Tracing Our Workhouse Orphans
By Damian Mac Con Uladh
When the Lady Kennaway arrived in Port Phillip (now Melbourne) on 6 December 1848, it would mark the beginning of a new life for 191 Irish orphan girls on board who hailed from counties Donegal, Cork, Leitrim, Louth, Mayo, Queen’s (Laois), Sligo and Tipperary as well as Galway.
Among the orphans were 13 girls from Ballinasloe Workhouse, ranging in age from 14 to 19. Two more girls from the workhouse would follow in February 1849 aboard the Inchinnan, which sailed to Syndey. The girls had been selected by the Poor Law Guardians – who managed the workhouse – to avail of the offer of free passage made by the authorities in Australia to address the gender imbalance in the new colony.
Ahead of the 175th anniversary of their arrival in Australia in 2023, a project has been launched on Facebook to trace the subsequent paths of these 15 girls, to find their descendants and to reconnect them with lost family in Ireland.
Called the Ballinasloe Orphan Girls Project it was started by Martin Curley, a professional genealogist based in Mountbellew, and local historian Damian Mac Con Uladh. Martin decided to trace after helping an Australian man descended from an orphan girl from Mountbellew Workhouse connect to long-lost cousins in Abbeyknockmoy in 2017.
Martin hopes his current project will gather as many of the girls’ descendants in Ballinasloe in 2023. “For the girls’ descendants, walking in the area where their ancestors grew up in and meeting kin folk is a huge experience – it helps bring the girls home again,” he says.
“With the advent of DNA testing and the emerging large database in east Galway, not alone could we try and find descendants but we could also reconnect them with lost family here in Galway and elsewhere in the diaspora,” he adds.
Martin is also the founder of the East Galway Genealogy & DNA page on Facebook, which has attracted over 3,100 members since it began in May last year. The page seeks to help its members in their genealogical research by encouraging them to share their DNA results from the various testing companies to a dedicated ancestor project centred on East Galway on the GEDmatch website.
“Sharing our DNA results will make it easier to reconnect the girls’ descendants once we find them to their long lost cousins,” Martin says.
Find out more by visiting Ballinasloe Orphan Girls Project on Facebook (see below). You can also connect with the East Galway Genealogy & DNA Group on Facebook
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