The Story of Pat Hennessy

In Kingfisher County, near the center of the US state of Oklahoma lies the town of Hennessey. With a population of approximately 2,000, Hennessey lies to the north of Kingfisher County along the historic Chisholm Trail, which was used for decades following the US Civil War for driving cattle from Texas to Kansas.

Location of Hennessey, in the US State of Oklahoma

It is fascinating to consider that this town in Oklahoma was named after a man born in Ballymacoda, Pat Hennessy, albeit with the town name adding an extra ‘e‘ at the end of its name for which no explanation is obvious.

Pat Hennessy

Patrick Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda on March 10th 1837, the son of John and Honora (Norry) Hennessy. According to the Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Catholic Parish Register, he was baptized two days later.

Barely legible baptismal record for Pat Hennessy, March 12th, 1837

John & Norry Hennessy had six other children in addition to Pat. Next in line after Pat were his brothers Martin (born 1839), and John (born 1841). Next was sister Margaret (born 1843), followed by another sister Johanna (born 1847), followed by brother Maurice (born 1849), and finally Thomas (born 1851).

After school, and a brief stint at St. Colman’s College in Fermoy during which Pat considered joining the priesthood, he emigrated to Canada in 1860. By 1862, he was in the United States. Pat saw action in the American Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army, and serving in the 22nd Regiment, Illinois Infantry. After the war ended, Pat became a freight hauler. In an age before the railroads were built, most freight was hauled across long distances by wagon trains. The job of a ‘muleskinner‘ as those who worked on the wagon trains pulled by mules were called, was to drive the wagon and guard the freight. This was not an easy life, with the average muleskinner making a paltry $25 per month.

Purported photograph of Pat Hennessy’s freight wagon, from the US Army Artillery and Missile Museum, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

On July 4th, 1874 Pat Hennessy was travelling with George Fand, Thomas Caloway and Ed Cook, hauling coffee and sugar south from Wichita, Kansas, to the Darlington Indian Agency. After stopping at Buffalo Springs, a popular stage station and rest stop along the Chisolm Trail, Pat and his company were warned of Indian activity in the area, and advised not to proceed along their planned route. Ignoring this advice, sometime later Pat and his men were moving in a three-wagon train down the Chisholm Trail when they were attacked. Hopelessly outnumbered, Pat and his men fought back but ultimately all four were killed in the battle.

Reports indicated that all four men were scalped, and Pat Hennessy was found tied to a wagon wheel with his body badly burnt. There was also a report of the attack being witnessed by a man on horseback travelling behind the convey of wagons. This man purportedly rode back to Buffalo Springs to report the attack, with a group from there being first on the scene to witness the horrific outcome. The body of Pat Hennessy was buried nearby, but later moved to a park in the town founded in 1889 which was named after him.

Plaque commemorating the massacre, located in Memorial Park on the north side of the town of Hennessey.

The mainly accepted story is that the convey was attacked by Cheyanne Indians, but there is disagreement between historians on this, with some suggesting that the attack was carried out by a group of white outlaws posing as Indian warriors.

Pat Hennessy was only 37 when he died, having never made it back to Ballymacoda. Interestingly, a May 2013 article carried in the ‘Hennessey Clipper‘ reported that Noel Hennessy from Ballycotton, a great-great-great nephew of Pat Hennessy, stopped to visit the town of Hennessey whilst on a tour of Route 66.

Whatever the true story of the events that led to the demise of Pat Hennessy on Independence Day 1874, the man from Ballymacoda is forever immortalized by the town in Oklahoma that bears his name.

