Caherea and The Family of Thomas Griffin & Mary Clohessy: 1821-1961
Comments by Paddy Waldron at the book launch
Templegate Hotel, Ennis, 23 Jun 2018, 3p.m.-6p.m.
Thank you to Noel Hill for the musical entertainment. I
understand that he is related by marriage to some of the Griffins, but
we will have to await a book on the Hill family for the precise details.
Tá fáilte romhaibh go léir, go h-áirithe roimh na daoine a tháinig
anseo go Condae an Chláir ó Baile Átha Cliath agus áiteanna eile don
Gabhaim buíochas le Conal faoin cuireadh a thug sé dom labhairt libh anseo inniú.
Comhgairdeachais leis and le na comh-údair eile a chabhraigh leis san
obair fada seo. Conal tells me that he has been working on this
book for five long years.
It was right at the end of that period, just two weeks ago yesterday,
that I got an e-mail from my friend Ciara Breathnach, who is the course
director of the MA in History of Family at the University of Limerick,
telling me about this book and book launch, and suggesting that I would
be an appropriate speaker here today, to put this book into the context
of the wider ancestral story of the Griffin family, the Griffin
surname, genealogy in general, the local history of County Clare and
the history of the revival of the Irish language.
You can decide when I have finished if she was correct. She and I
have a private joke about what she calls "hairy molly questions" that I
have asked after her lectures, but she has got her own back on me today.
Ciara draws a significant distinction between History of Family, as
taught at UL, and Family History as practiced by less academic types
like myself and Conal and his co-authors.
Surname history might be viewed as yet another different field of
study, nowadays mostly associated with the examination of mutations on
the Y-chromosome, mutations which are passed from father to son like
the surname. As you probably know, only men have Y chromosomes;
women have a second X chromosome instead.
Up to a fortnight ago, all that I knew about Caherea is that in recent
years it had one of the more ridiculous collections of speed limits
that I have come across - 50km/hour on the long straight stretch of
road alongside the Griffin farm; 50km/hour around the dangerous bends
to the west; and then 100km/hour outside the new(ish) National School
further west. Actually, it still has ridiculous speed limits, as
the limit around the dangerous bends is now 100km/hour.
I knew a little more about the Griffin surname than I did about Caherea.
Griffin has long been a prominent surname in the town of Kilkee, where
I spent all my childhood holidays and where I am still a regular
visitor from my home at the other end of the county in Killaloe.
Some of the descendants of the Caherea Griffins too still holiday in
Kilkee - one of the contributors to this book was there only last
weekend and was introduced to me, via telephone, by a mutual
This year we are celebrating the centenary of votes for some women in parliamentary elections.
The introduction of County Councils in 1898 brought votes for some women in local elections.
Some of the first women elected under the 1898 reforms were members of
the Kilkee Town Commissioners, incorporated in 1901 under the 1854 Town
Improvement (Ireland) Act.
Mrs Anne Bruce and Mrs Amy Griffin were among the first 12 Kilkee town commissioners elected in 1901.
Amy Griffin was born Griffin here in Ennis in the mid-1850s. She
grew up mostly in Kilbaha, where she is remembered as a poet, painter
and diarist. Her best-known poetic work is The Five Pilots, and
her diaries were brought to national attention by her greatniece Rachel
Burrows on Sunday Miscellany. Amy married the widowed Dr John
Griffin, who was about 12 years older than her own father, in Kilkee in
1883. They were probably distantly related to each other.
She was widowed by 1886. By the time she died in 1910, she was
chairman of the Town Commissioners.
There is an unproven tradition that both Amy and her husband descend from the Griffins of Glaunalappa in County Kerry.
Another unsignposted townland on the Ennis to Kilrush road, at the far
side of Lissycasey, is Kinlea, which you may know from the roadside
chocolate shop established there in recent years. The Griffins of
Kinlea House also claim roots across the estuary, in their case in
Shanagolden in County Limerick. They also claim a close
relationship to a better-known Griffin author, Gerald Griffin, best
known for fictionalising the story of the Colleen Bawn. Mary
Hester née Griffin from the Kinlea family gave Conal a lot of help with
By coincidence, in 1908 the writer Gerald Griffin's niece, Miss
Geraldine L. Griffin, was also elected to the Kilkee Town
Commissioners, which thus had two female Griffins among their number a
decade before Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the
national parliament in Westminster or Dublin or wherever. In
1911, Geraldine Griffin was involved in the movement for the founding
of an Irish College at Carrigaholt in memory of Eugene O'Curry.
