Picture of Michael Burns

Michael Burns


My great-grandfather Michael Burns was born in April 1828 in Shanagolden, Limerick, Ireland. He was the son of John Burns and Catherine Dempsey.

The following are the baptismal records for Michael Burns and his siblings from the parish of Shanagolden. Baptisms were usually performed within a few days after birth, but sometimes the gap between birth and baptism was much longer.

Like many others, Michael fled the great Irish Famine and moved to Canada with his brother James and Peter Burns, probably a cousin. Peter went back to Ireland where he married Margaret Barrett. His descendants still live on a farm in Shanagolden.

James was born in August 1831. James married while in Canada or the United States. His wife died of cholera after four years of marriage. As far as I know, James and his wife had no children. James emigrated to the United States from Canada sometime between 1858 and 1860. In his old age he lived with his niece Grace Burns Landers. My aunt Grace recounted how James terrified her whenever she and her brothers and sisters visited the home of their aunt Grace Burns Landers. At the first sight of the children James would race out of the house brandishing his shillelagh and threatening to beat the children. His niece Grace would have to intervene saying "Jimmy, Jimmy, those are Johnnie's children!" Apparently James did not like children, so it is probably just as well that he never had any.

Michael met his first wife, Mary Cagney, in Canada. Mary was born in Ballingarry, Ireland about 1835. She was apparently the daughter of John Mascagni, an Italian immigrant to Ireland who changed his name to Cagney, and Alice Horan Cowie (or Cowhey). Mary's family had moved to the Boston area, so she and Michael went there to marry on February 3, 1861 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the year after Michael emigrated from Canada to the United States. Michael and Mary, along with several of Mary's relatives, moved to a farm in Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan where Michael and Mary's only child was born:

Everyone called her Kate. She married William Edward Quinn on January 8, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. She died on July 3, 1934 in Chicago. Her husband William was the son of John Quinn and Bridget Cowhey Quinn, the sister of Michael Burns's second wife Margaret Cowhey Cagney.

Mary Cagney Burns died of sunstroke in August 1862 less than a year after Kate was born. After Mary's death, Michael moved to Chicago, Illinois in search of work, leaving Kate in the charge of his in-laws. Michael became a policeman in Chicago. After establishing himself Michael brought Kate to Chicago to live with him.

While living in Chicago, Michael met and in December 1873 married Margaret Cowhey Cagney, widow of Cornelius Cagney. I do not know if Cornelius Cagney were any relation to Michael's first wife Mary. However, Margaret Cowhey was also from Ballingarry, the birthplace of Mary Cagney, so it is possible there was some connection. Mary Cagney may instead have been related to Margaret Cowhey, since the last name of Mary's mother was Cowie, an alternative spelling of Cowhey. Cowhey siblings used different surname spellings, so the difference need not rule out the relationship.

Michael and Margaret became the parents of three children:

Michael Burns died in Chicago in 1907.

My thanks to Aoife Ryan of Limerick Genealogy who performed the leg-work in Limerick to locate records of the Burns family there.


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Last modified by pib on July 12, 2015.