Wednesday, December 31, 2014

'Looking back as we move forward': The most popular posts on this blog: 2014

On this last day of 2014, inspired by Shelley Bishop's top 10 countdown on her blog A Sense of Family, I have decided to list the top 10 most popular posts on this blog for 2014. Truth be told, given the challenges that have come up for our family on both the living and the dying sides of life, I haven't done this sort of looking back for a while. Each year's end usually brought with it a desire to simply move ever forward. However, there is always something to learn in looking back, so I surveyed the statistics for this blog to see which posts emerged as the most popular over the past year, and have listed them below.

Interest in the first two posts on the list makes me very happy because they are two of my favourite posts. The first is about the dancing life my parents enjoyed in their younger days. Both of my parents have passed away — Dad in 2000 and Mom in 2012 — so it always makes me smile when I think about the fun they had back when they were 'footloose and fancy free'. The second post is a favourite of mine because it reflects on the long life of my mother's childhood home in Ringsend Dublin, a home that was part of the Ball family for over 80 years. As to the other posts on the top 10 list, I won't offer any commentary on them, and instead hope you'll stop by and read them to see if you agree with the statistics.

2. Within these walls, the life of a family: 80 years on Gordon St., Ringsend

3. Angels of Dublin: The Wingéd Victories & O'Connell's Monument

4. Tuesday's Tip: Finding 'lost' children: Revisiting the 1901 & the 1911 Irish Census

5. Mappy Monday: On a map, the fortunes of an ancestor

6. Sudden death in Bow Bridge: The Flu Pandemic in Ireland

7. Between the pages in a prayer book...

8. 'Ireland is not a leaving place': For ancestors who stayed

9. 'The big guns are coughing...': Commemorating Irish lost in World War One

10. 'Clip, clop & clatter': A driving life in Dublin City

There is one other post I would like to mention, one which I wrote at the end of 2012, entitled The 525,600 minutes of 2012: A season of love, loss and family history. It is a post I revisit often to remind me of the importance of celebrating all of the 'seasons' of life.

During this past year, because of this blog, I've had a couple of experiences that have frustrated me, but I've had far more that have delighted me. I really appreciate receiving comments and questions, and have loved engaging in discussion with readers over various post topics. So too, especially meaningful for me are the contacts I have been able to make and maintain with family members far afield in Ireland, England, Australia, and the United States. As well, I very much appreciate contact with the second, third and fourth cousins, and others who have contacted me after discovering this blog.

One of the most touching emails I received this past year is from a gentleman in Ireland, to whom I am not related, who wrote to thank me for writing about the Irish who gave their lives serving as members of the British military forces during the First World War. Like mine, his family lost three members on the battlefields of Europe. He wrote, “for far too long we have forgotten our brave Irish soldiers. They fought with the British but it’s time we remembered them all”. It is indeed time.

As to what 2015 will bring for me, I do not yet know. The two Irish history projects on which I am working absorb a lot of my time; however, I do hope to be able to keep researching and blogging about my Irish family history.

To each one of you who follows this blog, and have taken the time to read these posts, whether or not you write comments, I offer my deepest gratitude. Thank you so very much for your time and attention. I hope you know how much you are appreciated.

As the new year dawns, I wish for each and every one of you a year filled with peace, love and many family history finds.

Until we meet again,


Low tide at Murrisk, on the shores of Clew Bay, County Mayo.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

William Cavenaugh and Mary Brien, 30 Dec 1798: a wedding near year's end

As we prepare to celebrate the dawning of a new year, I cordially invite you to travel back 216 years with me to the wedding of my maternal 4th great-grandparents, William 'Billy' Cavenaugh and Mary Brien. Of course, there are no wedding portraits, no paintings or pencil drawings of the event, nonetheless it is interesting to imagine what their wedding might have been like.

Married in the late 18th Century, the parish register reveals that William and his Mary took the plunge on Sunday 30 December 1798. Christopher Cavenaugh and James Brien stood as their witnesses.1 Who else was present as the couple pledged their lives to one another, I wonder. Were William's parents John Cavenaugh and Allice Howard among the congregation? Did James Brien and Catherine Harford witness the marriage of their daughter Mary?

Born in 1761, William was fourteen years Mary's senior when the couple wed; Mary was born in January of 1775. However, this age difference was not at all unusual in the period, nor was the fact that at the time of the marriage Mary was 'with child'. Their son John was born 21 April 1799, a little less than four months after their wedding.

Given that today is the 216th anniversary of their marriage, what do you imagine might be the appropriate anniversary gift?

From the Donabate Parish Register, 30 December 1798: The marriage entry for William and Mary,
and the baptismal entry for Catherine Luttrel for whom they stood as sponsors.
And the bride wore...

Historically, with respect to the fashion of the day, Mary may have been wearing Regency period clothing (think Jane Austen). To be strictly accurate 'Regency' refers to the period from 1811 to 1820 in Great Britain, of which Ireland was still a part on William and Mary's wedding day. During this period the Prince of Wales ruled as Prince Regent, the proxy for his father, the insane King George III. However, when focusing on the fashion of the day, the term Regency more loosely applies to the period from about 1790 to 1820.2

It is possible that Mary's dress may have been blue, or green, or even pink; however, it is more likely that the dress was fashioned out of fabric in a colour such as brown or burgundy. Unlike the wedding dresses of today that are boxed up for storage like museum pieces, the wedding frocks of women like Mary were recycled, so that she might have worn her dress for many years to come.3 Dark colours were much more practical for a bride like Mary, because such colours would be more suitable for a woman as she went about her daily duties. A darker coloured dress would not show dirt at the hem as readily as one made from a lighter coloured fabric. It is likely that the dress featured minimal embellishment.

The romantic in me likes to imagine Mary wore a beautiful green frock that day, such as the one in the image below; however, since Mary was a very active lady, a darker colour would likely have better suited her needs.

According to the memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle, brother to my 2nd great-grandmother Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick, in addition to being a healer renowned for her medical skill, Mary was very much involved in her family's business, as a messenger and a buyer, and allegedly took part in the procurement of arms in the time leading up to the 1798 uprising.4 Seemingly not the sort of woman who would be running around in a frilly frock.

