Sunday, April 2, 2017

Today's Howe Descendants Visit the Ireland Homeland, 2007

In the previous three posts, we took a virtual visit to Ireland through a travel diary written in 1876 by Robert J. and John I. Howe, sons born in America to Irish immigrants John and Sarah Brown Howe.

Today, we go to Ireland again, some 131 years later, through photos and information provided by Howe descendant Richard Allen Hays. Al is a first cousin to my husband David H. Salyers III, and both of them are great-great grandsons of John and Sarah.

Al has done much research on his Howe ancestry and is my go-to source for details about the family. In 2007, Al, his wife Pam, and his sons Mark and Michael visited County Fermanagh, Fivemiletown (in County Tyrone), and other places with ancestral ties. He shared the following notes and images with me.

Christening Place of John Howe
St. John's parish church [Church of Ireland] in Fivemiletown is where John Howe was christened. He may not have actually been a member of that church,
Al's sons Michael and Mark at St. John's
because other Protestants were required to make births and marriages "official" at the local Church of Ireland (England) even if they weren't members. This is one thing that our largely Presbyterian Scots/Irish ancestors resented and which acted as a stimulus to migration to America.

As far as I know, the church is the same building [in which John was christened in 1823], although I wouldn't want to absolutely swear to it.

A sign offers a brief history of St. John's
According to my grandmother [Sarah Eva Howe Salyers, our scrapbooker], John Howe always proudly declared himself to be an Orangeman, i.e. a Northern Ireland Protestant. Had he been alive and living in Ireland, he would have probably joined several hundred thousand other Protestants in signing a pledge in 1912 to never accept Home Rule for Ireland, let alone independence. Their slogan was "Home rule = Rome rule." The tragedy of Northern Ireland is that these Protestants feared becoming a minority in an independent Ireland that would encompass the whole island, so, with British support, they created Northern Ireland, where they would be the majority. (And would mistreat the Catholic minority there.)
So, I am not sure how he would have felt about the largely Catholic holiday of St. Patrick's Day. On the other hand, in contemporary Northern Ireland, they have tried, with some success, to make St. Patrick's Day a shared holiday among Protestants and Catholics. After all, the Irish never made that big a deal out of the holiday until Irish Americans started celebrating it.

Marriage Place of John Howe and Sarah Brown
Records at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, in Belfast, indicate that John Howe and Sarah Brown were married at the Cavanaleck Presbyterian
(From left) Howe descendants Michael, Mark, and Al Hays
Church, which is located on the outskirts of Fivemiletown. The town is in County Tyrone, but our relatives lived just across the border in County Fermanagh.

Mark, Michael, and I posed for this picture in front of the church. It's not the same building that was there when our ancestors were married, but it is the same congregation. [The church organization continued from that which was in place when Al's second-great-grandparents married in 1845].
Scots or Irish?
As for the Scots-Irish[1] part, it has yet to be determined whether the Howes were originally from England or Scotland. There were a lot of prominent Howes in England at the end of the 18th century; you may recall the two brothers[2] who were generals against us in the War for Independence. (Fortunately, they made some mistakes that helped us win!) However, there is no established line between our Howes and theirs. Our line goes back to Robert, John's father, and the records end there.

When the "plantation" of Protestant settlers into northern Ireland began in the early 1600s, both English and Scottish farmers came over and they were given land by the English nobles who claimed it after the O'Neills (the native rulers) fled after their defeat by Queen Elizabeth's army. The Scots are best known because so many Americans claim to be "Scots/Irish," although I doubt that a lot of people know what that really means. The idea was to put loyal Protestants in control of the best land and push the recalcitrant Catholics onto the poor land –– hence the latter's dependence on potatoes, which would grow on such land. Robert Howe is listed as "farmer" in the records, and from the 1876 diary it sounds like their abode was pretty humble.

[1] The term Scots-Irish appears to be used only in North America. Read what Scotland-born historian and author Raymond Campbell Paterson has to say on the matter at

[2] Reference to General William Howe, commander-in-chief of British land forces during the American War of Independence, and Naval Commander Richard Howe, known early in the war to be sympathetic with the colonists and commissioned to negotiate with his friend Benjamin Franklin to seek reconciliation with those rebelling against British rule. Sources: Howe,_5th_ Viscount_Howe,_1st_Earl_Howe 

The three-part series from the Howe brothers' Ireland travel diary are in posts dated March 12, March 19, and March 26 (all 2017). Al's information sent me back to those posts with a new understanding of the Howes and the social and political climate of their time.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking a break from blog writing to enjoy time with extended family. When I return, we'll dig into Sarah Eva Howe's scrapbooks of the early 1900s and discover the joys and sorrows that came with the arrival of Sarah's children.

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