Recently I was emailed by an Australian lady who believed she may be a cousin. Fiona Harris is tracing the lineage of two women (believed to be sisters) named Eliza and Martha Woolaghan who were taken from the workhouse or mill and shipped down under in the 1800s. I accepted Fiona's offer of a DNA test and the results threw up some amazing stats. Firstly, I was indeed a distant cousin of Fiona but my DNA showed a huge connection with the surname O'Neill.
So what is the O'Neill connection?
According to the Griffiths Valuation of 1847-64 there was a Samuel Woolaghan who resided with many O'Neill families in the Killywoolaghan townland of Ardboe in the east of County Tyrone. My DNA results also show a connection with living O'Neills who claim to be from the Ardboe area.
- Is there a possibility Mary Ann Willighan travelled 50 miles from Sion Mills to Samuel's abode in Ardboe to work for him?
- She was 33 when she gave birth to Thomas, quite late in life for a woman in the 1870s.
- She ended up having Thomas in the Belfast workhouse.
- Why did she end up there? Was she cast out of Tyrone after falling pregnant?
- Who did she get pregnant to?
- As my DNA result has an abundance of O'Neill correlations, was one of the O'Neills from Ardboe the father?
An O'Neill DNA 'cousin' has been able to pinpoint his relatives back to the exact area where Samuel Woolaghan lived.
This is a just a theory but could it be that Mary Ann fell pregnant (via relationship, affair or even force?) to an Ardboe O'Neill and was then made to leave the area and seek refuge out of sight far away in the Belfast workhouse?
Regardless of her unknown life, what is certain is that she is buried at Belfast City Cemetery (plot M200) at the Falls Road/Whiterock Road roundabout.
On her death certificate of 19th July 1900 she is stated as being widow of Abraham Willighan(?) - Labourer.
Cemetery records show the plot was bought by her son Thomas and she is buried with grandchildren Margaret-Jane (5 months) and Richard (4 months).
Also in the plot are Eliza Jane Burns (33) buried 16 February 1910 and William John Burns (54) buried 18 April 1902.
When I first visited the plot I was saddened to see no headstone marking the grave so took it upon myself to purchase a wooden cross with engraved plaques across the middle bearing the names of those buried.