Jan 2016: Steve and his lovely wife Claudia came to Ireland to research his Irish roots in 2013. He had done a little prior research in the States before they made the trip, however he had no idea where his Ewing ancestral home was located and knew very little of the family in Ireland. While they were in Donegal, I managed to both do some initial research into his family line which both located their farm and homestead; but also where they were educated and where they worshiped. I continue to work for Steve on a number of strands of research both here in Ireland and in Scotland. His family history story so far shows what can be achieved with some hard work, local knowledge and a positive attitude.
Irish Ancestral Research Services
Vol. 19, No. 4 (November 2013) Ewing Family Journal
My wife, Claudia, and I had a wonderful trip to Ireland on the 10th through the 26th of last August. David Neil Ewing suggested that Ewing Family Association (EFA) members might enjoy reading about our exploits, especially around Inishowen. Be that as it may, here goes ...
Claudia and I have been able to travel to Europe quite a bit during the last fifteen years. My business as a dock builder and her job as assistant principal of the local public charter school on Martha's Vineyard, where we live, have dictated our travel window: we travel for a couple of weeks in early to mid-August. For years the trips involved camping all over Europe with our two sons, Niko now twenty-six and Arno now twenty-three. Besides saving money, it was fun to be outside, meeting the locals around the campfires. The boys are mostly on their own now, so for the last three years Claudia and I have traveled alone and reverted back to staying in hotels with showers and beds.
We went to Scotland in August of 2011 and 2012. During our first trip to Scotland, we looped around the magnificent country; staying in four different areas and taking day trips in our rental car. In 2012, we focused on the mid-central belt and the west, visiting Otter Ferry, Loch Lomond and lots of Ewing country. My family tradition (like many of the members of the EFA) takes me back to a William, who lived around Sterling.
Thoroughly enjoying Scotland but not having much luck with specific genealogy, we decided to go to Ireland in 2013 because my ancestors supposedly went to Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1649 before they left for America at the peak of the 1848 famine. We flew into Dublin and drove straight to Newgrange, the Neolithic passage tomb,1 meandered around the Boyne Valley and drove to Sligo, where we spent our first night in a little hotel near the beach. As we were leaving the next morning, the chatty desk clerk mentioned that there were Ewings living around Ross's Point, a few miles away. Off we went to William Butler Yeats country.
1 Wikipedia: A passage grave or passage tomb consists of a narrow passage made of large stones and one or multiple burial chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs was normally carried out with megaliths and smaller stones; they usually date from the Neolithic Age.
As a boy, with his brother Jack, Yeats played around, and was inspired by, this beautiful wild area. We followed our noses to a small harbor and sure enough found a truck and a sign advertising Darryl Ewing whose family, it said, had been fishing these waters since 1856. I started up a dialog with a Timmy McCallion, Ewing's fishing competitor, who was very forthcoming about all the Ewings in the area. Darryl, it turned out, was out fishing all day, so we pushed on.
We drove to Buncrana, at the base of the Inishowen Peninsula. Thank God for the 'Sat. Nav.', as they call GPS in the U.K. It saved my marriage on the unmarked back roads! We arrived at the Inishowen Peninsula, overlooking Lough Swilly to the west, and settled into sunset, good food and sleep.
A short note on Inishowen, or 'Isle of Owen': Owen was a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a High King of Ireland. Many of us Ewings trace our Y-DNA to him. He lived in the fifth century and was baptized by Saint Patrick. Owen was buried on the east side of the peninsula overlooking Lough Foyle. His fort, Grianan Aileach ('Sun Palace'), sits on an 800-foot-high hill at the base of the peninsula, overlooking Inch Island at the convergence of the two loughs – Swilly and Foyle. Thousands of years ago, as the ice from the last great ice age receded, water ran across the Barr of Inch, effectively turning the peninsula into an island. When the weight of the ice lifted the land slowly rose, passing the height of the rising water and it became a peninsula again, as it is now. It is a stunningly beautiful part of the world.
I am Scots-Irish. I've had my Y-DNA tested and am participant SC2 in the Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project Group's 2*.2 Like many EFA members, I'm obsessed with my family history, in all its parts. Claudia's ancestors are Eastern European. Her knowledge goes back to her great-grandparents, and she has very little interest in her family history.
To say Claudia humors me is putting it mildly. Getting four days out of a sixteen-day trip, spent in the locale of my ancestors, was nothing short of a gift from heaven. I joke, but my wife was a really good sport. I actually think, in the midst of hiking around with Dessie McCallion, a local hill-walker and historian, who happened to know, by coincidence, Timmy the fisherman from Ross's Point and Jennifer Doherty from Clonmany Genealogy3 who I had hired to help me with my genealogy work, I saw real interest in Claudia's eyes though she would be quick to deny that!
