Monday, February 25, 2013

Stepping into the Looking Glass: Reflections of ourselves in our family trees

This is a post about questions, rather than answers, but I believe they are questions worthy of contemplation.

In the whole of your life if you never saw an image of yourself, would you wholly know who you are? What would your perceptions of yourself be?

These questions were inspired by a late 19th century image in Aoife O'Connor's book Small Lives, an image in which a group of farm children from Connemara Ireland are pictured (See the photos here: NLI Tuke Collection). The photographer, Major Ruttledge-Fair, showed the children a copy of a photograph in which they appear. While the children pictured could easily point out their friends in the photograph, they did not recognize themselves in the image. Fair accounted for this lack of recognition saying,

"[The children] know each other at once, but not one recognises himself or herself never having seen that same — looking glasses being unknown." (O'Connor 26)

Those of us who are blessed with eyesight are accustomed to the image in the looking glass each morning, even as that image changes over time. Even without mirrors, like Narcissus, at some point we might find a obliging pond that would reflect back a wavy and watery shape which we would probably recognize as our individual self. Also, for better or worse, we receive 'reflections' of ourselves from friends and family who let us know how we look from their perspective — pale, ruddy, fat, thin, happy, sad — and who they believe we are — brilliant or stupid, succinct or verbose, creative or unimaginative, compassionate or indifferent, and many other things along the continuum between these extremes.

Are we not also reflected through the optic of our family history?

This works on two levels.

First, whose stories do we choose to share, and whose do we leave untended? What do those choices say about us as individuals?

Second, in whom do we see ourselves reflected? Which ancestor or relative do we most resemble, be it in the way that he/she looked, or how we imagine their visage, his/her manner of comportment, or the life he/she led?

Many identify with ancestors who emerged as heroes, whether in the battles fought in wars, or in working for social justice, or in simply raising the fortunes of the family. However, is it perhaps too easy to see ourselves in the heroes? What if you found someone on your family tree who ended up in a workhouse? Would you be willing and able to see any part of that individual in yourself?

Some of us have ancestors and relatives who have suffered from mental illness. Can we see ourselves reflected in them? Are we able to tell their stories or are they kept under wraps?

As you look at your family tree, with whom do you truly have the most in common?

Who do you believe you would like most of all, and who would you honestly admit to disliking?

With whom could you see yourself arguing, and upon whom can you see yourself heaping praise?

If you stepped inside the looking glass and down into your family tree in whom would you see yourself reflected?

Think about it.

Click on image to view larger version.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sepia Saturday #165: My own 'Who-ville'

In July of 2012, I began a short lived series entitled 'Who's that girl? Who's that guy? Who's that baby? Wednesday'. Along with the photo or photos posted I added the appropriate girl/guy/baby question, depending on the gender or age of the person in the image.  I was hoping the outcome of those posts might be that I would learn the identity of the individuals in the photographs.

Many of us have old photographs that feature persons whom we cannot identify. Sometimes members of our family are in the photographs as well, and we may or may not be able to name them. Often the unknowns in the images are friends of our family members.

When I visited family members in Ireland in September, I was able to learn the answer to a couple of my 'Who's that..?' questions, but for the most part the faces looking out of these images remain nameless. Somewhat deflated, I set aside the photos and abandoned the series.


When Alan posted a photograph of an unidentified family as the inspiration for Sepia Saturday #165, I was delighted. Here is another chance, I thought, to put out these images and find out just who the heck these people are.  With the photos posted here I have noted the side of the family tree to which they are probably connected.  As I perused the photos bearing my 'unknowns', I realized that even if I never know the answers to all of my 'Who's that?' questions, it's still fun to look at the images and ponder who the people pictured might be.

Be sure to visit Alan and Kat's blog Sepia Saturday to connect with lots of other bloggers who are participating, and maybe you'll feel inspired to join in too.