Pat Hennessy Park in the town of Hennessey, there is some dispute as to where his body actually lays
Pat Hennessy Memorial Garden located in Hennessey

References & Further Information

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, 100th Anniversary of the Pat Hennessy Massacre, July 4th 1974

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Great Nephew Stops to Visit Hennessy Namesake, May 9th 2013

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Pat Hennessy Celebration Starts Tonight, August 27th 1981

Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915

Civil War Soldier Details, US National Park Service

Old West Teamsters and Freighters

The Murder of Patrick Hanlon

The events leading up to the death of Patrick Hanlon in Youghal on March 8th 1887 are complex and require some background. The outcome though is clear: Patrick Hanlon, a 30 year old fisherman from Ballymacoda was bayoneted to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during a riot.

Death Record of Patrick Hanlon, listing cause of death as ‘wound inflicted by sword bayonet

There are contemporary sources listing Patrick Hanlon as being a native of Ballymacoda, such as the ‘The Little Book of Youghal‘ (2016) by Kieran Groeger, and sources from the time such as The United Irishman.

However, his birth year of 1857 makes that difficult to find evidence of. Census fragments survive for 1821-51, which is too early to record Patrick, and the 1901 and 1911 census records are of no use as they occurred after his death. Consulting the available Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Parish Baptismal records also yielded no Patrick Hanlon baptized in 1857, at least in the entries which are still legible.

A few possibilities exist here. One is that Patrick Hanlon was born or baptized outside the parish. The 1901 census records show two distinct families with the surname Hanlon living in Knockadoon and Ballyskibbole (but both record a living Patrick Hanlon in each household). Another possibility is that the records have been lost over time. Leaving aside the fact that there is not much evidence that can be found of Patrick Hanlon in Ballymacoda, nonetheless he came to be in Youghal on March 8th 1887 and was brutally murdered.

The so-called ‘Plan of Campaign‘ had been devised in 1886 by the Irish National League. This was founded by Charles Stewart Parnell to succeed the Land League after that had been suppressed. Simply put, the main aim of the plan was to protect tenant farmers, especially if there was a poor harvest which impacted the tenants’ ability to pay the rent on the land they were farming. In the case of a poor harvest, the tenant would offer the landlord a reduced amount of rent, and if the landlord refused, the money would be put into the care of a trustee, generally a trusted member of the community. This money would then be used to help evicted tenants.

The ‘Plan of Campaign‘ measures were to be put in place on 203 estates across Ireland, and the estate of Charles Talbot Ponsonby at Park in Youghal became one of the first to be targeted with the new measures. This estate was on the outskirts of Youghal town, and when substantially reduced rent was offered, Ponsonby refused, and started to evict tenants. As directed by the Plan of Campaign, the reduced amount of rent was then paid by the tenants to the trustee.

Park House, the home of Charles Talbot Ponsonby in Youghal

The curate in Youghal at that time was Father Daniel Keller. Authorities strongly believed Keller was a secret trustee of the Plan of Campaign fund, and in early March 1887 he was called to Dublin to testify about his involvement in the fund. When Keller failed to appear, a warrant was issued for his arrest. This issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Fr. Keller caused outrage in Youghal, and street protests and a riot ensued. During the riot, the RIC charged the crowd with fixed bayonets, and Patrick Hanlon was killed.

Fr. Daniel Keller (1839-1922)

The coroner in Youghal recorded a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ in the death of Patrick Hanlon, and the news was reported widely, as far away as New Zealand.

Excerpt from the Ashburton Guardian, March 25th 1887

Based on the verdict, Constable Garrett Ward and District Inspector Somerville were arrested for the murder of Patrick Hanlon, and taken to prison in Cork. There was significant pressure for both to face justice. The events at Youghal were mentioned in the House of Commons many times in the following weeks, and on March 24th 1887 MP for Cork East William Lane asked Arthur Balfour, Chief Secretary for Ireland (and future British PM) if justice would be served:

Whether, as the inquest at Youghal terminated in a verdict of wilful murder against District Inspector Somerville and Constable Ward, he will take measures to have these prisoners brought to trial at the next Cork Assizes.

Question from Mr. William Lane, MP for Cork East to Chief Secretary for Ireland, Arthur Balfour, Thursday March 24 1887.

