Recently, I was able to prove my three times O’Rourke great grandparents through a DNA match even though my match had no idea she had any O’Rourke’s in her ancestry. Not only was I able to finally verify my three times great grandparents names, I helped her add two more generations to her family tree.
In the O’Rourke branch of my tree going back past my two times great grandparents has proven difficult. I have not been able to locate my two times great grandfather’s James Rourke (O’Rourke) baptismal record in the Kilbroney church records in County Down. I have always made an educated guess as to who is parents were and it differed from what other family members thought.
There are two possible explanations why I can’t find James Rourke’s records. Several pages of the Kilbroney Parish church register are faded and his record may be hiding in there somewhere. The other explanation is that his parent’s never got around to baptizing him.
This is what I do know about James Rourke. He died in 1905 at the age of 80 in the townland of Ballintur in the Kilkeel civil registration district in County Down, so his birthdate must have been around 1825. He married my two-times great grandmother Mary Hughes in 1859, so he would have been about 34 years old. He had five children, his first born being my great grandfather John in 1861 and the last being my great grand uncle Francis in 1868.
I also used the Griffiths Valuation document to determine that his father’s name was John. In the Griffith’s Valuation, a John Jr. leased the same land until his death in 1869, when James Rourke took over the lease.
I did not know my great grandparents’ names until I was in my late 40’s. My father was killed in an automobile accident when I was five years old and I became – through no choice of my own – estranged from the O’Rourke family. It wasn’t until I reconnected with my uncle, Dennis O’Rourke and his family in 2006, did I finally learn their names and that they were from a place in Ireland called Rostrevor in the Mourne Mountains in what is now Northern Ireland. Since then I’ve been doing extensive work on my genealogy and intend to write stories about my ancestors on both sides of my family. The following is the story of my great grandfather.
John was born in County Down in the second half the 19th century and came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. He also happens to be my great-grandfather.
John was born “John Rourke” February 2, 1861 to James Rourke and Mary (Hughes) Rourke in the townland of Ballintur, near Killowen, in what is now Northern Ireland. (Source: Kilbroney Parish registers). He was baptized on Feb. 6 and his name was entered into the register as “John Roark” because there were no spelling standards at that time. His obituary states that he was born in 1862 and his death certificate lists his year as 1863, but both are incorrect.
The very next year in early December, John’s brother Francis was born. (Source: Kilbroney Parish registers.) Unfortunately, in February 1864, John’s young family would be struck by tragedy when Francis became ill with cholera. After a week-long battle Francis, barely 18 months old, died. Later that same year, in November 1864, another brother – James – was born. A third brother, Thomas Rourke was born in June 1866 and two years later in 1868, John’s youngest brother, Francis (named after the deceased brother) was born.
John’s childhood in County Down
Not much is known about John’s childhood days in County Down. The family lived in a rural area on the edge of Carlingford Lough within a stone’s throw of the Mourne Mountains and next to a small mountain (or hill) known as Cnocshee. John’s grandfather, John Rourke Jr., was listed in the Griffiths Revaluation as the primary tenant of the land in John’s early years. It was described as 8 acres, 1 rood, 5 perches and worth just more than six British pounds. When John Rourke Jr. passed away in 1869, my great grandfather John’s father, James, became the primary tenant. Continue reading “My great grandfather John O’Rourke — Irish immigrant”→
I had a heavy heart when I left Rostrevor, County Down yesterday morning. I was sad to leave because everyone was so good to me there. From the young lady (I don’t even know her name) who worked at the Old School House Café who helped me navigate the bus from Rostrevor to Mark Brennan who invited me to his home and shared the history of Killowen with me. In between there was Kieran Waters, my third cousin, who took me to the old O’Rourke homestead, Liam Baxter, proprietor of Rostrevor Holidays where I stayed, Roisin O’Neill, a distant relative who met me for lunch in Belfast, Annie Brennan, Mark’s wife, Rose Brennan, Mark’s daughter, and her fiancé, David.
Before left, I stopped by the Old Kilbroney cemetery and took one last look at my ancestor’s gravesite and found someone had left flowers. I only wish I knew who because perhaps it’s another relative. I had a maintenance man take my photo with the stone. I don’t know if and when I will return, so I wanted to get one last look at it. Hopefully someday, I will be back.
Saturday evening, Mark picked me up and drove me around Killowen. We went by the primary school where my great grandfather would have gone to school. Of course, the building is modernized, but Mark explained it was the exact same floor plan and in the exact same spot as it was years ago. Mark also showed me the old dock on Carlingford Lough where my great grandfather most likely boarded a boat for Liverpool. The dock is no longer in use, but it is still there just outside of Rostrevor town. Continue reading “Saying goodbye to County Down”→
This trip is costing me a lot of money, but I don’t regret it for one minute. It is worth every penny. I had a fabulous day yesterday when I met an Irish cousin (third cousin) and set foot on the actual property where my great-grandfather John O’Rourke was born. The property is situated up a small road about two or so kilometers east of Rostrevor. It is at the side of a small mountain known as Knockshee (Fairy Hill).
The property has a great view of Carlingford Lough, a bay sits on the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Kieran Waters, a descendant of Francis O’Rourke, John’s brother, was kind enough to take me there. It was exciting to finally meet him as we have been corresponding through Facebook for at least a year. Not only did Kieran take me there, he also brought me photos, a family tree and a copy of our second great-grandfather’s (James O’Rourke) will written in 1903.
In addition, he brought me a phone number of local historian of sorts – Mark Brennan. I am invited to Mark and his wife’s home for tea Saturday evening at half-six (6:30 in Irish). I am really looking forward to it. This is exactly what I wanted to do – meet the actual people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and learn about what life was and is like for them. When I left Ireland after my vacation two years ago, I knew I had to come back. My trip to County Down then had been mostly a failure. I failed to locate my great grandfather’s baptismal certificate and I was unsure if I found my ancestor’s grave in the local cemetery. I had gone to the cemetery my last night in Rostrevor at the urging of
my partner Toni who said I would regret it if I didn’t. It was not until I arrived home that I realized I had located my ancestor’s gravesite and I owe it all to ancestry.com and Lisa Cutshaw, a third cousin who resides in Monterey, Calif. For those who don’t know about ancestry.com, if an ancestor in your family tree matches another person’s tree, it notifies you. I was notified that my great grand uncle Francis O’Rourke matched Francis in Lisa’s tree. To make a long story short, I contacted her and she confirmed the gravesite I had found was my ancestors’. She also told me where they had lived — a place known as Crockshee or Knockshee. I also had help from Deirdre McEvoy, an
amateur genealogist from the Rostrevor/Killowen area. I made plans last September to revisit County Down. And yesterday I realized my dream – to meet an O’Rourke cousin and see where my family is from. Enjoy the photos.