By Thomas F. Mulvoy Jr.
Boston Irish Reporter
BOSTON, Massachusetts – “Mark Mulvoy died of colo-rectal cancer in Galway General Hospital on March 28, 1915.”
This stark one-sentence note was sent to me recently by my cousin Jim Fahy from his home in County Clare, Ireland. He later sent along a copy of the death certificate, ending my half-century search for the cause of the early passing of my father’s father, a farmer from Rosscahill, Co. Galway.
35 when he died
As most people have learned, when it comes to dates and names in Ireland some 100 years ago as one century turned into another, nothing can be taken for granted. The death certificate said my grandfather was 35 when he died; courtesy of Cousin Jim, I also have a copy of his birth certificate showing he was born on Feb. 6, 1882, some 33 years and two months before his death.
For some reason, what my grandfather succumbed to was not something his widow and their four children wanted to talk about, at least with me. In the 1950s, when I was a teen-ager I once asked my grandmother Barbara, who had just returned from a stay with relatives in Oughterard, what happened to her husband and she shrugged me off in a way that told me I probably shouldn’t pursue the subject. My father, Mark’s boy Tom, told me on numerous occasions that he didn’t know, and my aunts Celia and Agnes and Catherine told me to ask my father.
As a young man, I wasn’t tuned into the importance of knowing what happened to our forebears in medical matters where life and death were concerned, but as my siblings and cousins began to have children of their own, the issue kept coming up.
Mark’s untimely demise remained a mystery
I knew that Granny had died in 1960 of heart failure at 82. I knew that my mother’s father was 74 when his heart gave out at home, and that her mother was 59 in 1941 when she was taken by a stroke at the kitchen table at 6 Allston St. in Dorchester. But the reason for Mark’s untimely demise remained a mystery that I only occasionally thought about – until my father died of colon cancer in 1992, when he was, like his mother had been at her death, 82 years old.
I then renewed my search, but passively, asking friends who visited Ireland regularly, like Gerry Burke and Neil Savage, to see what they could find if they came anywhere near Galway and Oughterard, the town of my father’s boyhood years. Nothing came of this. Then in March 2009 I asked my question in the Irish Reporter and soon enough heard online from a man named Dan Jenkins, who told me he had an interest in such quests and would see what he could do to help.
I know that the search for family roots is a widespread pastime, and that what I was looking for was hardly a singular matter in the annals of genealogy, more like a routine mission by one family member among millions doing the same thing, but what happened after Dan Jenkins so generously wrote to me came as surprise upon surprise.
joined the Irish Police
Dan put me in touch with Jim Fahy, who, after noting my grandfather’s death, described himself as “one of nine children of James Fahy, Gortacarnaun, and Winifred Mulvoy Bohan of Doon. Seven of us are still here. I am the eldest male. I left Gortacarnaun in June 1960 and went to London to work until November 23rd 1960. I then joined the Irish Police where I spent 30 years until retirement in January, 1991. I then occupied myself as a tourist driver — mainly American — until 2003 when I retired for good! I live at 6, College Green, Ennis, Co. Clare, near Shannon Airport. I have been in County Clare since 1968 and I am married to a local woman. We have 3 children — 2 girls 1 boy. Ages 43, 40, 38.” He signed his note, “Jim Mulvoy Bohan Fahy.”
From that introduction flowed from Clare a series of informative missives from his hand about my Mulvoy ancestors — road maps, census data, birth, wedding, and death certificates, and 21st-century pictures of the onetime Mulvoy homestead in the “townland” of Gortacarnaun in Galway just onshore from Loch Corrib and up the road from Oughterard.
One item that Jim laid out for me was a short history of the Mulvoy land and its later disposition by my widowed grandmother as noted in Galway County’s Register of Freeholders:
“I believe that the Mulvoys and others came to Gortacarnaun from the nearby Moycullen barony area in about 1830 to work land owned by a family named Martin,” he wrote. “The acreage of the ultimate Mulvoy holding of your grandmother was 11 acres, 2 roods, 14 perches, statute measure (English), with a one-tenth part of 216 acres of unfenced mountain. Prior to 1922 the land was under the ownership of the governmental District Congested Board, which purchased it from the Martins in 1916.”
According to the Freeholder document provided by Jim, on the first of June 1922, my grandmother (or maybe her representative, as she and three of her four children had moved to Somerville, Massachusetts in 1921), took possession of the property from the Irish Land Commission, and agreed to pay “half-yearly an annuity of two pounds, two shillings, and four pence” until an “advance of 65 pounds had been repaid.”
Went back to Galway in 1931
My grandmother went back to Galway in 1931 and sold the land, which fact suggests to me how a widower-laundress working for a well-to-do Back Bay Boston family was able to put serious money down on a two-family house in Somerville as the Great Depression was darkening the world.
And through Dan Jenkins’s intercession, I heard from another relative, a “third cousin once removed,” as Moria Gardner of Santa Rosa, California put it in a letter to him: “ I am aware of Thomas Mulvoy of Boston and have read his Irish articles online with great interest. I have often thought about writing to him. My name is Moria Sullivan Gardner. I am the great-great granddaughter of Winifred Mulvoy Gorham, the daughter of Patrick Mulvoy and Bridget Curran. Patrick and Bridget had three children of whom I am aware. They were Thomas (who married Cecelia Burke and whose son was Mark Mulvoy), John (who married Mary Faherty) and Winifred (who married Patrick Gorham of Roscahill, Galway, Ireland).”
My cousin Moria has been unstinting in accumulating knowledge of our scattered family and sharing her research with me since we first communicated. In fact, she has compiled a family tree for the descendants of Mark Mulvoy that extends to the latest arrival, not-quite two-year-old Cooper Driscoll, son of my brother Bob’s daughter Stacey and her husband Mike.
So by asking a simple question in the Irish Reporter , I not only got my answer, but through Dan Jenkins, Jim Fahy, and Moria Gardner and friends , I also have accumulated for myself and my family a trove of information about my direct blood links to the hardy Mulvoy clan, men and women of the island of Ireland who carried on through the Great Famine and the relentless harsh circumstances of the 19th century to make a family that has had staying power into the 21st.
Thomas F. Mulvoy Jr., retired managing editor of The Boston Globe and professor at Boston College and now the managing editor of the Boston (Massachusetts) Irish Reporter, is the son of the late Thomas F. Mulvoy, who, as a 12-year-old and with his mother and two of his three sisters, left Oughterard for Boston in 1921.