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.


  1. Love Jane Austen, well, Mr. Darcy, so love this. Mary Brien sounds like she was quite a woman and 1700’s, wow that's great for Irish records isn’t it? I'm looking forward to the release of the parish registers online. Maybe there will be something in them for me.

    1. Thanks very much for your comments Charlotte. I love Austen too. Mary Brien does seem to have been quite a woman. Hopefully in his memoir Kettle wasn't inflating her role. Stories about her healing abilities were certainly passed down.

      BTW, if you want to know which Roman Catholic parish registers are available on the microfilm at the National Library, you can download PDF lists of the parish registers, including dates, from the NLI website: http://www.nli.ie/en/parish-register.aspx A good way to ‘wet your whistle’, until they’re digitized. Let me know if anything rings a bell and I’ll have a look for you when I’m in Dub in January.



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