Clare County Library
Clare Genealogy

Donated Material: Family Histories, Biographies & Memoirs 

A History of the Hehir Family in Binghamton, New York
by Jim Taylor


Title: A History of the Hehir Family in Binghamton, New York and
A Study of all people in Binghamton who carried the name or its variations (l880s-1940)
Type of Material: Family History
Places: Tulla, Co. Clare; Binghamton, Johnson City , New York; Susquehanna Pennsylvania
Dates: 1853 - 1940
Family Names: Hehir; Farrell; Kelly; O’Brien.
Transcriber/Donator: Jim Taylor

The following is a brief synopsis of the early years of the Hehir / Haher / Hehar / O’Hare family side of the union between Lawrence Farrell and Maria Hehir in Binghamton, New York. Lawrence and Maria were the great grandparents of the author, his mother’s grandparents.

According to information available from Ireland, the surname Hehir has 16 generally accepted spelling variations.

As the population of Europe increased, and as systems of taxation were put in place, adding one honorific or another became a necessary and common practice everywhere. At one time people carried only one name. When it became unwieldy due to many people with the same names in one area, it became necessary to add an additional identifier. It was often the person’s trade: allowing a John Smith versus a John Baker, for example.

In Scandinavia, the use of –son in Sweden and –sen in Norway and Denmark literally means “son of”, while in Iceland’s maternalistic society it quite common to find the suffix –dottir, which rather obviously translates as “the daughter of”.

In the Gaelic Irish language, the use of the “O apostrophe” or “Mac / Mc apostrophe” was adopted as a method of describing the family lineage. Historically, the O’ means one is a descendant of someone, while Mac specifically indicates the son of someone. Additionally, one was often identified with a particular clan, which is how the Hehir name developed in the region around County Clare.

The (O) Hehir clan has been established for centuries in the ancient territory of Thomond or Tuathmhumhan, comprising most of County Clare with adjacent parts of Counties Limerick and Tipperary. The name is included in the List of Septs of Thomond, dating to 1317. It is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "OhAichir", the Gaelic prefix "O" indicating "male descendant of", plus the personal byname Aichear", from "aichear", fierce, sharp. Traditionally, Irish family names are taken from the heads of tribes or from an illustrious warrior, as in this case and are usually prefixed by "O", descendant of, or "mac" denoting "son of".

The clan was designated by O’Heerin as from the race of Eogan of Oirir Cliach and they were described as “noble and well-armed Fenian warriors. The main stronghold of the name today is County Clare in the heart of Thomond, and the form "Haier" found in West Clare is a synonym of (O) Hehir. Further Anglicized forms of the name include: Hegher, (O) Hare, and Haire.

In the United States, as immigrants from all over Europe flocked to our shores during the industrial revolution, it is well documented that names were often written phonetically or in many cases abbreviated dramatically by interviewers, especially if their native tongue was different from the person they were interviewing. As the story below unfolds, you will see these phenomena occur in the Hehir family.

Since family patriarch Michael Hehir’s death in 1904 is recorded with this spelling in the Family Bible and his widow Mary continued using it as such until her death in 1931, it is the form used in this document. Michael can be found in scattered records through the years as Haher or O’Hare, but the overwhelming use of Hehir over time clearly denotes a preference on his part. It is also known that Hehir is how the family name is recorded in County Clare, Ireland.

For those in Michael’s family who chose a new spelling and continued its use through the years, those changes are recorded in this text. If a change appeared to be simply a onetime occurrence, that spelling is not recorded here.

It seems reasonable that others in the Binghamton area with variations of the spelling may be related to some degree, but further study is called for and ongoing. Generally, one or two family members would leave their home country and settle in the New World. Once they were established, other family members would then follow. In the case of this Hehir family, two parents and ten children who all immigrated together, it seems logical that there was already someone from their extended family in the Binghamton area.