Steve and Claudia Ewing with Dessie McCallion
Ever since I figured out where my ancestors lived in Ireland, I have been buying books about the area from a very nice fellow who runs a used bookstore in Carn(donagh). His name is Peter 'Saddler' Doherty. When we were in his store, and I heard him using his 'Saddler' handle on the phone, I asked him about it. He replied:
There are so many Dohertys on the peninsula, which is only about twenty-five miles in any direction, just using your first name is not enough. Everyone has a nickname. It happens my grandfather made saddles, so that's how I got that name.
I cannot really express how open and friendly everyone was. Strangers waved when passing, said "HI" on the street, took us in for tea or supper and were as warm as if we were family (which I suppose we actually could be.)
When we asked people if they were from around wherever it is was we were at the moment, they invariably said "No", then, after a pause, they would add: "a couple of miles down the road, for maybe 400 years, no less, but not exactly where we are standing."
I am getting ahead of myself.
At this point, let me say that a lot of what I'm relating is very much work-in-progress. The woman who is helping me with my research, Jennifer Doherty of Clonmany Genealogy – whom I highly recommend – is busy right now with a deadline for the late Tip O'Neil's family (yes, the Tip O'Neil) who were from Inishowen. Jennifer has to give a few presentations in the States soon so she is taking a bit of a break from working on my ancestry. That being said, I have gained a lot of knowledge from her research to this point.
I should also say, at this juncture, that I traveled to Inishowen armed with a lot of information of my own. Since joining the Ewing Family Association in the U.S. and Clan Ewen, a Scottish organization, I have been doing a lot of research on Ancestry.com. During that process I have been fortunate enough to connect with several Ewing cousins. One of them, Dorothy Stewart, has a collection of photos amongst other information. These included beautiful family reunion shots taken a hundred years ago, of the family I never knew.
My grandfather Ewing disappeared when my father was just one-year-old, and was never mentioned until recently. I didn't know anything about my Ewing relatives. Dorothy's photos included pictures of her great-grandmother – and my great2-grandaunt – Esther Ann (Moville) McCandless's trip to Inishowen in 1912. Like all photographs from the day, they all had descriptive notes on the back:
You can imagine how much fun it was to track down the locations in the pictures. Claudia and I would pose in the same way my great2-grandaunt – "Her Highness" – did a hundred-plus years ago. The notes on the photograph gave local historians we spoke with useful information when we asked them to pin down leads and locations. One picture showed a street scene in Carn with the mountain Slieve Snaght (Snowy Mountain) in the distance. The note on the back indicates that's where "Gramp lived," about three miles down the road at the base of the mountain.
Now back to our trip: We spent the first day the Isle of Owen started with Dessie and Jennifer at Peter's bookshop. Dessie navigated the 1830 Ordinance Survey Maps, made calls to locals and pinned down my Ewing family's land in Glentogher. While Dessie was looking at the maps, Jennifer pulled out a marriage record that she had found earlier. It indicated the address of Alexander John Ewing, my Great x 3 - Grandfather and an immigrant to Massachusetts. The address said "White Park." There is no such place near Carn, but three miles out of town is a 'White House' next to a 'Whinn Park'. A call to a local – whose family has lived in Cashel, the hamlet next to Whinn Park for centuries – confirmed that "the Ewing's lived up over there." The local turned out to be John Cunningham. More about him later.
We all piled into Jennifer's car and drove the three miles out of town through the ancient valley, near the base of Slieve Snaght where three generations of my family lived and worked.
Of course, along the way all sorts of bits and pieces of history were shared, and as was so typical of our new-found Irish friends, the banter and good-natured ribbing and joking was in full swing. We pulled off along the side of the road that I had seen so many times from home on Google Earth, next to what the old map showed as the National School. (Might that be where my Great x 3 - Grandfather, Alexander John Ewing, was educated as a civil engineer and, as an professional civil engineer, have his passage to America paid for by the prominent Massachusetts businessman/philanthropist, Samuel Williston?) Dessie pointed to an old path leading into the woods and up a hill towards the mountain. He said: "Up there, but you best wait until the rain is over as the little river that you there you need to cross a stream that is a bit swollen, and the going might be tough." As anxious as I was to proceed, I agreed to wait.
We rendezvoused with Jennifer a few hours later at the church. We looked around a bit until John Cunningham arrived. He lives near where the Ewings had lived in Whinn Park. It turned out he was the Sexton of the church. I believe his family has held this position for a while; I wasn't quite sure as his accent was a bit thick.
John pulled out an old map of the burial ground alongside the church and showed us that a woman named Jane Ewing had two unmarked grave plots. He had heard of the name, not only because of his role in the church, but also because his parents were buried right next to the Ewings.
