Sarah McCloskey and the McCloskey/Duffy Family of Ballynascreen

In 1925, sixty-nine year old Sarah McCloskey Dowd had been living comfortably in Orange, New Jersey with her daughter Marie Young and son-in-law Al for the past several years. Sarah and her daughter Marie had always been very close. Just like Sarah, Marie Young had borne eight children and lost three. Just like Sarah, Marie was a devout Catholic. In fact, loving descriptions of Aunt Marie by her children, nieces and nephews border on sainthood. And just like Sarah, Marie was bright and industrious, especially around her home. Like her brothers, Marie had outside help to run her household. However, she especially enjoyed cooking and insisted on doing this herself. Sarah would help, sitting in the kitchen splitting peas as Marie made other preparations.

Most memories of Grandma Dowd come from this period. Not exactly a sweet, doting grandmother, Sarah still had the staunch air of business about her. Pictures of her show a very handsome woman, refined, seldom smiling, beautifully attired, reaping the well-deserved rewards of her years toil building the family business. The McCloskeys were proper people and Sarah insisted on propriety especially with her grandchildren. She scolded Charlie for letting his daughters wear ankle socks rather than stockings. She would lift the girls' skirts to check that they wore bloomers instead of just short pants. Of course, she was a loving and devoted mother and grandmother and must have been very proud of her children and grandchildren. There in Marie's house, Sarah was especially close to Marie's baby Peg.

In Ireland, Sarah's own grandfather Peter Duffy had been a relatively prosperous, influential man in Ballynascreen parish, County Londonderry. He raised his four daughters and four sons in comparative wealth. Duffy tombstones in the parish cemetery are large and prominent, indicating the family was well-off. Unlike most of his neighbors, Peter was prosperous enough to employ servants, four being recorded in his household in the 1831 Irish census. Peter's daughter Mary Duffy, would have married well just like her sisters.

Although little is known of Mary's husband Charles, to marry a daughter of Peter Duffy indicates that Charles McCloskey came from a well-to-do Catholic family himself. Charles was probably born and raised in Ballynascreen parish although the ancestral home of the McCloskeys is in neighboring Dungiven parish. The name is most prevalent there, with hundreds of McCloskey families listed in tax and census records in the early 1800s. Some branches of the family had spread into Ballynascreen parish as well with twenty-four McCloskey families recorded there in the 1831 census. Charles McCloskey, who was probably a teenager in 1831, could have come from any of these Ballynascreen or Dungiven families. The information below on the McCloskey family was taken from various histories of County Derry:

The McCloskey homeland was Benedy Glen, whose praises are sung in a poem translated from Gaelic:

"Of Bennada's glen let me now sing the praise
On each side of which herbs of every kind grow delightfully,
Where even in winter, clusters of berries and yellow nuts are to be found,
Nine score on every tree, delightfully, I sight their branches bending to the ground.
Bennada too is the glen of mirth and gaeity,

The Glen of song and music,
Of cheerful youths who dance to it's (music's) notes,
More melodious than the cuckoos are to it's stately damsels of fair tresses
As in the evenings they milk the cows.
Here in profusion raspberries and strawberries grow,
And the berries of the rowan tree, with other fruit,
Glitter brilliantly on the sides of the glen.
It's pools abound in fish and the youths by candlelight betray them.
Search Ireland around, and where will you find such a glen as Benneda?"


The Rev. Alexander Ross, Anglican Rector of Dungiven, reported to his Bishop Reeves in 1850 specifically about the McCloskeys: "... one side of the Benedy Glen, to the southeast of the River Roe, was almost entirely inhabited by McCloskeys. The most aboriginal race of the clan was to be found in Cluntygeerah, where Gaelic was still used, and the Ossianic poems, handed down by tradition, were found some years before. Mr. Ross claimed that there were two distinct families of McCloskeys in that place, one having red hair and fair complexions, the other black hair and dark complexions. Both prided themselves on the peculiarities.

At the time of the Ordnance Survey [1830s], the McCloskeys formed almost two thirds of the population of the parish of Dungiven. When the O'Kanes and McCloskeys met at fairs and markets, and some drink was taken, the arguments about the relative positions of the two clans began to be advanced. The O'Kanes boasted that their ancestors had ruled the greater part of the country. The McCloskeys boasted of their high origin, superior numbers, unprecedented valour on the field of battle, and of the fact that in the district there was once a regiment of 1000 raised, called the Yellow Stockings, who were almost all McCloskeys These clansmen were not just fireside politicians, but when sufficiently aroused were prepared to take to the pistol or sword.

In 1830 there was a long dispute between the O'Kanes and McCloskeys over a spot of land in Benedy Glen. Finally it was decided by both sides that the dispute should be settled by the sword with honor and credit to both parties. Two champions were chosen as being the best fitted to fight the duel. They were John O'Kane and Bernard McCloskey, both of Cluntygeerah. The time and place of the duel was fixed, and on the appointed day hundreds of men, women and children flocked to the scene. The two duellists arrived on the spot, provided with two of the ancient family swords. However, the Police had got information of the clash and arrived at the spot in time to intervene and put O'Kane and McCloskey under arrest."

The numbers of McCloskeys in the parish of Dungiven were so large that each family in the time of the Ordnance Survey had to be distinguished by some peculiar mark or nickname, such as the color of their hair, size of body, peculiar mark or family connections. These nicknames were in Gaelic, were coupled with the English name and surname, and descended from one generation to another. It would have been impossible for any stranger coming into the district on business to locate a McCloskey unless he knew the bye-name or nickname of the family concerned. Nicknames were used in correspondence, and letters from America could be seen addressed thus:

Patrick 'hamish' McCloskey
Andrew Bryan 'roe' McCloskey
John James 'more' McCloskey
John 'Karthe' McCloskey
John 'Dimond' McCloskey


Rumors abound in the family that Charles McCloskey was a close relative of America's first Catholic Cardinal, Rev. John McCloskey of New York. Rev. McCloskey's father Patrick McCloskey, in fact, was born in Dungiven parish and immigrated to New York City where John was born in May 1810. Coming from the Dungiven McCloskeys it can be reasonably assumed that Patrick and Charles were related, although the exact relationship is not yet known.



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