The Land of Our Ancestors


In the vicinity of lovely Lough Corrib (Lake Corrib) in the western part of County Galway, Ireland lies a townland in the Cargin Parish called Luggawannia. [1] Research has clearly demonstrated that our Hart ancestors emigrated from the townland of Luggawannia located near the town of Headford in County Galway to Wilmington Delaware. There are strong indications that our Hannon ancestors and other branches of our family came from townlands in the vicinity of Luggawannia as well. Although the Lalleys of our family reportedly came from County Roscommon, the name Lally is exceptionally common in northern County Galway.

The Gaelic form of the name Log-a-bhainne, means hollow of the milk. Part of the Catholic Church parish of Killursa and southwest of the Archdiocesan seat of Tuam, Luggawannia is situated about a mile and a half northeast of the lake, approximately three miles southwest of the town of Headford in County Galway, and seventeen miles due north of Galway City. A picturesque rural setting whose rolling hills rise from the eastern shore of the lake, the stone walls of Luggawannia divide its rugged fields into small pastures. Rocky soil makes the land suitable for dairy farming, though in recent years economic factors have forced many farmers to switch to beef production. To the west the distant foothills of Connemara define the horizon, especially at sunset.

Throughout the whole of Ireland the numerous remains of abandoned castles, drab gray-stone farm-homes, hermitages, ancient churches and abbeys seemed resigned to the overgrowth of vines, shrubbery, and high grass entombing them. Resembling the tilted and fallen tombstones of its ancient burial grounds, these stark, decaying monuments stand as reminders of an often turbulent history and of a people who paid dearly to survive. As Michael Carroll writes,

"The general area around Luggawannia ... has been an area of habitation for several thousand years. While traces of such former occupation of land .. has been destroyed through the centuries, not the least in the 20th century in the name of modernisation and development, there are some remaining traces of the near and distant past. ... Within the townland of Luggawannia alone, there are two ancient ringforts situated, which are between 2,000 and 3,000 years old...

"The area around Headford is littered, almost, with the ruins of castles. Most of these were built after the Anglo-Norman invasion of England and in particular the conquest of Connacht by the DeBurgo family. The best example of such a castle is Cargin Castle, which has been restored and is today used as a holiday home... This castle was in existence in 1574 when it was in the possession of William Gayard. It, along with Annaghkeen Castle (in ruins), guarded the narrowest point on Lough Corrib from native Irish raids across the lake against their Norman would-be-conquerors... It is likely the building dates from the 13th century...

"[In addition] a huge array of sites where Christian worship and burial have taken place [are located] in and around Headford spanning 1,000 years from AD c. 500 to 1,700... The greatest ecclesiastical site ... is Ross Abbey. This Franciscan friary stands in low-lying pastureland on the banks of the Black River, which divides counties Galway and Mayo. Now a National Monument, the friary dates from the late15th century..." [2]

Today many Irish appear to look more to the future than to the past. For all their struggles, and perhaps because of them, they are a vibrant, resilient people. During the past ten years, their participation in the European Union has brought them prosperity. Everywhere there are signs that the country is rebuilding and expanding its infrastructure. Its cities are growing. In 1980 the national unemployment rate was more than 20%; today it stands at 6% for the first time in Irish history. Its government and high technological industries actively recruit those who have emigrated elsewhere, offering them employment incentives to return home. Real estate values have accelerated at inflationary rates. Tourism has become a major industry. Bed and breakfast accommodations which can be found in renovated manor houses and castles, wayside farm houses, and newly constructed homes often must be booked well in advance of an expanding tourist season. A number of well-maintained houses with thatched roofs still dot the countryside, but many of the newer, modestly constructed homes have yellow or white stucco walls and slate roofs.

Rapid development has, however, come with some unfortunate side effects. The pace of daily living has quickened. American television and pop culture have also had their regrettable, highly visible impact upon Irish society and particularly upon many young people. Sadly, smoking rates for young girls, even those as young as twelve, are on the rise, despite the fact that for the rest of the population smoking rates are falling. Whereas twenty years ago a bicyclist might encounter an occasional truck or automobile on a country road, today's traffic often diverts one's attention from magnificent panoramic vistas and verdant fields to a growing number of vehicles approaching each other at high speeds. And yet there is no question that the quality of life for most of the Irish people has improved dramatically in the last two decades. Moreover, the government has the happy dilemma of deciding what it should do with its very first budget surplus.

Although the countryside around Luggawannia shows signs of growth, these townlands have certainly retained their pastoral appeal. Its roadways remain difficult to navigate; cattle and sheep still graze their hills; and on weekends neighbors assemble in local pubs to trade tales and news, dance traditional Irish sets, and down their pints. And when storm clouds roll in and the stiff penetrating winds drive their raw, cold dampness into one's bones, traces of burning peat bricks in the air can remind one that not all has changed on this beautiful, green island.


Joseph M. Lalley, Jr.

August 1999

[1] An Irish townland is not a village of shops and other business enterprises; rather it is a rural agricultural community whose population may range from ten to a hundred families. The size of a townland varies as well. The townland of Luggawannia, for example, contains about 250 acres. The adjacent townland of Carrownacroagh is more than twice its size.

[2] Michael Carroll, a computer consultant living in Galway City, is a rising authority on the history of the Headford/Killursa district. His book, Valley of the Milk, was published in the year 2000 ( now available at ). Nearby neighbors of the Hartes, his family has lived in Luggawannia for more than 200 years. I am indebted to him for sharing much of his research with me and to Eddie Brennan, a first cousin of my sister-in-law, Myra Deckers Lalley, for introducing him to me.