19th-century Sligo convict’s story crosses the globe

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An Australian woman has visited Sligo this month to learn more about her deep-rooted ancestry in the North West.

Lyn Maunsell discovered a connection to the county when the name of John Tighe emerged during her research and what followed would be one man’s inspiring story which changed the lives of families separated by deportations to Australia.

John Tighe, born in 1800, was a native of Riverstown. In 1833, he was deported to the coastal Australian city of Wollongong following a conviction of manslaughter, a situation which left his wife, Margaret McDonough and children Honora and Mary in a dire state of poverty even before the potato famine began to take a firm grip across the country.

“He was sent to Australia in 1835 and there were different systems set up to have convict families brought out there.

“He tried those different schemes and eventually they got there in 1858 after a number of attempts. I have a copy of a letter that was written in 1848 by the parish priest in Riverstown to John Tighe in Wollongong, with Margaret sitting beside him, describing how desperate their situation was. They tried a number of different ways of getting to Australia, but they couldn’t travel each time due to different circumstances,” Lyn explained.

John’s story took an unexpected turn when he penned a letter to the historic humanitarian, Caroline Chisholm, who was so moved by his account that she persuaded the British Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, to re-establish a scheme in the 1840s which would go on to result in thousands of men, women and children emigrating to Australia in hope of re-uniting their families.

The unique story of John Tighe’s determination in the face of great adversity has captured the imagination of historians, with a seminar taking place this summer in Strokestown House focusing on his life, as a well as a book detailing his story and strenuous efforts to be re-united with his family.

Lyn is now interested in learning more about her ancestors humble beginnings in Ireland, beginning with the Tighe and McDonough families of Riverstown whom they discovered are still fondly remembered in the south Sligo village through a family tree on display in the Sligo Folk Museum.

Lyn, with the help of her husband, David and local historian John McDonagh, remains committed to finding more information about past generations of her Irish-based family and is seeking to make contact with anyone who may hold a connection to this particular bloodline.

Anyone with information can reach Lyn by e-mailing lynstre53@gmail.com.19th-cen

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