A 'Leap' of faith and long lost cousins united

Wednesday, 24 February, 2016
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Bob Teehan knew that his ancestors were from Ireland but it wasn’t until he began searching in earnest in 1980 that he found out “his people” were from Co. Offaly. Armed with a handful of dates and names, and a strong desire to discover more, Bob contacted Ireland Reaching Out to see if we could further his search.  Here, Bob talks about his experience of connecting with family for the very first time and standing with them in the halls of Leap Castle - home to a plethera of devious deeds and one of the most haunted places in Ireland! 

Leap Castle County Offaly Ireland

Above picture: The cousins pose for a photo on the steps of Leap Castle in County Offaly

Making the connection

While researching their ancestral history in the United States, Bob and his family discovered that their Irish ancestors had entered the United States through the Castle Garden immigration center in New York City in 1883. Bob managed to located the passenger list and found eight members of the family recorded there.  They left Queenstown (Cobh) for the USA on the USS Wisconsin on June 19, 1883.  Soon afterwards, they settled in St. Louis, Missouri, the city of Bob’s birth.

"While the explosion of accessible genealogical data on the internet aided us greatly in our searches, finding specific data about our family eluded us."

In order to find out as much as he could, Bob hired a researcher who provided some further information including the marriage date for his great grandparents and the christening information for all six children. They were all christened in Kilcolman Parish in County Offaly.  In addition, the researcher found information on his great grandmother’s siblings and parents.  

Bob and Linda Teehan

In 2013 while Bob was researching his upcoming trip to Ireland for the following summer, he came across the Ireland Reaching Out website and decided to post the following message:

"I am interested in connecting with Teehan and Leonard families in County Offaly and Kilcolman Parish.  These families came from the townlands of Ballinlough, Monafadda and Loughwheelion.  My grandfather emigrated from Ireland at 6 years of age in 1883 on the USS Wisconsin out of Queenstown (Cobh).  He came with his parents and 5 siblings through Castle Garden in New York City.  They settled in St, Louis, Missouri within a very short time of arrival in the United States.  My grandfather was John Tehan.  His parents were Martin Tehan and Winifred Leonard.  They are interred in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.  The monument reads “Natives of Kings County (County, Offaly) Ireland."

A short time later he received a response from Margaret (nee Teehan) Hensey, the Ireland XO Kilcolman Volunteer.  She related the history of her family and Bob provided an updated of everything he knew.  

“At that time we thought that our great-grandfathers might have been brothers.  We then started corresponding by e-mail and exchanged notes about our families. With her aid I was able to put together a power point with areas of interest in County Offaly and specific details of Coolderry and nearby townlands. I presented this information to my son, brothers and cousins and filled them in on the contact that we had made. Needless to say they were all excited about this new information”.

The trip 'home'

After exchanging numerous e-mails both felt that there truly was a family connection. Margaret aided them in planning their itinerary and provided many helpful travel hints in order to make their travel and communication in the UK and Ireland more comfortable.  Bob had an opportunity to meet up with Margaret and her family and spend time with them during their visit to Ireland.

"When we arrived in Ireland, coming into Dublin Bay on June 10th, Margaret had texted a welcome message, 'Cead mile failte go Eireann!'  We knew that this trip was going to be special. We were very excited about seeing Ireland for the first time.”

Margaret’s sister-in-law, Sarah Teehan went to meet their visitors as they arrived in Ireland.

“Sarah went above and beyond our expectations in order to welcome us at Dublin Port. We talked about family, connections and the city of Dublin. As we rode towards our hotel she pointed out some of the sights in the city. This was our first meeting with potential relatives. We were overwhelmed by her warmth and received the same welcome when we finally made it inland to Kilcolman in County Offaly. Margaret met us with a smile and open arms. We were also greeted by her husband Brian. She made sure to let us know that this was our home away from home”.  

