Jean Bills, Wisconsin, USA

Jean Bills with Ireland Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar

This is the story of Jean Bills which was featured on Ireland of the Welcomes Magazine in 2013.

Jean Bills is a very ordinary lady, from Wisconsin, USA who is 83 years old.   Like millions of people her Ancestors came from Ireland, they emigrated from Achill Island, Co. Mayo in 1848.

Jean is a wonderful Ambassador for Ireland, she visited Ireland for the 31st time in January 2013.    What an amazing record!.  Jean was honoured recently by the Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar at the Launch of  “The Gathering” in Chicago.

The Minister presented her with a Certificate of Irish Heritage, honouring her Ancestors James Gallagher who was born in Dooniver, Achill Island in 1801 and Catherine McHugh born 1810.

Q.  What was your reaction when you were presented with a Certificate of Irish Heritage ?

A   ” I  was absolutely thrilled to have been presented with this wonderful Certificate.  It is hard to put into words how I feel,  I really appreciated this presentation and the fact that it was recognised that I have  helped to spread and support Irish culture and heritage,  and also that I have been to Ireland 31 times.    I am so happy and wonder if I really deserved it?  If only my mother was here, she would be really thrilled, this is wonderful, so pleased for the sake of the family”.  The beautiful Framed Certificate that I received is now displayed in the Irish Cultural & Heritage Centre in Milwaukee.   This is a beautiful addition to our Family Tree and I can’t wait to show to all my cousins at our next family reunion.

Q:  Tell me a little about your Ancestors and when they immigrated?

A:  James Gallagher was born in Dooniver, Achill in 1801,  His wife Catherine McHugh was also born in Mayo in 1810,  They had 10 children, 3 died as infants, the other 7 survived.   In April 1948 at the height of the Famine, James along with his oldest son Owen and his wife’s 2 brothers James and Frank McHugh set sail for America.  They landed in NY in May 1848.  James then went to New Orleans where he worked on the Riverboats and Docks until 1854.   His wife Catherine was left in Achill with 6 children, after 5 years of existing during the famine, she decided to set out to join her husband and brothers with 5 children who ranged from 6 to 23 years.  Grandma, Catherine McHugh’s mother couldn’t bear to see all the Children go so one daughter stayed behind and it’s the descendent’s  of the lady that I now stay with when I visit Achill.   The Gallagher family sailed from Liverpool on the ship Rufus K. Page on 2 Sept 1853.  The Rufus ran into severe weather at sea and nearly capsized, lost bowsprit, foremast, main top mast, mizzen top-gallant mast, together with sails rigging etc.   It arrived in New York on 28 October 1853 after 2 months at sea.  In those days the journey took 1 month normally.    James bought 100 acres of Government land, all timberland near Dellona, WI.  The family reunited in New Orleans and stayed there for 18 months before going north on the Mississippi River to Winconsin where the many cousins still live today.

Q:  When you were growing up was there alot of stories about your Irish Heritage?

A:  I am only one quarter Irish,(the rest were all German) My mother and cousins would get together on St. Patrick’s Day and we all would have Bacon and Cabbage and wear Green going to school.  We would visit Elderly Aunties and cousins on a Sunday and there would be talk about Ireland, but other than that it was predominant and they just didn’t talk about it, but I think that was kind of common with that generation.

Q:  When and how did you start getting interested in doing your Family Tree?

A:  I had been going to family reunions since 1982 with my mother who asked me to do the driving as the cousins who organised the reunion lived 100 miles away.  They had been putting bits of the family tree together on pieces of paper and used to hand them out to all members,   we would go back the next year and people would say,  oh we have changes, some new borns, some deaths,  some incorrect information so all had to be updated and retyped,  same story next year more updates so after year 3,  I decided this had to be put on Computer where you could update easily and I designed my own Family Tree.   I gave everybody an ID number as we had about 50 on the family tree, set up a Picnic Table under a Tree at each reunion and each person came along and we made the updates easily on computer.    It just grew and grew and now we have 7 generations which is so worthwhile.    We invited our Irish cousins of which there are 4 to come to one of our reunions and 2 of them have come over.  We had a wonderful time and all the cousins took turns in entertaining them and introducing them to the family members in their area.

