Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'...really and truly suffering...': The National Famine Museum, Strokestown

"Our families are really and truly suffering in our presence and we cannot much longer withstand their cries for food. We have no food for them, our potatoes are rotten and we have no grain."
— Famine period petition to their landlord by tenants in the townland of Cloonahee. [1] 

The National Famine Museum is housed in the former stable yards of Strokestown Park House.
Strokestown Park House, the seat of the Pakenham Mahon family from 1653-1979.
The house in its current incarnation dates to the 18th century.
As is often the case with many museums, at first blush the National Famine museum at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon, is very interesting, but not evocative. There is a sort of sterility to the rooms filled with story boards; however, as you read those story boards and look at the artifacts displayed in the glass cases, the period of An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, of 1845-52 begins to come to life. What is clear from the displays in the museum, as well as from ancillary records and supplemental reading, is that the situation at Roscommon was a complex one.

On 29 April 1848, The Freeman’s Journal newspaper published an article from the Catholic Bishop of Elphin, George Joseph Plunkett Browne, which sought to bring to light the terrible conditions under which Irish tenants were living, and to lambaste the landlords for their cruel practice of eviction. Special focus was brought to bear on those evicted from Major Denis Mahon's estate of Strokestown. Bishop Browne submitted for publication a listing of the names and locations of just over 3000 people who had been evicted from the Estate to that point in time. [2]

From the Freeman's Journal, the 3006 names submitted
by Bishop Browne.
A small sampling of those named on the list.
Named is the head of the family;
the number indicates how many in the family.

During his tenure at Strokestown, Major Denis Mahon evicted 605 families, comprising 3,006 persons of the 12,000 tenants living within the vicinity of the estate. Among those served with the 'notice to quit' were 84 widows.

Although the Strokestown Estate at 27, 000 acres was a significant one, by the time it passed into his hands, it was plagued by debt, and Major Mahon claimed that he simply did not have the ready money necessary to maintain the estate. Likely acting on the advice of his land agent John Ross Mahon (no relation), the Major decided eviction was the answer.

However, was Denis Mahon simply a brutish landlord? Some cited him as a saviour of sorts, saying he helped some of his starving tenants by aiding them in an escape from the famine by emigration.

“Often [I] heard them express their gratitude and thankfulness to their landlord for enabling them to go [to Canada].”— Thomas Merton, middleman Strokestown, 1848 [3]

In 1847, the year which proved to be the most deadly of the Great Famine, at least 1,431 of those 3,006 evicted by Mahon fled to Canada on famine ships, and it was Denis Mahon who paid their passage. Mahon paid just under £4,000 — quite a heady sum for one who claimed to be broke — for the passage of almost 1,000 of those whom he evicted so that they could leave Ireland.[4] It was said that those travelling from the Mahon estate were better outfitted for the journey than most, carrying food and supplies most others lacked. Also, he paid some of those he evicted £1 or £2 just to get off his land, although that was perhaps an attempt to simply assuage his guilt.[5]

"There are hundreds as yet who survived their expulsion, after seeing their crops carried away from their doors and safely deposited within the landlord's haggard, left to subsist on the precarious alms of their neighbours, roving about as houseless wanderers, without a friend to console, or a resting-place whereon to lay their aching bones.—I am, Sir, your obedient and much obliged, Michael McDermott, P. P., Strokestown." [6]

This poster hanging on one of the museum walls perfectly illustrates
a failure of understanding with respect to the famine by some persons in the privileged classes. 
Absent from the story about Denis Mahon providing 'aid' to those whom he evicted is the fact that in the years prior to the famine the Mahon family had already been evicting tenants. In fact, speaking before the Devon Commission in July of 1844, Major Mahon's brother John admitted that their plan was to evict more tenants in 1846, since a significant number of leases were then due to expire. This would enable them to remove those who farmed potatoes, in favour of creating grass land on which cattle could be grazed, a much more lucrative proposition.

Green space all around at Strokestown Park, as far as the eye can see, serves as an eerie reminder
of the tillage lands that were turned to grazing fields because it was more profitable.
Ultimately all did not end well for the nefarious landlord. As was said in Ireland at the time, 'Filleann an feall ar an bhfeallaire', in English, 'the wrong rebounds on the wrongdoer'. For Major Denis Mahon the wrong definitely rebounded, and he paid with his life for his sins against his tenants. On 2 November 1847, in the dark of night, Denis Mahon was shot to death as he travelled home to Strokestown House from a Board of Guardians meeting. There is debate over whether or not Mahon was the true target of the killers, or if the assassin’s bullets had been intended for his land agent John Ross Mahon. Murder was not a deterrent for the landlords; after the death of Mahon the evictions continued until some 11, 000 persons were removed the estate.

