When siblings Wayne and Patti decided to make the trip to Ireland from Canada with their spouses in April of this year, their Irish ancestors must have approved. Because together with a little help from Ireland Reaching Out volunteers, they made sure it was a trip of a lifetime.
Wayne and his wife Ange, and Patti and her husband Dave, hail from a rural farming community in Huron County, Ontario. Wayne and Patti descend from a long line of farmers. In fact on their father’s side, they are sixth generation Canadians – all farmers. And when your family has been farming in Canada for six generations, it’s easy to forget that your deep roots lie elsewhere. But when their cousin started digging into their family tree and, with a little help from IrelandXO, found some of those roots in rural County Roscommon, Patti and Wayne knew that someday they’d have to see for themselves where they were from.
After landing in Dublin and an incredible trek across Ireland, the last stop for Wayne and Patti and their spouses was Ardcarne, County Roscommon. Located along the N4 between Carrick-on-Shannon and Boyle, there isn’t a lot to mark Ardcarne – with the exception of a church – and it’s this church which plays a central role in the story of Wayne and Patti’s ancestors.
Ardcarne Church and Graveyard
On the 17th of July 1844, Mary Reilly and James Henderson – the 4x great-grandparents of Wayne and Patti – were married in the Church of Ireland in Ardcarne. On the 22nd of November 1845 their daughter, Mary Ann Henderson – Wayne and Patti’s 3x great-grandmother – was born, and she was baptised in the same church on the 11th of December 1845. The family’s address at the time of her baptism was Errironagh townland, which is just north of the church grounds.
It would have been a difficult time for Mary and James to have had a child, 1845 marking the beginning of the Great Hunger – An Gorta Mor. And County Roscommon was one of the hardest hit counties, suffering huge losses both through death and emigration. As it turns out, Mary and James were part of the latter group, emigrating with their daughter, Mary Ann, to Canada, likely in 1847, arriving at Grosse Isle (“Canada’s Ellis Island”).
To even see the church where their ancestors had been would have been thrilling enough for Wayne and Patti, but IrelandXO was able to make their experience so much more. Janice from IrelandXO had let them know ahead of their visit that there happened to be a lovely traditional vacation home to rent – Ardcarne Lodge on the grounds of the Old Rectory of Ardcarne church. Upon walking into what would be the their home for the next two days, Patti burst into tears. To her, it was the perfect Irish home, their Irish home (in more ways than one). And to make their arrival even more special they were greeted by the lovely owners of the property with chocolates and champagne – to celebrate them being the 1000th visitors to stay at the Old Rectory in Ardcarne!
Ardcarne Lodge and the grounds of the Old Rectory
They visited Lough Key Forest Park which was nearly on their doorstep to explore the grounds where Rockingham House once stood. Their ancestors’ home at the time of Mary Ann’s baptism would have been on land belonging to Lord Viscount Lorton of Rockingham House and in fact, their passage to Canada may have been provided by him, as he was apparently one of the more compassionate landlords during the famine.
Lough Key and Castle Island as seen from the viewing tower Exploring Lough Key Forest Park
After their first night sleeping in the land of their ancestors, Wayne and Patti were treated to a tour of Ardcarne Church, prearranged and accompanied by Janice from IrelandXO and the owners of the Old Rectory. They strolled through the well-kept graveyard, admired the stained glass windows – one by the famous Dublin artist, Evie Hone, and chatted to the local Reverend who provided some additional history of the church. They learned that much of the interior of the church had been destroyed by a fire after their ancestors had left, but had been restored. However, the marble baptismal font was almost certainly original – and would be the very font at which their great-great-great grandmother was baptised in 1845. Somehow laying their hands on the font made the connection to their ancestors feel very real for Wayne and Patti.
The baptismal font where their 3x great-grandmother was baptised in 1845
But perhaps the most poignant part of their visit to Ardcarne church was the famine memorial found in front of the church, erected in 1997. Its inscription reads:
This sculpture was erected in memory of victims of famine. We remember in particular the people of Ardcarne Parish who perished during the Great Famine. In the first 50 days of 1847 alone one hundred and ten victims were buried in this cemetery.
Below the plaque with the inscription is a quote from Irish poet Seamus Heaney:
Heads bow, trunks bend, hands fumble towards the black Mother.
Their 4x great-grandparents had left Ardcarne during the height of the famine, most likely in 1847. It was a little overwhelming for them to realize how different things could have been for Mary, James, and their daughter, Mary Ann – and indeed for themselves – if their ancestors hadn’t left.
The Famine Memorial at Ardcarne Church of Ireland
After one more night in Ardcarne, Wayne and Patti together with their spouses made the trip back to Dublin for their flight home. Both of their homes are within a half hour’s drive of where their ancestors from Ardcarne Parish settled and established their farm. And both Patti and Wayne intend to make the short trip to see the final resting place of Mary Riley and James Henderson – in Maitlandbank Cemetery on the outskirts of Seaforth in Ontario, to say a heartfelt word of thanks and to complete their story.
Reflecting on his trip to Ireland and the experience of connecting with his ancestors’ place of origin, Wayne (a man of few but carefully chosen words) had to say: “I can’t keep from smiling when people ask about our trip to Ireland. I have to force myself not to keep talking about it. Standing at the church and taking in the landscape somehow just made me feel more sure of who I am." As for his sister Patti, she sums up their trip in this way: “I am still amazed at how perfect our trip to Ireland was. Makes me smile and warms my heart.”
And both Wayne and Patti are forever grateful for the assistance provided by Janice and the kind folks of IrelandXO in not just seeing but truly connecting with and experiencing their ancestors’ place of origin.