Tangneys by Leonard Tangney

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by Leonard Tangney

Ca. 1984

Dennis Tangney in San Francisco has kindly sent me this family information to share with relations and it is not to be used by commercial websites without his permission .

In detailing the surnames of American families, The Family Heritage Book, published in 1979, said that the name Tangney graced only some 150 households stretching from California and Oregon on the west to Maryland and Massa­chusetts on the east C with a gaggle of Tangneys in the wide open spaces between. Most of the U.S. folks with that auspicious name Tangney are unknown to me, though I do have knowledge and friendship of and for many of them. All must be related somewhere along the line, but time and migration have dimmed the Tangneys ability to keep abreast of known relationships.

And so here, in addition to narrating what family history I know, I'll enumerate those Tangneys I know or know of.

My grandfather, James Tangney (that “James” is the Anglicized from of the Gaelic “Seamus,” pronounced “Sha­mus”), was born near Scartaglin, a village near Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland, on April 20 or 29, 1842[1]. (He died June 19, 1935, in Falls City, Neb.)

He left Ireland during the potato famine at age 16, in 1859, and went to England, first serving as a timekeeper at London's Scotland Yard[2].

In London he met Alice Lennon, and they were married Aug. 1, 1864, in Liverpool. Why Liverpool, I do not know[3], but Grandpa did learn the harness maker's trade there.

Grandma Tangney's father, James Lennon, had been a sea captain and died when his ship sank off the coast of Tasmania in 1850[4]. He was born in 1812. Grandma T. was born July 12, 1843[5]. Her mother, Ellen Redhead, allegedly lost her mind after her husband's death (she died in 1868), and Grandma was reared by two maiden aunts who were seamstresses for the Queen, Victoria. As such, she knew palace life[6], so she really must have loved Grandpa to leave the luxuries of London, go to Liverpool to marry, and then wait six months before sailing for America to join her husband, who had gone to Chicago, Ill., to seek his fortune.

Grandpa was 22 when he married and Grandma was 21[7]. The site was St. Patrick's Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, with a Father Singleton officiating. Their attendants were George Shuttle­worth and Sarah Felton[8].

Grandpa came to America in July 1866 and Grandma several months later[9], she surviving a shipboard pestilence that took the lives of more than 700 of the 1,100 aboard. It was the dread cholera, and the victims included Grandma's first-born, an 18 - month - old son, James, who was buried at sea. My father, James, born in 1875, was their second son to bear that name.

The Tangneys first made their home in Chicago, on West Des­plaines Street. Grandpa had a harness shop at what is now the corner of State and Madison Streets in downtown Chicago[10]. In 1870 they came west to Nebraska. (This disclaims a statement by Grandpa's brother, Patrick, of Aurora. Ill., that Grandpa was burned out in the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871, when Mrs. O Leary's cow is supposed to have kicked over a lantern and caused the conflagration.)


The railroad took our folks as far as Bigelow, Mo., and from there they rode a stage to the Missouri River banks. The river was at flood stage, but they made the perilous crossing on a barge, much to Grandma's conster­nation, she once told me.

They lived in Rulo 14 years, Grandpa engaging in the harness shop business. He then purchased a farm in Jef­ferson Township, east of Preston. While the family re­mained on the farm, Grandpa operated a harness shop in Falls City in the 1881[11], but sold out the following year and returned to the farm.

I can't recall Grandpa's orchard, but it must have been an extensive one because I remember sitting on a fence near the railroad siding in Rulo and watching his apples C Jonathans, Ben Davis and Pippins among them C being loaded from wagons onto a conveyor belt and into boxcars for shipment to Omaha and Kansas City markets. A mule - powered treadmill carried the apples on a wide belt into the boxcars. The belt had round holes in it, and too - small apples fell to the ground. These could be taken free by the townspeople. And what was left was fed to the hogs, which were plentiful in the Rulo area.

I can't recall when Grandpa and Grandma moved to Falls City, but they were there in the early 1920s, residing at 1702 Wilson St.

Their children were:

James, born May 10, 1865, and died Oct. 8, 1866

Jonathan, Feb. 3, 1867; and died Feb. 14, 1938

Michael, born Dec. 7, 1868, and died May 7, 1891

John, Dec. 23, 1870; and died June 16, 1929

William, Jan. 24. 1873; and died Dec. 2, 1947

James, Jan. 29, 1875; and died Sep. 5, 1925

Mary, Jan. 30, 1877; and died in 1962

Katie, Dec. 7, 1879; and died Dec. 2, 1973

Bertha, born April 19, 1881, and died Aug. 31, 1883

Charles, May 29, 1883, death date unknown

Children of Charles should add their father's death date.

