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GRACE - Ancestors of Peter Grace of Athy, emigrated 1860-1862


Ancestors and Descendants of Peter Grace

Who Emigrated from Athy, Ireland to New Britain, Connecticut

In 1860-62


Chapter I



Edward A. Daniel

Rockville, Maryland, USA


May 30, 2006



Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time;

All these were glorious in their time, each illustrious in his day.

Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants.

The Book of Sirach

Chapter 44, verses 1, 7, 11.



This is a history of the life and times of the family of Peter Grace from the countryside of Athy, County Kildare, Ireland, descended from Anglo-Normans who settled in County Kilkenny in the 12th century. This history traces the family from the mid 1700’s into the 1940’s, through the famine of the 1840’s, their emigration to the United States at the time of the American Civil War, and their settling in what became the hardware manufacturing center of the nation. The Graces were farmers in Ireland and factory workers in America; occupations that demanded long hours of hard manual labor and offered no luxuries. By the mid-20th century, through hard work and opportunities that a free society provides, many of his descendants achieved the American Dream: home ownership, a college education, and professional careers including medicine, education, and public service. Through their years in the U. S., the Graces maintained their Irish heritage and involvement in civic and church life.

Their story will be told in three chapters that deal with their life in Ireland, emigration to America, and life in New Britain. Only the first chapter has been completed. It follows this page.

This genealogy is of the maternal ancestors of my wife, Patricia Grace Ryan. A previous history traced her paternal ancestors, the Ryans of Franklin County, Vermont, who emigrated in 1815 from Thomastown, County Kilkenny. Since Thomastown is only thirty miles from Athy, and since the Grace’s were originally from Kilkenny, the families might have met in Ireland in ancient times. In modern times however, these families did not meet until 1929 in the United States, when Kathleen, great-granddaughter of the first Grace emigrant, met and married Francis, great-grandson of the first Ryan emigrant.

People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.

Edmund Burke, Irish statesman



Little is known about "our" Graces when they lived in Ireland except as can be gleaned from church records and tax listings or from histories of Athy and County Kildare. This chapter provides some history of the family lineage and the lands where they resided for at least one hundred years before emigration. This chapter also puts their lives into historical perspective, describing living conditions and events that occurred during their years of Ireland’s long and contentious history under British rule.

Graces of Old Irish genealogy sources indicate that under ancient name of le Gros or le Gras, there have been Graces in Ireland as far back as the 12th century. They were Anglo-Normans. When Strongbow invaded Ireland in 1171 he was accompanied by a son-in-law, Raymond le Gros, who was granted the area of present-day County Kilkenny for his faithful service. Grace’s Castle was soon built in Kilkenny City; remnants of its foundation are now part of the County courthouse. In 1315 a second Raymond le Gros was killed at the Battle of Ardscull in County Kildare and was buried in Athy. In the 15th century, an Oliver Grace was Head Abbot at the Jerpoint Cistercian Abbey at nearby Thomastown, Kilkenny, and in the 17th century there was a Robert Grace who owned 32,000 acres in that county. In modern times, the most renowned (and wealthiest) Grace was William R. Grace. Born in County Cork and emigrated to the U.S. in the mid 1800’s, he started a very successful shipping line, W. R. Grace & Co., now a large diversified chemical company. In 1880 he became the first Catholic to be elected mayor of New York City. It is presumed, but not proven, that the Graces of New Britain are of the same lineage of these earlier renowned Graces.County Kildare During the 15th and 16th centuries English administrative control in Ireland extended only within an arc of land about 40 miles from Dublin. This area was called the Pale; beyond it were the "wild" areas of Ireland controlled by factions of Gaelic and Norman chieftains. County Kildare, including the southern-most region around Athy, was within the Pale. Kildare was, and remains, a county blessed with good soil, gentle topography, rivers and rail access to Dublin.

Athy Athy (AH-tie) has been settled since the 12th century. In 1417 White’s Castle was built as a military outpost on the edge of the Pale. In 1515 King Henry VIII granted a charter for new fortifications, and in 1613 King James I granted a charter creating the borough. In 1791 the Grand Canal was built along the River Barrow, connecting Athy to the Royal Canal which extended to Dublin. Athy was a market town, its economy based on agriculture, primarily grain grown in the fertile countryside of the Barrow valley. In 1846 a railroad was built through Athy, improving the shipment of farm products to Dublin and Waterford. Gristmills ground corn into meal for export to England. Compared to the rest of Ireland in that era, Athy was a rather prosperous area. Athy was the largest town in County Kildare with 3,900 residents in 1851. From the 15th century into the late 1800’s Athy and most of Kildare was owned by the powerful Fitzgerald families, headed by the Earl of Kildare; later the Duke of Leinster (pronounced Linster). The Duke owned enormous areas of land. In the 1800’s he lived at Leinster House near Dublin but also had several manor houses near Athy including Leinster Lodge, Kilkea Castle, and Dollardstown House. These houses were well known to "our" Graces as they lived near them from 1805 to 1862.

