By John Arnold

It’s a long, long way from Salem, Massachusetts to the Hut Bar in Watergrasshill, County Cork but that was the joyous voyage of discovery made by two American cousins last December.

They came back ‘home’ to Ireland and had a reunion with a large gathering of their Irish cousins – all of whom they were meeting for the first time.

This is an epic tale which combines emigration, modern technology and brilliant ‘tracing’ work by two men – Denis O’Flaherty and Martin McHugh. For some time, both Denis and Martin have been researching their family tree, both having common ancestors.


On Thursday, 11th November 1880 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Salem, the marriage took place of Maurice McHugh and Ellen Roche with Rev William O’Brien officiating. The best man was a Patrick Hegarty and the bridesmaid was Kate Roche.

Though Maurice and Ellen were married far, far away from their native country they were both born not far apart. Maurice McHugh was third of ten children born to Bartholomew McHugh of Ballybrack, Carrignavar and his wife Margaret Hegarty from Killamurren, Bartlemy.

Maurice was born in 1845 and along with his siblings Michael, Kate, Annie and Julia emigrated to America. His bride to be Ellen Roche was born in 1857 in the townland of Mullentoura in Rathcormac parish. Her parents were John Roche and Johannah Linehan. Like Maurice, she too made the long journey to the USA.

We will never know if the couple were ‘friendly’ before they departed from Ireland, but after their marriage they settled down in Peabody near Salem, rearing a family of 10 children – incidentally on the day of their wedding the infamous Irish ‘Robin Hood’ type outlaw Ned Kelly was hung in Melbourne Gaol in Australia.

In the 1870s, a vein of reddish garnet sand was discovered on a farm near Salem. This gritty sand was a much sought after product for the eventual manufacture of sand-paper. The American Glue Company came into being to mine the sand and then process it by means of ‘gluing’ it to a paper and Maurice McHugh worked for this business for many years.

Back in Ireland other members of the McHugh and Roche families toiled away in their ancestral acres. Probably before both Maurice and his siblings and Ellen Roche left the Emerald Isle, they would have had ‘American Wakes’.

We normally associate wakes with saying farewell to the dead, but in reality people going to America in the 1800s were never again going to return and the night before they left truly was a ‘wake’, because in the vast majority of cases those leaving would never again lay eyes on their parents and family.

Now the McHughs in Salem did keep up contact with relatives ‘at home’ right through up til the middle of the last century. A photograph taken on the occasion of Maurice and Ellen’s Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1930 was sent back to Ireland and kept as a treasured memento by descendants of the Ballybrack family. Relations of both the Roches and McHughs are now in many parishes in North and East Cork and West Waterford.


Denis O’Flaherty of Watergrasshill, as part of his work in tracing his ancestors, had a DNA test done. With the DNA testing, one’s ‘results’ are available world-wide and others who have done the test can come up as a ‘match’. They might be second cousins or sixth or seventh cousins and it’s then up to either or both parties to contact one another if they wish.

Well over in America didn’t a Jonathon K McHugh Gawyrs match up with Denis’ DNA and sure enough, they were cousins! Jonathon was a descendant of Maurice and Ellen, while Denis was descended from an uncle of Maurice McHughs! They contacted each other and within a short while realised the huge network of relations both had at each side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Martin McHugh had meanwhile researched extensively birth, marriage and death registers in practically every parish within a thirty mile radius of Ballybrack and Mullentoura. Between the pair of them they obtained an enormous amount of relevant family information.

Back Stateside meanwhile, Jonathon’s mother Kathleen and her cousin Maureen Callaghan, who lived within twenty minutes of each other, but had never met, were in contact with another relative, Mark Davis. One day last autumn Mark drove two hours from his home in Rhode Island to meet Kathleen and Maureen, where they came face to face for the first time.

Then, by means of Skype and modern technology, they contacted Denis and Martin and other relatives who had gathered at the home of Batt O’Neill – another cousin, in Watergrasshill. It was a truly historic trans-Atlantic coming together of cousins.

After the joyful get-together over the airwaves, Kathleen and Maureen made their plans to come to Ireland. Meanwhile, Mark Davis and his wife kept researching. They discovered a remarkable article in the ‘Boston Globe’ newspaper dated November 1930. It was a lovely piece concerning the upcoming Golden Jubilee Wedding celebrations of Maurice and Ellen McHugh.

It listed the names of their children. It also mentioned that Maurice was a long standing member of the Catholic ‘Emerald Court of Foresters’, while Ellen was a member of both the ‘St Theresa’s Court of Foresters’ and The Emblers Club’. These were benevolent, religious/social organisations which were numerous all over the USA.


Maureen Callaghan and Kathleen A McHugh Gawyrs – both great granddaughters of Maurice McHugh and Ellen Roche, arrived in Ireland in November on a short whistle stop tour of their ancestral parishes. Martin and Denis arranged visits to both Mullentoura and Ballybrack where they saw the old McHugh and Roche homesteads.

The highlight of their visit was a get-together in the public house of another cousin, John O’Neill, the Hut Bar in Watergrasshill. Here they met many Irish cousins from both the Roche and McHugh sides of their families and many old stories were told and new friendships made. It was a joyous occasion made possible by the hard work and brilliant research of both Denis and Martin.