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The Dennahys in the Background


The spelling of the name Dennahy is totally inconsistent across the 1800s and even into the early 1900s in the both Ireland and North America. This lack of consistency derives from the fact that most of the name ‘owners’ could not spell and officials were giving the name their own unique spelling twist. An excellent example of this is the spelling applied to the Jeremiah Dennahy/Ellen Drew children in the Catholic Church baptismal records in Killarney over a period of eight years in the 1820/30s– Jeremiah Dennahy, Hannah Dinnehy, Ellen Dinnahy, and Timothy Denahy. In each instance the parents’ name in the record is spelled similar to the child’s name.


The common characteristics of the spelling variations are i) an interchange of a single and a double “n”, and ii) a complete substitution of the vowels “a”, “e”, and “I” for each other, iii) the occasional addition of an “e” as in Dinnahey, and the occasional use of the vowel “o”. Fortunately soundex captures all of the possible common 18 variations; it also appears to capture the additional “e” and “o” options. Where the soundex option is not available then care needs to be exercised to ensure all possible options are covered.  


The Dennahy Family in North America

·         We first came across what appeared to be likely Honora’s mother Ellen (56) and two younger gentlemen, thought at the time to be possible siblings, Thomas (34) and Patrick (30), living with Honora in Boston in the 1850 census. The last name attributed to Mother and possible siblings in 1850 was Donnehoe, a spelling which is most rare in both the US and Ireland. It does not show up in later US census – 1860 to 1880 – and was assumed to have likely been a corruption of some other Irish last name, most likely the common Donahue/Donohoe name. However, numerous searches have turned up no common threads to Thomas and Patrick and their possible familial attachment to the family has been discounted.


·         The TWR pension file provided the NB connection through the Catholic dioceses to TWR and Hannah [Honora] via daughter Mary’s christening. The 1846 record of the baptism of Hannah's second child, Mary Riley, gives Hannah’s maiden name; that name has been variously interpreted from the poor handwriting as Donnely, Dormedy, Dormehy, and Donnehy. Access to and digital photography of the Church file in July 2005 and its subsequent enhanced enlargement clearly indicates that the name in this file is Donnehy.


·         There is a potential record of TWR’s birth associated with the records of the Saint John Alms and Work House. The records for that establishment for 1844 indicate that one Bridget Donahy, presenting as a 20 year old from Cork with a Saint John address, was admitted on July 11 of that year due to pregnancy. The record goes on to note that she delivered on August 25, 1844 and was discharged on her own account on October 1, 1844 after a stay of some 82 days. The file appears to relate her stay to “Folio Kelly, Cork, June 9th/’44”. Subsequent  research generated the following:  i) that Ms Donahy advised that she was born in Cork, ii) that she was 20 years of age, iii) that she had landed Saint John on June 9, 1844, iv) that she had departed Louth, Ireland, on the Clio, with Captain Kelly in charge. However, a few details of her story do not match the facts. The 1840's ship Clio was a barque of some 473 tons built in Granville, NS and originally sold to a merchant house operating out of Padstow, Cornwall. The Clio generally delivered Canadian lumber into Cornwall, and passengers (generally US-bound) back to Canada; up until 1845 her captain was a Mr. Brown. The Clio is known to have sailed from Padstow for North America on April 23, 1844. Ship records would suggest that Clio's sailing time across the Atlantic probably averaged 4-5 weeks. Bridget's stated crossing on the Clio and her landing date of June 9, 1844 appear reasonable for the April 23, 1844 departure. Identifying the captain as Mr. Kelly, that departure was from Louth (north of Dublin), and that she was born in Cork may provide some cause to question the veracity of some details of her story but further access to that folio does not appear to be available. Three points re: this file are significant – i) The name Donahy and its variations are very uncommon in Saint John records, ii) The birth date of August 25, 1844 can be readily reconciled with Honora’s reported August 26th, 1844  date for TWR’s birth, and iii) Honora in her 1853 marriage documentation gave her mother Ellen’s name as ‘Bridget’. The Cork reference could have been provided to disguise her background or it may reflect the port from which she left Ireland; the age difference may simply reflect some of the inconsistency in her age (birth from 1820 to 1830) found throughout the record; and at the same time it is likely she would be more comfortable as an unmarried woman reporting in as a 20 year old than a 17 year old.


