Ryan/Noonan of Galbally, Co Limerick

William Ryan (c1788-1866) and Margaret Noonan (c1807-1892) were married in Galbally parish and all seven of their offspring were christened there. It seems likely that William and Margaret were both from Galbally parish. William because his tombstone memorializes Galbally as his parish of origin. Margaret because of the tradition that marriages take place in the home parish of the bride.

Sometime after the birth of their son Daniel on the 8th of April in 1845, William, Margaret, and all seven children emigrated Ireland, arriving in the United States before June of 1850. And by 1855, they had settled in Fillmore County, Minnesota. Some of the children later moved to Iowa, South Dakota and other places in Minnesota.

Where did the Ryans live?

We don't know exactly where in Galbally parish that the Ryans lived but there are some possibilities that are more likely than others. There are two surviving documents from the mid-nineteenth century that list people by name and identify their locations. Both of these documents list leaseholders, i.e., the people responsible for the rent on land and buildings. These documents do not list everyone; they do not even list all the heads of households; they only list those responsible for the rent. One of the two documents surviving for Galbally parish is called the Tithe Applotment taken in 1830. The other document is called the Griffith's Valuation taken in 1851. These two documents were searched for the Ryan and Noonan surnames in Galbally parish. There are seventeen listings for Ryan in the 1830 document and 25 listengs in the 1851 document. Similarly, there are thirteen listings for Noonan in 1830 and 23 in 1851. The documents were also searched for the surnames of those that were witnesses at the Ryan/Noonan marriage in 1830 or were sponsors for one of their children's christenings from 1831 thru 1845.

Assuming that William and Margaret followed convention in naming their own children, then William's father was probably named John, the name given their first born son, and Margaret's father was probably named Thomas, the name given their second born son. These names, John Ryan and Thomas Noonan, do appear in the two documents. John Ryan is listed in townlands in the north and northeastern side of the parish - Annagh, Ballylooby, and Galbally. Thomas Noonan appears in the mid-south and southeastern sides - Ardnamoher, Ballygeana, and Keeloges. However, because, as previously mentioned, only leaseholders are listed in these documents, the appearances of these two names may not be very significant. Would not members of a leaseholder's family be less likely to emigrate than family members of a non-leaseholder? It may be more helpful to concentrate on the location of the witnesses and sponsors. There is one townland in the parish that lists seven of the eight surnames of Margaret and William's witnesses and sponsors, not counting Noonan and Ryan, and that is Duntry League. Other candidates that arise out of this exercise are Ballynamona with four of the surnames, Deerpark with three and Galbally (townland plus village) also with three. The one surname missing, Collins, doesn't appear in the parish, anyplace.

Galbally parish and village

Five miles south of Tipperary Town, the Galty Mountains, Slieve-na-gCoillteadh meaning Mountain of the Woods, rise out of the southwest County Tipperary landscape. The highest peak in this range is Galtymore Mountain at 3,018 feet (929 meters). To the north, this row of mountains is paralleled by a narrow, steep row of hills called Slievenamuck meaning Mountain of the Pig. The Aherlow River flows between them and low area is called the Glen of Aherlow, Eatharlach meaning Valley or "low land between two high lands". At the western end of the glen, just over the border into County Limerick, is the Civil Parish of Galbally. The main village in the parish, with the same name, lies about nine-miles from Tipperary Town, and was a small place of 246 inhabitants in 1996.

Galbally parish, County Limerick is in Coshlea Barony and Mitchelstown Poor Law Union. It is a large parish of 15,457 acres and ranks 8th in size among the 130 parishes in the county. Galbally parish is situated in the south eastern corner of the county and borders County Tipperary. Galbally, from the Irish Gallbhaile meaning Town of the Foreigners, is comprised of 38 townlands.

Note: Although "Gal" - is usually represented to mean foreigner, any foreigner, and that is how it is depicted here, Joyce suggests that the term means English, in the Galbally case, English Town or Town of the English. If he is correct in asserting that the place was named by the Fitzgeralds, this makes sense since the Fitzgeralds were themselves foreigners! (see The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places by P. W. Joyce, LL.D., Volume I, page 98.

Ryan and Noonan surnames

The surname Ryan is an ancient Irish name. According to the Rev. Patrick Woulfe in Irish Names and Surnames the family O'Maoilriain meaning 'descendant of the follower of Rian' since anglicized as Mulryan, Mulroyan, Mulryne, Mulrine, Mulrain, O'Ryan, and Ryan, is of Leinster origin and originally settled in Owney Barony, County Tipperary and Owney Beg Barony, County Limerick in the 13th or 14th century. The family became very numerous and powerful but ended up losing the family property in the confiscations of the 17th century. Today, the name Ryan is very common in both Counties Tipperary and Limerick.

There are several possibilities for the origin of the Noonan surname. The most likely is O'hIonmaineain meaning 'descendant of Ionmainean (diminutive of Ionmain) meaning 'beloved' and anglicized as O'Hununane, O'Hinownan, Nunan, Noonan. This was the name of an ecclesiastical family who were erenaghs (caretakers) of the church of St. Beretchert of Tullylease, in the north-west of County Cork and are now numerous in Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, and Clare.

Why emigrate?

Why did this Ryan family leave their homeland? The reasons are speculative. William and Margaret were both illiterate, with no assets, nor land or other resources. They probably didn't speak English. The time period of their emigration corresponds with the peak suffering experienced in Ireland from successive year losses of the potato crop, i.e., 1846-47. The most probable answer: It was their best option for coping with An Gorta Mór - The Great Hunger. Leave or starve. Whatever the reasons, leave they did - for the land of the free and the home of the brave - never to return. What was their plan? Their destination? Did they intend to meet friends? relatives? The answers to these questions are lost in the mists, but, within two decades of their arrival, they had become comfortable, if not prosperous, farmers in the American Midwest. Welcome to the land of opportunity.

Whether they had a master plan or not, their lives played out very differently in the colonies than they would have in Ireland. In Ireland, none of them would have strayed very far from their home parish of Galbally, whether for lack of means or some cultural reason. They would have lived, married, procreated, and died within a days walk of the Galbally church and would have been buried in its graveyard. In the United States, they never established roots like that. William and Margaret are buried near their Minnesota homestead in Carrolton township, Fillmore County, Minnesota. Six of their seven children were married there and all seven left the area, although one remained in the county, at Chatfield, and is buried there. Interestingly, two of the children were brought back to Carrolton for burial, a common practice in their native Ireland. One was brought 'home' from Winona county, Minnesota and one from Leavenworth, Kansas. Of the others, two are buried in South Dakota, one in Wisconsin, and one, probably, in or near Chicago.