The prompt for 52 Ancestors challenge for Week 3 2018 is ‘Longevity’. I struggled to think which ancestor I could choose, after trawling through my tree of over 6000 people I could not find anyone who lived to be 100 or even 90. I have chosen to tell the story of my 2nd great grandmother Mary Sweeney, also known as Mary Cassidy, who lived just short of 80 years, a woman who had a tough life from start to finish, a strong woman who outlived all but three of her 12 children.
Arrival in Australia
On 22 January 1839 Mary emigrated to Australia aboard the Roxburgh Castle with brother Terence as a bounty immigrant. Mary was brought out by a Mr Marshall, her occupation listed as a housemaid or children’s maid, age 20. Her character certified as very good, by persons in County Clare. Bodily health, strength and probable usefulness also stated as good. Roman Catholic and able to read. C O’Gorman, curate of County Clare, has certified her baptism indicating the year as 1817. Mary and Terence arrived in Sydney on 26th May 1839.
It took some time to determine the exact place of origin for Mary and Terence, but some clues were left throughout her life. Both arrival records state their parents names as John and Johanna Sweeney from County Clare.
Whilst Mary’s record states she is a native of Clare, Terence’s record indicates he is from Clones, County Clare. This is not a valid place name for Clare and was suspected to perhaps be Clooney, a townland and civil parish in Clare. Family stories suggest Mary used to proudly proclaim she was a native of Ennis, County Clare.
It was the birth certificate of her daughter Margaret in 1859 that provided more information. In this record Mary states her place of birth as Moresk, Co Clare, Ireland and that she was married in 1840 at Prospect. It is believed that this is Moyriesk, a townland in County Clare. Moyreisk townland is just over a square mile in size, and nearly all of it is located in Doora civil parish, with 77 acres in Clooney civil parish which aligns with the stated native place of Terence. Mary gave this information herself so is more likely to be accurate.
With some help from the Clare Heritage Organisation and the newly released Roman Catholic registers it appears that Mary was born in about 1816 and baptised on 21st May 1816 at Clooney, Clare, Ireland. The daughter of John Sweeney of Rathclooney and Joan Enright. Her sponsor at the time of baptism was noted as Catherine McNamara.
Mary’s mother may have died shortly after her birth, as her father remarried on 30 April 1820. A woman by the name of Honor MURPHY, the marriage registered at Tulla, Clare, Ireland. Mary would have only been about four years of age at this time. Parish baptism registers only started in Clooney in about 1816 and there are no other baptisms registered to John and Johanna (Joan), but there may well have been other siblings born before 1816. This would explain why no baptism record can be found for her brother Terence. Being approximately 3 years older, it is presumed he was a full brother.
Prior to her emigration to Australia conditions in Ireland were tough, with widespread hunger throughout the country in 1838. Her father John and his new wife Honor went on to have at least another 8 children by 1839, half siblings to Mary and Terence. No doubt a difficult time for all the family and not surprising that Terence and Mary who were by then aged 23 and 20 decided to take advantage of the colonial bounty system and emigrate to Australia.
Spouse and Family
Soon after arriving in the colony of New South Wales in 1839 Mary must have taken up with Thomas CASSIDY, a convict from Fermanagh Ireland who had been transported for life, but by that time had obtained his ticket of leave after serving as an overseer and constable. The couple had their first child together in April 1841, John was given a private baptism at St Patricks Church Parramatta, he is listed as illegitimate and the record states his name as John CASSIDY or John SWEENEY probably to reflect that the couple were not married at this time. We know that when Thomas was transported in 1830 that he had a wife and two children still living in Ireland so it is presumed he was still not free to marry.
Was the marriage date in the birth record of Margaret in 1859 just stated to account for having their first child in 1841, or was there really a marriage? My uncle, Laurie Roberts, tried unsuccessfully to find a marriage as long ago as 1955.
Mary and Thomas went on to have twelve children together. The family bible gives more information about their children. It is not known who completed this page and some of the information may have been recorded by different people. One child is not listed, the female twin of Patrick Thomas who died at birth in 1843.
The family lived at Prospect, near Parramatta and the couple worked as farmers. In a book written by Fr Peter Klein (about their grandson Phillip Cassidy) Mary is described as a ‘strongly built woman with fairer and wavy hair’.
Mary and Thomas had three children who died as infants, the female twin of Patrick Thomas in 1843, Austin at 7 days old in 1850 and Edward at 4 days old in 1851. Her husband Thomas later died in 1862, aged about 62, after a long and painful illness. He is buried in St Patricks Cathedral. Mary was left a widow with 8 children to care for, although her eldest John was by this time about 21 and probably a great help to his mother.
It must have been heartbreaking when her son Phillip William died just 2 years later in 1864 at the young age of nine years. His older sister Anna Maria following soon after in 1866, aged only 19. Both are buried in St Patricks with their father.
