Finally, I think I’m a MacNamara!

For many years I have been researching my Irish roots attempting to bridge the gap in paper records through the power of DNA analysis. I recently wrote about my Sweeney family who came from the townlands of Rathclooney and Moyriesk in County Clare. You can read about them here.

From DNA matching, I have long felt that the MacNamaras, McInerney’s and McMahons must have had close associations with our family. I’ve been told that every second person in Clare was named MacNamara so perhaps it’s not that surprising. However our trip to Ireland in 2017 was to reveal more close associations to the family.

We had known from Mary Sweeney’s baptism record in 1816 (my maternal second great grandmother) that her sponsor was Catherine MacNamara. Who was Catherine and how was she related? Sponsors were usually close family members.

1816 Baptism of Mary Sweeney

It was in my discussions with Antoinette from the Clare Heritage Genealogy Centre in 2017, that she told me of a conversation she had more than 20 years ago with Joseph MacNamara who had acquired the landholding at Rathclooney. He had told her that after the death of Thomas Sweeney in 1960, the Rathclooney property had been transferred to Lizzie MacNamara and subsequently to himself. Who were these MacNamaras and how were they connected to the Sweeney’s?

Later that same day, we had a chance discussion with neighbour John Daffy who said he ‘barely remembered Thomas Sweeney when he lived at Rathclooney’. However he was able to tell me that Lizzie and Joe MacNamara had lived there together, he didn’t think they were related as Joe wasn’t ‘entitled’ but recalled that Lizzie may have been a niece of the Sweeney’s. Lizzie had lots of brothers and was the housekeeper for Thomas Sweeney who had never married. John thought Lizzie might have come from Drunmore but had lived most of her life in the Barefield-Ruan area. The final interesting piece of information, was that Lizzie and Joe were buried together in the nearby Clooney cemetery.

The headstone at Clooney describes a number of family members, most of whom seem to be connected to Joe. The entries for Lizzie and Joe’s brother John looked like they had been added long after their actual deaths, probably at the time the inscription was made for Joe in 2002. Joe’s parents were named but not Lizzies.

Clooney Cemetery, 2017

My quest when I returned to Australia was to research these clues more thoroughly, hoping to find our connection!

Ancestry of Joe McNamara 1914-2002

From the wealth of information on the headstone, I was able to piece together Joe’s ancestry back to his great grand parents Cornelious MacNamara and Nancy Keeney. (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).

Ancestry of Lizzie McNamara 1897-1992

Identifying Lizzies ancestry was more challenging but eventually it was discovered that Lizzie was actually Joe’s paternal first cousin, sharing grandparents Daniel MacNamara and Johannah ‘Ann’ McKeogh! However no Sweeney’s were identified – how could she be a niece of Thomas Sweeney 1881–1960? Was the connection on her maternal side via the McMahon or Quinn families? (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).

Gathering DNA clues

My first big clue came back in 2019 when I discovered a large match of 47cMs with several siblings of the Worthington family. I soon discovered we also triangulated with their second cousin, which suggested our connection was coming from their shared ancestors William Clayton or his wife Bridget Helena McNamara. This McNamara line extended back to Jeremiah McNamara and his wife Margaret Haiskins, of Clooney, County Clare, it was definately looking promising, but I was unaware of any of these names in our family tree. Utilising the Visual Phasing technique with my mother and her 3 siblings DNA kits, it did suggest the match was on our Cassidy-Sweeney line, but where and how?

My maternal uncle and his first cousin also had a small 13cMs triangulated ‘X’ match with the female sibling. Tracing the X inheritance path on both sides suggested that it could have been inherited from John Sweeney or Johanna (Enright) Hanrahan on our side and Clayton, Haiskins or O’Sullivan on their side. Being such a small match it could well be a long way back, further than any of the known ancestors we have identified so far. This ‘X’ chromosome match was also part of a small triangulated group. Another cousin in the group has ancestors from County Clare with names in contention that included Walsh, McInerney, McMahon, Clarke plus of course potential unknown females! Where did this leave us?

The information was very tantalising! My mother always used to say we had McInerney relations back in Ireland, but no one in the family knew exactly how they were connected. We also had more DNA matches leading back to the McNamara, McMahon and McInerney families in County Clare. One particular group of matches all went back to a McMahon-McInerney couple. Could these be more clues?

