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.

Two degrees of ancestral separation

Randy Seaver’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun last weekend was Two Degrees of Separation. Obviously I’m not having much fun on Saturday nights that it takes me to Tuesday to respond to this challenge, which rather intrigued me.

So, how far back in time could I go with my ancestors by using an ancestor I knew as the pivot point.

As it happens not too far, certainly not as far as Randy managed. Despite many branches of longevity on our tree the furthest back my known personal linkages took me was the 1830s. There were two reasons for this: 1. the timing of my families’ migration to Australia and 2. (in some cases) the early demise of their ancestors.

I was surprised to discover just how recent and ephemeral was this grandparent-grandchild link that we seem to take for granted these days. But more on that another time.

I was lucky that I knew all four of my grandparents and these are the links which took me back.

My grandfather, Denis Joseph Kunkel b 1880, knew all four of his grandparents and would have seen quite a lot of them I imagine. Even though his family moved around with the railway, they spent most of their time near where the grandparents lived. I like the fact that he knew them well and perhaps was close to them. I only wish he’d told me about them …or was I not listening?  All these grandparents have birth dates in the early 1830s though only one is a confirmed date (the rest were Irish –say no more!). If Denis lived in today’s world, where international travel and Skype connect families separated by distance, then he would also have known two of his great-grandparents who were still alive in Ireland, and I could connect back to the c1804..

My paternal grandmother, Catherine b 1887, may have the record for the earliest connection, assuming (and it IS an assumption) that she met her grandfather, Duncan McCorkindale before his death in Greenock Poorhouse in 1889. She wouldn’t have remembered him though, as she was only two when he died. Still IF the family visited him from Glasgow then he would be the earliest contender for our “two degrees of separation”, having been born in 1808.

With my maternal grandmother, Laura, the story is the same. Her Northumbrian-born grandmother lived with them in Charters Towers and Laura would also have known as her Partridge grandparents but again, birth dates are in the 1830s. All earlier generations pre-deceased her birth.

My paternal grandfather, James, certainly knew his paternal grandparents (both born 1830s) as they also lived in Gorey, Co Wexford and the two families emigrated to Australia within a year of each other. Perhaps before they emigrated they travelled to Tullamore, Co Offaly to visit his great-grandfather Martin Furlong, in which case this link would connect back to the early 1800s.

Thanks Randy for a new way of looking at our ancestral families, and enlightening our current family experience.

Martin Furlong family Tullamore Offaly (Kings Co)

I’ve recently obtained the death certificates for my Offaly ancestors: Martin Furlong and Margaret Furlong nee Stanton or possibly Staunton. Although like British certificates they are frustratingly sparse in their details in comparison with Australian records, there was enough to effectivey confirm that these were the parents of Bridget Furlong.

Margaret Furlong was 73 when she died on 1 November 1874 in Shragh, Tullamore. She was a farmer’s wife and her husband, Martin, was present at the death and made his mark as informant. Her husband Martin was 92 when he died on 15 February 1894 at Ballydrohid townland, Tullamore. By that time his occupation is stated as “labourer” which to me is  a tragedy that a man of that age was still working at hard physical labour. Martin’s son, also Martin, signe with his mark as informant.

The details link the family to the Griffith Valuation when Martin Furlong was a tenant in the Ballydrohid townland. The online maps mentioned in an earlier post show that the townlands of Shragh and Ballydrohid are adjacent so possibly the area was known by both names as there’s an ancient building in Shragh. The land occupied by Martin Furlong and family is situated in a triangle between the Grand Canal and the railway line.

Martin and Margaret’s daughter, Bridget Furlong, married James Sherry in Tullamore and their son James Sherry was born at Shragh on 29 May 1865. The official records show that the Bridget and James Sherry normally resided at Arklow, Wicklow, where James senior was a ganger with the railway. The informant to the birth was Margaret Furlong who was present at the birth. So the place of birth for grandson James Sherry confirms the link to Margaret Furlong who died at Shragh and then to Martin Furlong.

Martin and Margaret Furlong were not married in Tullamore according to the parish records. It is not clear where the family originated though Furlong is a common name in County Wexford where the Sherry family later ended up. The Furlong family had three children baptised in the Tullamore Catholic parish. They were Mary Furlong baptised 30 July 1836; John Furlong baptised 16 October 1838 and Bridget Furlong (who married James Sherry) was baptised on 29 December 1840. The surname Conry or Conroy appears among the witnesses fairly regularly so it’s possible they were relatives though they were also neighbours. There is no trace of their son, Martin Furlong, who witnesses his father’s death certificate so he may have been born and baptised in another place.

It seems unlikely that it is this younger Martin Furlong, son of Martin and Margaret, who married Mary Connor in Tullamore on 6 February 1875. They had children Margaret (bapt 17 Nov 1875); Catherine (27 Jan 1877);  Mary (18 Aug 1878); Martin Laurence (14 Nov 1880); and John (12 Jan 1887). This family is still living at Ballydrohid at the time of the 1901 census though there are gaps in the ages. This Martin was 48 at the time of the 1901 census and was a railway servant who could read and write, which meant that his estimated year of birth 1853, too late to be the son of Martin & Margaret. 

By the time of the 1911 census only Thomas and his sister Catherine (Katie) Furlong were living at Ballydrohid and Thomas was a milesman which I assume was the Irish equivalent of Australian railway’s lenghtsman.

Many stories refer to the Martin Furlong from Offaly who was a Gaelic football superstar and who ultimately emigrated to the USA. It seems likely that he was also descended from this family given the naming tradition and the rarity of the name in Offaly.