Home at Last
March 7, 2011 § 3 Comments
“The area’s history is one of ancient myth, a record rich with the tales of outlaws and highwaymen and the search for sanctuary, as well as the universal Irish themes of war, confiscation, strain and struggle between landlord and tenant, famine and emigration.”
-Brendan Lehane, Wild Ireland
“On the far side of the valley a solitary ruined house stands in a grove of trees, a reminder that once this valley supported many families, the last of which left fifty years ago. The Ridge of Capard, crossed by the Slieve Bloom Way…forms the horizon ahead, while below the infant River Barrow is hidden by a cordon of birch and mountain ash trees.”
-Michael Fewer, The Way-marked Trails of Ireland
Previously I have discussed my desire to learn exactly where the Conroys first came from in Ireland, and I’m pleased to say that I have reached that goal, at least up to a certain point in history. I would not have managed this without the help of a few individuals, most notably John Conroy of Worcester and Michael Flanagan of Dublin, both of whom also happen to be my second cousins once removed. Actually, I think I owe a great debt of gratitude to the much of the Flanagan family, as Michael has often consulted with other family members on my behalf, even including the 85 year old neighbor of his brother, still living in the area of the old Conroy farmstead. John was also kind enough to provide several of the photos in this post; so to both of them I say, thank you.
I have been on a small quest to trace the Conroy family as far back as I can, not just in terms of lineage but also geographically. I have reflected on this some more since I last wrote about it, and I’d like to share my thoughts here. I feel very blessed to have grown up where I did, in a small town rich with history, making the slow but unavoidable transition from its form rural heritage to a more modern, suburban reality. The house I lived in was small, but the backyard ran up against over one hundred acres of abandoned farm land that is now held in conservation. I spent my childhood roaming the old cattle fields and woods, and because of these early influences I developed a strong sense of the importance of what people these days call place, or the sense of history, connection, and belonging to a particular spot or area to which we are familiar.
Many descendants of Irish immigrants can say little more than they know their family, in fact, came from Ireland. Perhaps less can actually identify the county of their ancestry, and even less the very townland their family members occupied. I feel extraordinarily lucky to able to not only identify the very townland, but in fact the very land and farm they lived upon. Having this very tangible link through the past is a real gift, I and feel very humbled by it.
Critical to this quest was correctly identifying who my great-great-great grandfather was. In Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland in 1854, there are two Conroys listed occupying land in Cones, James and John. With the help of Mike Flanagan I’ve been able to correctly nail down John as the man in question. Who then was James is still a mystery, although it would seem like the two must be related in some way. Almost all of the Conroy children were born here, including my great-grandmother, Sarah.
The farm itself rested on the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, lying in the heartland of County Laois. A few short miles lies the village of Rosenallis where the Conroy children were baptized, and where the family more than likely came to for supplies or to trade for needed goods. The area is described in colorful detail in a testimony by a man named Owen Clear, who was the last person to leave the Cones townland (also called Coen). The Clear family would have been very familiar with the Conroys, and in fact a few of them were the sponsors for some of the baptisms of the Conroy children. The story is available on the Village of Rosenallis website, found here.
John Conroy has actually visited the Flanagans, as well as the actual site of the old farm, now located within the natural park area of the Slieve Blooms. It is a dramatic thing to imagine how your family was the last to live in a wild and rugged area, now swallowed up by the trees and hills surrounding it. The region is considered one of the most beautiful in the country, and many walking trails are scattered through the area. John was kind enough to send me some picture of his visit, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that viewing them brought tears to my eyes. It is my desire to visit the area myself sometime in the future, but for now I am very fortunate to have these pictures to treasure.
My search will not stop here, however, and I will continue to dig back in time and place until I can go no further. I have recently been trying to learn more about my great-great-great grandfather, John, and what his story might be. The Conroys were among the last people to live on the side of the mountain, very near where the River Barrow is born and flows through the lowlands below. I wonder what they would think of all that has happened since.