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O'Briens From Bunavie, County Limerick, Ireland

My husband's grandmother was born Mary O'BRIEN in 1903 from Old Pallas, Pallasgrean, County Limerick, Ireland. Her father was a Patrick O'BRIEN. In researching all the elligible Patrick O'BRIENS born in the right time-frame in that area, I came across the O'BRIEN family in Bunavie, just a short distance from Old Pallas. After going through vital records, census records and ship manifests, I concluded that the family consisted of the following members:


Patrick O'BRIEN (b. abt 1835 and d. 25 Dec 1893 in Bunavie) married Margaret TOBIN (b. abt 1854 and d. 12 Aug 1905 in Bunavie) on 19 Feb 1873 in Kilduff, County Limerick, Ireland according to their marriage certificate.

Chidren were:

Mary O'BRIEN b. 29 Dec 1873

Patrick O'BRIEN b. 19 May 1875 probably died bef 1880

Winnifred O'BRIEN b. 1 Jun 1877

Bridget O'BRIEN b. 23 Apr 1879

Patrick O'BRIEN b. Abt 22 May 1880

Margaret Mary O'BRIEN b. 1 Apr 1883

Beatrice Mary O'BRIEN b. Abt 1884

Thomas O'BRIEN b. Abt 1887

Annie O'BRIEN b. b. 16 Oct 1888

Barney O'BRIEN b. 8 Jun 1891

Dad Patrick died on Christmas day 1893 of acute bronchitis according to his death certificate. It seems that after this date the family started sending the children to the US. Mom Margaret dies in 1905 of liver disease that she had for 2 years according to her death certificate. Here is what information I could collect on each one of the children so far:

Mary O'BRIEN: Mary immigrated to Chicago, IL around 1896 at age 23. I was never able to definitively find her on any ship manifest or in the 1900 census. In 1903 she married William H. HUNT b. abt 1865 in GA. Together they had 4 daughters, Mary M. HUNT b. abt 1906, Katherine C. HUNT b. abt 1908, Winnifred Frances HUNT b. 1916 and Rosanna Elizabeth HUNT b. 1920, all in Chicago. I have not been able to determine when she or her husband died but Mary died after 1947.

Patrick O'BRIEN: I found a baptismal certificate for Patrick b in 1875, but since there was another Patrick born in the family in 1880 I assume this Patrick died before then.

Winnifred O'BRIEN: I found a baptismal certificate for Winnifred but no other record of her. I am assuming that she is the sister that stayed behind in Ireland.

Bridget O'BRIEN: For Bridget I have her baptismal certificate and the following ship manifest in May of 1899 where she says she is going to her sister Mary O'BRIEN in Chicago at age 20.

It looks like Bridget might have been traveling with a Bridget RYAN who was also from Pallasgreen. Bridget RYAN was going to Boston, MA to her cousin Johanna RYAN at 180 7 St, Boston. Johanna eventually married a Michael WYSE and had at least 4 children in Boston.

I was not able to determine if Bridget O'BRIEN married or if she even stayed in Chicago, but after doing research on this family I am starting to believe that Bridget and Beatrice (below) are the same person. She may have changed her name to Beatrice after she immigrated to the US.

Patrick O'BRIEN: His baptismal certificate says that he was born around 1 Jul 1880. By all accounts it looks like Patrick stayed behind in Ireland. At around the age he would have gone to the US his mother becomes sick and dies (1905). And being the oldest boy he was probably responsible for the farm. He is in the 1901 Irish census with his mother and 3 siblings. In the 1911 census it is just Patrick and his brother Barney living on the family farm. Patrick is the one that I believe is my Mary O'Brien's father as he is around the right age.

Margaret Mary O'BRIEN: Margaret is still in Ireland in 1901 with 3 siblings and her mother, Margaret. It's possible that daughter Margaret was her mother's caregiver and so did not go to the US until after her death in 1905. She was listed as the informant on her mother's death certificate. I found the following ship manifest for Margaret age 24 on 29 Apr 1908:

It states that she is from "Baravoy" County Limerick, but Baravoy could be a transcription error of "Bunavie". Her nearest relative in Ireland is listed as Thomas O'Brien and she is going to Chicago, IL.

