A Visit to Ireland, 1927


James Raftis, Jr.

James Raftis, Jr., is the eldest son of Mary Gillen (1858-1939, a sister of John Joseph Gillen) and James Raftis (1854-1929), both born in Clifford, Minto Township, Ontario, Canada, and married on January 10, 1883, in Litchfield, Minnesota, USA, by Father Patrick Kenny.

Mary Gillen was the daughter of John Gillen and Catherine Clancy of Ballymote, County Sligo, Ireland. She was born near Clifford, Minto Township, Ontario, Canada, on May 8. 1858. Her paternal grandparents were Michael Gillen and Mary McGarry, and her maternal grandparents were Roger Clancy and Bridget Scanlon, all born in County Sligo.

Others closely related were the Gilmartin and McDonough families.

On October 3, 1927, when the writer visited Ireland, he made a journey from Dublin to County Sligo. Mother had no information of any near relatives then living there, but knew that the family had once lived at Ballymote, situated a short distance from Sligo City. The train from Dublin arrived in Ballymote at 7 o’clock that night. It was pitch dark. The railway station was located about a quarter of a mile from the town of Ballymote, having a population of around 100, with one small hotel.

When the train arrived at Ballymote, there was a young man in his twenties at the station. Inquiry was made about a hotel, and this hospitable stranger said, “Come with me and I’ll show you.“ He insisted on helping carry my luggage and walked with me up to the hotel. He refused to accept any money for his kindness and introduced me to Mr. B. J. Flannery, owner and operator of the hotel.

Asking about a room, Mr. Flannery informed me, “Glory be, there isn’t a room in the place. We’re having a Fair (livestock auction) in the morning and we are quite full.” To add to the problem, he said he knew of no other place in Ballymote where a room could be had. The writer then remarked to him, in good humor, that he had traveled over 6,000 miles to pay a visit to the home town of his ancestors and that “This is a nice way to be treated.” Mr. Flannery was evidently impressed, and promptly revealed that he did have a feather bed which I might occupy, “If you don’t mind sleeping in the parlor.” In that situation, a bed in the bathtub would have looked good. The feather bed was fabulous, and the room was full of genuine antiques that would have sent most any woman up to “the tenth cloud.”

The next morning, about five o’clock, my host awakened me so I might “take in the Fair.” To the town square near the hotel, the Irish farmers drove their cattle and hogs. The buyers came, mostly from England, and tried very hard to outsmart and “beat down the price.” But they got nowhere. If the Irish farmer did not get what he figured was a fair offer, he would drive the livestock back home, feed them, and bring them back to the next Fair, even if it meant getting only a dollar (or shilling) more (or less) than the previous offer - just as long as he got his own “bargain.”

At the suggestion of Mr. Flannery, Canon Quinn of Ballymote was contacted concerning the Gillen family, but there were no Church records as far back as the late 1840s, when the family left for Canada. A visit was made later to the ruins of the Franciscan Abbey at Ballymote for possible gravestone records, but there were none.

Also, a visit was made to the ruins of ancient Ballymote Castle, built many centuries ago of blocks of stone, with its spiral stairway - all most interesting.

On October 6, 1927, a trip was taken to Riverston, a small community near Ballymote, where the writer met and visited with Miss Judge, a niece of Bishop Clancy of Sligo, and with Miss Smith, a niece, and with Mrs. John Lang, a daughter of Pat Gillen. On the following day, the writer walked over to an ancient cathedral, just out of Ballymote, which was founded by St. Columbkille centuries ago, and talked with Mr. McLaughlin, the caretaker, then 84 years of age. He stated that as a boy he knew William Gillen and Margaret McDonough, who had left with their family. They were without doubt of mother’s family. Apparently, no other record or trace of the immediate family now remains in Ballymote.

Mr. Flannery, a bachelor, was a gracious and genial host and a very distinguished looking person. He was of medium height and stout, well groomed, and he wore a derby hat. After a most enjoyable stay in Ballymote of several days, he insisted on driving me to Sligo City, some miles away, for which he would accept no fee. He directed me to a very nice hotel and went upon his way. He was the sort of person one can never forget, and his kindness has never been forgotten.

The stay in Sligo City was most pleasant. One of the recollections was watching the lamplighter going through the streets at dusk, working with great speed and precision as he lighted the many lamps that lined the streets.

Court sessions were being held at the time, and a “King’s Counsel” by name of Daugherty from Donegal, who was staying at the hotel, invited me to attend court the next day as his guest. The session to me was most interesting. The judges and most of the barristers were “from the outside” and travelled together to various cities to hold court.

That evening, somewhat to my further surprise, Mr. Daugherty invited me to join him in a fresh oyster dinner. We took a bus and soon arrived at a pretty Irish village on the ocean called Rosses Point, which, I was informed, was also often referred to as “Gillen’s Point” because many Gillens lived there, all of which made me feel quite at home.

On the following day, the writer returned to “Gillen’s Point” and there met a number of Gillen families, who were very friendly, but none knew of mother’s immediate family that had left so long ago.

While in Sligo City, a pleasant visit was had with Jack and Harry Clancy, nephews of Bishop Clancy. Jack Clancy called on me the following day, and we talked at length about our common ancestry. The Clancy family has been long and favourably known in County Sligo. This is a beautiful part of Ireland. Just outside the city is Lough (Lake) Gill, often said to surpass in beauty even the Lakes of Killarney. Another memory of Sligo is that of the church bells ringing the Angelus and of persons stopping on the street to pray along with the bells.