Kelly Egan, “For Lunneys, tracing family’s roots a labour of love”


For Lunneys, tracing family’s roots a labour of love

OTTAWA — Not all the Lunney men were priests. It only seemed that way.

There was the first Father Ed, the American, then the second Father Ed, the one who left the priesthood late in life, and Father Bill, the soft-spoken one, and Father Len, the singing principal. And we shan’t forget Mary, who became Sister Alphonse Marie, but was also the second Father Ed’s actual sister.

And the Father Lunneys were not brothers, but cousins. It all needs to be written down and sorted out, doesn’t it? And it was.

A new book is just out, From Fermanagh to Fitzroy & Beyond … about the descendants (and there are some 700) of Edward Joseph Lunney and his wife Johanna Mantle, who emigrated to Canada from Ireland separately, marrying here in 1836 and settling in old Fitzroy Township.

It is one of those remarkable books we see more of today. Made possible by the explosion of interest in genealogy, the miraculous archival reach of the Internet, and the economics of small publishing.

It is, of course, a labour of love and the product of obsession. Jeri Lunney knows only too well.

“We just had to know,” she says, of the on-and-off research that was ignited with a first trip to Ireland 12 years ago.

“I think we have to know where we’ve been in order to know where we’re going.”

Jeri, 68, a retired teacher, is married to Al Lunney, 72, the one-time mayor of Mississippi Mills. The couple now live in downtown Almonte.

Al, born James Alphonsus, is the great-grandson of Edward Joseph. Al’s father, Hugh Edward, died when Al was only three. The loss of his dad at such a young age became an important motivator in the couple’s research, Jeri says.

(Like many old Irish families, the Lunneys generally followed a tradition of naming boys after fathers and fathers’ fathers, producing a small, confusing army of Edwards, Hughs and Jameses, and necessitating nicknames.)

The book is also the trigger for a Lunney family reunion planned for July 20. More than 100 are expected from across Canada and the United States.

Jeri is the first to admit she had loads of help in compiling the book, particularly from smaller family trees already compiled by earlier generations and a network of dogged researchers. She has worked on the 400-page book steadily for about two years, probably putting in a couple of hours a day.

The journey of the Lunney compilers had many of the hallmarks and dead-ends that face modern-day genealogists. There were hours spent in graveyards, here and abroad. Deciphering hand-written documents by our barely-literate ancestors. Sorting out the mysteries of spellings: Lunney became Lunny and Lonny and, on the patriarch’s wedding registry, Lowry, the source of great confusion.

The Internet, of course, became a gold mine. “Even in the last year, I can find out 10 times as much as I could before,” says Jeri.

Still, the story of Johanna, the matriarch, the mother of 10 children, was a tough one to track down, Jeri explained, mostly because of incomplete records.

She empathized with the difficult farm life Johanna must have led and the way, in death, she was overlooked. There was a gravestone for Edward, who died in 1872, in Indian Hill Cemetery in Pakenham, but no mention of his wife.

It took some detective work, but the Lunneys were able to confirm that Johanna was buried with her husband. In August 2012, she and Al placed an inscribed stone on the ground below Edward’s upright marker. The circle, in a sense, was completed, 127 years later.

“We spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to get information about this woman. Because we had to,” said Jeri.

“We had to vindicate her existence, if that’s the right word to use.”

While generalizations are difficult to make, there do seem to be some common Lunney traits, she agreed: honesty, humility, a strong work ethic, a keen spirituality, yet a love for singing, music and laughter.

Many were farm people, who maintained rural roots even as they moved to cities.

For instance, Father Len Lunney, now 80 and retired as a monsignor, still keeps a bush lot near Pakenham and tinkers on a number of antique cars. He is probably best known for his nearly 30-year career at St. Pius X high school.

The reunion is timely in another sense. So many of the fourth generation are gone, she noted, including Father Bill, who died in 2009, age 81, and Father Ed, who left the priesthood in 2004 and died in 2012, age 83.

Nor is genealogy a dry exercise in record-keeping, Jeri explained. Grown children were asked to interview their parents to produce entries for the book, making discoveries that astonished them.

“We had some pretty special things happen between children and their parents.”

Indeed. So does it happen with the living and the dead.

(For more details about the book and reunion, please CLICK HERE.


To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896, or email“>

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


This is the grave of the first arrival, Edward Joseph Lunney, who came here in 1830. The flat stone for his wife, Johanna Mantle, was placed below his grave in 2012 by the authors of the book. (Photo courtesy Lunney Family)

Photograph by: Lunney Family

3 thoughts on “Kelly Egan, “For Lunneys, tracing family’s roots a labour of love”

  1. When I was asked the question about the well-known or important people in the family, I was surprised since that wasn’t the focus of the book. Of course we had priests- 2 Father Edwards, Father Len and Father Bill, a nun- Sister Mary, a mayor and warden- Al. But we also had school superintendents (Edmund Lunney) and well known spouses (including Cindy Woods-Lunney, broadcaster). We had farmers, school trustees, bus drivers, government workers, teachers, poets, musicians, grocers, housewives, mechanics, accountants, human resource workers, mediators, and more. All were/are active in their communities and worked hard.

    A person who uses his/her talents every day for his/her family and the good of others is to me an important person. I guess that’s why I was surprised at the question although I guess I understand why he asked it.

    If you were to ask Al who the most important people were in the book, he would say his brothers, John and Tom Lunney and I would say Sister Mary who became the matriarch of our family. I am sure that others would have similar example of heroes from their own families, none of whom might be well known.

    So that’s my rant for today . . . .

  2. I know that Lunneys were neighbours of the Story/Storey family on the 3rd line of Fitzroy. When my great grandfather’s brother (William David/Willie Story) drowned in the Big Creek in April 1909, he was in a buggy with a Lunney. The Lunney man was saved although he had hypothermia. Also, I noted that a Lunney man had a grain business on Clarence street in the Byward Market. He was next door to George Story who was my GGG grandfather’s brother. George, a bachelor, had come out from Leitrim( area near Fermanagh border) in 1838 with the family. George and younger brother Tom had businesses in Bytown. Four Story farms were along the 3rd line of Fitzroy, now the Dwyer Hill Road. William went west to Manitoba a-in 1871.
    Two Storey brothers were said to come out a year or two earlier than the rest.
    I live in Ottawa and would love to chat with you.
    Anne Sterling

    • Hi Anne
      Your story of the drowning is in our Lunney book. It’s a famous family story! This Lunney man and his wife had 10 living children and 3 who died in infancy, so we are glad he lived. I have newspaper clippings.
      Re the Ottawa Lunneys- both my son (an avid genealogist who lives in Ottawa) and I really tried to make a connection with them, without any luck. Their names are all the same as ours and we still feel we are connected to them.
      Re the Storeys on the 3rd line of Fitzroy: We have information on them through Alec Lunney’s handwritten document. He not only profiled the Lunney family but also wrote about his neighbours on the 3rd Line.
      Give me a call at 613-256-0687. I wold love to chat. I can also send you things if you email me privately from your own email address at

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