Grandpa had a number of brothers and sisters[12], exact­ly how many I'm not sure. But I do know of these: John, who became a fire cap­tain in Chicago; Patrick, a railroad­er in Aurora, Ill.; Mike, a farmer in Falls City (though I believe he lived in Kansas City for quite a spell); Mary, who came to America as an indentured servant and later married a [Mazine] Jondrow in Rulo; and Catherine, Jeremiah, and Cornelius[13] who remained in Ireland.


Catherine survived her two brothers in Ireland and fell heir to what little family property there was, but it included the Tangney cottage. When she married, to an O'Sullivan, the cottage automatically went to her husband as part of her dowry (What a system!).

On my first trip to Ireland in 1970, Joan Tangney O'Leary took my son, Dennis, and me to that cottage where our grandfather was born. ‘Twas quite a discovery for me.

Present owner of the cottage is a lawyer, Councillor Timothy O'Sullivan, who proudly informed me that “this cottage has seven thatches atop it.”

This meant little to me until informed that each thatch, one wired atop the other, lasts about 35 years. Quick arithmetic placed seven times 35 as 245 years in which the building has withstood nature. And it still was the residence of the O'Sullivans in 1970. It boasted four rooms, wooden floors, a fireplace and an attached stable.

What has happened to the cottage in the past 14 years I am not certain. The councillor said he might tear it down to make way for a more modern residence. I haven't had the heart on succeeding trips to see whether it still stands. But on my next trip to Scartaglin I plan to visit the site and photograph whatever is there[14].

The Tangney name in Ireland is centered mainly in County Kerry, the most southwestern county. Its peninsulas jut out into the Atlantic and are washed by the Gulf Stream, whose warmth has developed a semi - tropical atmosphere to the area. Palm trees grow there, as do such exotic plants as dracaena and lilies. Geraniums as large as 30 feet long entwine the fronts of many porches.

I met Tangneys in Scartaglin, Castleisland, Killarney, Sneem, Tralee and Ballymacelligott, the latter being the Tangney townland the past 600 years.

The name, “Tangney,” sometimes spelled “Tagney,” is said to be of French origin. The ngn in the middle is definitely guttural French.

The story I've heard both in Ireland and in the U.S. (the latter from Pat Tangney of Aurora) is that four Tangney brothers from the province of Brittany in northern France were avid boatmen, the racing type. And they brought their boats to the lakes of Killarney to compete against their Irish counterparts. Who won is lost in history, but the tale asserts that our French ancestors liked Ireland so well that they stayed, intermarried with the Irish lasses and founded a dynasty whose name survives to this day.

William (Liam) Tangney, now deceased, lived in Sneem. At age 15 he had been a corporal in the Irish Republican Army fighting the British invaders in the early 1920s. His only son had died at an early age, and he gave me, indirectly, his prized battle medals and a citation from the President of Ireland honoring him for his bravery. These to go to my son, Dennis, who has them framed and displayed in a position of honor in the den of his home in San Francisco.


I said “indirectly.” I never did get to meet Liam. When I arrived at his home in Sneem, he was out cutting peat, so said a spokesman for his wife, Molly, who spoke no English, only Gaelic, and had called in a Mrs. OConnell, a neighbour who knew English, to translate for us. We waited an hour for Liam and, insofar as we were on a tight time schedule, could remain no longer.

Within a month I had a letter from him, bemoaning the fact that we had missed connections and promising me the medals on my next trip to Ireland and Sneem. I next was in his village in 1976 and had written him when I'd be there. Unfortunately, when I did arrive I was informed that he had died just six weeks previously. It didn't seem proper to ask for the medals at that funereal time, but on a visit in 1981, a niece living with old Molly proffered the medals in line with her uncle's request.

“Tiger Mike” Tangney is an ironmonger (hardware dealer) in Tralee. He also was quite a politician and a county councilman.

James Tangney operates Tangney's Bar with his sister, Noreen in Castleisland. His mother is Sheila, his father is dead. Jim also has a sister, Mary Aloysius Tangney O'Shea. That Aloysius, the same as my middle name, is correct, though she's all girl. Seems her mother, as did my mother, named her children for the saint's day a child is born on. That gal saw daylight on the Feast of St. Aloysius, hence her name. (I received “Leonard” because I was born on his feast day. The same happened for Raymond. Helen's middle name was Elizabeth and Jim­mie's was Louis, both taking the name of that day's saint.)

