Robert McEldowney Jr
After many years of ancestor hunting by armchair, all historical signs pointed to the Town of Omagh, in County Tyrone, Province of Ulster, Northern Ireland, as the place of origin for all the McEldowneys discovered in the United States. A visit to this old world place seemed to be a most natural and exciting next step, so was scheduled as a part of our six week tour of the British Isles.
I am one of the so called Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania family of McEldowneys, a great great grandson of John McEldowney and Mary McCutcheon McEldowney (his first of three wives), who emigrated (a widower) with at ast his three sons to Pittsburgh in the 18301s, from Omagh. There are at least four separate families of McEldowneys who came to America from Omagh, strangely enough all headed by men named John. The other three have been designated the Chicago Heights family (John and Martha Caldwell McEldowney, the Wisconsin Family (John and Jane Ramsey McEldowney), and the much smaller and more recent Buckhill Falls Family (John and Alice Slemons McEldowney). Efforts to connect the obvious relationship between these people where unfruitful, and we thought some clues might be discoverable in Omagh.
We weren't the first to try this. George I. McEldowney of Chicago Heights, the first serious researcher into the family, visited and chronicled his visit to Omagh in July 1931. More recently in 1965 Miss Mary Denmead Ruffin of Baltimore visited Omagh and then in May 1967 Reverend James E. McEldowney, also of the Pittsburgh genealogy and a long time missionary to India, visited Omagh and wrote a brief report covering his adventures. Though interesting and new minor facts were discovered by these visits, the big mystery surrounding earlier people in the family and the relationships, remained unanswered.
In most respects on our visit we ran into a blank wall too, nor did we really add any important new data or facts to the collection. Despite this I want to keep the record complete by writing down in detail what we did, our impressions of the place and the people, and add these reflections to the large volume of loose leaf genealogical material now extant about the McEldowneys. For ease of writing, I will write my narrative somewhat like a diary.
B E L F A S T
First of all, and before getting to the Omagh visit, I should mention Belfast, The Capital of Northern Ireland. Most of the ancient records are housed there and we were in Belfast for a day, so did what we could to delve into these archives.
Continued on next page
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B E L F A S T Continued
Mary and I went to the "Public Record Office of Northern Ireland", located on the Second floor of the Law Court Building (May Street Entrance), not far from the middle of Belfast. The address is Chichester Street, Belfast 1, Northern Ireland. This is where an attempt is made to keep ancestry records for the "Ulster Scots", called by us the "Scotch Irish". The place is very small in size, but the rooms one in allowed access to are really only index and study rooms. The actual documents are stored elsewhere in the building. We went in the public office relatively unprepared to proceed efficiently, and with only an hour or no at our disposal. The trouble is you aren't quite sure what to ask for and of course we didn't know what records they actually have. But the staff, consisting of two or three bright, young and cooperative girls, are very cheerful and helpful - and completely used to having people like me making these inquiries.
I was lucky to find a man from the Ulster-Scot Historical Society there to give me some leads.
There are several voluminous 3 X 5 card index catalogues that I was allowed access to and these cards give references to the main records, the originals of which they will bring from their storage place to be examined. Though we really didn't have time to study each reference thoroughly, I was able to satisfy myself that there is very little data available to help in the Belfast records.
The records actually are very sparse, and all concerned are suffering from two deficiencies:
(a) the 1922 fire in Dublin destroyed most of the census records forever and
They do have a small but most interesting library of reference books which I didn't have time enough to browse through, but which might have led to more data. I would love to have a whole day with these books.
I was advised by those in Belfast to expect to find nothing in Dublin, so I did not make any inquiries when we went to Dublin a week later.
Anyway, the documents recorded hero in Belfast, even when you find them, aren't much help and don't really tell you much, except that a person existed. Usually the records are tax or tariff receipts, land leases, or miscellaneous documents relating to estates, though apparently not full wills, which could help a lot;
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I wish to list here in some detail what I did look at, so it will be writt6 n down for us. Incidentally, our name is listed under a few different spelling variations, as you will see. These items are not .11 1 found on the catalogue cards - just the more pertinent ones.
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It looks a little to me like there has been a metamorphosis of the name spelling something like:
O M A G H
We drove north from Belfast, along the Antrim Coast, a most beautiful trip, via Cushendall Ballycastle, The Giants Causeway, to Portrush, where we stayed all night, then the next day, Sunday October 15, in the rain, to Londonderry, Strabane, Plumbridge, and on to Omagh.
