• Tommy Hourigan, Raheen, Limerick

The Limitless Bounds of Motherly Love (Catherine Gavin)


This blog post is primarily about the Grange-woman, Catherine Gavin, who is remembered in an article compiled by Dianne McGuinness and me some time ago for this website. The article may be read HERE. The summary which appears later in this post may spark your interest. But first of all, it is necessary for me to introduce you or re-introduce you to Dianne McGuinness, who undertook the research for the Catherine Gavin article.

You may or may not have read that wonderful article, The Purcell Family of Grange, penned by Miriam Gallagher, which was published in the book Grange Past and Present (2015). You may read Miriam's article HERE, and you may dip into the book HERE as well. You may also read Dianne's Grange Book Testimonial HERE.

The book article had its genesis in a chance meeting between Dianne and Mike McGuinness of New York and Miriam at Grange Cemetery, while Dianne and Mike were on holiday from the USA.

The story owes its origins to Dianne's and Mike's fascination with Mike's Irish roots. Mike McGuinness is a direct descendant of William Purcell (1747-1795), who lived and farmed at Grange Hill (SE County Limerick, Ireland). William's wife was Ellen Clancy or Clanchy. The old Purcell/Spillane burial vault is located at the Lough Gur side of Grange Church Cemetery, adjacent to the walkway to the sacristy door. Delia Purcell, great granddaughter of William Purcell, married James Naughton of Crean in 1904. They emigrated to America. The McGuinness family of New York is descended from Delia (Mike's grandmother). A family tree chart showing Mike's ancestry back to William Purcell may be viewed below.

The Purcell Family of Grange article is truly extraordinary as the story research was carried out to a huge extent by Dianne McGuinness of New York and her family. Much of the leg-work research was undertaken by Dianne and her husband, Mike, while on holiday in Ireland, particularly in the Grange/Bruff locality. During their holiday, they visited burial grounds in the locality and inspected church and civil records as well as connecting with many local people in search of family information. Dianne has delved into many historical archives. While in Ireland, they left few stones unturned in search of Mike's ancestry. Jack Clancy recalls a visit by Dianne and Mike to his Restaurant and Pub in Bruff, and Dianne recalls the great welcome given to them by Sheila Fitzgerald at her home at Grange Hill.

Dianne is the researcher supreme - she knows how to go about unearthing old information and goes about such tasks with unbridled focus and energy. She is amazing. The fruits of her research are evident from the detail contained in Miriam's article. While the book article was being compiled, Dianne established contact with Sally Anne (Purcell) Reed in London, another direct descendant of William Purcell of Grange. Sally, in turn, contributed a huge amount to the wider Purcell family story. A family tree chart showing Sally Anne's ancestry back to William Purcell may be viewed below.

Sally is descended from John Purcell (1860-1916), her great grandfather, tobacconist and public representative, a descendant of William Purcell above (his grandfather). John carried out business in Dublin, and his tobacco business logos, etched in stone, remain in situ at the Lafayette Building on the corner of D'Olier Street and Westmoreland Street. See photograph.

Since the book article, Dianne's research continued unabated up to the present time and much more is now known regarding the descendants of William and Ellen Purcell. The known family tree now extends to hundreds of persons in Ireland, USA, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium and beyond. Other Purcell descendants have taken up research and it is hoped that the book article will be substantially updated in due course and be published on this website or elsewhere.

Little is known thus far of the Clancy (Clanchy) origins (i.e. Ellen Clancy's ancestry) - no doubt, Dianne will uncover facts in due course. Initial research indicates that the present Clancy families of Grange have no connections with Ellen.

Catherine Gavin

The story of Catherine Gavin was unearthed and researched by Dianne McGuinness and was brought to my attention by her, some time after the Grange Book was published in late 2015. We collaborated and compiled the said article, which was published on this website. You may read it HERE.

Catherine's story makes for compelling reading. Catherine was truly a remarkable woman and mother, described as a heroine. The following synopsis may encourage you to read the article in full:

Records show that Catherine held the surname 'Garvin' in the USA and 'Gavin' in Ireland. Clearly, it was the same Catherine. For the purpose of this synopsis, the name Catherine Gavin will be used throughout.

Cornelius Gavin was born in 1845 in the Townland of Grange Hill in the Parish of Bruff, County Limerick, Ireland, where his father, Mathew, was the owner of a large and productive farm of land. His mother was Catherine Gavin.

Owing to devastating famine, the Gavins emigrated to America - after a sea voyage of six weeks, they landed in New York on 10 January 1851. After a short stay in New York, the family moved to the City of Troy. Cornelius was five years old and attended a Christian Brothers School until he was thirteen. His father was taken ill and died on 05 February 1860.

In consequence of family misfortunes, Cornelius was removed from school and took up various employments.

After some time, Cornelius was deemed to have lost his reason and was sent to an institution formed for the purpose of receiving such poor unfortunates. He remained there for six months before being moved to the County House.

At this time, the war between North and South was raging and the President called for 500,000 volunteers - a large amount of money was offered to those who would enlist. Draft was later introduced in order to make up the required number of fighting men. Those possessed of money who did not want to enlist offered large bounties to those who would sign-up as substitutes.

Tempted by greed, unscrupulous officers of the County House took young Gavin to New York on 06 September 1863 and virtually sold him as a substitute for a huge profit.

Con Gavin was at once sent to the front, and from that time forward no certain trace of him could ever be discovered.

Poor Catherine, on hearing the news, became frantic, and, leaving her work, managed to get to Washington, where she obtained an interview with President Lincoln, who gave her letters to some distinguished army officers, and then she set out in search of Con.

Her search lasted for two years, up to the end of the war. Catherine visited every camp of the army from Mississippi to the Atlantic, inspected every regiment and searched every military hospital. She became known to soldiers far and wide. Many a night and day was spent by Catherine in bivouac and battlefield, and she witnessed some of the principal engagements of the Great War. She was even permitted to enter the Confederacy Entrenchments and to search some of its hospitals and prisons. Catherine wrote many letters in her attempts to locate Con.

Catherine never located her son - what heartbreak it must have been for her.

Many years later, Catherine was awarded a pension of £40 a year plus arrears for several years, on the basis that she was the mother of a soldier who presumably died in the war. In her will, Catherine left £50 "for Masses for the soul of my dear son, Con".

A report appeared in the New Zealand Tablet on 25 December 1896 - Catherine had returned home to Ireland. Inter alia, the report stated:

"Some days ago, a small suit was tried by Judge Adams at Limerick in which the matter in dispute was the will of an old woman, Catherine Gavin [aged 80], who died some time since [13 April 1896 at Ballygrennan] in Bruff, in the County of Limerick. It does not appear to have been mentioned at the trial, says the Dublin Freeman, that this poor woman was a heroine whose story forms part of the record of the great tragedy, the American Civil War."

Apparently, the basis for the suit was that the poor woman's mind had failed in recent years - consequently the terms of her will were challenged.

Con was abducted from his sheltered home by unscrupulous persons in pursuit of easy money - the result of which he was thrown headlong into action in war - a predicament that, under the circumstances, he could not have been remotely prepared to survive. He died on the battlefield. No doubt, America provided many comforts to the victims of the Irish Famine - not so for Con or Catherine.

What a very sad story, indeed.

Regards to All.

Tommy Hourigan.

#DianneMcGuinness #CatherineGavin #CorneliusGavin #AmericanCivilWar #AbeLincoln #PurcellFamily

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