A good match for two people from well-established families...

According to Kettle's memoir, his grandparents William Cavenaugh and Mary Brien each came from a family who had wealth, so both sides likely viewed the match as a desirable one. Mary Brien's family owned an carman-stage (sometimes written as carmen's stage) of considerable size at Turvey, in north County Dublin. William Cavenaugh's family owned a similar enterprise, but the exact location of it is not mentioned in the memoir.

A carman-stage was an establishment usually found on the outskirts of Irish towns along the turn-pike system of roads in the period.5 Such establishments catered to the needs of 'carmen', that is coachmen and carters who passed through the town delivering people and goods via horse-drawn coaches and carriages. At a carman-stage the travellers could purchase meals and sleeping accommodation for themselves. As well, the carman-stage was outfitted to sell feed and offer accommodation in stables for the horses of their guests. We might think of it as an 18th century version of a Bed and Breakfast, or an inn, with services for horses rather than automobiles.

The happy couple were wed by Reverend Luke Teeling. Was there a reception or any sort of celebration held at one of the family carman-stages? Perhaps, but I have no evidence of such an event. One thing the happy couple did do on their wedding day was stand as godparents. The parish register shows them as baptismal sponsors for a daughter, Catharine, born to Stephen Luttrel and his wife Mary.

A wedding and a baptism all in one day. Sounds like something Jane Austen would have liked. I hope it was a wonderful day for all concerned.



1. With respect to the witnesses to the marriage, since Mary's father was named James, and she had a brother named James, I can hypothesize that the witness James Brien might be either her father or her brother. Also, since William had a brother named Christopher, the witness Christopher Cavenaugh could be that brother. However, I do not have definitive proof as to the identity of either one of these witnesses to the marriage.

2. Arnold, page 56.

3. Arnold, page 60.

4. Kettle, Chapter 1, pp. 2, 3.

5. Broderick.


Donabate Parish Register: marriages 1761-1805, on microfilm P.6618, The National Library of Ireland, Dublin. Retrieved August 2010.

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen's Dresses and their Construction, 1660-1860, MacMillan, United Kingdom, 1989.

Broderick, David. The First Toll Roads: Ireland's Turnpike Roads, 1729-1858. Collins Press, Cork, 2002.

Kettle. L. J., editor. The Material for Victory: Being the memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle C.J. Fallon Ltd., Dublin, 1958.

Thank you to The Graphics Fairy for the Regency dress image.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the Eve of Christmas: Traditions in an Irish family

As you and your family settle in on this Eve of Christmas to enjoy your own traditional Christmas customs, consider for a moment just how your ancestors might have celebrated in the same or in a similar fashion. How far back do some of your Christmas traditions go?

Many traditional Irish Christmas customs are rooted in the ancient past when the Gaelic culture was suppressed by the spread of Christianity, as well as in the relatively recent past with the 17th century ban on Catholic religious practice.

The placing of a lighted candle in the windows of homes on Christmas Eve is still done in Ireland today, as it was during Penal Times, when practice of the Catholic faith was completely outlawed. The lighted candle signalled to priests a safe place in which they might celebrate the Catholic mass.

Symbolically the candle also represents a welcome to Mary and Joseph, as they travelled looking for shelter, demonstrating that although there was no room for them in Bethlehem, in the homes of the faithful, there is always a welcome. Tradition holds that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household, and at day's end be extinguished by a girl who bears the name Mary.

In some Irish households, after the evening meal on Christmas Eve, the table is again set and on it is placed a loaf of soda bread made with caraway seeds and raisins, along with a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle, as symbols of hospitality. Although done less often in urban centres, in some homes in the countryside, the door to the house is left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, might benefit from this welcome.

It is said that the placing of a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland. Holly in Ireland is in full flourish at Christmas time, and the proliferation of holly edging farmer's fields meant the poor might have the means with which to decorate their humble homes.

On Christmas Eve, with all in place and welcoming at home, Catholic families head out for midnight mass. For my parents in Dublin, this usually meant setting out around 11:15pm in order to arrive on time at the church of my mother's family — the church in which my parents were married: St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend — to offer prayers in memory of their deceased family members, and to enjoy the carol singing of the choir for the half hour prior to mass.

After Christmas has come and gone in Ireland, the tree and holiday decor are traditionally taken down on 6 January, the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Old Christmas Day. In our home my mother was always most insistent about this being done, since it was considered bad luck to take down the tree and decorations either before or after that day.

6 January also marks the date of ‘Nollaig na mBan', which literally translated into English is ’Christmas of Women’, but which is traditionally called Women's Christmas or Women's Little Christmas. On this day, women all over Ireland honour the long held custom of gathering together for their own little celebration. You can read more about that day here.

May you and all of your family enjoy your traditions while the time is nigh, and on this Eve of  Christmas,

'Nollaig Shona Dhuit', Happy Christmas to You!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The year of no Christmas: Remembering a mother lost

On 18 December 1936, seven days before Christmas, seven children lost their mother when Maria 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick Ball died. On Christmas Day, there was no celebration, instead Patrick Ball took his children to Christmas mass, where together they prayed for the soul of his beloved wife and their precious mother. The deep quiet of that Christmas Day was broken in the evening by the sound of carollers on the footpath, and for one brief moment a little girl imagined that perhaps her mother's death had only been a terrible dream.

Today marks the 78th anniversary of the death of Maria 'Mary' Fitzpatrick Ball, my maternal grandmother. Maria (pronounced Mariah) 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. In 1921, Mary married Patrick Ball, for whom she bore eight children, one of whom died in 1928.

Mary Ball died seven months after her daughter — my own mother Mary — celebrated her 5th birthday, yet even into the 81st and last year of her life, my mom still had very clear memories of her mother, and of life in their home around the time of my grandmother's death. They were recollections of sight and sound, scent and feeling, instead of what we might consider actual memories, but they were with her until the day my mother died.

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 and a half years old when her mother died. Mary Ball died of blood poisoning, the result of an infection of a cut on her face, a cut possibly made by her young baby John's tiny fingernails. Penicillin, which could have saved her, was invented in 1928, but was not widely available, so she never received it.