Eviction notice served on Widow Mary Campbell of Curradrehid, 31 October 1849.
If your ancestors may have been among those in County Roscommon who took passage to Canada after being evicted by Major Mahon, then visit the searchable Library and Archives Canada Immigrants at Grosse-Île database to search for those ancestors. In addition to information about those evicted by Mahon, there are over 33,000 records in this database. See this link for a full listing of the records which comprise the Immigrants at Grosse-Île database.


1. Crowley et al, page 625.
2. Bishop Browne's own family connections with respect to the famine were not entirely without fault. Landlords retaliated against Browne by publicizing the fact that his own father Martin Browne was a middleman and the single largest tenant on the estate, whose tillage land was of such a size that he could have aided tenants. 
3. Duffy, page 112.
4. Kissane, page 160. The exact number for whom Denis Mahon paid passage is cited as 872 1/2 persons. The fraction is an indicator that children were included in the count.
5. Duffy, page 115. 
6. Hansard, year 1847.

References for further reading:

Crowley, John, William Smyth J., Michael Murphy, and Charlie Roche. Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, Washington Square, NY: New York UP, 2012.

Duffy, Peter. The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland. New York, NY: Harper, 2007.

Kissane, Noel. The Irish Famine: A Documentary History. Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 1996.

One of the first things you see upon entering the museum is this huge wall hanging of the Mahon family tree.
It struck me as a rather odd place for a point of family pride, but nevertheless I thought you might like to see it,
so I've included it here at the end.

All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Press Release from Find My Past: 12,000 new Irish records

This morning I received the following press release from FindMyPast. It will be of special interest to those with Irish family roots in the counties of Donegal, Fermanagh, Tyrone or Wicklow. FindMyPast is a paid site which can be searched for free. Viewing of records is available via either pay-per-view or by paid membership.

 Press Release:

Findmypast launches over 12,000 new Irish records the second instalment of their new Findmypast Fridays

We are proud to announce the launch of our first ever Findmypast Friday!

Every Friday from now on, we will be bringing you thousands of new records to explore over the weekend on our dedicated Findmypast Friday page. We promise to bring you new, and often exclusive, record sets every single week.

This week’s Findmypast Friday, we’re excited to release a new collection of Irish parish and cemetery records.

If you have family from the Irish counties of Donegal, Fermanagh, Tyrone or Wicklow, these records will be of particular interest.

Compiled by genealogist, author and professor of history, Dr. David R. Elliott, the new Irish records collection includes a variety of parish registers from County Fermanagh as well as cemetery records for Donegal, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Wicklow.

The Fermanagh parish registers feature transcripts of baptisms, burials and marriages in the county and span the years 1796-1875. You’ll uncover great detail on your Fermanagh ancestors in these records including parents’ names, where they lived and sometimes even occupations.

The collection of cemetery records dates as far back as 1669 and features detailed transcripts as well as exquisite full colour images of gravestones around Ireland so you can see exactly where your relatives are buried. You’ll find over 12,000 cemetery records from Donegal, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Wicklow.

Cliona Weldon of Findmypast Ireland said; “We are very excited to be adding such rich records to Findmypast, the largest online database of Irish Family history records.  We’re proud to be able to assist in building Ireland’s family tree, giving family historians fantastic opportunities to learn more about their ancestors and perhaps discover some new ones.  We are committed to providing a variety of record sets every single week to ensure that customers can see their family trees grow.” 

The new records offered include:

Fermanagh Parish Registers Baptisms 1796-1873

Fermanagh Parish Registers Marriages 1800-1875

Fermanagh Parish Registers Burials 1801-1874

Donegal Cemetery Records 1737-2011

Fermanagh Cemetery Records 1669-2011

Wicklow Cemetery Records 1831-2008

Tyrone Cemetery Records 1698-2011

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forename Friday: Irish Naming Patterns & a baker's half-dozen exceptions...

Those of us who deal with Irish records may be familiar with the idea of Irish naming patterns. There are some researchers who insist that the traditional Irish naming pattern is always used; however, I would argue against that, since my own family tree provides living — and dead — proof that there are certainly exceptions to be found which deviate from the traditional pattern. Also, there are many naming combinations and permutations outside the pattern which may appear inexplicable to us, but fit well within the beliefs and practices of some of our ancestors.

Still in all, if you have hit a brick wall in your research, then you may find revisiting the pattern useful in helping you to break through that dead end.