Margaret marries a Timothy LEAHY in 1915 at the age of 28. I know for sure that this is the right Margaret because her sister Mary did an excellent job of filling out her death certificate in 1947, giving full parents names of Patrick O'BRIEN and Margaret TOBIN, and birth location as Pallas Green, Ireland. She did not seem to have any children in the US.

Beatrice Mary O'BRIEN: Beatrice is the most interesting of all of the siblings. I have not found any actual evidence of her birth, and in fact there is not a single "Beatrice O'BRIEN" baptismal certificate listed at Roots Ireland for any year in Ireland. It's possible that she was baptised with a different name but later used the name Beatrice. I searched the records for any child born to Patrick O'BRIEN and Margaret TOBIN and found only the ones listed on this page (minus Beatrice and Thomas). Based on census records and her siblings births, I determined that she was probably born in about 1884.

In the 1930 census she says that she immigrated in 1900, and on the 1920 census she says she immigrated in 1901. Either way, she immigrated at a much younger age than her siblings at around age 16 or 17 but I was never able to definitively find her ship manifest.

I can't find her in the 1900 or 1910 census records. I do find her future husband living in the home of her sister Mary in 1910, so Beatrice must be close as they married the same year. In 1920 she is widowed and living in Roscommon, Michigan with her 2 daughters, Beatrice and Margaret. By 1930 she has remarried an Albert HANSON and is living back in Chicago.

In 1937 Beatrice and daughter Beatrice, ages 53 and 23 respectively, make a trip back to Ireland together. Their destination is listed as Gurtakilleen (incorrectly transcribed as "Gunskilleen"), Oola, County Limerick. Mom Beatrice lists herself as a nurse, and daughter Beatrice is a beautician. The ship manifest for the trip to Ireland can be found here and the one back to the US can be found here. Beatrice returned to Ireland to vist a daughter that she left behind as an infant 36 years earlier.

Author and columnist Martina Devlin who descends from Beatrice O'BRIEN (read more about Martina under Thomas O'BRIEN, below), wrote a story that describes this bitter-sweet mother and daughter reunion:


Three generations of women from my family met for the first time more than 70 years ago, in a labourer's cottage packed with barefoot children. In that County Limerick village stood my great-grandmother, home from America with shingled hair and a trunk full of style; my grandmother, dowdy compared to her, worn down from constant childbearing and penny-pinching; and my mother, a little girl in her Sunday ribbons agog to meet the glamorous Yank. It's through my mother's eyes I see the meeting.

Rural Ireland must have been a shock to my great-grandmother after thirty odd years in Chicago. It was 1938, when people marvelled at a car and affluence was a wireless. Women sewed their own frocks and knitted their men's socks. Anyone who didn't emigrate stayed close to where they were born. Dublin was as remote as Dallas.

My great-grandmother must have thought the clock had stopped when she landed home that one and only time. I doubt if it even felt like home any more, though my mother recalls her marvelling at the heart-stopping beauty of their country lanes. The children were mystified by that. What did my great-grandmother make of her solemn-faced daughter, who was a stranger to her, and that brood of children? Ten of them already, and one more to come.

She took photographs. We have some of them still. She gave dolls to the girls and toy soldiers to the boys. She pressed clothes on her daughter, who stroked the dresses and put them away. They were too smart to wear. In time, she passed them on, unworn, to village girls longing for finery to go dancing in.

My great-grandmother persuaded her daughter to let her cut the long, dark hair she wore pinned up. It made her look like an old biddy, said the thoroughly modern woman 22 years her senior.

She cropped Granny's hair to the chin, like a movie star - the same way she wore it herself. My grandmother was horrified by the result, nervous of her husband's reaction. She wore a scarf to delay the moment of discovery. "Oh Josie your lovely hair," he mourned. And no more was said. Grandad was a silent man, who'd retreat with his pipe to the garden at any household upset. No doubt he did the same then.

My grandmother looks crestfallen in snapshots from this time, like a child caught misbehaving. Or perhaps that was the day the visitor's initialled handkerchiefs were pinched as they dried on a bush outside. Maybe that's causing the mortification I'm sure I glimpse in Granny's eyes.

