Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: The Spirit of Dublin

The ever present flower ladies
'Living Statues' busking on Grafton Street
There is always plenty of live music on show.
Tourist travel options: the old and the new
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Anointed with tears: One man's recollection of the long ago loss of a brother

Last November I wrote about my discovery of the records of my mom's brother Thomas, a brother who died almost three years before my mother was born. Mom had a photograph of Thomas, but beyond that knew nothing about him. His life was never spoken of, until my mother asked the question that had long been weighing on her mind, 'we had another brother, didn't we?'. The information gleaned from documents informing the passages of his life and his death do little to tell us of the mark Thomas made on his family, so when I was once again in Ireland I decided to ask my family members about him.

The story I was told made me realize that no matter how long each of us spends on this earth, no matter how small a footprint we make, we matter to someone. People hold their loved ones within their hearts, although decades may pass in which some names are never uttered.

It is a strange thing to hear the recounting of one man’s long ago loss of a sibling, a loss which conveys such fresh sadness that it belies the passage of over eighty years. It is as though the recollection brings us back into precisely that place and that moment in time, and there is an intimacy in the story which makes a listener feel like an interloper.


On the day their parents returned home without baby Thomas, there were no questions from the Ball children, although the elder among them longed to ask their mother and their father what had happened that afternoon. Instead, as she always did, Mary Ball began to prepare a simple evening meal for her husband and the little ones she still had. She leaned heavily into the table while her hands quietly completed their task, chopping cabbage, peeling potatoes, and slicing small rashers of bacon.

Little Gerard joined her at the table, standing steadfast next to his mother, pocketing himself into the folds of her long skirt, his tiny hand gripping tight to her apron. He could feel her body trembling, and almost swaying, as though she was rocking a baby to sleep. She would not utter a word. He looked up to see heavy tears silently streaming down her beautiful face. He gently tugged on her skirt and his mother gazed down at him, causing those tears to fall ever so lightly onto his forehead and down over his nose. Letting them dry where they anointed him, he would not wipe away those tears. They were the mark that told Gerard his baby brother Thomas was dead. He did not move away from his mother, but stood there silent and stock-still until she was ready to hang the cooking pot over the fire.

That night, tucked away warm and safe in the room he shared with all of his siblings, Gerard wept quietly, a little boy with no idea about how he could solve his mother's deep sorrow, but desperately wanting to do so. Gone was the tiny wooden cradle which once sat on the floor next to his bed.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Small Lives: Photographs of Irish Childhood 1860-1970: Book Review

This extraordinary book, edited by Aoife O'Connor features photographs drawn from an exhibition curated by her, and presented in the National Photographic Archive of the National Library of Ireland (NLI). The book takes us on a journey through one hundred and ten years of photographs chosen from collections held by the NLI, and includes many images previously unpublished.

Children from all walks of life are featured, in images showing them at work, at play, or at prayer. O'Connor juxtaposes images of children from the highest ranks of privilege with those fated to the lowest rungs of poverty, giving us insight into the very different kinds of lives lived by these little ones. Particularly moving is an image of children in the workhouse. The filthy conditions and desperate faces stand in marked contrast to the calm repose of wealthy children pictured on the very next page of the book. In their lace trimmed clothing, seated in a garden for a family portrait, they look as though they haven't a care in the world.

Some of the photographs in the book were taken in studios, while others are candid shots. Both methods of presentation offer insight into the way in which children have been perceived and presented in Ireland over the course of these one hundred and ten years. I highly recommend this beautiful book.

Check out a collection of 'Small Lives' images on the National Library of Ireland Flickr page to view a sampling of the sort of photographs featured in the book.

Consider putting together a 'Small Lives' exhibit of those on your own family tree. Here is a collage of a few images of little ones from my family tree, along with an early photograph of yours truly.

