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Journey # 19: The Ancestral Home

When I discovered my great-great grandmother's maiden name was McHale, I immediately went looking for its meaning.

On Ancestry.com, a description of the surname Mchale states, "Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Céile, a patronymic from the byname Céile ‘companion’. This was the surname of a Mayo family, tenants of church lands; from Mac Haol ‘son of Haol’, a Gaelicized form of Howell which was adopted by a Welsh family of this name who settled in County Mayo."

OK, not much help. Surnamedb.com added, "The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John MacHale (Archbishop), which was dated 1791-1881, Tuam, County Galway, Ireland, during the reign of King George 111, 'Farmer George', 1760-1820."

Again, not much in the way insight.

Everyone I mentioned the name to promptly replied, "Like McHales Navy?" Strange, but I honestly didn't make that association at all. Not until someone pointed it out. Yes, I remember the television program, but I didn't make the connection. But that still wasn't any help.

But wait! There's a whole website dedicated to the surname McHale. Except that wasn't much help either.

All I really know is that it was a popular name in County Mayo. And not just County Mayo but a specific area of the county. The majority of the McHales in the mid-1800s, it seemed, were in a town called Addergoole. There were so many McHales in the Addergoole area that there were McHales marrying other McHales because they weren't related at all. I gather that in Addergoole, McHale was the equivalent of Smith.

But my McHale was not in Addergoole. She was in Ballycastle, about 30 km north. Thirty kilometres doesn't sound very far away to us, but back in the early to mid-1800s, it was a significant distance on foot or by horse/cart.

Identifying a town in Ireland where my great-great grandparents lived before moving to England was a real breakthrough in my research. I had wondered if I would ever step onto Irish soil, metaphorically speaking.

But I had found the birth record of their first child in Ballycastle. Ballycastle was in County Mayo, the county where my great-great grandmother, Bridget McHale, was born according to the UK census. Since her husband, Patrick Connell, was born in County Galway, I determined that Ballycastle might be my great-great grandmother's home town or at least she was from the area.

The profusion of McHales in the area confirmed to me that I was on the right track. Ballycastle or somewhere in the surrounding area was probably my ancestral home. I hadn't been sure up to that point if that was a likely home for her and her family, because for all I knew, Ballycastle was simply a stopping off point on the couple's journey elsewhere (England, for example). But there were a few McHales in the available records in Ballycastle, and of course, many in the surrounding area.

Sadly the records currently available online didn't provide me with more definite information and I haven't as yet been able to identify other family members. But I was so fascinated that I returned to researching the name and the area.

And then suddenly, there it was, just a few kilometres from Ballycastle: McHales Pub. Actually McHale's Belderrig Bay Hotel in Ballina, Ireland complete with inn and pub. Oh, and did I mention it happens to be for sale? So when I finally set foot on Irish soil (and this time I'm not speaking metaphorically), McHales Pub will be one of my first stops. I hope that the new owners keep the same name.

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