Vernon & District Family History Society

SHARING GENEALOGY KNOWLEDGE SINCE 1982

Biography of my Great-Grandmother Catherine Ryan By Robert E. Passmore

Image - Coat of Arms: The Ryan family motto is "mafo mori quam foedari" (I would rather die than be disgraced).

The Ryan family motto is mafo mori quam foedari (I would rather die than be disgraced).

Catherine Ryan endured several traumatic events in both Ireland and Canada any one of which could be too much to bear for many of us. Her mother died shortly after she was born, she was taken away from her family as a baby and raised by her Aunt; the violent death of her father at age fifty when she was 14, her siblings left Ireland for Canada when she was 17; her neighbourhood was terrorized by “Whiteboy” Irish revolutionaries when she was in her mid-twenties; she suffered through the Potato Famine in Tipperary and watched many of her friends and neighbours die of starvation; she endured terrible storms on her voyage to Canada that delayed her arrival and forced her to spend the winter in Montreal where she ran out of money; she had to spend several weeks watching people suffer horrible deaths at the Quarantine Station at Grand Isle before going to Montreal; the man she married became a drunkard and constantly abused her; she walked nearly one hundred miles with her baby in her back pack through the wilderness from Kincardine to Lucan Ontario to borrow money from her brother in order to save their homestead; she suffered from poverty throughout most of her married life and finally her hand became infected when she was over eighty and it was amputated on the kitchen table. On the other side of the ledger she raised five children and had 36 grandchildren and 150 great grandchildren plus hundreds of great-great grandchildren.

This is her story as interpreted by her great grandson Robert Passmore.

All of my Irish Ancestors were Protestants and staunch Orangemen. It is likely that they converted from Catholicism in the eighteenth century. On page 20 of the book "Irish Migrants to the Canadas", author Bruce Elliott explains how this conversion took place:

"Several dozen emigrant Protestants [including Ryan and Hayes] bore the name of Irish Catholic families long resident in the North Tipperary region, though often single families account for the appearance of these names on the list [shown as #67 in his notes on page 300]. Such families descend from ancestors who conformed to the Protestant Church of Ireland for secular reasons during the penal time following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, or converted as a result of intermarriage in the late 18th century when religious tolerance was widespread and before the 1798 Rebellion and deteriorating economic conditions again sharpened social cleavages."

Image - Catherine Ryan Hayes, 1821/1906

Catherine Ryan Hayes, 1821/1906

The Rebellion of 1798 resulted in up to 30,000 deaths and was the worst in Irish history. Since 1691 Ireland had been controlled by a Protestant Ascendancy loyal to the British Crown. It governed the majority Catholic population by a form of sectarianism codified by the Penal Laws. Under these laws, Catholics could not vote, run for office, own land, sign long term leases or be a member of the British Army or the Irish Constabulary. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that our ancestors were likely among those that converted to Protestantism. The Act of Union in 1800 was a result of the Revolution and took away the measure of autonomy granted to Ireland's Protestant Ascendancy. After 1798 no further conversions from Catholic to Protestantism were recorded in North Tipperary.”

Catherine’s father Nathaniel Ryan was born in Nenagh in 1785 and inherited the Stewardsip of the Whitegate Estate in 1808 upon the death of his father Phillip Ryan who had been the Steward there for many years. The Estate was in County Clare across Loche Derg from their ancestral home near Nenagh in Tipperary.

Image - Houses on Whitegate Estate Clonrush Parish

Houses on Whitegate Estate Clonrush Parish

Catherine Ryan's mother Mary Navin Ryan died shortly after giving birth to Catherine in 1821. She was raised from her birth by her mother's sister, Miss Ann Naven who was a seamstress and milliner. Apparently her mother made a deathbed request that the baby be "given" to her maiden sister Ann to be raised.

