South Tipperary’s enduring links with Newfoundland strengthened by Canadian group’s visit

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

Plans are being made for a significant delegation from South Tipperary to travel out to Newfoundland next autumn following the visit of 56 people from the Canadian province to the county last week to reconnect with their Irish ancestry.

The three-day visit was part of a bi-annual festival celebrating the close ties between Ireland and Canada arising from the migration and emigration of thousands of people from Tipperary and other South East counties to work in Newfoundland’s thriving fishing industry in the 18th and early 19th century. One of the highlights of the Tipperary leg of this year’s Ireland Newfoundland Connections Festival was the official launch by the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn of a book called “Tipperary Trails to Newfoundland”.

It was a subject close to the ambassador’s heart as he is a native of Newfoundland, who has traced his Irish ancestry back to Carrick-on-Suir.

The book compiled and edited by retired Carrick-on-Suir teacher Tom Nealon, who chairs Carrick-on-Suir’s Ireland/Newfoundland Committee, tells the story of emigration from Tipperary to Newfoundland through a series of essays, photographs, illustrations and historical records including a sample list of names of Tipperary people, who died in Newfoundland in the 19th century.

It is the second in a serious of books tracing the links between people from different South East counties and Newfoundland.

The book, which will be on sale in local bookstores, was launched by the ambassador at a one day conference called “Suir Valley/South East Historical Links with Newfoundland” at Kildalton Agricultural College in Piltown near Carrick-on-Suir last Wednesday, August 29.

The Newfoundlanders stayed with families in and around Carrick-on-Suir during their stay, which began last Monday, August 27.

They were officially welcomed to the county by the Co. Council Chairman Cllr John Crosse, who accorded the group a reception in County Hall in Clonmel.

After the function, the Newfoundlanders went to St Mary’s Church in Irishtown where Newfoundland’s first Catholic bishop Clonmel born Franciscan Dr James Louis O’Donnell is buried. Local historian Michael Ahern gave a talk to the group about Bishop O’Donnell, who established the Catholic church organisation in Newfoundland in 1784.

The evening concluded with a concert in St Mary’s Church featuring music from the Newfoundland group, Celtic Fiddlers, and other Newfoundland singers and musicians, Clonmel choral group, the Gordonaires and ballad group the South Tipp Ramblers as well as singers from Carrick-on-Suir.

Carrick-on-Suir Ireland Newfoundland Committee member Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan, who acted as MC at the concert, said the church was packed for the show and the festivities continued for the Newfoundlanders after it finished back in Carrick-on-Suir where they attended a singing session in O’Ceilleachain’s Bar.

On the Tuesday, the group visited the Rock of Cashel, Bru Boru and Coolmore Stud where they were thrilled to see the horse racing legend Galileo. They also did a walking tour of Fethard and dined in McCarthy’s Pub before heading back to Carrick-on-Suir for a rousing traditional music night at Power’s Bar in Tullahought.

The Suir Valley/South East Historical Links with Newfoundland conference the next day was attended by about 100 people and chaired by Carrick-on-Suir poet, writer and local historian Michael Coady.

Broadcaster Aidan O’Hara, who presented three Radharc film documentaries on the Irish in Newfoundland and archaeologist and historian Jack Burthchaell, who conducts walking tours of medieval Waterford City were the main speakers.

Among the Newfoundlanders attending the conference were retired special needs teacher Clem Dwyer and his wife Lillian from the remote coastal settlement of Tilting on Fogo Island.

Clem’s great, great, great grandfather Michael Greene was born in Carrick-on-Suir in 1792 and emigrated to Newfoundland to work in the fishing industry. He died in Tilting in 1865 and is buried in the village’s old Irish cemetery behind Clem’s home.

“His headstone is still standing and readable,” Clem told The Nationalist. “He was born in a lane at the upper end of Carrick-on-Suir’s Main Street. The only reason he settled in Tilting was to work in the fishing industry. It’s the only reason anyone would have settled there unless you were a criminal trying to escape.”

When a Carrick-on-Suir group, led by Tom Nealon, visited the village last autumn as part of Newfoundland’s “Festival of the Sea”, they laid a wreath at Michael Greene’s grave. Tom has written an article in “Tipperary Trails to Newfoundland” about that visit to Tilting.

