This story really starts centuries ago when people from England were ‘planted’ in Ireland to establish a presence and develop the land. The English colonized Ireland with settlers in the 16th- and 17th-centuries in order to occupy, and therefore maintain control of Ireland. English nobility and friends of the English monarchs (among others) were granted land, often very large parcels of it. The problem was, these people were not farmers, and they needed people to work small plots of land, pay rent, and harvest crops to sustain the population and to sell. The land had no real value (and could be a liability) unless it was used to produce.
James Goarley “age 20 years or thereabouts” of Drumskimly, County Fermanagh, was one of those industrious Irish farmers. On the 28th of December 1778 James signed a lease with Henry, the Earl of Ely, to farm 32 acres for the yearly rent of nine pounds, ten shillings.
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland’s freeholders’ records indicate that a John Gorely was in Drumscainley in 1788 and Adam Goarley was there in 1796. We don’t yet know how they are connected to the Gorleys but the name and the location indicate there is a tie. Spellings of names and townships vary, due to the fact that most people were illiterate and the agents gathering the information often spelled things as they sounded.
The family appeared to stay in the area and farm the land for at least 90 years. Using Griffith’s Valuation records we can see that James Gorley Sr. and James Gorley Jr. were still working 30 acres in 1862. They farmed plots 6, 8A, and 8B in the Drumskimly Township. They may be descendants of ‘our’ John Gorley (born between 1775 and 1780) and Catherine Moore, but that is still to be proven.
Thomas Gorley (1801/06 – 1881/91), son of John Gordly and Catherine Moore, and Ann Mathews (1806-1877) married about 1829. Up until 1830 the families would have worshiped at the Derrygonnelly Old Parish Church, now a beautiful ruin. We found the ‘old church’ near Derrygonnelly easily as it stands, mostly intact, beside a main road. It was within easy walking distance of the Gorley residence.
After the ‘new’ church was built in 1830 they attended the Parish of Inishmacsaint in the Derrygonnelly / Drumskimly area where Thomas and Ann baptized five children. A stone from the original church at that site indicates that people have been praying there since 1688. There seems to have been some sort of amalgamation. The ‘new’ church replaced an old one on that site and the one near Derrygonnelly.
Things changed in the 1840s when a potato blight affected crops — more than half the crop in 1845 and 3/4 of the crops for the next seven years! Families made some tough decisions and many left the country as hungry refugees. More than a million people starved to death during that time.
Thomas and Ann Gorley were among those who decided to immigrate to Canada sometime between 1840 and 1847. We have documentation of their life after immigrating by baptism, marriage, and death records along with census data and other information. However, we were curious about their life in Ireland. Where, exactly, did they live?
With the skilled help of a professional genealogist we were able to narrow down the location by baptism records from the Parish of Inishmacsaint. This is close to the town of Enniskillen, where family historians had placed them.
A trip to Ireland included a day with the genealogist who had already done the groundwork and knew the area. Armed with the map from 1862, the plot numbers and a current satellite image, we headed out with high hopes of locating the old farm site.
The Griffith’s Valuation document matched land plot numbers with names of the farmers who leased the plots and named Edward Archdall is the leaser. The Archdale/Archdall family had been in Ireland since the 1600s, passing down the land and assets through the generations.
We would be intruding on private land so we needed to be respectful about driving into lanes and onto property. We also needed to find the access roads that would lead us to the old farm. To get some detailed local information we knocked on the door of a residence. A woman answered and looked at our map. She enlisted the help of her father and it was determined what direction we should drive.
After cruising the narrow road and finding no clear access point, we tried a lane hoping to find someone who could direct us further. We drove through a farmyard and heard machinery working in a field. Our genealogist climbed a fence, picked his way across a field and flagged down the farmer in his tractor. The farmer was very interested in our old map and was fascinated to see his farm as it was plotted in the 1860s. He also told us how best to reach the plot we were looking for.
By lucky chance we caught the young fellow who now farms the land just as he was leaving to run an errand. We explained what we were looking for and why, and he was very helpful.
He told us there was a ‘pile of stones’ and where to find them. At first we weren’t sure what we would find, but consulting our old map, we identified the fields the Gorleys worked 200 years ago.
It was quite amazing to be able to stand on the land that Gorley ancestors once walked and tended. But the most exciting part was still to come.
We had found the farm, but was there anything left of the house? Would we be able to find the ‘pile of stones’? Map in hand and now knowing exactly were we were in relation to the map, and following the farmer’s instructions, we determined the most likely spot. Parting the long grass, we found several large stones that were suitable for a house, and similar to other old stone buildings nearby. We had done it! We had found the place where the Gorleys lived and worked almost 200 years ago!
A map dated 1825 provided more evidence that we had the right spot. Just to the left of the number 177 on the map you can see the rectangle of the house where the stones are now.
We moved on and were stopped at a stop sign reading our map and deciding where we needed to turn. A car behind us prompted us to pull over and the other driver approached our car asking if we needed help. We told him what we were looking for and he gave us some information about the new Inishmacsaint Church (where the Gorleys worshiped after 1830) location and history.
Everyone who helped us along the way made the day one of the best ones we spent in Ireland.