The Caseys/The Sheehans

Irish Immigrants

Henry Joseph Casey, a wiry and slender Irish laborer, had long dreamed of being his own boss. However, in his part of Ireland, he was destined to forever be a laborer—if he was lucky and work was available! Undaunted, Casey headed to the United States during the mass Irish migrations of the late 19th century to begin to realize his dreams.

While he did become an entrepreneur, Henry Casey’s timing and luck was anything but providential. It would be his son who would catapult similar business dreams into one of the corporate success stories of the 20th century. James E. Casey, son of that Irish immigrant, became the founder of United Parcel Service (UPS).   

Henry was trapped in Ireland and he knew he would never own a business there. As a youth he had seen older men depart the parched, hard land where he lived to seek opportunities elsewhere, which seemed greater the farther one traveled from his home. In Dublin. In England. Even in America.

Not knowing what might lie ahead, when he was old enough he made the move, and decided to go all the way to America. Setting off to seek a new life in a strange new country, Henry J. Casey had to leave the small Irish town of Clifden in far-off County Galway where he grew up, where his father James and mother Margaret settled and raised their family.   

County Galway

County Galway in Connaught province on central Ireland’s west coast is a hardy land perhaps best known for a large bay of the same name. The Galway Bay is romanticized by a lovely Irish ballad, probably sung more on the American side of the Atlantic on “St. Paddy’s Day” than it is in the mother country.

It’s the ancestral home of many Irish-American families. Many Concannons, Dolans, McNamaras, Conneelys and O’Keefes can trace their roots to Galway. The O’Kellys and O’Flahertys were prominent Galway families way back in the 16th century.

The county’s largest town, the city of Galway itself, sits at the head of Galway Bay.

The Connemara peninsula is a rocky region, dotted with small lakes and tarns, and juts out into the Atlantic, cut off from the rest of county Galway by Galway Bay, two large lakes (Lough Corrib and Lough Mask), and the Maumturk Mountains which form the border to county Mayo.

The Connemara region was one of the last areas of Ireland to be settled and planted, and today much of it remains an enclave of Gaelic culture. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the Irish poet, writer, and dramatist, once called the remote, mountainous heath-covered landscape of Connemara a “savage beauty.”

In the early 1800s, Connemara was described by Clifden town founder John D’Arcy as being “inhabited by a rare breed of people, wild like the mountains, whose principal occupation was smuggling.” D’Arcy added, “About this time I undertook the difficult task of improving the land and civilizing the people, for which purpose I commenced building the town of Clifden.”  

John D’Arcy had inherited lands once belonging to the Irish clan O’Flaherty of Bunowen Castle. In 1812, most of Connemara was inhabited by peasants, periodically suffering from hunger because of poor potato crops caused by poor quality soil. D’Arcy wanted to build a seaport and town to improve the condition of his tenants, the peasants.   

He first built Clifden Castle and had slowly started laying out and erecting the town of Clifden on the lonely end of the peninsula at Mannin Bay. A potato crop failure in 1821 and 1822 hastened the town’s construction by providing work for the people. A pier was built, roads were extended into the Connemara wilderness, a town was laid out, and leased building plots were offered to the people to improve their lives.

The new village and market of Clifden attracted merchants, tradesmen, goods and merchandise from throughout the Kingdom.

By the 1830s, however, much road work was still not completed. The roads to Clifden were impassable for a wheeled carriage to travel during the winter months, and they had deteriorated so much that land communication between Clifden and the rest of Ireland was virtually cut off. Mr. D’Arcy appealed to the Grand Jury of Galway and money was finally allocated to build and upkeep roads to Clifden.   

By the late 1830s, while the town itself prospered, many farmers outside of town were mostly unemployed except for potato harvest time. Some traded periodic labor for goods and services. Some Irishmen, however, did find work on the road, a new more northern route from Galway-Clifden that was laid down in the early 1840s. It would be 1895 before a railroad was extended to Clifden.

