Friday 24 January 2020

Revealed: Meghan Markle's missing Irish branch of her family tree

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, can trace her ancestry back to Mary McCue, a young Irish woman from Belfast who married Thomas Bird, an English soldier, at Donnybrook in 1860 after a whirlwind romance. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, can trace her ancestry back to Mary McCue, a young Irish woman from Belfast who married Thomas Bird, an English soldier, at Donnybrook in 1860 after a whirlwind romance. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Alan O'Keeffe

Meghan Markle was presented with documents detailing an Irish ancestor during her visit to Dublin with Prince Harry. The young duchess discovered she is descended from a young Belfast woman named Mary, who married an English soldier in Dublin after a possible "whirlwind romance" almost 200 years ago.

Different spellings of Mary's surname resulted in some genealogists assuming she was born in Co Galway, but a number of documents found during a formal search have now established she was born in the Belfast region.

Fiona Fitzsimons and Helen Moss, genealogists with The Irish Family History Centre in Dublin, compiled the information from her father's side of the family tree. It was given to Meghan during the couple's visit to EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum.

Marriage records show that Mary McCue (McHugh) was living at Merrion Strand in Dublin when she married Thomas Bird, a private in the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment of Foot, in Saint Mary's Church of Ireland church in Donnybrook in Dublin on Monday, January 23, 1860.

Meghan’s great great grandmother’s death cert from New Hampshire
Meghan’s great great grandmother’s death cert from New Hampshire

Thomas had served in the army in India in the previous decade and he was living in a barracks near Donnybrook in Dublin at the time of the marriage.

The local papers reported that a hurricane had struck Ireland the previous weekend.

"And it must have been a whirlwind romance," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"Thomas's regiment had only recently returned from India after 10 years. They arrived in Dublin in August, 1859 and were stationed in Beggars Bush Barracks," she said.

Donnybrook wedding of Thomas Bird and Mary McCue.
Donnybrook wedding of Thomas Bird and Mary McCue.

Mary's father's name was listed in the marriage register as Francis McCue with an occupation of farmer. The groom's father was listed as a labourer.

In June 1860, the regiment was sent to Malta. Thomas and Mary caught a train from Kingstown, present day Dun Laoghaire, to Queenstown, now Cobh, where they boarded the steam ship Olympus. On board the voyage to Malta were 573 members of the regiment, including 16 drummers, and 66 women and 67 children.

The regiment was stationed on the Mediterranean island until 1866. The couple had at least two children: Mary, the duchess's great-great-grandmother; and Harriett.

In March 1866, the regiment was sent to Canada. The long journey to New Brunswick in Canada may have taken its toll on Thomas who died in July 1866, aged 36.

Canadian census and second husband William White
Canadian census and second husband William White

In May 1867, Mary married a widower, William White, a soldier in the same regiment. Two years later, the regiment was transferred to Cork but Mary and William decided to remain in Canada.

In the 1871 Canadian census in New Brunswick, Mary White and her two daughters are listed as Irish and Roman Catholic and her husband William as English and a shoemaker who is a member of the Anglican Church.

Mary and William settled on a farm and Mary gave birth to two more children. Their daughter Alexandrine died as a young child. Her baptism listed Mary's surname as McKeg.

Their son William Thomas was born in 1873. The family later moved to New Hampshire in the US. In 1883, daughter Mary married Charles Merrill in New Hampshire.

Finally, the well-travelled Belfast woman Mary White died of pneumonia, aged in her mid-50s, in New Hampshire on August 28, 1885.

Her son William Thomas died at 17 in Lakeport, New Hampshire, in 1890. His death record states his mother's maiden name was McCue and that she was born in Belfast.

In 1891, when daughter Harriett married, she listed her mother's surname as McCague.

On US census forms in 1930, Harriett stated her mother was born in Northern Ireland.

The genealogists stated: "It is only by searching forward in time, comparing the evidence in later Canadian and US documents, that we found sufficient evidence to say with certainty that Mary McCue's (McHugh's) origins were in Belfast.

"Catholic parish registers start too late for a baptism of Mary McHugh… We found no earlier records for the McHugh/McCue family of Belfast."

Ms Fitzsimons said it was a pleasure researching Mary's story.

"We want to acknowledge Lorna Moloney's work in identifying the family in US records as McCague.

"Often names in official records can be written down by officials as they sound phonetically, which can often lead to different versions of names being recorded." Ms Fitzsimons can be contacted through www.irishfamilyhistorycentre.com.

Ms Moloney, who was not involved in the formal compilation of information, independently did research on Meghan's Irish ancestry links using information available in public records.

She had noted that Mary's daughter in her marriage document had listed her mother as Mary McCague. Ms Moloney had found a woman with that name who was born in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, in 1829 and there was a certain likelihood it could be the same woman but it was always subject to verification.

Ms Moloney said: "I'm delighted to learn this new information which has now been given to Meghan. It's a fascinating story."

Sunday Independent

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