Sunday, October 5, 2014

Seeking Tullys in Ballina

After you've done all that can be done to solve a research problem, what more could possibly be added to the list? That's what I had thought when I first received the advice that was to become job number one on our first full day in the County Tipperary village of Ballina.

Face it: I had already thoroughly research all available documentation on the Tully family from civil parish Templeachally. I had traced the family back through their history: all the United States census records where they had settled in Chicago, over the border to their first home in the New World in Brant County, Canada West. Thanks to an ancestor who believed in saving every scrap of documentation, I even had a baptismal verification of my husband's great-grandfather, John Tully, providing me with not only his place of baptism, but the new details of his father's name and his mother's maiden name as well.

That baptismal note was the key that led us to Ballina, and it turned out to open some doors, once we got there as well. The Griffith's Valuation gave added support to that detail, as did transcriptions of baptismal records for John Tully's siblings, found through a subscription at By Thursday night, here we were.

Having already obtained all those records—and knowing that not much more might be accessed, despite our travel efforts to get here—I began to plummet into despondent thoughts that there would be nothing further to do. After all, this was one of those church parishes for which records were only preserved back to about 1832. There would be no further documents to trace.

Competing against that downer thought was the notion that not everything in genealogy may be accessed via online resources. Remember all those pithy saying about the value of still looking to books and documents to round out our research? Remember that research "iceberg" mantra? I was terrified it wouldn't hold true, now that I am here.

Our host and lead genealogist for the research trip to Dublin, Donna Moughty, had suggested I see what else could be found via the County Genealogy Centre in County Tipperary. I protested that advice. These county heritage centers are part of the widespread network known as the Irish Family History Foundation. However, as I already knew, these offices offer only "commissioned research." Besides, any of their available records are accessible (now by subscription) via their website, which I had already thoroughly searched.

I protested to Donna that I had already done what I could do, regarding that resource. Besides, I prefer to enjoy the thrill of the chase, myself. I have no intention of hiring someone else to find the answers I'm seeking. That would spoil all my fun.

Donna, however, gently suggested I casually stop by and see what would happen. Sometimes, she said, despite the growl of their at-arms'-length official literature, they will, in person, offer helpful tips. At least, that had been her experience.

What did I have to lose? After all, we had already traveled thousands of miles to get here.

So, Friday morning, that was our first mission: drive to the town of Nenagh to see whether staff at this Heritage Centre would be amenable to tossing a few extra crumbs of data in my direction.

Though each Irish county has its own county council and local governmental organization, owing to the length of County Tipperary, the place has historically—until just recently—been administered through two separate geographically-designated districts, known since 1838 as "North Riding" and "South Riding." The one corresponding to our Ballina would be the North Riding, and its capital was the town of Nenagh, where the Heritage Centre and genealogy service is located.

We made our way back along the country road from Ballina to the main highway and headed east to Nenagh. The Heritage Centre is housed in the former Governor's House, a stone Georgian building on Kickham Street.

While the building itself seems rather austere, set behind gates and a long entryway without much pomp or fanfare, its original intention was to serve dual purposes.

It didn't take long to find the plaque revealing the facility's other use: as the county jail.

Even the archway which framed the approach to the house had a grim purpose: above were set the "condemned cells" and around it the execution area. As we walked through the archway and toward the governor's house, these appeared behind us.

The somber walk up to the front door of the Heritage Centre was accentuated by the gray weather which accompanied our trip, I kept telling myself. It seemed almost a relief to get inside the doors to the building which likely was completed the same year our John Tully was born in 1842. Who knows how that complex of buildings commanded the mood for the entire region in which the Tully family lived.

Thankfully, the interior seemed like a different world. While part of the complex served as a local history museum, one of the rooms of the house had been converted into an office for the Genealogy Centre. Crossing the threshold to that department, I faced up to the moment of the decision: would the staff entertain any thoughts of chatting or being helpful to a do-it-yourselfer, or would they insist on toeing the party line?

