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Dennis Mullin and a Story of Family Migration

Tracing Irish ancestry can be difficult, as there are many factors that complicate the task. The Catholic Church should have been the primary repository of baptismal, marriage, and death records, as this has been the practice in predominantly Catholic countries for ages. However because of persecution by the British Parliament, prior to passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the Church was proscribed from compiling records. According to Fr. Miceol Galvin, Parish Priest for Ballybunion Parish, County Kerry , Ireland (1994), "Our records go back to 1831. . . .[B]ecause of the penal laws, it was almost impossible to keep records" (p. 4). Additionally, civil records were not kept in Ireland until 1864 (Mullin, J., 1995, 1).

This investigation begins with Dennis Mullin, patriarch of the Mullin family. Dennis (1) was born before 1800 in County Kerry Ireland. He married Margaret (1) Carroll who was probably born around 1800. Dennis and Margaret were married in 1825 and started a family in 1826. The Mullin Family resided in County Kerry , Ireland , and lived in the vicinity of Ballybunion on the southern shore of the Shannon Estuary by the Atlantic Ocean , one of the farthest western locals in Ireland . And, noting the Mullin Family's Western Irish origin is essential to understanding their pattern of migration. Dennis and Margaret had eight children of which Dennis (2), Patrick, and Ellen were the first three.

Eighteen-forty can be established as the earliest date that Dennis Mullin (1) died, as their last daughter, Margaret (2) was baptized in 1840. Having lost her husband, Margaret (1) (Carroll) Mullin, about age forty, was known as the "Widow Mullin." Family oral history states that Maurice Daughton (b. 1812), a twenty-eight year-old bachelor, was approached by the proverbial Irish match-maker about marrying the "Widow Mullin" who owned a farm and had eight children. Margaret (1) declined; however, she offered her fourteen-year-old daughter, Ellen (b. 1826), instead. Maurice married Ellen in 1841 in County Kerry , Ireland ; but, the storm clouds of change were just over the horizon.

In 1845, famine hit southeastern Ireland , spreading throughout the country in subsequent waves in 1846 and 1848, and 1.5 million Irish died from a combination of famine and disease including many members of the Mullin family. Even more important is the fact that an additional 1.5 million Irish emigrated, mostly to America (Daniels, 1991, 133-134). And, it is these Famine Irish migrants who are the focus of this investigation.

Ireland 's history of centuries of absentee English landlords and their ever increasing rack rents had reduced the Irish to dependence on potatoes for their dietary staple, as other commodities were sold for cash to pay rents. A moderate population increase combined with the introduction of the blight, a biological fungus that destroyed the potato crop, combined to make the deadly ingredients for widespread, manmade starvation.

Even though famine originated in southeastern Ireland , the subsequent waves of 1846 and 1848 eventually hit the western fringe of Ireland . As the blight spread throughout the island, survivors of the original famine were forced to eat the potatoes that would have been used as seed, creating recurrences of famine. The famine technically ended only when the Irish population dropped low enough through starvation, disease, and coerced migration to the point where food supplies were finally adequate to feed the survivors.

Conjecture leads us to believe that with the onset of the famine in farthest western Ireland, Maurice Daughton gathered up his wife Ellen (then age 23), her brothers Dennis and Patrick, and his mother-in-law Margaret (1) (Carroll) Mullin and fled Ireland in 1849, migrating together as a group to New Orleans, Louisiana. This begins the tradition of migrating as an extended family that will continue in the Mullin family. The fates of the remaining Dennis Mullin (1) children are not known. As the youngest, Margaret (2) (b. 1840), would have been only eight years-old, it is inconceivable that Margaret (1) would have abandoned her children. However, it is reasonable to assume that the younger four previously surviving children died in the famine. What we do know about the survivors is that after arriving in New Orleans , the Maurice Daughton family, including Dennis and Patrick Mullin, traveled up the Mississippi River by steamboat and settled in Ohio in 1850.

The best records of the Mullin family begin with Bartholomew Houlihan (b. 1789) and his wife, Mary Galvin (b. 1803), of County Kerry , Ireland . Bart and Mary had only one child, Margaret Houlihan (b. 1832 in County Kerry , Ireland ). Nothing concrete is known of the Houlihan Family's migration; however, Dennis Mullin (2) and Margaret (3) Houlihan are first mentioned together as sponsors for a baptism in Ireland . (Sponsorship of a baptism is one of many steps that betrothed couples might take during preparation for marriage.) Were they engaged before they left Ireland ? We do not know; however, it is reasonable to conjecture that Dennis (2) and Margaret (3) followed the same migration stream to Ohio . After Dennis and Margaret's marriage in 1850 in Ohio , Dennis (2) followed the tradition of keeping the extended family together, bringing the Houlihan family along with his wife and children to Iowa in 1858.