Click on images to view larger versions.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A portrait trimmed in black crepe: William Francis Pell: 1891-1915

The Pell surname is a relatively new one on the maternal side of my family tree. The name emerged during a conversation I had with my mother back in July of 2011. Mom recalled her many childhood visits with the family, whose surname she felt sure was Pells. Visits to the home of the Pells, with her father Patrick, were something which my mom and her siblings excitedly anticipated. Mom did not recall the precise nature of the connection between her family and the Pells; however, she did recall some details about where they lived. In particular she remembered a portrait in a beautiful dark wood frame with a small ribbon of black crepe encircling the rim. The portrait hung above a side board in the front room of the Pell household; it was a photograph of a handsome young man in uniform about whom no one ever spoke.

While conducting research in Ireland, I discovered the surname is Pell, not Pells, but the error is understandable, since a visit to the family was probably preceded by the explanation, "We're going to visit the Pells." In a child's mind, one Pell becomes all Pells.

William Francis Pell was born in Dublin Ireland in the Autumn of 1891. He was the second born child, and first born son, of Teresa Early and John Pell.  Teresa Early Pell was the youngest sister of my maternal great-grandmother, Jane Early Ball. At various times in the late 19th and early 20th century, the two sisters and their respective families lived together. William's cousin, my grandfather Patrick Ball, was six years old when William was born. The Pell family in total appears on the 1901 Irish Census; William is notably absent from the 1911 Irish Census.  One might assume he was already serving in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, but I have not yet found evidence to support such an assumption.

Unfortunately, not much remains of the World War One record of young William, aside from his medals card, an entry in Ireland's Memorial Records, and a photograph of his grave.  I do know that upon enlisting William served in the rank of Private, and his gravestone attests to the fact that he held the rank of Lance Corporal when he was killed, so one may assume that his short military career was a fine one.  Just as William Dunne (paternal tree) did serve, William Pell also served in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; his regimental number was 8328. William Pell was killed in action on 7 January 1915. He had only just celebrated his 23rd birthday.

I do not know how well William Pell and William Dunne knew each other, if at all. Their families were not yet connected, and would not be for some forty years to come. However, in an extraordinary coincidence, both of these men are interred in Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium, two among a total of only two hundred and twenty-five interred. Their graves are only a few yards away from one another.

According to his medals card, William Pell was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.  The card bears the telling phrase 'K. in A.', the benign way of noting that he was killed in action. The medals card also states his qualification date as 9 October 1914.  Since this date is just three months before his death, one can presume the medals may have been sent posthumously to his family. At the time of his death, the Pell family was still living in the home into which William was born, at 23 Liffey Street, Kilmainham, Dublin. Although there is no slip of paper bearing the signature of his mother or his father for receipt of those medals at their door, I wonder what that day was like when those medals arrived, and just when was it that the Pell family added the ribbon of black crepe to the portrait of their young man?

Prowse Point Military Cemetery, Belgium.  Site of the graves of William Pell and William Dunne.

William Pell's Medal card.  National Archives UK.

The Book of Ireland's Memorial Records under glass in St. Patrick's Cathedral Dublin.
Pell, William. Reg. No 8328, left column, third from top.
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Unless otherwise credited, All Photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2007-2012.

Monday, November 5, 2012

It all began with a bronze plaque: Remembering William Dunne 1880-1914

Uncovering the history of a life can begin quite simply with an object such as this one.  Once tucked away with other family mementos, carefully kept to mark the passage of such lives, this large coin-like object is a 'Next of Kin' plaque.  Along with a scroll commemorating the service of a lost loved one, these plaques were given by the British government to families whose loved ones died on the battlefield during the first World War.  When I first set eyes on this bronze 'penny' in August of 2010, I knew the William Dunne commemorated on it was the brother of my paternal great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee, but I had not yet uncovered the whole history of his life.  With the existence of the 'Next of Kin' plaque as a starting point, I had to find evidence to fill in the unknown details of William Dunne's history.

