Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reading Bunreacht na hÉireann, The Constitution of Ireland

In order to gain a better understanding of the lives led by those who came before us, it is both interesting and helpful to look at documents and books which detail the social, legal, and political life of the countries in which our ancestors lived.

In the case of Ireland, there is a wealth of material available detailing the history of the country. With respect to the legal life of Ireland after 1937, one very interesting resource to view is Bunreacht na hÉireann, The Constitution of Ireland. By viewing this legal document we can gain insight into both the social and political structures, and strictures, which governed the lives of our 20th century family members.

Bunreacht na hÉireann was enacted by the people of Ireland on 1 July 1937, and was 'fully operational', as they say, on 29 December 1937. This new constitution replaced the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State. It is interesting to note that 1,212,050 people voted in the referendum. Of these 685,105 voted in favour of the new constitution, and 526,945 voted against it. The constitution was carried by a majority of only 158,160 votes, meaning fully 43.5% of the voting population was against this constitution. I'll leave it to those historians who write about legislative history to puzzle out this fact.

One of the sections of the Irish Constitution which most interests me is the Statutes section in which Fundamental Rights are defined, in particular those rights which relate to the family and the role of women.

Under the heading THE FAMILY, the following Article appears:


1. 1° The State recognises the Family as the natural
primary and fundamental unit group of Society,
and as a moral institution possessing inalienable
imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior
to all positive law.

2.  1° In particular, the State recognises that by her
life within the home, woman gives to the State a
support without which the common good cannot
be achieved.

2.  2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure
that mothers shall not be obliged to by economic
necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of
their duties in the home.

After reading this section of Bunreacht na hÉireann for the first time, I felt as though I understood why, when I was a young girl, my mother was always troubled by the thought that I desired a university career, and was not particularly interested in either getting married or having children. As you can see in the Irish constitution, the role of woman is very clearly prescribed; her place is in the home, and her role is mother. Reading this also gave me some insight into why it may have been that one of the childless women on my paternal family tree, my grand-aunt Mary Magee Halpin, was treated with some contempt. The fact of her not having children was viewed by some members of the family as unnatural and a mark of her selfishness, rather than a fact of her biology. To see the role of mother enshrined in the constitution in this way emphasizes the extent to which this ideal was truly woven into the fabric of Irish society.

There are also many other interesting sections in the Constitution worth a read, such as the articles on the right of freedom of expression, the right to education, and the right to religious freedom. If you have family members who lived in Ireland in the 20th century, during the period after which the constitution was enacted, or who still live in Ireland, you may want to have a look at this document.

You can view Bunreacht na hÉireann online by visiting the Irish Statute Book website. You can search or browse the entire text of the document on this site, as well as view other documents germane to the legal history of Ireland. The site is maintained by the Office of the Attorney General of Ireland.  If you want to access the information via an iPad, The Irish Statute Book is also available as an app on iTunes.


Irish Referendum Results 1937-2012, Comhshaol Pobal Agus Rialtas Áitiúil.  Access online via http://www.environ.ie


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Then and Now: The Passage Tomb at Newgrange

This week's images are of the Passage Tomb at Newgrange in Drogheda, County Meath.  In comparing these images of past and present, you can see that the passage tomb has undergone a good deal of exterior restoration. In the old image, the roof-box over the doorway, through which the sun's light passes on Winter Solstice, had not yet been uncovered, and the stone frontage was covered in grass. I have included four present day images so that you can see how all is now neat and well ordered. The final image I shot from the roadway down the hill to give a sense of context. Be sure to visit The National Library of Ireland's Flickr page to view more images from the past.

From the Tempest Collection NLI c. 1900-1910 (Click on the image to link to NLI photo stream.)
Emerging from the passage tomb,
this young girl looks less happy about the prospect than the girl in the old photograph.
The OPW guide and some of the roof-box.
The roof-box through which the light of the sun passes on the Winter Solstice.
The position of the roof-box directs the light so that the entire inner chamber is illuminated at dawn.
The Passage Tomb at Newgrange.
For more information about the Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth, visit their website at: http://newgrange.com

Click on images to view larger version.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sepia Saturday 159: 'In the swim of things'

Although it's been cold all week in my neck of the woods (average temp.12°C/52°F), the sun is brightly shining and the grass is still green.  There's no better time to think about doffing winter's threads in favour of getting into the swim of things.  For my contribution to Sepia Saturday 159, here are some old images of family members and friends enjoying a day at the beach. To view all of the Sepia Saturday posts visit Kat and Alan's blog at http://sepiasaturday.blogspot.ca