Combining genealogical and genetic research

By pouring over the parish records and other genealogical research of my Sweeney family I looked for our possible connections to the MacNamara, McInerney and McMahon families.

  • 1816 – Catherine MacNamara sponsor of Mary Sweeney, daughter of John and Johanna Sweeeny.
  • 1821 – Freeholders list of Clare, Canny’s and McMahons leasing from MacNamara’s at Moyriesk.
  • 1821 – Martin and Bridget McNamara sponsors at baptism of Ellen Sweeney.
  • 1824 – Michael McNamara, sponsor at baptism of Joan Sweeney, daughter of John Sweeney and Honor Murphy.
  • 1825 – Tithe record, John Sweeney residing at Rathclooney sharing 61 acres with McNamara’s.
  • 1830 – About this time, Michael McNamara married Mary Hanrahan.
  • 1830 – Tom McNamara – sponsor at baptism of John Enright, child of Patrick Enright and Mary Sweeney.
  • 1839 – Michael McNamara and Bridget Doloughty sponsor of John Sweeney, son of John Sweeney and Honor Murphy.
  • 1846 – Bridget Sweeney sponsor of Thomas MacNamara, daughter of John and Norah Sweeney.
  • 1846 – Thomas McNamara baptism, sponsors John Hays? and Bridget Sweeney.
  • 1860 – Cornelious Sweeney and Bridget Hogan, sponsors at baptism of Michael MacNamara, father of Lizzie.
  • 1860 – Patrick McNamara, witness at wedding of Daniel Sweeney.
  • 1871 – Honor McMahon m Michael McNamara. Lizzie McNamara’s parents.
  • 1874 – Bridget McNamara m William Clayton – Shared ancestors of McNamara/Clayton DNA Group, Chromosome 18.
  • 1896 – Lizzie McNamara born, believed to be niece of Thomas Sweeney. Sponsors Margaret McNamara and Peter McMahon.

  • 1811 – Hannah McInerney (spouse Michael McMahon). Ancestors of DNA match with triangulated X segment, also matches on chromosome 11.
  • 1818 – Michael McInerney holding property at Rathclooney, ‘life’ on the lease John McInerney.
  • 1849 – Eliza McInerney marries James Ryan at Tulla. Witness Tom McInerney probably a brother. Ancestors of an AncestryDNA match who appear in a potential Sweeney cluster.
  • 1855 – Margaret McInerney acted as sponsor with Daniel Sweeney to a child also named Margaret McInerney.
  • 1885 – Bridget McInerney marries John McMahon (date estimated). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in the Worthington AncestryDNA cluster.
  • 1901 – Denis McInerney residing at the home of Daniel Sweeney, described as a cousin. Son of John McInerney and Eliza O’Grady who had 10 children. From their baptismal records it appears John may have had at least two other siblings named Margaret and Mary.

  • 1792 – Miss McMahon married John McNamara at Dronmore (where Lizzie reputedly lived), her father Terence McMahon.
  • 1811 – Michael McMahon (spouse Hannah McInerney). Ancestors of DNA match with triangulated X segment, also matches on chromosome 11.
  • 1817 – Patrick McMahon held a lease dated 15 Oct 1817, the ‘life’ on the lease was Daniel Sweeney.
  • 1838 – John McMahon (spouse Mary Canny). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in a cluster with the McNamara/Clayton siblings.
  • 1838 – Michael McMahon (spouse Margaret Quinn). Lizzie McNamara’s grandparents.
  • 1850 – John McMahon marries Honor Hanrahan (date estimated).
  • 1871 – Honor McMahon m Michael McNamara. Lizzie McNamara’s parents.
  • 1875 – Bridget McMahon sponsor at the baptism of James Sweeney.
  • 1885 – John McMahon marries Bridget McInerney (date estimated). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in the same McNamara/Clayton AncestryDNA cluster.

Other research yet to be completed suggests additional Sweeney links via the Mahon family and connections to Clonroad Beg near Ennis, County Clare.

  • 1800 – Circa this date, a daughter of Roe Sweeney married an Hehir 
  • 1817 – Daniel Hehir held a lease dated 15 Oct 1817, the ‘life’ on the lease was Daniel Sweeney.

So where does this all leave us?

