the Shannon River on a car ferry at Tarbert. There were several enterprising Irish children with coolers of cold drinks who worked the line of autos waiting to board the ferry.

            Once across the brown-colored, wide Shannon, we took another detour on the western coast of County Kerry to revisit the incomparable Cliffs of Mohr, which remains the most spectacular sight of nature I've ever seen. But high winds and a bit of a fine Irish mist this day made our sight-seeing less exhilarating than it was in 1991 and in 1986. The hard wind coming up the steep face of the cliffs 600 and more feet high took my new tweed cap off my head and blew it 20-to-30 feet in the air. Fortunately, a nearby tourist kindly rescued it before it flew off the edge of the cliff.

            We spent the night at Hayden's Hotel in Ballinasloe, a 48-room establishment that is the finest in the town. It is a source of local pride in this agricultural center in west central Ireland. But its facilities wouldn't rate very high by U.S. standards. There was much bustle in the hotel and its spacious pub offered a warm blend of dark wood, gleaming brass and friendly staffers. Our dinner in the hotel restaurant (salmon for me, of course) was so-so. But our room was large and included a Jacuzzi-equipped tub, a welcome amenity.


Sunday, June 22, 1997 - To Ballinasloe, Betty -

            After breakfast we left Dingle for the next stage of our trip, to visit places North of the Dingle Peninsula. We traveled on the narrow, winding roads toward Co.
Betty at Cliffs of Mohr
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Galway and Ballinasloe. We detoured to see the Cliffs of Mohr for the third time. Each time we've been to Ireland, we've visited the Cliffs. It began to drizzle off and on when we got there. We walked to the left section (facing the ocean) of the cliff edges since we had discovered on our last trip that the view to the left was far better, even though most first-time visitors walk to the right to a smallish stone structure, "O'Brien's Tower," that once served as an observatory.

We saw what were probably hundreds of puffins nesting on a large rock out from the cliffs, as well as many seagulls and other sea birds flying about and perched on tiny ledges on the face of the cliffs. It was very windy up on the cliff edge trail. Buzz's new Irish tweed cap blew off, but a lady caught it before it would have surely been blown off the cliff and gone forever. We didn't spend as much time at the Cliffs of Mohr on this visit as we had previously due to the drizzle and chill wind. There was such a mob scene of tourists inside a small visitor center/gift shop to escape the weather that it was difficult to buy a postcard. We paid one Pound to get out of the parking lot and forged on toward Ballinasloe.

            We were surprised to find that Hayden's Hotel had been renovated. It is in the center of town and seems to be the hub of Ballinasloe social life. Our room was very large and equipped with a spa bathtub. But the bathroom was senselessly tight while the adjacent closet was huge. Irish design.

            Photographs taken today included shots of the Tarbert Car Ferry across the Shannon River, Lahinch, Cliffs of Mohr and Ballinasloe.


Monday, June 23, 1997 - To Aughrim, Lewis -

            It was good to be back in Ballinasloe along the River Suck, from whence the Nolan brothers John and Andrew supposedly had sprung in 1843. I wanted to try yet again to find some evidence firmly connecting them to the town, part of my goal of confirming the family history that had been passed down to me. I felt I'd taken my research in Ballinasloe as far as I could during my last two trips. I had scoured church, parish and government records. Sadly, one of the things I found out was that all of the many Nolan families who lived in Ballinasloe in the 1800s had since either moved or died out, closing out any chance I might have of making connection with direct relatives there.

            Playing a long shot, I visited the Heritage Center at nearby Aughrim in hopes of opening up another path of research. But, once again, I was unable to part the mists of history that have cloaked my Irish ancestors so well. I was directed to Mon. Patrick Bruem, priest at the local church, St. Catherine's. The nice ladies at the Heritage Center thought it might be possible that my Nolans had lived in the Aughrim Parish rather than the Ballinasloe Parish seven miles away. They said that Bruem's records date to the 1700s. However, he was out. Nobody was at St. Catherine's. The adjacent cemetery had no readable gravestones marked Nolan.

