Ancestral Grave Hunting • Ireland • September 2016

It took 36 years and one failed attempt to finally realize my teenage dream of visiting Ireland, but I’ve finally done it. On August 31, my intrepid husband and I set off for Toronto and flew with Aer Lingus non-stop to Dublin. Four days later we rented a car and headed off to Co. Sligo, the ancestral home of the Essex County Bretts.

ireland-sept-6-51-map-to-ballymote-cropped

Armed with a small stack of research notes and a list of key places of importance to Brett family history, I set my expectations quite low. To my way of thinking, it was unrealistic to expect evidence of our ancestors to still exist 150 years or so later. Boy, was I wrong!

With a full Irish breakfast in our bellies, we set out on Tuesday, September 6 to find the ancestral graveyards. Reasoning that the most recent death of interest might have the best shot at discovery, we headed off to Coolaney in search of Rathbarron Church and the grave of George Brett, the letter writer, who died in 1899.

Family History Refresher

To help with recollection, here is the condensed backgrounder:

Our confirmed first-level ancestors were Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry, who obtained a marriage licence in 1812 from the Diocese of Killala and Achonry. Their oldest son George (the letter writer) remained in Ireland and was reported to have a large cattle farm. Another son, Patrick, flirted with emigration to the U.S. but ultimately settled back in Ireland. Eldest daughter Mary emigrated to Philadelphia. The remaining four children emigrated to Canada. Our ancestor, John, came to Canada as a young man in the early 1840s, before the potato famine of 1845. He made the voyage with his sisters Cecelia and Catharine. Sister Jane appears to have immigrated to Canada earlier and settled in the Ottawa Valley where her three siblings initially joined her. Now back to the graveyards…

Rathbarron Church (United Dioceses of Tuam, Killala & Achonry)

How excited were we to find Rathbarron Church, an active church with a well-populated graveyard! The ground that day was wet with morning dew and our feet were quickly soaked. Art started on one side of the graveyard and I on the other. Eventually we met in the middle but neither of us could report any success. As we stood at a family plot pondering the unusual trees surrounding the site, Arthur spotted the name Brett on the stone right in front of us. Very difficult to read today, the inscription has been recorded in a series of volumes available at the Sligo County Library. Many thanks to Bill McGee as well for making the Brett family inscriptions available at http://www3.sympatico.ca/wfmcgee/Brett/

George Brett’s Tombstone Inscription

“In Memory of Isabella Brett of Cornabbey died 23rd April 1887. Also George Brett 12th May 1899. Catherine their daughter died 2nd Jan 1917, Robert, their son of Thornhill died 14th June 1918. He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live.”

ireland-sept-6-10-rathbarron-church-geo-brett

The stone is set within a family plot with a stone border and appears to contain six plots. A second headstone in the plot is for George and Isabella’s son John and says: “Sacred to the Memory of John Brett of Cornabbey 13 Dec 1925, 65 years. Dearly beloved husband of Jeanie M. Brett.”

Having found George Brett and being delighted with our success, we lingered a while for photos (because everything is scenic in Ireland!) and then embarked on our search for Achonry Cathedral.

ireland-sept-6-19-rathbarron-church-coolaney

Achonry Cathedral

Signage in Ireland is simple and plentiful. When GPS fails, you can generally count on a visual scan of the environment to set you on the right course.

ireland-sept-6-22-achonry-cathedral

So it was with Achonry Cathedral.

Achonry Cathedral is a de-commissioned church with three adjoining graveyards and an old stone arch from a previous church building.

ireland-sept-6-23-achonry-cathedral

The newest yard was easy to navigate and contains at least seven Brett headstones, all within close proximity of each other, including Henry of Streamstown (1866-1947).

ireland-sept-6-26-achonry-cathedral-henry-of-streamstown

In a 1932 account written by Ada Brett Kerr, which some readers of this blog may be familiar with, she reports on her visit with Henry of Streamstown. She writes:

“A Jasper Brett had lived just opposite the cathedral, but his house had entirely disappeared. In the graveyard was the tomb of John Brett, who had been of some importance in Tobercurry. This man had nine sons, one of whom was Patrick, the grandfather of this Henry himself. Two or three of these nine sons emigrated, who, we conjectured, must have been Henry, my great great grandfather and his brothers, who came to Canada.”