The image of the mark on her mother's face was emblazoned on my mother's brain. There was a look in Mom's eyes each time she talked about it, at exactly that moment, she was seeing the mark and remembering what followed from it. This loss had an impact so profound for my mom that I will never truly understand it. My mother described the mark in exactly the same way each time she mentioned it, and she gestured to show on her own face precisely where it was, followed always by the exhortation, ‘God Bless the mark’. Mom would say, “A slender purple line, with blue and grey behind it, going from here to just there”, and I would imagine the colours soft and smudged, like those in a Renoir pastel.

My mother's memories were the memories of a five year old child. She did not remember the neighbourhood women coming to the house to prepare the body, and lay her mother out in the bed Mary Ball had shared with her husband for sixteen years. Mom did not recollect precisely when the mirrors in the house were covered with black crepe, or when the death announcement appeared, rimmed in black paper, or the black arm bands each man wore on his sleeve. Intellectually, my mother knew each one of these rituals were a part of that day, but she did not remember them because her memories were the emotional memories of a child.

Mom recalled wearing a very pretty dress, but the colour of it was lost to her. Instead, what remained was the feeling of a stiff lace collar which felt slightly itchy against her skin. She and her sisters wore pristine white knee socks and their black hornpipe dress shoes. She recalled the stilled faces of the adults, and their hushed conversation. She recalled standing on tip-toes looking out the window with her sisters, Bernadette and Kathleen, each time the funeral cortege passed their house, as it ritually circled the block once, twice, three times. She recollected the muscular black horses, the steam emitting from their noses, the tall black plumes which crowned each one of their heads, the sound their hooves made as they struck the cobbled pavement. For my mother these moments were locked in time. Each and every time she recounted the story, she was once again that five year old little girl.

When Mary Ball died she was only 42 years old. At the time of her death, her youngest son John was less than a year old, and her youngest daughter Kathleen was only three and a half. Neither has any memory of her. Her eldest son Anthony was not yet fourteen.

On Christmas morning, perhaps there was a small parcel awaiting each child — a pencil box, or handkerchiefs, or a tiny baby doll — but these things were of no consequence to a little child. All that mattered on that morning was the absence of a beloved mother, a loss no sort of Christmas magic could restore.

There were no sprigs of holly hanging on the door at 69 Gordon Street in Ringsend, Dublin. Instead, wrapped round the iron door knocker was a length of black ribbon — its long tails blowing in the winter wind — telling all that death had visited the Ball family. For them, that year there was no Christmas.

(Some of this post first appeared in 2011).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

If today was your last day on earth...

If you knew that today was to be your last day on earth, what would you regret not having done in terms of your family history research?

I believe it is safe to assume that most of us, if not all, would want to spend our last day on earth surrounded by loving family and friends; however, just for a moment, think about your last day in terms of your family history research.

Is there a letter you have been thinking of writing to an elderly relative, but you keep putting it off? Do it now. Sit down and put pen to paper. Tell that person how much you love your family history, ask your questions, and explain the hows and whys of the family history you're writing.

Is there a thank you note or an email you wanted to send to an archivist or a researcher who helped you along the way? Perhaps you think too much time has passed to send that note. Send it now. Let them know how much you appreciate their help.

Is there a family secret you would like to better understand? Ask your questions now. Be gentle and respectful in asking. Thank the person who shares with you what they know about it. The histories of our families are precious and they deserve respect.

Is there a repository you have avoided going to, because you're worried that your research skills aren't up to snuff? Go to that repository. Go, and ask for help. Archives, libraries and other repositories are staffed with people who love family history as much as you do, and understand how important it is to document the details of that history. The vast majority of them are more than willing to help.

Is there a trip you've been thinking about, and talking about, for years? Perhaps a trip to your family's homeland? Plan it today. Save for it today. It is possible for you to go. Think about the idea of cutting your cloth according to your measure. You may have to give up some things to make the trip a reality, but it will be worth the sacrifice.

To the family about whom you've been writing your history:

Thank them today.

Tell someone you love them today.

Tell someone you forgive them today.

Not a single one of us is promised tomorrow.


If you knew today was to be your last day on earth, what would you do?

Just do it.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sepia Saturday #258: 'Finely Wrought': Ireland

This week for Sepia Saturday we have been asked to look at the inspiration image and "forget the foreground and look into the background", in order to choose an element on which to base our own individual post. Since there is some wrought iron fencing in the image, for my contribution I have chosen 'wrought iron'. Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to see how others have been inspired by the image, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.

When I looked through my photographs I was surprised to see just how many lovely incarnations of wrought iron you might find around Dublin, as well further afield in Ireland. Although the images are in colour rather than sepia, they feature historical wrought iron, so to speak. Here are a few of my favourites:

The old sign on the Irish Times building has a lovely bit of wrought iron supporting the clock on the column.
Tara Street, Dublin City, County Dublin.
The Garden of Remembrance is ringed round with wrought iron fencing,
painted in blue and gold, and replete with Irish symbols.
Parnell Square, Dublin.
This beautiful and tall wrought iron gate leads out of the gardens of Farmleigh House, Phoenix Park, Dublin.
Although both the convent and the school closed in 1999 — after educating young women for 247 years —
the wrought iron gates of the old Loreto Abbey remain.
Rathfarnham, County Dublin. 
Many Georgian Period houses feature wrought iron stair rails, balconettes and fencing, and
many of these still have little wrought iron boot scrapers on the landings.
Upper Mount Street, Dublin City, County Dublin.
One of those wrought iron boot scrapers,
essential in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century
for removing 'the street' from your feet.
The interior wrought iron gates at O'Connell's Tomb,
The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin,
Dublin City, County Dublin.
Rusted by the sea air, this wrought iron fence surrounds the grave of Catherine O'Malley.
Murrisk Abbey Cemetery, Clew Bay, Murrisk, County Mayo.
In many cemeteries throughout Ireland you will find similarly 'gated' graves.
Inside Murrisk Abbey (founded in 1457 by Hugh O'Malley),
a locked wrought iron gate.
Clew Bay, Murrisk, County Mayo.
The wrought iron gate of Marsh's Library (established 1795)
St. Patrick's Close, Dublin City, County Dublin.
The wrought iron fence separating beach from boardwalk,
Bray, County Wicklow.
One of the beautiful wrought iron lamp posts that you will find in Dublin.
In the background is St. Stephen's Anglican Church, popularly known as the Peppermill Church.
The Ha'penny Bridge (opened 1816), probably the most famous span of wrought iron in Ireland.
Dublin City, County Dublin.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday, almost: 'Angels heard on high'

Please enjoy 'Angels heard on High’: Angels atop monuments, images of which I have shot over the years in the cemeteries of Mount Jerome and Glasnevin in Dublin, Ireland. They are set to the sounds of the Christendom College Choir singing the traditional Christmas carol, 'Angels We Have Heard On High'.