Image - Castletown Cemetery on Loche Derg Tipperary, Ireland

Castletown Cemetery on Loche Derg Tipperary,Ireland

Her father Nathaniel Ryan married Ann Bouchier in Mount Shannon, Ireland in 1825. This was four years after his first wife Mary (Navin) died. Nathaniel Ryan posted a marriage License Bond in 1825 covering his marriage to Anne Bouchier. This bond was in lieu of posting Banns and was used by those that had property or desired privacy from the publication of Banns. No actual record of their marriage has yet been discovered. She is shown as a spinster and he a Gent, an expression used to describe someone of property. His address is shown as Whitegate and hers as Mount Shannon. His parish is not shown but hers is Iniscalthra.

Catherine's father Nathaniel Ryan died at age fifty in 1835. Family legend suggests that he was murdered by Catholic "Whiteboys". The “Whiteboys” revolted against Protestant rule using terrorist tactics against Landlords and their Stewards. They burned barns and houses belonging to Protestants and ran off their cattle and sheep. The Royal Irish Constabulary attempted to put down the rebellion but this lead to more casualties on both sides. The terrorist tactics then worsened to include over nineteen murders in 1831. Ryan family legend indicates that Nathaniel tried to stop the Whiteboys from burning the barn on the Whitegate Estate. He was knocked down and run over by a wagon driven by the Whiteboys. No one was ever charged with his murder but several suspects were transported to Australia.

The following is from the booklet “Class Struggle in Ireland 1760-1840”. It will provide you with just how serious the problem was.

“A new wave of Whiteboyism broke out, with the Terry Alts and Lady Clares in Clare, Galway and Roscommon, and the Whitefeet in Leinster. This is the first outbreak of Whiteboyism for which there are police statistics, which record for Clare and Connaught (and most of this was happening in the single county of Clare) the following ‘outrages’ in 1831: Administering Oaths (952), Assaults (566), Attacks on houses (1,684), Homicides (72), Cattle Maiming (125), Illegal Notices (875), Levelling (244), Robbery of Arms (571) and Demand of Arms (135).”

Both Nathaniel and his father Phillip are buried at Castletown Cemetery, near Nenagh.

Catherine's Uncle Francis Ryan immigrated to Biddulph Township in Upper Canada in 1835 after being lured to Canada by pamphlets distributed throughout Britain and Ireland by "The Canada Land Co". In 1823 this Company had bought one million one hundred thousand acres in the "Queen's Bush" called the Huron Tract for $.60 per acre. This is located today north of London, Ontario It was forested and completely unknown to white men as it was not on any trade routes. . The survey of the Huron Tract began in 1830 and when it was completed the triangular township of Biddulph of approximately 40,000 acres was created including the Village of Lucan which was first called Marystown.

Many of the Irish settlers were lured by Colonel James Hodgins who became an agent for the Canada Land Co. in 1835. He had been an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary at Nenagh, Tipperary.

Image - James Hodgins and his wife, Mary

James Hodgins and his wife, Mary

He sailed from Cork and arrived in Canada with his brothers in 1831 at Bytown (now Ottawa) which was partially settled by soldiers of the 99/100th Irish Regiment who were allotted land in that area for their service during the War of 1812. There were several of his relatives in the Irish Regiment. Many of these soldier settlers worked on the Rideau Canal that enabled ships to travel to Lake Ontario via Kingston without facing danger from American guns that covered the St. Lawrence River route above Bytown. Col. Hodgins and some of the Hayes family moved on to the Huron Tract in 1832. His sister married Francis Ryan my 2x grand uncle.

All of these settlers who survived the hazardous Atlantic crossing and the typhus fever or cholera that raged through the ships had to pass through the infamous quarantine station at Grosse Isle upon arriving in Canada. It is estimated that 20,000 died aboard ship and many more at the quarantine station.

In the spring of 1838 Catherine’s older brother Caleb and her sister Abigail left for Canada to join their Uncle Francis at Lucan Ontario. Catherine stayed in Nenagh, living with her Aunt through these rebellious times. Protestants represented only 15% of the population of the area before the rebellion and many of these decided to leave for safer places like Canada. To make life even more difficult the Potato Famine struck the area hard in 1848.

