ON BEING IRISH
By Mickey O’Dunaway
I was sure I was Irish. Absolutely sure. That is until I was 75, and a relative told me there was no way we had ancestors in the Dunaway family tree from the Emerald Isle. From an early age—5 or 6, I think—I was told that a great uncle (I think) who, by living in Florida and was clearly on the smart branch of the tree, had done a genealogy study of the Dunaway clan and had determined without a doubt that we descended from IRISH ancestors. I proudly carried my Irish heritage with me all my life until the summer of 2022. More about that important a bit later.
Soon after Sandy and I were married, we had a little talk about our family backgrounds and concluded that neither family (immediate nor historical) was wealthy or famous but came from good roots. I explained that she had married a handsome and perhaps intelligent (having graduated from Auburn) Irishman. I had no doubt that I was telling her an absolute Dunaway-family truth.
In the same discussion, we concluded that Sandy, whose surname was Mills was certainly English, as in someone who mills the grain. And, clearly, the surname Mills was not Irish as just as clearly the surname Dunaway was.
So based on our impeccable Southern logic, we thusly named our two children with Christian first names that could be considered English and middle names that could only be Irish: Christian Patrick Dunaway and Adam Flynn Dunaway. And so we blissfully lived our lives in the confidence that our children properly reflected their ancestry.
Back to the Summer of 2022. As many of you know, Sandy and I embarked on a journey to South Alabama to once and for all to identify as many members of our Dunaway family tree as we could by meeting with small family groups who knew things that I did not realize because Sandy and I had moved around and out of the South for a most of our married lives.
As we made our way from North Carolina to Alabama, we stopped over at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Montgomery since we planned to be staying at the home of my sister-in-law Helen’s mother’s home deeded to the Smith family members for just such purposes as we planned to accomplish. We weren’t Smiths by lineage, but our two children also considered Annie Smith, their nanny.
As we talked that night in Montgomery as we rested before heading to Nannie’s in Latham, in Baldwin County, Alabama, I spoke to my older brother about our Irish ancestry, which Sandy and I hoped to solidly confirm a Dunaway-truth. To which he quickly and affirmatively replied, “We aren’t Irish. “Where did you hear that.”
I replied, “I have always known as much as I could know about our family, beginning as a five-year-old, that we certainly were Irish because Granddaddy Dunaway said so because Uncle Eli Dunaway said so.”
My beloved brother Bill, who had become a little less remarkable with his previous remark, once again declared that he had never heard that.
Since my brother, Bill was four years older than I and was now the elder member of the Glen & Annah Dunaway Branch of the family tree, in my best Southern form of respect (whether deserved it or not), I gave him the benefit of the doubt—and a BIG DOUBT it was!
It quickly dawned on me that for the past 49 years, I had lived in ignorance of the mistake of giving our two children clearly Irish middle names! What a dumbass I had been.
Yet, I realized there was hope because my mistake had come from the most honorable man in our Dunaway family tree, Granddaddy Dunaway. If he said it and I remembered it even partially correctly, I still had a chance to be right if I could confirm it from another Dunaway family cousin.
Sure enough, I emailed my Cousin Pinky—actually Calvin—Dunaway, who still lived in the Dunaway homeplace of Brewton and who we intended to visit on one of our excursions from Nannie’s Place. Pinky—the only thing I had ever known him by in my 75 years was in the Summer of 2022, the Elder of the entire Dunaway Clan. In an email to Pinky, I mentioned what I had thought about Dunaways being of Irish heritage. And bless his Dunaway-Irish heart, he said that as he remembered growing up, Granddaddy had always said that we were indeed Irish!
I found out with some Ancestry.com research that my great-grandmother, Victoria Lowery of Canoe, in Escambia County, Alabama, was of actual Irish descent and maybe with a bit of royal Irish ancestry, to boot.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all members of the Dunaway-Irish Clan!
Erin go Bragh! “Ireland Forever”
ERIN GO BRAGH FOREVER!!!! We DO have Irish in us, cousins! From Grandma Wiggins’ lips to my ears in the Summer of 1971. We were discussing family history and she said that day was the anniversary of her marriage to D.A. Cowan. She said she had come from Scots-Irish background. I’m like you, they said it, I believe it!! We also descend from the first French Hugenots that came to America. P.S. I AM Irish on my mother’s side, so I wear the green proudly!
Ya’ll have a great Spring!
Thanks, Judy as always!