My mother remembers the visit as if it happened yesterday. The trunks arriving first, covered in steamship stickers and an Illinois address she can still recite. And finally, finally, the sunny afternoon when the visitor's train was due at Limerick Junction. At the last minute, Granny refused to meet it. "I can't go, Jack," she told my grandfather. He took my mother and her sister by the hand and led them to the station, where the entire village seemed to have formed a welcoming committee.

It was many years before my mother understood why Granny flinched. She had no memories of this Americanised woman who gave birth to her - and who left her behind as a baby in the early 1900s. Left her with her own mother, while she sailed off to make her way in the world. Granny shrank from meeting her again in such public circumstances. She waited alone at home.

I can only guess at their reunion: I don't know whether they kissed or shook hands or simply looked at one another. Amid all the excitement, my mother can't recall that first encounter. She was too young to grasp the significance.

Yet often I find myself dwelling on what those two women must have thought, studying one another during unguarded moments. One went to Chicago and tasted prosperity - poverty was all she could expect if she stayed in Ireland as a single mother. She trained as a nurse, married well and had two more daughters and a son – an American family.

But she made a sacrifice to do it. That sacrifice was her firstborn.

It was meant to be a temporary arrangement - a pill sweetened by leaving the baby in her mother's care.

Perhaps it would have been easier to forget. That didn't happen. In time, my great-grandmother left her Irish daughter an inheritance - money to raise those handsome, dark-eyed children, including my mother, I see tumbling round the photographs she took. But she put her own life, her own desires, above her baby's, flouting an unwritten compact between mother and newborn. They wrote to one another till the day the older woman died. Those letters meant the world to Granny. But knowing her, I doubt if she ever posed the question that surely haunted her all her life, the child's voice mingling with the woman's.

Why did you leave me behind?

Thomas O'BRIEN: Thomas becomes the most infamous member of the O'BRIEN family. In 1912, at age 26, it was his turn to go to the US and unfortunately his trip was aboard the Titanic. He did not survive the trip, however his bride, Hannah O'BRIEN nee GODFREY did and she was 4 months pregnant.

The story surrounding Thomas and Hannah's trip is discussed in "Irish Aboard the Titanic" by Senan Molony. "Tom O'BRIEN had four sisters in the Chicago area who knew he was coming out. One sister, Mrs Mary Hunt (38), of Sherman Plaza, was named on official documents as his sponsor for accomodation. But the sisters had no idea that Tom might be accompanied, and the news that Hannah GODFREY had become his wife sent their senses further reeling after the shock of realising his death. Nonetheless they summoned a determination to do 'the right thing'. They offered Hannah a place to stay. When the survivors landed in New York however, Hannah did not travel on to Chicago. Instead she stayed with a friend in Brooklyn. She told immigration that she was 26, from Limerick, and that her next of kin was Mrs Eliza Godfrey of Cappamore."

Apparently there was a dispute about who would get the compensation for Thomas' death, the sisters or the wife. (There was some question as to whether or not Thomas and Hannah were legally married). But Hannah managed to produce the proper paperwork and she received the money to be able to raise their daughter, Marion Columba O'BRIEN who was born on 3 Sep 1912.

Martina Devlin descends from sister Beatrice O'BRIEN and wrote a wonderful fictional account of Thomas and Hannah called "Ship of Dreams" which tells about Hannah's life in New York, her interaction with fellow survivors, and the birth of her baby.

Annie O'BRIEN: I probably never would have found sister Annie if someone hadn't been diligent in filling out her ship manifest. Before I found that I didn't even know she existed. But according to the manifest below, from May 29, 1907, she is going to live with her sister Beatrice at 429 Oak St in Chicago and that she was from Pallasgreen.

I am pretty sure that Annie married a Philip CASSIN on 11 Apr 1909. They had at least 2 children, one of whom lived to adulthood, Philip CASSIN, Jr.. Annie divorced Philip sometime between 1920 and 1927 when she died. There was an inquest to determine her cause of death which was determined to be pneumonia. She was only 38 years old.

Barney O'BRIEN: As far as I can tell, Barney stayed behind in Ireland. He is in the 1901 Ireland census living with his mother and 3 siblings and in the 1911 census he is living with only his brother Patrick on the family farm.

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