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.
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