·         Honora’s maiden name was given on son Seth L’s birth certificate as Denahy.


·         Honora’s parents’ last name is given as Dennethy on her 1863 marriage documentation, and it is this spelling that has been captured and used by those pursuing the Vickery line.


·         The maiden name provided on Honora’s death certificate, via information provided by son Hiland, is given as Denhue.


·         The connection to Timothy Leddy in the pension files for both TWR and Honora greatly assisted in moving the yardstick closer to reality. Timothy Leddy’s wife Ellen, who appears to be the younger sister of Honora, gives her maiden name as Dennihy on her 1850 marriage certificate. In 1860 the Leddy’s have living with them a 70 year old widow (who is interpreted to be the Ellen Donnehoe of 1850) whose name is recorded as Ellen Denahy.


·         Consequently by late 2003 some form of Dennahy as Honora’s likely maiden name was being favored.


·         In mid-2005 Ellen Leddy’s death certificate was retrieved from the MA archives and clearly lists her last name as Denehy. However, what is even more important, her father’s name is listed as Jeremiah (as opposed to a couple of John’s in the birth records of her children, and supporting the Jeremiah name in one of Honora’s records) and her mother’s name is given as Ellen (giving strong credence that the Ellen Dennehy found living with the Leddys in 1860 is probably her mother).


·         Of even more importance however the Ellen Leddy death certificate listed the maiden name of her mother (heretofore known as Ellen Donnehoe or Ellen Denahy) as Drew (see following section).


·         An identification of Honora’s older brother Jeremiah in the US was made in summer of 2007. In 1860 he was living in Boston as 40 year old John Dannahy with his wife Honora (Galvin) Dannahy and a family of six children including Ellen, 11, Johanna M, 10, Margaret J, 9, Francis H, 7, Delia T, 5, Joseph W, 3.


·         To date, and with some considerable effort expended, there have been no close matches for Jeremiah Sr. or sibling Timothy in the North American records and they may have died in Ireland.  


·         There appears to be an as yet undetermined familial relationship between a Margaret (Dennahy) Kelliher (b c 1813) of Boston and sisters Honora Riley/Vickery and Ellen Leddy. Margaret provided affidavits for both of the sister’s pension quests in the 1890’s and noted she had known both sisters before they were married.  


  • Casey notes a marriage between one Margaret Dinnehy and one Cornelius Kelliher in Killarney on Feb 16, 1843. If we say that Margaret was 18 that would put her birth at 1825 (range from 22 (1821) to 14 (1829)). We do have a Margaret Dinnahy christened Nov 13, 1821, daughter of Patrick Dinnahy and Ellen Cronin and the age would fit for a 22 year old Margaret above.


  • Margaret and Cornelius Kelliher appear to have had the following children: Jeremiah (1844 in Ireland) who died in Boston in 1871, Stephen/David (c 1845 in MA) who died in 1882, Mary (1850) who died an infant, Cornelius (1851) who died of pneumonia in Boston in 1898, Mathew (1853) who died in infancy, William (1854), and Ellen (1860).


  • Nellie McQuaide was noted to be living with Margaret Kelliher in Boston in the 1890s. Nellie McQuaide appears to have been one Ellen A Fitzgerald, born in Holliston, MA, who on January 12, 1881 at 21 married 28 year old John F McQuaide of Boston in Cambridge; John was noted to have been a brass finisher. A likely birth for Ellen is noted in Holliston in 1860 where one Ellen Agnes Fitzgerald, given as the daughter of Daniel P Fitzgerald and Mary Donneher, was noted to have been born on Jan 10.


  • The relationship between Margaret (Dennehy) Kelliher of Cambridge and Mary (Donneher) Fitzgerald of Holliston is not yet known


  • A Daniel Dennehy of Boston was a witness for the signing of the first Timothy Leddy pension declaration in 1879 but his identification remains elusive. One possibility from the 1880 census is one Dennis Dennehy, 48, tailor, b Ireland, address 98 B St. Boston, wife Mary, 44. Children: Michael J 24; Nellie 22; John 20; Dennis 17; James 15; William 13; but no proof.


