Our Durnan family story: Northern Ireland Counties

    The story of our Durnan family starts in northern Ireland, around County Armagh, but in more recent times, evidence points us towards County Fermanagh, especially to the south and west of Enniskillen. When looking through old records, we find that our Durnans had their name spelled three different ways. The most common was Durnian. Second most common was Durnan. The third way was Durnin, but this spelling was more common around County Louth. I have been unable to make the jump to our family back in Ireland, but I know there are some people out there who have made the connection back to Ireland, and it's my hope that we can connect to those folks and finally learn more about the "pre-America" days of our family.

     Grandpa Leo and his brother Joe both wrote down that Stephen Durnan came to America in 1852 and arrived in Boston. He sailed for forty days. After arriving in the United States, he worked in and around the steel mills in Pennsylvania. Tiring of this, he went south and worked in the rice fields. The Civil War broke out and he worked his way north, finally arriving in Illinois where he worked a farm. By my account, he worked a farm in Kendall County, Illinois, near Oswego. This isn't very far from Kane County, and Aurora, Illinois.

     I was told by a gentleman at the Aurora Historical Society, that starting around 1860, the different ethnic groups started building their own Catholic churches. St. Mary's Catholic Church in Aurora was the church that the Irish built and attended. It's not unconceivable to think that Stephen would travel a longer distance to attend a church that his own people belonged to. In later years, he traveled quite a distance to attend church in Fairbank, a church that was famously Irish at the time. St. Mary's Catholic Church - Aurora, Illinois (Photo courtesy Rebecca Wheeler)

     On May 25th, 1865, Stephen Durnan married Bridget McGuire at St. Mary's Catholic Church at Aurora, Illinois. They worked a farm near Oswego for awhile. At some point in 1869, Stephen purchased some land in Dayton Township, Bremer County, Iowa. Bridget is counted in the 1870 census as living at her parental home. We know from Thomas Durnan's obituary, that Stephen moved the family to Iowa in the years 1869 and 1870. In those years between 1870 and 1888, the year Stephen died, we know he improved his farm, and expanded the acreage that he owned. He would come to own about 90 acres in Franklin Township and expanded his Dayton Township farm to include 120 acres more or less. The Wapsipinicon River ran about a mile west of his farm. He owned some wood lots near the river. By the time of his death, he owned a decent sized lot of timber closer to his home, half way between his farm and the river.

     We know that Stephen built his barn and many of the old buildings on the farm. I had heard that Stephen died of a hernia when lifting a beam to build a barn. His obituary says that he was enclosing a home that he had just built. The old plat maps use a dot to indicate where houses are located. Stephen's early farm included land on both the east and west side of the road that he lived on. Early plat maps have the dot on the west side of the road. His house now resides on the east side. The original Durnan house is obviously no longer standing. The one standing there today is the one he was building. I have not been able to to determine if this is the house that Stephen died in because we do not know from such a small snippet of information, how far along he was in finishing and moving into the new home. We do know from the obituary that Stephen suffered in terrible pain for 12 days before he died. He wrote his last will and testament during this time. One of the signers of Stephen's will was Albert Glattly, neighbor and friend of the Durnan family.

     The place where the Durnans came to live there just east of the Wapsipinicon (Wapsie) River was known as Buck Creek. Buck Creek was the name of the creek that ran along the east side of Stephen's property. A little settlement to the northeast of Stephen's farm also bore the name of Buck Creek. It was founded by Jacob Glattly, a Swiss immigrant and father of Albert. In 1888, the farmers of the area formed a dairy cooperative called the "Little Valley Creamery", which our Durnan family were founding patrons. An 1895 newspaper account lists Mrs. Durnan as patron #46 of the Little Valley Creamery. The Little Valley Creamery made butter and cheese. The creamery ran strong until the 1930's or early 1940's when it closed. I was unable to find an exact date of its closure. It was still standing until the late 1960's, when it was finally demolished.

     Stephen and Bridget were members of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Fairbank, Iowa. At the time of Stephen's death on July 15th, 1888, it was lead by Father Tobin, an Irishman from Boston. He was so well liked that the people of Fairbank, Catholic and otherwise, supposedly erected a statue in his honor. Nobody today seems to know where this statue is, but it is reported in old newspaper accounts. Father Tobin also built the school and many of the buildings there at Fairbank. Father Tobin would pass away himself in 1899. His funeral was big news in the day. Many high ranking Catholics arrived in a special train car to attend his funeral. His body was taken back to Boston where he was buried. Father Tobin was followed by Father Donahue, another Irishman.

     Bridget would eventually retire from farming. Newspaper reports said that she had been in poor health for several years. She called her son Thomas back to run the farm in 1900. She retired to Fairbank and lived on Grove Street. Whether she owned a home there or rented isn't known. She died at home in Fairbank on February 10th, 1903. Both Stephen and Bridget are buried in the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cemetery at Fairbank.