Irish Society As Seen By An Irish-American Looking For His Background

by James Cullen Heaphy III

Although, as closely as I can calculate, I am only 5/16 Irish by ancestry, I have always thought of myself as an Irish-American. I had little special exposure to things Irish as a child, and whenever our Irish ancestry was mentioned by my father, which was rarely, it was usually with a tone of joking self-disparagement. My family name, Heaphy, is Irish although quite rare, and the frequent questions about the name probably served to reinforce an Irish identity, and also to kindle a growing curiosity about my family background and its origins in Ireland. This interest in Ireland, therefore, is primarily a personal one, rather than the result of deep family tradition and identification with the land of our ancestors.

When I got engaged to my wife, Debra, we were given a wonderful wedding present by her parents - a honeymoon trip to Israel. She is Jewish, and her parents wanted us to see the land that is so important to her people and her faith. As we explored all of the options available in connection with such a trip, we learned that we could make a stopover along the way for a nominal extra charge. Therefore, I decided that it would be well worth while to stop in Ireland for five days on the way home. The trip would allow us to explore the heritages of both husband and wife. Our main goal while in Ireland, in addition to sightseeing and relaxation, was to learn what we could about the background of the Heaphy family.

I have an aunt, Alice Patricia Heaphy, who provided me with a copy of a family tree shortly before we left for our honeymoon. This document showed that my patrilineal great-great-grandfather, John Heaphy, was born in County Clare, Ireland, in 1818, immigrated to America in the 1840's, and died in Cheyboygan, Michigan in 1893. My aunt had also sent a copy of a picture of the house where John Heaphy had lived in Ballynacally, County Clare, before emigrating to America. John Heaphy was a teacher, and it was said that from the front window of this house, he could see the island in the estuary of the Shannon River where he taught school. As a child, I remember hearing stories about how John Heaphy had tried to convert Indians to Catholicism in the wilderness of Northern Michigan after leaving Ireland. Anna Fitzgerald was his second wife, and my great-great-grandmother, but she had a common last name, and the family tree does not even show what county she was born in. Other Irish ancestors include Michael Riley of County Cavan and Patrick Carraher of Castleblaney, County Monaghan, but we decided to concentrate on the Heaphy family, since that is our family name. Also, County Cavan and County Monaghan are both very close to the border with Northern Ireland, and we had seen enough barbed wire and machine guns in the Middle East before arriving in Ireland.

About the time that Debra and I got engaged, we met a woman named Evelyn Bookle. I was giving a speech on the space program to a group of high school seniors and their parents, and Miss Bookle, a teacher at the school, came despite a bad cold, because she was so curious about the last name of the speaker. She was born in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, and she told us after my speech that there was a family named Heafey there. She suggested that we visit Thomastown if we ever traveled to Ireland. At that time, we had no idea that we would be in Ireland less than six months later.

When we arrived in Dublin, this was the only information we had about the Heaphy family background. Our travel arrangements included a rental car and vouchers to stay at bed and breakfast inns of our choice all over the country. So, in contrast to the tightly scheduled, guided tour we had in Israel and Egypt, we were free to explore at our own pace, and to rearrange our plans as we saw fit. After examining the map and reading a little of our tour guide book, we decided to drive south-west from Dublin along the coast in the general direction of Thomastown, and then north-west towards Ballynacally. Debra wanted to see the Waterford glass factory, which is fairly close to Thomastown. Beyond that, our plans were vague.

The morning after we arrived in Ireland, we battled our way through the traffic of Dublin, and drove south along the coast towards Waterford. We stopped mid-day to see the gardens at the Powerscourt estate, the desmesne of an aristocratic British family. The main house at Powerscourt has been partially destroyed by fire, but the formal gardens remain. This estate shaped the economy of the surrounding villages, much as England controlled Ireland through ownership of the land for centuries. At the giftshop of the estate, I discovered a book called "Surnames of Ireland." Of course, I immediately looked up the Heaphy name, and discovered this listing: "(O)Heaphy O hEamthaigh - This is listed a principal name in Co. Waterford in the 1659 'census' and is still found principally there." So, as we were driving towards Waterford, we accidentally discovered that my family may have originated there.

