Friday, December 31, 2010

Did you ever just wake up and realize that you're happy?

Did you ever just wake up and realize that you're happy, really truly happy?

Sometimes, in our house, it seems as though each morning the whole year through involves waking up to the alarm, jumping out of bed, rushing to get everyone ready for the day, thinking about what has to get done, where you have to go, appointments you have to keep. At times it's exhausting just thinking about it.


Perhaps it is that this holiday time of year gets one thinking fully in the gratitude mode, but a couple of days ago I awoke very early in the morning, and just laid in bed for a few minutes listening to the sounds of my husband and our dogs purring softly in their sleep, listening to the sounds outside, the morning wind whistling through the trees. I laid there and realized just how happy I feel, and how grateful I am for that happiness. This is it. This is happiness, just being here in this life with the beings who are my family, both human and canine. Happiness underlies all; no matter what challenges we may face, challenges which at times may seem daunting, happiness is still there.

As the new year begins tomorrow, I wish for all of you this same feeling, Happiness for 2011.

Cheers and love to all!
Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Merry Christmas to All

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of our Family and Friends, and Friends we have not yet met! In whatever way you celebrate, may your holiday be filled with happiness and the makings of wonderful memories. Cheers! Jennifer

Nollaig Shona Dhuit*
Joyeux Noël
Καλά Χριστούγεννα
Feliz Navidad
Buon Natale
Gelukkige kerstdagen
Frohe Weihnachten
Счастливого рождества
Glædelig Jul
Hyvää Joulua
Boldog Karácsonyt
Maligayang Pasko

*(pronounced 'null-ig hun-a dit') is Irish Gaelic for Merry Christmas.
©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Those Places Thursday: Being grateful for this year which is almost past

Yesterday I was reminded by a very wise friend about the importance of looking back over this year and thinking about where I have been, what I have accomplished, the challenges I have faced, and those I have met along the way. In the past, as a year draws to its close, I have often been guilty of only looking ahead and thinking about "those places" I have not yet reached, whether they be in terms of actual physical travel, or tasks I want to begin, or to complete. By just looking ahead I fail to remember "those places" to which I have travelled in this past year.

Venturing to start this blog in March, and 'Over thy dead body' in May, are two of "those places" to which I have 'travelled', so to speak. I am very grateful for the adventures I've had on this blogging journey, both the good and the not so good. I am most truly grateful for the friends and family members I have met, and the people who have been touched by the stories I have so far uncovered about my family. No matter how you travel, important to remember life is a journey, not a destination.

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Sir Richard Griffith, Geologist, 1784-1878

If you have ever used Griffith's Valuation to aid you in your genealogical searches in Ireland, you will want to thank one of the men entombed in this family grave, Sir Richard Griffith.

In 1827 Richard John Griffith was appointed Chief Commissioner for valuation of lands in Ireland. He published a geological map of Ireland in 1839 and, following his 1850 appointment as chairman of the Board of Works, in 1854 he conducted a valuation of Irish property in every townland and parish. This work is widely known as Griffith's Valuation. A wealth of information gleaned from this valuation was used for the purposes of taxation, determination of election franchise, and regulation of spirit licences. In 1858 in recognition of the completion of this vast and complex project, Richard Griffith was knighted. Today, the information in this survey still proves to be a valuable tool for genealogists.

*Click on photographs to view larger version.
All materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A determined father keeps his family together

When my maternal grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball died in December of 1936, she left behind a devoted husband and seven children. Her death was devastating for her family, and her loss meant that her husband had to face some very difficult challenges, not the least of which was keeping his family intact; however, my grandfather Patrick Ball was a remarkable man who met this challenge head on.

Shortly after the death of his wife, Patrick Ball received a visit from the Sisters of Mercy, enquiring after the health of his children, and offering 'the option' of, at least temporarily, taking the children into a Catholic Children's Home. In a move which would have been very difficult for this deeply religious man, he expressly forbid the nuns from taking any of his children. Not to be deterred, the nuns returned a couple of weeks later, and on at least one occasion after that. He refused them entry, and in fact barred the Sisters from any future visits to the family home. This was a very risky move, given the power that the Catholic Church wielded in the period; however, Patrick Ball was determined that his children would not be separated from him.