In the book "Irish Migrants to Canada", Bruce S Elliott writes that in 1849, 300 people died in the Nenagh Workhouse every month and in 1851 there were still over 1100 people in the Union Workhouse at Borrisokane, as many people as resided in the rest of the town. From Roscrae, Tipperary, Thomas Hayes, who may be a relative of Catherine's future husband William, wrote on February 2, 1852 to his uncle Arthur Hopper in Canada: "You would see many people at a fair or market in town but the country part is wild and unpopulated, not a house in some places within a mile of each other is occupied". In another letter in 1849 Thomas Hayes wrote that the taxes have been raised so high to support the starving population that large quantities of land are untenanted and the former tenants are now living in poorhouses where it is now no disgrace to be an inmate. Robberies and murders occurred every day with landlords shooting tenants who resist eviction and frequent auctions of farm equipment and livestock taking place for payment of rent and arrears.

Catherine’s Aunt Ann died in 1850 and Catherine inherited the millinery business. Shortly after, Catherine sold the business and decided to move to Canada to join her siblings. After the deaths of her family and the terrorism in Tipperary, followed by the dreadful potato famine, it is little wonder that Catherine decided to join her family in Canada. Catherine was only 4’10” tall and 89 pounds. She was very gifted as a seamstress, measurements were taken, paper patterns made, and then she sewed clothes by hand.

After Nathaniel's death in 1835, his second wife, Anne Bouchier, stayed in Mount Shannon until about 1856 with her son Nathaniel Ryan Junior (who was born about 1827) and her daughter Maria born about 1830 as per the 1852 census. None of them show up in Canada until the 1861 census. Perhaps the children of Nathaniel's first wife, Mary Navin, wanted to get away from their step mother. She married John Evans in Ireland after Nathaniel died and that could be another reason why Caleb, Abigail and then Catherine decided to leave.

Catherine told her family that during her voyage to Canada, the storms were very bad and every one was terrified. Catherine sat on her bunk and read her prayer book, wondering if she would live through the voyage. These storms delayed her planned arrival in Canada by six weeks. A further delay was caused when she was quarantined at Gross Isle, near Quebec City for a couple of weeks. There she witnessed the horrors of people that were sick and dying from typhus and cholera. Upon her release from quarantine, she made her way to Montreal only to find that the last transport to Upper Canada had left two weeks earlier. Her skill as seamstress enabled her to live in Montreal for several months awaiting transportation to Lucan. Her money had run out but she learned that the daughter of the owner of the house where she was staying was about to marry. She offered her services as a seamstress to the bride to be and was hired to make her a trousseau. This paid for her board and her transport to Lucan in the spring of 1851 where she joined her family.

On the 1851 Biddulph Census, Catherine is shown as living with her brother Caleb and 3 of his kids. On the 1861 Census for Kinloss she is listed with her husband William Hays 40, Isaac 5 and Abigail 2. On 1871 Kinloss Census, she is listed as being born in 1822. She is 62 on the 1881 Kinloss census where she was listed as a Methodist. The 1901 Kinloss census lists her full date of birth as March 17, 1821. On this census she was a widow living alone, in a 3 room house, on lots 45-47 Paxton Survey, Concession 12. She was shown as the head of the house, arriving from Ireland in 1851. No records exist that record her birth or christening due to the destruction of Irish records in the Four Courts Fire in 1922.

At first she stayed with her brother Caleb on his farm near Lucan. In 1854 she obtained employment as a maid at an English couple’s place but didn't like it there and then moved on to become a maid and seamstress with Rev. Flood of Christ Church, Delaware, Ont. His wife was an invalid and required full time care. That is where she met her future husband, William Hayes, who, according to family memoirs, had also arrived from Ireland and was a hired hand at Rev Flood’s small farm. William dined with her in the kitchen and drove the democrat buggy for the minister. Rev. Flood married them September 8, 1855 in the home of Catherine's sister Abigail at Delaware, Ontario, near Lucan. Catherine made a lovely pink and white wedding dress for herself and had a hope chest full of clothes and quilts that she had made.

