The Togher

Willoughby Corner, Kilaveney, Tinahely, Co Wicklow


About four kilometres east of Tinahely in the lovely Irish garden county of Wicklow, is a crossroad. At that junction, R747 from Aughrim turns right towards Tinahely. Continuing south the road becomes R748. If you turn right, you head towards Co Wexford and a central town named Gorey. (Of course, you can Google map it, if you want to more nearly ‘get your bearings.’)

A stout white building stands on the North East corner ‘at the Togher,’ as it has for many years, perhaps for centuries. Barns and other out buildings, some more ancient even than the house lie almost hidden, back of the house.

The house was for many years the home of the Willoughby family, inhabited by my own near Willoughby relatives. There is a ‘Togher’ branch of the family and a ‘The Fields’ branch. The farmlands, called ‘townlands’ in Ireland, lie side-by-side and the Togher and the Fields Willoughby families farmed there accordingly, tenants on the Coolattin Estate of Lord FitzWilliam, for several generations.

I am descended through the Togher line but I have discovered a cousin in Dublin who is from the Fields line. We met and ‘walked the land’ at Kilavaney, a few years ago. Continuing to share genealogical passion, we regularly exchange information and family stories as best we remember them, or as discovered now by many years of painstaking, loving research.

My Togher line goes back to George Willoughby who was born about 1760. The Field line descends from Nicholas Willoughby. We have no idea as yet how the two lines connect but we are certain they do. The close proximity suggests that, for sure; but DNA tests too have shown that members of the two lines share virtual identity (as per findings re: the shared male Y chromosome).

I am drawn of course to this area, the Townland of Kilavaney, Co Wicklow, where my ancestors ‘lived and moved and had their being.’ George Willoughby (born circa 1760) and his wife Mary lived just a few hundred metres east of the Togher. Their son John Willoughby and his wife, who I think was Sarah (nee Willoughby of Co Wexford), were the parents of ‘my Charles Willoughby’ who, having married Sarah Langrill in 1849, came to Canada the same year, settling near Rockwood, Ontario in Eramosa Township. This latter couple had Sarah (and other children) who married John Barber, my paternal great-grandfather.

(Funny how some people love genealogy and this kind of data exchange, while others of you may already find that your eyes are glazing over.)

I am drawn also to this area because of it spiritual roots and history. In the Irish tongue, any name of a place that starts with ‘kil’ (for church) reveals ancient places of worship – tiny churches, some larger, and no doubt ancient monasteries and ‘religious houses,’ some dating back to times of St. Paladius or St. Patrick. Kilpatrick, Kilcommon, Kilpipe – all bespeak ancient context.

The next Townland east of Killavaney is Tubberpatrick. ‘Tubber’ (‘tober’ and the like) mean ‘a well’ (so: ‘Tobermory’ = ‘the well of Mary’). This ancient St. Patrick’s well where I’ve sat several times for minutes of contemplation, is said by local legend and wider lore and even in more historic and studied assertions, to have been visited by Patrick himself. (All of this of course can merely be like saying (in the US) that George Washington slept here or, in Canada, ‘In this barn William Lyon Mackenzie hid when escaping arrest for his part in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.)

‘Togher,’ in Irish (tochar) means ‘causeway.’ It’s likely that the high road R747 – R748 remains as testimony to an ancient causeway, perhaps a natural or man-made route across the bogs and marshlands around it. Tochar can also means ‘a pilgrim’s way.’ I like the way this name and this way lifts one out of and above the muck, how it helps folk on their way, ‘bridging’ from one area of hard, safe ground to another, providing access and movement to and fro, in this ancient land.

I would like to think that my life and ministry, that this site with even its random thoughts, shared discoveries, explorations, pointers and tentative findings — and even a few conclusions, might help others too along the Way. I am a person of faith, and I think that does (and should) shape my thinking, passions and activities. You may be, or not, a person of faith too; but at any rate, can we not help each other on the Journey(?), sharing insights, welcomes and even warnings, that will help to lift us up and avoid some marshy places where miry clay would cling and suck us down, to safer, firmer footing along tried and true pathways.

So, that’s why: ‘Tochar.’ Now to see what might happen further at that junction, at this junction of life, and on that causeway perhaps, at least in our shared mind’s eye and sure heart’s hope.

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