Patrick hired a well respected local housekeeper/governess to care for his children, but while this met with the approval of the local church and school, the possibility of other 'visits' hung over his head for quite some time to come.

According to Section 58, subsection 1, of The Children's Act (Ireland) 1908, if it could "be construed that a parent [was] unable to support their children, the court will, with the parent's consent, remove the children from the [family] home, and place them in a certified industrial school". In Ireland many of these schools were operated by the Catholic Church. What the statute does not allude to is the influence wielded by the Church with respect to children who might be affected by this law. In the statute the definition of 'support' was a very fluid one. In the case of a widowed father with seven children, some members of the church community believed that, while he could 'support' them financially, such a man was by nature incapable of caring for his own children. Also, the term 'consent' does not speak to the fact that the Catholic Church might apply pressure to such a man, in order to encourage him to surrender his children. In the eyes of both the Irish State and the Catholic Church, in the period in question, a home with a widower, seven children, and no woman in the role of mother was unnatural.

There were also many relatives who wanted to adopt one or two of the children, but my grandfather was determined that his family would not be split up. He did make one concession in allowing his brother Christopher, and Christopher's wife May, to take his young baby into their home, but he absolutely would not even consider allowing them to adopt baby John.

Life was made even more difficult for my grandfather when the woman he had hired to care for his children left his employ. For a while the family went through a series of 'housekeepers', a term which makes my mother's eyes roll. It seems that many of those hired were well aware of the power of the Church, and recognized the precarious position of the family. These women took advantage of the situation and simply took money for very little work done in return. My mom remembers one housekeeper in particular who had all of the children, down to the youngest daughter, cleaning the house and preparing the meals, while this woman took her leisure, smoking and chatting with friends in the garden, or taking naps. Eventually a more permanent solution had to be found, and it came in the person of Alice Fitzpatrick Ward, the widowed aunt of the late Mary Fitzpatrick Ball.

Alice had no children of her own. She moved in with the family in order to help raise the children, and make certain none of them would be taken away. Despite the fact that when she moved in Aunt Alice was 75 years old, almost 76, and nearly crippled from Rheumatoid Arthritis, she ensured that no one got out of line, as she ruled the roost with an iron fist. As the family grew and Alice's health worsened my mother was charged with the care of this woman, whom my mom both feared and respected. In the months before Alice was finally taken into care at Roebuck Castle, she was completely bedridden. My mother fondly recalls Aunt Alice's words to them on the day she had to be taken from their home. As they carried her down the stairs the old woman wept, as she observed how beautifully the children had kept the home while she was bedridden, and she told them how proud she was of all of them. On 27 May 1952 Alice died at Roebuck Castle. Alice is interred with her sister Teresa in St. Colmcille's Churchyard, Swords.

Whenever my mother speaks of her father it is always with great love, respect, and admiration for him as a man, and for the fact that he worked so hard to take care of his children, no matter what the obstacles. I now understand why my mom and her siblings were so devastated by his death. The same is true of Aunt Alice. Although Aunt Alice was mightily feared, my mother credits her presence as that which helped her father keep their family unit together.

NOTE: Although the Children's Act was amended in 1929 and 1941, the most significant change to the act followed the Irish Supreme Court ruling of 1955 in favour of an Irish single father named Desmond Doyle, who was fighting to have his children returned to him after he temporarily surrendered them to a Catholic Children's Home. The Supreme Court concluded that to deny a parent access to his/her children contravened the Irish Constitution. The film "Evelyn" presents a highly fictionalized account of the Doyle family's story.

