Postcard from Clifden – Tracing Roots, Meeting Family

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Greetings from Clifden, in Ireland’s County Galway!

We came here in search of my (Dan’s) family roots, and I found them in a tiny village named Kingstown. I wanted to see where my great-grandmother came from and formally meet my Irish cousins.

My emotions were overwhelming as I finally set foot upon the ground of our ancestors. This was truly the most exciting part of our trip around Ireland.

Kingstown, Clifden, Co. Galway, Ireland


Clifden was my focus, but we didn’t rush there straight from our hotel on the Dingle Peninsula. Ireland is so beautiful that it would be a shame to rush. Most of our day was spent in a leisurely drive to see some off-the-beaten-path cliffs that would rival Moher, sans the tourist hordes.

Read about it: Visit Loop Head Peninsula and Skip the Cliffs of Moher

We stopped for the night in Galway, staying at a B&B in the Salthill neighborhood. Our hostess pointed out a shortcut to the waterfront promenade, which has dozens of places to eat, drink, and enjoy some traditional Irish music. 

Read about it: Buying an Irish Claddagh Ring in Galway

We loved Galway’s vibe, with its cobbled stone streets, colorful buildings and bustling market place. It was quite cold for August, but the chilly and misty weather didn’t bother us at all because of our excitement.

After walking about a bit, it was finally off to Clifden to meet up with our Irish relatives.

Galway, Ireland

Kingstown, our ancestral home

My great-grandmother was born and raised in a suburb of Clifden called Kingstown. It is a very tiny village that lies even further out on the peninsula than Clifden does.

Our family roots are deep in the area and as I said, we still have cousins who live there. It had sounded like they were as excited to finally meet their American cousins as we were to meet them.

Even so, the first thing we did when we got into town was take a drive on the Sky Road loop. I wanted to get a sense of the area where our ancestors had lived all of their lives. The views were stunning, even though we battled the fog all the way around.

View from Sky Road of Kingstown, Galway

We ended up in town and discovered a museum at the former Clifden railway station. It helped us picture downtown Clifden as my great-grandmother would have known it.

Clifden railway station in the 1800'sdowntown Clifden, County Galway in the 1800's

The beginning of life for Nora Canavan Thornton

Nora Canavan left her family in Ireland to join her sister near Pittsburgh back in the early 1900s. She sailed aboard the SS Majestic from Queenstown (Cobh), the same port that the Titanic had left from.

We were able to find a few of the sites Nora would have known, such as the school she had once attended. It has been repurposed and is now a small church. Jimmy lit a candle for his great-grandmother at Nora’s old school.

Kingstown National School, 1881  Kingstown National School now a church.

Candle lit for Uncle Jimmy's great-grandmother at her mother's old school.

The family home

To me, seeing the home her father built was the most impressive sight of all. Now used as a storage building, this small stone building was once the family home.

The door wasn’t locked, so I walked inside. The emotions I felt while standing in this quiet place captured me as I pondered the days gone by. We have come so far, all because of one young lady’s decision to seek a better life in the United States.

Family home built by Nora Canavan's father.

Canavan house in Kingstown, Co. Galway, Ireland

My newfound family

These are our family members who still live in Ireland. It is our hope that our grandchildren will someday be able to follow in our footsteps and visit our Irish kin. They will be welcomed with open arms, just as we were –  and just as they did when my own Granny (Nora’s daughter) and aunts visited a few years ago.

Aunt Loretta, Great Granny Lewis and Mary Canavan Berry

It was such a joy to see Jimmy’s eyes reflecting the true love that he had for “HIS” Ireland. He felt so much at home and so much peace there after all the nightmarish experiences he had in Iraq.

Canavan family in Ireland

Family mementos

They brought out the family photos and clippings. We pored through them together, finding family resemblances. I took photos of some of the things that they had, such as an old shot of the Canavan couple who built the home, so I could share it with our folks in the States. 

This was one of the best days ever.

Canavan couple who built the home, funeral card of Nora Canavan, and a newspaper clipping about a war hero being honored.

Goodbye from Clifden, County Galway. Having a wonderful time, wish you were here.

