Letter from Aunt Agnes to Uncle Jerry Counihan, dated August 15, 1948

This is a typewritten transcript of a letter described as a “Letter from Aunt Agnes to Uncle Jerry Counihan dated August 15, 1948. (As placed in HTML format by John W. Keating, III on 8/16/1996.)

The transcription of this letter was one of the first artifacts that got me into genealogy. Copies had been photocopied and sent around the family for years. I believe the first time that I saw it was in the early 1980s, when a family member sent it to my father.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Agnes’s letter and all the details within, but have also come to treat her as an unreliable witness. This letter was written late in her life (~79 years old), and I’ve found many those details to be slightly incorrect.

  1. She indicates that John and Julia mere married on 15 March 1847. I’ve found proof in parish records that a John Keating and Julia Hyland were married on 15 February 1854.

    1854 February 27. John Keating and Julia Hyland. W.w. Michael Curran & Celia Fennelly

    Marriage Record of John Keating and Julia Hyland

  2. She gives Julia’s last name as Wyland. This may very well be a transcription error from the original (which I’ve never seen, nor know who owns it), as I’ve also seen another transcription which gives the name as ‘Hylund”. At this point in time, I’m convinced the name was generally spelled “Hyland”. I’ve found records of siblings listed below with that spelling, and the name is spelled as Hyland in the above parish record.
  3. She gives John’s middle name as “Titus”. This is the only document in all records of him that names him John Titus. I’m unsure if this was perhaps a Christening name or perhaps a nickname.
  4. The Sandpatch tunnel was not in Hawk’s Nest. The former was a railroad tunnel in Pennsylvania. The only relevant Hawk’s Nest I’ve been able to find so far is at the New River in West Virginia. It is possible that this is a result of an original transcription error.
  5. I’m troubled by the naming of John’s mother as Mary Murphy. One of John’s brothers was named as Simon Keating elsewhere. I’ve found Simon Keating’s father listed as Patrick Keating, as expected, but his mother was Catherine McNulty. Oddly enough, Aunt Agnes gives the last name of either Mary’s mother or grandmother (depending on who the “Mrs. Donahue” mentioned was) as McNulty. There’s a puzzle yet to unravel here. [30 Jan 2019 – Perhaps Simon (and siblings Catherine and Daniel) are half-siblings to John and Patrick? Still digging…]

Geofrey Keating’s Irish History was written in the year 1601. He states the following – The name Keating according to our extraction from the “old Galls” foreigners descended from the Anglo Norman race, from the city of Dublin, Ireland. (The Normans who invaded Ireland came from Normandy, France.) Some of the older members of the family claim they belong to the Irish Aristocracy.

The year 1848. All during this period the English Government confiscated all their possessions, and had for years previous, leaving the Irish people poor and with no chance to own anything.

They could not take or weaken their faith which was stronger than “gold” and so precious to their souls.

My father and mother came of a race equally blessed by God. Both sides of the family has been fruitful in vigorous branches which adorn the world, the Cloister and the Altar.

My dear father and mother, John Titus Keating and Julia Ann Wyland were married March 15, 1847 in their parish church Bullymoor, Ireland by the Reverend John Burke, P.P.

They came to Stamford, Conn. Several months later. After living two years there, they decided to move to Mt. Savage, Maryland.

After a few months, my father was appointed foreman for a company of men who repaired the B&O railroad between Mt. Savage and Frostburg.

Again the family moved, to Morantown. Our old home, where all the family were born and brought up, except my dearly loved sister Catherine who was born in Stamford, Conn.

Attached to the cottage was about one hundred and sixty acres of poor land owned by a superintendant of a coal company. A month’s rent was one hundred dollars. At this time a man’s wages was one dollar per day, trade or laborer. Common five cent muslin was one dollar per yard.

The following year, my father and his brother Patrick began to take contracts all up through Pa., Va., and West Va., and began to build the railroads to open up the three states. It took years to finish them. It was they who built the Sandpatch Tunnel, Hawks Nest, a work much admired at the time, a great achievement.

My dear father came home on short visits for a few days or a week to provide help and finance. My saintly little mother managed the home, children and also the grounds. She was a joyful heroic type, full of strong faith and trust in God, and in His Holy Will.

She often spoke of the long nights when she would hear on some distant mountain, a dog barking half-heartedly. Many a long night was spent in Prayer – “My God, I Love You! Jesus. “The Master seems very, very near,” she would say. “Sweet Jesus help us.” God saw their loneliness and hear their prayers and blessed them with an abundance of necessary things. Everything poured in. They helped everyone. They had splendid neighbors. Our good neighbors would care for the children when my parents went to Mass. Mr. And Mrs. Rooney and their large family nearly all grown up were a great help and comfort to my father and mother. They were good holy Irish people. All had high ideals and noble minds.