Waterford was founded as a fortified seaport town by the Scandinavian pirates and traders known as the Danes in 853 A.D. In 1003, Reginald McIvor, the Danish governor of Waterford, built a fortified tower 46 feet in diameter and 54 feet high, which still stands as the most prominent antiquity in the town, and is now the site of the local historical museum. Waterford played a key role in the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. Diarmuid MacMurrogh, the Ri-Mor or clan chief of Laighin, got into a feud with other clan leaders and was deposed from his office. He fled to England, swore fealty to Henry II, King of England, and gained permission to raise an army to return to power. Diarmuid recruited a group of gangsters and thugs from Wales, France and Flanders under the leadership of the bastard sons of various Norman lords, and invaded Ireland, quickly capturing Waterford and looting Dublin. Grateful for his return to power, he married off his daughter, Eva, to Strongbow, the leading mercenary chief, and proclaimed himself Ard-Ri, or king of Ireland. The marriage of Strongbow and Eva took place in Reginald's Tower in Waterford. Shortly thereafter, Diarmuid died, and Strongbow claimed the throne. This was not at all what Henry II wanted, so he invaded Ireland, beginning 800 years of English domination of the Irish.

Waterford put up notable resistance to the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell, which invaded Ireland in 1649 following the English Revolution and the execution of King Charles I. Charles had relied heavily upon Irish support in the civil war, and Ireland was severely punished by Cromwell as a result. Some accounts say that Cromwell was forced to abandon his siege of Waterford, but in any event, Waterford fell to Cromwell's assistant, Henry Ireton, a year later in 1650.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Waterford was famous for the manufacture of fine glassware. In 1825, however, the English imposed punitive excise duties on Irish glass, and the industry gradually declined, and died out by 1851. It was not until 1947 that the Waterford glass factory was re-established after a century of idleness.

Debra and I toured the Waterford glass factory, where craftsmen study for eight years before becoming master glassblowers, cutters, polishers, and engravers. Many of the workers openly displayed posters sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army and opposing conditions in the H-Block prison in Northern Ireland where many IRA members are held. We were to see support for the prisoners all across Ireland.

According to the phone book, there are no Heaphys left in County Waterford. Only a dozen Heaphys are listed in all of Ireland, so the name is as rare there as it is in the United States. We left Waterford without learning anything more about the history of the Heaphy family there, but with a strong feeling about the sort of city that my ancestors of over 300 years ago probably lived in.

We then drove about 15 miles north to Thomastown in County Kilkenny. From the pay phone of a local pub, I called the number listed for Daniel Heafey in Thomastown. A woman answered who identified herself as Annie Heafey. After I introduced myself and explained why I had called, she invited us over for tea.

Annie Heafey, a friendly woman of perhaps 60, is the widow of Daniel Heafey. Her husband, who was a blacksmith, died several years ago. She lives in a neat, modern little house not far from the center of the town. When we sat down to talk to her, the first thing we discussed was the difference in the spelling of our names. She said that she thought that the family name had been spelled Heaphy in the past, and said that she occasionally received mail with the name spelled that way. Her husband's male ancestors had been blacksmiths for several generations, also, and had come to Thomastown from County Tipperary around the time of the potato famine nearly 150 years ago. Her husband's livelihood, and that of his ancestors, was largely dependent on a large English-owned estate in the area. She knew nothing of any family ties to the Waterford area.

Mrs. Heafey is a seemingly-devout Catholic, with a colorful framed certificate of blessing from one of the popes on her living room wall. However, during a conversation about our recent visit to Jerusalem, she made a revealing comment. I mentioned that, while in Jerusalem, we had visited two different places alleged to be the tomb where Jesus Christ was buried - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. After briefly discussing the different views of the different Christian denominations on the issue of where Christ was buried, I was surprised to hear here comment that sometimes she wondered whether the crucifixion and resurrection had ever really happened, or whether these events were only mythical. Perhaps her faith is not as deep as one might think from the open display of religious artifacts which is so common in Ireland. We left Annie Heafey's home feeling that we had made a new friend, and agreeing that it was nice to imagine that we were distantly related, even if it was impossible to say so for sure.

We drove west through central Ireland, passing through Cashel, Tipperary and Limerick on the way to John Heaphy's home town in County Clare. We spent that night in Ennis, the nearest town of any size to the village of Ballynacally, which is so small that it does not appear on most maps. The next day, we drove towards Ballynacally, stopping at the parish church on the outreaches of the village. The current church was built in the 1860's, long after my ancestor left the area. We went to the rectory, and asked to speak to the parish priest.