Balfour’s response indicated that both Ward and Somerville would be dealt with in the same fashion as anyone else accused of a crime.

I am advised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland that the case of the prisoners referred to will be dealt with in the ordinary and usual course.

Arther Balfour’s response, which in time was proven to be false.

Both Constable Ward and Inspector Somerville were eventually acquitted, with the crown entering a nolle prosequi in the case, essentially meaning they were unwilling to pursue any charges against the defendants.

Father Keller, having been arrested on March 18th 1887 and brought to Dublin, continued to refuse to cooperate with the authorities and was jailed for 2 months in Kilmainham jail, until an appeal in May 1887 found no legal grounds for his continued detention. After his release, he continued to support tenants on the Talbot Ponsonby estate, where the plan of campaign survived until 1892. Keller remained the parish priest of Youghal until his death on November 8th 1922.

I have seen a couple of references in contemporary literature referring to the funeral of Patrick Hanlon in Ballymacoda, and a memorial erected by the people, however I am not aware of such a memorial existing in the churchyard in Ballymacoda. At least there is no obvious entry in the graveyard catalog.

In fact, the United Irishman, the newspaper owned and edited by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, published in New York for the week ending April 20th 1889 (over two years after the events), carries a story about a monument to Patrick Hanlon being unveiled in Ballymacoda.

The United Irishman, Week Ending April 20th 1889

If any readers are aware of such a monument to Patrick Hanlon, I would love to update this post with the details. If for reasons of time that such a monument existed, but has been forgotten, it is surely something that should be addressed so this tragic event in the history of Ireland and Ballymacoda is never forgotten.

I feel like I have only scratched the surface here and there is much more to tell.

References and Further Information

Dictionary of Irish Biography, Entry for Daniel Keller

The Little Book of Youghal, by Kieran Groeger

Historic Graves, St. Peter In Chains Church Ballymacoda

Papers Past, The Ashburton Guardian, March 25th 1887

Law And Justice—Riots At Youghal—District Inspector Somerville And Constable Ward

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958, Death Record of Patrick Hanlon

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s Visit to Ballymacoda

The name Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa should need no introduction. A lifelong Fenian born in West Cork in 1831, and a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), O’Donovan Rossa was arrested in 1865 due to his involvement with the Fenian newspaper ‘The Irish People‘. He was sentenced to penal servitude for life, taking into account his previous convictions such as his arrest in 1858. He served his time in a few different English prisons such as Pentonville, Portland, Millbank, and Chatham. As part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1871, he was released. As a condition of this, he was forced to emigrate, and he chose to take up residence in New York. He was also required to give a commitment never to return to Ireland.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

However, he was allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. During the 1894 visit, he conducted a lecture tour of towns and villages across the country. Arriving in Queenstown (Cobh) on May 19th, he was met by large crowds, including armed IRB volunteers in the event the authorities tried to arrest him.

On June 19th 1894, O’Donovan Rossa visited Ballymacoda. The following text comprises the welcome address on his visit to the grave of Ballymacoda patriot Peter O’Neill Crowley at the churchyard in Ballymacoda village. This was published in ‘The United Irishman‘ in New York, on July 7th 1894. This newspaper was published and edited by O’Donovan Rossa between 1881 and 1910, with his wife Mary Jane taking over the responsibilities as he toured Ireland.

The United Irishman, July 7th 1894

Address of the welcome to J. O’Donovan Rossa, Esq., on his visit to the grave of O’Neill Crowley, June 19th, 1894.

Illustrious exile of Erin – we, on behalf of the Reception Committee, and the people of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, welcome you with a hearty ‘cead mille failte’ to historic Ballymacoda – to the parish where O’Neill Crowley was born – where he spent his boyhood in Christian piety, and his manhood in disseminating the principles of true Nationality; and wherein is laid his mortal remains, over which a grateful people erected a noble Celtic Cross – an emblem of Faith and Fatherland – to testify their admiration of the heroic man, who in compliance with the principles he himself inculcated, met the hereditary enemies of this country face to face, with his rifle in his hand, on that bleak morning of the 31st March 1867 in Kilclooney wood, and fell fighting for the independence of his native land.

