"With regret we record the death of above esteemed gentleman, which took place at his residence, Tawnykinaffe, on 30th January, at the ripe old age of 104 years. Deceased, notwithstanding his great age, was hale and hearty up to the time of his death, and was the possessor of a wonderful memory. It was a treat to listen to him recite legends which he heard from his father of the Irish rebellion of 1798, at which his father and two or three of his uncles joined the French forces to strike a blow for Irish freedom. He would also thrill you with tales of black ’47 (the year of the famine), when he was then a young man of 22. Hundreds of the people around his native place, and whom he knew well, died from starvation by the roadside, and in several cases were buried where they fell, there not being even a shroud or coffin to cover them. This was a time when disease and starvation were rampant in our country. But, as a lover of his native land, and its ancient language, he would tell of Castlebar a hundred years ago, which it was then a stronghold of the British and their sympathizers, and the change that has been wrought to-day, when there is not a vestige of the foreigner left. He was an ardent Catholic and died fortified by the consolations of our holy religion. His funeral took place to Turlough burial ground on Friday last, and his remains were laid to rest beside that of his late brother Thomas Gillen, Thomas Street, Castlebar, who also attained the great age of 99 years, and beneath the shadows of the ancient round tower. The chief mourners were: Michael Gillen (son); Mrs. O’Donnell (daughter); Mrs. Gillen (daughter-in-law); Michael Gillen, Bridgie Gillen, Terrence O’Donnell (grand-children); Mrs. F. Chambers, Castlebar; Mrs. J. Hopkins, Crimlin; and Mrs. T. Staunton, Tawnykinaffe (nieces). The funeral was large and very representative, Rev. Fr. Neary, P.P., Parke, officiating at the graveside."
The above is the text of a death notice that Uncle Jack sent me last week, which announces the death of Martin Gillen, Mary Gillen Quinn's father. It's not dated, but the date can be determined from the fact that Martin is said to have been 22 during the famine of '47. That means he would have been born in or around 1825, and been 104 around 1929. We can probably assume that even if the birth date is not accurate, the death date is, as the people writing the notice could surely add as well as you and I can. (Probably better, their brains not being atrophied by calculators.)
Now, how much amazing information does this include? Lots! According to the article, at least, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Martin's father, whatever his name might have been, fought against the British during the Irish Rebellion of 1798! (That's Wolfe Tone's rebellion! Encountering these names again, years after my most recent Irish history class, is thrilling!) In all likelihood, he and his brothers fought at the Battle of Castlebar - one of the battles in which the Franco-Irish side was successful!
And a - albeit brief - personal, familial account of the Famine!
And then there are the names! Oh, the names! The usefulness of the names is diminished by the fact that only the "chief mourners" are listed, rather than all of his children and grandchildren, and thus connections to those who had immigrated to America are harder to draw. However, a very quick google brought up immensely helpful message board posts from several other people researching the Gillans (note different spelling) of Tawnykinaffe, Pontoon, Castlebar, and with the addition of this obituary, we were able to determine that we're talking about the same Gillen/Gillan family. I was familiar with Mary and Mark, who had immigrated to the US, and one of these posters was descended from Michael, listed a chief mourner, and could list others among the siblings, as well. "Mrs. O'Donnell," though we have yet to determine her first name, is very likely the mother of the Hugh O'Donnell who lived with the Quinns in 1910 and the Nora O'Donnell Loftus who was living at their address in 1916. Terrence was probably their brother. "Chief Mourner" Bridgie Gillen, according to these message board posters, had sisters Mary, Celia, and Nora - yes, that's right, the Celia and Mary who lived with the Quinns in 1920! Apparently, transatlantic distances did little to diminish the strong family ties of the Gillens!
The list of names I was given for the children of Martin Gillen include:
(all moved to America)
(stayed in Ireland)
My friendly new second cousin twice removed, though, doesn't think Ellen is "Mrs. O'Donnell," so we're still trying to figure out another sister. (I have a suspicion she might be a Bridget, but neither evidence nor hearsay has born that out yet.)
Like I said, I've been up to my eyeballs in Gillens lately! More to come!