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

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