What finer epitaph can possibly be engraved to perpetuate the memory of anyone, be he king, lord, or peasant, that is inscribed on the O’Neil Crowley monument, describing the manner of his death: ‘Tra do bhi se ag troideadh go trunmhar son a thire’ – ‘At a time when he was fighting bravely for his country’s cause’.

In this same parish was born Michael O’Brien, one of the Manchester Martyrs, to whose memory, as well as to his compatriots, will shortly be erected, with God’s blessing, a memorial to show future generations that the men who dared to suffer and to die for the fatherland were not forgotten. Neither is the name of O’Donovan Rossa forgotten – a name that has been as a talisman in true Nationality, and as a household word for thirty years past amongst the peasantry of Munster.

We have not forgotten the indignities which you were subjected and the imprisonment meted out to you, and the enforced exile for thirty years which you were compelled to submit to for the crime of daring to love your country – the crime for which Michael O’Brien expiated his life on the scaffold, with the cry of ‘God Save Ireland’ on his lips, and for which O’Neill Crowley shed his blood on the battlefield, with his face to the foe.

We remember you also as a lover of the grand old tongue of the Gaodhal, as it is on record that more than thirty years ago you caused to be placed over your door in Gaelic characters your name – Diarmaid O’Donn-o-bhain Rossa – and defied the authorities of the day.

We recognize in you from that circumstance a specially true patriot, as any man who loves his country’s language as he does his country cannot be otherwise a true patriot.

All who have died or suffered for the sacred cause of Nationality shall never be forgotten by the Irish people, and their names handed down to future ages; but among them shall no name be more conspicuous that the name of ‘Rossa’.

This address cannot be more appropriately concluded than in the words of the poet, when he says:

Go la deighionach dubhach a saoghal,
Beigh glas-cuimhu’ ag clanna Goadhal

I have been unable to find any sources of local information on the visit of O’Donovan Rossa to Ballymacoda in 1894. The background of the visit may be the source of a future post here, if I can find suitable sources of information. I have been unable to determine the members of the reception committee, or who gave the welcome address, or indeed what O’Donovan Rossa himself said on the day. I am sure that there are some very interesting stories to be told here.

Peter O’Neill Crowley and Michael O’Brien will also be topics for future posts, no history of the locality would be complete without their inclusion.

References and Further Information

Speech at the official opening of the O’Donovan Rossa Memorial Park, President of Ireland, June 11th 2015

Houses of the Oireachtas, Library and Research Service, The United Irishman: New York, week ending July 7, 1894, Page 3

The Coast Watching Service in Ballymacoda

From 1939 to 1945, manned look-out points dotted around the island of Ireland kept watch, noting down and reporting all activity in the sea and the sky around the coastline to Irish military intelligence, known as G2, which had formed secret agreements with the Allied intelligence services to share information.

These Look Out Posts, or LOP’s, were of critical importance due to the neutrality of Ireland. Firstly, Ireland as a neutral country had legal obligations to fulfill as part of the Hague Convention of 1907, which mandated clearly the responsibilities of neutral countries during a war – the principle one being surveillance of its coastal waters, and ensuring that belligerent countries were not using these to their advantage. Secondly, there was the threat and fear of Nazi Germany using Ireland as a stepping-stone to an invasion of Britain. Unternehmen Grün (Operation Green) was the official Nazi Germany plan developed to invade Ireland in support of Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), the planned invasion of the UK mainland, which never transpired after the Luftwaffe’s decisive loss in the aerial engagements known collectively as the ‘Battle of Britain‘. As recently as 2020, a BBC documentary claimed evidence of a German plot to use Ireland as a backdoor for an invasion of the UK. There is of course also much literature suggesting a level of support in some Irish Republican circles for a Nazi invasion of Ireland, but that is another story.

