Cousins reunited after 200 years

Maura and Frank Curley with their cousin, Bob Curley (centre) on the Curley farm in West Terre Haute, Indiana.

by Ken Kelly

A single phone call to an East Galway man from the Loughrea-based volunteer group that helps those of Irish heritage to find their roots opened up a family history that was lost for almost 200 years.

It all began in 2013 when a member of a group of American visitors picked up a leaflet in a Midlands Hotel, explaining the aims of the Loughrea-based Diaspora organisation, Ireland Reaching Out.

The visitor in question was Margaret Burk, formerly Curley, who believed her ancestors emigrated to the USA in the 1800’s from somewhere in Galway.

Armed with a few snippets of information, she contacted the Loughrea Office and established that her great-grandparents were from Clontuskert and Killimor in East Galway, and had gone to Indiana in the USA in the 1850’s.

Then a phone call to Frank Curley in Ballagh, Clontuskert seeking his help resulted in him and Margaret Burk, with her husband Don, meeting up.

They visited Clontuskert Cemetery where the gravestone inscriptions tallied with her meagre history of her ancestors.

Then further research revealed that Malachy Curley from Ballagh, Clontuskert and his wife Brigid (McClearn) from Killimor, together with their ten children – four boys and six girls – settled on a farm in Terre Haute, Indiana in the late 1850’s.

The story took an ironic twist when it was discovered that Brigid was a great-grand aunt of Frank’s wife, Maura (McClearn) also from Killimor.

Baptismal records showed that some of Malachy and Brigid’s children were baptised in Clontuskert and some in Killimor.

With the family complete, they left in stages for Indiana where Malachy’s brother Patrick and sister Anne had already gone. They set up home, got involved in farming but over the years lost touch with “their roots” and relations in Ireland.

Now this amazing family connection thrilled the American couple and they invited Frank and Maura over to Terre Haute to meet their long-lost cousins. It was an emotional trip and an even more emotional reunion.

“We couldn’t believe that after almost two centuries our cousins tracked us down. They were just as excited. We noted they kept the faith of their forefathers, were very much part of the community and are regarded as resilient,” said Frank, praising Ireland Reaching Out in helping to reunite the Curley and McClearn families.

Eager to learn more about Ireland and the areas from where their ancestors came, a group of 23 cousins travelled over to East Galway to see the family homesteads, the schools, graveyards, churches and lands where their forefathers were brought up.

They were greeted by 113 Curley/McClearn cousins at a historic family reunion, on the grounds of the old homestead where Malachy Curley was reared and they received a real Cead Mile Failte from the parishioners of Clontuskert when they attended mass, celebrated by family friend, Fr. Anthony Kelly, assisted by Parish Priest, Fr. Michael Finneran in the local church.

“It was a massive undertaking for a couple to rear ten children during the Famine years and finally settle, and continue farming in the US,” said Frank.

“It took 175 years or more to discover our relations, but cousins on both sides of the Atlantic have now vowed to make atones by communicating more frequently as well as having reciprocal visits to their kinfolk.”