THE KEARNEYS OF SHERCOCK
The Kearney family of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania traces its roots back to Ireland, to the parish of Shercock in Co. Cavan. They seem to have been part of the Caithearnaigh clan, rather than one of the Kearney clans whose name was derived from Cearnaigh; one indication is that Irish relatives pronounced the name "Ki-arney," reflecting the original three-syllable Irish name.
Geographic proximity also suggests that they are Ui Caithearnaighs, since Meath and Longford both border on Cavan. South-eastern Cavan seems to have had more connection to the areas to its south than to the rest of Ulster. (See Cavan: Essays on the History of an Irish County, Raymond Gillespie, ed.) Christopher James Kearney once told his daughter Kathleen that the family had been expelled from Meath during the Boxer Rebellion. As the Boxer Rebellion occurred in China around 1900, this seems unlikely, but the joke may reflect some family tradition.
The earliest documentation of the Kearneys of Shercock comes from a gravestone in the Old Killan Churchyard near Shercock. The cemetery, next to a ruined chapel, is over the hill from the current St. Ann’s, about a mile away. The stone, which is badly eroded, lichen-covered and patched, reads:
Erected by John Carney of Lex in memory of his father B__an Carney who dep’ this life ____ 4th 1821 aged 77 yrs and of his brother Pat’ Carney who died Nov 30 1812 aged 29 yrs and of his brother James Carney who died Sep. 7th 1823 aged 26 yr and also of his beloved daughter _____ Anne who died Sept 2nd 1822 aged 10 yr.
We can deduce that this B. Carney's first name was Brian, even though the middle letters were obscured when the gravestone was repaired, because his grandson was called Bernard, a name often used to replace the "too Irish-sounding" Brian. Traditionally, the first son in an Irish family was named after his father's father, and the second son after his mother's father; the first daughter would take her name from her father's mother, and the second from her mother's mother. (This rule is extremely important in tracing Irish family lines.)
Brian is an old Irish name, borne by Ireland's most famous high king, Brian Boru (who reigned from 1002-1014). Brian has been translated as "noble," or as "little hill"--an appropriate name for an ancestor from Cavan.
Like his son, Brian Carney probably lived in Lex, or Lecks, a townland near the village of Shercock. (A townland is a section of a parish, ranging in size from 200 to 400 acres depending on how fertile the land was--it was defined as the amount of land that would support a certain number of cattle.) The name Lecks means "flagstone," and the townland seems to have gotten its name from the Leix rocks where Lughnassa was celebrated.
From his age at death, we can calculate that Brian was born in about 1744, though ages in those days, before the modern-day fetish for record-keeping, should always be considered approximate. His son John, who had a daughter born in 1812, was most likely born before 1794; Patrick was born about 1793 and James about 1797. (It's likely that these brothers were actually called by the Irish equivalents of these names: Sean, Padraig and Seamas.)
The brothers were born in difficult years in Co. Cavan. A violent campaign against landlords became known as the Rebellion of 1793; later, the county became involved in the disastrous uprising of 1798, with 800 Irish patriots being killed on Rebel Hill near Baileborough.
That the Irish peasantry would go to such lengths is a testimony to the harsh conditions of British rule. Catholics, who made up the vast majority of the indigenous population, suffered under the legal discrimination of the Penal Laws. These are described by Markey and Clarke in Knockbride, a history of a parish adjacent to Killan:
Under the Penal Laws, monks of any religious order, bishops or archbishops were totally banned, the ultimate aim being that the Church without its leaders would cease to exist. Neither could a Catholic vote, he could not hold any office of state, he couldn't join the army or navy, he couldn't own a horse worth over 5 pounds. All Catholics were forbidden schools or teachers. They could not hold a lease for more than 31 years, they could not buy land, but what [a Catholic] did hold he could not leave to his children as he wished. On his death, his land was divided among his children, or if one of them turned Protestant he got the lot by law.
John Carney, who was responsible for the Carney gravestone, is not found in Lex in the Tithe Applotment Books of 1825. It's possible that he died between 1823 and 1825, but it's more likely that he had for some reason moved across the parish; there’s a John Carney in the townland of Darkley, which is on the other side of the village of Shercock.
James Carney, Brian's younger son, may have gotten a share of his father's lease-holds, but he couldn't profit long from them: He died two years later, only 26 years old, leaving behind a young widow, Mary Kate, and a two-year-old son named Bernard.
Next: Mary Kate Coyle.
This page was created by
James Kearney Naureckas. Please email him with any
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