Clem said it was only in the past few years that he began researching his family’s Irish ancestry and this was his first visit to Ireland.

“Until about 20 years ago, no one from Tilting had visited Ireland but we had this strong, incredible bond with Ireland. We kept our Irish heritage really close to our hearts through songs, stories and just being able to say we came from Ireland and are 200 to 300 years in Tilting.”

Lillian, a former Mayor of Tilting, said it was the only Irish settlement off Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula and when they visit the provincial capital of St John’s they are even mistaken for Irish people

The couple have been blown away by their visit to Ireland “It has been an unbelievable experience in a very positive way,” said Clem.

Lillian agreed. “It has been totally amazing really. It’s like a dream. We feel like relative babies as Canadians with the history and historic structures that are in Ireland.”

The couple thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Cashel and the other sites in South Tipperary the previous day but their highlight was visiting a traditional Irish cottage in Ballyduff in Co. Waterford.

The Dwyers stayed at the home of Frances Norris during their three day sojourn in the Carrick-on-Suir area last week and Frances will be travelling out to Tilting this month for the “Feile Tilting” celebration, which includes a St Patrick’s Day Parade.

The festival has also afforded South Tipperary people the opportunity to research their family connections in Newfoundland.

John Shortiss from Carrick-on-Suir travelled with the Irish delegation to Newfoundland for last year’s Festival of the Sea to research into the history of his maternal grandfather Jack Doran, who emigrated from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1920 and settled in Carrick-on-Suir. The Dorans had originally emigrated from south Kilkenny to Newfoundland between 1780 and 1830.

John, who works as a traffic warden in Carrick-on-Suir, said the reason why Jack moved to Ireland in 1920 at the age of 20 was a family mystery because at the time the country was in turmoil due to the War of Independence and the prospects for work in this country weren’t great.

“Every time I would ask him, he would say that is a story for another day. I was in the army out in the Middle East in 1980 when he died and I never got to the bottom of it and no one seems to know why he came here.”

John has written an article in “Tipperary Trails To Newfoundland” about his research into his grandfather’s family. He found the records in Newfoundland were excellent and was able to make contact with his grandfather’s family’s descendants and sons of his childhood friends.

Before the Canadian Ambassador’s address to the book launch Clonmel singer Sean Callaghan sang a ballad called “Only One Tree”, which Mr Hearn composed.

His excellency Loyola Hearn said his great, great grandfather James Hearn left Carrick-on-Suir for Newfoundland in 1797 and it was a real pleasure for him to launch this book about the trails their ancestors followed.

“To be back where your roots began launching a book, which really takes you almost step by step from leaving home, to the ports and boats that took them to Newfoundland is extremely touching and I wouldn’t trade anything to be here today.” 
The ambassador said he often asked himself how tough it must have been in Ireland for people to have settled in places in Newfoundland in the late 1700s and 1800s where living conditions were pretty tough, particularly in the winters, even when he was growing up.

He believed the Irish were drawn to the province by the prospect of freedom and land, which was denied to them back in their homeland at the time.

Mr Hearn said fishing communities like his native Renuse, which is reputed to the oldest permanent settlement in Newfoundland, were little, isolated, out of the way places. He recalled that when he was growing up, the only contact with the next community was five miles away by boat so people didn’t go anywhere. He only met other fellows his own age in his last year of High School. “So you wonder why we didn’t lose our Irish accents, music and history. There was no outside influence at all until 50 to 60 years ago and now even our young people are hanging onto their culture.”

Tom Nealon said he was absolutely thrilled with the success of the Newfoundland group’s visit to South Tipperary and paid tribute to all the members of the Carrick-on-Suir Ireland/Newfoundland Committee for the work they put into organising all the events for the visitors.

The Newfoundlanders moved to Dunhill in Co. Waterford last Thursday for the next stage of their Irish visit which finished last weekend.

Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan, a member of the Carrick committee, said it had been the best experience of their lives to host the Newfoundlanders and they hoped to bring a big group back to Newfoundland next September.