*Click on photo to view larger version.
All Materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday, almost: The Dunbrody, a famine ship

The ship in these photographs is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody built in 1845 in Quebec Canada by Thomas Hamilton Oliver, an Irish emigrant from County Derry. The Dunbrody was built to carry about 175 people; however, on one crossing, at the height of the Famine in 1847, she carried 313. Many of her passengers were the evicted tenants of Lord Fitzwilliam's Wicklow estates and Viscount de Vesci's Portlaoise estates.

The Dunbrody carried two classes of passengers - the cabin passenger who paid between £5 and £8, and the steerage passenger who paid between £3, 15 shillings and £4. This fare was the equivalent of about two months income for a tenant farmer in the 1840s. Just imagine leaving behind the life that you knew, and travelling on rough seas for up to 40 days in these close quarters, driven by the dream of a new, and hopefully better, life in Canada or the United States. For some the dream would never come true.

For more information, including a searchable Irish emigration database visit

A single bunk for an officer

The listed names are those who occupied these small spaces

*Click on photographs to view a larger version.
All materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Matrilineal Monday: A mother lost: Mary Fitzpatrick Ball

The image of the mark on her mother's face is forever emblazoned on my mother's brain. You can tell by the look in her eyes each time she talks about it, at exactly that moment, she is seeing the mark and remembering what followed from it. This loss had a impact so profound for my mom that I will never truly understand it. My mother describes the mark in precisely the same way each time she mentions it, and she gestures to show on her own face exactly where it was, followed always by the exhortation, "God Bless the mark". She says, "A slender purple line, with blue and grey behind it, going from here to just there", and I imagine the colours soft and smudged like those in a Monet pastel.

They say that women learn how to be mothers from their own mothers, but for my mother the lessons never took place, because she was only five years old when her mother died. Mary Angela Fitzpatrick Ball died of blood poisoning, the result of an infection at the site of a cut, possibly made by the very tiny fingernails of her young baby John.

My mother's memories are the memories of a five year old child. She does not recall the neighbourhood women coming to the house to prepare the body and lay out her mother in the bed Mary Ball shared with her husband for almost sixteen years. All of the mirrors were covered over with black crepe fabric, the death announcements were rimmed in black paper, and each man wore a black arm band on his sleeve, but these details are not recalled by my mother. Intellectually she knows each one of these rituals were a part of that day, but her memories are the emotional memories of a child.

There was a very pretty dress donned for the occasion; Mom does not recall its colour, only the white lace collar that felt slightly itchy against her skin. My mother and her sisters wore pristine white knee socks and black hornpipe shoes. She remembers the stilled faces of the adults, and their hushed conversation. She remembers standing on tip-toes with her sisters Bernadette and Kathleen, looking out the window each time the funeral cortege passed their house, as it ritually circled the block once, twice, three times. She remembers the muscular black horses, the steam emitting from their noses, the tall black plumes which crowned each of their heads, the sound their hooves made as they struck the cobbled pavement. For my mother these moments are locked in time.

My maternal grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball died 18 December 1936, seven days before Christmas. Penicillin, which could have saved her, was invented in 1928, a full eight years before her death, but it was not widely available, so she was not treated with it. When we talk about the loss of my grandmother I never mention how unfair it was, because somehow that detail seemed unimportant. Only the memories of this five year old girl matter.

Maria (pronounced Mariah) 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick was born 22 June 1894 in Swords, County Dublin, Ireland. She was the second born child, and the first born daughter, of Thomas Fitzpatrick and Maria Hynes Fitzpatrick. For almost sixteen years she was married to Patrick Ball, for whom she bore eight children. When she died Mary was 42 years old. Her youngest child John was less than a year old, and her youngest daughter Kathleen was two; neither one has any memory of her. Her eldest son Anthony had just turned thirteen.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Family Portraits

Ball Family c. 1930
Fitzpatrick Family c. 1920
*Click on photographs to view larger version.
©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mystery Monday: A First Communion Portrait: who is this tiny boy?

