02 October 2013

Noonans of Kildorrery

In the mid to late 1800s, six siblings named Noonan migrated from Kildorrery, County Cork, Ireland to Australia. One of them was our ancestor, Mary Noonan, later known by her married name, Mary Black (1861-1930). It's not known if the five sisters and one brother travelled together or separately, possibly assisted by family members already arrived. In either case, from 1873 our Noonan siblings started appearing in marriage records in Victoria, Australia, with later documents showing them living in inner-city Melbourne (especially the suburbs of Brunswick and North Melbourne). Aside from Mary, the émigrés to Australia were: James (1844-1924), Bridget (1847-1913), Johanna (1855-1945), Catherine (1857-1905) and Elizabeth Noonan (1865-1896). Three other siblings (Margaret, John and Timothy) appear to have remained behind in Ireland.

A = Kildorrery, County Cork, Ireland

Kildorrery, where the siblings were born, was an inland rural area close to the border between County Cork and County Limerick. Their father, Timothy Noonan, was a tenant farmer in the 'townland' of Oldcastletown, leasing from the Earl of Kingston. He may have been the same Timothy Noonan who in 1853 was leasing property in the townlands of Glasvaunta and Ballyvisteen. All three townlands were close to each other in Kildorrery parish. The siblings' mother, Catherine Maume, was from another Kildorrery family. An earlier record of Noonans in the area is the 1766 Religious Census, which shows a John Noonan and a Denis Noonane, 'papists' - meaning they were of the Catholic religion (1). The spelling variation Nunan was also used in early church records of our family.

Oldcastletown, Kildorrery, 2009

By the early to mid 1800s Kildorrery was a village surrounded by small farms. For most of the Irish population the diet was based on potatoes. Centuries of legalized oppression of the Catholic majority had left a deep mark on the country. Our ancestors may not have been the poorest of the poor but life would have been tough. Timothy Noonan and Catherine Maume married in 1841 and their first known child was baptised in 1844. They were about to be met with a national catastrophe. From the mid 1840s, the potato crops all over Ireland were destroyed by disease. This 'blight' went on devastating the staple food supply for years afterwards, with terrible consequences. It was called the Great Famine.
"During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%..." (2)
Born in 1861, our ancestor Mary lived after the famine, but her family and community had recent experience of it first hand. Mary's parents and her siblings born during the famine survived, but others in the wider family may have not. Certainly Kildorrery was affected. A vast migration out of Ireland began during the famine and continued long after. Mary and her siblings became part of the post-famine exodus.

Kildorrery famine memorial

Mary Noonan married William Black in Melbourne, Australia on 15 April 1882 at St George's Catholic Church, Carlton. The priest who married them was James Hannessy O'Connell, nephew of the Irish national hero, Daniel O'Connell (3). The marriage certificate shows that William was a labourer from County Derry, in Northern Ireland (other records narrow this down to Macosquin, near Coleraine, County Derry). Mary was aged 21 and William was 23. A few year's earlier, Mary's sister, Johanna (Hannah) Noonan, had married William's brother, John Black. The families of the two couples lived nearby to each other in Brunswick for many years.

St George's Church, Carlton (Melbourne), Australia

William and Mary had ten children: William (1882-1916), Laurence (1884-1938), Timothy (1887-1919), Ellen/Nellie (1888-1956), Mary/Minnie (1890-1981), Elizabeth/Bessie (1896-1994), John/Jack Black (1899-1975), and three who died in early childhood (Catherine, Veronica and Dorothea). William's occupation in 1903 was 'ganger' - meaning foreman of a work gang on the railways. He died aged 51 in 1906. The death of her husband left Mary a widow aged 45 with two adult sons, two children nearing adult age and two children under 10. She lived on in the family home at 24 Beith Street, Brunswick for 14 more years. Some of the adult children continued on there until 1981 - the family had lived in the house for at least 85 years when it was sold. Mary and William are buried at Melbourne General Cemetery.

24 Beith Street, Brunswick (Melbourne) in 2009

Family historian, Isabel McKenzie, described a memory from about 1919, when she and her sister stayed overnight at the home of Mary (Noonan) Black, at that time aged about 58:
"I would have been eight years old... out to Brunswick, where we met Mrs Black... Friday was no meat day and so on... but I remember in the morning having the most delicious Irish stew I'd ever tasted in my life... Mrs Black was steeped in Irish history... Protestant versus Catholic stuff... I think it was our first introduction that there was any trouble between the Irish and the English... and also the 'bookie' was calling and getting the bets..." (4)
Isabel's childhood memory of Mary coincides with the Irish War of Independence. County Cork, where Mary was born, was a major centre of the war, which culminated two year's later in the Irish Free State. It was a passionate time for the Irish in Australia too.

Cork City, Ireland, 1922 - Michael Collins addressing crowd

In addition to convictions about Ireland, it's possible that Mary and her siblings were able to speak Gaelic. This appears even more likely with their parents. Gaelic may have been the first language in the family and community when Mary and her siblings were born.

In 1919, Mary's household in Brunswick included her adult children Timothy (a driver), Nellie (cigarette maker), Minnie (shirt examiner), and Bessie (tailoress). Bessie (Elizabeth) Black went on to marry Allan Christie in 1923, giving rise to four further generations of descendants as of 2013.

Our direct ancestral connection with Mary Noonan

View Noonan and Black family tree groups

Read detailed timeline of Mary's life

Download Source Records Part 1 (18mb)

Download Source Records Part 2 (24mb)

With thanks to Janene Barker, Christine Butterfield and Annette Baker for documents and media.


  1. Excellent job Marie. Thorough and with a solid layout. A great read!

  2. I'm not sure who posted the comment, but cheers, great to hear!