May you and yours enjoy all the blessings of the holiday season!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Mystery Monday: The Case of the Ordination Cards

Back in 2012, I made mention of these ordination cards that I came across while sorting through my mother's personal effects. Within the pages of one of my mom's prayer books, I found these two cards. Each one commemorates the ordination of a man into the Roman Catholic priesthood in Dublin, Ireland. 

The first card is for John J. Murphy, whose ordination took place at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral on 14 June 1924. He celebrated his very first mass the following day. The second is for James H. Flood, who was ordained on 11 June 1927, with his first mass also celebrated the day after his ordination.

Although my family history research has led me to uncover the ordinations of men into the priesthood on my father's side of the family, to this date I have not yet uncovered any evidence of a priest, or priests, on my maternal family tree. So, the discovery of these curious little cards left me with a number of questions.

The first aspect of the cards which gives me pause to wonder is the names of the ordained. To this point in time neither the surname 'Murphy' nor the surname 'Flood' has revealed itself in a blood connection within our family. Who were these men? Are they connected to my family tree? If so, to whom are they connected?

The second detail on the cards which elicits questions is the dates. Both of these events took place years before the birth of my mother. My mother was born in 1931, and these cards date to 1924 and 1927 respectively. Since these events took place before her birth, why were the cards in my mother's principal prayer book? Also, how did my mom come to have them, and who had the cards before her?

The more ornate of the two cards is the one pictured above, which commemorates the ordination of John J. Murphy. The image is more colourful, is replete with Catholic symbols, and bears raised embellishments on the corners. The information on the back of the card indicates that the ordination is to take place at the Pro-Cathedral, the acting Cathedral for the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin, Ireland. Although the second card does not indicate the site of ordination, the ceremony for James H. Flood would also have taken place at the Pro-Cathedral, since this is the church of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin.

In my opinion, the differences in the quality of the cards and their embellishment may reveal a couple of things about the men for whom the cards were created. Consideration of these elements leads to more questions. Such cards would have been ordered and paid for by the family of a man being ordained, or by the man himself, thus the phrase 'my ordination'. The ornate card would have been more expensive to produce, so does the card for John J. Murphy imply some wealth in his family? The card for James H. Flood is black and white, and very simple. Is this indicative of his family's standing, or is it simply an overt expression of his vow to poverty?

It could be the case that each one of these cards is simply a souvenir that was picked up by a member of my mother's family, perhaps her mother or father, when they attended the ordination ceremonies of the priests in question. As members of a Roman Catholic congregation, as long as there was room in the Cathedral, they would have been allowed to attend the ordination, whether or not they were related to the man being ordained. However, it strikes me as curious that the cards were kept for such a long period of time if neither of these men were connected to our family.

There is a possibility that the cards were kept, not because of a connection to those being ordained, but because of a relationship with the Archbishop who ordained them. Early in his career as a priest, the Most Reverend Archbishop Dr. Edward Byrne, then simply known as Father Byrne, served in Rolestown, North County Dublin. He served as parish priest in the church in which Alice Fitzpatrick Ward — grand-aunt and guardian of my mother Mary and her siblings — was baptized and later married. Alice was a long standing and generous patron of the church, so perhaps she maintained a relationship with Father Byrne over the course of his career. Thus, the cards may have belonged to Alice, and they may have been given to my mother upon Alice's death.

Although it remains unsolved, and the case of ordination cards has led to many more questions than answers, I still do love a good mystery.

Click on images to view larger version.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Extravaganza: The Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes

Do you ever buy lottery tickets, perhaps at the local grocer or news agent? Apart from advertisements on television which promise the sun, the moon and the stars if you win, and the big lineups that might accompany the prospect of a huge windfall, these days there is very little fanfare connected with lotteries.

As you can see from the image above [1], fanfare was the order of the day when it came to the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes. This particular parade was held in March of 1935, prior to the 'sweeps' as they were popularly called. Costumed women and men carry the counterfoils — i.e. ticket stubs bearing the prospective winner's contact info — in large boxes alongside the float, and more boxes can be seen surrounding the elephant's feet on the float.

The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes scheme was founded in 1930 by three men — bookmaker Richard Duggan, former British army captain Spencer Freeman and Sinn Féin politician and member of the Irish Republican brotherhood Joe McGrath. Initially the mandate of the scheme was to fund only voluntary hospitals in Ireland; however, over the period of its history from 1930 through to 1987, the sweepstakes became a major contributor to the funding of the Irish healthcare system. Millions were raised resulting in a network of hospitals and clinics being opened all over Ireland. As it happens, the bookie, the captain and the politician also managed to line their own pockets along the way. Throughout its history the sweeps managed to attract quite a number of persons of dubious character, all looking to make a buck, legal or otherwise.

The Theme: 'The Honeymoon Sweep', 1935.
Notice the ticket drum beneath the wedding party mannequins.
Click on image to view larger version.
Nevertheless, the best thing about the annual sweepstakes was that it was so exciting for the ordinary person, an extravaganza which might literally ‘sweep’ people away from their work-a-day world. With ticket in hand, there was always the possibility that 'maybe, just maybe, I'll win', always the promise of a life free from ordinary worries.

For most of her adult life Mary ‘Mollie’ Magee Halpin, my paternal grandaunt, was among the over 4000 workers employed by the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes organization at its permanent home in Ballsbridge, Dublin City. Prior to the move the draws were held at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the counterfoils would be paraded there on draw day.

