A Traditional Gorby Family History

As told by Bunny Gorby.
Portions of the following text are excerpts from "The Gorby Family, History and Genealogy".

We know that our Gorby ancestors came to Canada from Ireland in the nineteenth century. What we do not know, is how and when the Gorbys first came to Ireland. "Gorby" is not an Irish name; but through the centuries, many Irish people have changed their names, to escape persecution, or evade discrimination; so, even if one name doesn't sound Irish, one may still be descended from the original Irish. Or, perhaps, one may be descended from the Celts, who flooded the British Isles when they came over Europe from the slopes of the Alps, many thousands of years before Christ. These early times may have been the most fascinating period of Irish history. It may answer the riddle of why the Irish are such a complex race. Historical remains point to the existence in Ireland of a highly sophisticated society when, across the Irish Sea, men were grubbing in the dirt, or fighting each other for a living.

The name "Gorby" is of Norwegian origin. The Celts had to come to Norway when they encompassed Europe. The first syllable of the word "Gor" comes from the same root as does the first syllable of the word "garden." The second syllable, "Bi" in the Norwegian, means to live in a town or a city, but go to the county or farm for one's daily work.

In the long ago, a family of Gorby's were sailing on a passenger ship to England. On the voyage, the ship was caught in a fierce storm and many passengers were lost. Of the Gorby family, only one small boy arrived in England. This little lad could not talk plainly. It could not be determined whether he was saying "Corby" or "Gorby" when telling his name. Later, tradition says, some of the boy's descendants took the name of Gorby and others took the name Corby. This legend is repeated in the histories of both the Corby's and the Gorby's who now live in the United States, so there must be some truth in the story.

Only fragments of early Gorby history, after the boy reached England, have been found. The little we have is almost myth.

One myth is that the Earl of Richmond was a Gorby. He was knighted by Henry VIII for some special deed - or misdeed, knowing the kings reputation. His mother had married a Job Gorby, the eldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth Gorby. So the Duke of Richmond, son of Hannah and Job Gorby, had the surname of Gorby.

There is also a claim that the Gorbys owned Corfe Castle at one time. Corfe Castle has existed since the early part of the tenth century and in those days of constant strife in England, it changed hands often. It is located on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorsetshire, England about four miles from the southern coastline. It was a stronghold for hundreds of years. Finally, it was owned by Gorbys for hundreds of years. The last owners were a Katherine Gorby and her sister, both died single. Katherine was the last to die, on Dec. 8th, 1908, in Manchester, England, at the Charleton Union Hospital; there were no heirs, and the Castle was held by the Crown. It is now in ruins, standing in a lovely countryside. The Edward I gate is standing still.

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The Irish Gorby's may have come to Ireland before the English Gorbys owned Corfe Castle. They may have come during the years when Henry II was king (1154-1189) and annexed Ireland to the English Crown. He sent De Lacy, an Anglo-Norman like himself, to be his representative in Ireland. De Lacy was given a castle on the river Brosna. This castle was called Ardnurcher Castle of Westneath, but after Hugh de Lacy had to leap his horse over the castle moat, being chased by a tribe of wild Irishmen, named Geostigans, out to "get" the deputy of the English king, this castle became known as "Horseleap Castle." Many years later, in 1770, there was a church built on a hill near to Ardnurcher Castle, and this is the "Horseleap Church" where the family of Joseph Gorby, including his sons, who emigrated to Canada after the famine, had a pew. In this church, William Gorby, son of Joseph Gorby was married to his cousin, Alice Jordan, in 1842, Their eldest son, Thomas, was christened there in 1844, before going to Canada. Thomas became my "Grandpa Gorby" many years later.

Did our Gorby ancestors come to Ireland from England? or did they come as Viking marauders, straight from Norway? Sixty black ships at a time up the rivers, to burn and pillage. The tall stone towers found in Ireland were watch towers and places to hide manuscripts and valuables from the Vikings. These marauders built harbor ports at the mouths of Irish rivers and there was some intermingling with the Irish by marriage, when the marauders became Irishmen. In 1014 AD, the High King of Ireland, under Brian Baru, drove the last Viking out of Ireland forever, from the port of Dublin in the battle of Clontarf.

The first Gorby may have come up the Shannon River. Surnames were not used before the eighth century, so there are no records. Joseph Gorby used to tell his granddaughter, Emily Gorby (my father's cousin) about the great ruins on the banks of the Shannon, at Clonmacnois. He had been born just fifteen miles from Clonmacnois, and had become a schoolmaster in the town of Clara, as had his father before him. He was later appointed Royal Constable in Cavan. Emily Gorby's daughter Margaret Messer of Regina, Saskatchewan, (head of the Art Dept. in the University there) has often visited the Gorby cousins in Ireland. She says they are all charming people, and all are Catholic, having married into Catholic families. She has found the proof of Joseph Gorbys history in the Record Office in London, England. She has been to the Horseleap Church, and to Clara in Cavan. In the Genealogical Office in Dublin, Ireland, she has found records that tell of a Thomas Gorby in the parish of Kilmanaghen in the Benefice of Ardnurcher (in 1827) in the perpetual curacy of Clara; but all other records sent to Dublin before 1845 were destroyed during the burning of 1916. The rector of the Horseleap Church in Clara told her that he had records of the Gorbys there.

1997 Note: We have been informed by the County Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society that this Horseleap Church, once a Protestant Church of Ireland, has been closed for a number of years due to "a dwindling congregation".

The Gorbys who emigrated to Canada were all Protestants, and held the belief that our forebears came to Ireland from Flanders, with William of Orange and might have originally been called "Gorbeil." In each family, they have one son by the name of William, and they support the Orange Order. William of Orange had regiments from Norway, Denmark, Holland, Flanders, Protestant France, and Protestant England, in his columns. In the spring of 1690 he landed his troops at Carrickfergus, north of Belfast, and pushed rapidly southward. He caught sight of the Catholic army under James II of England, posted strongly across the River Boyne. Early the next morning, July 1st, 1690, just at dawn, the whole of William's army plunged into the River Boyne, climbed up the opposite bank, and into the sleeping Catholic army. The surprised Irish, under James II, broke in a shameful panic, and soon the battle was over; only their horse brigade put up much struggle. James II, who had looked helplessly on, fled to Dublin, and took ship at Kinsdale for France. Dublin threw open its doors to the Conqueror, William of Orange. The cowardice of the Stuart sovereign moved the scorn of even his own followers. "Change Kings with us!" an Irish officer replied to the taunts of William's men, "Change Kings with us, and we will fight you again!"

It does not really matter when, or how, the first Gorby came to Ireland; for through the ages, it has never taken very long for a stranger in Ireland to become, himself, truly Irish. Even the English landowners somehow inherited the charm of Irish ways; for Ireland is a land of music makers, story-tellers, poets, saints and scholars. Margaret Messer says that Joseph has long been a favorite first name in the Gorby family in Ireland, in honor of old Joseph who served Education as school master, and with the law, as Royal Constable.

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