The writing prompt this week is strength. “Strength comes in many forms. It can be physical, but it can also be emotional or spiritual. What ancestor has demonstrated strength?” To me strength does indeed take on more than one form. The hardships many of my ancestors endured are countless. But this week I going to discuss some aspects of the hardships in the early life of my Irish ancestor Daniel Wolfetone Fahey (Fay) including famine and loss, and the strength required to endure these hardships.
My great-great grandfather Daniel Wolfetone Fahey (Fay) was born 1 April 1833 in Mountbellew, in County Galway, Ireland. (In various records at various times, he gives his year of birth between 1831 to 1839 but based on his obituary it appears it was closer to 1833). He was the son of Thomas Fahey and Anna “Annie’ Joynt. His father was from Peterswell Parish in Galway, and his mother from Shanaglish (near Gort) with links just over into County Clare. His older siblings were born near Gort. The family appears to have gone up to Mountbellew possibly for work. I do have some remote DNA matches to those from the areas in and around Mountbellew, but the majority of my paternal Irish related Fahey/Fahy DNA matches are to those originally from Peterswell Parish and from in and around Gort.
How many years the family stayed in Mountbellew I am not sure, but his brother, who was only a few years younger than him, Michael Fahey stayed in the Mountbellew area before migrating to Roscommon. Whereas his sister Mary Fahey, who along with Michael and their sister Honora, stayed in Ireland, lived near Gort. Mary married Edward Flannery. Honora Fahey married Daniel Kearns, and they lived in Peterswell Parish.
Most people in America with Irish ancestors are familiar with the horrific tragedy of the Irish Potato Famine years. The Great Famine (Irish: an Gorta Mór) also known as the Great Hunger, the Famine (mostly within Ireland) or the Irish Potato Famine (mostly outside Ireland) was a period of mass starvation and disease in Ireland from 1845 to 1852. With the most severely affected areas in the west and south of Ireland, where the Irish language was dominant, the period was contemporaneously known in Irish as an Drochshaol, loosely translated as “the hard times” (or literally “the bad life”). The worst year of the period was 1847, known as “Black ’47”. During the Great Hunger, about 1 million people died and more than a million fled the country, causing the country’s population to fall by 20–25%, in some towns falling as much as 67% between 1841 and 1851. Between 1845 and 1855, no fewer than 2.1 million people left Ireland, primarily on packet ships but also steamboats and barks—one of the greatest mass exoduses from a single island in history. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6).
Sadly, I have not been able to locate my Fahey/Fahy ancestors, as a family unit, in ship records. But we know they came into America via Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My Dan Fahey/Fahy gives his year of immigration as: 1850 and 1853. I do find a Danl Fahey that departed via Liverpool, England and arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the ship Wyoming on 13 June 1853. This Danl Fahey is listed as aged 18 and born in 1835 and is not listed with family. His brother Thomas Fahey settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and married Mary Mooney. Thomas lists his year of arrival, in the one census record it was recorded, as 1847. I do find a Thomas Fahey arriving via Liverpool, England into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the ship Beatrice on 8 July 1851. This Thomas is listed as being aged 23 and born in 1828 and is not listed with family members.
Are the two single men listed on these two separate ships my Fahey ancestor and kin? I cannot know for sure. The story that my ancestor Dan Fahey/Fahy told was that the family came together on the ship from Ireland to the USA. Shortly after the family had settled in Pennsylvania his parents were killed by a team of run-away horses. It appears at least one younger sibling was killed as well. I have been unable to locate any newspaper articles about this accident. Did it happen in Philadelphia as the story was relayed? If so, then maybe in such a big city with so many recent immigrants, the story would not have been deemed worthy to include in the newspaper. I have been unable to locate where they are buried. Sadly, they may have been buried in a Potter’s Field cemetery where those without means would have been buried, and sometimes those records were lost, also fires destroyed many vital records. I do not find Daniel, his brother Thomas, their siblings, or their parents in the 1850 Census. This leads me to believe the earliest they arrived in the USA was in 1850, arriving too late in the year to be included in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census. Or they arrived a bit later between 1851-1853.
He stated later in life that his siblings were scattered after the death of their parents, and he being old enough to take care of himself, migrated after the death of his parents to Louisville, Kentucky. I have been able to piece together that he came to Louisville because his uncle Michael Francis Fahey was most likely already living there with his wife and family, or Dan traveled together with his uncle and his family, and they arrived in Kentucky together. Michael had a child born in Gort, Ireland in 1850 and the next known child was born in Louisville in 1855. Michael Francis Fahey married about 1838 in or near Gort, Galway, Ireland to Bridget Keeley. Between 1842 and 1850 we know that three of his children were born in Gort.
Among Dan’s cousins, the children of Michael Francis Fahey, was a Bridget Fahey. More than fifty-five years later, when cousins Dan Fahey/Fahy and Bridget Fahey Ethell were well into old age, and both widowed, they did marry. But that is a story for a future blog entry.
Daniel lost touch with most of his siblings. We know he was in contact with a brother that went to Canada. DNA has shown that the brother that went to Canada was named John Patrick Fahey. DNA has also shown strong links to his siblings that stayed in Ireland (although in most cases, the descendants of these siblings that stayed in Ireland came to the USA within the next few generations, with a few going to Australia). He had an older brother Patrick Fahey who went Bangor, Maine and later migrated to Vermillion, Minnesota. His brother Edward Fahey stayed in Ireland but came to the USA in 1860 and settled in Bangor, Maine. He had other siblings including brothers named James “Jim” Fay and Robert Fay that did come to the USA, but nothing more is known about them.
My branch of the Fahy/Fahey family used the spelling Fahey and Fahy in various records in the U.S. for some decades before they dropped the ‘h’, and it slowly became Fay.
I cannot imagine what it would have been like to live in Ireland during The Great Famine. Or needing to flee your homeland due to starvation. And after making it to America, after a long, difficult voyage on a ship, only to have your parents and at least one of your siblings killed in an accident only a short time later. Then to pick yourself up and migrate 672 miles to Louisville! I must say that my great-great grandfather had great fortitude and strength. I can only hope that I inherited some of those quite worthy traits from him.
- Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia
- Kinealy, Christine (1994), This Great Calamity. The Irish Famine 1845-52, Gill & Macmillan.
- The great famine | dúchas.ie (duchas.ie).
- An Gorta Mór – the impact and legacy of the Great Irish Famine Lecture delivered by Mr. Éamon Ó Cuív, TD, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, Canada, on Friday 8 May 2009.
- Ross, David (2002), Ireland: History of a Nation, New Lanark: Geddes & Grosset.
- Reconciling generations of secrets and separations (irishcentral.com).
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