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When Deborah Davis contacted Ireland Reaching Out she had a last minute request - she was coming to Donegal within a week and was hoping to find out more about her ancestors. Deborah's great-great great-grandfather was Anthony Dunnion who left Donegal in the early 1860s with his wife Mary Duffy. She believes that she is a descendent of the Dunnion family, who are likely buried in the RC church at Tamney. 

Deborah Davis at the door of the old homestead 2015

Picture: Traditional Farmers Cottage, Portsalon, Fanad (Mid-late 1800s). On right, Deborah Davies in Donegal in 2015

The parish of Clondavaddog is located in north-west coast of Donegal and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the greater peninsula of Fanad. In 1837 Samuel Lewis described the parish as ‘part occupied by mountains’ with ‘deep and narrow vales’. The soil was described as ‘tolerably good’ though many acres had been destroyed by the encroaching sand.

Traditional Farmers Cottage, Portsalon, Fanad  (Mid-Late 1800's)Fanad in Donegal in 1800s

Pictures: In the 1800s Fanad was a profoundly rural place dotted with thatched cottages and stone walls 

Ireland Reaching Out Volunteer, Seamus Callaghan connected with Deborah through the Clondavaddog Message Board on the Ireland XO website. He provided her with entries recorded on the Tithe Applotment and Griffith's Valuation as well as maps and very clear directions to three plots of land owned by the Dunnions in the 1850s. He also helpfully gave a list of the townlands, census records, genealogical sources and a guide to research along with some photos. Seamus is from the small village of Kerrykeel and is the local volunteer for the parish of Clondavaddog.

Seamus also provided some background information about the Dunnions. Having researched the family, Seamus found that while there were very few Dunnion/Durning families in the parish, those who did live in the area stayed in close proximity to each other, leading him to suspect that they were all closely related. He ascertained that the family probably came originally from the Magherawarden area of Fanad, as there was only one reference found for the Dunnion name (or variations of the name) in the Tithe Applotment Books in 1834.  

In 1858 a Bridget Dunnion was recorded in the Griffith’s Valuation in Magherawarden. Around the same time a Daniel Dunnion settled in the area and raised a family. Seamus believed that this was possibly the primary location where future generations of the family originated.

In order to help Deborah further, Seamus provided exact directions from Letterkenny to Kerrykeel and Fanad so that Deborah could begin her journey to Donegal. Without this guidance, Deborah says she would "never have found the land that our ancestors had owned and worked. I can't tell you how much it means to me. We had a beautiful experience…”

On arriving in the parish of Clondavaddog Deborah followed Seamus' directions and met a local farmer who allowed her to walk into the land and see an old cottage where her ancestors would have lived. “It was beyond amazing and deeply moving to be there and to think of them. Without the Griffith Valuation maps we never would have found the land, which today is still wild. Thank you so very much for interpreting the maps for us. When I viewed them online on my computer before I left, I couldn't make out any of the words!”

Picture: Tamney Church where Deborah's GGG Grandparents were married in 1859

Chruch where Anthony Dunnion and Mary Duffy were married

Deborah spent two days exploring the area. On her second day she tracked down the only church where Anthony and Mary could have possibly been married, in Tamney. There she met the Parish Priest who invited her into his house. He later took out the original handwritten records from 1859 of the couple's marriage. Unbelievably, Deborah happened to be there holding the documents 156 years to the day of their marriage! Deborah was also invited for tea – “we spent over an hour looking through that old record.”

Picture: Entry for Anthony and Mary in the Clondavaddog parish register 27th October 1859 (courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)

On her arrival home to Colorado Seamus provided additional genealogical information to prove the connection to Bridget Dunnion, Deborah's great-great-great-great grandmother! Deborah can now be 100% sure that Bridget and Daniel are her ancestors. As a result of Seamus' work Deborah has also been able to make a connection to another direct branch of the Dunnion family from Magherawarden living in the US - "we had always wondered if and how we were related, and now we know. My great-great-great Grandfather Anthony and their great-great-great grandfather Hugh were brothers". Deborah fell in love with Donegal and with the Fanad area. “We had a fantastic time in Donegal, including a Steak and Mushroom pie in Portsalon washed down with Guinness - the most delicious Guinness I have ever had, creamy and smooth! We love Fanad so much, especially for its wildness. We also had a chance to walk around the Portsalon Beach and the Fanad Lighthouse. Gorgeous.”

Picture: Deborah Magherawarden, County Donegal.

For both Deborah and Seamus this has been a wonderful experience. Deborah has made a real connection with the parish and a real friendship with Ireland XO’s Seamus Callaghan. For his part, Seamus remarked that “it is clear how important the work Ireland XO is doing every day and have been doing for so many families down through the years. I am definitely going to keep in contact with Deborah and together we can strengthen the Durning or Dunnion connection.  I know the McElwaine, Durning family in Pennsylvannia are also very interested.”

Speaking of her experience after returning to the USA, Deborah  said “I'm so grateful to Ireland Reaching Out. I was telling Seamus, that I never occurred to me to think of it that way around. It was always us here in America reaching out to Ireland - a mysterious connection that would never be clarified. My dream would be to find living relatives there. Many many thanks for taking me so far on this journey back in time.”

Like all Ireland XO volunteers, Seamus generously gives his knowledge and assistance for free.  For Ireland XO volunteers it is all about helping people find their Irish roots, seeing the tears in their eyes when they stand in the houses and on the land of their forbearers - a tremendously emotional experience and a privilege to be part of.  Returning members of the Irish diaspora often turn out to be blood relations of a volunteer – they just have to figure out the connection!  Sharing Ireland with its people abroad, and helping them to reconnect with the same community that their ancestors left so many years ago is a very rewarding, and enjoyable thing to do.

If you or someone you know is planning a trip to Ireland to discover more about your Irish ancestry, please let us know by posting a message on our message boards or by contacting us directly by emailing We'd be delighted to try and help you discover more about your family history and if possible, have a volunteer show you around your ancestral place of origin.

Do you have information about Ancestors from this place? Visit the XO Chronicles to see who has been already added to our parish-based database.


We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference. 

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