Each year the parade had a different theme and hundreds of young people, many of them women, were employed to participate. Mollie recalled the excitement that would build in those early days of the sweeps as people looked forward to the parades and displays.

From the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes of 1937, the theme was Stamps of the World.
This enormous display was constructed on Dawson Street in front of Mansion House,
the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
Note the 'counterfoil girls' marching past.
The Canada Float in the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes Stamps of the World parade, 1937.
Interestingly, the sweeps brought millions in foreign money into Ireland from countries all around the world, most especially from Britain, the United States of America and Canada. The impact in Britain was so significant that the government found itself in a bit of a sticky wicket, with some members of Parliament suggesting that, like Ireland, Britain should introduce legislation for hospital sweepstakes, so that British hospitals, which were also in financial straits, might benefit. Ultimately, in order to stem the flow of money out of Britain, the government settled on making it illegal for its citizens to buy Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes tickets.[2]

Of course, the actions of any government didn’t prevent individuals around the world who wanted tickets from getting them. To be sure there were the smugglers and illegal ticket sellers operating beyond Ireland's shores, but for many people a ticket might quite simply arrive inside a birthday card from granny or wrapped inside a gift from a favourite auntie. The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes was a phenomenon, an extravaganza, and many people the world over hoped that with it a little luck might come their way.

From 1932, the video above shows women, dressed as jockeys, bringing in and mixing the counterfoils in preparation for the Irish Hospital sweepstake draws.

Footnotes and References for further reading:

[1] Image embedded from The National Library of Ireland Flickr page. Click on the image to connect with the entire NLI image collection on Flickr.

[2] Hansard:

Also, see The British Pathé website for additional films of various Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes draws, such as 'The Honeymoon Sweep'.

Coleman, Marie. ’The Irish Sweep: A History of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake, 1930–87’, University College Press, Dublin, 2010.

Dr. Marie Coleman's landmark book offers an extraordinary look at not only all of the workings of the sweepstakes, but the overall impact the scheme had on the Irish healthcare system.

Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday Blog to see how others have interpreted today's theme, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.

Click on images to view larger versions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Was one of your ancestors admitted to The King's Inns?

Symbols of the old Empire remain atop the Henrietta Street entrance:
 The Royal Coat of Arms of the UK with its Lion and Unicorn.
Notice the Harp of Erin in the lower left quadrant of the shield.
The King's Inns from the perspective of the green space on Constitution Hill.
Is there an Irish barrister somewhere on your family tree? Was one of your ancestors an attorney or an attorney's apprentice? Was he granted admission to study at The Honorable Society of King's Inns — popularly known as The King's Inns — in Dublin, Ireland? If so, then you may want to take a look at the King’s Inns Admission Papers 1607–1867 which can be found on the Irish Manuscripts Collection [IMC] website.

Founded in 1581, during the reign of Henry VIII, the King's Inns is Ireland's oldest institution for legal education. You can read all about its history on its website here. The admission papers bear a wealth of information of genealogical import about some of the students admitted during the period from the early 17th century through to the mid 19th century.

The memorials — i.e. formal petitions for admission — submitted by those wishing to study at The King's Inns include not only the individual student's name but also his father's name, his father's occupation and place of residence, and usually his mother's maiden name. Each memorial also makes reference to the petitioner's age, with some including his birth date.

The prospective student had to state whether or not he was, or had been, employed in a trade, profession or business of any kind. If he was admitted, then he had to give up other employment, and the details of such employment are included in the memorials of those to whom this applies. Also included in some of the memorials is the name, relationship and profession of the person(s) who submitted an affidavit attesting to the veracity of that particular student's petition.

The type and quality of admissions papers differs depending on whether an applicant was applying for a course of study as a law student, or as a barrister, or as an attorney or an attorney's apprentice. Each of these is explained in the introductory pages of the Admissions Papers manuscript. Also, you will notice there is a 'shorthand' used in the entries. Full details of the abbreviations used in the transcriptions are included in the introductory pages.

Here are an example of the kind of transcription with abbreviations you will find in the manuscript:

FITZPATRICK, Peter, 3rd s. of Peter, Dublin, attorney, decd., and Margaret Meehan; over 16; ed. Dublin; afft. James, attorney, brother. T 1833.

Here are the details fully written out:

Peter Fitzpatrick is the third born son of Peter Fitzpatrick [Sr.] of Dublin and his wife Margaret Meehan. Peter Fitzpatrick [Sr.] was an attorney and is deceased. 

The petitioner Peter Fitzpatrick is over the age of 16 years and was educated in Dublin. An affidavit in support of his petition has been submitted by his brother James who is an attorney. Peter was granted admission to study in the Trinity term of 1833.

(H = Hilary Term: January to March; T = Trinity Term: April to June, also sometimes recorded as E = Easter Term: from the Easter holiday to the end of June; M = Michaelmas Term: Sept to Christmas)

In May of 2012 I first mentioned the IMC website as a good online repository for a number of sources you may have overlooked. Since then the commission has been hard at work digitizing and posting online many more sources which you may find useful in your search for information about your ancestors and relatives. Be sure to revisit my Tuesday's Tips post from 2012 for more information about other manuscripts of genealogical import which are available via the IMC website.

Happy Researching!

The inner courtyard of the building.
The approach to the King's Inns entrance down the cobbled roadway of Henrietta Street.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'A home to call their own': The Artisans' Dwellings of Stoneybatter

“At present home discomfort drives masses of men into reckless, ruinous ways, but if these men got an opportunity of making their homes attractive to themselves and their wives and children they would, in nine cases out of ten, take advantage of the occasion, and, with the growth of self-respect and the enjoyment of larger social independence, would soon become not only better husbands and better fathers but better friends and truer lovers of their country.”
                                                                                             — The Nation Newspaper, 20 July 1878

The idea that better citizens would be the outcome of providing better living conditions for them provides an underpinning for the Cross Act of 1875. Considered to be one of the most important policies of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s mandate to ‘elevate the people’, i.e. the working class, the 'Cross Act’ — so named because it was championed by Disraeli’s Home Secretary Sir Richard Cross — provided for government loans, on favourable terms, to be made to those developers who were involved in building working-class housing. Further, it also provided for local authorities to buy and raze slum areas with the purpose of either selling or leasing the land to those builders.

