Advent: The Birth Of Christ, His Ancestors And The Significance Of Our Own Family Tree

Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay

This article by Stephen McElligott was first published in Dunleer Parish Magazine

When we take a glimpse at the Gospel, one of the many chapters we enjoy reading is the genealogy of Jesus in the beginning of Matthew or Luke. . . said no Christian . . . ever, Ha! It is true to say that the Bible both old and new testament is full of reference to the family history of our Jewish ancestors.

They are the most overlooked passages within the Bible and yet the most important as they record for us the crucial lineage of the Messiah Jesus Christ. However, we never dare to read through it because for us it bears no importance.

The reason for this is because we are less inclined to feel that “familial connection” as we would, say, with our immediate relatives and those recently passed away. Let us be honest with ourselves. If we are not interested in researching our immediate family name, why be surprised when we show lack of interest in the lineage of Christ?

From a spiritual perspective Jesus is literally our Brother. I believe that our lack of interest in his lineage (that we have a share in as we are all descended from Adam and Abraham) proves how distant our hearts are from Jesus.

I am a big believer that people who do not research their family tree to discover their roots are on the precipice of insulting their lineage. The Jewish took their family history very seriously and meticulously recorded every person born to one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

It was important for them to have their sons carry on the lineage to maintain the respect and honor due to the family name. How people proved they inherited and lay claim to a particular plot of land was through their documented family history. One tribe could only become priests if they were from the tribe of Levi, their name being indicative of admission to this vocation.

Take a look at Jacob and Esau and how the latter sold his birth right (inheritance) for a bowl of lentil soup. Then Jacob pretended to be Esau and fooled his father into giving him the blessing to ensure he became the head of the family securing his leadership of the tribe. By Esau’s weakness and disdain for his own birthright he demonstrated his incapacity to be the head of the family and inherit his father’s judicial authority.

In a way we all resemble Esau when there is a neglect of our past and of the relatives of whom we have forgotten, but who have not overlooked us as they lament for want of prayer. We may never have met our great, great, great grandfather from the year of Our Lord 1890, but if it were not for him, we wouldn’t be here.

There are some people out there who really enjoy looking up their family “name”. Some discover that at one point in family history someone as famous as Elvis Presley was an uncle or cousin. It can be a lot of fun for them in that regard.

Some who dig into the past may reveal an inheritance to a plot of land. I myself recently unearthed some information regarding my own family name “Mc Elligott” discovering a lineage of poor fishermen from Limerick City. 

It is difficult to recall what led me to such level of interest in family history, but once I began, I couldn’t stop myself. It eventually snowballed into what would become the first visit of Mc Elligotts to Limerick since the departure of my grandfather in the 1930’s.

I began with the history and birth cert of my Grandfather Martin Mc Elligott. He was from Limerick City and his fathers name being John and Mother Anne.

Martins father passed away; his mother remarried when he was 3 years old. The Stepfather Anne married was cruel to Martin so his family sent him to Glenstal Abbey boarding school in the 1930s. There he lived with the monks until the age of 18.

He was given the choice to remain in the monastery as a monk or leave and follow his heart in the vocation of his choosing. Choosing to Enroll in the Irish Army, he came to Dundalk, Married Mary Crosby from Blackrock in 1941 and later left the Irish army to fight in the second world war with the British.

Loaded with this fresh information I began my search. Fr.Murtagh of Dunleer parish witnessing this newly developed interest in my family tree sent me an article with many links to genealogy sites that would assist in the search. I managed to trace my family lineage all the way back to the pre-famine era to a William Mc Elligott.

I discovered they were fishermen who fished alongside the famous abbey fishermen of Limerick up until the late 30’s after which it died out due to the new electric power grid and dam being built.

There were three categories of fishermen and each fished a different part of the river. There were the Abbey fishermen, the strand fishermen and the Town wall fishermen. All the Mc Elligotts, Keoghs and Fiztgeralds fell into the last category mentioned.

The Abbey Fishermen were the only ones that formed an official guild whereas the Mc Elligotts worked for the Lax Weir fishing company and fished mostly upriver. The abbey fishermen were obviously more enriched than the Town Wall fishermen and when they landed themselves new fishing nets would often give the Town Wall fishermen their old ones.

Long story short, I contacted a local historian who revealed the Mc Elligotts were immortalized in Jackie Clancys book “My Life on the river” which documents his memories of his time as an abbey fisherman on the river Shannon.

In the book he shared some funny stories detailing their names and nick names. Some of the nicknames I got a laugh from were, “Michael “Crabs” Mc Elligott”, “Michael “Takey” Mc Elligott, and “James “Elastic Face” Mc Elligott.”

Stories included a “Stephen Mc Elligott” who was caught fishing in waters illegally and fined 4 Irish pounds for his trouble. Another told of how “Patrick Plunker Mc Elligott” would hide his catch of peal from the approaching bailiffs coming to inspect the boat. He would disguise them in a galvanized bucket packed with mud poured over the fish.

He lit a fire on top with a kettle on the boil to give the impression they were only having a cup of tea. Upon landing at Lock Quay, they would sell the fish at 6 pennies a tub to old women known as “hawkers”. They would put a pan or wash basin on their heads calling door to door shouting, “fresh fish for sale, a penny each”.

With all this information I had having made certain of the lineage through the many civil and parish records available I decided a visit was in order. I felt this strong calling to go and walk in the footsteps of my ancestors to see the places they had seen; breathe the air they breathed and pray in the Churches they prayed, gathered and married in.

I contacted my father and we set the date for our visit which was the 25th of September 2020. The plan was to take my eldest son Christian along for the ride. That was three generations of Mc Elligotts visiting Limerick for the first time since the 1930’s.

After our plans were made and a few days before the visit something spooked me. I realized that the plan for the trip, 25th of September, fell on the birthday of my Grandfather Martin Mc Elligott.

In our house there are no coincidences only God-incidences and I was almost certain that they were calling us down to Limerick in search of prayer. That is exactly what we did. We went from Church to Church praying for their souls and from street to street where they lived remembering them in prayer along the way.

I got some lovely photos of the Shannon river and exact spot known as the “Lax Weir” where they fished as shown me by the local historian Sharon.  We completed our short over night stay with a visit to the school and monastery my Grandfather had studied, Glenstal Abbey. Here I went to confession and made the long arduous drive home without stopping for even a bite to eat.

All the way home the cauliflower clouds dotted the blue sky like ink splashed on a parchment of paper. I couldn’t help but think how the scene looked so complete. In a way our ancestors have become the numerous dots of ink that mark the official papers of our history and complete who we are however faded it may seem. From Adam, to Jesus to the Mc Elligotts or whoever your tribe may be, we are, all of us, the paper upon which the DNA of our ancestors has been permanently inscribed for an eternity.

It is my prayer and hope this Christmas that when you ponder the birth of Christ, you will go back a chapter in either Matthew or Luke and read that genealogy with a fresh pair of eyes. Meditate on your own birth and its significance. From here take the next step into examining who you are and where you come from.

Discover what part in the Gospel history of Salvation your family portrayed? What crucial role did they play in their communities that led up to you being born? Perhaps they were wealthy and managed it well, or poor and found joy in the work they performed for those who Lorded it over them? The bottom line is, you will never know until you begin searching.

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