Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


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AUGUST 31, 2008 3:19PM

Searching for Omar

Rate: 14 Flag

Lough Erne.jpg

Lough Erne.jpg


Join me in a journey to the past—a hunt to solve some family mysteries. 


(A preliminary caution: This is a long post with many images and of course is mainly for the benefit of my family and friends.)


It’s a complicated story that I found the Irish relatives so late in my life.  I love my late father, but he was a bit of a scoundrel and my prodigal return to Erin was due in part to his life-long predisposition for dissembling. But that’s a story for another time. 


He emigrated to the States from Ireland in 1951. And of his seven siblings, only Aunt Carmel now remains. Emigration can rip extended families apart; it can dim collective memories and render mute the narrative songs that span generations. Happily, there is still a large contingent of Dublin cousins who, along with my aunt, welcomed us with open arms and we quickly set about mending the family web.


Before leaving for the reunion we had already decided that we would take a side trip to Northern Ireland to track down another part of my family history. But it was the non-Irish side of the family, my English grandparents on my mother’s side, who had retired from London to an area near Belleek in County Fermanagh soon after World War II.


And we had clues! My mother had given me several small photo albums over the years. It was the style of the times to have these small albums as photography hobbyists were ubiquitous in the time between the wars.  Maybe the cryptic hints in one of these albums would be enough to help us find that part of the family history. One possible tip in the album was the name Magheramenagh, but we had no idea what that meant. We found a map in a Dublin bookstore, and set out without a time table, which was just fine—we figured on just going to see what could be found.


Inherited clues.jpg




More clues.jpgMore clues.jpg


From the top: My grandfather’s small photo album  from 1948; inside the front cover; and a picture of the retirement cottage “Omar” with “A view from the lounge.” (Magheramenagh is pronounced Mah’-hera-me’-nah.)


My grandfather’s name was Oscar Marvyn Reed. He went by the self styled near-acronym Omar—and Omar was the name he gave to their little retirement cottage.


The image at the top of the story is of Lough Erne looking east from its western edge near where it changes to the River Erne. Some of you may know what a rare thing it is to have such beautiful weather in northwest Ireland. It seemed an existential metaphor, adding to the mystery of discovery.


So a few days after all the meet and greets of long lost cousins, we rented a car and three of us set out from our cousin’s house in southwest Dublin—our two older kids decided to hang out in town with their first cousins twice removed. 


The map was an ordinance survey map—similar to the USGS topo maps here in the States—and had quite a bit of detail. The clues in the photobook took us northwest, to the western edge of Ulster.


The map.jpg


And there on the map was that lyrical name Magheramenagh and another clue—it was a castle “(in ruins).” You can find it at 97.7 x 59.2. The cottage Omar must be nearby.


There is a larger rendition of the map found here. 


We rolled into Belleek and the first logical stop was the Visitors’ Centre. There we found Michelle. We showed her the album and explained our quest. It’s a sleeply little town and slow moving. The area is a mecca for salmon fishing and Belleek is world famous for the ezquisite and beautiful Parian China still hand-crafted by local artisans. Its lacework and paper thin brilliantly translucent designs are stunningly beautiful.


Michelle was excited on our behalf, but could not recognize any of the pictures. She directed us to the nearby hotel where we booked to spend the night. Meanwhile, she said she would make some inquiries on our behalf. Shortly after settling in and trying to decide what to do next, she appeared and told us that her parents would be happy to help us and act as our guides. 


A new friend.jpg


Our guides.jpg


Michele at the visitors’ centre and her parents, Vincent and Rosemary.






And now.jpgThen.jpg


Then and now; the pottery works on the River Erne in Belleek in 1948 and at present.


Michele’s parents, Vincent and Rosemary, picked us up from the hotel and first showed us the Castle Magheramenagh. They dropped us off to explore the grounds and went off to arrange the rest of our discovery. They knew of my grandfather’s cottage, though it now had a different name, and knew the current occupants. 