The research sources used in the study which led to this document were US and NYS Census documents, Binghamton City Directories, Saint Patrick's Catholic Church records, gravestones in Saint Patrick’s and Calvary Cemeteries in present day Johnson City, NY (see Appendix) , Saint John’s Cemetery in Susquehanna, PA and the surviving Farrell Family Bible, which appears to have been a wedding gift to Lawrence Farrell and Maria Hehir. Conversations with several surviving family members who are grandchildren of Maria or surviving spouses of her grandchildren have proven invaluable, as have contacts with direct descendants of the Hehir children with whom contact had been lost through the years.

Michael was the son of Patrick Hehir and Margaret O’Conner. His wife Mary was the daughter of Thomas Hehir and Mary McGran. Both families were located in County Clare, Ireland. When Michael and Mary emigrated from Ireland in 1883 or 1884, they arrived in Binghamton, Broome County, New York with their family of ten children, ranging in age from about 22 down to about 6. They purchased their home at 41 Leroy Street soon thereafter; the first published record of the family at that address is 1885. Although Michael passed away in 1904, Mary continued living in their home until her death in early 1931. (Brief notice of Michael’s passing, with photo, and transcript of Mary’s obituary in Appendix).

Records on file show that 41 Leroy Street was in the Hehir family’s hands from 1885 until 1936.

The Hehirs were early adopters of a modern urban lifestyle, living along the Leroy Street Trolley which began as a horse drawn railroad in 1887, but became the all-electric West Side Street Railway Company by 1893. The trolley line was a popular transportation option for residents traveling to Recreation Park on the western edge of the city, which had been established by local resident Able Bennett. The Hehir family lived adjacent to the land holdings of the Bennett family. When Abel Bennett passed away, his farm was subdivided into what is known as the Bennett Tract, a National Historic site recognized for its many homes built during the Victorian era.

Binghamton was recognized at that time as a thriving modern city, taking advantage of new technologies well in advance of most communities and was widely considered as second only to New York City in its adaptation to the amenities being brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The all-electric trolley mentioned above was the first of its kind in New York State.

There was so much wealth in Binghamton that the homes of successful families were known far and wide as a result of the local production and broad dissemination of photo postcards of these homes’ ornate interiors. Binghamton thus became known as The Parlor City, a title still in use today.

Several companies recognized today as world leaders in their industries began in Binghamton. A few examples of Binghamton’s industries in the early years follow:

• Binghamton was second in volume only to New York City in the manufacture of fine cigars. Many immigrants, about 6,000 by 1888, found work at over 50 firms, cutting and rolling tobacco into cigars and this was a thriving industry until cigarettes came into favor after World War I.

• In 1842, E and HT Anthony opened a photo gallery in Binghamton, which grew into the Anthony & Scoville Company. They would later expand further into film manufacturing and shorten the company name to the Ansco Corporation; a precursor of General Aniline and Film, today’s GAF.

• In 1854 the Lester Brothers began a boot and shoe shop just west of the City, which grew into a large shoe manufacturer. The company was sold to an investor from Massachusetts, Henry Bradford Endicott, in the 1890’s and would become Endicott Johnson Shoe Manufacturing, a company that employed thousands of immigrants for a century.

• The world’s first petroleum based lubricant was formulated and manufactured by Dr. John Ellis in Binghamton in 1866. He trademarked the name, Valvoline Motor Oil, in 1873.

