Select Nolan Miscellany

Here are some Nolan stories and accounts over the years:

The First Nolan

It is hard to determine with any degree of certainty when the Gaelic form of the Nolan family name, i.e. Ó Nualláin, was first used.  However, based upon Irish royal genealogies we do know that, around the year 1000, Mael Mórda O'Domnall, a son of the then king of Leinster, Donnchad macDomnall, married Luanmaisi Ingen Ceile O’Nualláin, a great great granddaughter of  Murchad MacNuallain, thus suggesting that the family name was being used as early as the end of the 9th century.

Further back in time, it is thought that the descendants of Eochaidh Fionn Fothairt, a 2nd century warrior prince, had started using O Nualláin as a family name.

The Nolans of Loughboy

The following events give a time-line for the Nolans of Loughboy, Kilkenny merchants, who had gained possession of extensive tracts of land in Galway and Mayo in the 15th and 16th centuries:
  • In 1473, after a lightning fire had nearly destroyed Galway City, Michael O'Nolan rebuilt and ornamented the tomb of the ancient family of O'Nolan of Loughboy, Kilkenny at the Franciscan Friary churchyard in Galway.  The earlier monument to the O'Nolans had been erected there in 1394.  
  • In 1500 Donell Oge O'Nolloghan (O'Nolan), goldsmith, was freed on condition that he supported his wife’s father.  
  • In 1574 Donell Oge O'Hologhan (O'Nolan) was in possession of Carrowbrowne castle in Moycullen, Galway.  
  • In 1582 Thomas Nolan (aka Tomhas Ó hUallacháin). a sub-sheriff in county Mayo, acquired land at Creagh on the Robe river.  When he died in 1628, he owned Ballinrobe castle in Mayo (inherited by his elder son Gregory) and Enniscrone castle in Sligo (inherited by his younger son John). 
  • In 1642 John Nolan and his family were attacked and forcefully evicted from Enniscrone castle.  They departed soon after for the Virginia colony.  Other Nolans of this family were transplanted to Balinderry near Tuam in Galway.
Nolans were able to maintain significant landholdings in Galway and Mayo.  From these Nolans later on came John Philip Nolan, a Galway landowner of the late 19th century.  He was an Irish nationalist campaigner who, however, lost his Parliamentary seat because of his support for Parnell.

Nolans in Ireland Today

A telephone directory survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 3,900 Nolans.   Dublin, due to migration over the years, accounted for the main numbers, about 30%.

Carlow accounted for some 12% of the Nolans, Nolan being the fourth most common surname in the county. Nolan ranked number five and six in Kildare and Wicklow and was also common in Wexford and Kilkenny.

Philip Nolan, Texas Pioneer

In 1791 Nolan obtained a trading passport from the Spanish governor of Louisiana and set out to trade with the Indian tribes across the Mississippi.  In all he made three trading trips to Texas over the next six years. He is sometimes credited with being the first to map Texas for the American frontiersmen, although his map has never been found.  Nonetheless his observations were used by the Americans to produce their map of the Texas-Louisiana frontier in 1804. 

After 1797 he was unable to obtain further passports to enter Spanish territory, so he visited Texas again illegally.  In 1801 a Spanish force of 120 men left Nacogdoches in pursuit of Nolan.  They caught up with him in what is now Hill county, Texas and killed him.  Nolan's ears were cut off as evidence for Spain that he was dead.  

Nolan is remembered in Texas as one of the first American traders to visit Texas.  Nolan river and Nolan county were named after him.  He was also the inspiration for the fictional Philip Nolan who appeared in Edward Everett Hales' 1917 book The Man Without a Country, which was loosely based on his life story.

James Nolan Obituary 1911 - Dalton City, Illinois

The following obituary appeared in the Bethany Echo of February 24, 1911: 

“James Nolan, an aged and highly respected citizen of this place, died Saturday at one o'clock pm, after a sickness of three weeks.  He was born in Ireland in 1828 and when in young manhood came to this country and settled in Ohio. 

About a half century ago he came west and settled in what is now Dora township, then a country thinly settled.  He had watched this country grow from a raw prairie to the beautiful farms we now have.  He bought land when it was low and at the time of his death was the owner of a large farm.  

Several years ago he and his wife moved from the farm to town and enjoyed a rest from their years of hard labor.  He was a man well liked as he was of a very jovial disposition.  His death was due to old age accompanied by the grip.  His wife was buried just a week before he died.”  

James had been born in Tipperary and had arrived in America at the age of 22 in 1851 aboard the Fanny from Galway.

A Nolan Story of Family Separation

The story of Robert Nolan and his family was a particularly tragic one.  He and his wife and their five children were inmates of the Carlow Union Workhouse in the 1880's.  Mrs. Nolan's brother was resident in New York and had sent her one adult passage warrant.  She wanted to join him there and also to bring her eldest daughter who was just fourteen years old at the time.  

She requested assistance from the Carlow Board of Guardians.  It was her ultimate intention to set up home in New York to provide for her husband, who was in delicate health, and for her other four children.  The Guardians sought guidance from the Local Government Board. 

In August 1882 the Local Government Board wrote to the Board of Guardians in Carlow regarding the case of Mrs. Ann Nolan.  They stated that they were not in agreement with the proposed arrangements.  They did not approve of the separation of husband and wife and their children.  They were of the opinion that the successful reunion of the entire family in America was unlikely.  They recommended instead that Mrs. Nolan's brother should receive the whole family together.  If Mrs Nolan's brother agreed to take the family and the Guardians were willing to assist their passage, the Local Government Board would approve the expenditure incurred. 

Some months later in January 1883, it was resolved that Robert Nolan and his family be assisted to immigrate.  His wife had already journeyed there.  The Local Government Board contacted the Carlow Board of Guardians requesting particulars on the Nolan family who were about to emigrate.  

Unfortunately Robert Nolan died in the Carlow Workhouse on the 10th of March 1883.  It was then decided that the children be sent to their mother in New York, in the care of their eldest sister and that of a neighbor, Michael Walsh, who was travelling to New York with his wife and children at the same time.

Paddy Nolan, Irish Lawyer on the Canadian Frontier

Paddy Nolan moved to Calgary in the Canadian West as a young lawyer from Ireland in 1889.  One-quarter of Calgary’s population at that time was Irish and Nolan saw the place as “Little Dublin.” 

A pronounced individualist and extrovert, Nolan attracted unusual clients as well as uninhibited friends.  He became widely known as a hard-drinking lawyer with a sharp wit and a skill for defending the underprivileged class of society.  Among those he defended were bootleggers, drunks, horse thieves, disorderly persons, and prostitutes.

A well-known tale recounted how Nolan's physical resemblance to Thomas Daly, the Minister of the Interior, often led to the two being confused for each other.  Once, after Daly had jokingly angered a legal client of Nolan's by impersonating the lawyer, Nolan got his revenge by refusing to grant a patent to a prospective homesteader, insisting that the Ministry of the Interior would require a bribe in order to look at his file.

Nolan has been hailed by some as a great orator and a great defense lawyer.  These claims may be questionable.  What was not questionable was his size, close to 300 pounds in weight, and his drinking which became legendary over time.  It probably contributed to his early death at the age of fifty in 1913.  His story was told in Grant MacEwan’s 1987 book He Left Them Laughing When He Said Goodbye.

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