Monday, November 11, 2013

A Visit to Castlebar, Co. Mayo

When I was a kid, I learned that "Pop's family came from Castlebar and Nan's family came from Pallasgreen." This was just over half true; as it turns out, all of Pop's family really was from in or around Castlebar, but while Nan's most recent immigrant ancestor (Michael Mulcahy) was from Pallasgreen, most of the rest of her family had been in the USA since the Irish potato famine and everyone had long since lost track of their origins.

I had visited Castlebar once before, when my family visited Ireland when I was about 12. What we knew then was what we had been told by my grandfather (the aforementioned "Pop"): that his father's ("Grandpa JJ") last memory of Ireland was of being asked to run up the hill to the post office to mail a letter to the family back home in New York to let them know they were leaving. I know that at the time, I wasn't clear on whether JJ had been born in Ireland or the US - I may have assumed he'd been born in Ireland since he'd lived there, but that wasn't actually the case.

We found a post office in Castlebar that was situated on a bit of a hill and figured it had to be the right one, since it was an older brick building, not one of the newer green buildings that house so many of Ireland's post offices. We took a picture. It was closed, because it was a holiday. Then I think we left.

This time, I tried to do a bit more research before arriving. I knew that the family had lived in Ireland from about 1900 to 1902, and had by all indications not been enumerated in the 1901 Census. When JJ's brother Patrick was born, their address was given as Castle St., in Castlebar. I contacted the Castlebar branch of the Mayo Public Library and asked whether they could provide any information via e-mail. (Our itinerary unfortunately had us in the city only on Sunday and Monday, days when the library was closed.) After I provided what little I knew about my ancestors' years in Castlebar, the library staff was able to send me two articles from the Connaught Telegraph that mentioned my 2x great-grandfather, John O'Hara. (His name is given as O'Hora in both, as well as in Patrick's birth announcement.) One lists John among business owners who applied for a liquor license and were all denied, due to the official's temperance sympathies. The other, included below, was published several years after the O'Hara family returned to the US and announced the sale of their property in Castlebar. The Baltic Street address given confirms that it's the right family, as the O'Haras lived on Baltic Street in Brooklyn for many years.

30 March 1907 Connaught Telegraph
When we got to Castlebar, we soon found ourselves driving past the same post office I'd seen years ago. Practically the next thing I saw was the sign for Castle Street, which was only a couple of blocks below the post office, just down the hill. For once, everything fit the story: the post office was in the right place, it was properly situated on a hill, Castle St. was at the bottom of the hill, etc. It was perfect!

Old Castlebar Post Office

Me, at Castle St.

Looking down Castle St.

I had hoped to mail our postcards from the same post office where my great-grandfather had mailed his letter, but it's no longer an operating post office. There was a sign on the door directing patrons to the new location. Instead, we dropped the cards in a mailbox. None of my research had allowed me to pinpoint the street address of the O'Hara's home and store on Castle St., so I wasn't able to get a picture of the building itself. Still, the street is only 2 blocks long, so I know I couldn't have been far away, and was walking the very same streets that Grandpa JJ did as a young boy. JJ was one of my two great-grandparents to live long enough to meet me, and I have memories of him and Grandma Molly from when I was a very little girl. Some of our other stops began to feel a bit academic in comparison to tracing the footsteps of someone I had known and loved.

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