James and Mary Meany Coffee
Butler County, Ohio
Contributed by Eddie Cantwell, 2005

Mary Meany was born in Clonea, Dungarvan, County Waterford which is in the South East Coast of Ireland in 1822. She married James Coffey during the great famine. The couple emigrated to the United States in 1848, and settled in Butler County, Cincinnati on the borders of Ohio/Indiana.They had six children. The first-born child Katherine never made it to the New World .The infant was born enroute to the U.S.A. She died and was buried at sea. Julia married Patrick Miles.They had two children that died in infancy. Ellen married John Page.They had nine children in total, two of those died in infancy. Bridget Agnes married John McKone.They had four children. Mary married Wm. Donlin.They had four children. The only male in the family was George, who died in 1878. Bishop Patrick O’ Connor, who was born in the same house as Mary Coffey at Clonea, Dungarvan and who was a nephew, visited there twice, while conducting world tours .He stayed with Mary Coffy on the first occasion and with her daughter Mrs J Miles on the subsequent occasion. The following is an extract from a Cincinnati Newspaper that covered the Bishop’s visit to that state.

“His dear old aunt, Mrs. Coffey, is the ideal type of the Old Irish mother and catholic, devoted to faith and religion. Although almost 85 years of age she is still active and bright, has a most rentive memory, is a great reader and is now enjoying her second sight. She has been a resident of Butler County for fifty-five years and has been out of the country but a few months at a time. She left Ireland with her husband James Coffy, during the troublesome times of ‘48- ‘49 and their home was the cradle of Catholicity on the borders of Ohio and Indiana. In it the first holy sacrifice of the mass was offered more than fifty years ago by the Rev. Edward Crowley, and the Few faithful Catholic’s scattered about the neighbourhood came from far and near to be present.”

Another Ohio newspaper carried the following in 1906. The occasion was again the arrival of Bishop Patrick O’ Connor of Armadale to Middletown Ohio. The article included a profile of Mary Coffey; a paragraph of which went as follows. “During the land troubles of Ireland, about 1848, Madam Coffee’s father was a man of considerable influence and intelligence who became surety for Lord Pierce Barron of his own count, and thus lost all his property. Lord Barron’s family ultimately retrieved their wealth and made some restitution to one of the sons of his ruined surety, this son became an eminent priest and died two years ago” (this was Fr Patrick Meany).

Pierce was not completely destitute; his son in law David O’Connor took occupation of the holding, so it’s quite probable that Pierce resided with his daughter Johanna and David O’Connor. (It was here that Bishop O’Connor and his brother Fr David were born)

Mary Coffey was a strong independent woman her husband James died in 1860, leaving her to raise five young children alone. This she did with surprising determination. Many times her Brother, Fr Patrick tried to persuade her to return to Ireland .she declined and remained in Butler County where she died in 1911 aged 89. Her children had eight uncles who were priests, four in the Meany side, and four in the coffey side.

During his second circumnavigation of the globe in 1905, (his first was 1888) a newspaper Article which covered his visit to Middletown in Ohio includes a rather interesting description of the Bishop

“Dr O Connor is a fine specimen of the Irish type of manhood, being tall and well built with a fine head, well poised on a pair of broad shoulders; his unassuming, kindly manner wins everyone. He is one of the great churchmen of Australia today. The people of Middletown gave him a most cordial welcome, and it is to be regretted that many of the clergy, not having any assistant, were unable to hear him; but a number of people of all creeds attended Mass and vespers and many personal friends called at the residence of Mr. And Mrs. Patrick J. Miles with whom he stopped… Dr. O’Connor delivered an eloquent sermon at vespers, holding the keen attention of his listeners for forty minutes”.

© Eddie Cantwell, from his book ‘The way it was’

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