The Willis Family

By John Smith

John Willis John Willis from Ardee, Co. Louth, whose son and heir, Dr. Thomas Willis was a founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Ireland 1884.  John was born around 1790 and lived 91 years.  His first two children were boys who both followed him into the medical profession.  Remarkably they both practiced in Oughterard, and the two brothers married two sisters and both daughters of Edmund O Fflahertie.

Dr. Thomas Willis

Dr. Thomas Willis junior married Kate O Fflahertie in 1856 and Dr Robert Willis married Mary Anne O Fflahertie in 1859, who at the Griffiths Valuation 1855 was the owner occupier of Gortrevagh, Ardnasillagh and Rabbit Island altogether 496 acres.  His second wife Anne Cottingham was the daughter of George Cottingham of Corrib View.  At the formation of the Conference (branch) of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul here in Oughterard 1852, Edmund O Fflahertie was elected President and George Cottingham who was described as “ Farmer and Coroner” was elected as an honorary member.

Dr. Thomas junior and Kate had four children one of whom, Ada, married Joseph Meade, sometime Lord Mayor of Dublin and Privy Councilor, and second, a barrister named Alfred Coffey, a descendant of whom, Jack Coffey was a recent President of the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Dr.Robert Willis

Dr Robert Willis and his wife Mary Anne were married just nine years when he died in 1868, in which time they had five children, the last of whom named Robert Edmund, after his father and grandfather, was but one month old at his father’s death. Dr Robert Willis was a close friend of Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, and is frequently mentioned in Wilde’s classic book “ Lough Corrib” published in 1867.  He had a passion for local history and talent as both a writer and an artist. He made a series of rubbings on muslins of all the soffits of the architraves of the banqueting hall at Aughnanure Castle and presented them to the R.I.A. in Dublin.  He discovered around 1860, “A long single-piece oakum canoe of great antiquity” (to use Wilde’s words in the bay where the Drimneen River goes into the Corrib and this too is now in the Museum of the R.I.A. in Dublin.  It is said to be of Viking origin and a rare discovery.

Dr Robert’s second child Eliza, married in 1885 another medical doctor man Dr Charles Hynes from Nottingham, who died in 1942.  They had four children one of whom, Lolly, followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and an artist.  As a cartoonist of real talent he contributed regularly to the magazines “ Lilliput”, and “ MEN Only”, and some of his oil paintings may be seen in Oughterard at Sweeney’s and Egans Lake Hotel. Eliza’s and Charles daughter known locally as Birdie lived in Wellpark house on the Clifden Road until her death in the mid 1980’s.

Robert Edmund Willis

When Edmund O Flaherty died in 1883, it was Robert Edmund, the fifth child of Dr Robert Willis, who inherited the Willis Estate, as it became known, He married Ann Hardiman and they had three daughters, Lilly, Mary and Dillah.  Mary and Dillah died young, but Lilly who was born in 1897, did not marry and took over the estate from her father when he died in 1947.  She sold it in 1969 against the determined opposition from The Land League, since then Gortrevagh has been managed by the Ougfhterard Golf Club providing more employment than ever before, and attracting full membership from a wide area, and praise from hundreds of visitors each year.


Tail piece : My wife’s great grandfather, Patrick O Fflahertie (1798-1887) was a brother of Edmund O Fflahertie; Niamh Walsh of Magherabeg great grandmother, Brigid O Fflahertie was a sister of both Edmund and Patrick.

(Oughterard Newsletter March 1995)


This page was added on 15/06/2011.

Comments about this page

  • This is very interesting John( John Smith ) however, there are some slight difference in the names and dates recorded on the History Of Oughterard Golf Club, in which it states that it was “THomas Willis Senior”, not John Ardee who was born 1790,which would in fact tie in much better with the date of “1844” they alsomention, not 1884 that Thomas Willis Senior was one of the founder members of St Vincent De Paul’s Society ( Not John Ardee ) in the Irish branch Of the SVP. Otherwise the death in 1881 would precede the founder of SVP as Thomas Willis Senior reportedly lived 91 years, not John Ardee, that is assuming that the Oughterard History of The Golf CLub itself is correct re names and dates whic I believe it is looking at the offspring thereafter.Dr Thomas Willis Junior’s daughter, Isabella Frances Willis was my Great Grandmother, who married Dr.Louis Aloysius Byrne, Dublin Coroner, whose daughter Frances Byrne was my paternal Grandmother, therefore John Willis would have been my Great Great Great Grandfather. WE are interested in tracing JOhn Ardee’s forebearers but can not seem to go back any further than JOhn Willis of Ardee and do not have exact dates of his birth/ death or parents .Do you have any further history which can be verified.So far we are going on family oral history and subsequnt birth /marriage records and interne or newspaper searches. THere is quite a bit about Louis Aloysius Byrne online and in medical journals and newspaper obituaries. I would be very keen to be in touch re John Ardee or any other past history,stories or sublings or other living relatives of the Willis family of which you are aware. My name is Marsh and my family are Murphy’s who married into the Willis Familyback in the 19th Century.

    By G Marsh (05/04/2013)

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