We were lucky that he was in and willing to spend some time talking with us. He was a florid, middle aged fellow, pretty much exactly what I would have expected for an Irish priest. When we explained our goals, he informed us that the parish records only went back as far as 1849, but he willingly pulled out the yellowed volumes of baptisms and marriages, and scanned through the earliest years. He found no traces of the Heaphy family's participation in that parish during 1849 or the 1850's. However, he did say that he thought that Heaphys did live in Ballynacally in recent years. He referred us to Catherine Daley, who operated the pub in the center of the village. He thought that she had been a friend of the Heaphy family, and would know about them. He directed us to the pub, which was not at all hard to find, since it was the only one there, and was right next to the only gasoline pump around, and across the street from a hand water pump.

We entered Daley's Pub with a little shyness at about 11:00 a.m. Although it seemed pretty early in the morning, we ordered a couple pints of beer, and asked the woman behind the bar if she was Catherine Daley. She was, and then we asked if she knew the Heaphy family. She did. When we said that we were Heaphys from the United States, and that our great-great grandfather had lived in Ballynacally, there was much amazement from Mrs. Daley, and a man who appeared to be working in the pub. Mrs. Daley had known the Heaphy sisters, who were schoolteachers in the town, and the man's mother had been a good friend of theirs. He immediately ran off to talk with his elderly mother, who was too sick to receive visitors, and returned with some vague recollections difficult to understand in his heavy Irish brogue. These good people informed us that there were no Heaphys left alive in Ballynacally, but one suggestion was that we go take a look in the graveyard of the old church to the north of town a quarter of a mile.

The old church, abandoned for 120 years or more, stand isolated outside the village, surrounded by the graveyard. There are now graves within the walls of the church structure, which stands roofless, filled with wild plant growth. The United Parishes of Kilchreest and Clondegad was built in the late 10th century, we were later to learn. The building is 77 feet long and 25 feet wide, and maintains a desolate beauty after 900 years, despite its miserable condition. We were not able to learn how long ago the roof fell in, but it is a fact of Irish history that the English suppressed the Catholic Church for several hundred years, and that masses were performed in the bush. So, it is quite possible that this building has not served as a place of worship for many hundred years. Despite this, there are hundreds of 19th and 20th century graves around and within it.

After examining the majority of the headstones in the cemetery, we finally discovered evidence of the Heaphys. The single headstone read:
DIED AUGUST 21, 1889

Certainly not a wealth of information, but my aunt who has researched the family tree has discovered that John Heaphy had a son named Robert Heaphy who was drowned, probably in a lumbering accident, in Burt, Michigan in 1877. It is impossible to tell, based on what we know now, what the relationship was between John Heaphy and his son Robert, and these two Robert Heaphys, presumably father and son, in Ballynacally. It is possible, I suppose, that the Robert Heaphy who drowned in Michigan, and who was my great-great-uncle, may have bought a grave plot in his town of birth, and that his son returned to Ireland and died there 12 years later. Or perhaps they were more distant relatives. Only additional research would allow us to do more than speculate.

We returned to the village to take a look at the house that John Heaphy had lived in. The folks in the pub told us that it was standing empty since the Heaphy sisters had died. We walked by, and took a few pictures. As we got ready to return to our car and leave, an old woman came out into the porch of the adjacent house. I called out to her, asking if she had known the Heaphys. She muttered a bit, and went inside to get a friend. As it turned out, she is deaf, as is my wife. She came outside again with her friend to help her communicate, and they invited us inside as soon as they heard who we were.

Margaret McMahon had known the Heaphy family for many years. She and the woman who helped her, and a gentleman friend who was visiting there with them, told us many little stories about the family. It seemed that most of the Heaphys they knew of had been school teachers, and, apparently they were not inclined towards marriage, since they had died childless. These old folks were generous with their liquor even though the hour was early. Mrs. McMahon had saved, through the years, prayer cards which had been distributed at the funerals of many friends and acquaintances. Among these cards, which she filed through, telling stories inspired by the memories stirred up, were five or six bearing the Heaphy name. The precise details of the family relationships were not always clear, though.