Through the wall.jpg 


In Ruins.jpg


Erne View.jpg 

From the top: It was an impressive residence in 1897; the castle wall in ruins—the arched gate, now filled in, was the entrance and exit for horse-drawn carriages; our entry point, through a caretaker’s cottage that was built into the wall; and pictures of the ruins showing a brilliant day beyond.


Vincent and Rosemary gathered us up and said the current owners would be delighted to meet us.


Getting close.jpg


We were getting close. A tiny unused cottage marks the corner of the drive to the cottage Omar. As it turns out, Helen and Frank O’Shea lived in that abandoned cottage before buying the Omar from my grandmother a year after my grandather’s death in 1963.


A final look at


Helen and Frank.jpg


The hearth.jpg 






From the top: We found it! Thanks to Vincent and Rosemary. Omar is now known as Erne View; Helen and Frank; the hearth now; and Omar and Kathleen next to that same hearth.


They were delightful. We spent a lovely hour with Helen and Frank and then came the gifts. Helen disappeared for a moment and then came bearing two treasures found: a framed photograph of my aunt Joan left in the attic and a drawing of the cottage Omar my mother had made as a young woman that was then made into a Christmas card.


Treasure found.jpg


More treasure.jpg 

We weren't done; we had a further surprise. Vincent asked a question that I had not even considered. He heard that my grandfather had died in Belleek which then led to my grandmother selling and then returning to her family in England. “Was your grandfather Catholic or Church of Ireland?” He was not Catholic I replied. “Well, I may know where he’s buried. Let’s go find out.”


Slawin parish.jpg


The grave.jpg 


OMAR (1).jpg 

From the top: The Church of Ireland chapel in Slawin parish, just across the Lough from Omar; my grandfather’s grave; the headstone reads OMAR In loving memory of Oscar Marvyn Reed who died 22nd June 1962 Aged 75 years.




Omar in 1953 next to the River Erne in Belleek


I offer again my sincere thanks to Michelle McCauley, Vincent and Rosemary McCauley and to Helen and Frank O’Shea.


If you made it this far—congratulations! I hope you enjoyed the journey with me and to the family mystery solved through help from new friends lovingly offered.  



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What a great post! A nice dreamy way to spend the morning. Thanks for including us in your journey.
Thank you very much Sandra. It does indeed seem like it should be a Sunday morning read for someone with time to spare.

I must say that it took quite a bit of time to put together. Because of the timeout issue of being automatically logged off of Open Salon, and I knew this was going to be a long post, I couldn't afford to do it within the OS New Post compose page and risk losing all or part of work not saved. So I composed it offline, which presents some difficult challenges as well when a post has a lot of images in it. Once I was ready with the copy, and images selected, I worked as quickly as I could, first pasting the text with "xxx" markers in the text where the images would go. Then I set about pasting the referenced images, all the while hoping that I would not lose the post. I'm glad it worked out. But for those who have trouble with the font, I apologize...I rendered it fairly large in the offline text editor, but it came through quite small on OS. I'm hoping for more text controls before we get out of our public beta phase.

xo thanks again Sandra.
Barry, that's a wonderful story and amazing to see the old and the new. It was a shame that the old castle fell into ruins, as 1897 doesn't seem so long ago when you think of other structures that are still around in good condition that are many centuries older. I'll be re-reading this post about five more times to totally absorb all that you have presented. I can appreciate how you had to work off-line to compose this, too!
Great post, Barry. The pictures really flesh it out - thanks for taking the time to put this together. I especially love the hearth photos - I have a lovely brick fireplace. My house was built in 1906, and I like to imagine the people who might have sat watching the fires before me. (And I have to tell you, I got automatically signed out when I tried to post this comment the first time. Techno-serendipity, or something!)
I have several folios of photos with Mom's relations, mostly from the north of England. The most creative thing I thought to do with them was have them play tennis against the blancmange. You have inspired me to do otherwise. Worth every technical problem with OS. By the way, Colin's site is cool, too.
This was very neat, Barry. You're very fortunate to have been able to track down the family roots in the "old country", and to have found living connections. I have family roots all over the British Isles, as well as a little bit of France, but nearly all of the stories have been lost through the passing of generations. We don't even know much about our ancestors after they arrived in the New World. I envy you.
(dammit! I just finished a comment answering several points from friends' comments here only to be logged out between "Post this comment" and the page refreshing...grrrrrr!!)