Also in Castleisland are Joseph Tangney, who operates a grocery store in the front of his shop and a mortuary backside, and Sonny Tangney, a draper (clothier). His name is James, too, but there are so many James Tangneys in the vicinity that he took the “Sonny” nickname.

Another William Tangney had lived in Ballymacelligott, but he had passed away just a month before I visited there in 1976.

Patrick Tangney, now retired and living in the Black Valley, east of Killarney, for years operated a jaunting cart stable from downtown Killarney to Muckross Castle, some five miles away and on the shores of the lower lake of the five Lakes of Killarney. The business now is in charge of his six sons, Francis (manager), Kevin, Mike, Robin, Dennis and Thomas. They have a stable of 16 horses and a dozen carts. Four horses get to rest every day, they informed me.

The Tangney lads provide a great travelogue on the glories of Killarney and Ireland, also bursting out into song at the slightest suggestion songs like “Kevin Barry” and “The Wild Colonial Boy” dedicated to the cause of Irish liberty.

Grandpa Tangney's parents were James Tangney and Margaret Horan. I know nothing about them and never heard him mention his folks. But I did find the grave of Grandpa's grandfather, John, in Kilsarcon Cemetery between Scartaglin and Gortacoppul. (“Kil” or “kill” in Gaelic translates to “church” or “chapel.” So Kilsarcon develops in English to “the Chapel of St. Arkin,” whoever he may be.) The inscription on John's gravestone reads as follows:

Erect by Jam,Jerm, John, Mich Tangney of Gortaca

In mem. of their father John Tangney who dep life Febr. 29, 1829 Age 54 May his soul rest in Peace. Amen. Blessed Saints Patrick and [blurred]

take care of the soul of John Tangney. This stone registered June 17, 1831


John's wife was Julia Fleming. In the village of Scartaglin, with a population of 250 at the most, are three bars, all close together, and each owned by a Tangney relative. Those drink shops are Fleming's Bar, Lyon's Bar and O=Connor's Bar.

On one of my early stays in Killarney (when I still was a drinking man), I stopped in a downtown pub and enquired of the barkeep whether there were any Tangneys, besides me, ever coming into his establishment.

“No,” he replied, “but a Tangney cousin, Paddy O'Sullivan, does, and in fact he'll be here soon.”

And soon he was. After introductions and a pint of Guin­ness, he informed me that he was employed at the local mental hospital, that he had a wife and that “it would be great if we went over the mountain to Scartaglin tonight.”

My reply, naturally, was in the affirmative, and we drove the 10 miles over a narrow mountain road to Scartaglin and enjoyed a delight­ful evening with relatives, both Tangney and O'Sullivan.

The head of the Tangney clan I first met in Scartaglin in 1970 was Jeremiah (Jerry) Tangney, who was 86 and bedfast. Jerry had been a teacher in the National (public) Schools of Ireland for 56 years before retiring at age 74. He could read, write and converse in English, Gaelic and Greek, and could read and write Latin. He also had an extensive library. But the first three words he said to me after being introduced was “That bastard Cromwell!”


Here was a learned man, an educator, but one who carried a deep - seated hatred for the British, especially Oliver Cromwell, whose armies in 1650 and after had raped and pillaged Ireland, forced the people to change their names, tried unsuccessfully to make them renounce Catholicism and stole both their land and their posses­sions.

On that trip (1970) I was introduced to poteen (pro­nounced puck - teen) by Joan Tangney O ' Leary. Poteen is the national drink of the Irish farmer, strictly illegal as is our Kentucky moonshine, and equally C if not more C potent. It is distilled from potatoes, barley and white grapes. Joan produced a two - quart fruit jar of that devil ' s brew and poured me a drinking - glass full, and one for her husband. He slugged his down in one gulp. I sipped mine, and my hair literally stood on end and I nearly strangled!

The Irish also drink a lot of tea. On another occasion Joan proffered me a cup of “tay” before lunch.

“How much milk?” She asked as she brought out a pitcher of thick cream.

“None.” I replied to her disbelief.

She then came forward with a spoon and bowlful of sugar. When I refused the sweetener, she scowled and snorted. “You Yanks are barbarians!”

Almost 100 years separate us in America and the Irish in the amenities of life. The Scartaglin kin sport outhouses and draw their water from a well in a nearby pasture. Cities, however, do have water supplies and indoor plumbing, though the “necessities” are much more Spartan than what we possess.

As I reported earlier, most Tangneys are in Kerry, though a few have roamed like our grandfather and his brothers and sister. There are a few of us in Bantry and Cork, both in County Cork. But Kerry and Cork are next door neighbors. In fact, Scartaglin is just a few miles from the Cork border. A few Tangneys also are in County Limerick, just north of Kerry. Limerick city is Ireland's third largest, and I imagine many Kerrymen go there seeking work.