• Doctor Kilmer’s Swamp Root Medicine was manufactured in Binghamton from 1878 to 1940 and a huge fortune was amassed by the Kilmer family.

o The Kilmer Manufacturing plant at Lewis and Chenango Streets still stands today, as does the Binghamton Press Building, built on Chenango Street to house the Binghamton Press newspaper, another Kilmer business venture:
o Willis Sharpe Kilmer became deeply involved in horse racing and was just as successful in that venture:

• He was the owner of Exterminator, the winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby and 1922 American Horse of the Year; Exterminator died in 1945 and is buried in a mausoleum built in his honor near Binghamton’s Ross Park, home of the City Zoo.
• He was the breeder of Reigh Count, the winner of the 1928 Kentucky Derby;
• He bred and owned Sun Beau, the largest money maker in horse racing history until Seabiscuit in 1939;
• Both Exterminator and Sun Beau were elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

• Harlow Bundy founded Bundy Manufacturing in 1889, a startup working with innovative ways to utilize the power of electricity for business. The company grew rapidly, selling its products around the world, and was renamed the International Time Recorder Company. It would eventually change its name to International Business Machines, today’s IBM.

• The 1900 Washer Company was an early developer of washing machines and through mergers would become present day Whirlpool.

• Binghamton native Edwin A Link invented and built flight simulators in Binghamton for the US Army Air Corps, which became the US Air Force in 1947.

• Sports equipment retail giant Dick’s Sporting Goods began as a single shop in Binghamton.
o In 1948, after the end of WWII, 18 year old Richard Stack worked at an Army/Navy store in his hometown of Binghamton. Army/Navy Stores were quite common at the time, selling surplus goods that had been manufactured for the war effort.
o At the owner’s request, "Dick" explored the idea of expanding the product line to include fishing and camping supplies, but the owner rejected Dick's suggestions, stating that Dick “would never make a good merchant.”
o When Dick recounted his story at home later that day, his grandmother advised, “Dick, always follow your dreams,” and gave him $300 from her savings. He rented a storefront and opened the first Dick's as a small "bait & tackle" fishing supply store, on Court Street near Howard Avenue in downtown Binghamton.
This was the Binghamton of the late 1800’s to which the Hehirs and thousands of other families immigrated.

Michael and Mary’s oldest child, their daughter Maria (pronounced as Mariah), was destined to become Mrs. Lawrence John Farrell in 1886. Maria was born in 1862. Upon their marriage, she and Lawrence lived with his parents, John and Catherine, in the Farrell family home at 49 Murray Street. John passed away in 1891 and Catherine in 1900. Lawrence and Maria remained in the home until Lawrence’s death in 1910.

The distance from 41 Leroy Street to 49 Murray Street, around the corner and down the street, is less than two football fields - about a 2 minute walk.

Maria and Lawrence Farrell had 10 children. After Lawrence passed away in 1910 Maria purchased a home at 6 Gold Street, where she would live until her death in 1936. 6 Gold Street, across town on the east side of Binghamton, was to become a central aspect of the Farrell family’s life in the coming decades, but the Farrell story is one for another day. (Transcript of Maria’s Obituary in Appendix)

Michael and Mary’s second child was another daughter, Margaret, born in 1863. Margaret was Maria’s Maid of Honor at her marriage to Lawrence. Margaret never married. After just a few years at 41 Leroy Street, she became a live-in domestic servant, living with the Gregg family at 99 Main Street in the 1890’s until she was able to move on and purchase her own boarding house at 84 Lewis Street, across the street from the city’s Railroad Station, in 1903. She would soon purchase another, across from the Broome County Courthouse at 5 Congdon Place in 1905. She sold that building about 1915 and purchased yet another boarding house close by at 11 ½ Centenary Avenue, which she owned until she passed away in the spring of 1924. Margaret is buried with her parents at Saint Patrick’s Cemetery. (Transcript of Margaret’s obituary in the Appendix)

Child number 3 was Patrick, born in 1864. He married Margaret Neylon, who emigrated from Ireland somewhat later, in 1887 or 1888. The date of their marriage remains unknown at this time, but their first child, Mary, was baptized at Saint Patrick’s Church in 1890. Patrick and Margaret lived at 43 Leroy Street, next door to his parents and siblings, for nearly a decade until they moved just blocks away in the late 1890’s as their own family, eventually numbering seven children, grew. Through the years they lived at 3 Florence Avenue, a 4 minute walk from 41 Leroy St., then on the North side of Binghamton near the Lackawanna Rail Yard where Patrick was employed as a car inspector. Their first home there was at 3 Roberts Street, then just around the corner on an intersecting street, 19 ½ Virgil Street.