Image - This is the dress that Catherine made for her wedding in 1856. It is being modelled by Catherine’s Great Granddaughter Pauline Portice age 13 in 1937 who was four feet eleven inches tall at the time. This confirms that Catherine was only four feet ten inches tall. The dress is finely crafted of delicate material that shows her skill as a seamstress.

Dress that Catherine made for her wedding in 1856. It is being modelled by Catherine’s Great Granddaughter Pauline Portice age 13 in 1937

The newlyweds rented a small farm house in the Lucan area before moving on to Kinloss in Bruce County. When they saved enough money, they took out a homestead on the South Line near where her cousin Ann lived. The homestead was covered with trees and rocks which had to be cleared. William made a small log house. This is shown as Lot 2 ONER, 50 acres, 4 acres cultivated. In 1867 they were on the Durham Road, now Highway 9, Con. 2, lots 2 and 3. Catherine would tap the maple trees and carry the sap across the creek to a big iron kettle where it was boiled and made into syrup. One spring she worked all day until late and the next day her last baby was born.

Marriage Certificate

Most of these notes were taken from the notes made by her Granddaughter Abigail Norman 1886-1979. Catherine lived with the Portice family for three years before her death in 1906 and Abigail made these notes from her interviews with Catherine. “When Grandma Hayes went to Braden's Store she would always try to get the groceries at a lower price. The storekeeper later told her daughter that he used to raise the price a nickel when Catherine came in so he could lower it for her."

She lived at Kinloss about 10 miles from Kincardine and would walk to Kincardine to sell wild raspberries which she had picked. With the small amount of cash raised from selling the raspberries she would buy a few essentials and walk back to Kinloss.

About 1857, after her first child was one, she walked from Kinloss to Lucan, through the wilderness, carrying the baby in her back pack, a distance of nearly 100 miles. This was to borrow money from her brother Caleb Ryan to pay the taxes on their farm in Kinloss and prevent the foreclosure of the farm. I can't imagine a little lady who was only four feet ten inches tall and eighty-nine pounds, carrying a baby, walking all that way through the wilderness to Lucan. I imagine that Caleb would have driven her back to Kincardine in his buggy. We obviously come from good strong stock!

By selling eggs, butter and wild berries that she picked around the farm, she accumulated a little cash that she stuck in her stocking for safety (probably to keep it from William who would have spent it on liquor). One day a man came with a bank note to collect on a piece of machinery. William said that he was sorry but he didn't have the money. The man turned to leave, saying someone would come to pick up the machine. Catherine said “Wait". Turning her back to the man she lifted her skirt and removed the amount of the payment due from her stocking and gave it to the man. William Hayes was awe struck. He turned to her and said, “You are an Angel".

William Hayes went to the nearby hotel for a few drinks frequently and would sometimes strike Catherine when he returned home drunk. He had a violent temper. One night she was working on a quilt mounted in a frame when she heard William coming home roaring drunk. She hid under a bed. He grabbed the quilt, tore it from the frame, put his foot on one corner and tore it down the middle, then threw it in a heap on the floor. He then staggered into the bedroom and fell on the bed, out like a light. One night William grabbed Catherine by her hair and dragged her towards the fireplace saying he was going to throw her in. Young Isaac, now big enough to help his mother, jumped out of bed and hit his father with a stick of fire wood, getting his mother away from his father. That ended the abuse... Isaac stayed up late with his mother from then on to protect her from his father.

Image - William E. Hayes, 1811-1892

William E. Hayes, 1811-1892

As William got older he developed arthritis very bad and was bedridden frequently. His brother who was a Methodist Minister in Michigan wrote to William and finally convinced him to “get religion”. He mellowed considerably as he could not walk to the hotel to drink. After William became religious in his later days, he taught his grandchildren their prayers. In spite of his past transgressions, they remember him as a wonderful man.

William and Catherine had a family bible about 12" by 14" by 5" thick which was given to Clara Portice Mcleod, her granddaughter. It was almost worn out by the use it got from them. The bible included notes about her life and times and a record of family birth, deaths and marriages. Unfortunately, the family bible was destroyed by fire when the Portice house burned several decades after Catherine's death.