I'm not too knowledgeable on Tangney history so far as Richard­son County is concerned. I wasn't yet 7 when we left Rulo for Lincoln. I am certain that the Falls City Tangneys are far ahead of me in county lore and history.

I do recall Grandma Tangney's frequent denunciations of America, and then couldn't figure out why. But now, in knowing that her first - born died and was buried at sea as she neared U.S. shores, it's easy to recognize her antipathy. And for a girl who had known palace life in England to migrate to an area inhabited by “wild” Indians, and to live so close to them, one can see that she had fuel for her national dislike.

She often told me of looking out her kitchen window and seeing several Indians standing out there waiting for a handout of food or clothing.

And here's an ignoble incident for me. Once, when the grand­folks lived on the corner of 17th and Wilson Streets, we drove to Falls City from Lincoln for a Sunday visit.


The menfolks were a bit apart, sipping cider (and probably a few nips of whiskey), and the women and children were on or near the front porch gabbing, drinking lemonade and fighting the latter relegated to the kids.

Somehow Grandpa's prowess as a footracer in Ireland came up. Not to be outdone in Tangney bragging. I in­formed the assemblage that I, too, was a pretty good runner. I was about 10 and imagine that I had hoped to race a younger relative, say Leo or Lawrence. But Grandpa threw the gauntlet, challenged me … and I had to race him around the square, four blocks.

In deference to his age, then about 82, I merrily trotted along, giving him a head start; but after about a block and a half, he zoomed on like a zephyr and won in a cakewalk.

Needless to say, no accolades came my way. Instead I was greeted with hoots of derision, even from my mother and father, for losing to the old man. Some speedster me!

Our family had lived on the Tangney farm, but left it for Rulo before I was born. I first saw the light of day in the Rulo house on the bluff just north of the CB&Q tracks. I did visit the farm with my mother in the early 1950s. It still was known as the Tangney farm, and prob­ably is to this day, though no Tangney has lived on it in more than 70 years.

I can't remember Grandpa's brother, Mike, too well, though I do recall his having a heavy black moustache. One time I visited him in Falls City with my dad, and Mike took us to a cistern at the back of his house. He slid aside a metal plate over the cistern, pulled up a rope from the cistern's depths and displayed at rope's end a brown jug. He pulled out the cob cork, handed the jug to dad and told him to take a swig. Never one to disobey an elder, dad did as told. Mike did likewise … both several times.

Among Mike's children was a son, John, who even­tually lived in Longmont, Colo., and died in the 1950s in Denver. Another of Mike's sons was James, born to Mike's second wife. That James Tangney and my father, James Tangney, married sisters, my aunt Helen and my mother Anna. So James' and Helen's children are my first cousins on my mother's side and second cousins on my father's side.

Only two of those double cousins still are alive. Alois Tangney ranches near Shattuck, Okla., and Tom resided in Woodward, Okla., though I believe he has moved to California recently.

Back to John's family. One day, soon after I arrived in Denver in February 1935 to work at the Catholic Regis­ter, I boarded a streetcar with a friend, en route down­town. Absentmindedly, I neglected to put money in the till and sat down. My friend, Charlie McNeill, yelled, “Hey, Tangney! Come back up here and pay your fare!”

“Yeah,” the motorman agreed, and then added. “Is your name Tangney? Mine is, too.”

I had just met Joe Tangney, John's eldest son. I later met Joe's brothers, Marvin, Bernard and Roy, and several sisters, Margaret and Bertha among them. The girls now reside in Guthrie, Okla., where one is a nun. All four brothers now are dead. Jim Tangney, one of Bernard's sons, died less than a year ago in a mountain auto accident in Idaho. He was 38 and had been a teacher of Greek and Russian at Aurora (Colo.) High School. Aurora is a Denver suburb.

For the record, I have three daughters and one son C Cathy Howard, a high school teacher in Imperial, Neb.; Sue Erskine, who lives in Northglenn, a Denver suburb; Jeanne Klatka of Federal Heights, also a Denver suburb; and Dennis, an electronics engineer with United Airlines in San Francisco. The three daughters have given my wife, Marcella, and me eight grandchildren.

Who amongst my Tangney (or ex - Tangney) cousins do I have left? I ' d love to hear from some or all of you, especially you girls in Omaha.

I sincerely hope that this epistle does not sound like a biography of Leonard Tangney. If it does, it's only because I find it necessary to mention ol' Leonard to tie in with the historical facts. And I'm certain you Tangney sisters in Omaha have a galaxy of family tales you could pass on to me some printable and others not. Let me know of them!