After introducing myself to the woman sitting at the desk, I pulled out my copy of John Tully's baptismal verification, a note from the parish priest which had been passed down through our family since it was issued in 1887. I fervently hoped the authenticity of the document might prompt a conversation between two aficionados of genealogical pursuit.

It did. Geraldine was a delight to talk to, and quite willing to share some ideas on how I could continue my own pursuit. While she concurred with my realization that there wasn't much more that could be obtained through Catholic records, she did provide follow-up ideas. Cemeteries might provide additional hints—although here, too, the caution was that custom of that impoverished time might mean no memorials placed as grave markers.

Geraldine also answered my question about obtaining general material on the local history of the area—something I had had no luck in pursuing via online searches and email inquiries (my notes had been kicked back electronically for various electronic delivery reasons). "Local Studies," as it is termed in the country, could be pursued at the Thurles Town Centre, a resource in yet another town in the county for me to contact.

The best part was that, from an old listing of cemetery transcriptions, she pulled up some old burial records of a family of Tullys in the parish, including a woman who died in 1800 at the age of eighty four years. The same listing contained some Flannery family members from the same vicinity. Whether I can duplicate these names from any other records, I don't yet know, but they are possibilities to trail, once I get back to checking the documents from that era again.

We caught a late lunch at a sandwich shop in Nenagh, then rushed back to Ballina, in hopes of catching the local parish priest, and to wander the cemetery there. Unfortunately, this being the first Friday of the month, Father Edmond O'Rahelly was out, administering the sacrament of communion to his shut-in parishioners. The tangible expression of those gray clouds hanging over our morning precluded our hopes of wandering the cemetery in the afternoon, so we headed across the bridge to Ballina's twin town of Killaloe to explore the library there. A nearby coffee shop provided the wifi access needed to complete a few posts and business emails, and became our new office outpost. Working there until closing, we were satisfied to call it a day and retreat to a handy nearby Italian restaurant for dinner.

Yes, even in Ireland, you can find a good Italian restaurant.

Photographs courtesy Chris Stevens.  


  1. Kudos to Geraldine! And to Chris for the photos!!

    Now that is "immersion" in something your ancestors were around - the jail looks spooky even if it is "cleaned up" and re-purposed! I hope none of the Tully's ever spent a night (or more) there!

    1. Yes, the walk past all the history that must have occurred along that long passageway was quite the sobering one. Somber thoughts--even if they didn't include any Tullys or Flannerys.

  2. It's been great to follow your immersion adventure. Good luck searching!

    1. Thank you, Patrick! We are looking forward to what the rest of these three weeks will bring--thankful that we have that much time to let the discoveries unfold.

    2. Had to revisit your thought, Patrick: immersion. That is the perfect term for what we are seeking at this point--to be immersed in the experiences of our ancestors' lives, to absorb the ambience, the environment, the feel of the circumstances. It is a totally different type of research experience. There is no book or document that could replicate it. Granted, we in our times cannot recreate it, either, but this is about as close as I can get.

  3. Really enjoying your Irish genealogy and travels. Looking forward to what happens next!

    1. Marian, thanks for following along. It is indeed a treat to be here--and a much different experience than that of thumbing through books and microfilms. It's a time to soak in all the details from a thousand sources, all at once!

  4. I love the list of names offering new leads. Not a bad first day when you had given in to despondency.

    1. True! I have to keep reminding myself of that. It's hurry up and wait that makes the progress seem so masked. All in a rush, we find one gem, then hours of process before we get to the next grand discovery. But we are absorbing a lot of background information in the process.

  5. Sometimes it is just a matter of talking to the right person...sounds like Geraldine was a gem. Italian food...not something found readily in Minnesota and there you are in Ireland:)

    1. Oh, Far Side--New York pizza and Chinese take-out, too!

      Yes, Geraldine was indeed helpful. She helped verify some of my hunches about the way things were, back then. I hope to write more about it soon. So much to tell...


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