Irish Roots

The Port, County Donegal

Map of Ireland

Our story begins in The Port, County Donegal, Ireland with William Cassidy who would one day become the patriarch of the Cassidys of Cassidy Lake. William was born in The Port in 1797, the eldest of ten children of Andrew and Margaret Cassidy. He grew up in a modest stone cottage and married Jane Milligan, also of The Port. Together they emigrated to Canada in 1819. In 2000, Jimmy Henderson of Donegal Town, who is related to the Cassidys and possibly to William Cassidy, grew up across the road from the Cassidy cottage and remembers it well.

Mike Cassidy has done extensive research on the Cassidy home in The Port. It was a small two-story Irish cottage probably less than 20 ft. x 20 ft. It was torn down around 1980. Jimmy says it was the last home on the left hand side of the road down to the port. By 1999, this property which had no water or sewage, had sold for a mere 8,000 Irish Punts, or about $16,000. Next door there is a large modern bungalow with workspace for fishing gear.

The Port
The Port 2000

The Port is a small, 107 acre, townland in the Parish of Inver situated on Inver Bay about 7 miles from Donegal Town. In 2005 it consisted of about 50 houses and a few commercial buildings, most of which appear to support the local fishing industry. There is little indication that the town was ever much larger.

The Eany River empties into Inver Bay at Inver Village and The Port is 1.2 miles (1.9 km) southwest along Inver Bay. From a history of Ardaghey[1], one of the four Catholic church areas that make up the Parish of Inver, we learn that historically The Port was not a prosperous area. The Fisheries Commission of 1836 describes the pier as being “neglected and is now in total ruin.” In the 1860s nearby Inver Village is described as bearing the “unmistakable marks of decay” and “following up this old broken road, we arrive at another decayed village called ‘The Port’.”

Map of Inver Area
Inver Area

In 2000, as with most of Ireland, The Port appeared to be relatively prosperous with a number of new middle and upper income homes. While the access road is little more than a lane way, it is in respectable repair. There are several commercial fishing boats that use The Port. Recently, to the dismay of some of the residents due to the resulting pollution, salmon fish farms have been established in Inver Bay. While The Port is a fishing village, the Cassidys were carpenters and, according to Jimmy Henderson, would not have been engaged in commercial fishing.

Inver is often called Invermayle. St. Natalis, who died in 563, was Abbot of a monastery here. In 1821, the entire county of Donegal had a population of 248,270 and the Inver area had a population of 11,785. Today there are two “Invers” within a mile or so of each other. There is the town of Inver situated on the main highway, N56, just west of the Enay River, and Inver Village which is located right on Inver Bay on the west bank of the Eany River. The Port is southwest of Inver Village along Inver Bay.

Inver Church of Ireland
Ruins of original Church of Ireland by Carole and Garth Christie 1993

A landmark of interest is the Church of Ireland where William and Jane Cassidy were married in 1818. This church is in Mullanboys on the east side of the Eany River. The former parish church was located on the west bank of the Eany River near Inver Village. It was abandoned around 1805 when the current Church of Ireland was built. There is an old cemetery on the site of the original Church of Ireland that is very hard to find. It does contain a Cassidy gravestone. It is possible Andrew and Margaret Cassidy were buried in this cemetery or the one connected to the new Church of Ireland since this was their church.

If you visit the area, you will also find the Inver Methodist Church, located just east of the Eany River in Mullanboys. It was built in 1881 long after William Cassidy lived there. While the church that William helped establish at Cassidy Lake was also a Methodist church, we have no reason to believe William had any connection with Methodism in Ireland.

Ancient Irish Ancestors

Historically, Celtic peoples were innovators in areas like iron working, mining, agriculture, and trade. One thing they were not was nation builders. Their main accomplishment in this aspect seems to have been interference with the great nation builders: Rome, Britain, France and Spain.

Cassidy Coat of Arms
Cassidy Crest

The Cassidy name (Ó Caiside in Irish) can be traced in Ireland to the twelfth century AD. All Cassidys originate from County Fermanagh in Ulster (Northern Ireland), which is immediately southeast of County Donegal. The Cassidy Clan has a rich and proud heritage. The fact that the Cassidy name shows up in history says something about their stature. Their primary claim to fame is as physicians to the Maguires from 1320 to 1504. The Maguires were of the ruling (warlord) class. Thomas O’Cassidy was the last known hereditary member of the clan and a medical practitioner. He is the author of a paper from around 1504 entitled The Nature and Cure of the Different Diseases on the Human Frame.[2]

While the Cassidys were not of the ruling class of society, they were sufficiently important and successful to have their own coat of arms. Their notoriety unfortunately would have made them vulnerable to the conquering English. It seems the Irish warlords were never able to get along with the English invaders. During the 1690-1830 period the English, through oppression and penal laws, wiped out many famous Irish families. The Cassidys likely suffered greatly during this period.

Drawing a definitive line between ourselves and our ancient ancestors is virtually impossible. The fact that we can trace back to 1762 to William’s father Andrew Cassidy is quite an accomplishment. For now, the most we can say is that we are all related to these ancient Cassidys.

The official Cassidy Clan website has an authoritative history of the origins of the Cassidy Clan in Ireland. Readers are encouraged to visit that website for additional details.

We are fortunate in our ancestral search to know the location where William was born and raised. This narrows the scope of the search considerably. Records from earlier than the 1800s are very limited.

Though our William Cassidy was from The Port in County Donegal, his roots will eventually lead to County Fermanagh. Therefore, in searching for ancestral clues, one needs to include County Fermanagh and surrounding areas along with The Port, Inver Parish, and County Donegal.

Irish Geographic Descriptors

It helps to have an understanding of the Irish system of geographic descriptors: provinces, counties, parishes, and townlands. Ireland is made up of four provinces (Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster) and 32 counties. Of the nine counties that make up the province of Ulster, six are in Northern Ireland and three, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, are in the Irish Republic. A townland is the smallest unit of land area identified in records and named on maps. Its size can vary from less than ten acres to thousands of acres. There are about 64,000 townlands in Ireland. Civil parishes usually contain 25 to 30 townlands as well as towns and villages. There are church parishes as well as civil parishes. Boundaries for the Church of Ireland parishes are usually the same as civil parish boundaries. Catholic church parishes are usually larger and encompass parts of more than one civil parish. A Catholic parish may be divided into church areas.

For the Inver area, the parish boundaries are the same for the Church of Ireland and the Catholic church. The Catholic church parish of Inver is divided into four church-areas: Frosses, Drimarone, Mountcharles and Ardaghey. The Port is in the Ardaghey church-area. When performing Cassidy research in this area, one should look under the Diocese of Raphoe, Parish of Inver. Since a parish is a large area, it is best to narrow one’s search to the townland if possible.

[1] Ardaghey Church and People, Vincent O’Donnell, et al, 1995
[2] Bodleian Library, Oxford