This photograph was among the effects left by my Great-aunt Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin. It is thought to be one of the Geraghty children, my father or one of his brothers, but who? I have compared it to other photographs of my father around this time, and I cannot be sure that it is him because my dad does not appear to have had the same prominent ears as this little lad. Also, I have the First Communion portrait of my father's elder brother Patrick, so I know it is not him. Whoever it is, I think it is a sweet photo.

Mystery solved: This little boy is my father's brother Enda. Enda suffered from polio when he was a child, so the big boots (and an unseen crutch) enabled him to walk.

©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The coolest thing happened to me this morning

This morning I was working on a Tuesday's Tip post about researching Irish records from this side of the pond, both online and off. I decided to do a random search on one of the sites I am going to include in the post, so that I could talk about the process. I took an educated guess (based on birth dates of the intendeds and their children) at the date for a marriage document for one of my many men named Thomas, and his wife Mary. Although I have birth records for their children, and know all the details of Thomas's side of the equation, I have never been able to decipher Mary's last name on the birth records of her children.

Anyway...long story short, I found their marriage record.

Mary's full name is Maria Teresa Hynes. HYNES, finally! Previously when I have looked at her children's records I thought her surname might be Lynns, or Lynes, or Bynes, or Bryan, or a lot of other surnames. Now when I look at the birth records of their children I can clearly see the name HYNES. It's funny how the brain works.

Happy Hunting Everyone!
Cheers! Jennifer

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day: 11 November: 'Lest We Forget'

In Canada every year on the 11th day of November we commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war. We call this day 'Remembrance Day'. On this day there are ceremonies held at the Cenotaphs in most Canadian cities and towns with the laying of wreaths to honour the war dead. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on this date in 1918. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.

In the days leading up to 'Remembrance Day' you often see Canadians, particularly those of the older generations, wearing red poppies in their lapels. Over the years this day has been both widely celebrated and ignored. The notion of remembering dead soldiers has become politicized by some who choose to recognize it as a sign of support for war, particularly in light of the current participation of Canada in Afghanistan.

The red poppy is in fact a symbol of peace, or perhaps the desire for peace is a better way in which to frame it. The wearing of the poppy, together with an understanding of the phrase 'Lest We Forget", is meant to invoke a willingness to work together in order to create a peaceful world. Lest we forget the terrible price of war, we wear the poppy as a reminder of that cost. Perhaps it is an irrational notion to hope that human beings can actually learn from history, and stop trying to annihilate one another; the poppy stands as a marker of that hope. In my own life I have worked as a peace activist and wear the poppy as a symbol of my desire for peace.

Today I will wear it in tribute to the members of my family whose lives were affected by war, whether they were soldiers or citizens.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Sisters buried together

Although their adult lives took them in different directions, my Great Great Aunts Alice Fitzpatrick Ward and her sister Teresa Fitzpatrick were ultimately interred together. Teresa remained unmarried all of her life, and Alice was made a widow when her mariner husband was lost at sea. The two are interred close to their parents and the rest of their family members in the cemetery of St. Colmcille's Church in Swords, Ireland. Beneath this unadorned Celtic cross they lie, and although the weather has wiped away all sign of inscription, the gravestone once read:

In loving memory of my dear sister Teresa Fitzpatrick died 29 Dec 1929 Swords.
Also her sister Alice Ward died 27 May 1952 aged 91 years.

*Click on photo to view larger version.
Photograph ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: A different take: graves without tombstones

Those of us interested in family history seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in cemeteries looking for family graves; so, what do you do when you find the grave, but it is unmarked? This is the case with my maternal grandmother and grandfather. At first I considered not talking about their graves. There are no grave markers, so perhaps it would be best to leave them out, I thought. How can I write about them on Tombstone Tuesday when there is no tombstone about which to write?

Although there is no headstone standing over the graves in which each one is interred, I want them to be remembered, I want them to be thought about; therefore, their graves are the subject of this Tombstone Tuesday. The unmarked graves of my maternal grandmother, Mary Fitzpatrick Ball, and my maternal grandfather, Patrick Ball, are in The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin — popularly known simply as Glasnevin Cemetery — in Dublin, Ireland.