Also, a dear family by the name of Mr. And Mrs. Brady whose family was also grown up would come often to our house and care for the children while my parents would go to Mass, also in sickness. Miss Margaret Brady and Miss Ann Brady, their daughters, were always like one of our own family.

Our family of seven children grew up in an atmosphere of love and God-fearing piety. Five girls and two boys.

My father built a small altar and my loved mother placed our Blessed Mother’s and St. Joseph’s statue on it with a large crucifix on the wall. In this precious spot were all trained by my dear parents, how to love and serve God and to find Him in each other, and all whom we met.

We also had three famous pictures, one of Faith, Hope and Charity. Can we ever forget the way my Father and Mother drilled us in these three virtues? My father always gave out the Rosary and one hour of prayer each night when home. My mother always kept it up with him. A lighted candle always burned on the altar.

My mother’s life was a prayer and a sacrifice. They had no church, one mass every month and often not that, in a hall. My dear mother was always praying and kept herself in the presence of God.

We moved to our new home in Frostburg. Surely our Dear Lord has rewarded our dearly loved father and mother who tried so hard and well to bring us up.

You all know the rest. It is now left to you all to pray for us and continue the God-like work for God and Souls, which we have tried to do. “god be praised.”

Part II.

My father’s grandfather and Father

Patrick Keating was born in Dublin, Ireland, died at the age of fifty years. He was a merchant by trade, wool, hides and so on.

His father, John C. Keating was born in Dublin, Ireland. A teacher. He was taken away from his home at night and never seen again. He was trained by the S.J’s.

Patrick was married to a Mary E. Murphy born in Killarney and noted for her beautiful voice and music. They had five boys and two girls. She also attended the sisters of Charity school. She was a sister to Mrs. Ann Donahue’s mother of Frostburg, Md. Mrs. Donahue’s father was Thomas McNulty. His brother lived in Mt. Savage. My father and Mrs. Ann Donahue were first cousins.

My father’s grandmother was Elizabeth Kilmartin, a music teacher trained by the Sisters of Mercy, Dublin, Ireland.

My mother’s father and mother.

Andrew Wyland was born in Dublin. He was the son of an only son for three generations. His father, George, was born in Dublin in the same lovely home of his father. The home was located where the Court House now stands on one of the principal streets of Dublin. George was educated by the Jesuits and at one time wished to become a priest..also his son Andrew. Both changed their mind, evidently.

Wylands Continued.

Originally the Wylands came from Scotland and settled in the city of Dublin. They claim three generations of merchants. Andrew was a merchant, his father’s trade. “Mens cloth and suits” called “Cassimere”.

His wife’s name was Elizabeth Moore. Born in Dublin, Elizabeth’s mother and father were born in Dublin. Her father was John Moore — her mother Kathleen Clancy.

My grandfather (Andrew Wyland) died young, leaving a large family. Seven boys and six girls. Uncle Patrick Wyland was an adopted boy brought up by my grandparents.

The older boys were soon in Stamford, Conn. and were well equipped to take their places in the business world. In a few years Uncle George found himself at the head of a large construction co. Uncle Thomas opened a dairy in Plainsfield, N. J. and continued in it all his life. Uncle Patrick also lived in Stamford. He ran a cyling [sic] business. Uncle William in the grocery store — he used to visit us frequently in Frostburg, was the life and joy of the house when there. Sang all the Irish songs…

Within a year the boys had a home for their dear mother and the young children James, Joseph, John, Catherine, Mary, Elizabeth and Irma. They arrived in the spring and the following winter my dear grandmother died and went to receive her reward. Aunt Catherine and the two boys James and Joseph were called soon after to share their mother’s happiness.

My dear nephews and nieces, Lift up your heart to God and rejoice that you have so many in heaven praying for you. God’s blessings on you and all your good works for Him and your lovely families. God love you all. Pray for me. Years pass swiftly on to Eternity and who knows how long we have to live.

I am living very close to you all in spirit and I pray our Dear Lord and His Blessed Mother to grant you light, strength and courage to do His will.

As a child I was anxious to know who were my forefathers and mothers and asked questions. I am not certain whether some of the quotations are correct.  I will place a question mark after those of doubt. It is the way it impressed me at the time.

When very young I used to listen to my loved mother and father as they received from memory each important event of their lives, and each ones family history.

They spent twelve weeks on the stormy ocean in an old sailing vessel. When they arrived at Long Island Sound the bottom was torn out of the vessel and many were drowned. They were saved but all their belongings were lost. They had only the clots/wh they wore.


3 Replies to “Letter from Aunt Agnes to Uncle Jerry Counihan, dated August 15, 1948”

  1. Thanks for the link, Tom! I hadn’t seen those queries, but it turns out the author was my younger sister who was doing some legwork for me some ten years ago. I’m finally having some luck finding both Simon’s origins as well as where he ended up. I should respond to her and see how long it takes her to realize it is me. 😀

  2. I am a descendant of Garrett Keaton and Hanna Jacques looking for relatives
    Of Garrett Keaton

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