Piecing together the MacNamara family

Based on consolidating all the clues mentioned above, the following pedigree image seeks to outline my probable links to the MacNamara family. The current hypothesis (after following the land transfers and associated BDM sponsors etc) is that Daniel Sweeney’s wife was a MacNamara (52Ancestors #11). Daniel and she would be my maternal 4th great grandparents. The MacNamaras are associated with the townlands of both Rathclooney and Moyriesk and her father was probably born in the mid to late 1700’s. Whilst we are unclear of her name, it is believed she may have been an older child in the family, one of at least 8 siblings including:-

  • Catherine MacNamara bef 1795
  • Martin MacNamara bef 1800, married Bridget
  • Jeremiah MacNamara bef 1800, married Margaret Haiskins
  • Cornelious MacNamara bef 1800, married Nancy Keeley
  • Francis MacNamara bef 1800
  • James MacNamara bef 1800
  • Michael MacNamara bef 1803, married Mary Hanrahan

Limited tree – only includes 31 DNA tester lines (as at Nov 2021). See Wikitree descendants list for more information (up to 5 generations).

Connections with Lizzie MacNamara

This hypothesis suggests that my family is potentially linked to Lizzie McNamara on both her paternal and maternal sides.

Based on what I have been able to establish on her maternal side, it would appear Lizzie’s maternal grandfather Michael McMahons mother was a Sweeney. If correct, Lizzie was a second cousin once removed to Thomas Sweeney rather than his niece. It also suggests Lizzie would be my third cousin twice removed.

On the MacNamara side, if the hypothesis is correct the wife of Daniel Sweeney was Cornelious McNamara’s sister. Cornelious was Lizzie’s paternal great grandfather. Whilst I have not yet identified any DNA segment matches down this line, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist!

DNA matching is providing clues on relatedness, however the close marrying of these families means that it is essential to undertake chromosome analysis to be able to determine how segments have been inherited by DNA testers. Extreme care needs to be taken when assigning these segments to ancestors, as they could have been inherited from multiple common ancestors. Many of our clustered matches who currently only have their results on AncestryDNA need to upload to a chromosome site to be able to contribute to further research.

The MacNamaras of Moyriesk

The MacNamara name is a common one in County Clare, however there is a well documented MacNamara family associated with Moyriesk. These MacNamaras were resident from the 17th century and can trace their lineage back to Maccon MacNamara Fionn – the Chief of Clann Kullen in 1379.

Could we also be part of this prodigious family? Only time (and a lot of work) will tell!

Very interesting that John MacNamara’s 2nd wife was a MacMahon from Clenagh!

Where to next?

It’s taken a lot of work just to be able to add Miss McNamara to my tree as my potential 4th great grandmother, but it’s all about one step at a time. Whilst the DNA evidence is not conclusive, it has certainly helped to be able to point us in the right direction and piece together these fragmented families.

I will be continuing my search through DNA matching to assist in confirming or refuting (hopefully not!) my hypotheses. I plan to create a Family Finder project at FamilyTreeDNA for ‘Rathclooney and Moyriesk, County Clare’ in the hope of attracting more DNA testers with documented ancestry to these townlands to connect more of the family. I will update this post when those details when available. As always, I am keen to find suitable Y-DNA testers for both the MacNamara and Sweeney lines. Please contact me if you are male, descend from either of the Sweeney or MacNamara families mentioned in this post and are willing to take a Y-DNA test.

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In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Elsie Ritchie for encouraging me to get a wriggle on with my Sweeney and MacNamara research and for helping to put some of the final pieces of the puzzle together.

Do you know more about the families mentioned in this post? If you are connected to any of them (particularly if you have DNA tested) I would love to hear from you. It’s the power of DNA that can help us breakthrough those brick walls in Ireland!

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or by private message via Ancestry, Wikitree or Facebook.

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Featured Image: Green Tunnel, Spancelhill Moyriesk, 2017.

Establishing the origins of my Sweeney family: John Sweeney of Rathclooney.

My emigrant ancestor to Australia on the Sweeney line was my maternal 2nd great grandmother Mary Sweeney, our Cassidy matriarch, who I’ve previously written about here. Mary and her brother Terence emigrated to Australia as Bounty Immigrants from County Clare aboard the Roxborough Castle in 1839, aged 20 and 23 respectively. Their parents were stated as John Sweeney, farmer and his wife Johanna. Mary states she was a native of County Clare and Terence a native of Clones, County Clare.