One of the first things Bob did in the land of his ancestors was to visit Leap Castle with Margaret and her family. This imposing building was erected by the O'Carrolls in 1250 and is notorious for being the most haunted place in Ireland. Whilst there, they met the owner Sean who filled them in on the Castles gruesome past.

Leap Castle in County Offaly

Leap Castle in County Offaly

"Later in the evening we attended the Rock Mass at Gurteenshingaun in Dunkerrin Parish walking about 1 ½ miles into the woods and up the hill. A stone marker indicated the site of where masses were performed at the rock outcrop during the penal times. The Mass and dedication ceremony was emotional, especially when asked to pray for the people persecuted in the past for their beliefs.  Thanks to Margaret, we were involved with local history and something that my ancestors may have experienced.”  

Ceremony at the Mass Rock in Gureenshingaun, Parish of Dunkerrin

Margaret took the family to Fancroft Cemetery which used to be in the parish of Seir Keeran and has not been used for approximately 100 years.  She knew that Cornelius Tehan was buried there and it is surmised that many of the joint relatives were buried there too.  Unfortunately, the gravestones are so old and weathered that they are unreadable. They also attended Mass at St Ita’s church in (Kilcolman Parish) Coolderry where all six of Martin and Winifred Tehan’s children were baptised.

Fancroft Graveyard in County Offaly

Fancroft Ceremony

From Margaret’s backyard, Bob could see the green fields with the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the distance.

“What was exciting was staying on the farm where my great grandfather probably lived.  It is such a beautiful place that I can only wonder why Martin Tehan along with his wife and six children took the risky passage to the United States and ended up in the center of the country. Perhaps, it was because the farm could not support all the families or the economy was such that the future for all the children was bleak in Ireland.  I came to find out that there were famines all the way up to the 1920s.  Also, I am sure they had family or friends that lived in St. Louis that were successful and encouraged them to emigrate.  Unfortunately, anyone that knows those answers is now deceased.  The best we can do now is attempt to gather more information and perhaps someday come closer to answering these questions.  At any rate, we can continue on and make sure that our families in the USA and Ireland get to know each other better.”

Walking in the Slieve Blooom Mountains in County Offaly

Walking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains

An everlasting bond

Bob has spoke about the new connection he and Margaret have made.

"This trip and contacting Margaret and Brian was a blessing. We had no idea that these family branches existed. We discovered that not only could our great grandfathers be brothers, but that our great grandmothers may have been sisters.  In addition, we found out that two of my cousins who are now deceased visited Margaret’s relatives in the 1960s. Their mother was Anne Rodgers (nee Tehan) who was my grandfather’s sister. I believe that she was named for Anne Tehan (nee Leonard) the sister of my great grandmother Winifred Tehan (nee Leonard). We will now work on the paper trail to substantiate this connection. We believe that there are too many coincidences and that we are indeed related. I now know that I have a rather large number of relatives living in this part of Ireland. Margaret, Brian and Paul were very gracious hosts and made us feel very welcome. We were sure glad that they were available to show us some of the sights and more importantly, where my ancestors would have lived. We were able to meet Margaret’s brother John Tehan who showed us the original homestead that was probably built around 1845.

I have to say that everyone that we talked to or had dealings with in Ireland was very pleasant and helpful. Will we visit again? I would say that we can’t wait until we have an opportunity to visit Ireland again. We did not feel like we were in a foreign country. It felt more like home to us. In the meantime, we will continue to search records and keep in contact with our Irish family. Special thanks to Margaret, Brian and Paul for making this a truly special and memorable trip. Leaving Ireland was bittersweet for us, not only did we feel sadness but also elation that we had visited the Ireland that my ancestors left. The most exhilarating portion of this trip was reconnecting with family.   

We are extremely grateful that the Ireland XO website exists. This venue was very instrumental in connecting our American and Irish families. Thank you to everyone that makes this website possible. We hope that this article encourages others to look for their Irish connections.

Slan Leat

Robert (Bob) Tehan & Linda Quinlivan"