The Carn Presbyterian Church is an old church going back hundreds of years. The two Ewing plots there were in the front to the right. I don't think I would have ever found these graves without John Cunningham's help.
As we were leaving, I offered to make a contribution to the church, which John appreciated. I found out later that there were a lot of Americans who visit these places and ask for help with their genealogic research without thinking to offer some money to the institution they have just visited. Ireland is not doing too well economically these days, and it is not only a common courtesy but economically beneficial to thank people who go out of their way to help. Most people, I would hope, know this; however, I was surprised to find it is not uncommon for visitors to just walk away as if the locals had nothing better to do than show them around.
The next day we woke to a bit of the sun, albeit fleeting. It rained at least for part of every day we were in Ireland, but, like the term 'dry heat', it is a 'soft rain', making it a 'wee bit dampish'. I hoped to cross the little river, Glentogher, and explore Whinn Park. Claudia and I started the day with a walk along Buncrana's shoreline, and then we drove to the most northerly tip of Ireland, Malin Head. This is a rugged headland where people watched the boats disappear over the horizon, taking their families to America during the 19th century. During the worst of the famine in the mid 1800s, one million people died and one million emigrated.
We highly recommend a visit to a small, restored clachan4 of houses called the Doagh Famine Village 5 in the village of Doaghmore. It provides a thought-provoking 'journey' through much of the history of Ireland with a refreshingly honest look at its trials and tribulations, its place in the world socially and politically, and its strength and beauty. The village was restored and is run by a member of the family who lives there.
We continued down the road to a couple of lovely (other local expressions are 'brilliant' and 'grand') strands (beaches). Coming from an Island in Massachusetts, I know beaches, and I must tell you that the beaches of Martha's Vineyard have stiff competition from their Irish counterparts. The Irish ones are incredibly beautiful as well as numerous. However, the water temperature is less than inviting. People do swim in Ireland, and there is a lot of surfing too. It's just that everyone wears a wetsuit, even in the summer!
We had a great lunch and then drove to the town of Culdaff to meet Jennifer the genealogist. She had two people in tow this day: Agnes, her associate, and Agnes' husband, Seamus, with his camera. A lovely couple, they were extremely friendly and extremely helpful with our research.
We started off by meeting another Presbyterian Church sexton, George Mills. The focus of this meeting was centered on the Butler family that my Ewings married into. The church we visited had numerous Butlers buried in the yard along with plaques in the building recognizing the monetary contributions Butlers had made funding things like linens and windows etc. We scanned the old records and found all sorts of Ewing/Butler information that needs to be researched.
4 Wikipedia: A clachan is a type of small traditional settlement common in Ireland and Scotland until the middle of the 20th century. Originally kirktowns, today they are usually defined as small villages lacking a church, post office, or other formal building.
George was incredibly generous with his time, and when I produced one of the photos of my ancestor's visit in 1912 he said: "I know where that house is." The writing on the back of the photo indicated that the house belonged to my Great x 2-Grandaunt's cousin Belle Faulkner, whoever that was.
So off we drove to a wonderful old place with land running right down to the beach at Culdaff Bay. Claudia and I posed in the fashion of the old photographs. We knocked on the door and found a kindly, elderly woman who knew nothing of my ancestors. We had a chat, showed her the hundred-year-old picture of her house, and drove off. We thanked George for his help and contributed to his church.
Throughout this excursion, Seamus took loads of pictures of all the gravestones, church records and buildings associated with my family. All of this needs to be interpreted, over time, by Jennifer and me. My intent is to link my Ewing family on Inishowen back to Scotland where, tradition indicates, they came from. This link may or may not be possible to make, but Jennifer and I are having fun trying.
We then drove in the lingering twilight to Jennifer's family home for a delicious supper with her husband, Michael, and their kids, Conor and Sinead. Seamus and Agnes joined us also.
We woke up the next morning to clear skies and a rainbow over Lough Swilly. After the usual filling breakfast we took off to the Glen of the Causeway, Glentogher. The river had abated a bit so with map of Whinn Park in hand, I anxiously headed up the hill. I found the White House River, which ran down the hill and merged with the Glentogher River, which I had to cross. Following the White House River through thick brush I slowly made my way up the steep incline. The day was hot and the going slow. Claudia stayed down with the car catching up on her reading, leaving the bushwhacking to the ancestry zealot, me. After a good half-hour of this the ground leveled off a bit into a sort of plateau. I looked down at our car parked in the distance, on the side of the road. I looked across the valley to the opposing hill rising up just as steep on the other side. I looked into the trees and spotted some stones forming what looked like a wall. I got excited. The trees also started to look more like overgrown planted shade trees from long ago. I tried to make for the stones but the going was too difficult. Briars taller than me blocked the way.