            Later, I wrote Father Bruem from Memphis and really wasn't too surprised when his gracious response showed I'd hit yet another dead-end. I think my research - and that of my fellow family historian and half-sister Mary Nolan Ballard - into John Nolan's life and family in Ireland has been exhaustive; I know it's been exhausting. To help others who might one day want to give a fresh look into this puzzling matter, below are copies of some of the follow-up correspondence that came out of the visit to Aughrim.

            Letter of June 30, 1997, by Lewis Nolan to The Reverend Mon. Patrick Bruem, St. Catherine's Rectory, Aughrim, County Galway, Ireland; and Galway County Government, Prospect Hill, Galway, Ireland:


            While in Ireland last week to look into my family roots, I was referred to you by the ladies at the Heritage Center in Aughrim. . .

            My great-grandfather was John Nolan, who came to America in 1843. The family account has him coming from Ballinasloe, with his brother Andrew. Both were born in Ireland and their parents were Matthew and Honora Nolan. We do not have their birthdates, but I believe John's would have been about 1821 and Andrew's earlier.

            In previous trips to Ballinasloe, in 1986 and in 1991, I went through the Parish records and also the records at St. Michael's, where a fire evidently claimed everything before about 1821. There were lots of Nolans in those records, but there were none
Lewis at Ballinasloe
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
that matched my ancestors. I also visited cemeteries but found the oldest stones unreadable. The ladies at the Heritage Center mentioned that you had records going back into the 1700s and there was a chance that my Nolans could be in them.

            Despite considerable research in Ireland and through microfilm held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), I have not been able to verify that the Nolans actually did come from Ballinasloe or find any mention of them in any Irish records. My research is the subject of a 680-page book that will be published later this summer, "Nolan-Miller Family History."

            I, along with dozens of the descendants of John Nolan and Andrew Nolan in America, would be most grateful if you could look at the birth or other records you hold and see if you can find any mentions of Matthew and Honora Nolan giving birth to John, Andrew and any other children. I'm enclosing a stamped envelope for your convenience.

            Thanks very, very much for whatever help you can provide.


            Below is the response from Rev. Bruem, dated July 10, 1997:


            I am sorry that I was not here when you called on June 23. Our records date from March 1828 and I have checked 1,200 entries from then on. The only Nolans baptized between March 1828 and July 1837 were three children of Simon Nolan and Brigid Naughton, two children of James Nolan and Frances Waters, and one child of James Nolan and Margaret Naughton. I am sorry that the news is not very helpful, but we must keep to the records. Kind regards. (Rev.) P. J. Buem.


            Below is the response from the Office of Superintendant Registrar for Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, from the Western Health Board in Galway City:


            A Chara (a Gaelic salutation, which is one of many Irish language words and phrases used in the letterhead and in the letter itself.)  In reply to your query I am to state that the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages began in this country on the 1st January 1864, and there are no official records prior to that date. I am, therefore, unable to deal with your inquiry. Mise, le meas, Mary Nix, for Supt. Registrar. (Enclosed was a suggestion to contact the Galway Family History Society West Ltd., Research Unit at Venture Centre, Liosbaum Estate, Tuam Road, Galway.)


            In August of 1997, I wrote the Galway Family History Society West Ltd., seeking their help. Following several letters and my payment of the minimum $25 "assessment" fee, I received the below letter from Mrs. Angela Canning, Secretary of the East Galway Family History Society Company Ltd., at Woodford Heritage Centre, Woodford, County Galway, dated Nov. 14, 1997:


            Thank you for your completed research form, and enclosure of $25, which we received on Sept. 12, 1997. I would firstly like to apologize for the tardiness of my response, which is entirely due to the pressure exerted on our limited human resources by an unprecedented and almost overwhelming seasonal increase in demand for the service provided. I can only hope that you have not been unduly inconvenienced by this delay.

