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When the MacHales descend on Swinford

County View

County View
John Healy

At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that there couldn’t be much connection between the families of Brabazon and MacHale. But you would be wrong. Which explains why, for a full week next July, the MacHale clan will take over Swinford and lay claim to what most of us would consider to be the home bailiwick of the Brabazons.
And it also explains why Swinford-born Michael Brabazon, now living in retirement in west Cork, is the volunteer programme manager, genealogist, historian, DNA co-ordinator, and organiser of the first-ever reunion of the MacHale clan.
Back to that anon, but where does the intertwining come that, as Michael says, will see Swinford be renamed MacHalesville when that far-flung family hit town in their droves come next July?
The story goes back to 1660 when Captain William Brabazon, Jacobite officer, inherited Swinford from his uncle, Anthony Brabazon of Ballinasloe, who had died in exile in Spain. Captain William, possibly out of deference to his benefactor, changed his name from Bourke, that of his father, to that of his mother, Dorothy Brabazon. Thus did Swinford become a town of the Brabazons, rather than the Bourkes, which it would have been under today’s conventional mores. The Bourke in question was of the lordly McWilliam clan of Lough Mask and of Deel Castle near Crossmolina.
But the intricacies did not begin or end there because in the course of DNA testing, the present Michael Brabazon was to make some new discoveries. A century earlier, it seems, Captain William’s actual paternal ancestor was, in fact, a MacHale, rather than the legendary Bourke of Clanrickard, a not uncommon occurrence in the more liberal climate of the time. Meaning in turn, as Michael Brabazon rather mischievously told me, there are a lot of Bourkes out there who may actually be MacHales, not to mention the certainty that the founders of Swinford were, given this new information, MacHales.
In any event, the MacHale clan reunion will go ahead next July when Shawn McHale of Philadelphia, but a proud son of Belderrig, will be formally elected as Taoiseach of the Clan. His elevation will be followed by a busy programme of events ranging from a talk by historian Bernard O’Hara to a bus tour of ancestral MacHale sites at Turlough, Lahardane and Ballycastle to a much anticipated talk by Professor Des MacHale of UCC on Archbishop John MacHale, the Lion of the West.
The clan’s gala banquet will be preceded by a lengthy discussion on the way forward for the clan, with particular attention to the DNA project which itself yielded the connection, 800 years ago, between the MacHales and the Brabazons.
Brabazon is of course a well known name not only in Swinford but in Ballinasloe and parts of Meath, before the move to East Mayo. There was a Dr Brabazon who practised in Castlebar in the early 1900s and who resided in the house on the Green, the former home of opera star Margaret Bourke Sheridan. Dr Brabazon was the grandfather of one time cycling great, Mickie Palmer of Westport, who competed with distinction at national and international level.
Meanwhile, Michael Brabazon remains on the lookout for a blackboard the size of a small ball alley to construct the family tree for the benefit of the visiting clan members. But he does admit that it may require considerable tact and diplomacy to explain to visiting Brabazons that they are in fact Bourkes, and to visiting Bourkes that they are in fact, MacHales.