I continued a bit higher along the riverside and tried to circle around. I came upon slightly more open ground and was finally able to make my way over to the stones. They were the remains of three-or-four stone buildings with walls and gable ends6 still standing, and they were exactly where the old ordinance maps indicated. The roofs had collapsed but on one gable end to the north, the chimney and fireplace with its large stone lintel was still intact.
Were these the remains of my Ewing family homestead in Whinn Park? Did three-or-more generations of my family live in these buildings now just stone shells? I studied the stones and admired the construction and the fact that they were still standing unattended after all these years. As I ventured around the gable end with the fireplace, I realized the structure was on the border of a fenced-in property. On the other side of the fence was an open field with a farmhouse in a grove of trees a distance away.
An aside: Since returning from our trip, I have heard the following from Jennifer:
“I have located the homestead of the Ewing family by mapping. I am now sure of the location from a trio of maps that I have cross-referred. A friend came through with the additional land records although she had issues with her camera on the day. I can read [her pictures] myself, but I wouldn't be happy to send them to you as evidence. This can be rectified at a later date. Meanwhile, I can confirm that Farm No. 8, as I previously advised, is the Ewing farm per the Cancelled Books (land records) which I previously sent to you. I am going to send the three maps for your perusal once I get a chance to edit them with notations.
I will also head to Glentogher tomorrow to take photos for you. The [brush] has diminished somewhat since you were there and the going should be easier. When I get back, I will give additional information on the last owners of the property.
I have some other possible exciting news from another location. I have found out that the Donegal Archives hold the Glentogher Land Rental Records which may contain some information about the Ewings.”
6 End (also Sone-Ender): an architectural style which made use of the material that was in abundance in the area, timber and stone
Back to my description of Claudia and my trip: The field ran clear down to the road and I realized I could have ambled right up the hill that way instead of my ordeal in the pucker brush. Oh well; it made it more rewarding, I suppose. The old map showed these farmsteads were connected with a road that ran along the high ground and then shared a common road that ran down the hill and crossed the river. After taking a few pictures and admiring the view, down I went and then through the field to Claudia waiting by the car eager to hear all about it.
We drove on to the Grianan Aileach, Prince Owen's 'Sun Palace', the Neolithic ring fort, parked at the bottom of the hill and walked the steep road up to it. The fort had been destroyed during different periods, but the last rebuild put it in good shape. The view to the north spread out with the peninsula of Inishowen in full sight with the Loughs Swilly and Foyle framing the sides, sparkling in the sun that day. The beautiful little hill island of Inch sat just below, holding a lot of Ewing history in its fertile green fields, for sure.
We drove a bit further down the coast and came to a churchyard, along the road, that held the grave of William Butler Yeats. Being sort of a poetic type, and having the name Butler in my family, we stopped for a look. How perfect to see Yeats's grave and almost next to him, in the same row, was Thomas Ewing and next to Thomas was another Butler, of course.
Claudia and I travelled down the west coast of Ireland in August last year. We visited new-found friends and saw most-dramatic scenery shrouded in the soft Irish mist. We went to small pubs and savored lots of 'Trad Music'. We watched Galway Hookers7 race full of turf in Kinvara. We went back in time at dolmens8 and passage tombs. Finally, we explored Dublin with the help of canal boats and double-decker buses. Galway, Dingle, Connemara, the Burren and the Blasket Islands were great places to visit.
But Inishowen stands out. Not merely because of my family connection, but because it is truly one of the most spectacular places we have ever been. The landscape, the people, the history – never mind the food – remains in memory and will pull us back for sure.
We learned a lot about my Ewing ancestors, but the big take-away was how important it is to do your homework before travelling abroad. Having photos with notes, names to look for and a general sense of who lived where helped make the best use of our valuable time. On-site genealogy research is expensive, but the best bang-for-the-buck. It will connect you with other resources that it would take you a lot of time to find. Everyone picks up on your enthusiasm. It becomes contagious. I will continue to work with Jennifer. I will pursue the loose ends. I will try to find that window back to Scotland. I will try to work with Jennifer. I will pursue the loose ends. I will try to find that window back to Scotland. I will try to identify the unmarked graves I found.
So much we saw, so much still to explore. Inishowen is a fantastic part of the world both for its stunning beauty and its welcoming people. I know we will return.
What our trip reinforced most vastly of all is the importance of family. Extended, here and now or long gone, family is what we all are striving to maintain. Ages come and go, but the family remains. Call them clans, tribes, bands, even 'Webs of Kinship', families are what bind us all in mutual respect for each other and satisfies our deepest needs. That is what Claudia and I found so pure and strong in Ireland: the love of family.
©Irish Ancestral Tours and Research 2020