Several decades ago, Eileen Heffernan was handed several sheets of paper by her aging grandmother, Lena. With that, the family history baton had been passed. Eileen gave her word to her grandmother that she would carry on exploring the family history of her grandfather, Frank Dennis Heffernan. Her family history journey had begun.
Starting with the information contained within the papers, Eileen began to discover more information about her Grandfather’s family. His mother died when he was only 16, leaving behind 11 children, and his brother had died in a war. Eventually, Eileen made it back five generations to her great-great-great-grandparents, Timothy Heffernan and his wife Catherine O’Dwyer of Glenough, Co. Tipperary. The family-owned a farm and home in Ireland, but with changing economic and living conditions, their children relocated to the US. In the end, all nine of their children left Ireland for America, starting with two brothers in 1845. The parents, Timothy and Catherine remained in Ireland. The Heffernan siblings settled in the small country town of Fabius, Onondaga County in New York State - which was very similar to where they were born and raised in Glenough, Tipperary. Perhaps they chose Fabius because it reminded them of home with its picturesque mountains, lakes, rivers, and valleys.
Picture above: Frank Heffernan (1892-1986)
Eileen’s research continued and several years ago, she read about Ireland Reaching Out in Ireland of the Welcomes, an Irish interest magazine. Intrigued, she signed up for her free IrelandXO membership and using the IrelandXO Message Board, discovered the parish of her Heffernan ancestors - a crucial step to finding more information about them.
A trip to Ireland in 2017 allowed Eileen the opportunity to find the parish record of her great-great-great grandparents marriage, as well as the baptismal records for all nine of their children. She had hoped to connect with some Heffernan relatives while in Ireland but found it difficult to narrow down which Heffernans were her relations.
After coming home to North Carolina, USA, Eileen had the idea to send a letter to the local paper where her Heffernan roots lay. She wrote an email to The Tipperary Star and her letter looking to connect with her Heffernan family was printed. Eileen only received one response to her letter - and it was the only response she needed. The writer of the letter was Eileen’s fourth cousin, Marie Heffernan Shortt! Marie had just finished researching her family history and her great-great-great-grandfather, Patrick, was a brother of Eileen’s great-great-great-grandfather, Timothy.
Eileen and Marie kept in touch and in 2019 Eileen planned another trip to Ireland with her daughter, Denise. And this time Eileen definitely connected with her Heffernan family! Marie and her cousin Marion, took Denise and her daughter to the church, the graveyard and the old school of the Heffernans, culminating in a visit to the old Heffernan homestead - a very emotional experience for Eileen. It’s still a working farm located on a hill with a glorious view of the valley and the mountains. Eileen felt she could have stayed there all day enjoying the feeling of peace it gave her.
Picture above: Old Heffernan Homestead
That evening Marie and her husband, Christy shared a traditional Irish dinner at their home with Eileen and her daughter, before they made their way to Monks Pub in Thurles, Tipperary. Gathered at the pub were 27 Heffernans and their spouses - all connected to Eileen! A great time was had meeting everyone, visiting and listening to music. Eileen said it was as if they’d known each other all their lives. Marie’s husband, Christy, even played a special song for Eileen and Denise on the tin whistle called “Were you at the Rock”, which Eileen summed up in one word: “Beautiful!”
Picture above: Eileen Heffernan Smith, Marion Hartnett, Marie Heffernan Shortt and Denise Smith Arram visit Rossmore Church Graveyard in County Tipperary
Eileen and her daughter rounded out their Irish adventure by visiting the sites in Cork, Killarney, Waterford, Kinsale, Bunratty, and Dublin. When asked about her trip to Ireland and meeting her Irish family in the very place her ancestors came from, Eileen described a feeling of being right at home and of finally knowing where she came from all those years ago. As far as Eileen is aware she is the only member of her American family to have visited Ireland and to have connected with relatives there, but would highly recommend the experience to anyone with Irish roots. Connecting with her Irish Family and seeing them in person had been a dream of Eileen’s for years but she never imagined she’d actually be able to do it.
Are you inspired by Eileen’s story of realizing her dream and meeting her Irish family? With a little help from IrelandXO, you could too! Why not start with a post on our Message Board. Or, you could add your ancestor’s profile to the IrelandXO Chronicles. You never know where it could lead you...but it might just be in Ireland!