Jim's Irish Genealogy Pages:

Bernard and Catherine Kearney

Bernard Kearney, son of James Kearney and Mary Kate Coyle Kearney, would have been a young man during the great Irish potato famine during the late 1840s. His hometown of Shercock was particularly hard hit by the famine; due to death and emigration, the population of the parish declined from 5,544 in 1841 to 3,481 in 1851. "There is no place of its size in Ulster where a greater scattering has taken place in so short a time," Rev. Randall McCollum, a Presbyterian minister in Shercock from the 1840s through the ’70s, wrote in his book The Highlands of Breifne.

Bernard married Catherine Fitzsimmons; born about 1835, she was 14 years his junior. The Fitzsimmons surname was originally French (meaning "son of Simon"), brought to Ireland by Anglo-Norman invaders who became largely assimilated into the native Irish-speaking population. Most of the Fitzsimmonses in Ireland descend from a family that came from Hertfordshire in England in 1323, and became leading gentry in Westmeath, a county bordering on Cavan. The first of the family to come to Cavan is said to be Richard fytz Symon, who moved there from Meath in approximately 1369 following a domestic dispute.

Catherine's parents were Patrick and Anne Fitzsimmons, who lived in the adjacent townland of Derry. (Family tradition recalls Catherine as a neighbor of Bernard's.) In 1825, according to the Tithe Applotment books, Patrick was living on a comparatively large plot of 22 acres in the townland of Derry. He may have had no sons, because his land was inherited by Catherine; by 1854, she had married Bernard, and in 1857 she is listed (as Catherine Carney) as the leaseholder of the now 21-acre farm. Tom Kearney's photo of the Kearney (or Fitzsimmons) 
house in Shercock.Griffith's valuation shows a Kearney living in Lecks in 1857, a Patrick. He may have been another son of James and Mary Kate Carney, but it seems more likely that he was the son of John, who erected the family tombstone, since there is known to have been another line of Kearneys in Shercock at that time that ended up in Chicago.

It’s noteworthy that Bernard seems to have moved to his wife's farm, while his cousin or younger brother Patrick remained in Lecks, presumably farming the Kearney land. This may have been because the larger Fitzsimmons farm promised a better living than the small Kearney plot. (The rule that Irish farms had to be divided up among all the sons was dropped after the potato famine demonstrated the dangers of tiny farms.)

A photograph of the house that Bernard and Catherine lived in was taken by their great-grandson, Thomas Kearney, on a visit to Shercock in 1968, and has been widely distributed among the Kearneys. Relatives referred to the old house--which was then used as a shed for animals--as "the Fitzsimmons house."

Bernard and Catherine's Children

About 1854, Bernard and Catherine's firstborn son was born, and named James, after his paternal grandfather. He was followed by Patrick, named for Catherine's father. Thomas Peter's birthdate was probably August 12, 1861, and Hugh was born on October 27, 1864. Two other sons, John and Christopher, were born either between Patrick and Thomas or between Thomas and Hugh. All these brothers had only one sister, Catherine, who would be named for Mary Kate Carney.

Bernard Sr. died on February 9, 1867, aged only 46 years. His last child, named Bernard after him, was born the same month, but died eight months later on October 10, 1867. His widow Catherine would live for another 20 years, but was still only 52 when she died on May 4, 1887.

James, the oldest son, took over the running of the Kearney farm and remained in Ireland. At about 40 years of age, James married Mary Smith--Smith is an Irish name in Cavan, an anglicized version of MacGowan, meaning "Son of the Smith" in Irish--and had three daughters, all of whom remained in Shercock. A son, named Bernard after his grandfather, seems not to have survived childhood. Left to right: Dolly Kearney, Owen Murtagh and another relative 
in front of the Kearney house in Shercock.

Only one of James' daughters ever married, and none had any children. Annie, who married a neighbor named Matthew Nelson, was recalled by a neighbor, Peadar Mohan, as a woman for whom "conversation was good time a-wasting." Another daughter, Janie, is said to have permanently taken to her bed after her heart was broken by a false suitor.

Mary Kearney, known as Dolly, was described by Mr. Mohan as a "lovely, accepting sort of woman.... If you told her the sky was falling, she’d say, 'Well, there'll probably be another one there in the morning.'" Dolly is said to have been a messenger for the IRA during the Irish Civil War, and to have favored "mannish" clothing. Several American relatives met Dolly on visits to Ireland.

James' brother Christopher died of "brain fever" (perhaps encephalitis) at the age of 22--probably around the year 1880. Two other brothers, Patrick and John, reportedly never married.

Like many in Shercock at the time, three of Bernard and Catherine's children emigrated to the United States. The reasons that families that had stuck through the famine would leave in the 1870s and 1880s were described by Peadar Mohan, who is the principal of Shercock's elementary school, in an article written for a commemorative issue of Cavan's Anglo-Celt newspaper:

It is important to remember that in the aftermath of the famine, some of the landlords were trapped between high rates [taxes] and the inability of their helpless tenants to pay their rents.

Under the Encumbered Estates Act, these estates were sold off and it was to attract a new class of landlord who would cooperate with the tenants. This failed to happen, and greedy speculators attracted by cheap land became landlords, leaving the situation worse than before.

The Annesley family from Castlewellan in Co. Down took over the Ruxton estate. Reports from the Anglo-Celt often reveal a bitter attitude toward the landlords, with pleas for rent reductions in times of bad weather falling on deaf ears.

A report in 1886 on the death of a local bailiff curtly notes that "he seemed to be in good health the previous day when hounding the unfortunate tenants."

Of the immigrant Kearneys, Hugh settled in Crabtree, in Westmoreland Co., Pennsylvania, and had at least three children: Frank, Walter and Bridget. Hugh is buried, without a marker, in his brother Thomas' plot in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Mt. Pleasant.

On September 11, 1883, Catherine had a child, Mary Anne; her grandmother, Anne Fitzsimmons, was present at the birth. Catherine later married the baby’s father, John Sloan--Sloan being a prominent Shercock family--and emigrated with him to Massachusetts.

Next: Thomas Peter and Margaret Kearney.

This page was created by James Kearney Naureckas. Please email him with corrections, suggestions or questions.