Here is the traditional pattern:

The 1st son was usually named after the father's father.
The 2nd son was usually named after the mother's father.
The 3rd son was usually named after the father.
The 4th son was usually named after the father's eldest brother.
The 5th son was usually named after the mother's eldest brother.

The 1st daughter was usually named after the mother's mother.
The 2nd daughter was usually named after the father's mother.
The 3rd daughter was usually named after the mother.
The 4th daughter was usually named after the mother's eldest sister.
The 5th daughter was usually named after the father's eldest sister.

Are you still with me?

A baker's half-dozen exceptions to the rules:

Here are listed a half-dozen plus one — a baker's half-dozen, if you will — exceptions to the rules of Irish naming patterns which I have found on my own family tree.

1. Siblings with the same name:

You may find children on your family tree who are named after brothers or sisters who pre-deceased them. Think of Henry Smart in Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry. Among our Kettle ancestors there is one family with two girls named Margaret, born just a couple of years apart, signalling the existence of a death record for the first born Margaret. In my paternal Dunne family line, my great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee had two brothers named William. The first William was born in 1876 and died less than a year later. The second William was born in 1880, and was killed on the field of battle in Belgium in 1914.

2. Superstitious?:

There is a superstition of the 18th/19th century variety, in some Irish families, which held that three living individuals could not bear the same forename. The thinking was that it would portend death for one of them. For example, if there were two elder Patricks alive in the same family, then a new born son would not be christened with that name.

Some names seem to have bad karma attached to them. Three generations in one of our family lines named a son Thomas, and each one of those met a tragic end (see one of those stories here). It appears the fourth generation may have been superstitious about the name since there is nary a Thomas to be found.

3. Mam's maiden name:

If you are in search of the maiden name for one of your female Irish ancestors, and it either pre-dates civil registration, or didn't show up in the civil registration records, then take a look at the forenames of her sons. One of them may very well bear the maiden name of his mother as his forename. One clue is a forename which deviates from usual names in the family. Consider, if you will, the name Coleman O'Brien in a family line in which sons bear the names Patrick, Michael, and Thomas. Turns out their mother's maiden name was Coleman.

4. A boy named Sue... or Mary:

Have you ever had the name 'Mary' show up on a baptism record of a male family member who was born in the twentieth century? If so, don't dismiss it as an error. It is a clue to the fact that the child's mother or father may have been a member of the Roman Catholic organization the Legion of Mary. As a symbol of their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, some Legion members pledged to include the name Mary as part of the baptismal name of one or more of their children, regardless of gender. It may even show up on a marriage record. One relative of mine who was a Legion member was born Bernadette, but pledged Mary Bernadette as her forename when she married.

5. The Celtic Revival: 

The late 19th and early 20th century time period in Irish history — referred to as the Irish Renaissance or the Celtic Revival — had an impact on Irish names. In 1893 the Gaelic League was established to promote the use of the Irish language and the study of ancient Celtic culture. This became a vitally important part of the lives of many Irish, and is reflected in changes in the forenames (and surnames too) of some persons. Men who had anglicized names on their birth records, such as John, James, and Patrick may have changed those names to Eoin, Séamus, and Pádraig, respectively. If you have Irish forenames on your family tree, and have been unable to find records for them, try 're-anglicizing' (to coin a word) their Gaelic forenames and you may strike gold.

6. A change of heart?:

Baptismal Record for Joseph Augustine Geraghty.
You may have an ancestor whose parents decided to change the child’s forename after his/her name was already registered. This was the case with my paternal great-grandparents Patrick and Margaret Geraghty and the name of their fifth born son (eighth born child). Born in Dublin on 24 December 1899, he was christened at the Church of St. James on 2 January 1900 with the name Joseph Augustine. Seems someone had a change of heart, because nine days later on 11 January 1900 his mother Margaret registered his birth name as Arthur. Then, in January of 1914, Margaret, "on the production of a State declaration" made before Registrar John P. Condon had the child's name "corrected" from Arthur to Joseph Austin. My father and his siblings knew their uncle not as Joseph, but as Austin, and everyone called him Uncle Audie.

Civil registration record for 'Arthur' Geraghty.
On the right, note the explanation for the 1914 change to the name 'Joseph Austin'.
7. A missing child and tragic loss: There may be some forenames in a family tree which do not appear to have been bestowed on descendants; however, such names may provide a clue to a 'missing' child. On my maternal tree, it initially appeared that Jane — the forename of my great-grandmother Jane Early — was not passed down as anything more than a middle name. After some research, I discovered that there had been a daughter named Jane who tragically died at only 18 months of age. Not only was her forename never again used, but until I found her, the existence of this child was unknown to members of my family born after her.

