In April of 2018 I flew to Ireland , accompanied by my girlfriend Phyllis Greenwald, my two sons Conor and Dane, and their partners Jenny and Carrie. After renting two cars, we spent a week touring primarily the south west of Ireland, ending up in Galway for a visit to the Aran Islands. Heading back over to Dublin, Conor and Jenny accompanied Phyllis and I for a visit to Rathcogue.
We first stopped at the family farm site. It had been purchased as an investment in 1997 by Tim Kelly, head of a large international electrical contracting firm based in Mayo. An aerial photo from 1995 showed that the stone cottage and outbuildings were still standing. However by 2018 the buildings had been razed and the acreage was being replanted with firs, under a reforestation project. We found a small 8×10 structure still standing , built into the wall that bordered the front of the property, and completely overgrown with bushes and vines. This was all that remained of what was once our family home.
Conor and I walked to the rear corner of the property, where the 1840’s map had shown the location of a “fairy fort” – the remnant of a bronze-age dwelling. You could see the circular mound with its raised earth ramparts, now overgrown with trees and bushes, yet somehow still quite magical.
We then proceeded a few miles down the road to the old Relick graveyard. The entrance to site was closed off with an iron gate, but following a typical Irish custom a set of stairs had been built into the stone wall that enclosed the grounds.
We had come hoping to find a gravestone of a Fay relative. It was obvious that the cemetery had not been kept up. Most of the markers were tilting over, and many were barely legible, overgrown with moss and lichen, and prey to the erosion of the constant Irish rains.
We searched for about a half an hour – but found nothing . I was feeling a slow tide of dissapointment setting in when Conor suddenly called out, “Hey Dad, I think I’ve found something!” He was standing in front of a large upright monument with a good sized cross on top. I had already passed that one by because it was pretty much illegible, but Conor was able to piece together the inscription through the patina of lichen that covered it.
Lord have mercy
on the soul of
William Fay of Rathcogue
Who died 26th Jan. 1888
Age 82 years
Also his son Lawrence who died
In America Aged 41
Erected by his wife and Family
Lawrence, William’s fourth son, had died in Brooklyn, New York on October 22 of 1888, the same year as his father. Apparently the monument was erected the following year. William’s wife Elizabeth (Lyons) died shortly thereafter in 1890, and was no doubt interred in the same plot. Church documents record that their son William was also laid to rest in Relick Cemetary, after his death in 1935. There is no separate gravestone.
After paying our respects, we headed back to the town of Moyvore to meet up with Dane and Carrie who were driving with Conor and Jenny to Dublin. We met up at a local establishment – “McCawley’s – Bar, Groceries, Fuel and Undertaker”. We all went in for a quick pint and after settling in I approached the woman behind the bar and asked her who was the oldest person in town. She gave me a queer look, so I explained I was trying to learn the fate of a relative, Thomas Brennan, who had inherited the Fay property out in Rathcogue. She hadn’t heard of any Brennans, but told me there was a Pat and Rose Fay that lived out that way, and described exactly where their house was.
After saying our goodbyes to the kids, Phyllis and I drove back out to Pat Fay’s place. There was a car in the drive, so I went up and knocked on the door. Eventually a woman answered. She was talking on her cellphone to her son in Spain, so I let her know we would wait outside till she was through. When she joined us I told her my story about trying to find the last of my relatives that had lived in the area. When I mentioned Thomas Brennan she looked at me and said I would want to talk with her husband Pat.
Rose told us that Pat’s father was James Fay and his mother was Margaret Mulvaney. James Fay was from nearby Davidstown, and had been quite old, in his fifties, when he married Margaret, who was only seventeen. Rose described Margaret as “a cross women”, but said that apparently James was a gentle soul whom everyone had liked. It turns out that Thomas Brennan, my relative who lived just a mile down the road, had always had his eye on Margaret Mulvaney, but her father, Patrick, didn’t like Thomas and refused to let them marry. Patrick Mulvaney, it turns out, was a local “matchmaker”, and he then arranged for his daughter to marry James Fay, whom he considered far more suitable.
And so Margaret went to live with James at his family’s homeplace in Davidstown. There they had eight children in ten years. Then James Fay died of a heart attack in 1963, when Margaret was pregnant with their ninth child. It wasn’t too much later that Tom Brennan moved in with Margaret, although her father still refused to let them marry.