The Ireland Connections


·         Geographically speaking most Dennehys (sp) in Griffith’s valuation were living in Cork or Kerry. The preponderance of Drews were in Cork and Limerick, although there is a small enclave south of Dublin, and a significant number of others scattered across the country, including 5 references in Kerry.


·         A search of the digitized Casey records on the LDS website provided a christening record for May 21, 1824, in the Roman Catholic Church in Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland of one Jeremiah Dennahy, son of Jeremiah Dennahy and Ellen Drew. Further searching of this file source shows that Jeremiah and Ellen also produced Hannah Dinnehy (christened 10 March 1827), Ellen Dinnahy (christened April 1, 1829) and Timothy Denahy (christened June 15, 1832). The Ellen record gives Drew as “Drewe”. The likelihood is that these four individuals are siblings, with Hannah being our Honora. In all four cases the spelling of the parents’ last name matched the spelling of the child’s name (or vice versa!).


·         A possible family make-up therefore would be Jeremiah (c 1924), Hannah/Honora (c 1827), Ellen (c 1829), and Timothy (1832). Given the fact that these children appear over a 8 year time frame there may have been others that did not make it to adulthood, or conversely who may have died during the famine. Ellen Leddy lists her immigration date as 1848 in the 1900 census, and the fact that Mother (and two possible male siblings??) was living with Honora in 1850 may suggest she (they?) still had not yet gotten her bearings in America. I would speculate that the immigration date of other family members to the US is likewise in the late 1840’s. 


·         (It is noteworthy that Casey gives a host of “Donnhoes” of various spellings in the same parish in Killarney during the early part of the 1800’s. There is some possibility that the 1850 Thomas/Patrick living with Honora were actually Donnhoe family friends from Killarney and not Dennahys, likely taken in by Honora as boarders to assist in paying the rent. This position has been arbitrarily accepted until the search is redirected through a revised North American connection.)


·         There is a possible baptism for Jeremiah Dennehy Sr. in the RC church in Currow, County Kerry, listed as May 4, 1804 in Casey; his parents were Philip Dennehy and Cath. Sullivan.  The same parents baptized a son Timothy in the same location on February 24, 1802. This couple should be considered as a possible candidate for Ray’s GGGG grandparents.


·         There were two recorded witnesses for Honora’s brother Jeremiah’s 1824 Killarney christening – “Patrick Dinnahy & Nora”. The nature of the written combination of these two individuals suggests father and daughter rather than husband and wife. Casey gives a christening in the RC church in Killarney on Aug. 9, 1807 of one Nora Danihy, daughter of Patrick Danihy and Ellen Cronin. It would be reasonable to deduce the presence of this Patrick and Nora at Jeremiah’s baptism; Nora would have been 17 at the time. 


·         The Patrick Danihy and Ellen Cronin family appears to have consisted of the following children, all baptized in the RC church in Killarney: Nora [Honora] Danihy, bp Aug 9, 1807; Daniel Dinnahy, bp Mar 30, 1810; Jeremiah Dinnahy, bp Sept 28, 1816; Hannah Dinnahy, bp May 31, 1819; Margaret Dinnahy, bp Nov 13, 1821; Patrick Dinnahy, bp Mar 02, 1825; Ellen Dinnahy, bp June 17, 1827.


·         There are two options for getting Honora to NB in the mid 1840’s. The first is that she came as a young, unmarried female and met and married Timothy Sr. in NB. About the only support of this hypothesis to which we might point is the fact that ‘Bridget’ appeared to be unmarried during her time in the Alms House; however that may have been contrived so as to gain entry to the facility. We do have evidence of an 18 year old Timothy Rilley arriving Saint John on the Matilda in 1834 but no further evidence of his existence in Saint John in the following decade.


·         The second alternative is that she came to Saint John as a young married woman. We do have evidence of a marriage in Killarney on July 31, 1843 of one Nora (Hannah/Honora/Nora/Ann) Dinnahy to one Timothy Rahilly. That the couple shortly thereafter left for ‘America’ is not unreasonable. That they went to NB is also not unreasonable as it was a less expensive passage to the US via Canada than to go there directly.  In this particular case the young couple found themselves with a child (Timothy-1944) before they had had time to make their way to the US, or in the alternative they may have consciously decided to stay in Saint John for a period of time. This second hypothesis has been adopted until such time as the evidence leads in another direction. 


