Ireland Revisited, Part 2

On the Famine Trail in Search of Ancestral Roots

June 11 - 26, 1997


By Lewis and Betty Nolan


Return To Nolan Travels Home Page

 Part 1:  Memphis to Dublin                              Part 7:  Cork, Kinsale

 Part 2:  Carlow, site of Nolan homelands          Part 8:  Dingle Golf Links, Shopping

 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 Index                                                     Part 13: Drive in Northern Ireland












Thursday, June 12, 1997 - Dublin to Carlow, Lewis -

The overnight flight from Memphis got into Amsterdam on time, noon, and we boarded an Aer Lingus 727 connection to Dublin a couple of hours later. I love the Irish - none of the regimented "by rows" boarding required by KLM. It was everyman (and everywoman) for himself or herself. But the innate Irish courtesy prevailed and we passengers were seated and settled every bit as fast as by the Teutonic "by-the-numbers" method. We were pleasantly surprised to be served a tasty lunch of sliced turkey and ham, along with apple pie, potato salad and chocolate. Complimentary wine was included.

            One hour and 20 minutes later, we landed in Dublin, on time. I allowed myself to be talked into upgrading the Alamo rental to a larger car, with some additional insurance
Betty at Barrowville Town House
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not provided by my credit card. However, we didn't need the extra room initially because my golf clubs didn't make the connection in Amsterdam. Aer Lingus was quite nice about it and promised to search their system and that of KLM and courier the clubs to me wherever I was when they turned up.

            Leaving the airport - and being somewhat brain-befuddled from jet lag and fitful sleep -, I took a wrong turn. We ended up driving around much of Dublin. It wasn't such a bad drive since we saw a lot of sights before finally getting on the right road. Even though I had driven in Ireland before, it still took a while to get used to being on the opposite of the road and car than back home. The hardest skill to put on automatic is the manual transmission shifting done with the right hand. Cars are smaller in Ireland and standard rentals come with stick shift.

We headed south on N7 and N9 to County Carlow, site of the ancient Nolan Clan. The county is Ireland's second smallest and has a population of only 11,000. The town walls were built in 1361 and came under fire from Cromwell's forces in 1650. The last battle between the English and the Irish took place in 1798, when more than 600 Irish insurgents were killed. The town and surrounding countryside is a farming center and there isn't much to entice tourists to the area other than a large Dolmen (Stonehenge-looking burial site) on private land.

Carlow does host a regional arts festival in June that includes displays of the visual arts, bluegrass music (surprisingly popular in Ireland), craft demonstrations and traditional performances. Information about the festival is available from: Eigse Festival Office, Bridewell Lane, Carlow, Ireland; telephone 0503-40491; fax 0503-30065.

            The Nolan family newsgroup on the Internet, to which I have subscribed for several years, alerted me to a site on the Internet that tells some of the history of County Carlow and its Castlemore's Castle. The castle was built by the Normans in the 12th Century. The lord of the castle was Raymond le Gross, who married Strongbow's sister. Le Bross was granted lands that had been owned by the O'Nolans in the Barony of Forth. The castle is now only ruins. (Website URLs and e-mail addresses are not included in this account because of the changing nature of the species; search words entered in the Google engine should provide the latest addresses for those wanting more information.)

            One of the helpful people I came in contact with through the Nowlin newsgroup was Martin Nevin, who teaches engineering at Carlow Regional College. He e-mailed me that "Carlow is regarded as the home of the Nolans, no matter how the name is spelled - Nowland, Nowlan, Nolan, etc. There are seven baronies in Carlow: Carlow, Rathvilly, Idrone East, Idrone West, St. Mullins Lower, St. Mullins Upper and Forth. The Barony of Forth, which was a fair slice of Carlow, belonged to the Nolans in bygone days.

            "Now as you must know, we were ruled for seven centuries by the Anglo Normans and the English. As the English came in, they settled mostly on the East Coast, in an area known to us as the Pale (so named because of a fortified fence of that name). The Nolans were one of the old Irish families that would have at times had to forfeit their lands. Many would have gone on to the continent of Europe (the so-called "Wild Geese") and fought there with foreign armies against the English. Later, their descendants made their way to America.

