Is this it? Searching for Derrygoolin

My quest to discover my Irish ancestors began with my paternal ancestors, the Hayes family.  I learnt about the challenges of Irish family history research by studying my Hayes ancestors. The beginning was easy, looking at ship arrivals in South Australia. I soon discovered that they arrived in South Australia on 23 August 1849 on the ship Eliza. The passenger list recorded that they were from County Galway: Thomas and Honora Hayes, aged 38 and 34, and their three children, Mary aged 10, Patrick aged 9 and Thomas who was an infant.

Where had they come from in County Galway? This next step in my research was much harder. It took me the best part of a year to learn that they were from the townland of Derrygoolin, in the far south-eastern corner of County Galway, bordering on County Clare and Lough Derg. One day, I thought, I will go to this townland to see it for myself.

On a warm summer’s day in June this year, that day finally arrived. It was with a great sense of anticipation that we set off from Ennis and drove across the pleasant but unremarkable countryside of eastern County Clare, so different from the rugged and dramatic Atlantic coastline. From Scarriff we turned northwards to follow the shoreline of Lough Derg, a long narrow lake and the third largest in Ireland. We stopped along the way to get a closer look at the Holy Island of Inishcaltra and its ancient monastic site and Round Tower.

Soon after we crossed the Clare/Galway border, we turned on to a local road in what we hoped was the right direction. We knew that Derrygoolin was well off the beaten track and we wouldn’t find it near any main roads. We climbed slowly up the hills on the narrow road, through a spare and barren landscape, with no sign of any human habitation. There were a few cows resting in a rocky field and a clear view down to Lough Derg. We stopped, took a few photographs, and began to wonder “Could this be it? Was this Derrygoolin?”

Loch Derg
Cows grazing on the hillside, Derrygoolin townland, Co. Galway. Co. Tipperary is on the other side of Lough Derg


The GPS kept telling us we were nearly there. As we came down the hill, it guided us into a left turn on to what looked like a dead-end road. Sure enough, the road petered out into the entrance gate of an obvious farmhouse 50 metres away when the GPS told us: “After 80 metres on the left, you have arrived at your destination.” My husband and I looked at each other with a mixture of bafflement, consternation and merriment. Had our drive been in vain? All we could see was a secluded house, hidden behind a high stone wall, with a formidable large gate. It was the only house visible for miles around. It seemed worthwhile to try asking the owners if this was Derrygoolin.

As I approached the gate two dogs came running down the long driveway, barking ferociously. I stood wondering what to do and was about to leave when the figure of a woman appeared in the distance. She must have decided that I wasn’t a threat and began to walk hesitantly down the drive. By this time the dogs had decided that they liked me and were wagging their tails happily. When I explained my reason for stopping by, she confirmed that “Yes, this is Derrygoolin”.

We then proceeded into the village of Woodford about 5km away. With hindsight now I regret not stopping longer in Derrygoolin, to look around me, and reflect that it was on this land that my ancestors lived. It is difficult to imagine the family’s poor living conditions, let alone how they survived the Famine on this stony bare hillside.

Loch Derg
Derrygoolin townland, Co. Galway

This was the land where my great grandfather Patrick Hayes spent his first nine years.  What an exciting time it must have been for a young boy when the family made their way down to Cobh harbour to take a boat across to Plymouth, where they boarded the big ship, the Eliza on 11 May 1849, for their journey to the other side of the world. They travelled without family or friends, for there were only 22 Irish on board and 305 English passengers.

The main street, Woodford village, Co. Galway

Woodford was a delight, charming and picturesque. The ladies in the public library on the main street were interested and friendly. The waitress in the café across the street was married to a Hayes. We found the graves of many deceased Hayes in the Catholic cemetery a short stroll up the hill. I felt that I was in Hayes territory.


A stroll through Woodford village, as neat as a pin


The East Galway Family History Society had been very helpful to me in the early days of my research, and I wanted to see the Woodford Heritage Centre where it is located. The building itself is of historical interest as it was formerly a National School built in 1834. We were there on a Saturday and I expected the Centre to be closed, but to my surprise, the door was open. The people inside looked astonished when I stepped through the door, but in typical Irish fashion they were generous with their time and eager to help.

Woodford Heritage Centre – the door is open!

It was another instance of the serendipitous events which occurred during my visit to Ireland where I felt the spirits of my ancestors were watching over me and helping me on my journey.

Stopping to say hello to the horses outside Woodford. Derrygoolin and Lough Derg in the distance.
Co. Galway Ireland

10 thoughts on “Is this it? Searching for Derrygoolin”

  1. Thanks so much for your post. My great great grandfather came from Derrygoolin (he was a Hickey and I believe Hickeys still own land in the area) and I also hope to visit there one day. Thanks for the beautiful photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope to visit one day. My McDermotts were from Derrygoolin, and also left for SA… many, many years after your Hayes family though. Hayes is a name I encounter often in census records etc. for the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was interested to read your post. My great great great grandmother immigrated from Derrygoolin in the 1840s.
    She probably knew the Hayes family. Her name was Mary Torpey and married Patrick Foley.
    Harsh country!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for the enjoyable read. I am sure we must be related! My father was born in Derrygoolin in 1923. His mother was Delia Hayes and she married Joseph Torpey. My grandfather was the Derrygoolin schoolteacher in the 1020’s and 30’s.


    1. I’m fairly sure I remember the name Delia Hayes being spoken of. Your father would be the same age as my mother, who was born in the US. Julia Mahon was her mother. I knew Martin Hayes, who lived in England. They were all friends of my grandmother’s half sister, Angie Dillon (nee Macnamara) who was my great grandmother’s youngest child, born of her second marriage. The first marriage was to Thomas Mahon, and their children were Patrick, James (Jim), Julia, Martin, and Margaret (Peggy).

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hello
      My mother was Mary Hayes, her parents were Michael and Julia Hayes from Derrygoolin. My mother and her siblings had Joseph Torpey as their teacher. She took me to see where the school was.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My grandmother, Mary Julia Mahon–always known as Julia–was born in Derrygoolin and emigrated to the USA, as did almost all of her siblings after their father, Thomas Mahon, died of TB and her mother, Anne, remarried. I visited Derrygoolin in 1966 or 67, as a young teen, and there were definitely houses left. My family’s 2-story house was still standing, as were others, although apparently it burned down later. It was at that time owned by the family of the man my great-grandmother married, whose name escapes my mind at the moment. I met many Hayeses and Torpeys back in the day, some in the US, some in London, since so many had emigrated. My son went there in 2012, with a Mahon cousin, and he says there were scattered houses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Janet
      I definitely remember my father speaking of the Mahon name. Unfortunately he passed (2015) so I can’t ask him any more. If you were in Derrygoolin 1966 my grandparents may have still been there. The Hayses lived in a house by the road with a gate and my grandparents house was through the gate and up a sort of driveway up the hill. I believe Julia Hayes lived in that house. My grandparents moved to Athenry sometime in the late 60’s to be closer to their sons ( my uncles)
      Sean, Oliver and Eammon Torpey. They owned a shop and pub (Torpey Bros.) in Athenry for many years.


    2. I remember my father speaking of the Mahon’s all the time. And he was very close to Martin Hayes. Unfortunately he passed in 2015 so no more water from that well.
      If you were in Derrygoolin in 1966 my grandparents may have been there. Julia Hayes was definitely there she lived in the house below them. Delia and Joseph Torpey moved to Athenry to be closer to their three sons Sean, Oliver and Eammon. They owned a shop and pub, Torpey Bros for many years.


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