·         There are christening records in Casey for “Timothy Rahilly” (note that "Riley" is not a common name in County Kerry in the 1840's) in the Killarney RC church for the period in question as follows:

    • Oct 10, 1823 – son of Michael Rahilly and Bridget Coffee (in Castleisland)
    • April 3, 1825 – son of Ty. Rahilly and Mary Lynch (most likely candidate?)
    • Jan 14, 1827 – son of Patrick Rahilly and Eliz. Casey
    • Mar 10, 1827 – son of John Rahilly and Mary Sullivan
    • July 13, 1827 – son of Patrick Rahilly and Mgt. Sullivan
    • May 11, 1829 – son of John Rahilly and Bridget Hennessey of ‘no fixed abode’ 

·         Griffith’s valuation (1853) shows the following Denehys on Fair Hill in Killarney, in Magunihy Barony:

o   Patrick Denehy (plus Ellen Cronin???) was the occupier of Lot 3, leased from the Earl of Kenmare, consisting of a house and yard

o   Daniel Denehy was the lessor of vacant Lot 4 consisting of a house and yard

o   Daniel Denehy was the occupier of Lot 5, leased from the Earle of Kenmare, consisting of a house, yard, and garden

o   Daniel Denehy was the lessor of vacant Lot 6 consisting of a house


·         Another version of Griffith’s Valuation (from the Failte Romhat website) provides for a Jeremiah Dennehy on Fair Hill, but the lot numbers are not associated. It is reasonable to assume that the Jeremiah presence on Fair Hill was collected in an earlier survey, and that he likely occupied one of the vacant lots of 1853. It is notable that this same survey also identified a Daniel Dennehy on High St. and a Johanna Dennehy on High St. and a Patrick Dennehy in Ardshanavooly.


·         For the record, Fair Hill is the road/street leaving the core of Killarney easterly toward Pike Wood, while High Street is the extension of Main Street progressing northwest out of the core of the town and turning into the Tralee Road. 


The Kerry vs Cork “Dennahy” Connection

(“Dennahy” in this format represents any of the similar surname formats.)


  • For the first time (late fall 2021) a Dennehy has appeared in my DNA contacts on Ancestry at the 33cM or <1% level. The family has strong Missouri connections, and the incumbent offered a Family Tree which chased his Dennehy line back to Ireland. There was, however, no instant connection (in fact the connection may actually traverse through one of his other lines?). In any event it spurred me to go back and review my Dinnahy information. The result was that I poked around in Ancestry and what really surprised me was the fact that my 3rd GGM, Honora/Hannah Dinnehy Riley has become something of a ‘rising star’ in the family tree section – while she was not featured in any family tree in 2006 when I finalized my initial work, she today factors in some 69 separate Family Trees. ( For the record those trees line up as follows: Vickery line (her 2nd husband) ~50%; Riley line ~21%; Private (line not evident) ~19%, and Other ~ 5%.


  • I got into the “Dennahy” family line via my search for my GG Grandfather, Timothy W Riley, who is buried in Nova Scotia, and who I came to find out was born in Saint John, NB in August 1844. His mother, when I first met her in the 1850 US census, was Honora Riley and as well as Timothy she had a daughter Mary Elizabeth, later found to have been born in Saint John in July 1846. I latched on to the “Dennahy” surname for Honora/Hannah via a number Canadian/US records: i) the Saint John Alms House record of a ‘Bridget’ “Donahy” who gave birth therein on August 25, 1844; ii) the Saint John Catholic Diocese birth record for Mary Riley in July 46 to one Hannah Donnehy; in son Seth L Vickery’s birth record she is referenced as Denahy; and in her own death record, informed by a ‘son’, her maiden name was given as Dinhie, or elsewhere in another death record given as Denhue by son Hiland.


