Saturday, September 6, 2014

“House of the Well of Ara”

When it comes to researching the history of County Tipperary—the homeland of my husband’s Tully and Flannery forebears—it evidently pays to double-check the experts.

It was charming, upon discovering the page on The Irish Times section, “Irish Ancestors,” to read that the meaning of the Irish phrase for “County Tipperary” was “House of the Well of Ara.” I was quite thankful to stumble upon that little tidbit. After all, since I don’t know the Irish language, how was I to know what “Tiobraid Árann” meant?

Running that phrase through Google Translate unfortunately didn’t return quite the same verdict. According to Google, “Tiobraid Árann” means—you’ll love this—“Tipperary.” I dunno. Maybe Google’s Irish isn’t old enough….

The homeland of our Tullys and Flannerys was evidently not only a happenin’ place, but an old one. County Tipperary was one of the earlier counties to be designated in Ireland. In fact, it was made so in a political decision dating back to 1328.

No, make that 1210.

Oh, well, certainly earlier than any of our Tullys or Flannerys.

County Tipperary was also apparently a cutting edge place. The site of a line drawn in the sand as significant as any Mason Dixon line. And as close to the forefront of any Hatfield and McCoy feud as you’d want to get.

In the case of the Irish, it was the O’Briens and the McCarthys who were at “the front line of the endless battles between the two.” (Spoiler: the O’Briens won; the McCarthys got sent packing for Cork.)

The county has long been seen as a land in two parts. Up until a reform act that went into effect only in June of this year, the county was administered under two separate councils: the North Tipperary County Council and the South Tipperary County Council.

Back in the time of our Tully and Flannery ancestors, it wasn’t much different. Only then—and, apparently, up through the year 2001—the Griffith’s Valuation labeled the two divisions the “North Riding” and the “South Riding.”

Our Tully and Flannery folks in Ballina were decidedly on the north side—so north, in fact, that if they had crossed over the River Shannon, they would have entered into the next county.

With map in hand—both that offered with the Griffith’s Valuation at the time of our ancestors’ emigration, and a modern roadmap—we’ll soon be tracing those routes in Ballina and in the likely townland of their residence, Tountinna. While I doubt we will be able to discover any role these families played in the ages-old battles waged in the vicinity—or safe haven they might have found to avoid the conflicts—there are apparently local history resources which may help us gain a “sense of place” about our ancestors’ homeland. Just yesterday in Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy News, a lecture series in County Tipperary was announced. While it is unlikely that I’ll be able to participate in this program, the post does lead me to a local resource I can follow up on: the Tipperary County Museum.

Searching in vain for a website in the documentation on that program, I ran across the county government website, which included links for both their heritage centres and their genealogy centre. Yes, centre. This is Ireland.

Finding those resources reminded me of a tip from my daughter, shortly before she left for Ireland: don’t perform searches about Ireland on Google. Use

It makes sense. I tried it—and while I ended up finding a website for the Tipperary Museum that was not the museum I was seeking (evidently, the County museum does not have its own separate website), I did find some different references that failed to appear in the all-knowing search engine we know as Google.

It always pays to double-check. Even the experts. Even Google.

 Above: "A View on the Shannon," 1828 oil on canvas by Dublin native James Arthur O'Connor; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. It's a long way to Tipperary. I wonder which one they meant, north or south. :)

    And where is this well of "Ara"?

    1. Well, Iggy, I'm afraid I'd have to dig much deeper into the annals of Irish history to discover that, but I'm sure there is an explanation somewhere about where--or who--Ara might have been.

      As for north or south, I know that one for sure: the Tully family was in the North Riding section of Griffith's Valuation, and that corresponded to what was later termed North Tipperary. On a map, you can easily see the northern position of the town of Ballina in relation to the rest of the county.

      Of course, the song was likely referring to the town of Tipperary, not the county. But I'll claim it as part of our heritage. It certainly put Tipperary on the map in the eyes of the world.


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