Nell Gilligan was born in Knockans Lower in Carran Parish, Co. Clare, in 1879.
The daughter of Michael Gilligan and Bridget McGann, she was baptized at Corofin on 5 October 1879.
She and her sisters emigrated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in sequence, each one sending money home for the next one's passage. She followed her older sister Molly, and after her came Kitty and Norah. Her brothers Patrick and James, and the youngest sister, Eliza, stayed behind.
When she arrived in Cambridge, Nell first went to live with her aunt and godmother, Mary McGann Dillon.
On 3 April 1904 she married Austin Grady from Lisdoonvarna and Ennistymon, the younger brother of her sister Molly's husband Peter. Nell and Austin bought a triple-decker house in East Cambridge, where Nell opened and operated a grocery store on the first floor.
They had nine children: George, Leo, Mary, Eleanor, James, Catherine, Dorothy, Margaret, and Gertrude. In the early 1940s the family moved to the near suburb of Belmont, MA, where Nell lived until her death in 1975.