There was a third Griffin family living in Kilkee while Amy and
Geraldine Griffin were on the town commissioners, and that family have
a very different story of the origins of their surname (and their Y
James Griffin, known as Séamaisín Sheáin Phádraig, died in Kilkee at an
advanced age on 28 May 1906. In the census just over five years
earlier, he said that he was 88 and his death certificate and his
tombstone both say that he died at 93. His son Seamus Mór Ó
Gríobhtha said that his father was 96 when he died.
Of course, he died before the introduction of the Old Age Pension in
1909 and the establishment of Hallmark Cards in 1910, so he lived in an
era when most people neither knew nor cared when they were born, and
even if they knew, might not want to admit to the truth.
Nevertheless, this is just one example of the challenges and
difficulties of compiling an accurate family history, whether from oral
and written family traditions or what Conal described to me as the
"scribbly bits" passed down from her ancestors; from online and offline
official records; and/or from DNA analysis.
Family historians quickly learn that some family myths like fake news
become enshrined as fact, while other facts fade rapidly from family
I can date one of my early encounters with the Kilkee Griffins back to
a precise date almost 40 years ago - Monday 23 October 1978, and my
mother's funeral mass. I was only 15, but I was already an avid
genealogist, and I had cross examined my mother at length about her
ancestors, of whom she knew very little. As I read the
reconstructions in this book of the lives of the seven Griffin siblings
from Caherea, I was reminded of how I neglected to cross-examine my
mother on her own early life.
Somehow my mother had become a member of the Dominican Third
Order. When she first moved from Mayo to Dublin to work in the
civil service, she may have lived in a residence for innocent country
girls somewhere around Henrietta Street, which may have been run by the
Dominicans. I remember childhood visits from Brother Augustine
and other clergymen, who were probably Dominicans.
In any event, the Dominican Order sent a priest to concelebrate her
funeral mass. He introduced himself to the family before the mass
and apologised that he hadn't known my mother. His name in
religion was Fr. Hilary Griffin.
I have never believed in the theory of six degrees of separation.
It's much less than that. As an example, it didn't take Conal and
myself long to figure out that he worked with my first cousin in Aer
Lingus, or that his father-in-law Charlie Murray did his Leaving
Certificate in the same year as my father, 1934, so that his results
appeared (well above my own father's) in the printed lists in my family
archives. Having worked in academia at the time that anonymous
marking was introduced and having seen how the mania for so-called data
protection has hampered genealogical research in recent years and
especially in recent weeks thanks to GDPR, I hope that revealing that
information wont lead to a visit to my house by the Data Protection
Commissioner with a shredding machine.
Similarly, it emerged before my mother's funeral that the strange
Dominican priest was from Kilkee, son of Seamus Mór Ó Gríofa.
While he never knew my mother, probably having been in Lisbon while she
was involved with his Dominican colleagues, his family and my father's
family were intimately acquainted.
Thankfully, I don't have to spell his name - his father appears to have
spelled it with two Ls (see his letter reproduced on page 80), but his
nephew who edited the "cúntas ar chlann Uí Gríofa", spells it with one
L. Another challenge of family history.
Those who changed their names on entering religious life are another
bugbear of the family historian. I was delighted to learn from
the same letter that Fr Hillary was originally called Seanán, after the
local patron saint, St. Senan of Scattery Island (where Mícheál Ó
Gríofa never taught, despite a family tradition to the contrary).
On that one and only, sadly memorable, occasion when I met Fr. Hilary, I was already familiar with other members of his family.
My grandmother was from just outside Kilkee, and some of her
half-sister's daughters and their sister-in-law had worked in a
dress-making business run by Fr Hilary's mother.
Fr Hilary's brother Paddy was in the Irish army and was an enthusiastic
fisherman as were my younger brothers, so I met him occasionally
fishing for mackerel at Dunlickey Castle near Kilkee.
I had it in the back of my head that Fr. Hilary's father, Seamus Mór,
was friendly with my grandfather, who worked in the Post Office in
Limerick and in Dublin, but who had no connection with Kilkee until he
met my grandmother in Limerick.
I never committed the details of the connection between the Waldrons
and the Griffins to writing, and now anyone who could remind me has
I couldn't find Seamus Mór in Kilkee in the 1901 or 1911 census - and I
still haven't found his marriage record or birth records for his four
sons and one daughter.
