November 16, 1991
I was surprised to get your letter two or three days ago. I will try to help you all I can but it is rather a task you have set me.
Going back to 1862, my mother came out from Ireland in a sailing vessel. Her name was Mary Hayes, 13 months old. Her mother (my grandmother) was 21 and there were two other little girls. The grandfather, a Mr O’Neill, was urged by his doctor to take a sea voyage for his eyes. So the whole family packed up and came to Australia. The shipping office wanted to put them on two ships but grandmother O’Neill insisted they all go on one ship. The other ship was lost at sea! They arrived safely in Sydney, Australia, after a voyage of six months.
They set up as farmers at a place called Young about 200 miles south west of Sydney Town, as it was then called.Then they decided to move west to Cobar. They went in bullock wagons and the journey took about seven months. They had a cattle ranch or “station” as it is known in Australia.
As far as I remember, all the O’Neills went to the Jesuits or Loreto nuns in Limerick.
They lived at Cobar for some years. Mary Hayes had the three little girls that came out on the ship. Then a boy called David who was very musical, then two more sons, Larry and something else both of whom died at age 16, then a fourth son called Michael who lived to be an old man.
My mother, Mollie Hayes married William Willis. They married at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on Jan 26 1886.
As far as I know the Willis family came to Australia from England but I don’t know when. I believe they had a farm somewhere in New South Wales.
Mollie and William Willis had six girls and one boy. First was Margaret Mary, known as Boonie; Eileen; Mollie; Alma; Beatrice Cordelia; William (Bill); Magdalen; and me Veronica.
Bill’s life was reasonably short in Australia. He went to St Aloysius Jesuit college. At 17 he went to the first world war. He was in the light horse in the Middle East for four years. You probably hear about the Gaza Strip in the news. He was there when it was part of Palestine.
He returned after the war for six months then went back to England. He married a girl called Susan. They had no family and later got divorced.
I know very little about my brother because I was very young when he went to the war and then he moved away.
He moved to Ireland and started a restaurant in Dublin called the “Green Rooster”. At some stage he married Peggy and had two little girls, Magda and Pricilla. I visited Ireland in 1958 for a few days. I was in London for my daughter’s wedding. Bill seemed to be in good health and talked a great deal. He took us to a twilight meeting at the races. We, my other daughter, Beatrice and I went to visit the lakes at Killarney. It was over 30 years ago so I don’t remember a lot of details, but I don’t remember hearing about Aunt Mary.
I have a family of five of my own – John, Tony, Gabrielle, Beatrice and Priscilla. I have 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Most of my life has been spent in and around Sydney.
My sight has nearly gone and I cannot read anything. My daughter, Priscilla, is visiting from the USA and was able to read me your letter and has kindly written this for me.
I haven’t heard of your grandmother for a long time. The little I knew of her I found her a very nice person.
I’m sorry I can’t be of more help to you but I hardly knew my brother. I have no idea what hobbies he had. My sister, Mollie, wrote to him regularly for years, but she died about 30 years ago and I am the last of the family.
My best wishes to your mother, Magda, and your family for Christmas and the New Year. We hope things will improve since they are not too good out here.