Q:  When did you first come to Ireland.

A:   In 1988 I had attended my first Irish Fest in Milwaukee and after that I decided to go on a tour of Ireland.  I was then 64 years of age.   I actually came in 1991 on a tour that was led by an Irishman who lived in Milwaukee,   I came back the next time on another bus tour and Achill was on the itinerary so I thought I would look up my cousins, however, the bus drove into Achill and spent half an hour there and sped off again,    I asked if they would stop as I wanted to try and find my cousins but I was told to come back again and hire a car. This is what I did and I have been coming back ever since.

Q:  I believe you were one of the founder members of the Irish Cultural & Heritage Centre in Milwaukee and the first Manager, .

A:  Yes, I was a member of a Group, the Shamrock Club and we had no place to hold meetings like many other Irish organisations and Clubs in Milwaukee,  the meetings were held in Pubs, peoples homes etc so I felt we needed a place that we could meet, hold concerts, we needed a place in Milwaukee where anything Irish could happen.   I together with 3 friends bought a Church for $1 dollar so it cost 25 cent each.  The Church had a Pipe Organ with over 4000 pipes,  at the time that was worth over  1 million dollars and had many religious things hanging there.  The Church’s membership had dwindled and they could no longer afford to pay The Minister, it was a congregational Church so they had to disband.   They wanted someone to take over who would care for it.    At the time I was in the midst of setting up Celtic Women International so we fitted their expectations as a Group, we were a non profit group.   However, we didn’t have any money but we bought the Church for a $1 and then I started thinking how we would start fundraising.

Q:  I believe you are the founder of Celtic Womens Association, can you tell me how this came about.  

A:  I suppose this is the part of me that I consider to be the Irish trait,  I am an independent person and if I think I can do something, I will just go ahead and do it,  I am a “Doer”.   I started thinking how I could raise money, and decided to hold a Conference for Women, not just for Irish women but for Celtic Women, this would enlarge the potential audience pool. There would be 7 Nations so that was how it started.   A friend of mine was an Artist and designed the logo, another friend knew a famous writer called Morgan Llywelyn and she came along and did a book signing which raised enough money to enable us to start our first conference.  The conference ran for 11 years, these were unique and wonderful and held at the Irish Cultural and Heritage centre.   Wonderful friendships were made and when I come to Ireland now, it is with friends that I made at these conferences that I stay with.    People like Alice Taylor, Megan Ryan, Maggie Cronin from Belfas, Clodagh Horner a Tour Guide from Dublin are just a few of the many friends that I have made in Ireland.

Q:  Do you have a special place to display your Certificate of Irish Heritage?

A:   Yes indeed,  at the moment the Board of Directors have asked that I would display it in the Glass Display Unit in the Irish Cultural & Heritage Centre, Milwaukee, but of course I would really like to have this displayed in my home to compliment my family history,  I have some wonderful photos of my family going back for generations.    This has been such a wonderful tribute to my Ancestors and it really is a beautiful piece.

Patrick Lalley, Scranton, Pennsylvania


Patrick is the winner of our Emigrant Tales Competition for the July/Aug period,  which is running in the ‘Ireland of the Welcomes’ Magazine. Each winner receives a Framed Certificate of Irish Heritage,

“I want to let you know I received the Certificate of Irish Heritage this morning. The presentation is beyond my expectations. The choice of frame blends so well with the Certificate. You have done an outstanding job and I appreciate the effort of all involved.