            As you may have already been informed, the East Galway Family History Society is the official genealogical research centre for the East Galway region and you will note from the map enclosed the extent of this jurisdiction, the list of parishes therein, and the chronology of Roman Catholic records that are extant. The civil authorities commenced registration of Catholic births, marriages and deaths in 1864. Over the past few years, this centre has gained conditional access to all pre-1900 church and state registers and has recently completed the process of computerization of all these records. The original church records remain in the custody of the diocesan clergy in the various parishes and the original civil records for Co. Galway are deposited in the Office of the Superintendent Registrar, Newcastle Rd., Galway City. All queries related to the remaining western half of the County are dealt with by our sister centre, which is also located in Galway City (see list of Irish genealogical centres enclosed).

            Nolan is derived from the Gaelic surname O Nullain and according to the eminent Irish genealogist and historian Edward MacLysaght, the name has been most closely associated with the territory known as the Barony of Forth in County Carlow, when during the pre-Norman period their chiefs held high hereditary office under the Kings of Leinster, and were known as the Princes of Foharta. It was not until the 16th Century that a branch of the clan settled in Co. Galway, where they became substantial and influential landholders. Nolan remains a comparatively common name throughout the four provinces in Ireland, not least in the East Galway region where it occurs with relative frequency. There are numerous spelling variations and corrupted forms of the name (including Nolen, Noolan, Noulan, Nowlan, Knowlan, Noelan, Noilan and Noland) however, in the interests of clarity and to ensure that all modifications are allowed for, it has been standardized to the form Nolan on our database of Church and State records. Should you decide to pursue your ancestry personally, you should familiarize yourself with all these variant configurations.

            I initiated a preliminary search on your behalf by adhering to the following established procedures. If an approximate geographic location is indicated, the records for that area are consulted. If no relevant data is located, the records of the surrounding districts/parishes are scrutinized. In the event that no definite connections are retrieved at this state or if the client has been unable to offer an approximate geographical location, a search of the entire database of Church records is initiated. As your ancestor was born before 1840, I was forced to limit my search to a full consultation of the available church records. Once this process has been completed, all findings are evaluated and a series of the most likely possibilities are reproduced on information sheets for the client to consider.

            As you will observe from the information sheet enclosed, I failed to find a direct reference to the birth of a John to a Mathew and Honora Nolan in either the church records of Ballinasloe or indeed on our entire database of East Galway church records. I have therefore based the series of options on specific aspects of the criterial data you provided.

            You will observe, that regrettably, the results of my research on your behalf (see Information Sheet enclosed) did not appear to remotely fulfill the parameters outlined by you and while details were often entered inaccurately and omissions are commonplace in church records, I doubt if any of these details are of any significance. It should also be noted that the surviving archive of church records is by no means complete and your ancestors may have originated from a parish or within a time frame for which the records have been lost.

            It is disappointing not to have been able to reconstruct a more definitive impression of your family's history, however, should you decide that any of the records I have submitted for your consideration are of relevance, please do not hesitate to contact me. Yours sincerely, Angela Canning, Secretary.


            The Information Sheet Mrs. Canning provided showed that the only John Nolan birth recorded in the Church records of Ballinasloe before 1830 was on March 13, 1826. This John was born to Brian Nolan and Catherine Nolan; his Godparents were Martin and Jane Ward.

            There were 10 John Nolan births recorded in the Church records of East Galway before 1830:

* In Ballygar, May 19, 1819, to Andrew Nolan and Bridget Flynn; Godparents were Thomas and Mary Clogher.

* In Ballygar June 8, 1829, to Cornelius Nolan and Maria Tully; Godparents were Dennis Naughten and Sara Tully.

* In Ballygar June 19, 1829, to Dominic Nolan and Bridget Glynn; Godparents were Patrick Nolan and Catherine Smith.

* In Ballygar Oct. 25, 1814, to James Nolan and Ellenora Wall; Godparents were Patrick Nolan and Ellenora Wall.

