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Hello all,

I've been working quite diligently over the past number of years on my mother's family tree and recently returned to a particular member of the family.  My maternal grandmother's first cousin was a Sr Cecilia McGrath R.S.M. (Mercy Order), christened Mary Agnes.  She died when in the 1990s when I was about 13 so I remember her quite well.  From my own research and existing family information I know that she was the only remaining child of John McGrath and Bridget Mulcahy, my grandmother's paternal aunt.  We also know a certain amount about Bridget as she was the principal of the girl's national school in Emly when the new school was built at the end of the 19th century, and my grandmother and her sister would eat lunch at her house while attending the national school as children.  Who I can't seem to really pinpoint is Sr Cecilia's father John McGrath (usually called Jack).

The details I have so far are that John McGrath was born in 1855 to John McGrath and Bridget Hayes of Farranassa, Emly, Co. Tipperary, and was christened in Emly on 26 Feb. 1855 [1].  The townland is adjacent to that of my great-grandaunt Bridget Mulcahy, Clashdrumsmith.  John married Bridget in Emly on 25th Nov. 1901 and his profession is listed as farmer on the marriage register [2].  The birth register entries for his four children (Thomas 1902, Bridget Teresa 1904, Hannah Christina 1904, Mary Agnes 1906 - [3], [4], [5]) reveal very little about him because under the section father's profession it gives his wife's profession national teacher.  It is highly unlikely that John was also a national teacher as he married at 45 and was a farmer at that point and on two of the birth register entries where his name appears there is the annotation 'his mark'  and an 'x' next to it, suggesting that he possibly couldn't write. 

Where it becomes interesting is when John appears with his wife Bridget and daughter Mary Agnes (Sr Cecilia) in the 1911 census where his profession is listed as a 'returned and retired New Zealand ploughman' [6].  I had no other evidence of him spending time in New Zealand until I contacted the Mercy Congregational Archives in Dublin regarding Sr Cecilia's time with the order in Longford, where she spent her whole life.  They kindly provided me with a few details relating to her time there but also sent me an article that appeared in the Longford Historical Society journal in 2019 relating to the centenary of the Irish War of Independence.  A fellow sister, who happens to also be a historian, interviewed Sr Cecilia in 1988 regarding her recollections of aftermath of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence in Tipperary.  Here, Sr Cecilia confirms that her father had spent many years in New Zealand and was not particularly in favour of the Easter Rising, having earned his previous living because of Britain and its empire.  Apart from this account the trail grows cold on John McGrath as he only seems to appear again as the informant when his wife died in 1934 [7].  I believe I might have discovered his death in 1935 but I cannot be certain.  A widowed John McGrath from Emly died at the County Home in Cashel, Co. Tipperary in 1935 and is aged 84 [8].  Although he would in fact have been about 80, the ages in death records are not always accurate, his profession of farmer matches and there were some suggestions in the family that he had perhaps been an alcoholic and ended up becoming impoverished, another point that is hard to establish since it would not have been a subject that anyone really would have spoken about.  While John's wife Bridget is buried in Emly in the Mulcahy family plot [9], there appears to be no sign of John which seems to support the hypothesis that he died in the County Home.

It would however be interesting to find out more about his time in New Zealand but I am unsure where to start regarding that.  Are there available inward and outbound emigration records for New Zealand available online?  Is anyone here familiar with researching emigrants to New Zealand?  Most of the members of my family who emigrated stayed where they went so it's unusual to come across someone who actually returned to Ireland after having travelled to the other side of the world.  I also wonder if there are still any records relating to those who ended up in county homes which seems to be just a more modern iteration of the workhouse.

Okay, that was probably a roundabout way of asking for advice but hopefully the extra information is helpful.  I will also try to attach the related documents if they are of any use.

Thanks and regards,


Patrick Collins

[1] 1855-BaptismalRecord-JohnMcGrath
[2] 1901MarriageRegister-JohnMcGrath-BridgetMulcahy
[3] 1902BirthRegister-ThomasMcGrath
[4] 1904-BirthRegister-HannahMulcahy-BridgetMulcahy
[5] 1906-BirthRegister-MaryAgnesMcGrath-SrCecilia
[6] 1911-Census-McGrathFamily-Emly
[7] 1934DeathRegister-BridgetMcGrath
[8] 1935DeathRegister-JohnMcGrath


Saturday 4th May 2024, 08:00PM

Message Board Replies

  • Dear Patrick I am in Australia, but was born in NZ and have immigrants from Armagh to NZ and Cork to Australia - I would be happy to assist you to research Jack McGrath..

    If he was born in 1855, it is possible that Jack/John immigrated in the 1870's or 1880's. 

    there is a John M'Grath described as a ploughman in the Electoral roll of Waitaki at Ngapara in 1887. He is described as 'over 20'. He is also in the 1890 electoral roll under that occupation.

    this area was all farming, and there are many ads for ploughs. In the Papers Past Archive I found a mention of a john McGrath who gave 1L as a donation to the formation of the Dominican Convent in the area in 1882. Ngapara is a locality in the north Otago region of New Zealand's South Island. It is located in a rural setting 25 km inland from Oamaru

    I searched under 'ploughing match' because he seems the sort of man who would go in for this, but no luck yet. there are various men of this name getting into flights, and a family of McGraths but they don't seem to fit.

    Yes, there are passenger lists - if you would like to contact me at  I can give you details of websites where you may find more information. However tracing a lone man, who is presumably unmarried (?) is not easy.

    best wishes,



    Thursday 9th May 2024, 04:33AM
  • Hi Louise, if John was in NZ around 1908 , he might be listed in the 1908 NZ electoral roll.  They can be found on the Ancestry website.  I don't have a sub right now so can't do the look up for you, but maybe someone else can if you don't have a sub.

    Best Wishes

    Chris in NZ


    Thursday 9th May 2024, 07:14AM
  • Thanks Louise and Chris for your comments.  It is true that it's somewhat difficult to find a single man travelling to New Zealand without any further context.  It is very likely that he emigrated in the 1870s as a young man and it is possible he was still in New Zealand at the time of the Irish census in 1901 as I cannot seem to find him, but then again he could have been elsewhere in Ireland, or Britain, prior to returning home.

    He was definitely back at his home place in Emly, Co. Tipperary by late 1901 as he married my grandaunt Bridget Mulcahy on 25th November 1901.  If he arrived home in 1901 their courtship would have been a short one, although he being 46 at the time and Bridget being 36, they may have been encouraged to marry.  The McGraths and Mulcahys were also from neighbouring townlands so there may have been a bit of matchmaking going on, and Bridget had a good profession.

    Louise, I will send you an email possibly later today.


    Thanks again for your efforts, it's much appreciated.



    Thursday 9th May 2024, 09:50AM

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