With the threat of war across Europe looking increasingly likely, it was decided in February 1939 to form a coast watching service to monitor Irish coastal waters and meet the required obligations. The first LOP’s started to be put in place by August 1939. These were under the administration of the ‘Marine and Coastwatching Service‘, part of which evolved to become the contemporary Irish Naval Service. These posts were manned around the clock, beginning a six year period of continuous watches around the Irish coast. In all there were 83 LOP’s, and LOP 21 was based at Knockadoon Head in Ballymacoda, between LOP 20 based at Ram Head in Ardmore, and LOP 22 based in Ballycotton.

Look-out Post 21 in the foreground at Knockadoon Head

LOP 21 was staffed by ten men from the locality:

John Slocum (NCO), Davy Connolly (NCO), Michael Cotter, John Cronin, Patrick Cronin, D. Fitzgerald, Thady O’Shea, C. Seward, Richie Shanahan and Mossy Smiddy.

Basic training was given to the coast watchers. One thing that was deemed of critical importance was the post log book. It is evident looking at the log books available from LOP 21 at Knockadoon that this was taken very seriously. The log books from the LOP’s survive and thankfully many have been digitized and made available online by the Irish Military Archives.

As well as recording shift changes and visits from officers, the main purpose of the log book was of course to note down all sightings at sea and in the air within visibility of the post. Each sighting was given a unique serial number (e.g. 64 in the left-most column in the below example). The date and time was noted along with a description of the sighting, and the action that was taken, which was always to report sightings to intelligence officers in Cork. In some entries, as below, the weather conditions were also noted.

Example of the sighting of a trawler in 1940 from the Knockadoon log book

Other elements deemed essential for the coast watchers and included as part of basic training were first aid, signaling techniques, maritime practices and how to identify different ships and aircraft. Initially, most LOP’s didn’t have any communication equipment, and it was not until 1941 that every post was equipped with a telephone. Some accounts show that the men were instructed in their telephone manner, which makes sense when you think about how uncommon the telephone was in homes at that time. According to accounts from LOP 20 in Ardmore, the men were told to be ‘as incisive and distinct‘ as possible when speaking on the telephone.

In 1943, the word ‘Eire‘ and the individual LOP number were painted next to each of the posts in large letters visible from the air. These had a dual purpose – to alert German bombers that they were above Ireland (not the UK), and also to be used for navigation purposes by Allied aircraft. I am not aware of any trace of a marking such as this surviving in Knockadoon, and I am curious as to whether anyone remembers this being present, and where exactly it was located. The Eire Markings project has uncovered at least 30 of these markings across the country that survive, or have been restored, and are still visible today.

Due to the look out posts having to be manned around-the-clock, the men worked in eight hour shifts in teams of two. Here we can see an example of a shift change in 1940 from the log book kept at Knockadoon:

Example of a shift change recorded in the LOP 21 log book

Relationships between LOP 21 at Knockadoon and nearby look out posts were good, and friendships developed between the men. Thady O’Shea from Knockadoon often entertained the men on duty at LOP 20 in Ardmore by playing tunes on the melodeon over the telephone. Willie Whelan from the Ram Head look out post in Ardmore tells the story of arranging to meet Thady on May Sunday in Killeagh, and being at a loss for how to identify him, having never met him in person. Thady told him “the tallest fellow in Tattan’s pub, that will be me“. Willie tells of being able to immediately identify Thady based on that description. John Cronin told the story of often contacting Ardmore to enquire about the cigarette situation, a very rare commodity at that time. While a volunteer in Ardmore spoke jokingly of being able to make out cigarette smoke in Knockadoon through his binoculars, ‘the lads over in Knockadoon are smoking Woodbines today. There must be cigarettes in Ballymacoda.