The Rebellion of 1798 A major event that touched the Graces of Athy was the short-lived and abortive Irish rebellion in 1798, organized by a revolutionary group, the Society of United Irishmen. The rebellion is significant in Irish history because it included the first of many attempts to solicit foreign military support (French, in this case) to overthrow British rule. Several hundred died in the turmoil. Although most residents in Athy did not support the rebellion, there were many who did. Two major players in the rebellion had connections to Athy and the first shots in the rebellion were fired a few miles north of the town. Loyalist troops stationed at Athy were involved in several of the battles, and the town became a haven for loyalist residents in the surrounding countryside who took refuge from the fighting that swirled around them.

The Graces could not have been ignorant of all this activity. The earliest "documented" ancestor, Michael, and his four younger siblings were in their 30’s at the time of the rebellion, the same age as many of the rebel leaders. They lived in Goulyduff, a farming area two miles west of Athy. One of the insurgents was Patrick O’Kelly from Kilcoo, adjacent to Goulyduff. The Graces surely heard rumors of impending turmoil as insurgents tried to recruit local followers and as loyalist troops from Athy ruthlessly searched them out. Michael’s father might have been among those whose farmhouses were searched by soldiers looking for information about Society members or collaborators. If suspicious information was found, suspects were strung up and flogged to get more information, and then their homes were burned. As a further warning to potential collaborators, several local men were "pitchcapped," an excruciating punishment in which hot tar was poured into a dunce-like paper cap on the head, causing the scalp to be ripped off the skull when the tar cooled and the cap was removed.

One of the prominent leaders of the United Irishmen was Lord Edward Fitzgerald, 35-year old son of the Duke of Leinster whose landholdings included Goulyduff. Edward had been wounded in 1781 while serving in the British Army during the American Revolution. After his return home he embraced the ideals of liberty and became active in the cause for Irish freedom. One night during the rebellion Dollardstown House was attacked and ransacked by Crown loyalists. At the time, it was occupied by Patrick Dunne and his wife Mary (Fitzgerald), a cousin of Edward Fitzgerald who was known to have been a visitor to the house. Mary’s travail during the attack was dramatic: "The mistress of the House, despite being heavily pregnant at the time, escaped through the back of the house and attempted to make her way across the fields to Kilkea Castle. Before she could reach safety, she gave birth to a son."

A few months before the actual outbreak of the rebellion, the insurgency had been betrayed by an informer, 27-year-old Thomas Reynolds, who (paradoxically) claimed to be another Fitzgerald cousin. He lived at Kilkea Castle, rented from Edward’s father, the Duke of Leinster. Reynolds had joined the rebel organization and surreptitiously conducted training in the fields at Kilkea, but soon became disillusioned with the cause. Prior to the outbreak of the rebellion, loyalist troops occupied Kilkea, fearing that the rebels might use it as a staging site. It was later attacked by insurgents but remained under loyalist control.

Seven years after the rebellion ended, Michael Grace married and settled down on a two acre plot of land bracketed by the two Fitzgerald houses that had been scenes of strife in 1798: Dollardstown House, occupied in the 1800’s by Andrew Dunne (descendant of Patrick and Mary Fitzgerald Dunne) and, a few miles to the south, Kilkea Castle then occupied by Patrick Dunne.

The Plight of Small Farmers As noted above, the region of Athy was long the domain of the absentee owner, the Duke of Leinster. Even as late as the 1880’s, and despite legal reforms intended to divest land ownership to local farmers, the Duke still owned 70,000 acres in County Kildare. Land in the Athy region that was not owned by the Duke was owned mostly by other absentee owners. Under this system, small farmers such as the Graces were at the mercy of the appropriately termed "landed gentry" (gentlemen who owned the land). For historical reasons, very few Irish farmers in the 1800’s owned their own land. This was particularly true for Catholics who from the late 1700’s until 1829 were legally prohibited under the Penal Laws from buying or inheriting land. As a result, the vast majority of Catholic farm families in the 1800’s were confined to pitifully small acreages leased from distant owners.