Ada refers here to Henry of Rosemont, her great-great grandfather from whom a number of other Ontario Bretts are descended.

She also refers to John Brett of Tobercurry, a man with nine sons.

John Brett of Tobercurry (1765-1844)

Although I have not been able to prove conclusively that John Brett of Tobercurry is our Jasper’s father, I believe the circumstantial evidence is convincing. George Brett, the letter writer, refers in three different letters to “Uncle Patt” and clearly identifies Uncle Patt’s son John, who is Henry of Streamstown’s father. In 1932 Henry confirmed to Ada Brett Kerr that his grandfather Patrick was a son of John Brett of Tobercurry. If Patrick is an uncle to George, then, strictly speaking, Patrick is the brother of our ancestor Jasper. By extension, Jasper is also one of the nine sons of John Brett of Tobercurry.

With that logic in mind, we went in search of John of Tobercurry’s tomb in the second and much older graveyard. In a repeat of the Rathbarron Church experience, we searched the entire yard and met in the middle, directly in front of a very large tomb situated close to the church. This old graveyard contains a large number of broken stones, many of them cracked off at the ground. The stones that remain are extremely weathered and virtually impossible to read. The ground was wet and spongy on the day of our visit…and treacherous! In no time we were wet to our knees from wading through high grass, carefully finding a firm foothold before taking the next step. Perhaps the iron gate was locked for a good reason. Nonetheless, Intrepid Art’s long legs were over the stone wall separating the two graveyards in a jiffy. I followed suit with far less grace.

Thank goodness for Arthur’s eagle eyes. As we puzzled over how we had missed the grave, Art glanced over at the large tomb, now overgrown with ivy and blackberries, and caught a hint of the word “Brett”. Sure enough it was John Brett of Tobercurry’s grave. The face is nearly impossible to read, but we know from existing cemetery inscription records that it says:

“Sacred to the Memory of John Brett, late of Tubbercurry who departed this life September 6, 1844, aged 79 years. Also to the memory of Ellen, the beloved wife of John, his son, departed this life September 1, 1858, aged 43 years. May they Rest in Peace.”

ireland-sept-6-36-achonry-cathedral-john-brett

The headstone for Patrick’s son John (1822-1907) and his wife Cecelia Brett (1838-1913) stands just a few feet away. The genealogical theorist in me thinks it would make perfect sense if Patrick and his wife Eliza Craven were buried somewhere nearby. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry are among their neighbours.

I think it’s very interesting that Henry of Streamstown told Ada Brett Kerr that a man named Jasper Brett had lived across from the Achonry church but that the house had completely disappeared. It’s hard to say what “across from the church” means because the church is at the end of a dead-end road. But there is a farm property along the lane leading to the church and these very curious occupants.

ireland-sept-6-49-achonry-cathedral-road-to-cemetery-donkeys

I hope to share more information about the Bretts in Ireland in a future post.

If you have questions or information you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

4 thoughts on “Ancestral Grave Hunting • Ireland • September 2016”

  1. Sounds like an exiting journey ,very interesting read Sharon Fowler

    From: Hanging On A Limb Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2016 8:22 PM To: sfowler51@cogeco.ca Subject: [New post] Ancestral Grave Hunting • Ireland • September 2016

    Laurie Brett posted: “It took 36 years and one failed attempt to finally realize my teenage dream of visiting Ireland, but I’ve finally done it. On August 31, my intrepid husband and I set off for Toronto and flew with Aer Lingus non-stop to Dublin. Four days later we rented a” Respond to this post by replying above this line

    New post on Hanging On A Limb

    Ancestral Grave Hunting • Ireland • September 2016 by Laurie Brett

    It took 36 years and one failed attempt to finally realize my teenage dream of visiting Ireland, but I’ve finally done it. On August 31, my intrepid husband and I set off for Toronto and flew with Aer Lingus non-stop to Dublin. Four days later we rented a car and headed off to Co. Sligo, the ancestral home of the Essex County Bretts.