Outside of the relationships with other LOP’s, I was curious as to what the relationship between the coast watchers and the other branches of the defense forces may have been like. Were these non-career soldiers who answered the call during ‘The Emergency‘ well thought of? I have been able to find little information on this, but a May 1942 article in ‘An Cosantóir’ seems to indicate that these men were held in high regard. This is the magazine of the Irish defense forces, and the article in question, ‘I praise the Coastwatcher‘ was republished in the March 1996 issue:

This, then, is why I praise the unsung Coastwatcher. Because he performs a dull and necessary task with resolution and efficiency. Because with only the immediate supervision of a corporal, he carries out his task as thoroughly as if his Look-Out Post were a large and well-staffed Military Post. Because his tour of duty is frequently performed under conditions which the ordinary sentry cannot even imagine. I praise him because he his unknown; I praise him because he, truly, is our first line of defense.

On the 9th of October 1945, with the war in Europe at an end since May after Hitler’s suicide in Berlin on April 30th, discharges were offered to all Coast Watching Service personnel. Each of the men who served were awarded a service medal known as ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘, or ‘The Emergency Service Medal‘. The men based at LOP 21 in Knockadoon were no exception, and I have the medal which my maternal grandfather (John Cronin) was presented with, pictured below.

Front of ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘ Medal

Back of ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘ Medal

In more recent years, a memorial was unveiled at LOP 21 at Knockadoon listing the men who served and providing passers-by on the nearby cliff walk with an indication of the historical importance of where they stand.

Commemorative sign, now present at LOP 21 in Knockadoon

I would love to publish more stories about the local coast watchers, if anyone is interested in contributing to such content, please reach out to me via the Contact page.

References and Further Information

The Nazi who planned a UK invasion via the Donegal Gaeltacht

Irish Military Archives: Look Out Posts Log Books Collection

Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History – G2, the coast-watching service and the Battle of the Atlantic

Ardmore Memory and Story – Troubled Times

An Cosantóir, The Defense Forces Magazine, December 1996

Medals of the Irish Defense Forces

The Naval Forces of the Irish State, 1922-1977 – Padhraic Ó Confhaola – PhD Thesis

The Story of Thomas Ahern

This is the story of an emigrant from Ballymacoda, Thomas Ahern, who ended up founding a famous department store chain, which became an institution in Western Australia.

Thomas Ahern was born in Ballymacoda on 23rd December 1884, the son of Patrick Ahern (1849-1910), a native of Ballymacoda, and his wife Mary, née McGrath (1853-1946) from nearby Killeagh.

Thomas had six siblings. Two sisters – Ellen (1886-1897) and Catherine (Katie) (1887-1900), and four brothers – John (1888-1962), Simon (1890-1978), Patrick (1892-1944) and Michael (1894-1957).

Searching the 1901 census records available online when Thomas would have been 17 years old doesn’t yield any results that are a match for him specifically in the Ballymacoda area. The census records do indicate a household in Ballymacoda where his parents names, Patrick and Mary, and his brothers names John, Patrick and Michael match, as do their ages.

1901 Census Record Showing Likely Household of Thomas Ahern in Ballymacoda Village – link

The absence of Thomas here likely means that he was in another household on the day of the census, as a record would be added for each person in the household, family or otherwise, when the census form was being completed. A wider search of the census records for Cork at that time show a few matches for someone that would be Thomas’s age, such as the record below from a house in nearby Midleton, where there is a Thomas Ahern listed as a ‘Servant‘ as was common for workers listed in census forms at the time.

1901 Census Record Showing Thomas Ahern in House in Midleton – link

So, no direct matches for Thomas Ahern in the 1901 census records in the Ballymacoda area that seem to match. But, we do know that Thomas was apprenticed to a draper in Midleton at this time, due to the farm in Ballymacoda not being able to support everyone in the family. Therefore, the above census record for a household in Midleton is very likely referring to the Thomas Ahern whom we are interested in.

