In June of 2018, Anne LeBlanc posted a message on the IrelandXO message board, looking for information about her Cork ancestors and explaining that she hoped to connect with her Irish place of origin in her first ever trip to Ireland in September. With the help of the Ireland Reaching Out Volunteer network, and as a result of a chance meeting in a Kinsale pub, not only did she locate her grandfather's house, she also connected with her Irish cousins still living in Cork.
Picture above: Cousins Anne LeBlanc and Geraldine meet in Kinsale for the first time.
Anne's Grandfather John Walsh was born in Ireland in 1873. He emigrated to the USA in 1908. In 1910 he married Ellen Mahony, of Mitchelstown West, in Salem Massachusetts. Anne's father was James Walsh, John and Ellen's oldest son.
Anne said: "Very little was ever spoken about Ireland, that I can remember, but maybe I wasn't paying attention. My Aunt Mary, (John's daughter), kept a tiny address book that I have used to make family connections. She had kept in touch with other members that had come to the US and lived in the NY area. I discovered later that these people were John’s brother Patrick Walsh’s children."
Photo on left: John Walsh (sitting down) taken in Doolins in Kinsale circa 1900
The clue that led Anne to believe John was from Kinsale was found in a photo of her Grandfather, taken around 1900. The photo indicated that it had been taken at T Doolins in Kinsale. Anne explained: "About 10 years ago as ancestry started to become a hot topic, I used this picture to start looking. There is really no one left to ask the big questions so my cousin Kathy Garlin and I started our own project to connect the families."
Anne and Kathy grew up together in Salem Massachusetts, and both descendants of two sisters (Margaret and Mary Griffin of Ballinspittle). They also each had their own separate roots in Ballinadee, the Old Head Kinsale, and Clontead (Belgooly). The cousins had been researching their connection for several years and earlier this year decided on a trip to the Cork area to follow the trail more closely. They are both second generation Irish in the states.
Anne first came across the Ireland Reaching Out program through a genealogy group in her local library.. She explains: "One of the members had mentioned it so I tried it a few years ago. The web site helped me with dates, places and suggestions for further research. On the site there was a statement that if you were going to Ireland to let them know so I decided to ask for some thoughts and recommendations in visiting the Cork and Kinsale area."
That is how she connected with IrelandXO volunteer Joanne O'Sullivan in County Cork. Speaking of her experience of meeting Anne and her cousin Kathy, Joanne said: "As the volunteer for neighbouring parishes (Kilbrittain, Carrigaline), I was happy to extend my reach to help out Anne and her cousin Kathy when contacted by Ireland Reaching Out last August."
Not a native of the area, but teaching locally, Joanne was happy to help guide Anne and Kathy in terms of online resources available, and how to plan their trip, all in anticipation of their visit to Kinsale in September.
Joanne said: "The ladies landed in Kinsale on the Sunday, along with Dave, Anne’s husband, and I went to meet them. Little did I know how enjoyable, interesting and eye opening the next few days would be! We looked through maps and chatted about sources and then, a local historian and journalist, JJ Hurley, overheard us chatting in the pub, came over to chat, and the research took on a life of its own!
Photo on right: Anne with Geraldine and her Mother, Annie, in Kinsale
We spent a great few days touring old homesteads, visiting churches and graveyards frequented by Anne and Kathy’s ancestors, all with a bit of what I knew about local history thrown in. To add to this, in the meantime JJ had even managed to arrange a reunion of Anne’s living local cousins, Geraldine (O’Donovan Hennessy) and her mother Annie, who were delighted to meet Anne and family. Geraldine’s great grandfather was David Walsh, Johns brother.
He was also able to point out the area where the original family house was located at, in Browne’s Mills, Kinsale, of which Anne’s grandfather walked out one day to emigrate to the US. The original mill building (now a residence) and a pub are still there, along with the house that John's brother Patrick raised his family in' .
It was an intensely emotional and rewarding journey for both Anne and Kathy, who would most likely not have got so in touch with their roots here in Kinsale without local help from lots of us in the community. We like to think that the extended Griffin and Walsh families were looking down and gently guided our way on the most fortuitous of paths. It was an amazing week for all involved, all due to the connections made on Ireland Reaching Out!"
Speaking about her experience in Ireland and Joanne's assistance in County Cork, Anne said: "she was truly a gift that enabled us to see the real Kinsale, that our ancestors saw."
If you are planning a trip to Ireland and would like to connect with a local Ireland Reaching Out Volunteer, please visit our message board, where you can tell us where you are coming to, and how you are connected to that area. We will do our best to guide you to the resources that are available locally and where possible, to meet you and help you connect with the local community.