Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Travel Tuesday: Into 'Albertopolis' on an afternoon off in London

ROYAL ALBERT HALL, 1871.
As I have previously mentioned, part of the reason for my annual trip to Ireland is to conduct research for my history work, as well as family history research. For the last two years, part of what I am working on for my history work entails that I also use the facilities of the National Archives UK in Kew, London. This is a first class facility with plenty of helpful staff, and a wonderfully quiet study area in which you only hear the sounds of old paper and books being shifted around. Blissful!

After spending days combing through box after box of documents, I gave myself a much needed couple of hours off. I fled the archives, dropped my briefcase at the hotel, and headed into central London on the tube. I disembarked at South Kensington Station with the purpose of having a look around the area which was once widely known as 'Albertopolis'.

What is Albertopolis?

In the South Kensington area of London, following the fabulous success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert, prince consort to Queen Victoria, had the brilliance of forethought to create a metropolis of art, science and culture. Albert was worried that the British Empire was lagging behind the rest of the world, and so wanted to create schools for learning, as well as archives and museums, which would celebrate all the best of the British Empire, and mark Britain as the world leader in the areas of art, science, and culture. After Albert's death in 1861, Queen Victoria continued to add to this area, which had become colloquially known as 'Albertopolis'. Laying the cornerstone at what was to be named the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, Queen Victoria officially christened it Royal Albert Hall. In effect Victoria ensured that the area serves as a national memorial to the memory of her husband.

Here's a slideshow I created and uploaded to YouTube, featuring some of what I came across on my journey through Albertopolis on that windy afternoon.



For more information visit: Albertopolis

Monday, October 29, 2012

New Pages: 'Civil Registration Districts' + 'Geographical & Political Designations'

Today, I am adding two more pages to this blog, pages which I hope will prove helpful with respect to your Irish family history research.

The page entitled 'Civil Registration Districts' is quite simply the list issued by the General Register Office, a list which offers a complete enumeration of the civil registration districts covered in the Birth, Marriage, and Death registers of the GRO.

The page entitled 'Geographical & Political Designations' is offered for purposes of clarification, and when you take a look at it you will fully understand what I mean. Recently, a friend of mine travelling around the southwest coast of Ireland risked a pummelling in a small country pub when he referred to the Irish as British. Although you may never find yourself in such a spot, it is always good to have an understanding of the difference between geographical and political designations with respect to Ireland. Knowledge of these designations is very helpful in terms of family history research, since you may encounter them on various documents in the search for your Irish ancestors.

As always, continued good luck to you with your research.

Cheers,
Jennifer

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Those Places Thursday: By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea

On the train on the way to Bray.
There is something about the sea which is seductive to the soul. Perhaps it is the caress of salt air fresh against our faces, or on a much deeper level, our primordial connection to nature. Maybe it is the seemingly never ending horizon which meets the sea, and draws us in, reminding us of all the possibilities offered by life.

This is the sea my mother loved, the Irish sea, on the east side of the island. This is the sea I first fell in love with when I was a child. It reminds me of an old song my mom used to sing every once in a while:

'By the sea, by the sea, 
by the beautiful sea,
You and me, you and me,
Oh how happy we'll be'...

The Irish sea from the best vantage point in Bray, County Wicklow, known as Bray Head, holds memories of a wonderful day when I was thirteen years old, and my brother and I climbed to the top of the mountain with two of our cousins. If you peer into the photograph below you will notice a large cross on the top of the mountain. We were determined to have a close-up look at it. When I look at Bray Head now, I am in awe of it, but it also makes me laugh because it reminds me of the fearlessness that childhood gives you. The climb that day was wonderful, and wonderfully terrifying. The view from the top was well worth it. It seemed as though the sea went on forever.

Along the strand looking toward Bray Head
The dog in the photograph swims everyday, as his mistress runs alongside him on the shore.
Looking back toward Dublin, way in the distance.
Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Finding Mary: Walking mother's footpaths in Ringsend

When I was in Ireland this time I found myself wanting to 'find' my mother Mary, to perhaps better understand what life may have been like for her when she was a child and young woman. To try and glean a glimpse of insight into her life, I walked along the streets my mother once travelled, stood by the seaside my Mom loved, and sat in the church where she once prayed, all in the hope of finding Mary.

The Dublin my mother once knew still exists in many ways, but outside in the light of day, at first it seemed as though it is barely there. Parts of the neighbourhood in which she lived are now so built up that the traffic betrays what were once quiet streets on which children could run and play. Still, in the very centre of the neighbourhood, within the labyrinth of streets which comprise Ringsend, the feeling of the past is there if you stand quiet and listen for it. The train which travels to the seaside she loved still rumbles on the tracks in the same way it once did, and the waves on the beach still crash up on the shore in a rhythm which affirms life. Some things do not change.