But a lightbulb finally went off in my head when I got to page 194 of
this book and realised that Seamus Mór also worked in the Post Office,
as a linesman, presumably on telegraph lines, as he was born six years
before the invention of the telephone.
His 1955 death certificate confirms that he was a retired P.O.
Engineering Official. The death was registered by Dr. Thomas
O'Dea. By coincidence his son James O Dea was the last man to
invite me to address a family gathering here in Ennis, the O'Dea Clan
Gathering last month.
Likewise, my childhood recollections were that Séamus Mór was, like his
distant cousin Mícheál Ó Gríofa, strongly associated with the Irish
In the small hours of yesterday morning, I found obituaries of Séamus
Mór and of his son and namesake, another Dominican priest and yet
another Seamus. The son's obituary confirmed that Seamus Mhor O
Gríobha worked hard for the revival of the Irish language.
It is worth reading this extract from the obituary of the father published in what was then The Cork Examiner on 6 Oct 1955:
"He was the oldest native Irish speaker in the district and was also a
well-known seanachaidhe and folklorist. One of the first men in Clare
to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he had the confidence of such
men as Seán Heuston, Cathal Brugha, Seán McDermott and Peadar Clancy.
He served from an early age until he retired in the Post Office
Engineering Department and was responsible during the War of
Independence for having six rifles carried to Carrigaholt, West Clare,
for the use of the local Volunteers [That incident may be mentioned in
some of the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements]. Born in the
West Clare Gaeltacht area, he was a native Irish speaker and was
responsible for the holding of numerous feiseanna and Irish classes in
Clare over a long period of years. With Brian O'Higgins and Seán O
Muirthile and a few others [including his namesake Miss Geraldine
Griffin, not mentioned in the obituary] he was responsible for the
establishment of the now famed O'Curry Irish College, Carrigaholt, of
which he was a trustee."
Despite recent problems with the local fire safety officer, that College still operates as a memorial to both Griffin families.
The obituaries confirm that the Ó Gríofa family are buried together in
a family plot in Kilfearagh outside Kilkee. Luckily I
photographed the tombstones on a visit there on 3 July 2009. The
fact that all the inscriptions are as Gaeilge in the sean-chló, through
which the older members of the audience will have learned Irish, might
explain why they are missing from the transcriptions made in the
mid-1980s and available on the Clare County Library website at
clarelibrary.ie. The man in charge of that transcription project,
George Harratt, was born in England to a Clare mother, so probably had
very little Irish.
Given Mícheál Ó Gríofa's prominent role in the revival of the Irish
language, I think I should say something here about the modernisation
of the language in the 20th century.
The Ó Gríofa family were still able to find a monumental sculptor able
to use the sean-chló right up to the most recent burial in the family
plot in 2001.
De Valera chose Mícheál Ó Gríofa to translate his constitution.
Later Dev supported the stance on standard forms and spellings taken by
another man with West Clare roots, Tomás de Bhaldraithe, my father's
double first cousin, when he compiled the authoritative English-Irish
dictionary in the cló Románach in the 1950s.
This was despite opposition from traditionalists among the civil servants in the Department of Education.
The official elimination of the sean-chló was completed by the
Caighdeán Oifigiúil, published under the supervision of Seamas Daltún,
chief translator in Dáil Éireann, and married to another de
Bhaldraithe, my auntie Kit, parents of Conal's former Aer Lingus
colleague Antoin Daltún.
Most of you will be familiar with Dev Óg, the Galway Teachta Dála Éamon Ó Cuiv, grandson of Éamon de Valera.
His paternal grandparents were Shán Ó Cuív and Shuván ní Chuív.
If you want to see just how little standardisation there was in the
spelling of Irish when Mícheál Ó Gríofa was active in the Irish
language movement, search for their 1911 census return, where you will
have to spell the name C U I-fada V.
Future genealogists and those digitising records from the early years
of the Irish Free State will face unprecedented challenges when records
such as the 1926 census are released, as nobody knows how many of those
enumerated in 1926 followed the example set by some of the Ó Gríofas in
1911 by completing the census return in Irish.
