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Trying to trace my great great grandfather John Phillips and his family. He was a farmer and came from Ardara, Co. Donegal.

My guess at his date of birth is 1810. His son, Patrick Phillips born 1833( ? )  left Donegal 1850s( ? )to live and work in England - Liverpool / Birkenhead .

Patrick married in 1865 , raised a family of 6 and remained  in Birkenhead for the rest of his life.

On his marriage certificate his father is named John Phillips and his occupation given as farmer.

There are references to Phillips in Griffiths Valuation and in the Irish Petty Court Sessions Court Registers .Would they be lon-term Donegal residents?

Would tenant farmers work the same land for generations ?

Is there any way of ascertaining whether the John Phillips recorded in these sources is the John Phillips I'm related to ?

My father and other family members believed the Phillips family came from Ardara, Donegal and that the name originated from a survivor of the Spanish Armada whose ship was wrecked off the Donegal coast ( 1588 ).

Are there any documents which refer to Spanish Armada survivors ?

Any information would be very welcome.

Margaret McS.

Monday 22nd Feb 2016, 11:18PM

Message Board Replies

  • Margaret:

    Welcome to Ireland Reaching Out!

    There were only 2 John Phillips records in the Griffiths. The one in Kilbarron parish  The one in Inishkeel parish is a possibility since Inishkeel is just to the north of Killybegs Lower parish and many times emigrants said they were from the nearest big town (in this case Ardara).

    This Irish Times web site  will show you where surnames were found in the mid-19th century based on the griffiths and also provides some background on the origins of the name. I don't think there is a Spanish Armada connection but anything is possible. I also have Phillips ancestors from East Co. Mayo and I've not heard anything about a Spanish connection. 

    Sometime this year, the land revision books will be online. These books show who took over properties after the Griffiths. maybe when these records are released you can track the John Phillips property in Inishkeel to see if you see any connections.

    Roger McDonnell

    Castlemore Roscommon, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Tuesday 23rd Feb 2016, 12:53AM
  • Margaret,

    Griffiths listed most people who had land. So if John Philips was a farmer and was alive at the time Griffiths was compiled you would expect him to be in it.

    Tenant farmers would work the same land for generations. Of course some moved, some gave up their leases or had extensions refused, but most farmers stayed put. Farming involves spending years improving the land to increase your income. You don’t move around frequently in those circumstances.

    There’s no direct way of saying whether a particular Philips in Griffiths is your family, since Griffiths doesn’t have any additional family information.

    I don’t know of any Armada survivor records. There are hardly any records in Ireland from the 1500s, let alone lists of shipwreck survivors.

    Phil(l)ips is a pretty common surname in Ireland. There’s over 3000 of them in the 1901 Irish census. I’d keep a pretty open mind about their origins.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Tuesday 23rd Feb 2016, 09:59PM
  • Dear Roger and Elwyn,

    Thank you both for your replies.

    John Phillips in Tullybeg, Inishkeel, Ardara seems a possible connection but how to prove it !

    I cannot find souces for the Donegal diocese ( Raphoe)  - family was Catholic.

    The only well-documented diocese for Phillips seems to be Achonry but I don't think it includes the Donegal parishes.

    Re the Spanish Armada, several Spanish ships were wrecked off the coast of Mayo and Donegal . 

    The Girona survived the storms butwas anchored in Killybegs harbour for repair work.

    Once sea-worthy, many survivors from other Spanish vessels were taken onboard the Girona but 3 days after leaving Killybegs, the Girona was wrecked during another violent storm off the Antrim coast. There were few survivors.

    I'll follow any leads available re the Phillips from Tullybeg.

    Is the land there still farmed ?

    Should I be posting these messages to the Inishkeel ?


    Wednesday 24th Feb 2016, 11:54AM
  • Margaret,

    I would agree with you that there are very few records for Co. Donegal. Research there is particularly difficult.

    Re the Girona wreck, I have been to Killybegs many times but don’t recall any plaque there. The wreck is “remembered” in Co Antrim in the place name Port na Spania (or similar) ie port of the Spaniards which is the steep rocky cove where the ship came ashore. It is also remembered on banknotes issued by the First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland today. They have the ship on the reverse side. The wreck was searched by divers in the 1960s and some artifacts from it are in the Ulster museum in Belfast. My understanding is there were just 9 survivors, and they were sent over to Scotland by Sorley Boy MacDonnell the local landowner (whose family lands at that time also included Islay, Jura and Kintyre in Scotland). Here’s a link to a painting of Port Na Spania:

    As I am sure you are aware many of the Spanish Armada were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland and there are various anecdotal references to these incidents. A common one is that people with red hair in Ireland and Scotland are descendants of sailors who remained there. (Unlikely I should think). Also that the wild goats that frequent Donegal and many Scottish islands are descended from goats that swam ashore from the wrecks. (The Spaniards carried them on board for milk and to eat). Might be true. I couldn’t say.

