Jeannie Lewis contacted Ireland Reaching Out in 2016 looking to find out more about her Great Great Grandfather John O'Connor, from County Limerick in the west of Ireland. In the 18 months that followed, from knowing little or nothing about his life to being able to visit the former family homestead in Kilscannell, three generations of the descendants of John O'Connor reconnected with their place of origin on two separate visits to Ireland.
Picture Above: Jeanie, Brad, Matt and Paddy Lewis with Seamus Callaghan and Mary Kury at the O'Connor Homestead in Kilscannell
Jeannie Lewis, from Chicago tells us about reconnecting with Limerick with the help of local Ireland Reaching Out Volunteers:
My Ireland Reaching Out story begins way back in March 1867 when my great great grandfather, John H O’Connor, left the Ardagh area after his participated in the Fenian Rising of that spring. He fled immediately to Chicago where he settled and joined the Chicago police force. My family knew nothing of him or his Fenian connections until a genealogist at the Irish American Heritage Center on the northwest side of Chicago uncovered this information. John H O’Connor had an entry in Chicago Irish Families, 1875-1925. And with that the trail went cold until I posted an inquiry on IrelandXO about eighteen months ago. I was not certain what to expect and what I got was the gift of my history.
Picture Above: Art and Eileen O'Connor with Mary Kury the RIC Barracks in Ardagh Village
IrelandXO volunteer Seamus Callaghan answered my inquiry. He began searching through local baptism records and found the baptismal record for John H at St Moula’s Church in Ardagh. From there, Seamus learned that John H’s parents were Thomas O’Connor and Maria Colman, my great great great grandparents. But Seamus was not finished working on my family research. He contacted Ardagh historian Mary Kury from the St Kierans Heritage Association. Together they tracked down the land and house owned by Thomas O’Connor. I was stunned.
My parents visited Ardagh in September 2017, and I visited with my husband and two sons in June 2018. Seamus and Mary contacted the current owners of the former O’Connor home and arranged for my parents and my family to visit on our separate trips to Ireland. So visit we did! Not only did Seamus and Mary show us the house of our great great great grandparents, Mary showed us the constabulary targeted by John H and the other Fenians in 1867. Mary and Seamus helped us retrace the steps of the Fenians. Mary also explained the whole Fenian plan, and we imagined our great great grandfather on that March night.
Picture Above: Jeanie, Brad, Matt and Paddy Lewis at the RIC Barracks in Ardagh Village.
I am so thankful to IrelandXO volunteers Seamus Callaghan and Mary Kury. Our Ireland heritage experience was only possible because of their knowledge, their determination to reconnect a family whose ancestor left Ardagh 151 years ago, and their generosity of time. And the best part of this IrelandXO adventure? We did not just find our O’Connor family but we have two new friends in Ardagh-Mary Kury and Seamus Callaghan!
Ireland Reaching Out Volunteer Seamus Callaghan said: "It was an absolute pleasure for myself and Mary meeting Jeannie and her husband Brad, and sons Matt and Paddy and spending the few hours chatting, sharing stories and visiting the few locations in Ardagh and Kilscannell. We were very lucky to get such a beautiful day for it and all as it added a lot to being an enjoyable meet and greet."
If you are planning a trip to Ireland and would like to connect with a local Ireland Reaching Out Volunteer, please visit our message board, where you can tell us where you are coming to, and how you are connected to that area. We will do our best to guide you to the resources that are available locally and where possible, to meet you and help you connect with the local community.