With apologies to the late great Dr. Seuss, here is my contribution, my own 'Who-ville':

This rather corpulent lady is unknown to me. She is not a member of my family, or even a neighbour.
According to a note on the back of the photo she is holding 'Paddy's baby',
but Paddy who? The only thing family members recognized in this pic is the background.
(Maternal tree, circa 1940s)
Ah yes, two lovely couples, don't you agree? One or perhaps even both of them just got hitched.
Is this the image of a double wedding? Maybe. I don't know, and I have absolutely
no idea who these couples are. Friends of the family perhaps? The only thing recognized in
this photo is the background. Those houses are directly across the street from
St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, the church in which my parents were married. (Maternal tree, 1940s)
We do know the identity of one person in this double exposed photo.
My mom Mary is the lady seated on the grass. The odd thing is Mom had no idea of
the identity of the other two people in the image.
(Maternal tree, late 1940s or early 1950s)
This photo was taken in the back garden of my mom's childhood home in Dublin. Three people in the photo
have been identified. The elderly gentleman on the left is my maternal grandfather Patrick Ball, my Aunt Kate
is the woman with her hands on the shoulders of the taller of the two boys, and my Uncle Gerard is the man
in the back row, right hand side, smiling and leaning forward. Everyone else is unidentified.
(Maternal tree, 1950s)
Looks like this group was attending a fun event, especially with those wacky hats,
although some of the partiers look rather sombre. Only three of the eleven pictured here are named.
My mom Mary, aged 18, is second from left, seated on the floor. Mom's sister Bernadette, aged 20, is second from left standing,
and the man on the far left is their cousin Seamus Barnwell. All the other partiers are unknown.
(Maternal tree, 1949)
Okay Geraghty family members, please help me out here.
You will recognize John Geraghty on the left and Enda Geraghty on the right, but who
are the women with whom they have linked arms? Also, who is the little girl with the great
big bow in her hair? I think the adult women may be Magees, but don't know for sure, and
I believe the little girl may be John and Enda's youngest sister Kathleen, or else another Magee.
Any thoughts?
(Paternal tree, 1940s)

Click on images to view larger versions.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Any Villains or Victims Lurking in Your Family History?: FindMyPast Ireland

This morning I received the following press release from Find My Past Ireland:


This is the biggest collection of historical criminal records from England and Wales being published online for the first time by family history site  in association with The UK National Archives.

Over 2.5 million records dating from 1770-1934 will be easily searchable and provide a wide variety of colour, detail and fascinating social history, chronicling the fate of criminals ranging from fraudsters, counterfeiters, thieves and murderers and their victims. Some of the extant histories include very gruesome details.

The records contain mugshots, court documents, appeal letters, examples of early Edwardian ‘ASBOs’— bans on habitual drunks from pubs and entertainment venues. Also included are registers from the prison ‘hulk’ ships, which were used when mainland prisons were overcrowded. One such hulk, the ‘Dolphin’, housed 6,000 prisoners between 1829 and 1835.

Cliona Weldon, General Manager at, says:

"These records provide anyone with roots in the UK an amazing chance to trace criminals and their victims in their family. They feature incredible descriptions of criminals’ appearances, demeanour and identifying marks, giving you a real insight to who each person was. The British newspaper articles also available on show how the crimes were reported in the press of the day — which supplements the criminal records and makes searching through them as enjoyable as it is easy, as you cross-reference one against the other."

Paul Carter, Principle Modern Domestic records specialist at The UK National Archives, adds:

"These records span several government series and show the evolution of the criminal justice system in the nineteenth century as the country dealt with the impact of industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth.

They record the intimate details of hundreds of thousands of people, beginning with judges’ recommendations for or against pardons, to petitions through which criminals and their families could offer mitigating circumstances and grounds for mercy, and later, licences containing everything from previous convictions to the state of a prisoner’s health.

As well as the Georgian highway robber, the Victorian murderer and the Edwardian thief, the courts often dealt with the rural poacher, the unemployed petty food thief or the early trade unionist or Chartist. The records are a fascinating source for family, local and social historians."

The information in the records comes from a variety of UK Government departments including the Home Office, Prison Commission, Metropolitan Police, Central Criminal Court and the Admiralty. The records from 1817-1931 will be published first followed by the period 1770-1934 in the coming months.