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O M A G H Continued
The drive from Strabane was a deviation from our planned direct route, and a mos t happy diversion. It took us through a delightfully scenic route and led us to President Woodrow Wilson's ancestral home at Dergalt, just east of Strabane. From Plumbridge to Omagh the ride is through the Gortin Glen Forest Reserve. This way we entered Omagh from the northeast over the Gortin Road.
We stayed two nights at Omagh in a most inferior accommodation, the Silverbirch Hotel, about a mile from the center of the city and on this same Gortin Road. This place had been built during World War II as quarters for WRENS, and retained the barracks atmosphere. The place was damp, cold and empty. A small electric heater was furnished with the room key to supplement the infrequent periods of luke-warm. radiator activity.
We were surprised to find, after our journey through so many Northern Ireland towns, most of which exhibited almost predictably static obsolescence, that Omagh was a growing and busy community. Its pre-World War II population of 5000 is now near 10,000. There is much now building and growth, though happily without loss or redevelopment of the old. New industry has been brought in. A Nestle Chocolate factory adjoins the legendary "Fairy Water". A brand new wide bipass highway complete with relocated Boar War Statue and modern prestressed concrete highway bridge spanning the Strule River, has diverted through traffic away from the middle of the City. There is a brand now County Tyrone Administration Building, of steel and glass, a rebuilt Omagh Academy and Technical School and a military detachment, The Fifth Territorial Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, complete with marching band right across from the Silverbirch.
The day we arrived we had time to drive around the City and its surroundings, to take a few pictures, some of which will be referred to, and to got the flavor of the place.
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Some brief mention of this family is probably in order. One of the purposes of George I. McEldowney's 1931 trip to 0magh was to discover something of this family. When Anne McEldowney died in 1929, she was the last of the above listed unmarried brothers and sisters. George I. had been contacted in the United States to assist in finding possible heirs to the small residual estate. His final conclusions were that these people were descendants of the same, family that produced John and Jane Ramsay McEldowney, the emigrants who started the Wisconsin line. George I., in his diary of his Omagh visit, writes:
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The cemetery superintendent, Mr. Booth, lives in a house within the cemetery, and was very pleasant. He says there are no other McEldowney gravestones in the cemetery, nor do they have any useful records or maps of the place.
We also drove further out of Omagh to find "Drumragh Farm", where these people lived. Both George I. and Jim McEldowney, our missionary counsin, also visited this place. This place is about 2 miles or more due south of Omagh, and is reached by taking the first right turn from the main road after the Omagh Cemetery. The back roads are then a little tricky, but took us past Drumragh Cemetery (see below) and on toward a place called Blackfort.
Incidentally, both Drumragh Farm (Townland) and Tully are shown and identified on the "Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, sheet 4, Omagh". This one inch to the mile map is a big aid to this kind of local barnstorming.
Drumragh Farm is shown in figure 7, the picture taken from the road. We did not stop and visit here, partly because of Jim McEldowney's unproductive visit in May 1967. This area is pretty wild and grown up, sparsely settled and doesn't appear to be very productive agriculturally.
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As Jim McEldowney relates, and as we were told locally, Drumragh is now occupied by people named Lowry, or Lowery. I believe the present family are the second generation to live there. As we hear the story, the McEldowneys had a servant girl, possibly even adopted, named Scott, who was said to have some claim on the property. However the Scott girl, against the wish of the McEldowneys, married Lowery, who was a Roman Catholic. These people stayed on at the farm after Anne McEldowney's death, hoping I suppose that no legitimate heirs would be discovered. The next generation remains in ownership. It would be interesting to know if Lowery really has good title to the farm.
George I. McEldowney reports his visit to Drumragh in 1931 as follows:
On the way to Drumragh Farm and about a mile after turning off the main road, we stopped at the old Drumragh Cemetery (figure 8). Both Jim McEldowney and Mary Ruffin came here too and discovered, as we did, an ancient stone (figure 9) memorializing another group of McEldowneys, apparently also of the Drumragh family. This stone is inside the ruins of an old roofless masonry chapel in the older, upper part of the graveyard, located beyond the wall and trees in figure 8. I had to clamber over this wall (still in the rain) to get into the old yard, which is completely grown up and untended.
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This stone is marked:
I spent considerable time searching for other stones here in both parts of Drumragh Cemetery, but found none of interest to us. However, this graveyard contains many stones or monuments which are weathered beyond deciphering, or heavily moss covered, or otherwise damaged. It is of course possible that other stones exist.
