The O’Learys of Cannibal Island Road

“Those Irish, they… fought like cannibals down there, at the end of that road.” Place Names of Humboldt County

Cannibal Island Road
Terri’s great-great grandparents, William and Bridget O’Leary immigrated to the U.S. from County Cork Ireland in 1857. Heading to San Francisco, their ship went down in a storm as they rounded the tip of South America (Cape Horn). They both were eventually rescued but they had been separated and each thought the other was dead.
Living as widowers, William and Bridget went about their lives in San Francisco for several years. Then one day, as they were both walking down a city street, they ran into each other! Suddenly together again they got on with their lives, started a family and moved on.
After briefly living in Nevada, they moved to the North Coast of California, where they homesteaded in the Eel River valley. After trying potato farming, they switched to dairy ranching. This part of California truly was (and still is) a place for “happy cows,” with 40″ of rainfall annually and lots of grass year-round.

After William and Bridget, three more generations of O’Leary’s lived and worked at the ranch on Cannibal Island Road. This includes Terri’s mom, Blanche, who lived there until she moved to San Francisco at the start of WWII. In the 1970’s we visited Terri’s grandparents, Art and Laverne O’Leary at the ranch several times. On Terri’s final visit in 1980 she took this picture. Art and Laverne had lived together on Cannibal Island Road for 60 years. This would be the last photo Terri would take of them. They were both gone just two years later.
Arthur and Laverne O'Leary - Loleta CA 1980

William and Bridget O’Leary and two of their children are buried in the pioneer Catholic cemetery in Ferndale¬†California, just across the Eel river from Loleta. Their plot is at the very bottom of this photo. Terri has another set of great-great grandparents buried here, and also two great-great-great grandparents. The cemetery is in a beautiful, natural amphitheatre setting. The most common visitors are deer, who munch on fresh flowers that have been placed on the graves.

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