Ball family members and friends on the strand at Sandymount, Dublin, Ireland. (1950s)
Family friend Paddy Daly (he of Aston Villa fame)
with wife Margaret on an unidentified beach in Ireland.
It seems my dad, who took the photo, may have been distracted by the appearance of the Volkswagon Bug. (1950s)
The Balls and the Barnwells 'rockin it' on a very rocky and crowded beach in Kent, England.  (1940s)
Mom and me in the Muskokas, Canada. From the looks on our faces my guess is
my big brother just pulled something disgusting out of the lake.  (1960s)

Click on images to view larger version.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Then and Now: Cobh, County Cork

Looking at photographs from the past can give us a sense of how things have changed over time. So too, sometimes it allows us to see an old adage in action, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'. Thanks to copyright free images of old on the National Library of Ireland Flickr page, together with photographs I have taken, we can have a glimpse of past and present together. In today's post, we are in the village of Cobh (pronounced Cove), once known as Queenstown, in County Cork.  Although these images were not taken from exactly the same angle, we can still see the way in which the Cathedral of St. Colman evolved, with the addition of the spectacular spire. Although construction of the cathedral began in 1868, it took a full 47 years and three different architects, E.W. Pugin, G.C. Ashlin and T.A. Coleman, to complete the work. The spire was the last major piece of construction, and it was not completed until March of 1915. Notice too that some of the same buildings in the village still stand.

Queenstown, where soldiers found a home, and sailors their rest
Photograph dates to the 1890s. (Click on the image to link back to the NLI photo stream.)

Click on images to view larger versions.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday's Tips: The Alumni Dublinenses: Finding a well educated Irish ancestor

The Alumni Dublinenses

If you have a male ancestor in your family tree who was fortunate enough to receive his education at Trinity College in Ireland, between 1592 and 1860, then you may wish to consult the Alumni Dublinenses. Trinity College Dublin is the oldest university in Ireland, and has long stood as the pre-eminent seat of learning. Notwithstanding its Protestant affiliation, it has always been open to students of other religions; therefore, if you are searching for a well educated Protestant or non-Protestant, you might very well find him in the Alumni Dublinenses.

The Alumni Dublinenses is a publication of the registers of all students, graduates, professors and provosts of Trinity College, from its earliest days in 1592, when the university was established, up until around 1860. The publication has full biographical information for almost every student from registers dating from 1637 to 1860. In addition to that it includes around 300 names of those from the period between 1593 and 1637, since registers are no longer extant for this period.

Especially useful to the family historian, the Dublinenses is often the only source of information available about many men with professions, such as  lawyers and doctors, lesser-known writers and theologians, and so on, men about whom it may be difficult to find information. It is also an excellent reference for those who are tracing ancient names in Ireland and Britain.

Produced in three volumes, at around one thousand pages, it contains approximately thirty-five thousand entries, arranged alphabetically by surname.  Some entries are incomplete, but many are very detailed. Specifics in some of the entries are written in the Latin, and although each entry is written in a sort of shorthand, it is easily decipherable.

The alphabetized entries of the Alumni Dublinenses include the following details:

Student's full name, age, and birthplace
Educational classification (Pensioner, Sizar, or Fellow Commoner *see endnote)
Schoolmaster or school, including location
Date of admission
Father's name and profession
Degree earned and date of graduation

If we look at the entries for these young O'Malley men, we can learn quite a bit about them. For example, consider George Orme O'Malley. George was born in County Mayo, the son of John O'Malley, a 'generosus rusticus', that is, a gentleman farmer. George was a pensioner* who was admitted to Trinity College on 3 July 1837, at the age of 16 years, under the tutelage of Mr. McCall.

George earned his Bachelor of Arts degree 'Vern 1843', which means he graduated in the spring of 1843.  He was called to the Irish Bar the same year. Thirty-five years after earning his B.A., George graduated with a Master of Arts in the winter (Hiem) of 1878.  The information inside the square brackets is quite interesting.  In addition to the fact that George altered his surname to Malley, he bore the post-nominal 'Q.C', shorthand for Queen's Council. This post-nominal tells us that George was likely quite a successful barrister, since the post-nominal was awarded by the crown to a chosen few, most often to barristers rather than solicitors.

A 'Q.C.' was recognized on the basis of merit, and chosen because he demonstrated the sort of court room skills that would make him suitable to represent the crown.