James Casey and Margaret Conneely

While the Casey, MacCasey and O’Casey clans were first found in county Cork, where they held a family seat from ancient times, numerous families named Casey had settled in neighboring Tipperary (between Cork and Galway).

One of those Caseys, an adventurous young man named James Casey, left Tipperary in 1840 and went to Clifden to work on building the road. He was the first Casey in Clifden and patriarch of the family there. Verifying his existence in Clifden, according to international records “Index to Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland 1848-1864” there was a James Casey living in Omey Parish (Clifden area), Galway at that time.

He actually settled in Streamstown, about two miles north of Clifden. Streamstown was a small seaport on a bay of the same name, and had about 1,000 cultivated acres well sheltered by hills from prevailing winds. In 1845 James Casey was able to obtain a lease on a country property there. Even though Casey’s son went to America and his grandson founded what would become UPS, that property is still owned by members of the American Casey family--over 160 years later.

Even today the Casey name, mostly relatives of that original settler, is prominent in Clifden. Two cousins of Paul Casey—a nephew of UPS founder James E. Casey and the senior surviving member of the American Casey family—still live in Clifden. One is Noreen Casey, a woman who owns the local pharmacy. The other cousin is also named James Casey.

Other prominent Caseys in Clifden include Eugene Casey, the contact for the Mannin Bay Salmon Company, Ltd., and a Dr. John Casey who practices medicine in Clifden. Dr. Casey enjoys salmon fishing in the lakes in his spare time. In 2003 Pat Casey, a Senior Bank Official at the Bank of Ireland’s Clifden branch, was elected President of the Clifden Chamber of Commerce.

An 1855 Valuation of Tenements of Omey Parish (Town of Clifden) lists numerous Connollys, Molloys, Fahertys, Conroys, Mullens, and Joyces (Indeed, Connemara is poet James Joyce’s birthplace). There were also several families named Conneely: There was a John Conneely, James Conneely, Gregory Conneely, Thomas Conneely, Mary Conneely, and Martin Conneely, all whose names show up on tax rolls as either lessors or lessees.

It was young Margaret Conneely, a comely lass of this Clifden clan of Conneelys, who attracted the eye of the hard working James Casey. James and Margaret were married in Clifden the following year and among other children, had a son, Henry Joseph Casey, born May 20, 1851.

Henry Joseph Casey

By the 1850s, Ireland was in dire straights. So much of the country was dependent upon the ubiquitous potato crop, that the Great Potato Famine (1845-1851) was responsible for approximately one million lives.

Peasants in the Clifden area were hard hit. As the dead were sometimes buried in mass family graves, and often without church services, there are no records as to how many died of starvation and fever. 

The famine precipitated a mass exodus of Irish families, some emigrating to England and other places, but most headed for the United States. The famine began a steady population decline in Ireland not reversed until the 1960s. County Galway lost approximately 30 percent of its population in the decade from 1841-1851.

Among those who emigrated in the 1800s from Clifden, in county Galway, to the United States was young Henry Joseph Casey who had grown up in the Clifden/Streamstown area.

It’s not known exactly when Henry Casey arrived in America. He was way too young to have been one of the six Irish laborers named Henry Casey between the ages of 18 and 30 who arrived in the United States in steerage class between 1849 and 1864. However, between 1869 and 1883 there were another four 19- to 25-year-old Henry Caseys arriving in America via New York City to seek a better life. One of those men was named Henry Joseph Casey and he would later father four children, including UPS founder James E. Casey.

Some Irish immigrants went to Canada, many stayed in New York, others went to Massachusetts, and others scattered to wherever the winds of fortune led them in their new land of promise. Henry Joseph Casey made his way to the Midwest city of Chicago.   

There are distant relatives currently living in the Chicago area, so Casey family members conclude that perhaps some members of the Casey clan were already there by the early 1880s and that is the reason Henry showed up there.     

The Sheehans from Cork

As Irish families in America tended to stick together in those early years, it stands to reason that many of their offspring met and married. Casey met the Sheehan family.