The two led me a merry chase for many years about exactly where in Clare they came from. To complicate matters even more Terence’s certification was undertaken in Cork, why was this so? A visit to the grave of Mary Cassidy (nee Sweeney) at Glen Innes in 1987 had revealed the inscription ‘A native of Ennis, County Clare.’ Again, not much help, Ennis being the capital city of Clare, with so many Sweeney’s to choose from!

My Uncle Laurie was a great family historian and had researched the family back in the 1950’s. I inherited his papers when he died in 2006. Laurie had purchased all the possible birth, deaths and marriage of the extended Cassidy family in Australia. The breakthrough came when I found on the birth certificate of Mary’s daughter Margaret in 1859 a reference to her birthplace as Moresk, Clare, Ireland. It took some time to identify this as probably referring to Moyriesk Townland, a townland of just over a square mile in size, most of it located in Doora civil parish and about 77 acres in Clooney civil parish. Could Terence’s native place actually be Clooney, not Clones?

Moyriesk had been the home of the MacNamaras from the 17th Century. By 1837 it had been purchased by the family of Lord Fitzgerald and Vesey. Lord Fitzgerald was ‘in fee’ at the time of Griffith’s Valuation c1857, with tenants in Clooney by the names of Samson and Scanlan and in Doora, Hasset, Molony, Hartigan, Duffy and Symth. No Sweeneys to be seen. On researching Moyreisk I discovered a small county town in Victoria, Australia of the same name. This of course meant an impromptu excursion in 2016 hoping for new speculative research ideas! Funnily enough it turned out that ancestors on my paternal side were one of the earliest landowners in the district, but more on that later. Further research established that the town had been named after Moyriesk Station, a station of 43,200 acres established by John Fitzgerald Leslie Foster (Colonial Secretary of Victoria 1853-1854 and descendant of the Fitzgerald-Veseys), presumably named after the family estate in Ireland. This brought about renewed speculation whether other close family of our Sweeneys may have emigrated to Victoria and worked on the station.

When Irish Catholic parish records finally came online, it was Mary’s baptismal record that revealed the location of her fathers family as the townland of Rathclooney. How lucky we were, records for County Clare only commenced from 1st January 1816 and Mary was baptised on 21st May 1816. Her parents were named as John Sweeney and Joan Enright, with the priest indicating that the family resided in Rathclooney in the parish of Clooney. Catherine McNamara was her sponsor. There were no other baptisms for any other children for John and Joan (or Johanna), but they may have been born before 1816. According to the shipping records, Terence was said to be about 3 years older than Mary, so it is quite conceivable that there may have been more older children.

When we visited in 2017 we found the old church at Clooney was now a ruin. However the baptismal font from which John and Johanna would have had their children baptised had been preserved and is now located in the new Clooney church nearby.

 

There were no Sweeney’s recorded in the List of Freeholders >40 shillings of 1821, but John does appear in the Tithe records for Rathclooney in 1825. The landholding was quite significant totalling 61 acres, made up of 20 acres of 1st quality land, 20 acres of 2nd quality land and 21 acres of 3rd quality land. John was shown as sharing this with John Moloney, Patrick McNamara, John Doloughty, Daniel Hehir, Connor McNamara, Francis McNamara and James McNamara.  The tithes payable on the holding amounted to £2 15 shillings ¼ pence. 

There were 125 Sweeney families in County Clare in the 19th century and in 1815 there were at least 15 Sweeney families in the Quin-Clooney parish alone. With so many families of the same surname it has been difficult to piece the rest of the family together. I had established that there was a Daniel Sweeney living in Rathclooney at the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1855 but remained unsure whether he was a relation. Other tenants residing with him at the time had similar names to those recorded in the 1825 Tithe – MacNamara, Hehir, Moloney. It seemed likely, but we lacked paper evidence to prove the connection.