If you look at the entry for George May O'Malley, you will notice the inclusion of the letters 'R.C.', which denotes the fact that this George was Roman Catholic.

Where do I find the Alumni Dublinenses?

Online, you can search the complete Alumni Dublinenses via FindMyPastIreland. Also, you can access the Alumni Dublinenses through the libraries of some of the major universities in Canada and the United States, as well as some public libraries. Go to the Open Library website at http://openlibrary.org/ and enter 'Alumni Dublinenses' as the search term. Clicking on the borrow link for the 1924 edition will bring you to a page in the WorldCat site on which you can enter your location, or zip/postal code, and you will see a list of libraries through which you can access the register.

If you would like to have your own copy, you can purchase one on CD through Eneclann. As well, it is sometimes available through online book sites, such as ABEBooks and Alibris. Just be careful that you know exactly what you are buying, because some persons have published only small sections of the 1924 edition. The 1924 edition on FindMyPastIreland, and available through Eneclann, is the most complete.

*Endnote: Educational Classifications:

Pensioner - a pensioner was a student who paid a fixed annual fee for his education. A pensioner would have come from a middle class or upper middle class family.
Sizar - usually born into a poor family, a sizar was a young man who showed intellectual promise. He would be given either a free education or pay a significantly reduced rate of tuition. Also, he might receive other benefits, such as free meals or accommodation, in exchange for doing a specific job which quite often was of a menial nature.
Fellow Commoner - Although it may sound counterintuitive, a fellow commoner was one of those students from the wealthiest section of society. He would have paid double tuition fees and in exchange would receive special privileges, such as the right to complete his degree in three years instead of the required four.

Click on images to view larger versions.

Monday, January 7, 2013

'...the whole of my property and effects to Mother'

Facsimile of William Pell's Will page.
Appears with permission.
"In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to Mother", wrote the young Lance Corporal William Pell.

On 27 October 1914, just seventy-eight days before he was killed on 7 January 1915, my grandfather's first cousin, twenty-three year old William Pell wrote his last will and testament.  It appears on page 14 of his army service small book, the page that bears the title WILL. With a flourish reminiscent of the sort of cursive writing a young boy might have learned in a school room, William wrote his final wishes in pencil, bequeathing all to Mother.

'Mother', he wrote, as though Teresa Pell was the only woman in all the world to ever bear that moniker. Surely, in the eyes of William she was the only one. While it is not uncommon to see Mother written in the final wishes of many young soldiers, it is no less poignant.

Today is the 98th anniversary of the day on which William was killed on the bloody field of battle in Belgium. He was among the first to be interred, just over the border from France, in a small and simple cemetery called Prowse Point. In that place 225 other young men would find their final resting place.

Other than the stone which marks his grave in Belgium, and bits of his service record, all that is left to us of William Pell is his British army pocket book, known as a 'Small Book'.

Each man who served in the King's army of the British Forces during the First World War was given a Small Book. All of the regulations of the branch in which these men served were laid out, chapter and verse, on the pages of this little book. There were also blank pages on which the soldiers could record information about the details of their training. Among these blank pages was the one entitled ‘Will’. When a soldier was called to active service, this completed page would be given to his local army office. Sometimes the will page was not removed from his book until after his death, and some of these pages no longer exist at all. Although over 35,000 Irishmen were killed during the First World War, only 9,000 of their wills are extant.

The effects of most regular soldiers consisted of only their army pay and their clothing, and perhaps letters from home, small keepsakes tucked away in their kit bags. I often wonder, did the winds swirl overhead and the rain gently fall on that January day so long ago, and as William lay dying on the battlefield in Belgium, what was there left to be sent home to ‘Mother’?


Do you have an Irish ancestor or relative who fought and was killed during the First World War?

If so, then be sure to visit the National Archives of Ireland collection of the wills of soldiers who died in the First World War (1914-1917).  The collection is available for viewing online free of charge, via the NAI Genealogy website. The available wills comprise the first phase of an ongoing project by the National Archives to digitise the 9,000 wills of the soldiers who died. The remainder of the collection will be released online later in 2013.

In addition to the will pages, the collection also holds a number of letters, including those from the relatives of deceased soldiers, or fellow soldiers writing on behalf of the families of the deceased, stating the wishes of the deceased man with respect to the distribution of his effects. Other letters are from the soldiers themselves, letters which were sent to relatives or friends stating the soldier's wishes about who should inherit his effects if he died on the fields of battle. These letters were accepted by the British War Office in lieu of a will.

Click on image to view larger version.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

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