The morning of my search for the life my mother once knew began with a walk across the green known as St. Stephen's. Autumn has begun its slow creep into the place, and the bite of chill is in the air. The flowers of summer now quickly fade, and the gardeners dig them up, leaving fallow ground for winter's frost.

The first bus for my trip waits for me at the light, and so I scurry across the street clutching a royal blue and teal scarf around my neck. Of all the scarves in my cupboard, this was my mother's favourite, and so I wear it for her. I tell the bus driver where I am going, pay my fare, and climb the stairs to the upper deck of the bus. The driver calls me to alight at Townsend Street, and I smile. It seems so often there are family connections in this city no matter where I go. It is on Townsend, at number 180, that my maternal grandmother lived as a girl with her family in 1911, after they returned to Ireland from Liverpool. That front door is just a few paces away from the bus stop. I will cycle to it later in the week.

It is not long before the #1 bus 'Towards Sandymount' arrives at the stop. The route is very familiar to me, but this time I pay attention along the way. Looking out the window along Pearse street, I wonder, am I looking at sights Mom once observed, as she travelled from the city centre to her home on Gordon Street? Would the things which catch my eye have appealed to her?

St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend
At Bridge street, over the River Dodder, and just past the church in which my parents were married, I disembark from the bus. As I try to travel back in time, I feel a little unsteady, but make my way over the road, through the gate and into St. Patrick's Church.


The church is small and beautiful, and seems so much unchanged from the images in my parent's wedding album. I feel as though I have stepped inside one of the photographs, and I sit down in the last pew to take it all in. There is a small army of women cleaning every square inch of the church. As I stand up to look around, I feel compelled to ask one of them if it is alright for me to do so. "Of course", she replies, "why wouldn't it be?" She notices the camera bag slung across my hip and tells me I can take photographs too, and I tell her about my mom and dad and their connection to this church. She encourages me to step up onto the main altar and write their names in the book, so they will be remembered in prayers said each day. I write down their names, and the name of my brother's closest friend too.


I wander around the church, gazing at every statue in its respective nook, every image on the walls, and try to imagine my mother in this space. I picture her seated with her father listening to morning mass, or bent in prayer on the eve of a holy day. To the left of the main altar stands an old statue of St. Anthony, the saint to whom my mother always prayed, and I wonder if this is the first place in which she beseeched him.

I run my fingers along the wood of the narrow pews, glancing the small brass plaques which adorn every one, plaques which bear the names of members lost to other families. I sit for another moment in the church and notice the beautiful wood ceiling, every slat perfectly in place, all finely crafted to resemble the body of a great ship, a tribute to the long history of boat building in this community.




Turning back for one last look, I leave the church behind and make my way up the steep incline of the bridge over the River Dodder. The sight of swans quietly sailing along the water makes me take pause for a few minutes. Did my mother ever stand here watching swans in their gentle glide, or turn to see them take flight toward the Dublin mountains?

Swans on the River Dodder, just behind the church in Ringsend.
Swans taking flight in the direction of the Dublin Mountains.
Stopping at South Lotts Road, I wait for the light to signal my journey across Ringsend Road, and look over toward the home to which my mother, as a young teenager, was sent to live in order to care for her grand-aunt Alice, when the old woman could no longer care for herself. My mother did not want to go, but she was given no choice. Her obedience to family duty called her to leave the only home she had ever known, to care for the woman who had once cared for her and her siblings.

As I proceed up the street everything to my right is unchanged, but on my left a new world of business buildings and condominiums has grown up. It is as though I am balanced between the past and the present. It is along this street, my aunt has told me, that my mother always seemed to have a great fear of walking close to the road, so her younger sister would walk with her, keeping pace beside the road. As I travel down the footpath, I imagine them arm in arm, as they ventured out together.

I walk down toward Somerset Street, pause to photograph the converted old gasworks, and somehow lose my bearings. A bewildered look must mark my face, because a young woman approaching asks me if I'm lost. She confirms that 'yes, Gordon street is just there', and again I recognize where I am. As she turns away from me to cross the road, I notice her shoulder length hair has the same chestnut tone and lovely wave to it that my mother's hair had when she was a young woman.

Looking toward Gordon Street. The Gasworks Apartments is the round building in the background.
As I reach Gordon Street, it is very quiet. Where the streets intersect there is a stillness of which no map will ever tell. I wander up the middle of the roadway and imagine children who once lived here, laughing and playing in the street. I spy the front door of my mother's family home, and the Doyle house, and the Murphy family's cottage. There is something reassuring about seeing all of them here. Most of the people from my mother's time are gone from here now, but the brick and stucco houses remain virtually unchanged in this ever changing place. I pause for a moment to think about all that took place in the life of the home that was a part of my family: the births, the marriages, sons going to war and returning home again, the deaths of the matriarch and the patriarch, and my Uncle Gerard, the last brother to live within its walls.


