How Three Irish Immigrant Priests Helped Me Find My Roots
by Sheila Ives
I grew up in the small college city of Oberlin, Ohio. Our family was working class, and we didn’t own a car until I was twelve. So, I rarely had a chance to leave Oberlin and see other places or meet anyone new.
Although both my parents had Irish ancestry, we knew nothing of Irish customs and little of Irish history. None of my friends or neighbors had Irish ancestors that I knew of, and most were Protestant, not Catholic, like my family.
Living in Oberlin
I have many happy memories of my childhood but living in Oberlin just didn’t afford me the opportunity to learn much about my Irish heritage. Two years ago, my two sisters and I decided to get our DNA tested, and that started the ball rolling. My sisters wanted to know how Irish they were; I wanted to know who my Irish ancestors were and where they had come from; we knew so little.
What I knew about my mother’s Irish family was that her father was Thomas L. Lynch, and he was born in Painesville, Ohio, to Irish immigrant parents, Thomas P. Lynch and Ellen Flanagan. My mom didn’t know where in Ireland they had come from, or why they had settled in Painesville.
At the age of two, she relocated to Oberlin, and thereafter had limited contact with her Lynch relatives still residing in Painesville. Although I had made some stabs at trying to find information about my parents’ Irish ancestors, for many years the necessary records weren’t accessible.
After we received our DNA results, I was contacted by one of our matches, who lives near Painesville. He and another cousin were so generous in sharing what they knew about the family of my great-grandmother Ellen Flanagan.
In fact, they credited Ellen Flanagan with providing an essential clue that led them to the discovery of where she was born. In an old, crumbling 1915 Ohio atlas, they found that the farm Ellen Flanagan and her husband Thomas P. Lynch owned in Painesville had been named Cherry Garden, after the estate where her grandfather had been a tenant farmer in Ireland. With some Internet sleuthing, they found that there had been an estate named Cherry Garden in Daingean, County Offaly (formerly King’s County).
Ellen’s parents’ names were Patrick Flanagan and Jane Murphy. Her grandfather, James Murphy, had lived on the Cherry Garden estate. I then decided to see what I could find about my grandfather Thomas P. Lynch’s family.
Fortunately, I found a cemetery record in Painesville for someone who turned out to be a relation. Askeaton, County Limerick, had been inscribed as his birthplace on his gravestone. I found records for Thomas P. Lynch’s family, also in Askeaton, His grandparents were John Lynch and Mary Purtill, and they had been married in Shanagolden, County Limerick.
My father’s mother was named Mary Ann Quinn. She arrived in the United States at the age of sixteen in 1881. She lived for a few years with her uncle, John Quinn, a Catholic priest in the small village of Wakeman, Ohio, in Huron County.
We did know that they both had been born in Kanturk, Co. Cork, but we were clueless about who their other family members were. I asked my father if his mother had ever spoken about Ireland and her family, and he replied that she had never done so, finding it too painful to discuss.
Now it was time for me to investigate my grandmother Mary Ann Quinn’s family in Kanturk, Co. Cork. I was interested in learning more about her uncle, Father John Quinn. Doing a Google Book search, I found that he was mentioned in a book called A Case for Due Process in the Church: Father Eugene O’ Callaghan: American Pioneer of Dissent by Nelson J. Callahan. (Author Nelson Callahan was a Catholic priest who served in the Cleveland diocese and was also its archivist.)
In early July last year, while searching the Clevnet library catalog, I discovered that Cleveland Public Library owned the book, but it was in reference storage and couldn’t be borrowed. The book was also being transferred between locations, so I didn’t know where it was going and when it would be available.
I decided that since I had put off checking into this source for quite some time, that I would just go ahead and email the library and hope that I wouldn’t have to wait too long for the book to become available. A few days after the July 4thholiday, I got an email response from the library. The librarian informed me that as he was reading my request, the very book I was enquiring about was sitting near him at the reference desk, having arrived the day before.
Obviously, someone else was also interested in the same book, at the same time. The librarian wrote back to me, “The spirit moving in mysterious ways…”
Check Back next month for Part II!