After Patrick’s death in a tragic work related accident while inspecting rail cars in 1921, Margaret purchased 16 Broad Avenue on Binghamton’s East end, where she would live out her life. 16 Broad Avenue is a 7 minute walk from Maria Farrell’s home at 6 Gold Street. One of Maria’s grandchildren who grew up at 6 Gold Street has recounted memories of the 16 Broad Street family, while grandchildren of Patrick and Margaret have related their stories of Maria’s home at 6 Gold Street.

Patrick’s family’s side of the Hehir Family stone at Saint Patrick’s Cemetery spells the family name Haher. The stone has two faces: Michael and Mary with four of their children on one side, Patrick and Margaret with four of their children on the other. The side with the Haher name was originally engraved Hehir; it is clearly evident that it was changed to Haher. However, all records indicate that Patrick used the Haher spelling continuously from at least the turn of the 20th century until his death in 1921. Margaret, his children and later descendants have continued as Hahers. Therefore, Patrick and family are recorded as such herein. (Transcripts of Patrick’s accident followed by his funeral notice and Margaret’s obituary and funeral notice in Appendix)

Hehir number 4 was Thomas, born in 1866. Like his older brother Patrick, he also elected to use a new spelling of his last name and stayed with it for the rest of his life. He can be found in various records as Thomas Ohare, O’Hare, Ohair, O’Hair, and of course, Hehir and Haher. He is buried with his wife, the former Margaret Keogh, at Saint Patrick’s Cemetery. Margaret passed away in 1923, Thomas in 1953. They and their descendants are known as O’Hare and that name is considered their name of record. Thomas and his family lived at 144 Riverside Drive when first married, followed by three successive addresses through the years on Seminary Avenue - #’s 77, 89 and finally, 97 from about 1925 on.

The sequence of house numbers is interesting. Seminary Avenue was a newly developing suburb at the time. The land had been the home of a short lived Methodist Seminary, built in 1853 and closed in 1858, on a hill to the west of early Binghamton. It then went through several iterations as educational institutions in the late 1800’s, all of which failed. In 1881, the Pastor of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, Father Hourigan, recognized the need to expand his parish’s children’s orphanage which at the time was located in a small building at Oak and Leroy Streets. The former seminary property was purchased by the Trustees of Saint Patrick’s Church for $22,000 and became Saint Mary’s Orphans Home with an initial population of 40 boys and 30 girls. It was managed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondolet. At its peak in the mid-20th Century it housed 300 children. It survived as an orphanage until the early 1960’s when the Diocese of Syracuse purchased it from the sisters in May, 1961 and established Binghamton Catholic Central High School, which stands today as Seton Catholic High School.

Thomas’s purchase of homes in numeric order indicates that he must have enjoyed some level of success, literally “moving up” as construction progressed up Seminary Hill. (See Thomas’ Obituary and Margaret’s funeral notice in Appendix)

Next in line was another daughter, Bridget Della, who was born in 1869. She lived at 41 Leroy Street until her marriage to another Irish immigrant, Sinon Kelly, in 1891. The couple moved almost immediately to Susquehanna, Pennsylvania where they lived near Sinon’s parents and raised their own family. Sinon was the godfather of Lawrence and Maria Farrell’s son John M Farrell, according to John’s 1890 baptismal records at Saint Patrick’s Church. Sinon passed away in 1923, Bridget Della in 1941. They are buried at Saint John’s Cemetery in Susquehanna. Bridget Della’s middle name was the name she preferred and Della is how she was known and is remembered today. (The search for records of Margaret’s death continues and will be added once discovered.)