A wonderful find was the original, typewritten manuscript of a paper on the history of Ballynacally, which a local fellow had written at college back in Dublin, and then left for the ladies to read. This paper made the following reference to the Heaphy family: "Ballynacally in this century has produced more than its fair share of men of learning. The Heaphy family is one example. The first Mr. Heaphy was a teacher to the Balls and the Henns. He was also the first 'National Teacher' in the old school. He had twelve children and eight of these became teachers, three in Ballynacally itself, and the rest throughout the country." It was also by reading this paper that we learned the history of the old parish church. The reference to "the Balls and the Henns" became clear later in the paper, and through discussion with Margaret McMahon and her friends. These were two English landlord families who owned large estates in the Ballynacally area. One of these families had a benevolent reputation, while the other tended to be harsh on their tenants. During the Anglo-Irish War of 1919 to 1921, when Ireland was struggling for independence, ruthless irregular warfare swept across the island. England sent in special military units known as the "Black and Tans" in an unsuccessful attempt to exterminate Irish nationalism. The poor Irishmen retaliated with whatever means were available, and in the Ballynacally area, much damage was done to the properties of the hated English landlords.

In Ballynacally, as at Powerscourt and in Thomastown, we encountered evidence of the enormous weight of English dominance upon the development of Irish society.

After only a few hours in Ballynacally, or Baile Na Cailli, as we learned it is spelled in Gaelic, we had to begin the long drive back to Dublin and our flight home. There is certainly much more to learn about the origins of the Heaphy family in County Clare, and perhaps other parts of Ireland as well, but we had only a little time, and we had to move on.

Between Ennis and Limerick, we visited Bunratty Castle, which has been fully restored to its 15th century condition. Although three earlier castles, the first of which dates back to 1251 A.D., occupied the site, the current building was constructed by O'Brien in 1425 A.D. It is claimed that William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was here as a baby in 1646, while his father, an admiral, resisted a siege of the castle during the English Civil War. The castle is now furnished and decorated as it would have been in the 15th century, and it is very impressive to walk and climb through.

In Nenagh, we visited another impressive antiquity which has not been so well maintained and restored. Little remains of Nenagh Castle except one of the massive towers that together comprised the main gatehouse to the castle, and scattered ruins. There is something quite powerful and majestic about this single castle tower which still stands, rarely visited, we judged, since the area is overgrown with weeds. Many birds nest high up in the jagged cracks between the enormous stones, and they wheeled about as we strolled around the tower.

As we approached Dublin, we saw more factories, warehouses and other signs of modern economic development. Ireland certainly has a long way to go in overcoming economic problems of many centuries' standing but progress is being made, without a doubt.

In Dublin, we visited the Guinness Brewery, which is the largest employer in the country, and toured the National Museum, which contains Irish antiquities, including a large and impressive collection of jewelry and religious ornaments, such as chalices and bishop's croziers. Also on display are weapons from many eras. We were fortunate enough to be able to again see the traveling exhibit of ancient Irish art, which we had seen in San Francisco several years before.

We then spent a few hours in the National Library, looking for additional information about the Heaphy family. We discovered a whole series of bound mimeographed volumes, one for each county, which contain census and taxation data from the early 19th century on Irish families. These books contain information from the Title Applotment Book of 1826 and Griffith's Valuation Year of 1851. I went through the book for every county, looking for evidence of the Heaphy family. According to these records, Heaphys lived in the following parishes in the early 19th century: Aghadoe Parish (civil) in Magunihy Barony near the city of Killarney; Bruis Parish in Clanwilliam Barony; Mowney Parish in Slievardagh Barony; Shanrahan Parish in Iffa and Offa Barony, all in County Tipperary; and Kilrossanty Parish - Kilmacthomas Union in Decies Without Drum Barony, and Trinity Without Parish in Waterford City, both in Waterford County. I was surprised to discover no records of the Heaphy family in County Clare at that time. One possibility is that his origins were in Tipperary or Waterford, and that the family had only been in County Clare for a brief time.

In the brief time left to us before we had to leave, I strolled around the main reading room, where all the reference books are kept, looking for any book that might mention the Heaphy family. Book after book that I examined did not mention the family at all. But then I ran across a British biographical directory published early in this century that described a branch of the Heaphy family that was totally unfamiliar to me.