    You ask if the land is still farmed around Inishowen. The answer is yes. However it isn’t great farmland. It’s mostly hilly, boggy and doesn’t grow much. Best for a few sheep. The poor quality of the land and uneconomic farms was one reason why people left 150 years ago and that’s still the case today. Those who do farm now often top up their income with other activities, eg B & B or part-time work. Inishowen is very scenic and so is popular with tourists, but it’s very seasonal. Malin Head at the tip of the peninsula is the most northerly point in Ireland, and a popular tourist destination. There are great beaches and lots of rocky cliffs. Children love it. There are a lot of holiday homes, including second homes for people from Belfast and the surrounding area. Some local people commute to work in the City of Derry. But for a lot there isn’t any well paid permanent work there and they move away. A lot go to Glasgow in Scotland and you notice that every summer when the peninsula is full of Scottish voices, being second generation visitors from Scotland staying with their family in Ireland.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Wednesday 24th Feb 2016, 11:59AM
  • Elwyn,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.

    The story of the Girona is tragic.

    There is so much interesting history in the area, 

    Would love to visit .

    Are there local sources for family history to research ?

    Would it be better to try Belfast or Dublin ?


    Wednesday 24th Feb 2016, 01:15PM
  • Dear Roger,

    You mention a connection with Phillips in Mayo.

    My great grandfather , Patrick Phillips, married ( Birkenhead 1865 ) Catherine Churchil who was from Bekon, Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo. Catherine's father is named on the marriage certificate as Patrick Churchill ( deceased ), occupation blacksmith.

    Are Mayo's records well documented ?

    Both branches , Phillips and Churchill are proving elusive !


    Does Mayo come under the diocese of Achonry?

    Wednesday 24th Feb 2016, 01:29PM
  • Margaret:

    Mayo records are marginally better than Donegal. Most parishes start in the 1840s/1850s. A few go back earlier. Ballyhaunis starts in 1851.

    The Diocese of Achonry covers parishes in the eastern part of Mayo as well as eastern Sligo and one parish in Roscommon (Ballaghaderreen) where the Cathedral is located. There are three other Dioceses (Killalla, Tuam and Galway) which cover other parts of Mayo. Ballyhaunis is part of the Diocese of Tuam.

    I looked for Churchill records in the 1855/1856 Griffiths Valuation and only three came up in the very far northwestern part of Mayo.


    Castlemore Roscommon, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Wednesday 24th Feb 2016, 05:20PM
  • Thank you.

    I'll look at the Tuam diocese records.


    Wednesday 24th Feb 2016, 06:09PM
  • Margaret,

    You ask about local sources. The birth, death and marriage records are centralized of course. The RC parish records are on-line but as you know now they start very late in Co. Donegal. (Some places like Dublin and Wexford have RC parish records back to the late 1600s but Donegal didn’t keep any till the mid 1800s. I don’t know why.) Copies of most surviving non RC church records for Donegal are in PRONI in Belfast.

    Estate records ie landowners records are generally either in the National Archives in Dublin or PRONI in Belfast (or both in some cases). It just depended where the landowner deposited them. Some big landowners had land in different parts of Ireland and so you get records for what is now Northern Ireland in Dublin and records for the Republic eg Co. Donegal, in Belfast. Wills for Donegal could be probated in Londonderry or in Dublin. So they can be found in either set (or both in some cases, I have found). Fortunately the indexes to the wills are on-line, up to a point. Pre 1858, the wills were processed by the Church of Ireland consistory courts (regardless of your denomination) but most of those records were destroyed in the 1922 fire. All that generally remains are some abstracts and index references. (There are exceptions to this. Some early researchers copied wills and duplicates existed in solicitors offices etc which have now been deposited in the archives in Dublin or Belfast, so it’s not quite true to say they were all destroyed. Just that most were). It’s always worth searching the NAI and PRONI e-catalogues for the surname of the person you are researching. Odd leases etc pop up too.