The Crime, Prisons and Punishment records are available on as part of a Britain & Ireland  subscription or a World subscription. They are also available online at, and

It all sounds very exciting.  So...if you have any villains or victims in your family tree, you may want to stop by and have a search.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday, almost: The Tricolour of Éire

The Tricolour in the distance, as seen from St. Stephen's Green, Dublin.
You walk by it, and may not think about what it meant, and what it means, to have those three colours flying together above the land. You probably don't think about how many lives were lost, and how many families were forever changed, in the name of all that those colours represent. It's just there, the tricolour of Éire, waving in the wind on a rainy afternoon, or flaccid in the air above a pub. We see it affixed to a grave marker and pinned to the bark of an obliging tree at Glasnevin. Whether it is stock still above us in the quiet of the stone breaker's yard at Kilmainham, or quietly at attention over the graves of the 1916 leaders on Arbour Hill, the Irish standard gently whispers to us of a past marked by struggle, and the determination of a people to survive.

The Tricolour above the Turk's Head on Parliament Street in Temple Bar, Dublin.
The Tricolour adorning a grave in Glasnevin...
...and affixed to a tree.
The Tricolour above the stone breaker's yard in Kilmainham gaol, site of the executions of the 1916 leaders.
The Tricolour on the right hand side at the burial ground of the 1916 Leaders, Arbour Hill Cemetery, Dublin.
For the history of the Irish Tricolour flag, see The National Flag from the Irish government Department of the Taoiseach website.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

'Captured with the click of a shutter'

So very grateful am I to have the old photographs that I have, although they are fewer in number than I would like.  Each time I see a fellow blogger post 'found' photographs of an ancestor, my heart leaps for them because I know the joy such photos bring to me, and I imagine they feel the same way.

Often I find myself looking intently into the faces of those in the photos I do have, wondering what they are thinking, wondering what life was like for them at just that very moment.  Did they 'pose' as we might do when a photograph is taken? Did they dislike having photos taken, or mistrust the medium of photography? Did they think they had 'a good side', and prefer to be photographed from that angle?  In some photos it is clear that all the rules of portraiture were not yet in play, as those pictured look very uncomfortable posing for posterity.

It is, I suppose, easy for us who do family history research to judge a past life in its entirety, since we have knowledge that the individuals pictured did not have at the time these photos were taken. We know at least some details about how their lives were lived, how they ended, and how their stories turned out. In the very moment when they posed before the cameras they could not possibly know all that life would bring to them.

A while ago, I was thinking about this as I looked at some photographs, such as the one above, of my father when he was a child. In the picture my father is the little boy with the shy smile seated in the front on the far right. There were times, when I was growing up, that I observed my father in solitude, and at those times he seemed to have a heavy heart. There was a sort of shadow that would come over his face, sadness hung heavy in the room, and he would be lost in thought. When I look at the few images that I have from his childhood there is none of this, no sadness, no longing; there is only sheer joy in his face. Sometimes I wish I could climb into those old photographs and share the energy of that joy with him. It is enough to know that he experienced it, and it is good to be reminded that he had joy in his childhood, no matter what else life brought his way.

For me, no matter how small it may be, a picture or a photograph really is worth a thousand words, and much more, because it encapsulates the emotions, hopes, and dreams that were there in that very moment in which our loved ones were captured with the click of a shutter.


Click on image to view larger version.
In the photo: Magee and Geraghty family members on holiday at Rush, North County Dublin.
My father Michael is the little boy in the front row, far right. His eldest brother Patrick is in the front row, far left.
Their first cousin Rita Magee is front row centre, the other children are her siblings.
Adults standing: Mollie Magee Halpin and her brother Frank Magee.
Adults seated: left: Anne Maher Magee (Frank's wife); right: great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Irish National War Memorial Gardens

Awaiting those who venture beyond the simple entranceway is the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, a beautiful expanse of trees, sunken gardens, and monuments, all replete with symbolism.