    Armed with a small stack of research notes and a list of key places of importance to Brett family history, I set my expectations quite low. To my way of thinking, it was unrealistic to expect evidence of our ancestors to still exist 150 years or so later. Boy, was I wrong!

    With a full Irish breakfast in our bellies, we set out on Tuesday, September 6 to find the ancestral graveyards. Reasoning that the most recent death of interest might have the best shot at discovery, we headed off to Coolaney in search of Rathbarron Church and the grave of George Brett, the letter writer, who died in 1899.

    Family History Refresher To help with recollection, here is the condensed backgrounder:

    Our confirmed first-level ancestors were Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry, who obtained a marriage licence in 1812 from the Diocese of Killala and Achonry. Their oldest son George (the letter writer) remained in Ireland and was reported to have a large cattle farm. Another son, Patrick, flirted with emigration to the U.S. but ultimately settled back in Ireland. Eldest daughter Mary emigrated to Philadelphia. The remaining four children emigrated to Canada. Our ancestor, John, came to Canada as a young man in the early 1840s, before the potato famine of 1845. He made the voyage with his sisters Cecelia and Catharine. Sister Jane appears to have immigrated to Canada earlier and settled in the Ottawa Valley where her three siblings initially joined her. Now back to the graveyards…

    Rathbarron Church (United Dioceses of Tuam, Killala & Achonry) How excited were we to find Rathbarron Church, an active church with a well-populated graveyard! The ground that day was wet with morning dew and our feet were quickly soaked. Art started on one side of the graveyard and I on the other. Eventually we met in the middle but neither of us could report any success. As we stood at a family plot pondering the unusual trees surrounding the site, Arthur spotted the name Brett on the stone right in front of us. Very difficult to read today, the inscription has been recorded in a series of volumes available at the Sligo County Library. Many thanks to Bill McGee as well for making the Brett family inscriptions available at http://www3.sympatico.ca/wfmcgee/Brett/

    George Brett’s Tombstone Inscription “In Memory of Isabella Brett of Cornabbey died 23rd April 1887. Also George Brett 12th May 1899. Catherine their daughter died 2nd Jan 1917, Robert, their son of Thornhill died 14th June 1918. He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live.”

    The stone is set within a family plot with a stone border and appears to contain six plots. A second headstone in the plot is for George and Isabella’s son John and says: “Sacred to the Memory of John Brett of Cornabbey 13 Dec 1925, 65 years. Dearly beloved husband of Jeanie M. Brett.”

    Having found George Brett and being delighted with our success, we lingered a while for photos (because everything is scenic in Ireland!) and then embarked on our search for Achonry Cathedral.

    Achonry Cathedral Signage in Ireland is simple and plentiful. When GPS fails, you can generally count on a visual scan of the environment to set you on the right course.

    So it was with Achonry Cathedral.

    Achonry Cathedral is a de-commissioned church with three adjoining graveyards and an old stone arch from a previous church building.

    The newest yard was easy to navigate and contains at least seven Brett headstones, all within close proximity of each other, including Henry of Streamstown (1866-1947).

  2. Quote “and says: “Sacred to the Memory of John Brett of Cornabbey 13 Dec 1925, 65 years. Dearly beloved husband of Jeanie M. Brett.” I believe that Jeannie Brett was my aunt (Jeannie Kerr Taylor) and her granddaughter lives in Wales. her Mother was Joan Brett before she married.

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