Seeking Brother, Traveller Father on Both Sides of the Irish Sea (First publish 3/25/12)

The two Sheelagh Gunns and Prince

At 5 years of age, Sheelagh Gunn recalls, she was dangled over the murky waters between the Belfast dock and the ferry by an aunt who said "We don't want this Protestant bastard." The only thing holding her in her camel-haired coat was good waxed cotton and leather.

Meanwhile, her beloved baby brother Robert, screaming her name, was carried off by his father never to be seen by Gunn or her mother again. Her great grandmother 'Granny McCulloch' would say of Sheelagh, when she was but two years old, "The child has the sight," and of course that would be true to her birthright, the caul or veil with which she was born, a sign of a mystic seer -- a path preordained before her birth and one which she still honors.

The story that accompanied her in childhood was "a baby born with a caul (a veil) and two toes webbed, a 'fey' child," the old folk would say, Sheelagh's mother being a 'wild' child with webbed toes, long flowing hair and a pixie spirit. The child's birth presents consisted of a border collie named Prince and a lamb called Buttons.  She was always referred to as the "child" for no one truly knew her father. Or did they?  "It's the gypsy in that caravan," some would say (the dark mysterious stranger from Ireland) or was it someone of the local gentry as "the 'child' would have provisions made for her."

Granny McCulloch and Armistice (Nana)

Sheelagh Gunn was so moved by our Belfast cillini limbo babies interview she contacted us, and shared a promise she made to herself after her mother passed to find her half-brother. "I have been told that I spent the first 3 years of my life with Nana in the village of Loans Ayrshire Scotland, just south of Irvine.  I truly believe my mother may have stayed there, too, until Bob came along," she wrote. When Sheelagh was about 3 years old. her mother, Jesse, who was also known as Sheelagh, divorced her first husband and married an Irishman named Robert James Morgan. They met while both were working in a manor house in the remote coastal area of Cariniehill Borgue in Galloway. Scotland.  Their marriage record states that he was a widowed farm worker and she was a divorced housekeeper.


Manor House in Cariniehill Borgue, Kirkcudbright, Scotland

The marriage produced her half-brother, Robert David Morgan, and for awhile it seemed he had what we now know as autism.  The family soon discovered that her mother had no coping skills and Sheelagh's stepfather Bob Morgan took the children from their home in Loans, Ayrshire, Scotland by ferry across the Irish Sea to Belfast.  She, her stepfather and brother lived somewhere nearby with Aunt Mary and her family  for the six months that she was in Ireland, but she never saw her stepfather or her brother after the incident on the docks in Belfast. By this time, her mother had another man in her life, and 6-year-old Sheelagh was shipped back to Scotland.  "I stood alone at the train station in the fog when it suddenly cleared and my mother was waiting there for me.  They couldn't understand a word I said as I was talking in Gaelic."

Sheelagh says her family's secrets and lies had created huge gaps in her genealogy, but now she is on her journey back in time to uncover the past and reveal the three secrets she has wondered about all her life:

  • Find her beloved brother to let him know that she has missed him all these 50 years.
  • Discover the identity of her birth father, rumored to be one of the "Irish Gypsies in the caravans down along the Ayr road."
  • The genealogy and origins of her grandmother's  Irish ancestors, thought to be from County Donegal.In 1905, her Irish great grandparents, David McCulloch born 1873 and Elizabeth Jane Davidson, took the ferry from Belfast to the Galloway point in Scotland and settled in an old cottage in Auchentibbert, Wigtownshire. Auchentibbert is from the Gaelic achadh-tiobairt, the field or land with the spring of water.   Nine children, including Armistice (Nana), were born there. 

    The north end of High Slock Farm, Auchentibbert, Wigtownshire, 

    and the ruins of the original cottage.

    Armistice married John Harper Gunn, whose family had migrated from Wick in the northern tip of the Scottish Highlands.  Sheelagh contacted Scotlands People who were extremely helpful in narrowing her search.  Sheelagh recently received her brother's birth certificate, as well as that of Jesse Gunn Innes, and Robert James Morgan's marriage record from Kirkcudbright. The hunt is on.  

    Sheelagh Gunn, at Galloway, Scotland

    When her mother passed away, Sheelagh took her ashes back to the Rhins of Galloway, 15 minutes from her birthplace, and scattered her ashes over the Irish Sea. 

    As she turned and walked away something made her turn around for another look. In that instant the sky darkened, with the sun's rays beaming on the spot where the ashes had joined with the Irish Sea and she grabbed her camera for this shot.

The Irish Sea from Galloway with Ireland in the background

Sheelagh recently sent the following update:  "I got my Nana's birth certificate, and on it the  place of marriage is stated at Ballylena, Ireland. My great grandparents names are listed as David McCullough and Elizabeth McCullough (Davidson) and the date of marriage was earlier than we thought, 26th May, 1900.  My nana was born at one of the cottages in the old settlement of High Slock, Auchentibbert, Wigtownshire.

We recently noticed a McCullough designation in the Galloway region in a surname map of Scotland.  Sheelagh never knew why her Irish great grandparents left Ireland and moved to Galloway until we discovered the Clan McCullough site.  It is looking more like they were returning home.

In the 17th century, "The clan members left the area (Galloway) in large numbers and migrated to Ireland and North America. The primary area of settlement in Ireland was Ulster, principally in the counties of Antrim, Down, and Tyrone. Although there are still many McCulloughs (with various spellings) in Scotland, the greatest concentration of McCulloughs in the British Isles are in Northern Ireland, There are approximately 5,000 McCulloughs with various name spellings in Northern Ireland today. The best-known people of the name were Ulstermen: James MacCullagh (1809-1847), born in Strabane, Ireland was an eminent mathematician and physicist; John Edward McCullough (1837-1885), born at Coleraine, was a leading tragedian in America."

ABOUT SHEELAGH GUNN:   In the tradition of the ancients, Sheelagh Gunn is "Seer & Spiritual Consultant" to her international circle of clients and friends. A native of Scotland, nation of the Celtic Druids, Sheelagh has committed her life to assisting others move from suffering to the joyous path that is our birthright. Born psychic, Sheelagh connects the material world to the spiritual realm in the most honest, down-to-earth way. Drawing on her intuitive gifts, she has a unique ability to decipher and demystify messages from spirit, empowering you to see your path unfold before you.  If anyone has any information to help Sheelagh on her quest, contact her through her website. Forward questions and comments about Irish Family History to Alannah Ryane, our Genealogy Producer, at

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Tags: Genealogy, Kirkcudbright, ayrshire gypsies, ballylena, belfast ireland, cillini babies, galloway scotland, irish scottish family history, mccullough, scotch irish, More…sheelagh gunn, the wild geese, wick scotland


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