As a member of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, I had
the opportunity to lobby both Éamon Ó Cuív and Jimmy Deenihan on the
subject of the 1926 census. The 2011 programme for government
included a commitment to make a minor amendment to the Statistics Act
to allow the immediate release of the 1926 census. This was
over-ruled by civil servants in the Central Statistics Office, who
clearly have more power than their counterparts had in Dev's
time. The 1926 census remains subject to a hundred-year
rule. How many transcribers familiar with the sean-chló will be
around on 1 January 2027 and when subsequent censuses are released to
It was only on the 12th of January this year that I was given a copy of
the Cúntas, which I circulated among some of my fellow local historians
in West Clare, who have been struggling to make sense of it. I
didn't realise that my good friend Paddy Nolan had been independently
circulating it to Conal and others, who have struggled even more to
make sense of it, since Conal's copy is missing the initial page of
The Cúntas is the account of the family history as spoken by Séamaisín
Sheáin Phádraig, later written down by his son Seamus Mór, later again
rewritten or typed by his son Fr. Hilary, and finally digitised by his
nephew, yet another Séamus, Séamus Francis Griffin of Bolton in England.
One of the more intriguing parts of the Cúntas is the account of the surname origins:
"As far as I can gather there was a tradition often mentioned when I
was a child that the first Griffin of our line was a Welshman – or
supposed to be – who had been shipwrecked on the West coast of Clare,
somewhere near Miltown Malbay. I don’t know when. He married and
settled down in Annagh about a mile South of Miltown Malbay. Part
of the remains of the family mansion is still there."
Edward McLysaght does say in his book "Surnames of Ireland" that some
Irish Griffins are of Welsh origin, i.e. that their original surname is
There are currently 369 members who have made their Y-DNA results
public in the DNA Surname Project for those whose surnames begin with G
R I F F at griffdna.org.
We need just one of the many living male Griffin greatgrandsons of
Thomas Griffin and Mary Clohessy (or of the Kilkee Griffins) to sign up
for the DNA project in order to enable the experts to determine whether
or not they come from the same lineage as the other Clare Griffins who
claim Kerry or Limerick origins rather than Welsh origins.
I actually wonder if Griffy, which appears in a lot of the early
Caherea records, was the original Welsh name and Griffin the original
There is a donation box here today to cover the printing costs of the book.
If there are surplus funds, perhaps Conal could be persuaded to use
them to pay for Y chromosome analysis, which costs between 129 US
dollars for the basic analysis up to over 500 US dollars for the most
The Cúntas leaves the precise relationship between the Kilkee and
Caherea Griffins as vague as it does the surname origins. Conal
started out with a book on the descendants of his grandparents, and
then wisely confined this book to the descendants of his
The challenge for whoever takes up the mantle next is to go back to the
previous generations, whose names are merely guessed at or left blank
on the tree on page 41.
The family whose history is recorded in this book was just one of several Griffin families in Caherea in the early 19th century.
In the Tithe Applotment Book of 10 Apr 1826, there were already five Griff* occupiers in Cahirea.
Michael & James Griffy, with a Y, in Cahirea East Upper, and three other Griffees with a double E:
Denis Griffee, James Conlon & Patt Gavin, Cahirea East Upper
Griffee John in Cahirea West Tubber/Toberaniddeen
Cahirea West Clondagad
In Griffith's Valuation in 1855, the combined effects of the Famine and
the redrawing of townland boundaries by the Ordnance Survey had reduced
the number of Griffin occupiers in Caherea from five to three, namely
Malachi Griffin, Thomas Griffin and his subtenant John Griffin.
The records in the Valuation Office in Dublin, which are still offline,
will provide valuable clues about the descent of their landholdings
through the generations.
Like Thomas, Malachy had a son James who became a National School
Teacher, in Tonlegee. Unlike the teachers in the Caherea family
and many other National Teachers in County Clare and elsewhere, that
James did not marry another teacher. The subject of teachers
marrying teachers deserves a book of its own, and indeed has one,
dealing with a famous case in Fanore. It had never occurred to me
until I read in this book about John McMahon from Kilrush, husband of
Brigid Griffin, that there were National Teachers in Clare who had
married TWO fellow teachers.
I also assumed from my study of teachers that women teachers were
exempt from the laws that saw other professional women like my own
mother fired for getting married. So I was surprised to read on
page 196 of the government decision which forced ALL married teachers
to retire early. If there was such a decision, I very much doubt
that it applied to male married teachers. But that is almost the
only minor error that evaded Conal's very diligent proof-reading.
Conal's next challenge might be to produce a book on Malachy Griffin of
Caherea and his descendants similar to this book on his neighbour Old
For now, all that remains for me is to declare this book officially
launched, insofar as one can launch a book which will not be sailing
out into the local bookshops.