Arigna project tracks history of every household in the former mining valley
Roscommon ancestor of mayor of Sydney was sent to Australia in leg irons
An archive photograph of a miner in Arigna, Co Roscommon.
On April 11th, 1838, Patrick William Cullen, a farmer from the Arigna valley in Co Roscommon, set foot on Sydney soil in leg irons, having been sentenced to seven years’ transportation for stealing a cow.
Patrick’s most famous descendant is Clover Moore, the current lord mayor of Sydney, and while she wasn’t at the Miners’ Bar in Arigna village last night for a hooley to mark the beginning of the community’s Gathering festivities, she will get an invitation to their next bash.
“We didn’t know about the connection until a few days ago,” explained Patsy Daly of the Arigna Heritage Group, which is tracking the history of every household in the valley, an area synonymous with mining for more than 400 years .
“But we definitely intend to have another gathering in the next year or two, and we will be inviting her and others who didn’t make it this time.”
Historical records suggest that Patrick Cullen, a native of Glen, Arigna, was innocent, and while five of his 10 children followed him to Australia, he never saw his wife or his other children again.
Known locally as “white horse Cullen”, his tragedy is just one of the stories uncovered as the Finding the Homeplace project continues in Arigna.
The coal mines closed in 1990, and the mountainside is dotted with the ruins of derelict houses, but the community is determined that the stories behind those crumbling walls will not be forgotten. Using numerous sources, including census records, Griffiths Valuation – a record of all Irish land and property in the mid-1800s – and the memories of older residents, the group is slowly reclaiming the history of up to 400 local households.
Many remain in Arigna and others are long gone, many to Australia, the US and Britain.
“As you’d expect the family name usually continues on the same plot for generations but when it changes we discover there is usually a story, maybe eviction or emigration, or maybe someone married into the place,” explained Brenda Cull, a local woman and one of the researchers.
For the next week their findings will be on display in the Miners’ Bar in the village, and while described as “very much a work in progress” the exhibition is generating huge excitement, not least among those who left the valley a lifetime ago.
Brothers Paddy (84) and John (78) Houlihan were at the launch last night, having made the trip from Australia. Cousins of racehorse owner JP McManus, whose father John James was also a native of the valley, they started working in the pits as teenagers.