AA history topics: Sister Ignatia Gavin, Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism treatment program at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, with Dr. Bob Smith. Born in Shanvalley, Burren, in County Mayo, Ireland, on the estate of the Earl of Lucan. Ruins of the stone cottage beside Gavin's Field.

Sister Ignatia's
birthplace in Ireland

Photographs and description by
Fiona D. (County Mayo)

  Sister Ignatia, who in 1939 teamed up with Dr. Bob to found the famous AA-based treatment program at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, was born in Ireland as Bridget Della Mary Gavin on 1 January 1889 at Shanvalley, Burren, in County Mayo.  

Shanvalley, Burren, County Mayo, Ireland

A satellite photo of Ireland
showing Burren in the center

13 July 2008

This morning, I stood in the ruins of the birthplace of Sister Ignatia in the company of my old AA buddy Murdy O'B. whose detective work over the past year has been extraordinary to say the least. We have always felt there was something erroneous in regards Shanvalley, Ballyheane being given as her birthplace. Firstly all family records were in the church in Castlebar and yet there was a church in Ballyheane. Secondly there were no folk memories of the family and folk memories go back a long, long time in Ireland. Thirdly, with such large Irish families there had to be some family connection left behind.

So many a night on our way to and from meetings we discussed it and last year Murdy spotted a death notice in the paper one day which stated Shanvalley, Burren and the name of the deceased was a member of the Neary family and Ignatia's mother was Barbara Neary. The registering church for Shanvalley, Burren is Castlebar and the pieces began to fall into place. Murdy took a trip up to Shanvalley and it's a townland populated by Neary's and he was shown what is known to this day as Gavin's Field and the ruins of the house still standing there. The extended Neary family still live there and one member in her 80's shared many a memory.

It was a strange feeling standing there this morning after an AA meeting and gazing around imaging what it was like at the end of the 1800's. The boreen to the houses there was only paved in the 1980's and along with the ruins of Gavin's house stand the ruins of many more bearing witness to the emigration which was a fact of life here in the west of Ireland for so long.

Fiona D.

Birthplace of Sister Ignatia Gavin, AA, Ireland, photo by Fiona Dodd

Sister Ignatia's birthplace, the
gable wall from the garden

The gable wall of the house where Sister Ignatia was born still stands in a field called Gavin's Field. Her mother was a Neary and the hamlet is full of members of the Neary family even today.

Photo by Fiona Dodd of Sister Ignatia's birthplace, Shanvalley, County Mayo

Sister Ignatia's birthplace, the
gable wall from the living area

In the photo above we see the gable wall from what was the living area -- probably just a two-roomed dwelling with one bedroom for the parents. The flowering tree is a hawthorne tree.

(In Irish folklore the hawthorn is referred to as the fairy bush, due to the belief that fairy spirits inhabit the tree as guardians. Since fairy trees are considered sacred, one can sometimes find places in the Irish countryside where ribbons, charms, coins and even crystals have been fastened to the tree to bring good fortune.)

Road to Shanvalley, County Mayo, Sister Ignatia's birthplace

The road from the house to the Old French Road.

The road from the house to the Old French Road. The road was only tarred for the first time in the 1980's -- until then it was a dirt track. The French came to Mayo in 1798 and marched from Ballina to Castlebar across the Windy Gap and the road is still known as the Old French Road -- Ignatia's home is about 3 miles in off it.

Photo by Fiona Dodd, Irish cottage, County Mayo

This cottage is next door to Ignatia's birthplace

Gavin's Field, where Sister Ignatia was born, Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous

Gavin's Field

The photo above shows Gavin's Field. They would have grown potatoes there, and perhaps had a cow. About a quarter of an acre is all they had, not much to raise food for an entire family.

Sister Ignatia's birthplace, Shanvalley, Ireland, photo by Fiona Dodd (County Mayo)

Gavin's Field and garden

The photo above shows Gavin's Field and garden. They would have grown cabbage in the garden, and perhaps some turnips, and maybe some carrots.

Some photos below of the area
around Ignatia's birthplace

Photos of County Mayo, Ireland, by Fiona Dodd

Levally Lough with Lough Conn behind it.
(Ballina, where I come from, is over yonder somewhere.)

Photos of County Mayo, Ireland, by Fiona Dodd

The Nephin range from the Windy Gap


CLICK HERE  Listings for the Neary name in Griffith's Land Valuation

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