The circumstances of small farmers of that era are described in Emigrants and Exiles; Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. The book’s author describes farming conditions in Ireland in the 1840’s ranging from the more prosperous large farms to the smallest holdings of two acres or less. The description may have fit Michael Grace on his two-acre plot near Dollardstown:

"At the bottom of the farming population [in all of Ireland] were some 310,000 small-holders who occupied from two to ten acres of land, and perhaps another 100,000 more families who in 1845 tilled over 30,000 joint tenancies.… Together these petty cultivators accounted for more than half of all farmers.

Except in a few Ulster counties, virtually all smallholders were Catholics, usually sub-lessees and mere tenants at will. Given their limited acreage, smallholders tilled the soil primarily for subsistence and paid inflated rents through supplementary occupations like cottage industry, hired fieldwork for wealthier farmers, the distillation of poitin [liquor], or the occasional sale of milk, butter, eggs, or young livestock. … The general absence of barns and other outbuildings meant that smallholders collected little manure [for fertilizer] unless they lodged their livestock inside their houses at night—a common practice among the poor. Few men of this class owned horses or plows or could afford to hire labor; consequently they were dependant on the aid of relatives and neighbors to till the soil with "loys"---primitive spades adapted for bare feet. Smallholder living ranged from spartan decency to desperate poverty."

This description of the plight of the smallest farms is a sobering tale of conditions that, as bad as they were, became much worse in the late 1840’s and into the 1850’s.

The Famine of the 1840’s The most heart-wrenching epoch of Irish history was the catastrophic famine caused by failure of the potato crops in the 1840’s, the decade in which the first five children of Peter Grace and Mary Casey were born. Over successive years beginning in 1845, fungus destroyed the potato crops, Ireland’s primary source of food and sole income of many of the poorest farmers. Out of a population of nine million, an estimated one million died of starvation or related disease, and two million emigrated to other countries.

Fortunately for the Graces, County Kildare was not impacted nearly as much as the western counties because it was not solely dependant on the potato. Kildare’s fertile soil supported corn, grain, and cattle, and its proximity to Dublin made it a source of export to foreign markets. Inexplicably, exports to England of Irish grain and grain-fed cattle continued despite widespread famine at home. This too probably contributed to better-than-average living conditions in Kildare through the years that have also been called the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor in Gaelic) in the western counties.

In 1847, Ireland-born Lord Dufferin, then a student at Oxford University and later a respected British statesman, toured Ireland with a fellow student to view and report on the Irish famine. Their report (excerpt below) noted that although conditions in Athy were "sorrowful enough," and that even though "some deaths too had occurred," Athy was not as bad off as areas in the southwest of Ireland, especially Skibbereen in County Cork. The comparison was valid; over 25,000 died in Skibbereen from starvation and associated disease; "only" 1205 died in the Athy workhouse and nearby fever hospital during the years of the Famine.

"We have just returned from a visit to Ireland, whither we had gone in order to ascertain with our own eyes the truth of the reports daily publishing of the misery existing there. We have found everything but too true; the accounts are not exaggerated--they cannot be exaggerated-- nothing more frightful can be conceived. The scenes we have witnessed during our short stay at Skibbereen, equal any thing that has been recorded by history, or could be conceived by the imagination. Famine, typhus fever, dysentery, and a disease hitherto unknown, are sweeping away the whole population. …

… We were advised to proceed at once to Skibbereen, in the county of Cork, which was reported to be the very nucleus of famine and disease. Finding, however, that the Cork coach did not start till eleven o'clock on Monday, we … [went instead]…early in the morning to a village about 45 miles distant from Dublin… The name of this village was Athy. … Here we ascertained that the population of Athy has been divided into districts, to the poor of which tickets are issued, entitling them to two meals of Soup in the week. Above a thousand poor persons mainly look to this kitchen for support. Had we stopped at Athy, one would have brought back to England sorrowful intelligence enough, but not so bad as is usually represented in the newspapers. There were misery and hunger it is true, some deaths too had occurred, but still the village seemed brisk and lively, more distressed than famished…"

[Narrative of a Journey from Oxford to Skibbereen During the Year of the Irish Famine, by Lord Dufferin and the Hon. G. G. Boyle, 3rd Edition, 1847. Available on-line]

The above might explain why Kildare was not a major source of Irish emigration in the 1840’s and 50’s, and why our Graces did not leave until 1860. We can only surmise that they benefited from the comparatively "good" conditions in County Kildare and survived the famine period in reasonably good health.