The following is a quoted from the Portice Family History by Clara Portice

“My Grandmother Hayes was very religious. She spent her last 3 or 4 years living with us and I was given the job of sitting in her room and talking to her in the evenings when mother and the older girls were doing chores. She was a grand old lady as I remember her. Grandmother was bed fast for the last year and put in her time reading her bible and singing hymns. She had a few pieces of furniture that she brought with her from Ireland that her brother Caleb made for her without nails”. Clare then stated "I wouldn't take any amount of money for this furniture, I treasure it so much".

Catherine brought a corner table in the shape of a shamrock [disassembled], with her from Ireland. Her brother Caleb had made it for her and gave it to her before he left Ireland. One of her Great Grandsons, Henry McLeod, now has it at his house near Kincardine and has made copies of it for his two daughters. On a trip to Kincardine in 2003, I photographed the original table and made a pattern of it. When I returned to Vernon I made a replica of it that sits proudly in our living room. Someday, I hope, this shamrock table becomes a family heirloom.

Image - Replica of shamrock table made Bob Passmore. The original was made by Catherine’s brother Caleb Ryan in 1838.

Replica of shamrock table made Bob Passmore. The original was made by Catherine’s brother Caleb Ryan in 1838.

In 1877 Catherine owned lot 8, 1 SDR until 1889 when ownership was changed to her son Nathanial. She owned lot 207 in Kinloss from 1894 to 1900.

On the 1901 census page 11, Sect 10, # 5545 Catherine, a widow, was living alone on lots 45-47 Paxton Survey (likely Con 12) in a 3 room house on one acre and could not read or write. She was shown as a Methodist. It indicates that she came to Canada in 1851 and her birth date was March 17 1821. A family of her Ryan relatives headed by Richard Ryan, age 55, lived next door and his brother William lived down the road. She is their Great Aunt.

Catherine went to live with her daughter Abigail Portice in 1901 until her death in 1906. In 1902 she bought lots 74 and 75 in Killough from her daughter Katherine Matilda Passmore and her husband Edward after they moved up to Glammis. She sold these lots in the same year to Lavina Hodgkinson.

When Catherine was over 80 and living with the Portice family, she developed an infected finger and when it became really bad they called the Doctor. At this time she was a widow living with the Portice family. The Doctor came to their house and amputated her hand on the kitchen table. When she came out of the anaesthetic she was very self- conscious about not having a hand and felt so ashamed that she would not come out of her upstairs room.

In her upstairs room, she sat on a sturdy maple rocking chair that had a patch work cushion and crocheted antimacassar on its back while looking out the window at the passerby’s on the Durham Road. She would place her granddaughters on her knee and rock gently while she sang old Irish songs and hymns. She would then reminisce about her early days in Ireland and Ontario. Next to it was her shamrock table made for her wedding by her brother Caleb and a homemade cupboard that contained an array of knickknacks, each of which had a story that her granddaughters asked her to repeat many times.

Catherine died August 3, 1906 at the home of her daughter Abigail Portice.

According to notes made by Clare Portice, Catherine's funeral was well attended, some people travelling from as far away as Lucan where she first settled. A long cortege of buggies followed behind the black hearse pulled by two black horses. Men wore black bands around their upper coat sleeves and the women were dressed all in black. An Irish wake followed the funeral and lasted long into the night. People danced jigs to fiddle music while the men were in another room laughing, talking and singing. There was quite a bit of drinking along with good food and strong tea.

The funeral was conducted by her nephew Rev. Francis Ryan. She was buried in Kincardine Cemetery next to her husband William Hayes.

At a family reunion at Kincardine in 2003, I met many Ryan and Hayes descendants. It was agreed by all that the descendants of Catherine Ryan came from good stock!

Image - Catherine Ryan Hayes and her daughter Abigail Hayes Portice, circa 1903

Catherine Ryan Hayes and her daughter Abigail Hayes Portice, circa 1903

Image - Headstone of William and Catherine Ryan Hayes at Kincardine Cemetery

 Headstone of William and Catherine Ryan Hayes at Kincardine Cemetery