Select Duffy Miscellany

Here are some Duffy stories and accounts over the years:

The Duffys in Monaghan

Fr. Peadar Livingstone in his book The Monaghan Story, published in 1980, wrote the following on Monaghan names: . 

"The big majority of Monaghan people today are descended from families whose ancestors have lived in the area of the present county for well over a thousand years.   Their surnames are those of the tenth and eleventh centuries when surnames began to be used fior the first time.

Many of them are descended from the Ui Chreamthainn families - the McMahons, Connollys, McArdles, Comiskeys, Cunninghams, and many others.  Though not belonging to the Ui Chreamthainn, other families like the Duffys, McKennas, Treanors, and Hanrattys have belonged to Monaghan for a very long time."

The principal Monaghan surnames in the hearth tax rolls of 1663 were, in numerical order, McMahon, McKenna, Duffy, and Connolly.
Livingstone found from an examination of the Monaghan electoral register of 1970 that Duffy had become the most common name, followed by McKenna.  Pat Holland, who did the same exercise in 2001, discovered that their order had been reversed, with McKenna first and Duffy second.

Leading Monaghan Surnames


Holland noted that Duffy was the leading name in Carrickmacross in the south and Castleblayney in the east.

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy from Monaghan

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy wrote about his roots in Monaghan as follows:

"I am shy of pedigrees.  When I was a boy, however, there were half a dozen of my relations among the Catholic priests of the diocese of Clogher, and I listened with complacency to their talk of the M'Mahons, chiefs of Oriel, and the M'Kennas, chiefs of Truagh, as our near kinsmen. 

I was delighted to be told that under George III. when the existence of a priest was at last grudgingly recognised, provided he could find two freeholders willing to be sureties for his good behaviour, such sureties for a dozen priests of Clogher were furnished by the Duffys of Monaghan, who held land in their native Oriel, under the imperfect tenure permitted by law.  These were facts which in after life I submitted to the test of critical scrutiny, and found to be authentic.

I was born in the town of Monaghan on Good Friday, 1816.  My father, John Duffy, was a shopkeeper, who by industry and integrity had accumulated considerable property in houses and townparks, and had purchased a share in a bleach-green at Keady, the art of transforming the grey web into one of dazzling whiteness being then, as it still is, one of the standard industries of the country. 

The Ulster Catholics had been reduced by law to abject penury, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century they were here and there slowly lifting their heads.  Even while the penury was sorest old social distinctions were cherished, and my father, as a descendant of "the old stock," was one of the few leaders of the people in his district. 

Among the family papers bequeathed to me was a resolution of the Catholics of Monaghan, thanking him for having acted as their faithful treasurer for sixteen years, an authentic testimonial which I prefer to a glittering and shadowy pedigree furnished by Ulster King at Arms."

Both Sir Charles's parents died while he was still a child and his uncle Father James Duffy, who was the Catholic parish priest of Castleblayney, became his guardian.  At the age of sixteen he set off for Dublin to become a journalist.


James Duffy at the Time of the Famine

James Duffy was born in the Lettermacaward parish of west Donegal in 1839.  He is thought to have been the son of a small tenant farmer having perhaps one to two acres of very poor quality land.   Too many families in the area were probably trying to scrape an existence from the rccky earth.  This was an area which had suffered from famines in the past and the 1847 famine turned out to be devastating.  Hundreds died at that time from starvation.

The only light at the end of the tunnel was emigration, in particular to America.  The trek to Derry to join a famine ship could start the adventure of relief.  Philadelphia was a welcome sight after six or seven weeks on the North Atlantic passage.

James Duffy, having survived the 1847 famine, emigrated at the age of sixteen in 1854 from Derry to Philadelphia on the Libuinia.  His early life there is not known.  But he enlisted in the army and fought on the Union side for the duration of the Civil War.  Afterwards he was a marble polisher at the Philadelphia Mint and lived onto an apparently comfortable old age.

Duffy's Cut

Duffy's Cut was the name given to a stretch of railriad track some 30 miles west of Philadelphia.  In 1832 a contractor named Philip Duffy hired 57 recent Irish immigrants to lay the line through the area's densely wooded hills and ravines.