Despite the fact that gravestones in Glasnevin Cemetery usually have numbers engraved on the back of them, I had some difficulty finding the graves in which my maternal grandparents are interred. First, I asked at the desk inside the beautiful new visitors' centre at Glasnevin. Already armed with the exact grave numbers and a map of the cemetery, I wanted to ensure that I knew precisely where I was going. The helpful man at the front desk said, "Just follow the road this way to the Dublin Section East and then curve a little to the left, just so, and you'll find your granddad's grave. Your grandmother's plot is a lot further back, in the Garden Section. It will be a little more difficult to find, but just stay on the path, follow the map, and you'll get there".

My grandfather's grave was the first on the map. As I was looking in the section of the cemetery in which the grave is located, out of the blue an elderly gentleman came up the path. He asked me if I was alright, and I told him I was having trouble locating my grandfather's grave, so he helped me, and he found the grave. The look on my face must have given away my discomfort over the fact that the grave is unmarked. Before this gentleman had come down the path, I had noticed this patch of green, and it seemed to correspond to the grave number, but I just couldn't bring myself to accept that this unmarked area next to the road was my grandfather's grave. This man, who had been a stranger on the path, reassured me and said I shouldn't be embarrassed, that it is okay. Like my grandfather, many people in Glasnevin, and elsewhere, are buried in unmarked graves.

The green patch next to the curb marks the grave of Patrick Ball, my maternal grandfather

Patrick Ball died when I was a very young child. I did not cry the night my grandfather died — perhaps because I was far too young to understand the profound effect this loss would have on my mother — but I have a clear recollection of my mother and my Aunt Bernadette as inconsolable. Seated with my father and my uncle at a tiny table in the kitchen of my aunt's small apartment, I felt a kind of heaviness settle in over that once bright little room. I did not understand those feelings until I stood at the curb by the side of my grandfather's grave. With the loss of my own father in 2000, I now had something in common with my mother and my aunt. Now I could understand the loss they felt that day when I was a very young child. In Glasnevin those feelings came rushing back to me, and I sat on the curb, next to his grave, sat and wept for a man I had never known, my grandfather.

After I had taken dozens of photos of this unmarked ground from many different angles, I moved on to find my grandmother's grave. Mary Fitzpatrick Ball's grave is much further back in the cemetery. She died when my mother was five years old, so she is in a much older part of the cemetery. Despite that, I was able to find my grandmother's grave much more easily. There is a marker next to her unmarked grave bearing the number 80.5 and her grave is number 81.5. A beautiful tree stands close by. Although it was not planted for her, I decided it was Mary's tree. It seemed to me as though this beautiful tree at the foot of her unmarked grave served to mark it in a way, and so I did not feel so disconsolate standing there. Whispering a little prayer, I assured her that neither she nor my grandfather would ever be forgotten. I felt as though, in the rustling of the leaves in that tree, I heard from my grandmother, heard her acknowledge my promise to never forget, and I left the cemetery feeling a little better.

Mary's tree stands at the foot of her unmarked grave.

*Click on photos to view a larger version.
©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman

Friday, October 15, 2010

Freaky Friday: At Foxmount Country House, a high tech ghost

Our room is on the upper floor, second window in from the left.
When my husband and I travelled thoughout Ireland in 2008 we had the opportunity to stay in the beautiful Foxmount Country House, a Georgian period country manor on a working dairy farm which sits just outside of Waterford City in County Waterford. Our hosts David and Margaret Kent were most gracious and welcoming, and prepared an afternoon tea for us upon our arrival. The house is very elegant and we drank in every sight on the estate, including the beautiful gardens.

We arrived at the house mid-week and were the only guests in what is normally a fully booked bed and breakfast. I discovered very quickly that when you are accustomed to the noise of the metropolis, the complete quiet of the country can be, at first, a little unsettling, but once you relax you discover what it really means to be in a quiet place. There was no background noise, no white noise, no hotel lobby 'muzak'. It was heaven.