Ancestry of "Our" Graces Church records show that our line of Graces lived in County Kildare since at least 1760. Earlier ancestors most likely lived in County Kilkenny; an 1852 tax list shows 240 Grace families in Kilkenny compared to only 12 in Kildare. Records of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Athy disclose that Graces were members of this parish at least as early as 1701, when an Ann Grace married James McNamara.

Church records show that our line of Graces lived in County Kildare since at least 1760. Earlier ancestors most likely lived in County Kilkenny; an 1852 tax list shows 240 Grace families in Kilkenny compared to only 12 in Kildare. Records of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Athy disclose that Graces were members of this parish at least as early as 1701, when an Ann Grace married James McNamara.

James Grace and Margaret __________: The earliest record that is positively known to be of "our" Graces is the baptism on September 4, 1760 of Michael Grace, the first-born of James and Margaret Grace. The family is recorded as living in the townland of Goulyduff, a 170-acre rural area in the civil parish* of Churchtown two miles west of Athy. James and Margaret also had four other children: William (1762), Pat (1764), and twins James and Laurence (1765). No other information is available on this generation.

Michael Grace and Kitty Powel: On February 22, 1805, at the age of 45, Michael Grace married Catherine "Kitty" Powel. They had three children; Thomas (Feb. 4, 1806), Peter (June 30, 1808), and Margaret (July 11, 1811—all baptismal dates), recorded as born in the townland of Nicholastown, three miles southeast of Athy. Being five miles from Michael’s parents in Goulyduff, Nicholastown must have been Kitty’s home; the lease on the rented land on which she and Michael lived was probably her dowry. Michael must have died before 1838, because a tax register that year lists Kitty Grace in Nicholastown living on land next to a Laughlin Powell, most likely her father. Both parcels were listed as "near Dollardstown."

Peter Grace and Mary Casey: On April 30, 1839, Michael and Kitty Grace’s second son, Peter, age 31, married Mary Casey, age 17, in St. Michael’s Church. (Witnesses were John Kavanagh and Catherine Nowlan.) Between 1840 and 1857 Peter and Mary had eight children (listed at the end of the chapter), one of whom died in childhood. Baptismal records list Nicholastown and Dollardstown interchangeably as the children’s birthplace. In the 1852 tax valuation Peter Grace is recorded as a tenant farmer on two acres of land in Nicholastown. The corresponding map shows this land near the western edge of the townland, within a few hundred feet of Dollardstown House. Most likely this was the same plot of land where Michael and Kitty had lived. Peter rented his land from Laughlin Powell, believed to be his maternal grandfather, who in turn leased it from John T. Vesey. Powell also rented an adjacent 10 acres from Vesey, absentee owner of the entire 962 acres that comprised Nicholastown as well as 3000 acres elsewhere.The Graces’ closest friends seem to have been the Kavanaghs, nearby farmers who lived on 21 acres rented from John Vesey. Patrick Kavanagh was the Godfather of Peter Grace’s brother Tom. John Kavanagh was best man at Peter’s wedding, and Mary Kavanagh was Godmother of Peter and Mary’s son Peter (II).

It is probable that in order to provide for his large family, Peter Grace worked on the nearby farms that Andrew Dunne, occupant of Dollardstown House, rented from the Duke of Leinster. The Grace children may have attended the Catholic school in Athy (which the Duke helped establish), where they would have learned English, not Gaelic.

Irish Houses as Models for the White House Research for this genealogy disclosed that features of two Irish mansions whose owners had "land connections" to the Graces, were used in the design of the White House in Washington, D.C.

The Veseys were based near Dublin at Lucan House, a large stone mansion built in 1780. The unique (for that era) oval dining room in Lucan House is said to have been the influence for the Oval Office in the White House in Washington, D.C. This is quite possible, since the architect of the White House was James Hoban, a native of Kilkenny who studied architecture in Dublin during the time Lucan House was being built. In 1784, not long after the house was finished, Hoban emigrated to the United States. In 1792 he was commissioned to design the "President’s House," one of the first public buildings to be built in the capital city of the new nation. Hoban patterned its exterior design on Leinster House,** the ancestral Dublin home of the Duke of Leinster. Thus, design elements of the White House were patterned after the mansions of two Irish "landed gentry" who owned the ground where Peter Grace and his children were born and raised, and to whom the family paid land rent for over one hundred years.