The 'Next of Kin Memorial Plaque in recognition of William Dunne's sacrifice in service.
William Dunne was born in Rathmines, Dublin 20 April 1880.  On the 1911 Census of Ireland, he is noted as a boarder in the family home of my great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee. Between tours of duty William lived with his sister Mary, her husband Patrick, and their four young children. Only five years after the census, one of those children, Michael Magee would fight with the Irish Volunteers in the 1916 Easter Rising, serve as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Dublin Brigade during the Irish War of Independence,  and ultimately lose his life in the fight to free Ireland from British rule.  His uncle William Dunne was a Private in the British forces and fought in the Second Boer War campaign — also known as The South African War or The Second Anglo-Boer War — and in Europe during World War I.  As I noted in the post Military Monday: Remembrance Day Posts, this apparent contradiction with family members on both sides of the battle equation, as it were, existed within many Irish families.

William Dunne, Private, 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers
My research led me to the discovery that the original documents of almost the entire military service record of William Dunne are still extant (apparently a rarity).  According to British Army World War I Service Records, William Dunne enlisted on 16 July 1900.  The recruiting officer observes him to be "about 18"; he was in fact 20 years of age. Standing only 5 feet 5 inches tall, and weighing barely 118 pounds, he was not a physically imposing young man. The enlisting officer noted his complexion as 'fresh', and recorded his features of grey eyes and black hair.

William Dunne served in the regiment of The Royal Dublin Fusiliers; his regimental number was 7190.  He served in the Home sector until November 1900 and was then sent to South Africa from 22 November 1900 to 11 February 1902, during the Second Boer War Campaign. For this service he was awarded Boer War Campaign Medals.  Following his assignment in Africa, William Dunne was sent to the West Indies until 8 November 1903, and then brought back to the Home front.  On 22 August 1914 he was sent to France.  On this date, as a Private in the 2nd Battalion, he landed at Boulogne as part of 10th Brigade, 4th Division. William Dunne was killed in action 20 November 1914, having completed 14 years and 126 days service to the Crown. He was only 34 years old.

The casualty form for William Dunne
With the knowledge that William Dunne had fallen on the battlefields of Belgium, I searched for evidence of his final resting place. A stroke of good luck brought me to a photograph of his grave, and the graves of two of his comrades who fell as he did on 20 November 1914. The photograph appears on the Prowse Point Cemetery information page of the World War I War Graves website. William and his comrades, Private James Gallagher and Private James Maguire, were among the first casualties interred in the Prowse Point Military Cemetery about ten miles south of Ieper, West Flanders, Belgium. The three men are interred right beside one another near the entrance, and close to the large cross and the pond which fronts the cemetery. Prior to my visit to William's grave in Belgium, through the Commonwealth Graves Commission and The War Graves Photographic Project, for a small donation, I was able to acquire this photograph of William Dunne's grave.

Copyright© The War Graves Photographic Project. Appears with permission.
Prowse Point Military Cemetery, Belgium .
Copyright© The War Graves Photographic Project. Appears with permission.
William Dunne's military record with the British army was not spotless, few are.  The men who were sent to fight across the world were real flesh and bone individuals, not two dimensional cinema heroes.  His file reveals a few entries for army offenses.  While he was stationed at Fermoy, Ireland, and Dover, England, he was cited for drinking alcohol and thus "creating a disturbance in the barracks room", and using "obscene language"; for these he was fined 10 pence and 5 pence.  He was also cited for the more serious offence of "missing roll call at 8:30 am"; it is stated that he arrived at 10 a.m..  For this he was docked 14 days pay.

In addition to his Boer War medals, William Dunne was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.  On 21 October 1919 my great-grandmother Mary Magee signed a form in receipt of the 1914 Star awarded to her brother; that receipt remains a part of William's file.  Less than two years after she signed for that medal, Mary Magee would lose her son Michael to war. A brother lost fighting for the British in Europe; a son lost fighting against the British in Ireland.

For complete information about the 'Next of Kin Memorial Plaque' visit the The Great War 1914-1918.
Click on Photographs to view a larger version.
Unless otherwise credited, All Photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2007-2012.
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