Unsettling Relations: Margaret Donnelly (1841-1896)

Henry & Grizella Donnelly – Margaret Donnelly & Robert Shields – great great grandparents – my paternal grandmother’s Irish and English lineage

My paternal great great grandmother Margaret Donelly was a mystery to me. At twenty years of age in 1861, she lived with aging parents – her mother Grace or Grizella and father Henry Donnelly on a farm in Mona, Dufferin County, Ontario, along with a nine-year-old boy named Thomas Donaghy who was born in Upper Canada. Margaret and her family had migrated from Ireland sometime after her birth there. Her original marriage certificate listed her birthplace as Atrim – a location in Northern Ireland. At least that is what I originally decoded from the orthography.

One night while sleuthing around on my family tree puzzling out some mysteries, a message popped up from a woman named Sarah in Walla Walla, Washington – she asked about our connection. Our DNA showed that we were a match. And I knew that we were linked through my father’s line, one that is a pathway filled with wrong turns and blindnesses due to the orphaning of my paternal great great grandfather Truman Newton Williamson.

My correspondence with Sarah, a woman related to an Irish family who lived in a neighbouring Ontario county, illuminated an error in my tree. Her birthplace was not Antrim in Northern Ireland but Leitrim County adjacent to Sligo County. Her family included her great great grandfather Thomas: the nine-year-old boy in my census was Margaret Donnoly’s nephew who came to live with her and her parents after the death of Thomas’s father. The Donaghy family came from the Irish ocean port Sligo, a place at the centre of the exodus of starving Irish families in the 1840s. I returned to the documents to discover a different story.

Sligo was badly affected by the 1832 Sligo cholera outbreak losing up to 2,000 of its population. The fear and panic were vividly described by eyewitness Charlotte Blake-Thornley Stoker. 

Prior to the famine, the population of county Sligo was 187,000 people, making it one of the densest populated areas in Ireland. Sligo was a major transit port for emigration, during An Gorta Mór (The Great Famine). In 1846, 11,000 emigrated through the port. Some of the worst coffin ships on record left from Sligo port. On the 9th of August 1847 the vessel Bark Larch arrived at the quarantine station at Grosse Isle, Canada from Sligo with 440 on board, of these, 150 were sick and 108 were dead, this was by far the worst ship at the port that day. Lord Palmerston, who held large estates in the county, achieved notoriety with his Assisted Emigrants scheme.

The Donolly family is in progress as a site of genealogical sleuthing and writing. But it was interesting to note that an Upper Canada neighbour, an Irish Anglican girl, grew up to become the first woman lawyer in Canada. Clara Brett Martin, received her elementary education at Perry’s School built in 1866 and located in the Hamlet of Blount in South Mono. She would attend Trinity College at the University of Toronto at 16. …

* 1837 maps: Creighton, R. (1837)  Maps of Counties Sligo and Leitrim in Haydn, Joseph (1837)(ed.)  A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland; with an accompanying Atlas and an appendix describing the Electoral Boundaries of the several Boroughs.  Samuel Lewis, London.  (Known as Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary).  There was a second edition in 1842.  The maps were reprinted by Kennys Bookshops and Art Galleries Ltd., Galway in the 1990’s. http://staffweb.itsligo.ie/staff/dcotton/Maps.html

(To Be Continued – this is the beginning of acres of ancestral weaving)