This will be cherished by me and my children.  We hope to get back to Ireland next year and relish in our heritage.  Thank you so very much.   Patrick Lalley

When Patrick Lalley (73) arrived in County Mayo with his son John (44) to research their family history, even they were surprised at how quickly they tracked down a relative. John went down to the bar of the Ballina hotel they were staying in and had simply asked a group of men drinking there if they knew any Lalleys. It turned out someone did and could even provide a cell phone number. Almost unbelievably this Lally was a distant cousin. Patrick’s great grandfather, also called Patrick, left Mayo in 1865 with his wife Mary and four young children. Unusually at the time they arrived by steamship, the Calhoun, traveling from Liverpool to Castle Garden in New York. But dramatic events in Washington meant their landing was delayed. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Patrick’s grandfather Dennis was just seven when the family finally made it ashore. They went straight to Scranton, Pennsylvania where Mary had some relatives. They started work in the mines and just three years later, at the age of 10, Dennis earned his first wage as a slate picker.

His weekly pay was 35 cent. Dennis went on to work for the rail road who owned the mines. He was a member of the rail road union; Patrick still has his union card from 1920. He was also a member of the Ancient Order of Hiberninans. There was a large Mayo community in Scranton at the time. Dennis met and married Winifred Langan, who could see the shrine of Knock from the window of the house where she was born in 1864. Like Dennis she had travelled to America to begin a new life. Patrick’s father, John Lalley, was the seventh son of Dennis and Winifred. Patrick is the seventh son of John. Despite the mythology surrounding such a lineage he claims no special powers. Sadly Dennis suffered a tragic accident on the train tracks. He lost a leg and died a month later. He was a life-long baseball fan and Patrick’s older brother remembers reading him out the box scores from the newspaper.

On that visit to Ireland with his son, Patrick filled in a lot of the details of his family history with the help of the North Mayo Heritage Centre. One mystery he has never been able to solve is the addition of an ‘e’ to the family name. The original name is definitely Lally – all Patrick’s siblings are named Lally on their birth certificate. However somewhere along the way the mysterious ‘e’ was added to the name. “I have no idea how that happened,” admits Patrick. His grandparents remained proudly Irish to the end of their days, a tradition that Patrick and his son John are determined to keep alive. Patrick has produced a book of the family’s history for his nieces and nephews. His son has created an Irish wall in his house, complete with pictures, his grandfather’s sash and a whole host of memorabilia. John is now keen to return again to Ireland with his dad.

John Noble, County Fermanagh

John & Jane Noble - Certificate of Irish Heritage

Here is my story..John & Jane Noble - Certificate of Irish Heritage

From what we know, my great grandfather, John Noble, was born in 1817 in Maguiresbridge, County Fermanagh. He, along with at least 2 siblings, Ralph (born 1811) and Alexander (born 1818) came to Canada with their mother Mary about 1837. There appears to be no record of their father and Mary is listed on subsequent censuses as a widow. We suspect that the father died before they came to Canada.  John settled in Baltimore, Ontario and his 2 brothers and mother a short distance to the west in Perrytown, Ontario.  They were all farmers. John married a Jane McMann , the daughter of Robert McMann and Sarah Gibson. They are believed to have come from County Tyrone. The picture attached is that of John and Jane.

County Fermanagh appears to have had the most frequency of the Noble surname. I have a partial family tree of Major Arthur Noble who fought in the Battle of Derry in 1689.  I also have family trees of 2 relatives of his – John and Francis. Somehow, I believe that my great grandfather descends from one of these. But the search and proof continues!

John and Jane had 8 children, one of whom died at birth and 2 others within a few years of birth. They surviving 5 remained in the area around Cobourg, Ontario. My grandfather, William was also born in Baltimore, Ontario, just north of Cobourg and my father in ColdSprings, (known as little Derry), a few kilometres to the west.

I had the opportunity to visit Ireland on 3 occasions – once on a pure holiday and the other times on research to Dublin and Belfast. Although I did not find anything specific to my ancestry, the Emerald Isle was something to behold and I do plan to return.




