When Noeline Hewitt first posted about her Irish ancestors on the IrelandXO Message Board, it was not an uncommon sentiment: "I have a lot of information after their arrival to New Zealand but don't have any of their life or any family prior to leaving Ireland." Noeline's Great Great Grandparents, Robert Dagg and Lucinda Wilson were married in Portnashangan in County Westmeath and lived there until they emigrated to New Zealand in 1856. They arrived in Wellington aboard the SS Westminster and settled in Masterton, Wairarapa.
With the help of IrelandXO volunteers she was able to understand more about the place in Ireland her ancestors came from and by the following year had finalised her plans to visit it for herself. She posted: "We are coming to Ireland in September to check out my Dagg ancestry. I am delighted to have received information from Ireland Reaching Out regarding whereabouts they lived and the property they owned."
I came across Ireland XO about 2 years ago online and soon discovered that they were able to give me some vital information of where my ancestors home was in Leny, County Westmeath. I was so excited to get these details and others as my family emigrated to New Zealand 150 years ago.
At the time we were planning a visit to Ireland, so these details were vital as I wanted to experience the vibe where they lived and worked their land.
Months later arriving in Dublin, we hired a car so had our own timetable. During our 2 days in Dublin we visited the National Archives and the Church Representative Office and enjoyed the feeling of at last being in Ireland and taking in the surroundings as we walked about the city centre.
Next day we were off heading for Mullingar, Westmeath and the area where my family lived. That was a challenge to find, Google maps was no help at all. Asking a few friendly locals including the local publican from Tormey’s Bar, we finally found the house. How surreal that was! It felt quite emotional taking in that we were there and trying to imagine what life was like for them. It was nearing the end of the day and we needed to get to Athlone where our accommodation for the night was, not realising that it was some distance away.
Picture above: The Dagg family home in Leny
We headed back the next day to find Portnashangan Parish where my GG Grandparents Robert Dagg and Lucinda Wilson got married and Ballynagall House where they had affiliations with Middleton Smythe Esq. Again, we had to ask at a local business, Donnelly Antiques who were very helpful and the places were just up the road from there. We had driven past the driveway a couple of times unknowingly.
Picture above: The Dagg Family in New Zealand in 1899
Driving into the church car-park noticing a vehicle there my thoughts were hoping we could go inside. The church now being used as an office by the owners and formerly Belfry Restaurant. We talked to the lovely lady there. I told her my story and she invited us in to have a look through. Even though it was the décor of when it was a restaurant structurally it still resembled the church of long ago. So special! My 3X Grandfather was Parish Clerk at that Parish then became Vestry Clerk and Warden Clerk a few years before emigrating to America. We found that information at the office Church Representative in Dublin, so to be at the parish was ‘wow’ how awesome to be here!
Further down the driveway was Ballynagall House or the remains of it now almost covered with vines although still recognisable from pictures I have seen of it. We were able to stroll through the yards as some buildings are still in use today. We were hoping to talk to the owner but he was busy out on the surrounding farm.
Picture above: Some out buildings at Ballynagall House
Sadly this ended our time in Westmeath. We continued on our journey to Galway, Ennis, Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and finally Wexford to catch the ferry over to Wales where we continued our OE.
We only had 6 days in Ireland which was in no way long enough, there is still a huge hole in my heart to return one day in the not-too-distant future. Loved it there, it felt like home!
Feeling inspired by Noeline's story? We know that it is difficult to plan a visit to Ireland at the moment but you can still make the connections that will allow you to find out more about your ancestors' place of origin. And when eventually you can travel, we will be waiting here to meet you! A simple post on the IrelandXO Message Board may be all you need to get 'started' on your journey.
Have you already made the trip "home" to Ireland to visit the place of origin of your ancestors? If so, we'd love to feature you in an upcoming IrelandXO Connection Story. Contact us at info@IrelandXO.com to share your story.