Thomas’s father Patrick died in October 1910, before he left for Australia. Records kept at the time, specifically the ‘Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920‘, indicate that Patrick left the sum of ‘£333 18s. 4d.’ and that his wife Mary was sole beneficiary.

Will details of Patrick Ahern, Thomas’s Father from the Calendar of Wills and Administrations

Thomas was employed in Tipperary and later Dublin, and in 1911 was living on Usher’s Quay in the city. In 1910, Patrick had applied for assisted passage to Australia, in place of a colleague who couldn’t make the trip. Thomas arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in February 1911. Records available online, specifically ‘Fremantle, Western Australia, Passenger Lists, 1897-1963‘ indicate that Thomas arrived from Bremen, Germany aboard the vessel ‘Grosser Kurfürst‘ at that time.

Thomas initially worked at Brennan’s drapery in the town of Boulder. He married his fiancée Nora McGrath (coincidentally with the same maiden name as his own mother) in Perth on 19th June 1912, and subsequently started working as a departmental manager for clothing retailer Bon Marche. The 1916 electoral role for the division of Fremantle in the state of Western Australia shows a record for Thomas and Nora, living at Shenton Road in Claremont, with Thomas listed as a draper and Nora’s occupation listed as ‘home duties’:

1916 Electoral Role for Fremantle, Western Australia (image quality impacted by age of document)

In 1918, Thomas became the manager of the Brennan’s store in Perth.

The first Archbishop of Perth, Patrick Clune, himself an Irishman from County Clare, had a hand in advising the family of P. F. Quinlan to invite Thomas Ahern to manage their drapery and furniture store in Perth. Thomas insisted, were he to take on the role, on a controlling partnership and thus was the beginning of Aherns Department Store in Western Australia on 15th May 1922. Later electoral records show Thomas and Nora living at Airlie street in Cottesloe, with Thomas still listed as a draper:

1931 Electoral Role for Fremantle, Western Australia

Aherns Department Store started out with 50 employees and grew to over 500 quickly under the astute management of Thomas, across 5 different stores in Western Australia. Over time, Thomas bought out all the remaining shares in the business and become sole owner of the now thriving business.

Ahern’s Department Store in Perth in 1938

As he grew older, Thomas maintained an active role in his business until his death in Perth on 22nd May 1970. He was survived by three sons and two daughters, with Nora having passed away in 1959. He was buried in Karrakatta cemetery, of which he had previously been a trustee from 1938-1942.

Ahern’s in Perth in the 1980s

Ahern’s department store chain continued as a functioning business until 1999, a time when it employed 1,500 people, when it was sold to rival department store David Jones for $29 million, an amazing end to the legacy of a man that had been born on a farm in a small village in the south of Ireland. I have found no evidence that Thomas ever returned to his native Ballymacoda, that would certainly be interesting to know. There are multiple travel records that indicate he left Australia many times to travel to the UK, so there is certainly a likelihood that he returned to Ballymacoda during his lifetime.

Portrait of Thomas Ahern

A further history of Thomas Ahern and the department store chain he founded is captured in the book ‘Ballymacoda to Binduli: the story of Aherns W.A‘ by William Mahoney (a descendant of Thomas Ahern), published in Australia in 1997.

Ballymacoda to Binduli

In 2013, Thomas Ahern was named one of the 100 most influential Western Australian businesspeople.

References & More Information

Note: Links provided where available.

National Archives: Census of Ireland

Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920

Western Australia – Shipping and Passenger Records

Fremantle, Western Australia, Passenger Lists, 1897-1963

Fremantle, Western Australia, Electoral Role, 1916, 1931

Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, Government of Western Australia, Bio of Thomas Ahern

Thomas Ahern on Wikipedia

Google Books: Ballymacoda to Binduli: The Story of Aherns W.A.

The West Australian, 100 Most Influential Business Leaders, 1829-2013