Tom Cruise honors Irish roots with Certificate of Irish Heritage
Tom Cruise honors Irish roots with a Certificate of Irish Heritage

Tom Cruise honors Irish roots with a Certificate of Irish Heritage

Actor Tom Cruise has just received his certificate of Irish Heritage. His great-great grandfather returned from America in 1843 to Co. Westmeath. Cruise’s Irish ancestry stretches back over 800 years, with work by genealogy researchers Eneclann uncovering “knights in the 12th century, rebels in the 17th century and a hero, Patrick Russell-Cruise, who reinstated tenants on his lands in the 19th century following their eviction against his wishes.

Photo and Information from RTE

Maureen McCarthy, Florida, USA


The office of the Certificate of Irish Heritage and ‘Ireland of the Welcomes’ are inviting readers to share their ancestors’ stories and the winner receives a complimentary Certificate to celebrate their Irish heritage.

Maureen McCarthy from Florida is the winner of the May/June issue.

“My father Timothy McCarthy was born in Dromtrasna North (O’Brien), Co. Limerick on February 15, 1907.

He sailed from Cobh and arrived in NYC on March 19, 1929, as the great Depression was unfolding. He lived with an older brother John and soon was employed to work on the NY subways as a motorman. My mother, Bridget Hester was born February 12, 1912 in Ballinagore, Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon. She sailed from Galway Bay and arrived in NYC on May 17, 1930, joining her older brother Patrick and her sister Sarah. Both parents came through Ellis Island, met and married in NYC then returned to Ireland on their honeymooon in 1934. With few employment opportunities in Ireland, they returned to NYC where they reared their five children. Dad returned to his previous position as a subway motorman while Mom was a full-time homemaker. Mom often praised the Mantua National School, Co. Roscommon and her teacher Master Kelly.

Dad was a master story teller, historian and nationalist who shared what it meant to struggle for independence and the days of the Black and Tan. They instilled in their children a love of Irish history, music and culture which was carried with me to many places where I worked, including the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. To obtain this Certificate of Irish Heritage is to fulfill the McCarthy motto: “Forti et Fideli Nil – To the brave and faithful nothing is difficult.”

Colleen Kelly receiving her Certificate from Niall Gibbons CEO of Tourism Ireland

Tourism Ireland CEO presents Irish-American sisters with Certifi

Colleen Kelly was very proud to receive her Certificate of Irish Heritage in November 2012 in Dublin.  Her ancestors come from Mayo and Limerick and she paid an emotional visit to her ancestral family home in Newport, Co Mayo while visiting Ireland.

Colleen will front a brand new programme called Family Travel with Colleen Kelly, due to air in 2013 right across the US on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Cousins reunited after unrelenting search

Maureen Ashworth

Mary Murphy was born in Milltown, Co. Kildare on May 9th,1909; she was the daughter of James Murphy and Anastatia Glynn. She seemed to be very popular locally and stories about her have travelled down the generations. She was a bright, intelligent and articulate girl who loved life and all that went with it. Unusually for a girl at the time, she received a secondary school education from the nuns in Kildare town. She had one sibling, her brother James, who was my wife’s father. At the age of 19, in 1929, she emigrated to Boston in search of a better life; she planned to live there with her father’s sister, Bridget Kane, who had been born in Milltown in 1858 and had emigrated to Baltimore in 1881.

Mary’s ‘American Wake’ in Milltown must have been a grand affair, since the story goes it lasted 3 days! According to local legend all the neighbours travelled to Kildare station to see her off and there were scenes of great emotion as the train pulled out, taking Mary away, never to be seen by family or friends again.

I met Mary’s niece, Anastatia (Ann) in 1970, and I very soon heard about aunt Mary,her early death, and the baby she had in Boston.

Ann knew very littlemore than this; her father did not talk about the subject, perhaps he was too traumatised about the events. Ann had learned the little she knew from her mother, who never met Mary. All family documents,old letters etc. had been destroyed in a house fire in the 1960′s. Ann and I married in 1973 and within 2 years both her parents were dead, taking all the information to the grave with them. At this stage Ann did not even know Mary’s marriage name, which was a major stumbling block later.