When the ‘Cross Act’ was extended to Ireland it was not the first kick at the can with respect to improving living conditions for the working classes in Ireland, particularly in urban areas. Ireland had seen the Labouring Classes Lodging Houses & Dwellings Act of 1866, as well as the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Act of 1868. However, with the Cross Act and the late 19th century founding of a number of charitable trusts, such as The Iveagh Trust and The Guinness Trust, there seemed to be a groundswell to improve housing for the working class.[1]

In Ireland, the Commissioners of the Boards of Works were responsible for overseeing loans made to private groups in order that they might house members of the working class in clean affordable housing away from the tenement slums of the inner city. In 1876, the Dublin Artisans' Dwellings Company (DADC) was founded. In addition to the loans they were able to procure, the DADC had a subscribers’ list comprised of middle and upper class persons, such as barristers, physicians, and successful entrepreneurs — including Edward Cecil Guinness, founder of both the Iveagh Trust and the Guinness Trust — who invested significant sums of money to augment the funds of the building programme.

It was the Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company who would build the homes in the ward of Arran Quay, Dublin City, which would impact the lives of ancestors on the paternal side of my family tree. Like many families of skilled labourers in the working class, the family of Patrick Magee benefitted from the the Artisans’ and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act when they became tenants of a cottage on Ostman Place in Stoneybatter.

The cottage on Ostman Place that was once the home of the Magee family.
In 1901, the Irish census finds Patrick Magee and Mary Dunne living with their two children, Michael and Anne, at 33.2 Upper Dorset Street in the Rotunda ward of Dublin. The family was fortunate to be living in a 1st class house, which means it would have been in a good state of repair; however, they were sharing their accommodation with four other families, including that of Patrick’s sister Mary and brother James. Out of 21 persons living in 15 rooms, the little household of Patrick Magee comprised four persons occupying a single room. (see House & Building return). 

Four of their five children were born into the tenement on Upper Dorset Street — Michael Francis in 1896, Anne ‘Annie’ Mary in 1900, and Francis ‘Frank’ Leo in 1902. Their son Patrick William, was born in 1898, but died just over 18 months later in that single room they called home. By the time of the birth of Mary ‘Mollie’ Agnes in 1905, they had left Upper Dorset Street and were living just a couple of blocks away from the Jameson Distillery at Smithfield, where Patrick was working.

In 1902, the Dublin Artisans’ Dwelling Company announced that they would be building homes in the ward of Arran Quay. At a general meeting of the DADC, secretary Mr. Isaac Yeats declared that in these houses they were “hoping to be able to accommodate all suitable applicants from the artisan and labouring classes”.[2] Here, at last would be the opportunity for Patrick Magee and his family to be in a home they might call their own, albeit as tenants not as owners.

In order to be deemed ‘suitable’ and be eligible for a vacant house an applicant would have to have two references. Of course, one of these would have come from Patrick Magee’s employers at the John Jameson Distillery, as proof positive that he could pay the rent. The word of a well respected parish priest might have favoured his application, or a nod from someone in the upper classes, perhaps a barrister or a physician, whose support would have also carried weight. In later years those who wanted to become tenants in the area had to have a family member already living there. When youngest daughter Mary ‘Mollie’ Magee married William ‘Willie’ Halpin, they were able to take a cottage nearby on Swords Street, since Mollie had been living in the area with her parents.

The cottage on Swords Street that was once the home of Mollie and Willie Halpin.
Although initially it might appear that the Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company was founded purely on philanthropic grounds, this most certainly was not the case. No doubt the subscribers did hope that good quality affordable housing would be built; however, they were not a charity and thus they expected to earn a good return on their investment. Newspaper reporting in the period shows that on average the company offered its investors returns of 4 to 5%.[3]

It appears that the desire for profit may have won out over altruism. In their 78th annual report, the Commissioners of the Boards of Works roundly criticized such private schemes for constructing poor quality housing which let in very little natural light, had no fireplaces for heating, and were constructed of materials thought unlikely to successfully withstand Irish weather.[4]

In addition to concern about the quality of the homes, there was the fact that tenants of the DADC were paying between 3 and 6 shillings per week for their accommodation at a time when the average working class family in Dublin could afford to pay only around 2 shillings per week for their housing. What appeared to be the perfect solution of new homes proved a further hardship for some families, although there is no doubt many families would choose such a hardship for the possibility of a cottage of their own, away from the crowded tenements.

Life on Ostman Place wasn’t perfect, of course. The cottage was one of the smallest type of cottages constructed by the DADC. Directly fronting the street, two small windows and an entry door overlook a narrow footpath. With a living space which was around 51.1 square meters (550 square feet), it was comprised of a small entry way leading to the main living area which extends the entire width of the property. A door would bring you to the single bedroom which was situated directly behind the living room. In that bedroom was a single window overlooking the yard. A narrow hallway ran alongside the bedroom, leading to the scullery.

Out through the back door and into the yard you would find an outside toilet 'closet' and a bunker for coal. There was no green space whatsoever, no grass, no little garden either in the front of the house or in the yard. On the front facade you would find a foot or shoe scraper, a absolute necessity for keeping the interior of the house clean, given that livestock would foul the footpaths of Stoneybatter on market days.[5]

Perhaps not an ideal home to the critical eye, but for a family living in a tenement it would have been a place they might want to call home, and it enabled the Magee family to leave behind the tenement life. It was on Ostman Place that their children would grow to adulthood.

The home on Murtagh Road to which the Magee family moved after living on Ostman Place.
The Magee family did not remain on Ostman Place. They moved on to another home built by the Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company, a larger brick two story house at 4 Murtagh Road which is just a few blocks away from Ostman Place. The children moved on to their marriage homes, with their daughter Mollie staying nearby on Swords Street, their daughter Anne initially nearby on Manor Street, before moving to Cabra, and their son Frank first moving into the Jameson House as a perk of his job at the distillery, and then to the west part of Dublin City. The last member of the Magee family to live in the house at 4 Murtagh Road was their mother Mary Dunne Magee who died at home 8 April 1939.