The view from the top of the main stairway.
As you descend, looking left and right, you notice the stone facades of the other pathways are reminiscent of bunkers.
The Great Cross with its truncated arms.
Just beyond the Great Cross, and perfectly aligned with it, is the symbolic altar of the War Stone. Crafted from seven and a half tons
of Irish granite, the dimensions of the stone are identical to War Stones, in First World War memorials throughout the world.
War Stones are sometimes referred to using the more benign term 'Stone of Remembrance'.
The inscription reads 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'.
One of two broad fountain basins to the left and right of the War Stone. The obelisk at the centre symbolizes a candle. Beyond the fountains
are two of the Book rooms. On the left, way off in the distance, you can see the top of Wellington's monument in Phoenix Park.
Two of four aptly named Book Rooms.  Within the book rooms are housed the Books of Remembrance in which are inscribed the names of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who were killed in the First World War.  There is one book room for each of the four provinces of Ireland.  Like so many of the elements here, these rooms are crafted of granite.  Also, secreted away in one of the rooms is the Ginchy Cross, a 4 metre high (13ft) wooden celtic cross which was erected on the Somme in 1917. The cross stood as a memorial to the 4,354 men of the 16th Irish Division who were killed on the Somme in 1916 during two battles, one at Ginchy and one at Guillemont. The cross was brought back to Ireland in 1926, and locked away here. In its place in France a stone cross stands.
Beneath the pergola between two of the Book Rooms. The layout and construction of the other Book Rooms is identical.
To the left and right of the central lawn, and just beyond each set of Book Rooms, lie sunken rose gardens. At the heart of each one is a small lily pond. It had been the intent of the gardens' architect Edwin Lutyens to create these sunken gardens as a tranquil place for meditation free from any allusions to military symbolism.
Down another set of stairs, and again perfectly aligned with both the War Stone and the Great Cross, this tree lined avenue leads to a dome 'temple'. A number of tree lined avenues radiate out from the site of the temple.
Looking back through the temple to the Great Cross.
Underfoot inside the temple, the words of English poet and soldier Rupert Brooke.
Click on images to view larger versions.
Reference: Irish National War Memorial Gardens Visitors Guide, Office of Public Works, Ireland.
See also: Commemoration in the landscape: The Irish National War Memorial Gardens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Commemoration in the landscape: The Irish National War Memorial Gardens

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin is not an especially difficult place to find; however, if you do not know its precise location, you might very well drive right past it without knowing it is there. The gardens are below street level, and apart from the small sign marking the main entrance, there is very little fanfare attached to the place.

When I decided to visit the gardens, I wanted to be clear about exactly which bus would drop me near the main entrance, and so went to the Dublin Bus website to figure out which bus travels along Con Colbert Road. On the route planner the name Irish National War Memorial Gardens does not appear. I decided brevity must be the order of the day, so dropped the words 'Irish' and 'National' from my search terms; however, the only choice which came up was 'Memorial Gardens'. The words Irish National War do not appear.

The erasure of the words which delineate its proper name, as well as the history of the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, serves as a marker that there was — and still is in some quarters — some reticence about honouring those Irish who fought and died as part of the British forces during the First World War.

Designed by English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the gardens were devised and laid out beginning in 1933 with completion in 1939. The project could have served as a model for co-operation between the Irish and the British people. The team which built all of the structures in the plan, and planted all of the greenery in the garden spaces, was comprised of former British servicemen and former Irish members of the Irish National Army, with fifty percent of the workforce hailing from Britain, and fifty percent of the workforce being Irish born.

More Irish citizens fought in the First World War than fought in The Easter Rising, The War of Independence, and The Irish Civil War combined (Wishart pp.111-118). Despite this fact, the Irish National War Memorial Gardens has never really been brought into public consciousness as an important place of commemoration. The gardens were never officially unveiled by the Irish government. In 1937 the government, led by then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, refused the invitation to attend the first Armistice Day ceremonies held in the gardens (Leonard, page 66). Although this refusal is perhaps not surprising, given De Valera's history within the independence movement, it was quite a disappointment for those Irish families commemorating their dead.

Over time the gardens were allowed to fall into a disgraceful state of disrepair until they were restored in the 1980s. On the day of my visit this past January, I was disheartened to see that the gardens are principally used as an off lead dog park, although there is a sign at the entrance prohibiting off lead dogs, and I was appalled to see dog excrement on one of the principal monuments.

In my opinion, to fail to properly honour those Irish, who sacrificed their lives on the battlegrounds of Europe, is like saying some war dead are more important than others. I can imagine those Irish families, including my own, who lost loved ones who had fought with the British forces during the First World War asking, 'Aren't our war dead as important as yours?'

The granite banner reads: 'To The Memory of 49,400* Irish Men Who Gave Their Lives in The Great War 1914-1918'
The fact is, like many Irish, my family history takes me to both sides of the argument. We lost family members both in the fight for the freedom of Ireland, and in the fight for the freedom of Europe.