A Pennsylvania marker at the site describes their fate:

"Nearby is the mass grave of fifty seven Irish immigrant workers who died in August 1832 of cholera. They had recently arrived in the United States and were employed by a construction contractor named Duffy for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad.  Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers.  Their illness and death typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers."

Philip Duffy emerged as the villain of the piece.  After the immigrants died Duffy ordered the shantytown where they had lived to be burnt and their bodies to be buried in the railroad fill.   The men's families were apparently never told of their deaths. 

Recent research suggests that this Philip Duffy was originally from Tipperary (born there in 1783) and had come to the US in 1798.  He lived out this terrible incident and died in Philadelphia in old age in 1871.

Father Duffy's Holy Well

Father Duffy came to Newfoundland as a newly ordained priest from Ireland in 1833.  After two years he was appointed the first parish priest of St. Mary's.

The church in St. Mary's was in need of repair and Father Duffy decided that the best thing to do would be to build a new church on the beach where it would be more convenient for the parishioners.  But the site he chose didn't suit John Hill Martin who owned a store and fishing premises on the beach and was also the local magistrate.  He threatened to stop construction of the church.  Duffy went on building and Martin took him to court.

Father Duffy had to appear in court in St. John's.  On several occasions he walked the whole distance to St. John's only to be told that his case had been postponed.  This happened to him many times and he simply had to walk all the way back to St. Mary's again.  Finally, one day his case was heard and he was acquitted of the charge.

On his many travels to appear in court, Father Duffy used to stop off and rest in a little clearing where there was a steady spring of fresh drinking water.  The clearing was small, surrounded by trees and bushes and not far enough off the road to take him too far out of his way.  He could have a long drink of cold water and lie down on a grassy spot and rest his tired feet.  The area was just secluded enough and very peaceful.  He could listen to the birds in the trees as he rested and hear the tiny babble of the spring water on the rocks.

Other people soon learned about spot and stopped off there on their way back and forth the Salmonier Line. The spring always supplied cold, fresh drinking water.  Some people actually ascribed healing powers to the well and the popularity of the spot grew and grew.  Soon it became the spot to visit and even to stay and picnic.  People who never knew Father Duffy began to stop there.  They knew that this was his well. 

News of Father Duffy's well became so widespread that it became an historic landmark.  The provincial government eventually designated it a provincial park.

Reader Feedback - Duffys in Ontario, Ohio and New York

James Duffy, a shoemaker, arrived in Canada from Ireland sometime in the 1840's as his wedding to Mary Ann Woodburn in Byton, Ottawa was recorded in 1846.  

James and Mary Ann had at least seven children.  One son Augustus moved south to Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio where he became a steel worker; two other sons, Alexander and William, migrated to New York state.  My line comes from William which also includes through another sibling Beula Duffey, better known as Johana Harris the concert pianist.

Mixhele Martin (

Hubert Duffy's Rocking Horses

Hubert Duffy was born in county Mayo in 1854 and came to Liverpool in the early 1880's.  There he married Elizabeth Dolan and they raised six children at their home on Comus Street.

Hubert's trade was that of a rocking horse maker.  He made the original rocking horse called Blackie that sat in the window of Blacklers department store.  A second one is now in the Liverpool museum.  Hubert's son Robert followed in his father's profession.

Barney and Molly Duffy

Barney and Molly, published in 2006, is a family account by Martin Duffy, the youngest of thirteen children who grew up in a tiny two-bedroom Dublin corporation house.  The story followed the family struggles alongside the young Irish nation's struggles, from the violent streets of the 1916 Rising, the Emergency, the Troubles, and the toll of emigration.

This was how the author saw his book:

"My parents, Barney and Molly Duffy, were devoted to each other and to their children as they raised their family first in the slums of Summerhill and the Coombe and later in Crumlin.  It is the story of a working class couple who struggled to raise a family despite poverty and hardship - and did so with dignity and love.

My research has brought together stories and reminiscences from brothers and sisters who, through emigration and other reasons, had never gathered all these strands of the family life together.  My book tells the story of a Dublin that today's generation could hardly imagine."  

Return to Top of Page
Return to Duffy Main Page