Connection Story - Surrey and County Offaly

Friday, 1 February, 2019
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Jim Booth and his daughter Sally have been researching their Irish family history together for some years.  Jim remembers trips to Dublin from the UK as a boy and a young man, on visits to his grannies, aunts, uncles and cousins. However he had never been to Birr where his great grandfather Reverend Thomas Booth and earlier generations of the Booth family came from. 

Sally Rafferty (nee Booth) and her father Jim Booth in St Brendan's Church of Ireland Birr County Offaly

Last October, Sally Rafferty contacted Ireland Reaching Out to let us know that she was coming to Birr in Count Offaly, along with her father Jim. She asked if there was someone available locally to help them discover more about their Irish place of origin. Margaret Hensey from Kilcolman, was able to welcome them during their short trip to Ireland, and together with Birr local Frank Jackson, they were able to shed some light on Sally and Jim's Booth ancestors.

Sally told us of her experience connecting with the picturesque heritage town of Birr:

Margaret, Frank and Sally in Birr

"I contacted Ireland XO shortly before we embarked on our trip and Margaret Hensey, a local volunteer, came to our aid.  She arranged for us to visit the beautiful St Brendan’s Church of Ireland in Birr, where Frank Jackson found the marriage record of the Reverand Thomas to our great grandmother Catherine Elizabeth Sandys. It was an amazing, emotional experience to be able to see and hold the actual register that they both signed on the 22nd of July 1857. 

It was a privilege to be able to visit the church and it was one of those rare occasions in life where fate plays a hand. After an initial fruitless search, my family history folder fell open to show a picture of Dorrha Church, were the Rev Thomas and Catherine had married. Knowing the records for that church were actually kept at St Bendan’s, Frank was able then to show us something that meant a great deal to both of us, the actual signed register.

In the course of our visit, Margaret met us for tea, arranged the visit to St Brendan’s and invited us to a concert at the historic Leap Castle which was an uplifting, thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience.  Our time in Birr will be a treasured memory for my father and me.  

Margaret and Frank, we can’t thank you enough for your generosity of spirit. Our heartfelt thanks to you both."

Ireland Reaching Out volunteer Margaret said:

"Sally and Jim arrived on Wednesday the 24th and left on the morning of Saturday 27th. It was a last minute to visit and Birr was their only stopping off point in Ireland. 

I arranged with them to visit St Brendan's Church of Ireland in Birr on the Friday, as they had expressed a wish to view it when we first met on Thursday.  I had only known of Frank before and I got his number and phoned him. He is Treasurer of Select Vestry of St Brendan's Church of Ireland. Although Frank was in Dublin on Friday, he said he would meet us later in the day, when he was back in Birr. He was amazing and so helpful. We duly met and were able to view the register with the Marriage entry for Rev Thomas Booth (his 3rd!) in the Dorrha registers, which happened to be in Birr, although we had not known that. Frank had seen a page with a picture of Dorrha Church in Sally's research and said he also had that Register there. Sally and Jim are actually descended from the 3rd marriage so they were very emotional to see that entry. "

Our thanks to Sally Rafferty (nee Booth) and James Booth from Farnham, Surrey in England for taking the time to send an account of their experience reconnecting with their Irish place of origin in County Offaly. Our heartfelt thanks also to Margaret Hensey and Frank Jackson for welcoming them to Birr in County Offaly.

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.