Mary Dunne Stephens: the early years


28 April. MARY Dunne is born, the fifth child and third daughter of Catherine (age 29) and Michael (32) Dunne.

Mary Dunne, birth registration


At age 9, she is enrolled in the Curraghmore National School.


2 Apr. For the 1911 census, 15-year old MARYis the oldest child of the four girls at home. ELLEN has gone to the U.S. and married. MIKE is working as a farm laborer in England. JOHN, BRIDGET, and PATRICK are residing at the new farm in Cooloo.

Dunne family, Ballaghduff, Census of Ireland 1911

An aside: On their census form, the family also reports that Catherine has had ten live births, with nine children still living. This poses the question of when there might have been an infant death in the family.

Postcard from Mary Dunne to Uncle Mike Martin in St. Louis, about 1911. [Martin family archive]


20 Feb. She marries her neighbor JAMES STEPHENS. She is 22. He is 37. His brother John and her sister Lizzie stand up for them. [1]

Mary Dunne and James Stephens, marriage registration, 20 Feb 1919

Mary and James make their home in Ballaghduff and begin their family.

Stephens home in Ballaghduff, from Daly’s roof. Mary sweeping in front. No date. [From Harding family]

The Twenties and Thirties are filled with change for Ireland and for Ballaghduff. Family members leave for economic opportunities elsewhere. So many goodbyes! The Stephens couple quickly filled the gaps with lovely babies and became a stable anchor to their tiny townland. Mary’s granddaughter writes:

Mary, later years

Granny was an excellent seamstress and often made holy communion dresses for children in the parish. She was also a beautiful singer. She was very into her style, as were many of the Dunne family. She may have worn… wellingtons on the farm but knew how to dress well. Granny had so many handbags — all leather and all… good quality… in every colour. She knew the importance of education and sent two of her children to boarding school when, at that time, very few went to boarding school…  I remember her in the house as a very quiet, kind, gentle woman, who treated very one with respect and generosity.

CMcL, via message


9 Feb. BRIDGET VERONICA aka “Vera” is born, the first Dunne family grandchild born in the village and first girl. [2]

During the summer of that year her sister BRIDGET returns for a visit.


12 Mar. MARGARET MARY aka “Grett” is born.


After much turmoil, the Irish Free State has been declared. Many in the region surrounding Ballaghduff have been cruelly treated by the British Black and Tans. This includes her brother Mike, whose repaired hip fracture was undone when a B&T knocked him off his bicycle.

29 Nov. JOHN aka “Jack” is born.


Youngest sister KATIE leaves to live in St. Louis.


12 Jun. MICHAEL COLM aka “Mike” is born.


Feb. Sister LIZZIE gets married to MARTIN KILMARTIN and plans a life with her family in Ballaghduff.

Aug. Sister MAGGIE leaves to live in St. Louis.


May. Brother PATRICK leaves to live in St. Louis


1 May. MARY THERESA is born.


19 Aug. CATHERINE PHILOMENA aka “Phil” is born.

KATIE returns home for a visit, during which LIZZIE’s third pregnancy results in miscarriage and paralysis. The incident changes Ballaghduff. Lizzie’s children become dependent on the village for their care, notably from Mary’s eldest two daughters VERA and GRETT. Katie also abandons her plans to marry a St. Louis German-American and stays in Ballaghduff, where she marries their neighbor PETER COLLINS.


7 Jul. ELLEN RITA is born.


15 Sept. MARTIN BERNARD aka “Mattie” is born. He is the Stephens’ ninth child, born just before Mary turns 40.


Aug. With her youngest child still a toddler, Mary waves goodbye to her eldest. 19-year-old VERA leaves home to work for Minnie Wooten Johnson on Portland Place in St. Louis, under the watchful eyes of her Aunts Helen and Bridget.


13 Dec. As Mary turns 44, NORA VIRGINIA aka “Noreen” is born


5 Jun. Her father MICHAEL dies.


25 Nov. Her mother CATHERINE dies.


June. Under the auspices of Aunt Nora Hession (James’ sister), sons JACK (age 27) and MIKE [date?] emigrate to Chicago, where the work is good.

About the same time daughter MARY THERESA leaves for St. Louis to join VERA working for Mrs. Johnson on Portland Place.

[When does Vera marry Tom Whelan? Did Mary T replace her at Mrs. Johnson’s?]


[Too many grandchildren and family events for me to track down. I’ll leave that task to the Stephens clan.]

Mary on USA visit, 1958 [from CMcL]
Siblings Pat and Mike Dunne, Katie Collins, Helen Price, Mary Dunne, in Ballaghduff, 1959


18 Feb. Mary’s dear husband JAMES dies at the age of 82


Dunne sisters: Bridget, Katie, Mary, Margaret, 1969


7 Apr. Mary died at 85, on 7 April 1981.


[1] The marriage record lists James’ father as “James,” but I think he was John Stephens “Tom.”

[2] The first grandchild was William Price, born to Ellen in St. Louis.

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