Tracing My Ancestors: Desperately Seeking Julia

Julia Whelan Enniscorthy Co Wexford
Julia O’Farrell (née Whelan)

I had been searching for my great grandmother Julia O’Farrell’s grave for nearly 2 years. 

Sometimes I would just leave it, hoping that looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes weeks later would uncover something new.   It was one of those searches where  I felt like I was going around in circles, covering the same ground again and again and getting no further in my quest to find her.

Julia Whelan was born in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford on 24th July 1873 to Patrick Whelan, a Publican and Julia Cowman.  The Whelan family would have been considered well off as they had a number of businesses in Enniscorthy.  Her father owned Whelan’s Pub on the Island Road and over the years her brothers owned the Vinegar Hill Hotel in Rafter Street and various businesses around the town.

Irish Civil Death Certificate
Irish Civil Death Record

Julia spent most of her life in Enniscorthy but she moved to Limerick with her only son Patrick’s family in around 1936 to help rear his children, which included my mother Carmel.  Patrick worked for the Great Southern Railway and was posted to Limerick for a few years.  I found Julia’s death certificate so I knew when and where she died; 7th August 1940 at 1 Ballinacurra Terrace, Limerick.

You would think it should have been easy to find Julia’s burial place since I knew where she died but unfortunately not.  Over the time it took for me to find her, I grew very attached to my maternal great grandmother as I had learnt so much about her.  I found out that she had a great operatic voice, she raised by grandfather Patrick as a single parent (long story but when she married her husband Michael Farrell in Enniscorthy 1896, they went to America.  She came back – he didn’t and they never saw each other again) and she had a job as a school attendance officer which she was passionate about.  Upon the death of her father Patrick, she went to Petty Session Courts to get the pub licence transferred into her name.  It was withdrawn but I was very proud of her that she tried. Way da go Julia ! We are all the sum of all our ancestors and Julia lived in Enniscorthy through difficult times – Enniscorthy was the only town outside Dublin that had a rising against the English in Easter 1916.  The more I found out about Julia the more attached I became and the more eager to find her burial place.  I was hoping that she was buried in Enniscorthy and not alone in a Limerick graveyard where we had no family connections.

I searched all the online graveyard records in Limerick and Enniscorthy and could find no record of her.  I got in touch with a man in Enniscorthy called Hugo who had done an audit of the St Mary’s Cemetery and he could find no record of her.  Hugo found the grave of her parents and some of her brothers and sisters, all of whom were buried in graves side by side but no sign of Julia.  I travelled to Enniscorthy and met Hugo and he showed me where the Whelan graves were.  I found that upsetting in a way because I wondered why she wasn’t buried with her family.

I ‘interviewed’ my mum again and asked her about local churches where her funeral mass might have been held.  I got in touch with one of them, the Redemptorists Church.  A lovely priest Fr Enright advised me that they were not a parish church so funerals wouldn’t have been held there.  He did offer what turned out to be a wonderful suggestion.  He mentioned that there were a couple of funeral homes in Limerick that had been there since the 1800s and although a long shot, they might have a record of her funeral.  He offered to pray for her at mass the following day which I thought was a lovely gesture.

Luck was on my side when I went in search of funeral homes in Limerick.  After emailing a few of them one Saturday evening, I waited eagerly for their offices to open on the Monday morning.  Lunch time Monday I got a phone call from a lovely gentleman called Gerry Griffin of Griffins Funeral Home.  He said ‘I have the day book open for the 8th August 1940 and I have the details her removal to the Church and also details of the funeral on 9th August and her burial in…. Enniscorthy!!!  I was thrilled that she was brought home. Gerry also said that it appeared that she got a great send-off.  2 horse drawn carriages and a hearse brought her and her family to the removal at St Michael’s Church.  Gerry said that she was brought to Enniscorthy in a motorised hearse which would have been very unusual at the time.  Motorised hearses were not common and it was also in the middle of the Second World War and petrol was scarce.  I was so happy that she got a great send-off and was buried in Enniscorthy.

Funeral Home Day Book
Funeral Home Day Book
Funeral home Day Book

So, I got back in touch to my new friend Hugo in Enniscorthy.  He when back through all the records and found her.  What threw us the first time around was the Whelan connection and because all Julia’s siblings and parents were buried together.  Hugo was able to tell me that Julia is buried with a Daniel O’Farrell junior and the grave papers were held by Daniel O’Farrell senior.  I was a bit perturbed by the fact that a) she wasn’t buried with the Whelan family b) she was buried with her husband’s family even though she hadn’t seen him for 40 years and c) I hadn’t a clue who Daniel O’Farrell junior and senior were.

So, another road trip to Enniscorthy was planned and I met Hugo once again to locate the grave.  I was so disappointed when I saw the grave.  I was a mound of grass with no boarder around it, no headstone, no markings – I felt like she was just put in the ground and forgotten about.  The Whelan’s graves have lovely large Celtic crosses and clearly marked who is in the graves.  It surprised me how annoyed I felt.  I placed a potted plant on the mount to mark it. I decided there and then that I would organise for her grave to be marked and to put a headstone on it.  I am currently in the process of trying to organise this.

While I was in Co Wexford, I decided to go to the Wexford Archives. As I mentioned, the Whelan Family were well known at the time, so I was sure there would have been an obituary notice for her.  I was in luck.  With the help of Grainne the Archivist, I found 2 notices for her death.  The 1st one appeared in the Enniscorthy Echo the 10th August 1940 advising its readers of Julia’s death where she is described as ‘one of the best known and most popular Enniscorthy folk’ .  The 2nd newspaper article is her obituary notice which appeared in the Enniscorthy Echo on 17th August 1940 as the paper was a weekly edition.

Enniscorthy Echo Newspaper Obituary
Enniscorthy Echo Obituary
Enniscorthy Echo Newspaper Obituary
Enniscorthy Echo Obituary
Enniscorthy Echo Newspaper Obituary
Enniscorthy Echo Obituary

As I mentioned before, the job of a genealogist is never done.  Now I have to find out who Daniel O’Farrell junior and senior are !!!!

Happy hunting!


Tracing My Ancestors - Desperately Seeking Julia
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