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Post Millstreet: A Pilgrimage to Ancestral Lands
Created by John Eipper on 11/10/17 3:25 AM

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Millstreet: A Pilgrimage to Ancestral Lands (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 11/10/17 3:25 am)

This post is written in response to John E's suggestion of a few weeks ago to compose an account of my recent trip to the town of Millstreet in West Cork, Ireland, which is near the border of County Kerry.

I made this visit not to see the home of a famous Irish writer (as far as I know, there are none hailing from Millstreet) nor to contemplate a ruined Irish castle destroyed by the likes of Strongbow or Cromwell. Rather, one set of my Irish forbears, bearing the last name of "Cronin," made their way during the early years of the Great Famine ("An Gorta Mór" in Irish) across the Atlantic Ocean in a "famine" or "coffin" ship named the Lucy Ann, which on that trip docked in New York City.

My great-grandfather, Philip Cronin, and his wife, Mary O'Leary Cronin, traveled in steerage on the Lucy Ann; 114 other passengers were on board with them. Upon their arrival during 1850 or 1851 in lower Manhattan, they were processed as immigrants at Castle Clinton, which Revolutionary War-era fortress still stands in Battery Park. My great-grandfather, Philip (1822-1883) and his new wife, Mary (1825-1881), later traveled with their then-only child, Cornelius, up the Hudson River to Albany either by railroad or boat. From Albany (where my great-grandparents' second child, Judith, was born), this couple and their two very young children continued via the Erie Canal (in a canal boat, perhaps drawn by a mule "whose name was Sal") to Buffalo and ultimately settled in Lapeer County, Michigan. There they purchased farmland in Oregon Township, which farm was not far from the city of Lapeer.

On their farm Philip and Mary raised a family of ten children, five boys and five girls. The oldest of these children, Cornelius, was born in the Millstreet area in 1849, and the second oldest, Judith, came into this world in Albany in 1851. The remaining eight children were born after 1851 in Lapeer County at intervals of two to three years. This "procession" ended in 1871, with the birth of Hugh, the last of Philip and Mary's children. My grandmother, Mary Cronin Mears (1856-1924), was the fifth child of Philip and Mary and was raised on the Cronin homestead in Oregon Township.

The Cronins were staunch Roman Catholics and regularly attended mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Lapeer, driving into town on Sundays in a horse and buggy or similar contraption with their ten children in tow. Judith Cronin, my grandmother's sister who was born in Albany and who never married, had saved her "milk money" (viz., money that she earned by selling milk and produce from the family farm) to purchase one of the two, large stained glass windows still in this church's nave and which window bears the inscription, "Pray for the Souls of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Cronin."

Mary Cronin married my other Irish grandfather, Edward Francis Mears (1857-1937) sometime in the 1880s. Edward Francis was born and raised on the outskirts of the city of Flint in Genesee County, Michigan, which is located immediately west of Lapeer County. He inherited his Irish-born father's farm there when he passed away in 1876 from stomach cancer. Edward Francis' mother, also Irish born, remarried shortly thereafter and moved to the Lansing, Michigan area, where she joined her new husband, another Irish immigrant farmer. Edward Francis Mears and Mary Cronin Mears had seven children, one of which was my father, Edward Patrick Mears.

Although some of the foregoing was known to me when I became interested in collecting and assembling it while in my early 30s, much of it had disappeared into the sands of time. My father's two brothers (one of whom died at a young age as a consequence of a German poison gas attack in France during the Great War) left no issue and my father's sisters had married and moved away. Even my father failed to write down the family history before he passed away. So, armed with little knowledge, I made my first trip to Ireland in 1980. After returning to the States, I vowed to find out as much as I could about the origins, characteristics and individual members of the Cronin and Mears families and carried through with the task thereafter.

It was against this background that this October, I traveled to Millstreet and "put the frosting on the cake" by visiting my forebears' ancient haunts. Accompanied by a local resident, Michael Cashman, who had voluntarily researched my Cronin family history and offered to come along with me, I drove on the day following Hurricane Ophelia to the still-standing farmhouses where my Great-Grandfather Philip Cronin and my Great-Grandmother, Mary O'Leary Cronin, were born and raised. Our first stop was the former O'Leary farmhouse, which was located on a spacious dairy farm in the Townland of Cullen. This house was owned by a semi-invalid farmer in his late 60s, and Michael Cashman was skeptical as to whether he would let us in the door. Michael was right about that--while he was knocking on the door, he noticed that it was being locked from the inside.

Since we failed to make this first contact, we went on to our second and had greater luck there. Philip Cronin's former house is situated in the Townland of Gorteenafinoga north of Millstreet in a very secluded area. Michael had previously arranged with the current owner of the home, Jerry Doody (a corruption of the surname, "O'Dowd"), to receive me, but we had to delay our visit somewhat because Jerry was milking his cows. We arrived at the farmhouse just after Jerry had finished with his farm chores.

Jerry told me that his parents had purchased the farm in the 1950s from one of my distant relatives, John Cronin, who "played heavily the dogs" (i.e., bet unwisely on grayhound races) and because of his losses, he was forced to sell the farm. Jerry said that the house had probably changed very little from when it had been built, which was probably sometime in the 1700s. When his parents purchased the farm, the house still carried a thatched roof. He also said that the Irish patriot, Charles Stewart Parnell, had spent a night in the house sometime before his fall from power and grace in the late-1880s. Jerry then invited me inside, where a fire was burning in the large fireplace, "to warm your legs at the same place that your great-grandfather did the same." That I did and, after an exchange of a few more pleasantries with Jerry, Michael and I returned to Millstreet, where we bid each other farewell and I returned to Bantry.

I have attached two photos. The one with me in the driveway and the house behind me is the home of my great-grandmother, Mary O'Leary Cronin. The one with myself and Jerry Doody framed against his fireplace was taken in the home of my great-grandfather, Philip Cronin. Michael Cashman filmed part of my conversation with Jerry in the driveway of his home. That can be accessed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKr4sg0dhYI .

Also: Jerry Doody is quite a character and a well-known personality in the Millstreet area. If you do a Google Search under "Jerry Doody Millstreet," you will come up with a number of his photos and postings about him or mentioning him, including one about the O'Leary house that I mentioned above.

JE comments:  What a great story of "coming home."  Pat Mears has also shown keen abilities as a researcher.  Pat, could you tell us more about the nitty-gritty of your genealogical digging?  WAISers are a curious lot, and I'm sure many of us would love to find out more about our ancestors (except, of course, for Charlemagne, from whom we're all descended.)

Moral of the story:  don't play the dogs, especially not heavily.

Patrick Mears and Mary O`Leary Cronin House, Townland of Cullen, Ireland

Jerry Doody and Pat Mears, in front of his Great-Grandfather`s Fireplace

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