Almost 200 years after a father and three sons from the townland of Gortgaul in Boho were convicted of killing their landlord’s horse by pushing it off a precipice and were transported as convicts to Australia, their ancestors met atop the windy cliff where the crime was committed.

Last Friday, members of the Cassidy family from Australia and Fermanagh travelled up Belmore Mountain to see the spot where Stephen Cassidy and his sons Thomas (25), Phillip (21) and Edward (18) “sealed their fate as convicts.”

“What a privilege it was to stand on the same soil as my forefathers, breath in the same air as they’d have done and witness the very spot which sealed their fate as convicts,” said Donna Webeck, from New South Wales, Australia, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Thomas Cassidy.

She had travelled to Fermanagh with her mother Eunice and father Des, who is Stephen Cassidy’s great, great, great, great grandson. 
There they met Monea native Oliver Cassidy, who through DNA testing, discovered that he is a relative of Des Cassidy. Another Australian cousin, Veronica Williams was also at the scene. The visitors were assisted by Boho Heritage Organisation.

Donna explained how the family tree came to light.

“We’d been aware of the suspicion we had come from convict heritage. The mystery deepened when my cousin’s husband began unravelling our family tree in 2008, and stumbled across something to do with a crime involving a horse. Coincidentally, my parents were travelling Europe and the UK in 2009 so they visited Fermanagh and ended up spending three hours trawling through the old records of the local library. 
“My mum finally found the Impartial Reporter news clipping from 1 April 1830 which detailed the crime Thomas Cassidy, his two brothers and father Stephen Cassidy had been charged with: “Maliciously killing a horse by throwing him down a precipice.”

Impartial Reporter:

“As a long time history lover, this then planted a seed of intrigue within me and I began to do more research,” said Donna, who has “always felt an affinity with Ireland” and “wanted to explore just how deep our connection ran.”

Donna then came across Veronica Williams and was “amazed at the intricate detail she had discovered in her own pursuit to unravel the Cassidy mystery.” Veronica asked Des to undertake some DNA testing in order to prove a family connection. 

“This then confirmed our connection through two of Thomas Cassidy’s children (John and Rebecca) who were siblings, and who were in each of our family trees,” explained Donna.
Meanwhile, Oliver Cassidy, son Lily and the late Kevin Cassidy from Monea, had retired and was documenting his personal history. He established that his great, great, great, great grandfather was Owen Cassidy from Gortgaul, Boho. 
Through Facebook, he came across Des Cassidy who had just been to Fermanagh. Oliver also had his DNA tested and the results found that Owen Cassidy and Stephen Cassidy were likely to have been cousins.
Oliver, who was instrumental in planning the trip, said: “I am thrilled and really excited. It’s a special privilege that these people came so far and I was able to bring them to the area where their ancestors allegedly killed a horse.”
Reflecting on the visit, Donna commented: “It’s such a privilege to know your origin and where your story began.
“My convict ancestry has never been of shame to me. Indeed, when I lived in London for 18 months many English people there did try to make it a slight on our Australian character, but I am immensely proud of where I came from. It was a petty crime but without it I would not be alive today as this act has set about a chain reaction which has given me the blessed life I lead today in a land I love.”
She reflected: “From Thomas Cassidy, through to my Pop Jim Cassidy and my dad Des, they have worked so hard to give the next generation of Cassidys a chance of a better life. I like to think my Pop, Jim, was smiling down on us during our visit to our ancestral homeland.
“Truly this is something I will never forget. I’m honoured to have paid homage to their memory 187 years on.”
The group finished their trip to Fermanagh by attending the Cassidy Clan gathering at the Killyhevlin Hotel over the weekend.