3: Hang Loose in
1991 Visit to Ballinasloe, Nearby Graveyards with Unreadable Tombstones
July 30-Aug. 11, 1991
By LEWIS NOLAN
Thursday, Aug. 2, 1991
– Visit to Ancestral Town of Ballinasloe,
My genealogical quest ran into yet another dead-end today, to my great disappointment. I had hoped to get a lead by finding the burial sites of my great-grandparents Matthew and his wife Honora (also spelled Honoria in some records) Nolan.
But I could find nary a trace of them despite tramping
around several very old cemeteries in and near Ballinasloe, a location in
Traveling with my wife, Betty, and namesake son, Casey Lewis Earle Nolan, on this trip, we happily found that while genealogy search efforts failed, there was a fair amount of compensation offered by the delight of driving through the rolling countryside and encountering the genuine warmth of the Irish people. Several individuals we struck up conversations with after identifying ourselves as Americans trying to find information about my long-gone “relations” tried hard to be helpful. Nobody shrugged off our questions.
After this and more research that will be detailed in this
and other segments of my travel account, I basically concluded that the Nolan
line from which I sprung has disappeared in
The sketchy records I found during a 10-year research
project indicated that the parents of Andrew and John were the aforementioned
Matthew and Honora of Ireland. The fruits as well as some of the
disappointments of my research project are detailed in my 664-page book,
“Nolan-Miller Family History.” Several of the leading genealogy collections in
major libraries in the
Information passed down the family tree in the United States, based on what my late father Lewis Earle Nolan, M.D., had shared with me that he had been told by his father, firmly established the identify of Andrew and John Nolan and opened the door to many findings about their families and their lives.
My first stop in this genealogical research trip that tried
to further open the family curtain was at the Parish office of the Roman
Catholic Church in
Father Flannigan, who was home in Ballinasloe for a holiday from his church posting in Birmingham, England, was a friendly and kind man who arranged for the Ballinasloe Parish Sacristan (named Christy) to provide keys to the St. Michael’s vault of old church records. We walked several hundred yards from the Parrish office to the church, where the vault was opened so I could examine several, hand-written baptismal record books that date to 1821.
We went through all the Nolan names in the Index, but could not find a mention of a Matthew or an Honora from 1821 to 1842. Those years were the ones that seemed offered the most likely periods to search for a possible baptism of their children.
We did find a record mentioning a John Nolan baptized March 21, 1826. His parents were Bryan and Cathleen Nolan. Also, there were several children baptized whose parents were a James Nolan and Mary Smith Nolan who possibly could have been related to Matthew and Honora Nolan.
I had found the names of Matthew and Honora mentioned as Andrew Nolan’s parents. Andrew, older brother of my great-grandfather John Nolan, had included a copy of a marriage license of his parents in papers on file pertaining to his application for a U.S. Civil War Pension.
Father Flannigan explained to me that Parish burial records
were not kept until late in the 19th Century. He suggested that
Roman Catholics of the early 19th Century were buried in a cemetery
located about one mile from the St. Michael’s Church. The old cemetery is near
what is now a state mental hospital. Some burials of that period were also made
in a very old ground called
We followed his directions and drove several miles outside Ballinasloe, passing the modern Cross Pen factory (manufacturer of my favorite writing instruments), over a railroad bridge and up a country lane where we finally found the ancient cemetery up a hill. Some of the very old tombstones were completely covered with a moss-like vegetation. Only a few had inscriptions that were readable. I surmise that the stone used was a soft limestone because even the grave-markers from the early 1900s were badly weathered and quite hard to read.
We poked around the old stones but found no Nolan names on any of the about 200 stones we examined. Unlike with other visits to cemeteries with known Nolan graves, I didn’t experience any spooky feelings and concluded that this was not one of my ancestors’ resting places.
We also looked at the readable tombstones in the old Roman
Catholic Cemetery in Ballinasloe. Sadly, the conditions were not conducive for
my research since most of the graves were overgrown with vegetation and the
stones unreadable. It seemed obvious that the cemeteries of
He said he could not recall ever seeing the Nolan name on a tombstone in the cemetery, but offered that a relative of his – by the name of Nellie Nolan – had died long ago and had been buried there.
The Roman Catholic cemeteries we visited had only occasional
tidy plots amid the masses of overgrown graves and weathered tombstones. We
were told the ones that look as well kept as those in modern
Americans pulled as I was by an urge to “make connection”
with their Irish ancestors should be forewarned not to expect too much when
they travel to
About the only headway I made on my genealogical quest to
Ballinasloe came when Father Flannigan told me about how Roman Catholic, Irish
children of the mid-19th Century were largely denied education. The
Brits are achingly remembered by those passionate about their Irish heritage
for the English measures to stamp out the native Irish language (a form of
Celtic that survives today in the thinly populated, extreme southwest part of
Father Flannigan told us that some Irish children were taught in what were called “Hedge Schools,” outdoor places of instruction out of sight of the English official eyes.
We also followed up on a lead that the early Nolans may have
farmed some land near the
A 60-year-old man, proprietor of a Texaco gas station which was the cleanest I’ve ever seen in that global brand, said he had lived his entire life in Portumna but had never known a Nolan to live in the area. He referred me to Father P. K. Egan, a local Parish priest known to be the area’s leading local historian. I knocked on Egan’s door, but no one answered. I went ahead and visited the village church. There, just in case there in fact was a Nolan connection to the village I couldn’t trace, I lighted a few candles (costing 5 pence each with proceeds going to a good cause) in memory of the couple I believe to have been my great-grandparents, Matthew and Honora Nolan and their many relatives unknown to me
I also took a quick stroll through the adjacent church cemetery. But as with the cemeteries visited early, the old gravestones were so weathered as to be unreadable.
Back in the sizeable town of
I learned that in Ballinasloe, ancestral seat of the Nolans
in the 19th Century, the town didn’t start recording burials until
1885, when it was even then largely confined to church Parish records. That
date was probably well after my –great-great-grandparents Matthew and Honora
Nolan died; their names are not in the records. However, there were notations
made for several John Nolans, the name of my great-grandfather who emigrated to
Thursday, Aug. 2, 1991
– Visit to Ancestral Town of Ballinasloe,
After getting to Ballinasloe, we made it to the Presbytery
(church administration offices) and were able to get someone to contact a
priest to the town’s big Roman Catholic Church, St. Michael’s. It turned out
that Father Joe Flanagan was home on holiday from his work in
We went to the old
On the drive back to
It is now raining at 9 p.m. and still daylight. Tomorrow, we
leave for the long drive to Killarney to the south. We plan to stop at Lisdoonvarna in the wildish, burren
area of limestone field formations and also at one of the greatest scenic