Ireland of the Welcomes
Irish Family Tree Challenge
Throughout the last year, in the spirit of the anniversary of Ireland of the Welcomes, we asked our readers to send us in the most fascinating stories from their family tree. We were inundated with wonderful entries and thank all of you who took the time to share a piece of your heritage. The challenge has now closed but we hope you enjoyed the selection that we published.
In 1847 my great-great O’Neil grandparents Julia,
Arthur and their two infant sons, said goodbye to
Cromane and Killarney, and hello to an uncertain future in North America. Following
20 years in North Hampshire and Ontario they settled in Polk County, Wisconsin near the beautiful St. Croix River and within the great
Wisconsin Pine Forest.
Government land could be acquired at no cost by pioneers with a commitment to establish a homestead for the family. The area was very rural with small concentrations of Irish, English, Scandinavian and other pioneer families. Native Americans lived nearby as they had for hundreds of years. Thousands of acres of mature native White Pine trees, plus clear streams, rivers lakes, abundant wild game, fish, berries, nuts and grains made the location compelling for my family which had grown to 13 children by 1872. They constructed a log home and began their new life in the remote Western Wisconsin. Farming was difficult because of poor soil conditions but the rapidly growing forestry and construction industries supported many early pioneer families, including the O’Neils.
Each winter my grandmother and her friends worked as cooks in the logging camp while the men were in the forest harvesting trees. The work was hard and the winters brutal in Western Wisconsin. There were no chainsaws and harvesting large trees using one and two-man hand saws, and double bladed axes were only for the hearty. Downed logs were lashed to large sleds and pulled by horses or oxen to a site near the rivers and streams. The logs were ear-marked and floated down stream to a waiting saw mill where the logs were processed into dimension lumber.
And then…after 30 years…the area known as the “Pinery” became known as the “Barrens”, as tens of thousands of dense forests were bare. Early in the 1900’s conservation practices were introduced with the result that today, 100 years later, thousands of acres are in their third stage of reforestation in response to good forest management practices finally introduced in the early 1900’s.
The pioneers are gone, including my grandparents and great-grandparents. My wife Sandy and I are now in our 80’s and our grown children in their 50’s are fortunate to be able to celebrate the beauty of their forest for recreational pleasures and are the recipients of a great gift from our Irish family.
On one of our several trips to Ireland, Sandy and I gathered a handful of earth and two stones from the O’Neil farm property in Cromane. Later after returning home , sprinkled it on the grave site of Arthur and Julia in Wisconsin as a memorial to the family. Then, gathered a handful of earth from the exact site of the 1870’s home of the O’Neils in Polk County, Wisconsin and on a more recent trip to Ireland sprinkled the earth on the ground of their farm in Kerry as a memorial to their courage and foresight.
"The pioneers are gone, including my grandparents and great-grandparents. My wife Sandy and I are now in our 80’s and our grown children in their 50’s are fortunate to be able to celebrate the beauty of their forest for recreational pleasures and are the recipients of a great gift from our Irish family."