My DNA surprise

On our visit to Clare in 2017 I had arranged to meet up with Antoinette from the Clare Heritage Genealogy Centre. When we arrived she initially expressed some disappointment that she may not have found out anything new for me about my Sweeney family. However she went on to say there was a Sweeney family that might be the same one but she couldn’t be sure. John Sweeney of Rathclooney, had married Honor Murphy of Newgrove, Tulla on the 30th April, 1820. The witnesses at the marriage were Matthew Murphy, James Sweeney and Mary Hennessy.  Could Johanna have died soon after Mary’s birth and John married again? John and Norahs eldest son Daniel was the tenant who had been listed in Griffiths Valuation at Rathclooney.

As soon as she mentioned the name Honora Murphy, I squealed with delight. The name was very familiar to me having researched the descendants of their son John Michael and his family in Victoria, Australia. My family had a number of DNA matches to theirs but we had not been able to tie them together through the paper records. Excitedly, we compared notes about the various descendants we each knew about. I also benefited from a conversation between Antoinette and Joe McNamara (the former occupant of the Sweeney land) about 20 years earlier who told her what had happened to various family members. We soon pieced together the known family of John Sweeney.

John and Johanna (Enright or Hanrahan)

John and Honor Murphy

By the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1855, John’s eldest son Daniel was holding the property at Rathclooney and leasing the property from Stafford O’Brien (Lot 15). The property consisted of a house, office (shed) and land. The land area was in 2 lots comprising 9 acres 32 perches which was valued at £4 12 shillings. His house, situated on this lot was valued at 8 shillings which brought the total valuation to £5. The 2nd lot amounted to 5 acres 3 roods.  Daniel was shown sharing this with John McNamara, Daniel Hehir, Michael McNamara, Anne McNamara, Michael Moloney and Margaret McNamara. His share of this land was valued at 5 shillings. 

Armed with my map from Griffiths we set out to find the old Sweeney land. Looking to clarify our exact location, I approached a neighbour John Daffy. John provided me the final steps to find the cottage and some wonderful information about the Sweeney’s and MacNamara’s that later lived there. John told me the land had been split up into smaller parcels since the Sweeney’s time and that ‘the Sweeney’s ran an old country shop from the homestead, selling cigarettes. A Sweeney from America came about 20 years ago, but there are no Sweeney’s here now.‘ We found the homestead quite easily. Whilst the homestead and shop would have been from a much later time than when my John Sweeney was living here, it was a wonderful feeling to be standing on the same land my ancestors had farmed nearly 200 years ago.

I was also very pleased to be referred by John Daffy to the Kilaghitis Cemetery near Spancihill, where he knew John’s son Daniel, his wife Bridget and several other family members were buried.

Ancestors and family of John Sweeney

It was through the examination of the baptism and sponsor records of the children of John and Honor and the information from John Daffy about the MacNamaras, that I was able to continue to piece the various members of the family together. I concluded that my John Sweeney was probably the son of another Daniel Sweeney. Daniel Sweeney (senior) was listed in the 1821 Freeholders List for Rathclooney. Daniel and his wife (who is probably a MacNamara) appear to have had at least 3 children, it’s highly likely there were more.

Daniel’s father is believed to be Roe Swyney of Moyriesk. Roe would be my fifth great grandfather, he had at least three daughters and one son. The Irish tended to have large families so there still may be a number of children yet to be identified.

Based on the wedding notice of his daughter Margaret, Roe was reasonably well off and likely a gentleman.

Ennis Chronicle, Monday, November 29, 1790: 

Married last Thursday, Mr. John O’Donnell of Dunmore to Miss Margaret Swieny, daughter of Mr. Roe Swieny of Moriesk, an amiable and accomplished young lady, with a handsome fortune.

Burke’s Peerage also described his daughter (Martha) as the ‘possible heiress of Roe Swieny’ when she married Maurice O’Connell in 1791.

Moyriesk House, former home of the MacNamaras. Courtesy: Clare Library

Family anecdotes had always suggested a family connection to the famous ‘Liberator of Ireland’ Daniel O’Connell. After many years of research and with many thanks to my 6th cousin Liam (who has collaborated with me on this family since 2012) the connection was finally found. Roe’s daughter Martha married Maurice O’Connell in 1791. Maurice was a third cousin to Daniel O’Connell but an even closer relation to Daniels wife Mary O’Connell, she was his 1st cousin once removed. Whilst somewhat distant and only by marriage, I expect that the family connection would have been a very proud one for most Irishmen at that time!