(trying to remember)

John: it is indeed a shame to see it in ruins. Magheramenagh Castle was built between 1835 and 1840. The original owner was part of the Empire, and then as now, that dynamic played out with some consternation. In the view of the map, in it's large view from the link, you can see a bridge called the Rosscar Viaduct. That bridge was blown up during "The Troubles." The owner held vast tracts of land from which the locals made their living, but always under his patronage. In its last days, the Castle was bought by the local parish and used as a parochial house. Its last resident was a priest, which played into the local parochial politics. In the late 1950s it was unroofed and partly demolished.

Donna: it is quintessentially English (but not exclusively so) that those things of comfort transcend time.

Paxton: thanks so much for you kind words. My son's art which has some of his paintings will be the subject of it's own OS post, at Sandra's suggestion. The backstory of his painting the nude in his high school corridor is indeed interesting.

Steve: Yes, I know I'm fortunate in many ways. It was a pleasure to put this together in spite of the minor OS impediments. At least it provides some continuity for my kids, or will in time I hope. Thanks.
It's wonderful that you have a perfect photo blog of this event. It is a wonderful thing that you've put together for your family.
Barry, thank you for this great post and the photos, especially. As a family history detective, I particularly enjoyed this. J.
Hi Barry:
I sent this post off to my parents. I know they have been in Belleek as they brought back a lovely vase from there. Believe it or not, my father's mother's family are Sheas -- shortened from O'Shea in the home land. I will let you know if any of this seems familiar to them.

Thanks for sharing -- I really enjoyed the photos as well!
Thanks know I love you.

Julie: as a family history detective it's high praise that you enjoyed it...thanks--it's cool that you do that.

Lisa: thanks! Please let me know what they say--I'd very much appreciate it.
Oh, Barry, I just loved this. A photo detective story/travelogue. I get the need to search for roots and touch and feel where they walked (and sat at the hearth). Thanks for sharing this.
A wonderfully warm, transfixing story, Barry. I was never able to trace my relatives back very far (only to the early 1900's) but my wife had a cousin who traced theirs back to the 1800's.
Glad you recorded it here - thanks for letting us peek into your past. :-D
Gosh Barry - this is really something. I love finding out family stuff. Thanks for putting this together.
Wow. Like a detective mystery and a travelogue and a love story all in one. Beautiful, Barry.
Not a long post at all Barry, it was interesting and I was sorry it ended so soon. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip.

On my last trip to England, I was able to meet up with some long-lost cousins of my own. I say long-lost as my branch of the family came to America in the 1640s and they stayed behind. It was great to meet them.
Barry, I don't know how I missed this, but I found it and it was a wonderful journey! thanks for the experience!
Hi Barry
Michelle here, as above. So delighted to see all your photos of your visit to Ireland in 2004. You are due a trip back to Belleek again!
Michelle! it's so nice to see you here. There are a couple of images you may not have seen till now, those of my grandparents on either side of the hearth. Please give my kind regards to your lovely parents...let me know if you have my email address--I'd love to get the latest news on your life and how it's going for you.
Wonderful photos. . . great story, beautifully told, and an entertaining page: thank you!
Hi Barry - Jenny shared with me your blog site on Omar. Wonderful history and so awesome that you could put some pieces back in the puzzle. What a history!
Really touching and beautiful.
Hey Barry - I forgot to rate this five and a half years ago.

Best regards and cheers!
Paxton Pundit