Mary Cassidy – Farmer and Grazier
In 1871 Mary applied for and was granted a freehold lease of 140 acres of land in Glenn Innes, County of Gough, Parish of Beardy Plains.
The Glenn Innes area is rich in Celtic History, the original settlers were Scots, but many people of Irish descent followed. Like many other Celtic families she made the trek north, close to 600 kilometres – quite an effort in those days. The rent was set at 13s 2d per annum. The property was known as Shannonvale.
Having lost her husband in 1862 it was no doubt a tough move at age 54 to take up farming on her own. However, six of Marys seven surviving children also made the move later marrying there or in nearby towns. Patrick Thomas was the only exception, he married in Liverpool but did later move to Glen Innes to be near his family. Mary and her family worked hard and had success, continuing to acquire more property. It appears she never married and remained independent throughout her life.
Glen Innes Examiner and General Advertiser (NSW : 1874 – 1908), Wednesday 28 April 1875, page 2
Free Selection. — The following selections were made at the local Land Office, on Thursday — Donald M’Master, 100 acres, county of Gough, parish of “Waterloo, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres. Mary Cassidy (widow), 160 acres, county of Gough, parish of Beardy Plains, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres.
Mary had to endure tough times as well. It was not that long after the move north that she lost her son Patrick in 1879 aged 34. Some time later in 1887 daughter Mary Clancy aged 39, eldest son John in 1888 aged 47 and youngest daughter Margaret Collopy in 1893 aged only 33. All have elaborate headstones in Glenn Innes Cemetery, with the exception of Margaret who is buried in Rookwood Cemetery. All headstones are annotated that they have been erected by their ‘affectionate mother’ suggesting Mary may have been reasonably affluent by that time, probably due to her successful farming endeavours.
On 11 Mar 1896 Mary died aged about 80 years from anasarca (an accumulation of fluid in the body due to heart failure) and gastritis. She is buried in the Cassidy family plot at Glen Innes with her children. Her death certificate lists her occupation as ‘Farmer’, a comment that wasn’t lost on the various feminists in our family who were very proud of the fact that she had her own occupation and was so independent.
Mary was survived by only three of her children, Eliza BICKLEY who died in 1919, Terence who died in 1930 and lastly my great grandmother Rebecca MURPHY who died in 1931.
In 1987, 90 years after her death, I visited Mary’s grave at Glenn Innes with my son and Aunt and Uncle, Margaret and Lionel GILBERT. The hair was quite wild in those days!
NSW probate papers indicate that at the time of her death in 1896 Mary’s estate was valued at 951 pounds, consisting of 940 pounds of real estate and 10 head of cattle, described as a ‘farmer and grazier’. The real estate by this time consisted of 510 acres of freehold land valued at 780 pounds as well as lands and a cottage situated in Hunter Street, Glenn Innes valued at 160 pounds. Much more significant holdings than when she first made the move in 1871.
In 2016 my husband and I visited the area known as Shannon Vale, the conditions today probably quite different than they were in Mary’s time, but no doubt it has always been rich and beautiful grazing land. We discovered what appeared to be the Shannon Vale property but it is a much larger station today (over 3000 acres).
It wouldn’t be fitting if I didn’t mention what we have found through DNA analysis in this post. As I have mentioned in previous posts we now have a number of Mary’s descendants DNA tested.
It was wonderful back in 2016 to connect with my fourth cousin Torin who lives in the United States. He is a descendant of Mary’s brother Terence, his great great grandson. It was though our DNA matches that we were able to confirm we were all descended from a common ancestor using a technique called triangulation. There are two segment areas on chromosome 12 where Torin currently shares DNA with multiple descendants of Mary. This suggests these segments have been inherited from the same shared ancestor, in this case from one of their parents John Sweeney or Johanna Enright. At this point we don’t know which, or it could be a combination of both. It has also been confirmed that all testers all match each other in these same segment areas, which is the key test to prove a triangulated segment.
Mary is on my direct maternal line, so from the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test I took at Family Tree DNA we know that Marys mtdna is most likely Haplogroup J. People bearing haplogroup J settled in Europe from the Near East during the late Paleolithic and Meliolithic periods. Our sub clade J1c5 is aged between 8,300 and 13,000 years. So far all I only have nine full sequence matches. All of them are at a genetic distance of 3, which is not considered close enough to be of genealogical significance, our connection could be up to 1000 years ago! They all lead to Ireland though, so that is promising. Hopefully 2018 will bring closer matches to help further expand the line.
Descendants of Mary who inherited her mtdna should also belong to the J1c5 haplogroup. You can see other known descendants (who are on Wikitree) in the DNA Descendants View at Wikitree by clicking here.
Mary being female doesn’t carry the Y chromosome but our match with Torin was doubly pleasing as he carries the Sweeney Y DNA, being in the direct paternal line. We hope that in the future we will be able to make more discoveries regarding Mary and Terences father John Sweeney, but that will be the subject of a later post.
As always, if you can help me further expand my research please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog, or by private message via Wikitree.