Down all the years, Ann wondered what happened to her aunt Mary, and what became of her only paternal first cousin; it was really eating her so against the backdrop above, in 2007, we decided to embark on a search for the facts.

Neither of us knew how to go about this, and other than accessing a few websites we had no experience of such research. We initially found the Ancestry website very helpful ( and ‘The Ships Passenger Lists’ did produce the record of Mary leaving Queenstown on April 13th, 1929, on board the SS Republic; the record stated she arrived at Boston port April 22nd, 1929, where was met by Bridget Kane. The US Federal Census record from 1930 found her living in Boston, not with her Aunt, but with her cousin Edward Kane as a boarder. After that the trail went cold, and Mary Murphy seemed to disappear.

We therefore hired the services of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society (based in Boston), who produced two reports for us, but neither of these informed us of anything. We are now 2 years down the road, and frustration is starting to creep in; we felt our only hope was to upskill ourselves and learn more about Family History Research. So I undertook a diploma course in Genealogy at Independent Colleges in Dublin; this was run by two professional genealogists with a number of visiting lecturers. I am now a pseudo genealogist, and it has become a major hobby with me. Doing this course has really been the key to our success in finding Mary Murphy, even though the professional genealogists thought it would be impossible.

With our new skills and our more structured approach to family history, we really started again and built a complete history of the Murphy family, this time starting with Ann; we now included the Kane family in Boston. This journey took us not just to Boston but to Baltimore, to New York State ( where we found Mary had visited a relative) and back to Boston. At this stage we needed someone on the ground in Boston to visit the local repository and search records there for Mary’s marriage record , so we spoke to a genealogist who specialised in Irish Ancestors; he had in fact given one of the lectures at the course I attended, so I think fate was intervening here.

He agreed to take on the project and we supplied him with all the information we had built up; as the New England Society had already researched all the Mary Murphy’s in Boston and come up blank, our strategy was a little different this time. We were confident the record we needed was in Boston but we decided to search a different name and we picked on a likely Confirmation name. As a lot of girls in Kildare at the time were given Bridget, we decided on this one; after a lot of research at the repository, this strategy proved successful and Mary Bridget Murphy from Ireland, daughter of James Murphy and Anastatia Glynn, came out of the hat. It seems very easy now that such a simple guess provided the clue which broke down the brick wall; however, it had taken 5 years of fairly painstaking research to get us to this stage.

Mary married George Barrett in Boston in 1932; now that we had her marriage name the rest was very straightforward. Her daughter Maureen was born on Feb. 28th, 1933. A search for her death certificate told us Mary died in Boston, just 5 months later, Aug. 9th, 1933 from TB. We similarly discovered that George Barret died one year later from the same illness.

Maureen was now an orphan but we found her again in the 1940 US Federal Census living with her Barrett Grandparents. As it turns out these were the people who reared her.  A search for a marriage record for Maureen Barrett produced a result in 1960 when she married James Ashworth. All that remained now was to find an address for Maureen Ashworth, assuming she was still alive. We found this, again using the genealogist in Boston.

Ann immediately wrote to Maureen and it was a major surprise to her because, while she knew her mother was Mary Murphy from Ireland, she was convinced nobody here knew about her, or cared. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Ann was now most anxious to meet Maureen, so we made immediate arrangements to travel to Boston. We were taking with us the only photo. of Mary Murphy in existence and this was very important because Maureen had never seen a photo of her mother. We also wanted to take with us something from her home place, so we took a St. Bridget’s Cross; and we were aware of  The Certificate of Irish Heritage from the Obama visit, so we thought this would be an unexpected and very appropriate gift; it turned out to be so and Maureen said ‘she really loved it and would display it in a special place in her home’. Maureen has 3 daughters (all of whom we’ve met) and they expressed their appreciation that their mother should be recognised in this way and presented with such a wonderful gift by the Irish Government.  From our own point of view, it was tremendously satisfying that Ann, meeting Maureen for the first time, was able to bring not only her mother’s photograph, but an official gift from Ireland, reconnecting her with her homeland. We would certainly endorse this Certificate of Irish Heritage, and would recommend it to anybody as a very beautiful and appropriate gift for those with Irish Ancestors across the world.