[1] The record of the baptism of James Tangney Sr., recently discovered in the parish records of Castleisland, Co. Kerry, indicates that he was baptized on 1 May 1842, and thus probably was born on 20 or 29 April 1842 at the home of his parents, located in the rural townland of Gortacappul, near the village of Scartaglin. Nonetheless, the US Censuses and newspaper articles indicate various birth years for James between 1840 and 1843, and his birthday as 20 or 29 April.

[2] A 1935 biography of James Tangney Sr. indicates that he went to London in 1860 (when he would have been 17 or 18) and worked in a British munitions factory, and in 1865 he returned to London after a stint in Liverpool working as a timekeeper for a building contractor, not for Scotland Yard. James' 1864 marriage certificate shows his profession as “bookkeeper”, but does not indicate his employer. The 1865 birth certificate of his first child, James, shows his profession as “ship yard timekeeper”, and his residence as 38 Malta St., Toxteth Park, Liverpool.

[3] James Tangney Sr. and Alice Lennon probably chose to be married in Liverpool because Alice's mother resided there. They were married in the same church, St. Patrick's, where Alice's parents had been married on 6 May 1832.

[4] No record has been found indicating that James Lennon was a sea captain or that he died at sea. His profession is indicated as a bookkeeper or accountant on the 1842 and 1843 birth certificates of his children Jonathan and Alice and on the 1863 and 1868 death certificates of his sons William and Jonathan, and his profession is indicated as a wine merchant on the 1864 marriage certificate of his daughter Alice. A death certificate has been found, possibly that of Alice Lennon's father, indicating that James Lennon, mercantile clerk, age 39, died on 22 Aug 1849 from Asiatic cholera at St. George the Martyr Parish, Southwark, Surrey, with W. Lennon (possibly William, the son or brother of James) present at the death.

[5] Alice Lennon=s UK birth registration clearly states that she was born on July 12, 1843 in All Hallows the Less Parish in London, with her family living at 1 Angel Passage, Upper Thames Street. Nonetheless, the US Censuses, newspaper articles, her death certificate, and gravestone indicate various birth years between 1845 and 1849 for Alice.

[6] According to Mary Tangney McEniry, Alice Lennon=s mother was one of a group of women who worked on the shroud of Prince Albert. Whether the aunts were also Victoria=s dressmakers and whether Alice really did “know palace life” may be truth, pure fantasy, or anywhere in between. In the 1861 UK Census, Alice is listed as a resident scholar at the Catholic Orphan Asylum, Norwood Chapel, Croyden, Surrey.

[7] The ages of James (22) and Alice (21) at the time of their marriage on 1 Aug 1864 are based on their corrected birth dates, as described in Notes 1 and 5 above.

[8] “Sarah Felton” is shown as a witness in the church and civil marriage certificates for James Tangney Sr. and Alice Lennon, and also is listed in the 1861 UK Census at the same residence as Alice Lennon. Apparently, James and Alice 50 years later incorrectly remembered their witness' name as “Anne Shelton” in their family bible and a newspaper article.

[9] The passenger list of the SS Cornelius Grinnell shows James Tangney arriving New York from London on 11 July 1866. Alice probably departed for the US in late September or early October 1866, when her first son, James, was 18 months old. An entry in the family Bible indicates that baby James died at sea on 8 Oct 1866. Alice and her son may have been travelling on the steamer Helvetia, which arrived at New York on 8 Oct 1866, and recorded 44 cholera deaths for 731 passengers. (Ref. Chambers, “The Conquest of Cholera”). A passenger list for the voyage has not been found.

[10] In his 1935 biography, James Tangney Sr. says he began working at a harness shop which employed 24 other people, so he probably never owned a harness shop in Chicago.

[11] A ledger book for James Tangney's harness shop in Falls City shows sales entries between April and October of 1882.

[12] In his 1935 biography, James Tangney Sr. indicates that he was part of “a family of eight”, possibly referring to the number of the children. Records confirm that James had six full siblings C John (b.1838), Daniel (or Denis, b.1840), Catherine (Kit, b.1844), Patrick (b.1846), Michael (b.1848), and Mary (b.1850), plus one half-brother, Patrick Joseph (b.1857).

[13] Leonard=s comment here is the only evidence found that James Tangney Sr. had brothers named Jeremiah and Cornelius. More likely, they were cousins.

[14] In June 1984 Leonard made another trip to Ireland and took more photos of his great-grandfather's house in Gortacoppul as planned. There are other reports of the place still standing as recent as 2003, after which its fate is unknown.



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