* In Ballygar June 2, 1831, to John Nolan and Bridget Lally; Godparents were James and Bridget Nolan.

* In Ballygar June 6, 1813, to John Nolan and Celilia Mannion; Godparents were Andrew Nolan and Bridget Mannion.

* In Ballygar March 23, 1817, to John Nolan and Mary Tierney; Godparents were John and Mary Nolan.

* In Ballaun/Grange, June 11, 1829, to Thomas Nolan and Nora Connor; Godmother was Mary Nolan.

* In Tynagh, with date of birth not recorded but date of baptism given as May 10, 1830, to Michael Nolan and Catherine Miskel; Godparents were John and Catherine Cavanagh.

* In Ballyard, with date of birth not recorded but date of baptism given as Feb. 23, 1828, to Michael Nolan and Bridget Brannelly; Godparents were John Nolan and Marie Brandly.

            The only births where the father's name was recorded as Matthew Nolan in the Church records of East Galway before 1830 were the following:

* Bridget, born June 16, 1815, to Matthew Nolan and Margaret Kenny; Godparents were Patrick and Honora Nolan.

* Patrick, born Nov. 13, 1817, to Matthew Nolan and Mary Lawless; Godparents were John Nolan and Catherine Healy.

* Mary Nolan, born Sept. 8, 1820; to Matthew Nolan and Mary Lawless; Godparents were Patrick Nolan and Bridget Kelly.

            There was only one Andrew Nolan birth recorded in the Church records of East Galway before 1830, but the date is not clear. This Andrew was born to Andrew Nolan and Bridget Flynn; Godparents were Mathew and Rose Kelly.

            There were four James Nolan births recorded in the Church records of East Galway before 1830, provided below because of my belief that the James Nolan whose Monroe County, Wisconsin farm adjoined that of my John and Andrew Nolan in the 1860s was somehow related. The following four James were all born in Ballygar, one of 37 Roman Catholic Parishes whose records are available at the Woodford Heritage Center; others include Ballinasloe (Creagh & Kilclooney) and Aughrim & Kilconnell.

* Born July 16, 1807, to James Nolan and Mary Deegan; Godparents were Patrick Murry and Catherine Keon.

* Born July 1, 1810, to Patrick Nolan and Mary Heavy; Godparents were Patrick Loughlan and Mary Flynn.

* Born March 23, 1817, to John Nolan and Mary Tierney; Godparents were John and Mary Nolan.

* Born Jan. 8, 1821, to James Nolan and Bridget Connally; Godparents were John and Bridget Nolan.

            The Woodford Heritage Center is one of more than 30 members of the Irish Genealogical Project and Irish Family History Foundation. A search of the records at every center could consume a lot of time and money. I made a preliminary pass at initiating a mail-order search of the Kerry Genealogy & Visitor Centre. But I decided not to pay the $100 or so fee required. So unless somebody else initiates such a search, this particular quest has ended for now.

            There is always a chance that a record relating to the births of John and Andrew Nolan might turn up later at the Woodford Center if more records are discovered and entered into the computer files, or that it might surface in one of the other growing number of centers that are spreading throughout Ireland. In the meantime, I've a lingering suspicion that maybe John and Andrew Nolan really didn't come from Ballinasloe, or if they did, they were born elsewhere. One wisp of a story handed down the Andrew Nolan side of the family was that Andrew was on the run from the English law when he left suddenly for America. Another wisp of a story is that the brothers Nolan came from County Kerry, not County Galway.

            All these stories could be right; all could be wrong. I just don't know. But one thing is for sure, I found nothing in or near Ballinasloe in 1997 that in any way changed my thinking on this puzzle that was first presented in "Nolan-Miller Family History."


Monday, June 23, 1997 - To Aughrim,  Betty -

            After checking out of Hayden's Hotel in Ballinasloe, we drove back to Aughrim and visited the museum and historical center there. We had been told one could do research there and look into the history of area families.

            Pictures taken today included shots at Ballinasloe and Aughrim.


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