The Poff Family of County Kerry

Sylvester Poff of Mountnicholas was hanged in Tralee prison, alongside his cousin, James Barrett of Dromultan, on 23 January 1883.  They had been convicted of the murder of Thomas Browne of Dromultan.


James Barrett was unmarried.  Sylvester Poff had been married for eight years to Anne Sugrue, and was a father to Mary, Hannah, William, Ellen and James.


Information about Sylvester Poff’s family is outlined in a genealogical booklet donated to the O’Donohoe Collection by Dorothy Dowgray, née Cullen, a descendant of James Poff, Sylvester’s brother.


James Poff of Mountnicholas, brother of Sylvester, with his wife Johanna Brosnahan of Castleisland.  On 7 May 1883, James, then of Makikihi, described the deaths of his brother and James Barrett as ‘murder’ in a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Tablet


Dorothy, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, researched and compiled the 30-pg booklet, entitled A Family Tree for the Families descended from Sylvester Poff and Johannah Murphy of County Kerry Ireland of the townlands of Flemby and Mount Nicholas.


Dorothy’s research shows that Sylvester Poff was one of seven children of the union of William Murphy Poff (1812-1864) and Mary Barrett (1823-1911), who married in 1843.  It also shows that almost all of his siblings left Ireland and indicates to some degree how they fared in life.


Above Left: ‘Martyr mother’ Mrs Mary Poff, née Barrett; the image was supplied to the New Zealand Tablet (issue 24/8/1911) by one of her sons.  On the right, Dorothy Dowgray, her great great granddaughter


The eldest, Johanna Poff (1847-1882), emigrated to New Zealand in 1870.  She married George Clarke Fraser and had three children but, sadly, she died in Timaru in 1882 at the age of 35.


In 1871 James Poff (1848-1926) followed his sister to New Zealand.  He married Johannah Brosnahan and had 15 children.  From one of his sons, Sylvester Timothy Poff – known as Stephen Petrie – descends Dorothy Dowgray.1


Francis Poff (1854-1942) emigrated to New Zealand in 1873.  He married Rose McCabe and had eight children including a Sylvester, a name which remains strong in the family.  With him in 1873 went his sister Annie Poff (1856-1925) who married a Donegal man, John Coll.  They had nine children.   The family of Annie Poff and John Coll left New Zealand in the 1890s and migrated to San Francisco in California where they remained.


Ellen Poff (1857-1882) did not follow the route of her siblings.  She married Thomas John Grant in Tralee in 1877.  She had three children but died at the age of 25 in the Walton Workhouse Infirmary, Lancashire, due to childbirth complications.


The youngest, Catherine Poff (1859-1940), emigrated to New Zealand in 1880.  She was compelled to return to Ireland on the death of her sister Ellen to help her mother raise Ellen’s children.  She married Redmond O’Sullivan in 1888 in Tralee and had nine children.  The family later emigrated to Massachusetts, where Catherine died in 1940.


The booklet, now held in the O’Donohoe Collection, provides information about the offspring of the families mentioned above, as well as material relating to the descendants of James Poff and Johannah Brosnahan through their son, Sylvester Timothy Poff.


It also documents the other children of Sylvester Poff and Johanna Murphy (parents of William Murphy Poff) and of his second marriage to Mary Ann Hoffman.


The document is a most welcome and valuable contribution to the O’Donohoe Collection and will undoubtedly assist researchers of the Poff family of County Kerry now and in the future.2


Enquiries can be directed to the O’Donohoe Collection, or Dorothy can be contacted directly,



1 IE MOD/C18 holds additional research materials relating to the family of Poff.

2 O'Donohoe Collection reference IE MOD/C18A.