Daniel O’Connell. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Autosomal DNA Connections

Autosomal testing has already confirmed a number of branches of John’s family, including connections with descendants of both wives, Johanna Enright Hanrahan and Honor (Norah) Murphy. Matches beyond third cousin relationships who only have their results at AncestryDNA have been marked as ‘DNA Tentative’ as they cannot be confirmed through ‘segment triangulation’ as AncestryDNA does not provide segment data. We have not yet been able to get back to the next generation so are looking for descendants of Roe Sweeney c1745, Daniel Sweeney c1770 and other children of John Sweeney to be able to compare DNA. The following chart shows the descendant lines that have been confirmed to date. Click here to view a larger image.

DNA Confirmed – Descendants of John Sweeney (not a complete tree)

Autosomal analysis has confirmed DNA through the following children of John.

As to the remaining children, this is what we know of them. Can you add to this list, do you know of other potential siblings? Are you a descendant who has had their DNA tested?

Y-DNA – The male Sweeney line

Our best chance of being able to verify the patrilineal line of the Sweeneys is through Y-DNA. My fourth cousin Torin from the United States kindly tested for me back in 2016. Unfortunately to date, we have only had two matches. Both matches indicate their oldest patrilineal ancestors were from Ireland but neither carry the Sweeney surname.

Whilst we have confirmed autosomal DNA on this line up to the ancestral couple of John Sweeney and his wife Johanna Hanrahan, we would love to be able to have supporting evidence achieved through Y-DNA testing. If you are descended from Roe Sweeney c1745, Daniel Sweeney c1770 or John Sweeney c1795 can you help us compare Y-DNA? Please contact me if you are male, carry the Sweeney surname, can trace your descent to one of these three men and are willing to test.

More DNA evidence

The ongoing examination of the family groups associated with my Sweeney family has allowed me to connect more of our MacNamara family. This combined with ongoing genetic clues from my DNA research has led to more discoveries which will be the subject of a future post. Watch this space!

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Do you know more about the families mentioned in this post? If you are connected to any of them (particularly if you have DNA tested or are willing to take the Y-DNA test) I would love to hear from you! It’s the power of DNA that can help us breakthrough those brick walls in Ireland!

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or by private message via Ancestry, Wikitree or Facebook.

The Cassidy Matriarch – Mary Sweeney

The prompt for 52 Ancestors challenge for Week 3 2018 is ‘Longevity’. I struggled to think which ancestor I could choose, after trawling through my tree of over 6000 people I could not find anyone who lived to be 100 or even 90. I have chosen to tell the story of my 2nd great grandmother Mary Sweeney, also known as Mary Cassidy, who lived just short of 80 years, a woman who had a tough life from start to finish, a strong woman who outlived all but three of her 12 children (52Ancestors #5).

Mary Sweeney, photo restored by M. Dann 2015

Arrival in Australia

On 22 January 1839 Mary emigrated to Australia aboard the Roxburgh Castle with brother Terence as a bounty immigrant. Mary was brought out by a Mr Marshall, her occupation listed as a housemaid or children’s maid, age 20.  Her character certified as very good, by persons in County Clare.  Bodily health, strength and probable usefulness also stated as good.  Roman Catholic and able to read.  C O’Gorman, curate of County Clare, has certified her baptism indicating the year as 1817.  Mary and Terence arrived in Sydney on 26th May 1839.

Roxburgh Castle

It took some time to determine the exact place of origin for Mary and Terence, but some clues were left throughout her life.  Both arrival records state their parents names as John and Johanna Sweeney from County Clare.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 07.28.18

Whilst Mary’s record states she is a native of Clare, Terence’s record indicates he is from Clones, County Clare.  This is not a valid place name for Clare and was suspected to perhaps be Clooney, a townland and civil parish in Clare.  Family stories suggest Mary used to proudly proclaim she was a native of Ennis, County Clare.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 07.41.14

It was the birth certificate of her daughter Margaret in 1859 that provided more information.  In this record Mary states her place of birth as Moresk, Co Clare, Ireland and that she was married in 1840 at Prospect.   It is believed that this is Moyriesk, a townland in County Clare.  Moyreisk townland is just over a square mile in size, and nearly all of it is located in Doora civil parish, with 77 acres in Clooney civil parish which aligns with the stated native place of Terence.  Mary gave this information herself so is more likely to be accurate.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 08.35.53

Irish Records

With some help from the Clare Heritage Organisation and the newly released Roman Catholic registers it appears that Mary was born in about 1816 and baptised on 21st May 1816 at Clooney, Clare, Ireland.  The daughter of John Sweeney of Rathclooney and Joan Enright.  Her sponsor at the time of baptism was noted as Catherine McNamara.