Like the name Jane, another forename on my family tree appeared to inexplicably disappear, again showing up only as a middle name. If they had been following the naming pattern, my paternal grandmother, Anne ‘Annie’ Magee Geraghty should have been named Catherine after her maternal grandmother, mother of Mary Magee (née Dunne). In 1881, when Mary Dunne was only seven years old, her mother Catherine Dunne (née Brien) died in childbirth. In 1900 when her own first daughter was born, instead of christening her with the name Catherine, Mary gave her the name Anne Mary. Mary Dunne's second born daughter should have been called Elizabeth, after her paternal grandmother, but was given the name Mary Catherine. We can only speculate, but perhaps Mary did not give either of her daughters the forename Catherine because of the tragic loss attached to it.


Of course, the other side of the argument is that some ancestors did in fact stick like glue to naming patterns, a practice which can result in nightmares for the lonely researcher. In one time period on my family tree, there are four Kettle men who not only have exactly the same forename, but the same middle name as well, and three of them lived in the same household. At least it would have been easy to call all of them to the dinner table at the same time.
A matrilineal line of 'Mary'

The name Maria (pronounced Mariah), anglicized to Mary, is a very popular one on my Irish family tree. Almost 25% of the women on my family tree bear the forename Maria 'Mary', and several women have Mary as a middle name.

As I mentioned above, one woman on my maternal tree added the name Mary onto her legal forename when she and her husband registered their marriage with the civil registration authority. Numerous women had Mary added upon baptism, and at least one man had the name added to his baptismal name.

What is your experience of naming patterns 
on your family tree?

(some of this post originally appeared in 2011 and 2012)
Click on images to view larger versions.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Travel Thursday: At Maynooth, the National Seminary for Ireland

St. Mary's Church, across from the archway as I prepare to enter the grounds.
Located about twenty-five kilometres (15 miles) south of Dublin City, in the village of Maynooth, County Kildare, is the National Seminary for Ireland. Called Maynooth College and/or St. Patrick's College, the school was officially established as the Royal College of St. Patrick in 1795. It was here that my paternal grandfather's brother Michael was educated, taking the vows of the priesthood in 1918.

At the age of eighteen, Michael Joseph Geraghty began his religious education 29 September 1911, in the First University class of the seminary at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. Leaving Holy Cross College, he was sent to complete his degree at the prestigious seminary of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Here, on 28 April 1918, at the age of 25 years, he was ordained Father Michael Joseph Geraghty by Bishop Patrick Morrisroe.

Through the archway on to the grounds.
Father Geraghty served in eight separate appointments for the Catholic church in the diocese of Dublin. In 1969 he was, in the words of the church, 'created a canon'. The last parish church at which Father Michael served is Our Lady of Dolours in Glasnevin. Very Reverend Michael Canon Geraghty died at Glasnevin on his 81st birthday, 3 May 1974 and is interred in the Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, Dublin.

Through the little door in the door,
my curiosity led me to follow someone inside.
At the age of thirteen, I first set eyes on St. Patrick's College at Maynooth, and it was mightily intimidating. Perhaps my discomfort was sparked by memories of family stories which characterize the Very Reverend Michael Canon Geraghty as disapproving, even spiteful (see A Saint and A Sinner: The lives of two brothers). My imagination created a picture of him raining down fire and brimstone upon his congregation, flailing arms, booming voice and all.

Perhaps it was my own childhood experiences of raging priests, but whatever the reason, fear of Father Michael created trepidation about visiting the place at which he was educated. Thankfully, the passage of time now makes St. Patrick's College at Maynooth appear only tranquil and beautiful rather than frightening. The buildings and grounds are deeply quiet and inspire contemplation, and it is tempting to imagine what life might have been like here for my granduncle.

Truth be told, I still feel slightly uneasy at the place. It didn't help that on the Sunday of this visit there was a deep grumbling within the clouds of the chalky grey sky; and, when I explained to the woman in the office that my granduncle had attended seminary school at Maynooth she was less than welcoming.

The halls which overlook the inner green space are lined with portraits of priests and bishops down through the ages.
I searched through them for an image of my grandfather's brother, Michael Canon Geraghty.
Another hall of portraits, and no sign of the Very Reverend Geraghty.
At the back of the college, the entrance to the church.
Another rear view.
At the back of the college, a path through this enormous green leads to a gate which leads into a special space (see below).
This beautiful 'cathedral' of trees leads to the small cemetery used for the burial of clergy.
To view photographs I shot in 2012 which show the small cemetery at the end of this walk,
visit my cemetery blog, 'Over thy dead body'.
(*Click on images to view larger versions.)
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