Those of you who have been with me over the long haul know the story of my paternal grandmother Anne Magee, who served as a member of Cumann na mBan, running guns and delivering dispatches, as well as campaigning against the conscription of Irish into the British Forces during the First World war. You will also recall the story of her brother, my granduncle Michael Magee, who fought during the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence, and ultimately died from wounds he sustained in a failed ambush in January of 1921. Both Anne and Michael were committed to breaking the yoke of British rule over Ireland.  However, within their own family Michael and Anne's uncle, their mother's brother William Dunne, spent over a decade of his life in the service of the King, as a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. William fought in the Boer War, and ultimately lost his life in the battle for Ypres, Belgium.

On the maternal side of my family tree, both Thomas 'Tom' Michael Kettle and his brother Laurence  'Larrie' Kettle fondly held out the hope that they would live to see an independent Ireland. To that end both were members of the United Irish League, and worked with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers to make that happen. Both Tom and Larrie were members of the Provisional Committee which held the inaugural meeting to form the Irish Volunteers in 1913. Tom was in Belgium buying arms for the Irish Volunteers when he made his decision to join the fight against Germany. Tom was killed fighting on the Somme in September of 1916. Also, my maternal grandfather's first cousin William Pell was killed in action with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Belgium in 1915.

What is clear from all of this is that these lives were not lived in black and white, the grey areas abound. Although we cannot know precisely each person's reasons for signing on to fight against German hegemony or against British rule, presumably each man fought and died for a cause in which he believed. From our perspective in the 21st century what we should be able to see is, that all peoples should have the right to self-determination, and the right to be free from tyranny. 

As I stood within the grounds of the Irish National War Memorial Gardens on that cold January day, I felt deep gratitude for those who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, whether for the freedom of Ireland or the freedom of Europe, and I dearly hope that all of them will always be remembered.

'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'


Tomorrow: Wordless Wednesday: In Images: The Irish National War Memorial Gardens


Leonard, J. ‘Facing the Finger of Scorn: Veterans’ Memories of Ireland and the Great War’ in Evans, M. and K. Lunn (eds.)
War and Memory in the Twentieth Century, Oxford, 1997

Wishart, D. ‘The Selectivity of Historical Representation’ in The Journal of Historical Geography, Volume 23, 1997.

Note: * There is an ongoing dispute about the accuracy of the number, with some scholars arguing that the number of Irish killed is closer to 35,000.

Click on images to view larger versions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Then and Now: Grafton Street, Dublin

Although the perspective has changed somewhat, and the modern clothing might elicit a few shocked glares and perhaps a 'tsk tsk' or two from 19th century shoppers, nonetheless Grafton Street remains. Now closed to all vehicular traffic, whether horse or horseless carriage (delivery vans excepted), the street is usually filled with happy shoppers, no matter what the weather. Be sure to visit The National Library of Ireland Flickr page to view more images of the past.

79 Grafton Street...


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Celebrating Irish Culture on a Winter's day: TradFest 2013

For the last couple of weeks I've been away, back to Dublin to complete some research, left unfinished in October, for my history work. I'm glad to say that it wasn't all work and no play, and although time did not allow for much family history research, the weekends afforded the opportunity to enjoy a little life outside of libraries and archives.

Although the weather was poor at times, with gale force winds whipping the coast, nothing speaks better of the spirit of the Irish than the ability to make the best of a bad situation, and January proved the perfect time for a little celebration. From 22-27 January, the annual TradFest took over the Temple Bar area of Dublin, including the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral. Stages, tents and little cottages were set up, offering a taste of traditional Irish life from the past, as well as food, dance, song and instrumental music. It proved a lovely way to spend a somewhat rainy Saturday afternoon. Here are a few images from that day, along with a little video of the brave souls convinced to join in with the dancing inside one of the tents:

On the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral; right: a woman making St. Brigid's crosses.
Some gentle four-legged friends.
Herself, posing nicely for a picture.
Great to see young Irish embracing the traditional music of their homeland.
A large group of young people beautifully playing traditional music.
As in days of old, the dairyman bringing his milk to market for sale.
A placid donkey overlooking a large pile of bog turf. The scent of burning turf filled the air,
as it fuelled nearby fire pots, reminding me of the turf fires in my aunts' homes when I was a child.
Just out walking his turkey around.
Purveyors of the poteen, and the bicycles.

Click on images to view larger versions.
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