Researching Derryveagh evictions and family history

Wing Commander Hugh Conaghan

THE story of the Derryveagh evictions has lead one woman on a fifteen year journey to find out about her Donegal ancestry and heritage. Mary Mazzetti lives in Australia and knows that her grandparents emigrated from Donegal but is still in search of a missing townland that connects her to the Conaghan family of her ancestors.

Over recent years she has visited Donegal many times and has received great help from various sources from Falcarragh to Donegal Town. She has now set up a facebook page in the hope that social media could be the source of further information on her family history.

She spoke to the Donegal News this week in the hope that some of our readers might be able to open some more doors for her. “Bernard Conaghan and Ellen Doohan were my Great Grandparents and Donegal was their home, however, where in Donegal is unclear. My fifteen year journey tracing my Great Grandparents footsteps came about after reading the Evictions of Derryveagh and the plight of many Donegal people who emigrated to Australia.


“In order to piece together Bernard and Ellen’s lives I have had to research other Conaghan families, and the many, many name variants of Conaghan, in Australia. I have read through thousands of obituaries in the hope of finding a family connection or friendships, follow those connections through births deaths and marriages, purchase many births/deaths/marriage certificates that held a glimmer of hope of a connection only to find none or too many inconsistencies to be sure.

“In investigating possible links and relationships I have collaborated with a number of Conaghan families in Australia, one in particular who has been extremely helpful is Jock O’Keefe, who is related to Norah Coyle who married Hugh Conaghan from Meenlaragh.

“I have written our family history as I know it but it remains incomplete until I find the Townland or Parish of one or both of my Great Grandparents. Given their accomplishments and their sacrifices I owe them that much, so the journey continues.
She explained that her relations went onto have illustrious careers in Australia after their departure from Donegal.

“I believe that my great grandmother arrived on the ship The Sapphire along with other people from the Gweedore and Cloughaneely regions. A passenger fitting my great grandfather’s description, a 23 year old Bryan Conaghan arrived on the Lady Elma Bruce on the 14th of July, 1859. The two ships mentioned were part of the Donegal Relief Fund (DRF).
Mary said that Bernard and Ellen’s story and their family’s achievements are astounding. “They could neither read nor write but passed on to their children, by example, the most important lessons in life. Hard work, honesty and respect to all. Bernard and Ellen had nine children, Mary, James, Marjorie, Bernard, Charles, John, Thomas, (Francis & Cornelius – twins) who were all born in Grafton, they followed in their father’s footsteps to become successful farmers. Charles and Francis remained in New South Wales and Tom and Jack left for Queensland arriving in Rockhampton in 1896 where they established the first Ice Works in Western Queensland.

In 1903 they commenced making butter in Rockhampton, the first company to give local farmers an outlet for their cream. “My grandfather Con left Northern New South Wales around 1910 and joined his brothers in Rockhampton where he worked as a drilling contractor drilling for water. The Conaghan Brothers were indeed pioneers of business in the central west. Tom and Jack were both involved in horse racing and Jack was a founding member of the Central Queensland Amateur Racing Club. Indeed, these peasant farmers from County Donegal produced many descendants who left their mark on Australia. The young Donegal emigrants could never have foreseen, when leaving their home in Ireland that it was possible to see their sons build a successful and enterprising business.

Their grandson Wing Commander Hugh Augustine Conaghan, son of Bernard William Conaghan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and bar for services in Malaya. In 1951, he set a world record in a Lincoln bomber flying 4,000 miles nonstop from Singapore to Charleville, Western Queensland. Hugh’s father Bernard was an early pioneering entrepreneur who contributed to the financial growth of many towns he lived in. By the time of his death he had amassed wealth in real estate that would make him a billionaire today. Charles’ son Basil was one of the most respected and successful jockeys and horse trainers in Melbourne .

She appealed for anyone who thinks they might know more about her Conaghan family history to make contact through the Conaghan Families – Donegal to Australia Reunion facebook page.


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