            "Many Carlow people have distinguished themselves in your country. The Old Carlow Society, of which I am the present chairman, puts out a journal annually that includes many articles on Carlow and its people. Last year's issue dealt with a number of Carlovians in America who served that country well. Miles Keogh fought alongside General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and served as second in command. Only his horse, Commanche, was left standing that fateful day. Carlowman Pierce Butler signed the American Constitution. Tnydall town in North Dakota is named after world famous scientist and Carlovian John Tyndale.

            "Hope I've excited you. Delighted to have heard from you. Keep in contact." - Martin Nevin

            We dined on some indifferent "pub food" at Carlow's Hotel Royal that evening, a place suggested by Mrs. Marie Dempsey, proprietor with her husband, Randal Dempsey, of the Barrowville Town House on Kilkenny Road in Carlow, a very comfortable, 10-room guesthouse/inn that was built as a country house in 1775. Mansion-like with its Georgian architecture and formal gardens, it was a
Betty at conservatory breakfast
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beautiful place to spend our first night. We had a small but comfortable "en suite" room (meaning equipped with a bathroom). We watched TV and were surprised to find that two of the news shows were in Gaelic, the language of the Irish Celts. Virtually all the road signs are in both Irish and English, with the Irish wording dominant. That is a reversal from our last trip, when it looked as though the Irish words were put on roadsigns as an afterthought.

            I used the telephone to call Tom Nolan, a Carlow citizen whom I'd written earlier. He was in the process of organizing a two-day "Gathering of the O'Nolans" in August. He said there were several hundred Nolans still in County Carlow, including the area's current representative to the Irish Congress, M. E. Nolan. While he had no direct information about my John Nolan or his family, he did know that some Nolans had left the Carlow area "in ancient times" and moved to County Galway, where he understood they prospered. He gave me directions to two, very old graveyards near Carlow where some of the old Nolan gravemarkers still stand. One, called Templepeter, is seven or eight miles out from town on Wexford Road, just past the Fighting Cock pub. Another is the old St. Catherine's Cemetery on the road to Aughrim. At 9:45 p.m., with light still in the sky, Betty and I retired for the night.


Friday, June 13, 1997 - In Carlow, Lewis - 

            We had a delightful Irish breakfast in the inn's gorgeous conservatory, which has a calf-thick grapevine trained to pass through a hole in the glass. We then drove out Wexford Road to Templepeter Church and Cemetery, a tree-shaded ruins with
Lewis in Carlow town center
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only a few remnants of walls still standing. A sign said, "The cemetery is the resting place of people born in the 17th Century. During the half century since the last burial took place here in 1949, this treasure of the past had become completely obscured by vegetation. In 1990, a local group preserved it."

            We poked around the weathered stones, which were evidently of a much harder and longer lasting material than the gravestones I'd come across in central and western Ireland. Those stones had been fashioned from soft limestone and had become totally unreadable in less than 100 years. The ones at Templepeter that I could make out included the following:

            * W. H. Nowlan family. Dec. 1794. William, Elizabeth Honour Nolan. March 1756, age 63. (My great-grandfather John Nolan's parents were Matthew and Honora Nolan; I have not been able to find where they are buried or anything at all about them).

            * Luke Nowlan. Died 1779, 66. Wife Anne. Stone erected 1773. (illegible) lies both John and (illegible) Nolan.

            * Richard Nolan, died 1809.

            * Michael Nolan, 1855.

            * Catherine Nowlan, 1770.

            My earlier book, "Nolan-Miller Family History," details my repeated encounters with the casual, variant spellings of Nolan (Noland, Nolen, Nolin, Nowland) in the records of  the life of John Nolan and his brother, Andrew Nolan, since their arrival in America in 1843.

            One of the very nice people with whom I corresponded was Nancy Nolan of Ballaghlea, Ballygar in County Galway. She had provided me information that put me in touch with the above Tom Nolan of Carlow. She wrote me the following May 20, 1997, which I had received just before our departure:


Dear Lewis:

            Some years ago I corresponded with you in regards to your search for your roots in Ireland. Later I got from you the account of your visit here and all that followed on from there. I have often wondered if you reached the end of the trail. On receiving word of a gathering of the Nolan Clan next August, I thought of you again and hence this letter of surprise.