In the middle of a warm June day the streets of Stoneybatter were quiet, as I walked along the footpaths from Ostman Place to Murtagh Road, and then over to the house on Swords Street. As I walked I recalled going to the Halpin’s cottage on Swords Street and walking these footpaths with my grand-aunt when I was a child. Back then, I felt such joy holding the hand of 'Auntie' Mollie, as we called her, and greeting the neighbours standing in their doorways in the summer sun. I could easily imagine how the Magee family might have come to love this neighbourhood and see this place as a home to call their own.


1. The Iveagh Trust still exists and still provides housing for low income families. See:

2. Freeman’s Journal, 12 December 1902, pg. 10

3. Fraser, pg. 71 and The Ulster Herald, 16 Feb., 1907, pg. 6

4. O'Brien, pg. 21 ff.

5. A new Cattle market was opened at the top of Prussia St and North Circular Road in 1863. The City Abattoir was built in 1881 on ten acres of land, right beside the Market. Farmers from all over the country brought their cattle, sheep, pigs and horses through here. By the 1920s it was the largest cattle market in Europe with dealers coming from England, Holland and Germany.

References for further reading:

Fraser, M. John Bull’s Other Homes: State Housing and British Policy in Ireland. Liverpool University Press, 1996.

Kearns, Kevin, Stoneybatter: Dublin's Inner Urban Village. Gill & MacMillan, 2011.

O’Brien, Joseph V., “Dear Dirty Dublin”: A City in Distress 1899-1916. University of California Press, 1982.

The Freeman’s Journal

The Ulster Herald


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lest We Forget: Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium

The standing stone bearing the names of every county in Ireland,
symbolically streamed together in one single line.
"In a matter of seconds a hissing and shrieking pandemonium broke loose.
The sky was splashed with light.
Rockets, green, yellow and red, darted in all directions,
and simultaneously a cyclone of bursting shells enveloped us."
— from a letter written home by J.F.B O'Sullivan, 6th Connaught Rangers.
"Spent all night trying to console, aid and remove the wounded.
It was ghastly to see them lying there in the cold
cheerless outhouses, on bare stretchers,
with no blankets to cover their freezing limbs."
— from a letter written home by Chaplain Francis Gleeson, Royal Munster Fusiliers.
"So the curtain fell over that tortured country
of unmarked graves and unburied fragments of men.
Murder and massacre, the innocent slaughtered for the guilty,
the poor man for the sake of the greed of the already rich,
the man of no authority made the victim of the man
who had gathered importance and wished to keep it."
— from a letter written home by David Starret, 9th Royal Irish Rifles.
36th Ulster Division: 32,186 killed, wounded, missing.
16th Irish Division: 28,398 killed, wounded, missing.
10th Irish Division: 9,363 killed, wounded, missing.
The Round Tower and the nine stone tablets from another perspective.

See also: 'The big guns are coughing...': Commemorating Irish lost in World War One


Monday, October 20, 2014

Within these walls, the life of a family: 80 years on Gordon St., Ringsend

#69 Gordon Street, Ringsend, Dublin.
1 marriage
8 children
1 son dies
1 mother dies
1 grand-aunt moves in
2 sons go to war and return
3 sons marry
2 daughters marry
1 father dies
1 daughter marries
1 bachelor son remained.

This is the arithmetic of a full eighty years in the home of a family, the home of the Ball family of 69 Gordon Street, Ringsend, Dublin, Ireland.

The Ball family occupied this house for the greater part of the 20th century, and on into the 21st century, from 1923 until September of 2003. Within the life of this house so many changes occurred, both in the history of this family and in the history of their country. The lives of those who lived here were interwoven with the fortunes of their nation.

Sixty-nine Gordon Street is among those homes which were constructed between 1890 and 1910, when the area was called South Lotts. The neighbourhood is bounded on the west by Barrow Street and on the east by South Lotts Road. Ringsend Road marks its northern boundary and Gordon Street its south.

With living space of only 53 square meters (570 square feet), this home was one of those row houses in the area which were especially built for the families of men who worked in the industries on the docks, just east of the neighbourhood. When the house was first constructed it had two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs. The lavatory was originally built outside within the walls of the back garden, but by the time Patrick Ball and his bride Mary Fitzpatrick Ball occupied the house in 1923, an extension had been built off the back of the house, and the lavatory was moved inside.

A fireplace was situated on the largest wall in the front room downstairs, and in each of the two original upstairs rooms a smaller cast iron fireplace could be found. At times cooking pots would be hung over the fire, even after the hob and the cooker came into use in the kitchen. Like all of the original houses in the row, 69 Gordon Street has two windows upstairs and a single slightly larger window downstairs, all of which overlook the street. The granite support plints, in crescents above the windows and the door, are the only mortar decoration in its red brick facade.

Boland's Flour Mills,
fronting the Grand Canal docks.
Patrick Ball and Mary Fitzpatrick were married 1 June 1921. On 11 July, just one month and ten days after their marriage, a truce with the British suspended hostilities, and the Irish War of Independence came to an end. In 1923, shortly before the end of the Irish Civil War, Patrick and Mary moved into 69 Gordon Street with their newborn first child, a son named Anthony.[1]

Irish History had long been near the doorsteps of Gordon Street. On 29 March 1914, Thomas and Laurence Kettle, first cousins of Mary's father Thomas Fitzpatrick, came to Ringsend where Thomas Kettle gave a speech imploring young men to form a Ringsend company of the Irish Volunteers. [2] In later years, Laurence Kettle would be a frequent visitor to the house.

