Fearless Female 31 March: A retrospective on Bridget McSharry nee Furlong

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. The final challenge for the month is to write a 500 word mini-profile of a female ancestor. I’ve chosen one of my lines that I don’t write about often, and a female ancestor who rarely appears in my blog spotlight.

Bridget Furlong was born to Martin Furlong and his wife, Margaret nee Sta(u)nton and baptised on 29 December 1840 at the Roman Catholic Church, Tullamore, Kings County (Offaly).  The Griffith Valuations place the family in the townland of Shr(u)agh, but their absence from the church records suggests they were not native to Tullamore. Nothing is known of Bridget’s early life other than that she lived through the devastating experience of Ireland’s Great Famine. Later generations of Furlong men would be skilled Gaelic footballers. Were Bridget’s brothers, John and Martin, similarly talented?

Bridget married James Sharry, a railway man, in Tullamore on 21 May 1859 (witnesses John Horan and Maria Slavin). Their sons, Peter (1861) and James (1865) were both baptised in Tullamore but their second son, Martin, was baptised in 1863 at Arklow, Wicklow. Their childrens’ baptisms track the family’s movement from Tullamore to Arklow to Gorey, Co Wexford where the family settled in the townland of Knockina, probably in a railway house.

Around the time of their 23rd anniversary the couple made the decision to emigrate. Queensland was building its extensive railway network and James would have readily gained employment as an experienced railwayman. James and Bridget and eight of their ten known children (James, John, Mary Agatha, Margaret, Bridget Agnes, Catherine, Esther Anne, and Patrick) arrived in Rockhampton on board the Melpomene on 20 January 1883. The family name changed to McSharry, possibly to piggyback on the renowned railway company, McSharry and O’Rourke. Son Martin may have died in Ireland[i]. Eldest son Peter, wife Mary, and his young family would arrive in Australia a year later, changing his name to McSherry.

The McSharrys settled first in Rockhampton where James worked as a railway platelayer[ii]. As with the Irish records, BDM events track their geographic movement. Daughter Margaret died in Rockhampton in 1884, aged 12, of shock from burns. John, aged 19, drowned in the flooded Claude River in March 1887 while working as a labourer on/near Mantuan Downs station. Their youngest son, Patrick, died in Gympie in 1889 of pericarditis, aged 8 years. Newspaper reports seem strangely silent on the deaths except John’s. James McSharry is not listed as the informant on the certificates.

Bridget reappears running boarding houses, first in Maryborough (1892-93) and then in Derby St, Rockhampton (1894-97). James disappears entirely from view and nothing has been found of his death. Did James desert her as I suspect, or has his death gone unreported somehow? Certainly life went badly wrong for her and the family not very long after their arrival. Down all these years I feel the terrible sorrow of her loneliness and the betrayal of her dreams, but no loss of faith.

Bridget McSharry née Furlong, a widow aged 59, died in Rockhampton on 13 July 1900 and is buried in the North Rockhampton cemetery.


Tullamore Parish register – information received from Offaly Historical Society. Confirmed through LDS microfilm 926186.

Griffith Valuations on microfiche (Tullamore).

Gorey parish records viewed on site.

Queensland Immigration records.

Official Queensland death certificates.

[i] Bridget’s death certificate lists three sons and one daughter deceased: John, Patrick, probably Martin and Margaret.

[ii] Queensland Death Certificate for daughter Margaret McSharry.

11 thoughts on “Fearless Female 31 March: A retrospective on Bridget McSharry nee Furlong

  1. A very touching story, and hats off to you for keeping such a rich tale to 500 words!

    Furlong is a Co Wexford name, so perhaps Bridget’s family moved to Tullamore from the Wexford area. The fact that she and James moved to Arklow, which is near the Wicklow/Wexford border, and then to Gorey might perhaps suggest they were going back to near where her family was from. Obviously that’s just speculation…

    The Wicklow/Wexford border is where one of my ancestors came from and the historian Nicholas Furlong helped us in our search for him.


    1. Thanks Rebelhand for your kind comments. Yes I knew Furlong was a Wexford name but there’s little to suggest this particular family came from there> I’ve been keeping it on my radar because of the possibilities. I think the main reason for their migration is that James was working on the railway but…..who knows. Perhaps I should get in touch with Nicholas Furlong too 😉


  2. Whew, Bridget had a difficult life. You did an awesome job of pulling the limited information that you had about Bridget together in a way that made me really care about her and all of the hardships she faced.


    1. Thanks Sheryl. Yes I think she did have a hard life and I suspect there are other tragedies that I’ve not unearthed. This family fractured and some branches had no idea others existed. Something happened. I just don’t know what.


  3. I am also descended from a ‘railway famliy’ on my mother’s side – how they moved about! Almost every child was born in a different county! I believe that my maternal ancestors also served on the railway in Gorey! What sadness your family endured . We also had a child who died from burns ( my mother’s first cousin)


    1. Hi Angela, there’s a commonality to many railway families including the moving around. What a coincidence it would be if your family and mine were both in Gorey at the same time, around the 1870s-80s. Yes, I do feel sad when I think of how they probably had such high hopes of Australia, all to be shattered so quickly. Burns would be such a terrible way for a child to die, as if there’s any “good” way, which there isn’t.


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