The Gallagher Girls of Virginia City

Times were tough in rural Ireland in the years following the Great Famine. One son would inherit the small family farm and his siblings would have to find some other place to live.

Peter Gallagher inherited his father’s farm and there was then no room for his three unmarried sisters. So the three Gallagher girls — my great grandmother Bessie and her sisters Kate and Maggie — left their home in County Roscommon and sailed to New York in 1860 to join their Sheeran cousins who had migrated eight years before. The Sheerans and Gallaghers were actually double cousins: Peter Gallagher married Kate Sheeran while Kate’s brother Laurence married Peter’s sister Mary. The Gallagher and Sheeran farms were right next to each other in Sheegora, a townland a couple of miles north of Boyle near the border with County Sligo.

The Gallagher girls stayed in New York for only a few years. After a while Kate met and married Dan Nowlan, a stone mason from County Longford, and the two decided to relocate to Virginia City, Nevada. Kate’s sisters Bessie (my great grandmother) and Maggie tagged along and they also brought their cousin Laurence Sheeran with them.

Dan started up a quarry and hired a couple of the Delury boys who had recently moved to town from Grass Valley, CA.  And several stone masons including three Muckle brothers from County Down began to hang out in the quarry. Bessie married Tom Muckle and their first child, Maggie (my grandmother), was born in 1871. Kate and Dan named their first child Kate and Maggie Muckle and Kitty (as she called herself in her youth)  Nowlan were not only first cousins but also best friends. Maggie was also close to her Aunt Maggie who married William Bullo late in life and died in 1896. Aunt Maggie was also godmother to her niece Maggie.  She never had children of her own.

When Kitty grew up she resumed calling herself Kate, continuing the tradition of “Kates” in the family that started with Kate Sheeran, mother of the Gallagher girls.

The big Silver Boom in Virginia City was over by the 1890s and half the population including the Nowlans moved to San Francisco where Kate resumed a friendship with Dan Delury, the boy she knew in the Virginia City quarry. They were married and raised a family that included two girls, Kate (naturally) and Jane. Dan died in 1918 and Kate raised her four children pretty much by herself.  Kate Nowlan Delury’s cousin Maggie, in the meanwhile, married Joe Kenny in 1897 and raised her family in Virginia City. Their youngest child, Audley (my mother) was born in 1910. Tom Muckle died in 1922 and Bessie came to live with her daughter Maggie and Joe. By 1925 times were tough for Joe Kenny, too, and he packed up his wife Maggie, youngest daughter Audley, and mother-in-law Bessie and they also moved to San Francisco to be with Audley’s two brothers, Joe and Harry, and Maggie’s sister Tessie and two brothers, Tom and Will. Bessie was also reunited with her sister Kate and Maggie was reunited with her cousin and best friend. Kate’s children, by the way,  called Bessie Auntie Muckle and Bessie’s children called Kate Auntie Nowlan.

My mother was at one time very friendly with her two Delury second cousins but as the years went by the two families gradually lost track of each other. Bessie died in 1929 and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma with her daughter Tessie and just a few feet from her son Will and his family on one side and her sister Kate as well as Kate’s daughter Kate in the Delury family plot on the other side.  My grandfather Joe Kenny died in 1936. He is buried with his wife Maggie a few rows away. Maggie died in 1967 at the age of 95.

I met a Delury researcher on the Internet about ten years ago. We put our notes together and soon we found several members of the Nowlan-Delury family still living in the Bay Area.  One of the first people we found was Jane Delury who had married Douglas Evans back in the 1940s. My sister and I drove to Redwood City one day in 2002 to have lunch with the daughter of Jane Evans. After lunch we visited Jane who was living in a nearby nursing home. Jane and I hit if off immediately. I think a large picture of Joe Montana, the great 49er quarterback, on the wall near her bed had something to do with that!

We talked about my mother and she remembered that my folks had attended her wedding. We also talked about her mother, Kate Nowlan Delury, and how close her mother and my grandmother, Maggie Muckle Kenny, had been.  And then we talked about her grandmother, Kate Gallagher Nowlan, and how close she was to her sister Bessie, my great grandmother.  Jane remembered that when she was a teenager she learned shorthand and she used to take down her grandmother’s dictation and then type up a letter to her grandmother’s brother, Peter, who stayed behind in Ireland to run the family farm.

That was the only time I met Jane. Less than a year later I received a note from her daughter informing me that her mother had  died at the age of 94.

In my next posting I’ll relate the story of our adventure in Ireland in 2002 when we traveled to County Roscommon looking for Bessie’s birthplace.

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About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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