St Patrick’s Day – My Irish Finn Family from County Wicklow, Ireland

17 March 2016

St Patrick’s Day and my thoughts turn to my Irish great great grandparents John Finn and Sarah Fegan. I first starting researching them in 1977 and over the years my research has turned up many questions, some still waiting to be solved. This blog post only looks at the Finn side of the family.

Mary Finn sketch 1903

Sketch of my great grandmother Mary Finn in 1903 – was she named after an Irish aunt?

One of the first documents I obtained was the marriage certificate from Ireland. John Finn and Sarah Fegan married in the Roman Catholic Chapel of Rathdrum in County Wicklow in 1879 and a witness was Mary Finn. A sister to John Finn or perhaps his mother?

John Finn was of full age (so helpful), a farmer born in Ballygannon, the son of Francis Finn also a farmer. As this information was from a handwritten image of the marriage register I expected his father’s name to be accurate. John’s Queensland death certificate gave his father as James Finn and his mother as Rose Beakey. When John was hospitalised shortly before his death, he also gave his father’s name as James Finn. So why Francis on the marriage certificate?

I have not found a reference to a Francis Finn marrying a Rose Beakey but I did find a James Finn marrying a Rosanna Beakey in 1841 in Avoca, County Wicklow. Did I have the right couple?

John and Sarah Finn named their first son Robert after Sarah’s father Robert Fegan. Their second son was named James Joseph and was born at sea in 1882 as the young couple had made the decision to emigrate to Queensland. None of their other sons were named Francis, again indicating that the name Francis Finn was perhaps not correct. Did whoever wrote the marriage entry simply make a mistake, noting Francis instead of James?

Assuming that the marriage of James Finn and Rosanna Beakey was the right one, I then tried to find John Finn’s baptism. According to various Queensland certificates he was born ca 1856 in Ballygannon, County Wicklow. As this was about 15 years after the marriage of James and Rosanna, I had to look for siblings too.

Through Roots Ireland I located three potential siblings, all with James Finn and Rosanna Beakey as parents:

  • Denis baptised 1844 in Curranstown
  • Margaret baptised 1846 in Arklow
  • Mary baptised 1858 in Ballygannon.
Denis Finn, The Queenslander 8 Jan 1916

Denis Finn, son of John Finn and Sarah Fegan, The Queenslander 8 Jan 1916

These were all names given to John and Sarah Finn’s children in Queensland, strengthening the view that they were John’s siblings and the Mary could have been the one on his marriage certificate. But there was still a gap between 1846 and 1858 and John’s own baptism was still missing.

The release of the Roman Catholic parish registers online by the National Library of Ireland had me looking for the Finn family once again. But the records were not indexed, the family seemed to move around and the handwriting was hard to read. I am not overly patient so I did not get very far with my searches. Findmypast have now indexed these records and I have found some of the missing siblings.

Through Findmypast I confirmed all of the above and looked at the original images, not just the transcripts on Roots Ireland. I located three more children of James Finn and Rosanna Beakey:

  • Richard baptised 1842 in Avoca (where James and Rosanna married)
  • Sarah baptised 1847 in Wicklow (indexed as Funn)
  • Julia baptised 1850 in Wicklow

My John Finn was still missing but I felt that I had the family more complete although there could still be another sibling or two missing.

While in Findmypast I also looked at Finn entries in the court of petty session and prison records and there were many Finn references for County Wicklow. Why would I look at these records? From  Queensland sources I knew that John Finn had a fondness for alcohol and at one time, he did spend some time in gaol.

John Finn sketch from a trial record in 1903

John Finn sketch from a trial record in 1903

Surprise surprise, my John liked a drink even before he left Ireland for Queensland. Quite a few references to drunk and disorderly and even better some time in prison. How do I know he is mine? Well the physical description in the Irish prison records matches exactly his prison description in the Brisbane prison. In the Irish prison register he gives his birthplace as Barndarrig, not Ballygannon but I still could not find his baptism entry in Findmypast.

I then went to the Irish Genealogy Toolkit and the page on the Wicklow Family History Centre. This is where I learnt that there is a gaping hole (their words) in the registers for Kilbride and Barndarrig from 1838 and 1858. As John was born ca 1856 his baptism is probably in that ‘hole’. Are there other siblings in that hole too?

While the physical description of the younger and older John Finn is the same, the different birthplace still raises the question, is it the right John Finn? His younger sister Mary Finn was baptised in Ballygannon so that places the family there. Queensland documents give his parents consistently as James Finn and Rosanna (or Rose or Rose Anna) Beakey so it looks like it is all the one family.

The Irish census for 1901 and 1911 have also given me some leads to follow up in relation to the new siblings. It appears that a number of John’s siblings did not marry which seems odd. So I need to look for their deaths and perhaps their death certificates will help to confirm relationships.

I have not managed to find baptisms for James Finn or Rosanna Beakey but the sponsors names for their children have given me potential siblings or other relatives with Finn and Beakey surnames. But nothing that ties them all together yet.

Digitised newspapers have not provided me with any leads or support so far but perhaps something will turn up in the future.  The Finn family of County Wicklow is still a work in progress. Perhaps by next St Patrick’s day I will have answered some of those family questions.

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  1. The Irish do like to give us a challenge! It was actually very common with this generation of post-Famine Irish not to marry, or to do so very late…something I’ve found repeatedly in my East Clare research. Like you I had high hopes of the parish registers but some are still in hiding.

  2. We spent a long time trying to sort through our Curtin side. My husband is John Curtin, his ancestors come from Country Clare. His great grandmother was Mary Ann Finn and died in Geraldton WA. She married John Curtin ?, Worked at Tin Pot Creek in QLD for a while. Ended up on the railways in WA. Had 11 children? We started on this journey 20 years ago, have had a break from it for a couple decades. Now with internet names just “pop up”. I was literally looking up this pub from Ilfracombe in QLD called Wellshot hotel. (John wants to go to Longreach in July). I read the history and it comes up that it was owned by Paddy Finn!! Now I’m back down the rabbit hole of sorting out if he is Mary Ann’s relation???.

  3. Hey Shauna
    John Finn and Sarah Fegan are also my great great grandparents. I am the great grandson of James Joseph Finn who was born on the Mairi Khan off the Cape of Good Hope Lat 43.09S Long 10.15 E en route to Brisbane. I just traveled to Rathdrum today to check it out and Ballygannon.

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