There was a listing for Thomas Heaphy (1775-1835), who was the son of John Gerrard Heaphy. John had been born on a battlefield where his father was killed. His father was an English nobleman, and his mother was the daughter of an Irish clergyman named Heaphy. The couple was very young when they married, and the legality of the ceremony was contested by his parents. His wife followed him to the battlefield where he died, and the baby was given her name. John Gerrard Heaphy later married a French woman from a merchant family, and his son was Thomas. Thomas Heaphy became a renowned portrait artist, and achieved great financial success through his painting, and his later investments in London real estate. Later, he abandoned portraiture for water color scenes of fish markets, factories, and various aspects of working class life. He was the founder of the Water Colour Society. In addition, he was an inventor of mechanical devices. He had two daughters, both of whom became artists, and two sons, Thomas Heaphy (the younger), and Charles Heaphy. His son, Thomas, was also an artist. He lived from 1813 to 1875, and was very religious, and very much a Protestant. He was interested in the development of religious art, especially how Christ has been painted by various artists. He published a book on the subject, called "The Likeness of Christ; an Enquiry into the Verisimilitude of the Received Likeness of Our Blessed Lord." Thomas Heaphy spoke Italian, and traveled extensively during his research. One trip to Italy and the Vatican resulted in a conflict with the Catholic authorities, who were apparently intolerant of his Protestant opinions. This incident was the subject of one of his many magazine articles. Thomas Heaphy had many children.

Charles Heaphy (1821? - 1881), was a draughtsman who went to work for the New Zealand Company in 1839, traveling halfway around the world on the ship "Tory". Shortly after his arrival, in 1840, Charles was wounded by a native. In 1842, he wrote a book, called "Residence in Various Parts of New Zealand," which was published in London. This book described his experiences as an explorer and surveyor on roadmaking projects in the rugged mountain ranges of New Zealand. He became commissioner of the Coromandel gold field in 1852. He was Captain of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers in 1863, and was severely wounded in a native attack in 1864. Because of his distinguished service, he was promoted to Major, and was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1867. He served in the New Zealand House of Representatives from 1867 to 1870.

Although this Heaphy family is related only in a most distant fashion, if at all, this final discovery added to a lot of questions that had been building during the trip. I will only be able to answer these questions after much more research in the future.

I found it very interesting that John Gerrard Heaphy was described as the son of an Irish woman who was the daughter of a clergyman named Heaphy. I had always assumed that the Heaphy family was thoroughly Catholic. The discovery that there was a Protestant clergyman named Heaphy in Ireland in the late 17th or early 18th centuries raises the question of how the family originated in earlier days. The fact that one reference book lists a Gaelic spelling, O hEamthaigh, seems to indicate that the family is of indigenous Irish origin. Perhaps the family was, at some point, influenced to convert to Protestantism, or at least a branch of the family was.

I also find the lack of any records of the family's presence in County Clare in the early 19th century to be quite interesting. Ballynacally is not far from Tipperary, so, perhaps the family came to County Clare from County Tipperary not long before John Heaphy emigrated to America. This would reinforce the possibility of a connection to the Heafey family in Thomastown, since her husband's ancestors supposedly came from Tipperary, also.

I am also intrigued by the reference to the two Robert Heaphys, father and son, on the headstone in the graveyard of the old church in Ballynacally. I would like to know what connection they had to Robert Heaphy, the son of John Heaphy, who was the lumberman who drowned in northern Michigan in 1877. One of the funeral cards that I saw at Margaret McMahon's was for Mrs. Margaret Heaphy, who died on July 3rd, 1913 at the age of 78. She was the daughter of Robert Heaphy, according to the card, which does not add up if she was married. If she was born in 1835, perhaps her father was the brother of John Heaphy. And perhaps she was the mother of the "first Mr. Heaphy" referred to in the college student's paper, and he was the father of the schoolteachers in town who died a few years back.

I can't claim to fully understand either Ireland or my ancestry after a quick visit of not quite five days. But I certainly feel a much closer connection to my origins, and the country that many of my ancestors came from, after this trip and the research I was able to carry out. I plan to continue my research using sources in the United States in the next couple of years, and through correspondence with Ireland, and I very much hope to return to Ireland for a longer visit as soon as my wife and I can afford the trip. I would like another trip to Israel and Ireland together, perhaps, so that we can learn much more about these two very different countries, which interest me so much.
-- written in about 1982