While in Ohio , Dennis Mullin (2) became a naturalized American citizen in Fairfield County , in 1856. Also, Patrick Mullin met and married Margaret Catherine Hoffhines in Circleville , Ohio , in 1861.

The Dennis Mullin family history in Iowa has been recorded in A History of the Catholic Church in Decatur County (1956). Dennis, his brother Patrick, and Maurice Daughton jointly purchased land in Decatur County Iowa in 1858, but Patrick did not migrate to Iowa from Ohio until 1866. Dennis Mullin transported his family by covered wagon from Ohio , living in the wagon until a log cabin could be constructed. The journey might have more arduous than necessary, as oral history states that the family owned one ox and one mule instead of a traditional team of oxen. Imagine such a humorous team passing by on the trail. How well would have the ox and the mule functioned as a team?

Fr. Edward Harkin (1956), our historian of Decatur County , describes the Iowa countryside saying,  "The ground was covered with tall native grass, trees, and brush. Wild honey, wild apples, berries and plums were plentiful with which to make sweets and relishes. Wild turkeys and other game were in abundance for meat" (p. 8). Whether or not these migrants came to America out of desperation due to famine, what they found has been referred to as the American Dream. Father Harkin also states, "The air was clean, and independence was enjoyed as never before. Hope of great accomplishments was seen on the horizon one hundred years ago" (p. 8).

Also, Fr. Harkin chronicles the first Catholic families in Woodland Township , Decatur County . The Dennis Mullin, Maurice Daughton, and Bartholomew Houlihan families are listed as three of the first eleven founding families of the local Catholic church (p. 9). An epitaph for Maurice Daughton should have mentioned his being a devoted family man and son-in-law. Of note, Maurice continued to provide for Margaret (1) Mullin for the rest of her days, and she is buried in Woodland Township , Decatur County , Iowa .

In 1876 Dennis and Patrick Mullin purchased land and moved to the vicinity of Maloy, settling in Taylor County, Iowa, formerly Shay's Settlement. And as was the family tradition, Bart and Mary (Galvin) Houlihan came with them. Bart was known for riding his horse back to Woodland Township in Decatur County to visit old Irish families. Mary was the local mid-wife to everyone, Catholic and Protestant alike, in the settlement around "Little Ireland." Dennis Mullin built a one-room house adjacent to his own home for the Houlihans where they lived out their lives. Dennis and Margaret (Houlihan) Mullin had twelve children of which Edward Dennis Mullin was the fourth boy out of the first six. Additionally, Patrick Mullin continued to live in close vicinity to his brother, Dennis Mullin, and died in Taylor County , having fathered fifteen children.

At this point we have the opportunity to examine one Irish family that survived the Great Famine. Michael Maloney (b. 1818) and Mary (Mulick) Maloney (b. 1837), migrated from Mountrath, County Laois , a very fertile agricultural region in south-central Ireland , in about 1855. As Michael and Mary and their first six children survived the famine, we can conjecture that the promise of a better life pulled them to America . Probably immigrating through Castle Garden , New York , their first recorded residence in America was Indiana where another child was born. By 1860, they moved to Illinois where their daughter Ellen was born. And by 1870, the family moved to Crawford County , Iowa .

Ellen "Nell" Maloney (b. 1863 in Crawford , Illinois ) was one of twelve children born to Michael and Mary (Mulick) Maloney. Because her father died about the time Ellen was sixteen c. 1880, Ellen grew up in her uncle, William Maloney's, home in Ringgold County , Iowa , and was listed by the 1880 Census as "niece/servant."

Edward Dennis Mullin (b. 1860 in Decatur County , Iowa ) was one of twelve children born to Dennis and Margaret (Houlihan) Mullin. Of note, the first four children died in infancy, and another two died before reaching maturity. Edward Dennis married Ellen "Nell" Maloney in Ringgold County , Iowa , in 1886. Edward Dennis and Ellen had six children, worked a farm, and lived and died in Maloy , Iowa . This chronicles the history of the Mullin-Maloney families up until the time of Dennis Edward Mullin (b. 1887 in Decatur County , Iowa ) who was well known by many persons living today.