John S. Sheehan, a native of Cork, Ireland (a county on the extreme south of Ireland), emigrated to the United States in the 1840s settling in Massachusetts, a state that welcomed many thousands of Irish settlers.

 When the U.S. Civil War broke out, John Sheehan donned the military uniform of his adopted country, and enlisted in Company A, First Regiment, New Jersey Light Artillery, commanded by a Captain A.N. Parsons. Sheehan served with distinction during the war and participated in numerous bloody skirmishes, including the battle of Gettysburg. He was a member of the G.A.R. and was a prominent citizen until his death in Douglas County, Washington on the 4th of July, 1894.   

The dashing John S. Sheehan did not have to look very far to find an Irish lass in Massachusetts. He was smitten by Mary Browne, daughter of another family to leave Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. Young Mary Browne was born in Kilmalloch, County Limerick (south of Galway), and her parents had also settled in the Massachusetts area.

John S. Sheehan and Mary Browne married and they had their family of five children in Charleston, Massachusetts before moving west. The three Sheehan girls were born first. Augusta Bridget (later Mrs. Augusta Geary of Redwood City, California) was born January 13, 1856, Mary Ellen (later Mrs. George Usher of Hilyard, Washington) was born November 1, 1861, and Annie Elizabeth (later Mrs. Henry J. Casey of Seattle) was born in Charlestown on March 21, 1867. Thomas F. Sheehan was born on August 26, 1869; and William E.. was born on August 29, 1871. (Three additional children did not survive.)

The Sheehan family relocated from Massachusetts first to Chicago, and then in 1878 the family moved to Mono County, California where the mining town of Bodie, near the Nevada border, was in its heyday.

Gold was discovered at Bodie and the first non-stop passenger stagecoach made a trip from Carson City to Bodie on December 1, 1878, commencing the boom that resulted in 10,000-12,000 residents by 1879.

In 1878 alone, stage service was offered three times a day from Bridgeport to Bodie and the first daily mail service to Bodie began. That year both the Mono County Bank and the Bank of Bodie were organized. The Bodie Mining Company made a rich strike on June 1, 1878 and its stock soared from 50 cents a share to $50.00 almost overnight.

In this frenzied atmosphere, the younger Sheehan children were raised and went to school. By 1881, the boomtown’s downward slide had begun. That year the Mono County Bank closed its doors and a local vigilante group lynched one Joseph de Roche for shooting a fellow named Johnny Treator in the back.

In a short time Bodie, the town in the high barren hills, became a true ghost town of the wild west and today is preserved as a California State Park in a state of “arrested decay.”

Departing for greener pastures in 1882, part of the Sheehan family moved back to Chicago, while John and his sons went to Candelaria, Nevada, to work on the famous Northern Belle mine. They remained in Candelaria off and on for the next eight years.  

The Irish immigrant Henry Joseph Casey—the son of James and Margaret (Conneely) Casey—was in Chicago when the Sheehan family returned. Henry met the Sheehan girls and fell in love with the youngest one, Annie Elizabeth.

Annie was a soft beauty, with petite features, small lips, and bright, intelligent eyes. There was concern by some family members that, with an age difference of 16 years, that Henry was too old for her. They finally concluded that as he seemed like such a nice man, that she should go ahead and marry him. She was a good match for the older Henry, him a dreamer and she more pragmatic. They were married on February 22, 1887, when Henry was almost 36 years old, and his bride, almost 20.

Annie and her new husband had talked about Candelaria, that Nevada mining town where her father was. After discussing the matter, they decided to relocate there. Henry felt that perhaps there he at least would be able to work for himself, do some mining, and maybe even earn enough money to start a business, and be his own boss. So sometime right after the wedding, Henry and Annie headed out west to the booming town of Candelaria.

Henry and Annie were about to embark on an adventure in which they would seek to raise a family in a bleak and difficult atmosphere. Henry would later compare it to the desolate, hardscrabble land he had left behind in County Galway. The big difference was that Nevada represented opportunity.   

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