Emigration The next chapter, when completed, will describe when Peter and Mary Grace and their children emigrated from Ireland, and what their journey must have been like. [The names and characteristics of the ships, and the departure and arrival dates are known.] Typical of many immigrant families, they did not come to America all at once. Peter and the two oldest sons came first, in March, 1860. Mary and the youngest ones "kept the home fires burning" near Dollardstown until it became their turn to leave, 14 months later. At that time, Mary had the emotional task of making a last visit to the grave of their daughter Mary Ann. One other child, Robert, was left in Ireland, probably with the Kavanagh’s, to come over by himself in 1862 at age 15. He may have been sick and unable to travel when Mary left, and shipping disruptions during the American Civil War might have further delayed his ability to leave Ireland.

From the time Peter and the oldest sons left Ireland, it would be 28 months before the entire family was reunited. Sadly, Peter died only 18 months after his entire family was safely settled in America.



The modern expression "beyond the pale," meaning ‘beyond acceptability’ or ‘outside the norm’ stems from this period of Irish history.

From the brochure "Athy Heritage Town Trail," Athy Heritage Company Ltd., ca. 2000.

Much of the information in this section is due to the cooperation and assistance of Mario Corrigan, historian and Head of the Local Studies Department, County Kildare Library.

Years later, O’Kelly wrote a history of the rebellion, mentioning several families in the Athy area who were jailed as suspected collaborators when the uprising began.

Source: www.Dollardstown.com. According to family history the son later became a priest and served as papal secretary to Pope Pius IX.

Journal of the Kildare Archeological Society, Vol. II, "Kilkea Castle," Lord Walter Fitzgerald, 18__, pp 20, 21, quoting from Reynolds' son’s 1838 biography of the elder Reynolds.

In 1852 Dollardstown House was still owned by the Duke of Leinster, who leased it and 350 adjacent acres to Andrew Dunne. The house remained in the Dunne family until the death of Laurence and Margaret (French) Dunne in 1908. It is now [2006] owned by James Behan.

Kirby Miller, Oxford University Press, 1985, pages 49 and 50.

Townlands were areas of not more than several hundred acres, usually owned or overseen by one person. Civil parishes (not the same as religious parishes) were larger administrative areas that included 15 to 20 townlands.

The 1838 "Schedule of Tithe Applotments," taxes to support the Church of Ireland.

General Valuation of Rateable Property in Ireland … for Portions of the Unions of Athy and Baltinglas, County Kildare, 1852, commonly referred to as "Griffith’s Valuation." Source: Family Research Center (Mormon), Kensington, MD, film #101755. The corresponding map is from the Irish government’s Ordnance Survey map series; Office of Land Valuation, Dublin.

Entries in the 1870 census of New Britain Connecticut note that all members of the family could read and write.

Both mansions still exist.














 NAME      BORN                BAPTIZED*          GODPARENTS           ENTERED USA        DIED              AGE

Michael                               17 Jan 1840           Robert Casey               14 Mar 1860       bef 1922

                                                                              Margaret Casey

Thomas                               29 May1842          Richard Malone            14 Mar 1860   11 Oct 1922        79

                                                                              Bridget Casey

Mary Ann                             23 Nov 1844          William Grace               died in Ireland bef 1861   under 17

                                                                             Jane Dowd

Robert                                  14 Jan 1847          Patrick Anthony              1 July 1862     bef May 1930

                                                                              Catherine Monahan

Peter (II)                               13 May 1849         John Cash                      14 May 1861     bef Oct 1922

                                                                               Mary Kavanagh

Terence   5 Dec 1852       12 Dec 1852         James Casey                 14 May 1861    bef Oct 1922

                  "at 11pm"                                          Margaret Walsh

William    2 Mar 1855         4 Mar 1855            John Powell                    14 May 1861   15 June 1933       78

                                                                               Nancy Chanders

James     29 Sep 1857       4 Oct 1857            Michael Grace (uncle?)    14 May 1861  after Oct 1872

                                                                               Nanny Dunne

Timothy     after 1861                                                                                   born in USA    before 1870?



*Records of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Athy, County Kildare, Ireland

Ed Daniel a retired civil engineer who lives in Rockville, Maryland has been in touch with the Local Studies Dept. for information regarding the history of his mother's family, the family of Grace who lived in County Kildare in the 18th and 19th centuries, first in Goulyduff (2 miles west of Athy) and later in Nicholastown (near Dollardstown House), 3 miles south of Athy. Here are his findings so far.

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