Gratitude for generations

Father John A. Kiley

A few years ago I listed my great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s names on a genealogy web site and, sure enough, someone from England contacted me citing a distant relationship.

Out of that initial exchange, five far-flung cousins began exchanging e-mails, filling in gaps in the family tree and precisely dating births, marriages and deaths. These electronic communications have even more productively developed into a Kiley/Kiely family reunion taking place this very week at the village of Kilrossanty in County Waterford, Ireland. Dozens of cousins from both sides of the Atlantic will gather for a memorial Mass, a golf game, a family banquet, afternoon visits to sites dear to our Celtic ancestors and relaxation over a popular Irish beverage.

Michael Andrew Kiely was born in 1805 at the Castle, Lemybrien, Co. Waterford, Ireland. He died on August 27, 1890, at Lemybrien aged 85. He had married Bridget McGrath, born in 1815 at Kilrossanty, Co. Waterford, who died on January 12, 1872 at Lemy Brien at the age of 57.

Their son, Andrew, my great-grandfather, was born on August 23, 1833 at Kilrossanty, Co. Waterford and died in 1921 at Lemy Brien, Co. Waterford. He married Julia Connors, born in Ireland in 1841. Julia was said to have had a brother James Connors who fought in the American Civil War. A pension from his service allowed a wing to be built to the old family home at Lemybrien. I once saw a photograph of Julia standing in the lane at the old house. She died on February 2, 1935 at Lemybrien. This couple had 12 known children. Note these good Catholic names: Michael, Patrick, Bridget, James, John, Johanna, Mary, Daniel, Andrew, Margaret, Johanna, and Julia. Daniel and the first listed Johanna died as infants.

The second Johanna and Julia remained in Ireland. The remaining eight children immigrated to America in the 1880s and 90s. My Kiley cousins living along America’s East Coast (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Florida) are their descendants.

The Kileys first arrived in Worcester, Mass., Michael probably dying there. Mary stayed on in Worcester, in service to the family of U.S. Senator Hoar, whose statue graces the lawn in front of Worcester City Hall. Patrick, Bridget, Margaret and John made their way to Woonsocket. Pat was a railroad crossing tender. He married but had no children. Bridget married but died quite young. She had three children, Florrie, Louie, and Josie. Their offspring stayed in New England. Margaret went into service at the old Monument House hotel in Woonsocket. She married and moved to Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia, where she raised five children: Helen, John, James, Peggy, and Kathryn. The several Kiley cousins in the Middle Atlantic states and in Florida are her offspring. Her brothers Andrew and James also moved to Chester, Pa. James would serve in the infantry during the Spanish American war. John, my grandfather, a bricklayer, eventually worked on the Rhode Island State House. While in Providence he met and married my grandmother, Margaret Mulvey. My grandparents returned to Woonsocket and raised their three children: my father Andrew, my uncle Jack and my aunt Rita.

Two of these immigrating siblings returned to Ireland to visit their mother: Margaret, with two of her children, in 1910 and Patrick in 1922. Uncle Pat’s very formal passport as well as his naturalization certificate is in my possession as is Aunt Mary’s naturalization certificate.

These documents highlight an enduring challenge to anyone inspecting my family tree. “Kiley” is demonstrably a misspelling of the authentic and more common Irish spelling “Kiely.” Judging from the shaky scrawl on the passport and naturalization papers of Uncle Pat and Aunt Mary, scholarship was not their prime asset. No doubt some Yankee immigration officer at the port of Boston wrote “Kiley” as it sounded rather than as it should have been spelled. Although misnamed, the eight siblings from Lemy Brien, Co. Waterford, Eire went on to lead fairly comfortable, reasonably productive, and dutifully Catholic lives. As a youngster, I was fortunate enough to know four of them – Pat, John, Mary and Maggie. Their courage to leave home, arrive with minimal resources, work themselves up from menial jobs, own their own homes, and quietly hand their faith on to another generation is commendable, indeed, admirable. As with many American families of so many national backgrounds, their grit deserves our gratitude.