Realizing that our family were Methodists and Wesleyans soon after they came to America, we visited the present minister of the Omagh Methodist Church, Reverend John J. Harrison, and his wife. They live in a most attractive brick house at 9 Dergmoney Place. These people couldn't have been kinder to us, nor more cooperative, but they had no records to help with our search for the family. Rev. Harrison dug into his oldest Church records, of marriage and baptism, but they simply didn't go back far enough. He had same marriage records back into the 1830s. We obtained from Rev. Harrison a "Souvenir Booklet, Omagh Methodist Church - To Mark New Church Premises", dated 7th May 1966. This booklet lists James McCutcheon as Superintendent Minister from 1837-38. This is the name we have known of from the records and suspected might have been the father of Mary McCutcheon, first wife of John McEldowney of our family. Now I am wondering if James McCutcheon might not have been Mary's brother. The dates suggest that.
I also introduced myself to Canon Wakely, Rector of the aforementioned St. Columba's Church of Ireland. We couldn't find this clergyman during the day, but luckily found him by accident at the Royal Arms Hotel when we went there for dinner our second night in Omagh. Canon Wakely was no help at all, never knew any McEldowneys and doubted they were in his Church during recent times. He said he had no old records--that all the old Church records had been sent to Belfast many years ago.
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It appears that if we were unable to find the name in a Church census at Belfast, that they probably were not members of his Church. However, Canon Wakely also said that in order to investigate any possible local Church records that might exist, we would have to know which Parish of the Church of Ireland our family belonged to. To complicate this, he told us that there are many Parishes in and around Omagh, any one of which might have been the right one. It certainly developed into a major search right then. Needless to say, we didn't have energy or time to start looking up every Church of Ireland Parish Pastor. Canon Wakely also told me that because of the many different parochial schools existing back in the early 19th century, that our ancestor John McEldowney, who we understand was a schoolmaster, could have been of any of the protestant faiths. All had their own schools then.
We went to the offices of the local weekly newspaper, the "Tyrone Constitution" on High Street. We did not meet the owner, Mr. Wilson, but introduced ourselves to the editor, 84 year old Mr. Park, and to his very friendly assistant, Norman Armstrong. Mr. Park is almost stone deaf, so there was nothing private about our shouting attempts to communicate with him. Though Mr. Park is clearly way beyond his useful prime, he was reasonably keen and told us what he know. He has bean with the paper 64 years. He knew the Drumragh family of McEldowneys and told us the story of the Scott girl and Lowery. He said the McEldowney name died out in Omagh with the death of Anne McEldowney in 1929. Mr. Armstrong took my card and said he would contact me if he turned up any data on our family.
I also went across the street from the "Constitution" to the Town Hall and met Mr. John McGale, Town Clerk. He gave me lots of time, listened to my inquiries, tool, me all around the building, but again know nothing of the McEldowneys and of course has no records to help.
As reported above, the second evening in Omagh we had dinner at the Royal Arms Hotel, just down High Street several hundred feet from the newspaper office. This is a very old Hotel, where George I. stayed in 1931, and after our brief visit there, we decided that this is where we should have stayed. It is clean, attractive, comfortable in appearance, warm, has excellent food, and is run by the nicest couple , Mr. Dai Waterson and his wife Elaine. Actually we only met Elaine, (and her young son). She took a great interest in our search for our family and also promised to help. I think she also appreciated our interest and questions about the Royal Arms. Mary and I would suggest and recommend this Hotel to the future overnight visitor to Omagh. There is only one room with private bath.
While at the Royal Arms, we telephoned the only McEldowney in the directory, listed under Omagh which covers the whole island. This is Charles McEldowney, who lives at Doogary about four miles south, and is a young man who sells Electrolux vacuum sweepers. He was pleasant, but knows nothing about his own family history and I would say cares less.
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Actually he comes from the Kilrae Area in County Derry, His only bit of information was that the McEldowneys in Ireland are in Draperstown, Maghera, and Kilrae, all in County Derry, which information I had already gathered from the phone book.
Only a little more to report, and it continues the fruitless search. We drove out of Omagh, to the Northeast several miles along narrow country roads, to both the old and new Cappagh Cemeteries, which are separated by a mile or so. The old one is completely grown over and untended, despite a couple of tombstones dated in the 1960's. At the new Cappagh Cemetery, adjacent to the Cappagh Church (of Ireland) I talked to the caretaker; again cooperative, friendly and devoid of knowledge. George I. failed to unearth anything here either.
Our visit to Omagh was interesting and fun, and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many friendly people. But it was frustrating and I left with the feeling that records don't exist in Ireland to improve cur genealogical knowledge.
By ROBERT McELDOWNEY JR. - October 1967
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