            I hope all has gone well with you and your family over the years. As for myself, I lost my husband two years ago and my family of six are scattered through the country - all in Ireland, I am pleased to say. One daughter settled in Carlow, back to our original home. My husband, Thomas, was a lover of history and indeed a very literate man. I miss his company so much.

            I wonder if you ever heard of Fr. Hugh Nolan - historian, scholar and writer. He was chairman of the Dept. of Theology in Immaculata College for many years - born in Philadelphia. His father emigrated from a small farm in Mayo early in this century. My husband and Fr. Hugh were first cousins and he visited here on two occasions. Fr. Hugh died in 1995, a few months before the death of my husband. Another cousin, John Nolan & family, visited from Rochester.

            And so the story of the Nolans continues. I would be very interested in hearing of your progress. We were very lucky that my mother-in-law, who lived to a great age, was able to trace back this Nolan family for four generations - very many of them did emigrate. The name Thomas & Hugh was handed on from father to son. My only son is named Hugh and his son is Tomas (Irish form of Thomas). Enough of this.

            Slan argus bennacht agus Slainte. Yours sincerely, (Mrs.) Nancy Nolan


            The brochure she sent me was titled "O'Nolan Gathering," Member of Clans of Ireland, Ltd., and carried on its cover logos from Biord Failte (the Irish Tourist Board) and Irish Genealogy Limited. The schedule for the Aug. 8-10 event - which to my regret came two months after our visit - included a lecture on the O'Nolan history by Prof. Kenneth Nicols; a lecture on genealogy by Noreen Higgins; coach tour of O'Nolan clan sites and monuments of interest; annual general meeting of the O'Nolan Clan with election of the Chief of the Clan and other officers, and social gatherings at Ballykeally House in Ballon, Co. Carlow.

            The brochure, whose information I posted on the Internet Nowlin Newsgroup, had this to say about the family's heritage:


            The O'Nolan Clan is one of the oldest families in Ireland, so old in fact that our origins are lost in the mists of time. But the old Druid genealogists preservd our lineages back to Eocaidh Flonn of Fothart, the son of Feidhlimidh Reachtmhar, King of Ireland in 164-174 AD, and even further back to Coghthach Caol mBreagh, a King of Ireland who ruled from 591 to 541 BC. The ancient Irish annalists referred to our family as ONuallain Fotharta Laighear, or the "ancient ones of Leinster." It is believed that the O'Nolans were settled in Leinster long before the Milesian Celts ever arrived, and are probably descended from the mythical Da Danaans. Our roots are deep indeed, penetrating to the very soul of Ireland.

            The O'Nolans, like all Irish families, are now spread throughout Ireland and the rest of the world, however, amazingly, many are still concentrated on the same lands the family has occupied since history began, now the Barony of Forth in County Carlow. The O'Nolans will again gather at Ballon, County Carlow, on the second weekend of August (1997), in midst of their ancestral lands, to renew the bonds of blood and fellowship. This will be the second gathering of the modern O'Nolan Clan. . .

            For more information contact: Tom Nolan, Slyguff, Muine Bheag, Co. Carlow, 0503-21221.


(More than seven years after our journey along the Famine Trail, I received a memorable email from a woman in England who happened across my websites while surfing the net in search of her own John Nolan. She is Karen Walsh, a fine writer with a keen sense of the history of the Irish and their underlying story of tragedy and recovery. Her great-grandfather and mine had the same name but were different men. There may be a connection back in Ireland but there is none that we could determine in the U.S., where my great-grandfather and his brother, Andrew, emigrated in 1843. Their home supposedly was in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. Karen has been told that her John Nolan had a brother, named Patrick, and that some of the family went to the U.S. Her grandfather was Bernard Leo Nolan and her mother was Maureen Nolan, whom Karen described as "70 years old and remarkably young looking, never gone grey."