A most important element of our trip to Boston was a visit to Mary Murphy’s grave; this was very emotional for Ann as she is the only one of her family ever to get the opportunity to do so; it seemed to close a chapter which had been open for 79 year and bring closure to what had to be very family sad loss at the time. Not just a daughter, but a granddaughter as well.

We now had a successful conclusion to a family search, which at times had seemed to be a lost cause.


Catherine Bertini remarks on being awarded Certificate of Irish Heritage in September 2012

Prof  Catherine Bertini

Minister Costello, Ambassador and Mrs Collins, Friends

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

My Irish American grandmother, Mary Farrell Vino, my mother’s mother, said this to me more times than I could count, as we rode through poor neighborhoods seeingother people struggling to get through the day.
Her words became part of the foundation of my career commitment to helping people who were less fortunate than I.
Mr Minister, perhaps some of this IS genetic, as it has been clear for decades now that the Republic of Ireland maintains a strong, unwavering mission to work to end hunger throughout the world. When an Irish official speaks on this topic, it is with commanding moral authority. The Irish government and its major NGOs like CONCERN are global leaders in this effort.
It is Irish history that drove Michael Farrell and Catherine Danahy to leave their country and move to America in the mid-nineteenth century. They became farmers in upstate New York, as did their only son, John.
But John and his wife, Margaret also farmers, had nine children. Their professions branched out.
Among those nine and their children and grandchildren, the Farrells’ careers included:

  • Air Force Colonel
  • Deputy Chief of the US Air Force Nurse Corps
  • Member of the US Congress
  • State Treasurer
  • Professors
  • Authors
  • Teachers
  • Medical Doctor
  • Nurses
  • Business owners
  • Lawyers
  • A World Food Prize Laureate

And those were just the women.

Male Farrell’s included:

  • a US Army general who was a principal in the Manhattan project
  • a Colonel
  • Corporate executives
  • Engineers
  • a Lawyer
  • Business owners
  • a Musician
  • a Farmer
  • and of course, two Catholic Priests

Mr. Minister, Mr. Ambassador

Proudly, on behalf of the descendants of Michael and Catherine Danahy Farrell, I am honored to accept this Certificate of Irish Heritage. It is with gratitude for all that the Farrells have been able to do, as has our original “mother” country, to improves the lives of others in the United States and around the world.
And it is with personal humility that I thank you for recognizing my work against hunger. I thank you also for including here tonight many of my friends and colleagues who share in this important mission.
Finally, just a few days ago, as I was organizing some files in my home office, this little leprechan fell out of a file. It was as if he, knowing about this gathering, jumped up to say, “Remember me!”
The leprechan is a Hallmark card, sent to me by my mother some time ago. She has been dead for more than seven years. The printed card says:
“Wishing you
Eyes that are smiling
A heart full of laughter
And everything happy
On St. Patrick’s Day”
And in her handwriting:
” and a reminder that you are 1/4 Irish!
Love, Mom”
Thank you very much


Maureen Gillis, Massachusetts & Paul Comeau, Texas.

Paul Comeau

Paul Comeau
Maureen Gillis from Hull, Massachusetts is presented with her Certificate of Irish Heritage by her cousin Paul Comeau from San Antonio, Texas.

Paul and Maureen, who received their Citzenship together are also proud recipients of the Certificate of Irish Heritage.

Their Certificates honour their Grandparents Coleman Costello from County Galway and Mary McKessy from County Limerick.

Paul says that he is “Looking forward to visiting the relatives in Inverin, just outside of Galway, in few months”

Paul Comeau & Maureen Gillis