Our room on the upper floor of the house was dressed in period furniture, which I loved. We felt as though we had journeyed back in time. In the evening we ventured out for dinner and on our return very gladly settled into the soft down bed in our room. It had been a very long day with a lot of driving; I was really tired, and so quickly fell off to sleep.

It was a singularly windy night in Waterford, and as I settled in to sleep I could hear the branches of the trees moving in their dance with the wind. I was awakened around 1 a.m. by the sound of something brushing against the panes of glass in our window. I got out of bed and opened the window to brush aside strands of ivy. Although a soft rain was now steadily falling, there were breaks in the clouds, and I was delighted by the sight of billions of stars in the night sky.

The ivy enveloped window
Scurrying back into our very cozy bed, I quickly fell asleep again. About an hour later I awakened to the 'sound' of complete stillness. Hearing absolutely nothing, for a moment I thought I had gone deaf, then I could hear my husband's breath softly purring in a deep sleep. I laid on my side with my eyes shut, drinking in the quiet, then I turned on my back, opened my eyes and saw it. A glowing white light.

A glowing white light was emanating from the dresser across from the foot of our bed. It would get very bright, almost filling the pitch black room with soft light and then fade, brighten again, and then fade. It was as though the glow was pulsing like the rhythm of breathing. I could hear my own breath quicken in fear, but I could not move. My eyes were filling with tears because I was so frightened. I felt my hand move toward my husband and the next thing I knew I was shaking him awake. "Matt, Matt", I cried out, "what is that? what is that?". My poor husband bolted up in the bed, having been stirred from a deep sleep. He looked toward the end of the bed and started laughing. I didn't think it was very funny, and was annoyed by his behaviour. He jumped up out of the bed, switched on the light, and pointed to my laptop. I had left it on the dresser, and the glowing light? The indicator from my MacBook Pro in sleep mode, a high tech ghost.

The next night this city girl and her understanding husband happily fell asleep in a noisy hotel.

The culprit

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fizzy Friday: The Blue Bomber, Part 2: Sometimes Father does know best

On Monday I wrote about my first car, the Blue Bomber, so today I thought I would share my most fond memory of that little blue car.

The best memory (which also always makes me cry) has to do with the first time I waxed the car after washing it. I was very determined to have the car look its absolute best and so had bought the whole Turtle Wax kit. Even though I was "only a girl" (my brother's words), I intended to wax the whole car all by myself.

It was a very hot day for the end of the summer, but I was determined to do it. My dad showed me how to effectively apply the wax and instructed me to apply it in small portions, polishing to remove it as I went; however, once I had the basic technique in hand, I had my own ideas about how to do it. At sixteen I thought I knew it all, (I really should have taken over the world right then), so I asked Dad to leave me alone.

Beginning with the front hood, I proceeded to apply wax to the body of THE ENTIRE CAR. Needless to say, by the time I returned to the area in which I had first applied it, the wax had dried in the hot sun. It took many many weeks of car washes to finally get most, but not all, of that wax off. The car always had a sort of swirly patina look to it. The part of this memory that makes me cry is that even though my dad could have made me eat crow for not listening, he just patted me on the back, smiled and said, "Don't worry Jenn, with the waxy swirls all over it, your car just looks very unique." I'll always be very grateful to my dad for not "rubbing it in".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In the works: An Irish Government Bill to allow release of the 1926 Irish Census

Hello Everyone,

Those of us interested in Irish Genealogy will be happy to know that a government Bill is in the works with respect to the release of the 1926 Census, the first census of the 'new' Ireland, the Irish Free State.

The Genealogical Society of Ireland has confirmed that the Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2010, the Society's Bill to have the 1926 Census of Ireland released, is published and awaiting introduction at Second Stage in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas (the legislative branch of Irish parliament).

The Bill is sponsored by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fáil Party) and has the support of many senators on both sides of the House.

If you would like to view a copy of the Bill visit:

Keep your fingers, and toes, crossed for passage of this Bill.

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