Moving away from the house, I travel toward Barrow Street and notice the names of the streets which intersect from the right, names I have never before noted, 'Joy Street', 'Hope Street'. Seeing those names, suddenly it occurs to me that despite all the hardship and loss Mom knew as she was growing up, my mother was happy here. With that thought I feel as though I have caught a glimpse of my mother, as I walked along the footpaths she once knew best. I make my way out to the main road, pass the old Boland's Flour Mills, and walk back toward the city centre with a lighter heart.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Home is where the heart is

As I write this, the evening sky is settling in around us, and I am home with my family, my husband and our little Ulee, at last. Home is definitely where the heart is, and my home is here with them. Both my body and my mind are tired from these last weeks, and I managed to pick up a virulent case of the flu in the last few days of my trip. I guess that's my reward for burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle, as my mom used to say.

My trip was a great success in that I was able to do a ton of research and reading for my history work, as well as some family history research; however, there were also some very frustrating elements at play, particularly in the National Archives UK. The times I loved the most include visits to old haunts, and opportunities to remember my parents in some of the places they knew best. My emotions have run the gamut from sheer joy to frustration and anger.

As I landed in Dublin I felt a mix of joy and sorrow. I was thrilled to once again be in Ireland, a land that I love, but felt great sorrow in remembering that now neither my dad nor my mom will ever again set foot in the land of their birth. My heart was lightened by conversation with the car driver, John Murphy, who took me from the airport to my hotel. I was amazed to discover that he grew up only a few streets away from where my mother spent her childhood in Ringsend. John Murphy is descended from men who were boat builders and wood workers, professions which for generations defined the lives of many of those who lived in Ringsend, including my maternal grandfather and some of my uncles. I will share more about that with you in a future post.

Looking out over the Irish Sea from the train on the way to visit my aunt.
If you look just below centre, and slightly to the left, in this photograph
 you will notice a man paddling out on a surfboard.
Visiting with my mother's youngest sister Kate and her youngest brother John was especially wonderful for me. My Uncle John told me he always imagines me as an inquisitive ten year old full of questions, so he finds it surprising to see me in the person of an adult seated before him. He was so kind to say he very much likes the fact that the passing of years has not abated my inquisitive nature. He was so open to talking about family history, and I felt as though I gained a better understanding about his feelings with respect to his place in our family after the death of his mother, my grandmother, who died when he was less than a year old. My grandfather's brother Christy and his wife May raised my uncle, so his experience of, and perspective on, our family history is a unique one.

It was wonderful to spend time with my Aunt Kate talking about our family history. She was open to any and all questions, and told me many things I did not know. Also, I felt glad that I was able to share with her some aspects of our family history about which she was unaware. Later in the week in which I visited with Kate at her home, she travelled into Dublin and we spent a wonderful afternoon together, walking arm in arm around parts of the city centre and through St. Stephen's Green.

One of O'Connell's Angels with an Irish Wolfhound.
It was great to see 'my Dublin Ladies', as I like to call O'Connell's Angels. There is something reassuring about finding those lovely bronze statues, ever unchanging, just across O'Connell Bridge. Like many cities throughout the world, Dublin has seen so much change come to the urban landscape over time. There are many neighbourhoods in Dublin in which developers would be quite happy to raze the old cottages and row houses in favour of high rise condominiums meant to attract wealthy 'up and comers'. In my mom's childhood neighbourhood it is astonishing to see the development which has taken place there just over the last couple of years. An enormous building which was not there last summer now dominates the end of Gordon Street. I dearly hope the wrecking ball bypasses the home in which my mother was raised.

On this trip rather than staying in Ballsbridge or Donnybrook as I usually do, I stayed in a hotel right on St. Stephen's Green, so I walked or cycled almost everywhere. I had planned to take a folding bike with me, but instead settled on renting bicycles from the Dublin Bike stands located throughout the city, a perfect alternative. On one Sunday a couple of weeks ago I spent the day tearing up and down the quays like a fifteen year old, taking lots of photographs as I went. It was a blissful day filled with all the elements of Irish weather, sunny skies and warm winds, dark clouds and cold breezes, and even a little rain.

One of the great bicycles I rented from Dublin Bike, parked on the James Joyce Bridge,
 with my camera bag in the basket, of course.
I am very glad to be home with my family on this side of the pond, and I have a lot to share with all of you, but for now I will bid you adieu until next time.

Cheers to you and yours,

Jennifer

P.S. If you are waiting for documents from me, I will be in touch with you shortly to send them your way.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.
Click on images to view larger versions.
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