Egans of Freemount

By John Moran, Brisbane Queensland Australia

The Egans were a well-established and well-known family around Freemount in the 19th century.

Quite a few lived in the townland of Muckenagh until many seem to have emigrated or moved to other districts of Ireland by the start of the 20th century.

My great grandfather, Michael Walsh, was actually born just over the county border at Highmount Feenagh in June 1848, but the proud Limerick man crossed the line in 1872 when he married Ellen Egan of Muckenagh, Freemount Cork at the local Catholic Chapel on 21 January.

Ellen’s parents were Patrick Egan, who was born in 1831 at Freemount and Ellen (or Mary) O’Leary (variously Leary). Other information about them has so far been hard to find, but, as well as Ellen, who was born in 1852, they had Catherine (Kate – born 1850), Margaret (born 1859), William (born 1861) and Johanna and John (born 1865).

My Walsh great grandparents, Michael and Margaret (nee Healy) Walsh, were married not far away on 7 February 1837 in the Catholic parish of Dromcollogher and Broadford, County Limerick Ireland. They were prominent amongst the Highmount Walshes, raising a fair sized family in the district.

In keeping with property transmission practices of the era, the Walsh Highmount farm was not to be my great grandfather’s future and he and Ellen settled amongst the Egans at Muckenagh where they started their family.

Ellen’s sister, Kate, moved in the other direction when, in 1879, she married Michael’s brother, Thomas, who stayed at Feenagh where they raised a family and she died in 1917.

Michael’s sister, Mary, who was born at Feenagh about 1845 married a man from another prominent Feenagh family, Charles McCarthy, in 1870 and also stayed farming in the Feenagh area.

Back over at Muckenagh townland Michael and Ellen got their family underway in December 1873, when Margaret was born. She was followed by John in 1875, Mary Francis (Siss) in 1877, Patrick in 1880 and then my grandfather, Michael, on 27 January 1882. In the meantime tragedy had struck with their firstborn, Margaret, dying at the tender age of seven in 1880.

The following after my grandfather was born the Walshes heard the Banshee’s cry once more, when Michael’s father, Michael Walsh, died at Highmount in 1883.

However, life goes on and Michael and Ellen produced their sixth child, Thomas, in 1884 and then Eleanor (Ellen or Helena) came along in 1886.

Things were clearly getting a bit crowded around the fields of Muckenagh and the Walshes, like so many Irish men and women during the previous few decades, turned their eyes to other lands. They were off to Australia where the land was plentiful and new political and economic ways offered the chance of a better life.

In early 1888, no doubt after the usual farewell party – the “Wake” or “feast of departure” – they probably set off for Charleville, caught the train for Queenstown where they caught a ship for Plymouth or London, where they boarded the RMS Cuzco for Australia on either 24 or 22 June 1888 respectively. Only their dear Margaret would remain, resting forever in Irish soil, somewhere in the Freemount district.

Aboard the Cuzco they were part of the 101 passengers in third cabin or steerage, but the trip was still an adventure, stopping at Gibraltar on 27 June, Naples on 2 July, Port Said and Suez on 6 July and Aden on 11 July ahead of more than two weeks traversing the Indian Ocean. They touched dry land in their adopted country for the first time on 28 July at Albany, Western Australia.

It was not the only new life the trip brought them though, with the pregnant Ellen giving birth to their eighth child as Australia came into sight. In a clear case supporting the argument for some sort of government regulation of what parents should be allowed to call their children, she was named Margaret Albany Cuzco Walsh in memory of the firstborn they left in Ireland (fair enough) and in celebration of the new life they were starting down under.

Queensland was to be their new home and they settled outside Brisbane, selecting land at Esk and then at Kilcoy in the Brisbane Valley, where they farmed until Ellen’s death in 1943.

They had one more child in Australia – Martin James (Jim) – and Michael died at Kilcoy in 1928, never seeing Ireland again.

My grandfather was six when he left Muckenagh, Freemount and Ireland, but he never forgot it. My childhood, before his death in 1967, was saturated with stories of Ireland, Irish sayings and Irish folklore. He built a successful life in Australia and raised a large family. However, his lifelong desire to revisit the land of his birth was never to be and was one of the disappointments in an otherwise interesting and positive life.

For most of the 20th century the suburb of Ashgrove in Brisbane was my immediate Walsh and Egan descendant’s stomping ground, with my grandparents buying a house there in 1928 and my mother, Carmella Ellen Walsh, growing up there. My brother and I were also raised in Ashgrove.

It is a long way from Freemount to Brisbane, or Muckenagh to Ashgrove, but the green fields of northern Cork and southern Limerick were never far from my grandfather’s thoughts.