Karen's search for her John Nolan, like mine, is still incomplete. She wrote that "given the population around the time of our ancestors was very tiny due to the genocide of the potato famine, we are more than likely long distance cousins. I know some went west to the U.S. and some east to England. John Nolan was, I understand, a character and was mentioned in a book. All the women are nice looking and a cousin of my mother's won a beauty competition when younger and was crowned "Coal Queen." Following is an excerpt from Karen's email to me:


"The day I came upon your Nolan Travels I was actually seeking any available info for a friend who's an adoptee now aged 40. He has no birth details except date of birth and place he was born. It's so difficult minus birth name. But later today I am going to my local archives library to search male births in Darlington 1964 to see if there is anything that looks relevant. Sometimes I get dizzy headed being online for hours, so I just switched search and typed the keywords 'seeking John Nolan'. Whilst I have done similar soooo many times, I actually found the response this time was compelling! Up came your site!

"There was a TV programme on last night saying that when looking at genealogy it's always best to start at the present and work backwards, but on line it's not always easy or possible in my view as I started with myself on one occasion and the response was 'no matches found' - and that was the way it was for everyone I knew to be alive that I had submitted. The living dead eh??

"Over here, Australia, and in the States there are ten of thousands of people lost in Adoption. There are thousands of heartbreaking messages flagged up on various websites by restless people worldwide all seeking to fill the missing hole in their soul. There is an excellent book available in the States called 'The Primal Wound' which I read recently (details of the book on the Internet).

"The grandchildren of the John Nolan from Ballygar would have endured that emphatically when taken from their parents, and fragmented after separation by what was called the 'care system' in the 1930's. They would suffer loss, and not know how to grieve because they were so young. Naturally I grew up knowing that I had lost grandparents, but I never lost the desire or motivation to fill in the blanks regarding my Irish roots. Some adoptive parents are more into 'ownership' than love, and that was the case for my mother sadly, yet she wasn't officially adopted until she reached the age of 16 years, because granddad Nolan refused to relinquish his children, so Maureen (Mum) was entitled to see her family during her childhood, but sadly prevented from doing so. No one told her anything, not even she had siblings. She only knew her name was Maureen Nolan.

"Her sister Ruth was only 3 years old when taken to Father Hudson's Home in Coleshill Birmingham, and she was raised by Nuns. The two boys, John and Bernard, were cared for in the Boys section of the orphanage and only met up with their sister Ruth at Christmas. Again the bonding is under duress.

"There is always a human price to pay for 'uprooting' and the big picture tells us that we lost our lands due to Cromwell's ethnic cleaning mission, we survived starvation (genocide), we survived emigration in potential coffin ships, and we survived the poverty waiting for us when we docked. How my great grandfather made it across to England with his brother Patrick from Ballygar without transport overland will sadly have to remain a mystery. I only know that during our search I was lucky enough to see a photo of John Nolan (6 foot inches tall) with his wife Maria Williams, from Wrexham North Wales, who was tucked under his arm pit standing at 4 foot 11 inches!! John was very slim and lanky, but I have to say that my Mother, sister, and the one brother she met (now RIP) are/were very short and a bit on the Michael Moore (U.S. author) side!

"Once my Mother's adoptive mother had entered the care home for the totally bewildered she set about scanning the telephone directory, and for some reason she was drawn to one Thomas Nolan in the town where she knew she was born, who turned out to be her uncle (my grandfather's brother), and that's how we got the ball rolling. Sadly she had left it too late to find her father alive, and there is still a mystery as to what happened to her mother who we understand ran away after losing her children. No doubt the Primal Wound triggered her sorrow..........understandable.

"Given the historical background of the Nolan clan can we be really surprised that having been powerless to halt the loss of our lands, our country, that this translates into losing our children when our roots and foundations are weakened by forces beyond our control? The need to survive in conflict with the injustices suffered must be robbery of ones soul, and even though there may not be a memory of words of these atrocities, I am sure there must be a memory wedged within our genetic makeup, and a memory of 'feeling'. That's why so many, many, try to find logic of their existence. The why, how, and when, factors. If we shook our family tree then both our John Nolan's would have fallen out I feel, and we could have broken the clan bread together - who knows? They say it's evolution, but I prefer the Ice Age type of change where one is spared examples of man's inhumanity to man. The Ice Age formed what we know as the British Isles. The giant glaciers and melt water pushed between what is England, Ireland, and France. Once there was a land bridge and everything living penetrated North from Europe to our shores. Those that only made it as far as England when the melt water became the sea didn't make it to Ireland and that's why there are fewer natural species of animals over there than in England. They kind of missed the boat - yes snakes never made it, nice though the St. Patrick story is!

