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Irish Roots

The Normans invade England

As I indicated previously, the history of the Finan family prior to 1800 is highly speculative. Noel Thomas Voyles (Tom), a Finan descendant who has done a great deal of research into the Finans in Ireland, attempted to trace this early Finan history on a recent trip to Ireland. Tom obtained a version of the Finan history from a commercial database of histories of Irish names which provided some very interesting information. According to this history, the Finans originally were Normans, and came across from France to England with William the Conqueror in 1066, where they fought in the Battle of Hastings. Following that battle, the Normans quickly took over England and were widely feared for their great cruelty. The Normans during this period are portrayed in the recent film “Braveheart”.

Meanwhile, over in Ireland, the island was still mostly decentralized, with a king every 50 miles or so. About a hundred years after the Normans invaded England, one of the Irish kings, Dermott MacMurrough , went to war with another Irish king, Tiernan O’Rourke. Not fearing well in the war, MacMurrough asked the Normans for help, but got much more than he bargained for. The Normans landed in Wexford, Ireland in 1169 and proceeded to conquer most of the island. Since there was no central authority in Ireland at the time, the Normans had to build castles everywhere in order to keep the inhabitants in line. These Norman castles can be seen everywhere in Ireland today.

Tom Voyles concluded that the first Finans came from Normandy to England in 1066, and then to Ireland in 1169-70. This is also about the time that last names began to be used by families. So our great Irish legacy may have indeed begun in Normandy, France. In fact, the Normans themselves were actually Norsemen who had invaded northern France in 911 AD and settled in the Seine Valley, so I guess we have to ask ourselves how far back we want to go !!

Castlerea, County Roscommon

Castlerea (pronounced ‘castle-ray’) is a small farming town in County Roscommon in the Irish midlands. Today Castlerea boasts a population of 15-20,000 people and its two main industries are raising cattle and farming. The farmland in the area is mostly bog and not generally suitable for planted crops so the main crop is ‘turf’ (what we call peat). The turf is dried and cut into bricks which are burned in the fireplace for heat.

On July 6, 1843, Thomas Finan was born to James and Letitia (Hugan) Finan in Castlerea. Some 5 years earlier, on December 20, 1839, Thomas’ sister Eliza was born. Other than these two dates, details of James and Letitia Finan’s family are very sketchy for a variety of reasons. At that time, Ireland did not keep any civil records, the only vital records kept were those of the local Parishes. Tom Voyles was fortunate enough to have access to the Kilkeevan (Castlerea) Parish Register Books while on a recent trip to Ireland. These registers were hand written in Latin, so translation was difficult. He was able to provide me with the following information about possible relatives of Thomas and Eliza.

There are four baptismal entries for children of James and Letitia Finan; Thomas, Eliza, Bridget, and James. While I am fairly confident that this is indeed the correct family, there are a few discrepancies. First of all, while all of the records I was able to find in the US list Letita’s maiden name as Dugan, the parish register list her name as either “Kegan” or “Keggon”. This could easily be explained by the fact that the parish register was handwritten and “Kegan” and “Dugan” could look very similar when written. Another discrepancy is in the birth/baptismal dates. US records list Eliza’s birth date as December 20, 1839, but the parish register lists her baptismal date as September 12, 1835. US records list Thomas’ birth date as June 6, 1843, but the parish records list has baptismal date as December 18, 1831 !

While these significant variation in dates may cast doubt on whether the James and Letita Finan found in the Kilkeevan Parish register is not the same James and Letitia Finan that we are all descendant from, the similarities are just as compelling. Castlerea was a fairly small townland in those days and for there to be two James and Letita Finans living at the same time is highly unlikely. Added to this is the fact that Letitia was a very uncommon name in Ireland and the chance that there were actually two Letitias with the same last name living in the same townland, are very slim.

Regardless of the above, our family is definitely descendant of one Thomas Finan, son of James and Letitia Finan, from Castlerea in County Roscommon, Ireland. This history will trace his story here in America. Any relatives that we may have in Ireland today depend upon the validity of the above information, and is not documented here. I hope to one day trace further down this branch of our family tree.

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