Screenshot 2018-01-14 18.37.02.jpg

Mary’s mother may have died shortly after her birth, as her father remarried on 30 April 1820.  A woman by the name of Honor MURPHY, the marriage registered at Tulla, Clare, Ireland.  Mary would have only been about four years of age at this time.  Parish baptism registers only started in Clooney in about 1816 and there are no other baptisms registered to John and Johanna (Joan), but there may well have been other siblings born before 1816. This would explain why no baptism record can be found for her brother Terence.  Being approximately 3 years older, it is presumed he was a full brother. 

Prior to her emigration to Australia conditions in Ireland were tough, with widespread hunger throughout the country in 1838.  Her father John and his new wife Honor went on to have at least another 8 children by 1839, half siblings to Mary and Terence.  No doubt a difficult time for all the family and not surprising that Terence and Mary who were by then aged 23 and 20 decided to take advantage of the colonial bounty system and emigrate to Australia.

Spouse and Family

Soon after arriving in the colony of New South Wales in 1839 Mary must have taken up with Thomas CASSIDY, a convict from Fermanagh Ireland who had been transported for life, but by that time had obtained his ticket of leave after serving as an overseer and constable.  The couple had their first child together in April 1841, John was given a private baptism at St Patricks Church Parramatta, he is listed as illegitimate and the record states his name as John CASSIDY or John SWEENEY probably to reflect that the couple were not married at this time.  We know that when Thomas was transported in 1830 that he had a wife and two children still living in Ireland so it is presumed he was still not free to marry.

Was the marriage date in the birth record of Margaret in 1859 just stated to account for having their first child in 1841, or was there really a marriage?  My uncle, Laurie Roberts, tried unsuccessfully to find a marriage as long ago as 1955.

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Mary and Thomas went on to have twelve children together.  The family bible gives more information about their children.  It is not known who completed this page and some of the information may have been recorded by different people. One child is not listed, the female twin of Patrick Thomas who died at birth in 1843.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 10.03.18

The family lived at Prospect, near Parramatta and the couple worked as farmers.  In a book written by Fr Peter Klein (about their grandson Phillip Cassidy) Mary is described as a ‘strongly built woman with fairer and wavy hair’.

Mary and Thomas had three children who died as infants, the female twin of Patrick Thomas in 1843, Austin at 7 days old in 1850 and Edward at 4 days old in 1851.  Her husband Thomas later died in 1862, aged about 62, after a long and painful illness.  He is buried in St Patricks Cathedral.  Mary was left a widow with 8 children to care for, although her eldest John was by this time about 21 and probably a great help to his mother.

It must have been heartbreaking when her son Phillip William died just 2 years later in 1864 at the young age of nine years.  His older sister Anna Maria following soon after in 1866, aged only 19.  Both are buried in St Patricks with their father.

Mary Cassidy – Farmer and Grazier

In 1871 Mary applied for and was granted a freehold lease of 140 acres of land in Glenn Innes, County of Gough, Parish of Beardy Plains. 

Screenshot 2018-01-23 06.46.35

The Glenn Innes area is rich in Celtic History, the original settlers were Scots, but many people of Irish descent followed.  Like many other Celtic families she made the trek north, close to 600 kilometres – quite an effort in those days. The rent was set at 13s 2d per annum. The property was known as Shannonvale.  

Glenn Innes, circa 1900

Having lost her husband in 1862 it was no doubt a tough move at age 54 to take up farming on her own. However, six of Marys seven surviving children also made the move later marrying there or in nearby towns.  Patrick Thomas was the only exception, he married in Liverpool but did later move to Glen Innes to be near his family.  Mary and her family worked hard and had success, continuing to acquire more property.  It appears she never married and remained independent throughout her life.

Glen Innes Examiner and General Advertiser (NSW : 1874 – 1908), Wednesday 28 April 1875, page 2

Free Selection. — The following selections were made at the local Land Office, on Thursday — Donald M’Master, 100 acres, county of Gough, parish of “Waterloo, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres. Mary Cassidy (widow), 160 acres, county of Gough, parish of Beardy Plains, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres.