"Now we have the mystery of the Internet, and hopefully cyber space is serving us well and the expanse of the Atlantic is a mere drop in the proverbial ocean, consequently we are in communication (we know not how!).

"Over the last decade I have trod the same roads in Ireland as yourself and Betty probably in similar moccasins. I have visited famine museums and felt short-changed too by words that were unsaid by the guides. Kilmainham Jail in Dublin is a fine example of truth, and I have been there twice. I felt a strong sense of psychological identity with the guide who knew her stuff inside out. I also went to Cobh in Cork a few times and you also may have been there yourselves to witness the horror story of emigration on board ships that were anything but seaworthy. Why these ships set sail for Liverpool primarily before going on the States beggars belief. But I guess as with everything else it was profit driven.

"I will not attempt to teach my Cousins to suck eggs -you know as much as me because it's more of a feeling than what can be expressed in words - maybe we should call these emotions 'Heart Language'? Perhaps that's why Irish genes have a yearning to go home, and why what rushes through their veins finds its way into print. Hard to determine Lewis, because when I held my first pencil and pen I was too young to have empathy with what I have shared with you in this communication. I am one of those people who find it easy to accept the theory of 'inherited memory' now that I am older. They say that age brings wisdom, and sometimes it just turns up alone, who knows?

"I would love to think that I could remember back to the start of the family tree when the 'Tree Nolan' was just a little seed in the loins of the King. But suffice to say that I let my inner child lose with imagination frequently, and consider what plot I could weave should we be enabled to turn back the historical tide! Wouldn't that make a good film to make Tolken turn in his grave!

"Your style of writing Lewis I find amazing, exciting, and informative, and thankfully non intellectual! It's playful and stimulating. I'd like to think to think that I had the hereditary factor, but maybe I will never really know. I can more imagine myself telling sagas of daring deeds and intriguing events around a turf fire in days gone by. The lack of paper meant that history then was kept alive that way -it was the only way! I try and imagine carving a story upon stone and my arm starts to ache! So vivre oral history, even if it was the victors that got to tell the tale, or the survivors which is what both of us are doing. Nostalgia hadn't been invented then, but I'm glad it has now because here we are in our wanderings.

"It's great that we fell out of the same lineage, even if it's a few branches apart. There is an old saying for being distantly related that my Mother uses and it's 'Your dog ran down my alley way'. She's a great philosopher!" - Karen Walsh, England, Oct. 21, 2004.



            The 1997 telephone directory serving the 05 "Leinster" area of southeast Ireland includes 874 listings for Nolan. Among them are 84 Johns, 11 Andrews and 6 Matthews, pointing to the propensity of Irish males carrying the names of the Apostles.


Friday, June 13, 1997- In Carlow, Betty -

            After a long flight on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to Dublin via Amsterdam, a night's sleep and rest at the Barrowville Guest House was much appreciated. The view from our room of the backyard with a window seat under the bay window was delightful.

            Sleeping with a window open, with no mosquitoes, no screen and no heat helped make a night's rest just what two weary travelers needed. The English Setter belonging to the inn's owners seemed to enjoy a romp out of doors as well as inside. Friendly dogs that don't jump are a pleasure to be around.

            We are in Carlow, about an hour and a half from Dublin, to the South. Perhaps it is really only a half hour away since the directions from the car rental (known as car hire in Ireland) didn't help us. We drove through the town center of Dublin at least twice trying to find the Great Northern Motorway to get to the road that would lead us to Carlow. Finally, a man we drove up next to gave us accurate directions and we were on our way out to Carlow. Of course, it was rush hour then, but nothing like rush hour in a big city like Memphis. Construction didn't help though, with narrow roads and driving on the left side of the road. We found out quickly that the right side of the road is the fast lane, not the slow one as in America. Once we got away from the Dublin outskirts, traffic thinned out and we were at last (really) on our way.

            We slept in until 8 a.m. - truly late for early risers like us. But the extra sleep was well deserved due to our travels. We plan to have breakfast here in the guest hotel before moving on to Waterford.


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