Another sidebar on the topic of spelling seems appropriate here. In the Saint Patrick’s Church baptismal record of John Farrell which is mentioned above, his mother Maria’s maiden name is recorded as Hare. In the same Family Bible in which the deaths of Michael Hehir and his youngest child are recorded, Maria’s own signature on her marriage page is written as Maria O’Haire, as is that of one of the official witnesses, her sister Margaret. In Saint Patrick’s Church records of the marriage, she is recorded as Hannah Meagher. Perhaps, if one considers the Irish pronunciation of “child of Hehir” or “MacHehir”, the sound to an American ear could readily segue into Meagher, but there is no direct evidence that this is what occurred. This is but one example of the confusion faced by researchers attempting to find order in the chaos of surnames surrounding many old records.

Daughter Jane (Jennie) Hehir was born about 1870. She would marry Thomas O’Brien in 1899 and she and her husband would live in the two-family Hehir home at 41 Leroy Street until her mother Mary’s death in 1930. Soon after Mary’s passing they purchased their own home around the corner at 49 Saint John Avenue. Jane and Thomas are buried at Calvary Cemetery in Johnson City, New York. (Transcripts of Jane’s obituary and funeral notice in Appendix)

Several relatives still living in Binghamton remember them well. Some out of town family members, one of whom was married to a Farrell descendant, recall visiting with Aunt Jen and Uncle Tom when they would travel to Binghamton from their homes in Schenectady, New York. All of these family members remember Aunt Jen and Uncle Tom’s home on Saint John’s Ave. The grandson of Jane’s sister Della bought the 2 family home from Tom after Jane’s death and his children were raised in that family home.

Martin was born about 1873 and never married. A baker by trade, Martin worked in Binghamton until about 1894, when he apparently moved on his own to Syracuse, New York for several years, returning to the Leroy Street home in 1901. After his father’s death he continually lived at 41 Leroy Street with his Mother Mary until her death in 1931. He ran a saloon at 95 Chapin Street for a time, went back to baking, then was employed for a time by Ansco Film and finally spent many years with the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company. After Mary’s death in February 1931, Martin moved with Jane and Thomas O’Brien to their home on Saint John Avenue and lived there until at least 1940. When he passed away in 1941, he was living in his sister Catherine’s home at 14 Highland Ave.

Martin was apparently the last person in Binghamton to carry the Hehir name under the original spelling. All research to date shows that the use of Hehir died with him, on April 24, 1941. (Transcript of Martin’s obituary in the Appendix)

Child number 8 was Catherine (Katherine, Kathryn), born in 1874. She lived from 1903 until 1914 at her sister Margaret’s boarding houses. In about 1915 Catherine married Edward F. Jennings, who was born in Pennsylvania to Irish parents. The Jennings continued living in Binghamton where Edward worked as a printer and linotypist. Edward passed away in 1946, followed 4 years later by Catherine in 1950. They had one daughter, Mary Jane. The family is buried at Calvary Cemetery. (Transcripst of Catherine’s obituary and funeral notice in Appendix)

Catherine and Margaret were noted in the Binghamton Press on Thursday 10 July 1910 as having traveled to Ireland to visit with family members in County Clare for the summer.

Hehir number 9 was Nora, born 1877. Nora did not marry and lived with her Mom all her life except one year, 1903, when her address was recorded at Margaret’s new boarding house on Lewis Street. She returned home and lived in the family home even after Mary’s death in 1930. Nora passed away almost six years after her mother, in December 1936, having lived at 41 Leroy Street, except for that one year, since her arrival in the United States in the mid-1880s. Nora is also buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery with her parents. (Transcript of Nora’s obituary in the Appendix)

Child number ten passed away in his teenage years. John Hehir was born in Ireland in 1878 and according to the Farrell Family Bible passed away in 1894 at 16 years old. His is the last of 6 names on the family stone at Saint Patrick’s Cemetery. (No formal records found to date)


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