  • Honora’s sister Ellen’s maiden name was given in her Boston marriage record to Timothy Leddy as Dennihy and as Denehy in her death record. That Honora and Ellen were likely sisters is derived from a Leddy witness on Honora’s application for survivor Civil War Pension benefits. The presence of “Ellen” Donnehoe in Honora’s household in 1850 and “Ellen” Dinnehy in Ellen Leddy’s household in 1860 suggests a common mother figure.     


  • Honora’s birth location in the North American records is effectively all over the map, including in no particular order, Cork, Ire; Liverpool, NS; Liverpool, Eng; England; Hanson, MA; and Killarney, Kerry, Ire. The latter location derives from daughter Mary Elizabeth (Riley) Bryant’s death record which notes that her parents were “both of Killarney”. I had offhandedly discounted the Liverpool (both), the England, and the Hanson references. In considering the Cork references, I came to the conclusion that Cork would be an easily acceptable location from which to claim Irish immigrant birthright given the large number of immigrants leaving the country through that port to the Americas, but knowing Honora’s penchant for ‘stretching’ reality it seemed more inferred than real.  However, the Killarney location referencing both parents for some reason simply seemed more legitimate, and I pursued my early investigations in that direction.


  • On-line Irish information prior to 2006 was not plentiful; however, I managed to turn up a reference copy of the Casey Collection in Minneapolis and its contents almost immediately pointed to a series of baptismal events in the RC church in Killarney to parents Jeremiah “Dennahy” and wife Ellen Drew(e) as follows:  Jeremiah Dennahy, baptized May 21, 1824; ii) Hannah Dinnehy, baptized Mar 10, 1827; iii) Ellen Dinnahy, baptized Apr 1, 1829; iv) Timothy Denahy, baptized Jun 15, 1832. In each instance Jeremiah’s surname was spelled similarly to the child’s assigned surname. 


  • It was only after acquiring the list of Jeremiah and Ellen’s children that I sought and found Jeremiah Jr, as John Dinnahy, and wife Honora (Galvin), living in Boston in 1850 with John, 4, and Ellen, 2. In 1900 Jeremiah’s daughter Ellen and family were living with Ellen F Leddy, 69, at 5 Rochester St. Boston in what certainly appears to be an aunt/niece relationship.


  • Regarding youngest sibling Timothy Riley, baptized Killarney RC church June 15, 1932, this current re-review of both available Ireland and MA records still did not provide a good candidate. Of interest, other researchers who included brother Timothy in their family trees also presented no additional data for either death or immigration. Additionally, the fate of father Jeremiah “Dennahy” has become no clearer in this re-review, although it is not unreasonable to suspect that a late 1840 death may have been one of the triggers inducing his family to leave for America.   


  • What has given me cause for concern in the Honora family tree files are the number of researchers who place her as being born in Cork c1821 to parents Jeremiah “Dennahy” and Ellen Drew. (In one extreme instance the compiler used the 1821 DoB and simply transferred the birth location from Cork to Killarney!). The records of St Mary’s RC church of Cork City clearly show that there was an Honora Dennehy born to a Jeremiah Dennehy and Ellen Drew (father likely Michael) in Cork on March 10, 1821. Further burrowing through Cork records also shows the marriage of one Jeremiah Danahy and Ellen Drew at St. Mary’s on Feb 28, 1810, and that (ignoring surname spelling) the couple proceeded to have son Daniel on Jul 5, 1812 (he (b 1813) appears to have died in Boston Oct 19, 1880), and a son Thomas on Dec 11, 1913, as well as Honora noted above, all associated with St. Mary’s in Cork City.  


  • I would argue that the “Dennahy” family unit associated with Timothy W Riley in NB/MA is fairly well established with the presence of mother Ellen Drew (father likely Thomas), son Jeremiah, daughter Honora, and daughter Ellen, and families. A familial closeness association with either a Daniel or a Thomas has not yet been recognized. To this end and supported by perhaps a difference of a decade in the general earlier ages of the Cork “Dennahy” family, this file is suggesting the presence of at least two “Dennahy” families in Southern Ireland in the early 1800s, an ‘earlier’ one from Cork, and a ‘later’ one from Killarney. Current available collective evidence suggests that the “Dennahy” family associated with Timothy W Riley of Saint John, NB, derives from Killarney. 


RAR - 09.09.07

Updated - 16.06.13; 06.12.21