Irish families love their stories and none is more poignant than the tale of people who left their home for a new life, overseas. 

When Patrick Lalley (73) arrived in County Mayo with his son John (44) to research their family history, even they were surprised at how quickly they tracked down a relative. John went down to the bar of a Ballina hotel they were staying in and asked a group of men drinking there if they knew any Lalleys. It turned out someone did and could even provide a cell phone number.

Almost unbelievably this Lally was a distant cousin. Patrick’s great-grandfather also called Patrick, left Mayo in 1865 with his wife Mary and four young children. Unusually at the time, they arrived by steamship, Calhoun, traveling from Liverpool to Castle Garden in New York. But dramatic events in Washington meant their landing was delayed. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Patrick’s grandfather Dennis was just seven when the family finally made it ashore.

They went straight to Scranton, Pennsylvania where Mary had some relatives. They started work in mines and just three years later, at age of 10, Dennis earned his first wage as a slate picker.

His weekly pay was 35 cent. Dennis went on to work for the railroad who owned mines. He was a member of rail road union; Patrick still has his union card from 1920. He was also a member of the Ancient Order of Hiberninans. There was a large Mayo community in Scranton at the time.

Dennis met and married Winifred Langan, who could see the shrine of Knock from the window of the house where she was born in 1864. Like Dennis, she had traveled to America to begin a new life. Patrick’s father, John Lalley, was the seventh son of Dennis and Winifred. Patrick is the seventh son of John. Despite mythology surrounding such a lineage, he claims no special powers.

Sadly Dennis suffered a tragic accident on train tracks. He lost a leg and died a month later. He was a lifelong baseball fan and Patrick’s older brother remembers reading him out box scores from the newspaper.

On that visit to Ireland with his son, Patrick filled in a lot of details of his family history with the help of the North Mayo Heritage Centre. One mystery he has never been able to solve is the addition of an ‘e’ to the family name. The original name is definitely Lally – all Patrick’s siblings are named Lally on their birth certificates. However, somewhere along the way, a mysterious ‘e’ was added the to name.

“I have no idea how that happened,” admits Patrick. His grandparents remained proudly Irish to end of their days, a tradition that Patrick and his son John are determined to keep alive.

Patrick has produced a book of family history for his nieces and nephews. His son has created an Irish wall in his house, complete with pictures, his grandfather’s sash and a whole host of memorabilia. John is now keen to return again to Ireland with his Dad.