|Sara Dreenan Sproule|
The History of the Dreenans
In 1665 there was a tax collected on hearths in Donegal, called the Hearth Money Rolls. This gives us valuable information on the residents of Donegal at that time. In this, I found a Dreenan, called Andrew O’Dreenan, and at that time he had one hearth in his home in Kinaugh, in Malin Head. Malin Head is the most northerly tip of Ireland and it is a wild, windswept, rocky place. Keenagh, as it was later spelt, is a townland in the centre of the Malin peninsula.
|Malin Head - Lewis’s Topographical Directory of Ireland 1837|
In the next available tax record, the 1827 Tithe Applopment Book, there are now four families of Dreenans in Donegal, all living in Malin Head. Daniel Dreenan is in Ardmalin, in the far northern tip. There are two James Dreenans, one in Keenagh and one in nearby Ballykenny. Owen Dreenan is in also in Keenagh.
When I made this great discovery, it was one of those exciting ‘high five’ moments in the detective work of genealogy. For this Owen Dreenan of Keenagh was my great, great grandfather, and here he was in the same townland as Andrew O’Dreenan of 1665! They were surely of the same family! (But not proven as yet!) Owen Dreenan was born in 1802 in Keenagh, but by the 1857 Griffiths Valuation record, Owen has moved right out to the north west coast of Ardmalin, the very tip of Ireland. Here my great grandfather, also called Owen Dreenan, was born in 1837, on a tiny plot of poor land overlooking the wild, rocky Ineunan Bay. In 1857, there are two other families of Dreenans in Malin Head. Thomas, is in Northtown, Ardmalin and John is in Keenagh. It seems that John was doing best at this time, as he had a house and land in both Keenagh and Umgall. John was born in 1833 and he had married a woman called Ellen McLaughlin in 1869.
During all this time, there are records of Dreenans, both old and young, travelling to America. I found the first record in 1847 at the height of the famine, where a whole family of Dreenans from Ardmalin left from Liverpool for the US. Few stayed to settle on the poor land of Malin.
The Last of the Dreenans
By the 1901 Census there were just two families of Dreenans in Donegal. My great grandfather Owen Dreenan had married Annie McLaughlin in 1875, and in 1901 they were living in a two roomed thatched cottage with their healthy brood of nine children. The other two households had fared less well. Thomas Dreenan had died in 1877, and there is no trace of his family. John Dreenan had died in 1891, and his widow Ellen is living with her two sons in a two room house in Ardmalin.
By the 1911 Census, the widow Ellen Dreenan is living alone in a one roomed building without a window. Even a byre in Ireland has a window, so I can only speculate that poor, lonely Ellen was living in some kind of hen house. Her son John had died in 1906 and I found no record of the other son.
The last family of Dreenans living in Donegal was that of my great grandfather, Owen Dreenan. Only one family left to pass on the name, only one family to remember the old ones. Indeed, if we look at the whole of Ireland in the 1911 Census, there is only one other family of Dreenans and they were in County Derry.
The Dreenans Today
When I began the hunt for my family, my focus was on the past generations. I had no interest in finding distant cousins living here or abroad. But the Dreenans were different. I tried to find anyone with that name living in Ireland today. Sadly, I found none. Despite all my efforts, I could find not one Dreenan living here. The ancient name is gone. There were very few families of Dreenans, and the rocky shores of Malin Head could not sustain them. Some died here, and America has taken others.
There are Dreenans in America today, not many, but they are there. If any of these American Dreenans would like to get in touch some day, you will be very welcome, my long lost cousins.