Dan, Linda & Jimmy

Sky Road, Clifden, Galway

Galway, Ireland

Galway, Ireland


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Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots.

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22 thoughts on “Postcard from Clifden – Tracing Roots, Meeting Family”

  1. My mother Mary Lally was from a little village just a little further west of Kingstown. She also went to the school which is now a church. I was given a picture of her class, the only picture I ever saw of my Mom when she was a child. The remains of the Lally house is still there.

    • Hi John,

      That’s fantastic! Isn’t it a great feeling to see old family homes still remaining in our original homeland? What is the name of the village west of Kingston? That is the same region my family is from.



  2. Some of my ancestor’s were from Kingstown and emigrated to Pittsburgh. Their surname is McDonagh and Connelly. Some of the McDonagh’s are buried in the Kingstown cemetery named Kille. I hope to find more information so good luck to you on your geneology adventure.

    • Hi Patti,

      Yes, tracing roots can be very rewarding as well frustrating. So many records were destroyed in Ireland. The best thing we found to to search at the local parish church. Most have baptismal, marriage, and death information. Good luck with your search.

  3. I really like that you got to see the former school and house where your ancestors lived. I’m sure it’s quite a difference from what you call home today. It was hard enough for me to move overseas, even though I knew it was temporary, that I know it took an incredible amount of courage to make the move permanently. I am also impressed by that huge pile of carrots in the marketplace.

    • You’re right. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been, because these days we can be on the other side of the planet in a matter of hours. As to the carrots, we’re wondering who’s eating them all?

  4. How amazing you tracked down your family and found out so much about your ancestors and their life in the village. Clifden looks like a charming place to visit. We’ve always wanted to visit Galway. I’ve only ever been to Dublin!

    • The problem with travel is that every time you see one place, you discover a dozen more you want to see. Did you enjoy Dublin? I know we did.

  5. That is so cool to see family and see where your great-grandmother came from. As cute as that cottage is, it strikes me as a hard life to raise a family. I bet she’d be proud of how far her bravery and enterprise carried her family. Around the world and back again.

    • True, that. Actually Dan’s family heat their home with peat, and a bucketful only lasts two hours. When they run out they have to go out into the cold drizzle to their peat stores to fill it up again. Of course they are used to it, but we are spoiled enough to think it is a hardship. Quite a humbling and learning experience for us, I must say!

  6. What a moving story! I do not know what it is going on but this is the third story this week (I think) I read about finding family roots. All these stories increase my desire to travel to find my own roots (which are in Northern Germany). BY the way, your photos of Ireland are fantastic. I love how colorful Galway is.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Ruth. We sure had a good time. Of course we think you should go to Northern Germany to see where your ancestors came from. What town do they hail from?

  7. What a great adventure! I have family roots in Ireland as well, but don’t know much beyond the fact that my grandfather left County Wexford, and a clan of Murphys, behind. I don’t imagine narrowing down WHICH clan of Murphys will be easy in Ireland. On the other hand, it could be that half the country is a cousin! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your heartwarming adventure.

    • We were in County Wexford the last time we visited Ireland. It’s in the “sunny southeast.” If you know what town your grandfather was from you probably could find some relatives just by hanging out in the pubs there. Those Irish are a chatty lot. 🙂 That, said, you probably are related to all the Murphys in Ireland, if you go far enough back, lol! I’ll think of you the next time I see a Murphy’s Irish Stout.

  8. As we grow older knowing more about our roots becomes important. My husband has been very preoccupied with his genealogy for a long time now and I always used to mock him about it. Lately though I began to see it differently. If I remember correctly, I think I told you in one my previous comments that I have a little Scottish blood in my veins. I’d like to go to Scotland sometimes and at least see where my great grand father came from. It must feel pretty good to discover your ancestors. I love little towns like Galway, with cobbled streets and small boutiques.

    • Genealogy is a common pastime for Americans … maybe because we are a nation of immigrants. We grow up among stories about such things as “before I came to America…” and “your great-grandfather was a count in the Old Country.” Seeing those places makes their lives all the more real, I think. I do hope you have a chance to see your great-grandfather’s homeland. Where in Scotland is he from?

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