Mary had to endure tough times as well.  It was not that long after the move north that she lost her son Patrick in 1879 aged 34.  Some time later in 1887 daughter Mary Clancy aged 39, eldest son John in 1888 aged 47 and youngest daughter Margaret Collopy in 1893 aged only 33.  All have elaborate headstones in Glenn Innes Cemetery, with the exception of Margaret who is buried in Rookwood Cemetery.  All headstones are annotated that they have been erected by their ‘affectionate mother’ suggesting Mary may have been reasonably affluent by that time, probably due to her successful farming endeavours.  

On 11 Mar 1896 Mary died aged about 80 years from anasarca (an accumulation of fluid in the body due to heart failure) and gastritis.  She is buried in the Cassidy family plot at Glen Innes with her children.  Her death certificate lists her occupation as ‘Farmer’, a comment that wasn’t lost on the various feminists in our family who were very proud of the fact that she had her own occupation and was so independent.

Mary was survived by only three of her children, Eliza BICKLEY who died in 1919, Terence who died in 1930 and lastly my great grandmother Rebecca MURPHY who died in 1931.

In 1987, 90 years after her death, I visited Mary’s grave at Glenn Innes with my son and Aunt and Uncle, Margaret and Lionel GILBERT.  The hair was quite wild in those days!

4 generations, including Mary

NSW probate papers indicate that at the time of her death in 1896 Mary’s estate was valued at 951 pounds, consisting of 940 pounds of real estate and 10 head of cattle, described as a ‘farmer and grazier’.  The real estate by this time consisted of 510 acres of freehold land valued at 780 pounds as well as lands and a cottage situated in Hunter Street, Glenn Innes valued at 160 pounds.  Much more significant holdings than when she first made the move in 1871.

Extract from will

In 2016 my husband and I visited the area known as Shannon Vale, the conditions today probably quite different than they were in Mary’s time, but no doubt it has always been rich and beautiful grazing land.  We discovered what appeared to be the Shannon Vale property but it is a much larger station today (over 3000 acres). 

DNA Analysis

It wouldn’t be fitting if I didn’t mention what we have found through DNA analysis in this post.  As I have mentioned in previous posts we now have a number of Mary’s descendants DNA tested.

Autosomal DNA Testing

It was wonderful back in 2016 to connect with my fourth cousin Torin who lives in the United States.  He is a descendant of Mary’s brother Terence, his great great grandson.  It was though our DNA matches that we were able to confirm we were all descended from a common ancestor using a technique called triangulation.  There are two segment areas on chromosome 12 where Torin currently shares DNA with multiple descendants of Mary.  This suggests these segments have been inherited from the same shared ancestor, in this case from one of their parents John Sweeney or Johanna Enright.  At this point we don’t know which, or it could be a combination of both.  It has also been confirmed that all testers all match each other in these same segment areas, which is the key test to prove a triangulated segment.

Screenshot 2018-01-23 07.31.05

mtDNA Testing

Mary is on my direct maternal line, so from the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test I took at Family Tree DNA we know that Marys mtdna is most likely Haplogroup J.  People bearing haplogroup J settled in Europe from the Near East during the late Paleolithic and Meliolithic periods.  Our sub clade J1c5 is aged between 8,300 and 13,000 years.  Screenshot 2018-01-23 09.15.59

So far all I only have nine full sequence matches.  All of them are at a genetic distance of 3, which is not considered close enough to be of genealogical significance, our connection could be up to 1000 years ago!  They all lead to Ireland though, so that is promising.  Hopefully 2018 will bring closer matches to help further expand the line.

Descendants of Mary who inherited her mtdna should also belong to the J1c5 haplogroup.  You can see other known descendants (who are on Wikitree) in the DNA Descendants View at Wikitree by clicking here.

Y DNA testing

Mary being female doesn’t carry the Y chromosome but our match with Torin was doubly pleasing as he carries the Sweeney Y DNA, being in the direct paternal line.  We hope that in the future we will be able to make more discoveries regarding Mary and Terences father John Sweeney, but that will be the subject of a later post.

Screenshot 2018-01-23 09.31.18

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As always, if you can help me further expand my research please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog, or by private message via Wikitree.