Rose pointed out that she and Pat had built on the original Mulvaney homeplace that he had inherited from his mother, and the ruins of the original cottage were still to be seen down in back. It turned out that Pat was out at the “old place” in Davidstown, waiting for some cows to be delivered, but Rose urged me to give him a call that evening
When I rang up the Fays that evening I spoke with their son, Richard, who told me that Pat was still over in Davidstown, but encouraged me to go over and gave me explicit directions to find it. Phyllis was feeling tired so I made the drive by myself. When I pulled up to the house, another small but very tidy ranch house, Pat and Rose were walking down the road towards me, arm in arm. I intoduced myself to Pat as I shook his hand. He was stocky and muscular (I later learned he was a mason) and possessed a kind and quiet demeanor.
He immediately took me around the barn and through a stock gate to see the “old cottage” that he grew up in. It had a thatched roof at one time which had since been replaced with tin. He pointed out the well which was located right next to the wall of the house. He told me that they had grown up very poor, with no plumbing or electricity. We then went inside.
It was dark and dank. Most of the ceiling joists had collapsed and were lying in splinters on the floor. The main room had a huge stone fireplace with an iron swinging pot crane for cooking meals over the turf fire. There were several small back rooms but Pat seemed reluctant to go into them. He told me he was thinking of tearing down the place to get better access to his cows. When I protested that instead he should restore it, he paused for a moment and quietly said he had a lot of bad memories of this place. He said he hardly ever came in here.
We then went back to the “new cottage” and joined Rose in the kitchen. She had fired up the wood cookstove and was heating up a rhurbarb tart and a big pot of tea. She served me a big slice and topped it off with sweet cream. I was home.
As we sat we talked a bit about my relative Thomas Brennan. Pat’s father James had died in 1963, when Pat was about five years old. Thomas Brennan had then moved in with his mother. Pat didn’t have much to say, but Rose revealed that Thomas was not a very nice man. She said people thought that, being the only son, he had been spoiled by his mother and sisters. Although it was left unsaid, it became quite apparent that Thomas Brennan had been cruel to the Fay children. The only thing Pat had to say was that sometimes life was like that. I apologized for the actions of my relative. Then Rose brought out an album that housed an old photograph of Margaret Fay and Thomas Brennan, which she gave to me.
Pat said that they were still in the process of settling the estate of his mother, who had died in 2010. His six sisters were all living in England, and his two brothers, who were both mentally impaired, were living in a hospital in Mullingar.
We ate pie and drank tea and talked till the sun went down.
I had come to Ireland hoping to find a trace of the Fays of Rathogue, and I had not been dissapointed. We found the Fay family farm, we visited the Fay family burial plot, and in a rather circuitous, but wholely magical way, learned the story of the last descendant of William Fay who had lived in Rathcogue. It was not a pretty story, but as Pat Fay said, sometimes life is like that.
When I returned to the States I researched the lineage of Pat Fay’s family. Although I could find no definitive link with my own line, chiefly because of the absence of Moyvore Parish records before 1830, I feel sure that somehow we are related.
Pat’s great-grandfather, James Fay (1808-1880) moved to Davidstown around 1840 after he married Elizabeth McManus. I have been unable to find James’s baptismal records, which probably meant that he originated outside Milltown Parish. The new couple took over the tenancy of Elizabeth’s father, Patrick, and the “old place” in Davidstown had remained within the Fay family ever since. The Tithe Applotments of 1834 show that there were no Fays living in Davidstown before that time.
While investigating Pat’s family, however, one record did catch my eye. In 1852 there was a Bernard Fay (also known as Bryan) who died in Davidstown (known as Painstown at the time). It turns out that this was indeed James’ father.
Furthermore, there is a memorial found in St. Owen’s graveyard in Ballymore, a town about five miles southwest of Moyvore, that reads:
“This stone is erected by James Fay of Painstown in memory of Father, Mother, Brother and Sister and all deceased friends – May their Souls rest in peace” . This certainly suggests that James Fay’s family originated in Ballymore Parish.
Whether directly related or not, I feel exceptionally lucky to have met Pat and Rose Fay, and to have been so kindly welcomed into their kitchen.