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The Bridge of Tears - Looking towards Australia


In August of this year, my daughter, Jane and I made the return of the journey my great grandfather - Neil Gallagher made in 1859 - he being on board the “Caribou” - destination Australia.  A story familiar to many of us - as a family member left the fold hopefully to a better life “across the seas.”

With the help of the Gallagher Clan website, I am one of the lucky ones to find my family in Ballintemple, Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, Ireland. 

While establishing that ‘we belonged to each other’, my e- mails were initially somewhat tentative.  With the decision to visit Ireland, I was so excited and pondered on the “correct way” to introduce myself in the flesh.   There was no need to be concerned - my first ‘phone call was met with such warmth - my Irish cousins were keen to meet us as well.

How can I put on paper the emotions I felt when we met - Daniel stepped out of his car - a big hand shook mine (it was a hand that worked hard ) and his image was similar to that of my rural family in Australia.    With his daughter Cait they took us to their home.

That was the beginning of the most wonderful experience - the family did not know where Neil Gallagher’s journey ended and were keen to hear about his life in Australia .  Other family members came to meet the Aussies, and then we were taken to meet Gran! What a treat – the stories we heard and the laughter involved.

1861 - Oh to turn the clock back…… the Derryveagh evictions - Landlord John Adair evicting inhabitants of the lands of Derryveagh  - 280 people/45 families.  My family being one. It would have been prior to this event that a decision was made for Neil, just 20, to leave Devlin (as it was then known) and his family. With the Catholic Church in Sydney, Australia  aware of the plight of the Irish in Donegal -  and offering a program of assistance (Donegal Relief Fund) to bring Donegal people between the age of 12 and 40 to Australia - Neil’s journey was about to begin.

Joy with Kitty and Daniel

Forward - August 2009 - Gran and Daniel taking us for a drive - we saw the remains of the old Gallagher house in Devlin on the edge of Glenveagh National Park, great grandfather Neil’s home.

Gran told us of the events of that time…. With someone leaving it was practice to have a wake the night before the time to leave… windows would be darkened so the family could not see the day coming and a grand party would be had.  When the time to leave came,   family and friends would walk to the Falcarragh side of “The Bridge of Tears” – the person leaving walked across the bridge and family would stay behind.

My daughter and I walked across the bridge, an emotional experience, thinking of the young man Neil – leaving all behind and going to ???. It was in a way like a death in the family.     Until we made contact from Australia what happened to Neil was unknown, he was unable to read or write so it was impossible for him to contact family in Ireland. 

There is a large rock at the site of the bridge with a plaque written in Irish commemorating the events of the time it reads “Friends and Relations of the person who was emigrating would come this far.  Here they separated.  This is the Bridge of Tears.”

NEIL IN AUSTRALIA —as best as can be established Neil, on arriving in Sydney went to Bathurst, New South Wales -  one of  many Irish workers at the time employed as labourers  -  from there he moved  to Burnt Yards in the Manduramah district and finally Cargo, New South Wales where he worked as a Gold digger.   In the Cargo District Neil worked hard and received a 50 acre land grant (he later increased his land holdings)

 At age 30 her married Julia Russell . He left a great legacy - 14 children from his marriage to Julia, those children going on to have successful lives.  The sheep and wheat farm he established in Cargo, west of Sydney, still operates.

The sadness of Neil’s life was the reticence he had in speaking of his past – I can only assume that this was  the best way he survived the pain of  leaving  his family, knowing he would never see them again.

For my daughter and I tracing his steps—from Devlin, County Donegal to Australia - from his Australian farm to the beauty of Ireland -  then linking us to a wonderful family – our Irish cousins. How lucky are we.!!
Joy McGuire

See also Australia - Donegal Relief Fund and Ferry and Gallagher