It’s All Malarkey

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Member Camille Giglio agreed to share her family story in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Over the last fifteen years, three lines of my ancestry have been validated, but the origin of one of my maternal great-great-grandfathers is as hard to pin down as the origin of his name. Michael Malarkey, where do you come from?

I started researching my father’s family upon discovery of a packet of letters that he had stored away in an old teakwood box. My maternal second cousin, Brian White, began his odyssey thirty years ago looking for his paternal and maternal sides. Our paths hit the same brick wall when it came to finding the Malarkey family. The search has been made more difficult due to the wide variety of spellings of the name.

My primary source of information about my maternal ancestry has come from one aunt, soon to be 100 years old. She provided me with a list of last names and the possibility that they came to America and settled in New York and Boston. The San Francisco Mission District Irish always had a distinctive Bostonian flavor to their speech.

My cousin and I started at different times and places with the one certain fact that Josephine Lucille Gallagher Byrne (my grandmother and his great-grandmother) was born in San Francisco on July 15, 1873, to James and Susan Malarkey Gallagher.

Susan Malarkey (McLarkey?) is first located in the 1860 Federal Census for Massachusetts, in Boston, with her age as 18 and her occupation listed as shoe binder and indicating that she was born in Boston. She was living with her parents, Michael and Maragus (Margaret), as well as her younger siblings: Annie and Michael, Jr. Her older brother, Frank, was living out of the home by that point in time.

No civil or church record can be found in the greater Boston area for her birth or marriage. Boston City directories show listings for Michael Malarkey in the South Boston neighborhood as well as listings for James Gallagher. Susan and James seem to be gone from the Boston area sometime between 1859 and 1864.

It has been suggested by a researcher at the New England Historical Genealogical Society that, since Moville was a port of departure for freighters, Michael and Margaret nee McGuinness sailed to the new world landing first in Nova Scotia coming later to Boston by overland route. This would explain the lack of records for Susan in Boston.

I am traveling to Nova Scotia later this year.

Continuing backward in time I began looking in Ireland for Michael Malarkey. The name Malarkey is not common and, especially the name Michael Malarkey is rare. Therefore I felt certain that I had found my Michael in the Griffith’s valuation records for the period 1846-64.

Michael is living on a tiny plot of land, more like a mud floor, thatched roof hut, outside of Moville, Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal in the townland of Drumaweer, for an unknown duration. But that’s all we know about him until he and a wife show up in the 1860 Boston census. Boston death records for Margaret list her maiden name as McGuinness and her father as John McGuinness.

In September, 2009, my brother, my husband and I took a trip to the Inishown Peninsula which is across the Lough Foyle from County Derry, Northern Ireland. We visited the plot of land on which the hut still stands albeit somewhat enlarged. We spoke with the owners of the land, the Carey Brothers, two elderly, single, smiling and rosy cheeked barley farmers. They still live on the land in a two room hut with worn out linoleum covering mud floors, possibly very like the one Michael lived in lo those many years ago.

The Irish, being always anxious to be helpful, directed us to a local author in a neighboring hamlet. There we where entertained for over an hour with stories of “the troubles,” of the famine and the 19th century English landlords of Northern Ireland. Apparently many descendants of those families driven from their homes on a snowy Christmas eve still live in the area. Those hardships are as alive today in northern County Donegal as though they had happened only last year.

From there we were directed to a member of the McGuinness family itself back in Moville. John McGuinness invited us in, talked about his ancestry, but could not give us any insight into our Michael and Margaret.

We may never be able to pin down the Malarkey ancestry but my cousin may be close to uncovering some of the mystery. He has made contact with a member of the Charles Gallagher family. James and Charles were brothers.

James Gallagher appears in the 1867 Great Register in San Francisco. According to the register, he was 27 years old, worked as a Laborer, lived in Ward 7, and was naturalized on September 5, 1859 in San Francisco U.S. District Court.

According to separate obituary notices both Charles and James died on the same day presumably in San Francisco, on April 12, 1878. A San Francisco newspaper obituary notice for 1878, provided by Brian White, reads as follows: “GALLAGHER – In this city, April 12, James GALLAGHER, a native of Ireland, aged 40 years. Boston papers please copy).

James was originally buried in Calvary Cemetery in San Francisco, but when the City closed all cemeteries in 1904, his remains were moved to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. Susan is also buried in Holy Cross cemetery but with her second husband, Thomas Barden.

To date even though we have obituary notices of James and his older brother Charles’ funeral services, no information has surfaced as to why or where they died.

Apparently Gallagher family second or third cousins have resided in the general San Francisco Bay Area all these years for several generations.

Bill von Esmarch, great-great-grandson of Charles Gallagher, has supplied a photo of the three daughters of Charles Gallagher who would have been nieces of James Gallagher and cousins of my grandmother, Josephine Gallagher Byrne.

Mary, Margaret, and Hannah Gallagher of Palmyra, New York

Bill, Brian and I agree that if we could find the parents of James and Charles, we might be able to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the Malarkey/Gallagher ancestry.

Information for this article was supplied by Camille Giglio, Brian White and Bill von Esmarch.

For more great Irish stories be sure to stop by the Third Annual St. Patrick’s Day Blog Parade. It’s also known as the 18th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture, hosted by Lisa at Small Leaved Shamrock. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!



  1. Lisa / Smallest Leaf  March 18, 2010

    Love the Malarkey surname!

    Thanks, Kathryn, for mentioning our online St. Pat's Day parade. Here's to Irish heritage! (No matter how small a percentage.)

    100 Years in America
    Small-leaved Shamrock
    A light that shines again
    Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

  2. Anonymous  March 18, 2010

    Thank you, Kathryn, you Irish lass..

    On a general note: concerning the new blog Style, has the font color been lightened, or am I just going blind…? 😉 I find it more difficult to read, and I think it's because there is less contrast between font and background. Anyone else?
    Thanks, Lorna W.

  3. Charley "Apple" Grabowski  March 19, 2010

    I enjoyed reading this and wish Camille luck in her search. I love that her research started with family letters! With the story playing out in Ireland, the east coast and then the west coast I was pleasantly surprised to see that the picture of the Gallagher sisters was from CNY!

  4. Anonymous  March 19, 2010

    Correction: The included photo is of the 3 DAUGHTERS of Charles Gallagher, NIECES of James Gallagher, and FIRST COUSINS of Josephine Gallagher Byrne.

    Brian White

  5. Kathryn Doyle  March 19, 2010

    Lisa and Apple, thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate visits from my fellow genea-bloggers.

    Brian, thanks for the additional information on the Gallagher sisters.

    Lorna, there is a difference in the font color for quoted text – which is the entire article, in this case. I'll see if I can't darken it a little.

  6. Anonymous  May 16, 2010

    interesting.. my last name is malarkey..My family settled in western pa. My granfather's name was micheal malakey!

  7. Anonymous  July 26, 2010

    My grandmother was Ida Gallagher and married Augustus White. One of their children was named Mary and she married an Ed Malarkey. Interesting that those three surnames connect in my family also.