During the 1916 Easter Rising, the sound of shots rang out in this quiet neighbourhood. On Barrow Street, down the road and just around the corner from 69 Gordon Street, members of the Ringsend Irish Volunteer company occupied Boland's Flour Mills, emerging as heroes at the end of the Rising for absconding with several cart-loads of flour for their neighbours in the village of Ringsend.[3]

In 1926, new road signs were erected across the land, written with the mother tongue of Irish Gaelic emblazoned across the tops of them, dominant over the name written in English. When the new signs were affixed to the corner houses in Ringsend, Gordon Street was still Gordon Street, but now it was also Sráid Gordún.[4]

As social and political change was happening all around them, in their city and in their country, steadily the little family continued to grow in their home on Gordon Street. Following the birth of eldest son Anthony, next came Gerard, Patrick, and then little Thomas in 1927. Less than a year would pass — only ten months and a few days — before the first black ribbon was looped through the door knocker on 69 Gordon Street, a marker that little Thomas was dead.

Over the course of six years Patrick and Mary had welcomed four sons, and buried one, then in 1929, the first of a trio of daughters arrived when Bernadette was born. Mary followed two years later, and then Kathleen a little over two years after that. The last child born to the family was a son named John.

In 1936, just seven days before Christmas, another black ribbon was threaded through the knocker on the door of 69 Gordon Street, when Patrick's wife Mary died, leaving him alone to raise seven children, the youngest of whom was only 6 months old, and the eldest just 13 years. Blood poisoning had killed Mary Ball. Although penicillin, which could have saved her, had been invented in 1928, it was not introduced into Ireland until 1941, and even then was not widely available.[5]

In December of 1937, just a few days after the first anniversary of the death of Mary Fitzpatrick Ball, the modern Constitution of the Irish Free State was instituted. Enshrined within its pages 'the family' was recognized as the foundational unit of the State. Earlier that year, in the Ball household, their family had changed once again, as 76 year old Alice Fitzpatrick Ward, Mary's paternal aunt, moved in to help Patrick Ball care for his motherless children. Alice would live with the family for fifteen years, before moving first to the Barnwell home on Ringsend Road, and then to Roebuck Castle, where she died 27 May 1952, a little more than one month after her 92nd birthday.

Beginning in September of 1939, due to the Second World War, Taoiseach Eamonn DeValera declared a state of emergency in Ireland, and rationing began.[6] Over the course of the war — called ‘The Emergency’ in Ireland — the Ball family would be impacted by the rationing of such essentials as tea, flour and butter. Tobacco was on the rationed items list too, so Patrick Ball would only be able to enjoy his pipe at day's end. Even soap and dentifrice (toothpaste) were rationed, as were soap flakes for washing clothes. In 1942, bakers’ bread was also rationed. [7] Just like all Irish families at the time, the Ball family would learn to strictly 'cut their cloth according to their measure'. [8]

The rationing order extended to shoes as well, and in the house at 69 Gordon Street, Patrick Ball made the best of a bad situation. An accomplished carpenter by trade, he built a shoemaker’s bench, skillfully carved several ‘lasts’, and taught himself how to mend his children’s shoes, as well as his own. [9]

No waste was tolerated. The children became adept at using and reusing tea leaves, in the course of preparing tea for their father and their aunt Alice. Bread and butter became a rare treat. Alice taught them how to make the very best bread using the least amount of flour. Every last bit of butter was drawn from the paper in which it was wrapped, and that paper was saved for other uses.

Petrol had been rationed early on during ‘The Emergency’, but that was of no consequence to Patrick Ball. Each morning he set out from home, heading to work on his bicycle, as he had done always. Each evening, six o’clock would find him paused on the bridge over the River Dodder, standing next to his bicycle, holding his hat over his heart, and whispering the words of the Angelus prayer to the peals of the Ringsend Church bells.

Éire, the Irish Republic, was declared in 1949. After having served in the British army during the war, Anthony and Patrick were safely back home on Gordon Street. Like the many Irish who had served during WW2, their service would not be officially acknowledged by the government of the Irish Republic, since they had served in the army of ‘a foreign power’. It would not be long until Patrick left number 69 for a new life in Liverpool, never to return.

The 1950s brought a succession of marriages in the history of this house, that of the first born son in 1951, of the first born daughter in 1952, and of the second born daughter in 1954. The world moved on, and with it the lives of the Ball children.

All of the children, save one, left Gordon Street behind, forged new paths, and raised new families. Gerard Ball lived at number 69 for the whole of his life, and he recollected every significant moment in the life of their home. Sadly, Gerard did not die there. In 2003, out for the day visiting friends and running errands, he suddenly collapsed and died on a Dublin street, just after leaving a shop.

After over 80 years, life with the Ball family thus ended for the house on Gordon Street.

Does the house know they are gone? Perhaps the feelings of joy and sorrow known by the family seeped into the brick work of its walls. If you are very still, in the quiet of a late evening, perchance you might hear the long ago laughter of children on the stairs, detect the fragrance of turf burning in a cast iron fireplace, or see the shadow of a mother, seven young children at her heel, gazing out the window of her home on Gordon Street, Ringsend, Dublin.

The row houses of 'South Lotts', Ringsend, Dublin.




1.Valuation Lists, County Borough of Dublin, Ward of Pembroke West, 1923. Retrieved at Valuation Office, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, 10 June 2014.

2.‘Irish Volunteers: A Ringsend Company: Speech of Professor Kettle’, The Freeman’s Journal, Monday 30 March 1914. Irish Newspaper Archives, retrieved 14 Feb 2010.

3.‘Occupation of Ringsend area in 1916’, An t-Óglác, 26 April 1926, page 7.

4.S.I. #55/1926 ‘Road Signs and Traffic Signals Regulations, 1926. Irish Statute Book, Office of the Attorney General, Ireland.

5.S.I. #242/1946 ‘Therapeutic Substances (Penicillin) Order’, 1946. Irish Statute Book, Office of the Attorney General, Ireland.

6.‘Emergency Powers Act’ enacted 3 September 1939. Irish Statue Book, Office of the Attorney General, Ireland.

7.‘Emergency Powers rationing’ article on Houses of the Oireachtas website: The Ball family's experience of rationing is based on interviews with family members.

8.'Cut your/their cloth according to your/their measure.': a popular saying in the maternal side of my family tree. Basically the saying translates to living within your means.

9. A ‘Last’ is a cobbler’s tool, which resembles a foot. It is usually crafted of wood, but sometimes of metal. The cobbler places the components of the shoe on the last when making or repairing a shoe.

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