Long before I started my Heenan surname study I was delving into the past of my own family,
My paternal great great grandfather was called Patrick Heenan. He and his wife settled in the town of Rhymney in Monmouthshire, Wales. They were not born there however.
According to information provided on census returns, both Patrick and Ellen were born in County Limerick in Ireland. It took me many years to try and find out when this couple arrived in Rhymney, when they married and where from County Limerick they originated.
The first clue came via a baptism record dated March 1868 for a child called Patrick Heenan at St John’s Roman Catholic Church in Rhymney. The entry reads
Die 16 Martin 1868 baptizavi
Patricus Heennan filius Patricus et Helena Heenan (born) et die 16 Martin
Helena Heenan (olim OBrien)
conjugam a me Alfred Wilson (the priest)
Patrinus fuit: (godfather) Thomas Brown
Matrina fuit: (godmother) Margaret (Coghlam) surname could be Eaghlam
Patrick might have been about 23 years old at the time. I say might because he gave a different age in every census. His wife Ellen (sometimes recorded as Helen) was a few years older. Her maiden name is recorded variously as O’Brian; O’Brien and Brian.
There was no record of them in the 1861 census in Rhymney. I searched for them elsewhere in Wales and also tried census returns for other parts of Wales and also for England. I thought there was a possibility that they had first resided with another Irish family since this was often the pattern. But I drew a blank everywhere.
It was fortunate that on one census return they indicated they were from County Limerick because the name is so rare in that part of Ireland. It meant I was able to track down a marriage of Patrick Heenan and Ellen O’Brien in Kilbehenny parish church in February 1867. This is an area close to the border with County Cork.
From that I can infer that they travelled from Ireland to Wales sometime between February 1867 and March 1868. They may well have stayed with another family initially but I am unlikely to be ever able to confirm that.
Nor can I be certain how they made the journey. The Irish were not classed as immigrants and so were not recorded on any ship’s passenger logs. Given the relative proximity of Kilbehenny to Cork I surmise that they made their way to Cork and boarded one of the many coal ships that travelled the route to Swansea on the south western coast of Wales. From there they made their way to Rhymney, lured no doubt by the prospect of work in a town which had grown extensively through iron working and coal mining.
And there they stayed until their deaths. Ellen in 1915 and Patrick in 1920. They had eight children, 12 grandchildren and more than 14 great grandchildren (that’s counting only the offspring of the male line). Some of those descendants still live in the area today…