    You can also search the Registry of Deeds for a mention of your family. Ideally you need to know their townland, but you can also search by name. The originals are in Dublin and PRONI have copies (for all of Ireland) up to 1929 on microfilm. The Registry of Deeds started in 1708 or thereabouts and could be used to record leases, marriage contracts, wills and certain other significant legal documents. Registration wasn’t compulsory and as there was a fee to pay many didn’t bother. But many did. What you get is a memorial (summary) of the original document, and which could have been used in the event of a dispute if the originals were lost. In the 1700s and 1800s there were a lot of 3 lives leases (ie leases that lasted for as long as the 3 people named in it were still alive). These could be very helpful for genealogy because if the 3 were related the relationships and ages were often given. Allow plenty of time if you are going to search the Registry of Deeds records. It’s a slow process.

    Most counties in Ireland have a local studies section. I would guess that Letterkenny library has the collection for Co Donegal (but you should check to make sure). These usually contain books and maps and statistics about life in that county. So you get detailed descriptions of farming or weaving or whatever activities were found in that part of Ireland. They often have back copies of local newspapers too.

    A particularly good account of life in Ireland in the 1830s is to be found in the Ordnance Survey memoirs. These were drawn up on the instructions of the Duke of Wellington (then Prime Minister) and were a detailed account of each parish. They were drawn up for taxation purposes (a bit like the Domesday Book). They summarise the geography, economy, population, industry, churches, local monuments, buildings of note, trades, hobbies and amusements, local traditions, schools, etc parish by parish. They often list the names of recent emigrants as well as notable families in the area. They were originally published in the 1800s and then re-published in the 1990s by the Ulster Historical Foundation who may still have some copies for sale. (You need to specify the parishes you are interested in to get the right volume). PRONI have copies on their bookshelves in the main reading room and I imagine Letterkenny library might also have them in their reference section.

    Here’s a link to a list of sights in Inishowen:

    The Doagh famine museum is worth a visit. Interesting and moving. However if you go at Christmas it’s ingeniously converted into Santa’s Grotto for a few weeks.  Something that tickles my sense of humour. Only in Ireland would we use a famine museum as Santa’s grotto. Lovely beaches near to the Doagh museum.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Thursday 25th Feb 2016, 09:57AM
  • Elwyn,

    Thank you once more.

    NAI & PRONI & the Registry of Deeds may hold a clue or two.

    Good wishes,


    Thursday 25th Feb 2016, 05:17PM
  • Hi Margaret   My great grandmothers name was Mary Philips and her fathers name was John Philips. i have my great grandmothers marriage cert and it says They came from Ballykilduff which would be in the parish of iniskeel.

    Saturday 29th Oct 2016, 09:00PM
  • Dear Maryod 11,

    Thank you for your message.

    Is there a date and place  for her marriage? Is her address given ? What was her married name ?

    Do you know if Mary Phillips stayed in Ireland ?

    My great grandfather, Patrick Phillips left Ireland to live in Birkenhead, England.His eldest daughter was called Mary Ann.

    Would love to see where the Phillips family came from.

    Good wishes,


    Monday 31st Oct 2016, 07:16PM
  • Hi Margaret sorry for not getting back to you sooner, yes my greatgrandmother Mary Philips  married john Gallagher from stracallagh outside Glenties and they the lived in Meenahalla. My grandmothers name was Mary Ann also.the address on the marriage cert says Ballykillduf Her fathers name was John Phillips. As far as i know they came from the portnoo side of ardara ther is a sharp bend just outside ardara and ther is an old ruin just before you come to the bridge on your left hand side and i have been told that was their home now how true that is i dont know. hope that has been some help to you  Mary

    Sunday 11th Dec 2016, 10:02PM
  • Sorry Margaret Ididnt give you yhe date of their marriage the were married in the church in ardara on th 28 of dec 1878

    it gives john gallagher age as 36 years but it just says full age on the marriage cert for mary 




    sorry margaret i didnt give you the information about marys marriage.She was married in ardara on the 28 of dec 1878. it gave her husbands age as 36 but for mary it just says full age she had been married before t a man by the name of kennedy.. Mary








    Sunday 11th Dec 2016, 10:39PM
  • Sorry Margaret Ididnt give you yhe date of their marriage the were married in the church in ardara on th 28 of dec 1878

    it gives john gallagher age as 36 years but it just says full age on the marriage cert for mary 




    sorry margaret i didnt give you the information about marys marriage.She was married in ardara on the 28 of dec 1878. it gave her husbands age as 36 but for mary it just says full age she had been married before t a man by the name of kennedy.. Mary








    Sunday 11th Dec 2016, 10:39PM

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