Wednesday, December 23, 2015

'Nollaig Shona Duit', Happy Christmas to You!

You may have spent the last few weeks rushing to and fro, perhaps buying gifts or making plans, volunteering or collecting food and clothing for the poor, in preparation for the holiday season. As Christmas Day draws near, some of you may be surrounded by friends and family, while others may be alone, and to each one of you I wish for you a holiday season filled with joy in whatever form it may come.

Below I have posted 'Nollaig Shona Duit', Happy Christmas to You!, a musical journey through photographs of my wonderful Irish family across time. Originally created in 2011, I put together images — some sepia, some black and white, some colour — along with my favourite rendition of 'The Wexford Carol', a very beautiful and traditional Irish Christmas carol, which is said to have originated in 12th century County Wexford, Ireland.  Alison Krauss sings the lyrics, accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Natalie McMaster on violin. So, turn up the sound on your speakers, enjoy the music, and know I am...

Wishing you and yours all the joys and blessings of the holiday season! 
Happy Christmas to All!


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday's Tips: ‘Nomina defunctorum’: Irish Catholic records of the dead

After having had full access to Catholic parish registers on the National Library of Ireland site for over four months now, one element which may have sprung very quickly to the researcher's eye is the lack of records of death. Catholic burial registers are like hens' teeth, blue moons and pigs in flight, a rare sight indeed. 

For those searching for death records on the NLI Parish Register site, you will find burial registers for very few of the parishes included in the collection. For example, if you are searching in the parishes of County Clare you will find only one register, that of the parish of Kilmurry McMahon, which notes burials. For County Longford you will find burial registers for 20 parishes, as well as one for a parish which crosses into Westmeath (see my listing below in endnotes for parishes with burial registers).1

The burial registers that do appear on the NLI site date from as early as 1782 (Granard parish, County Longford), but most start in the early to mid 1800s. Burial entries are typically limited in scope, usually with only the name and date of death included, along with his/her last place of residence. In the most complete death records for women you will find maiden names, appearing as ‘alias surname', included in the list of ‘Nomina defunctorum’ — The Names of the Dead — but sometimes only a woman's married name is recorded.

A grandaunt of mine used to jokingly say 'we Catholics' didn't keep burial records because we believe we will live forever, and burial records are an uncomfortable reminder of the inevitable. However, the truth is somewhat more skewed than my grandaunt might admit.

First, while baptism and marriage, along with the anointing of the sick, are sacraments in the Catholic church, interment is not, so there would have been no imperative for keeping burial registers. This might lead you to wonder why some churches kept registers while others did not. Second, and more significantly, the absence of Catholic interment records may be accounted for because of the restrictions placed on Catholic practices from the mid-sixteenth century. Third, as I have mentioned in previous posts, Oliver Cromwell had an appetite for blowing up Catholic churches during the period of his invasion of Ireland (1649-53), and burial registers may have been destroyed along with all else in those churches.

From the time of the Reformation in Ireland (c.1541) until full Catholic Emancipation in 1829, Catholic cemeteries were given over into Protestant control. As William Fitzpatrick writes,

"From the Reformation, Roman Catholics [legally] possessed no cemeteries for their dead, and burials could alone take place in Protestant churchyards." 2

To Fitzpatrick's words I have added the term 'legally', because some Catholics managed to inter their dead in consecrated ground despite legal impediments. For example in Dublin, Catholic deceased were surreptitiously conveyed to, and quickly interred in, the cemeteries of St. James and St. Kevin, with the prayers for the dead having already been said in the house of mourning before removal. Also, recent scholarship by Clodagh Tait makes note of the fact of "continued Catholic burial in sacred space that was technically Protestant" during the period of Catholic suppression. 3

The movement for religious freedom for Catholics, which began in earnest in the late 18th century, meant an easing of restrictions; however, it was not until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, championed by Daniel O'Connell, that the door was opened to the legal re-establishment of old Catholic burial grounds and the foundation of new ones.

With the suppression of Catholicism it is no wonder burial registers kept by Catholic parishes are rare. Keeping parish registers of any kind during this period was an act of defiance.

So, what are we to do if our Catholic ancestors are among those whose interments have no record? Other than capitulating, and having a family tree chock-a-block with seemingly immortal ancestors, we have to be more creative in our search for dates of death. Here are seven suggestions for narrowing down a date of death and for finding Irish Catholic records of death.

1. Church of Ireland Parish Registers:

The upside of burial grounds being overseen by the Established Church, i.e. the Church of Ireland, is there are some extant COI parish registers in which the burials of Roman Catholics are entered. If you are in search of a burial record for a Catholic ancestor, be sure to visit the Representative Church Body of Ireland website. Members of the church are currently engaged in The Anglican Record Project, an ongoing programme to transcribe and digitise extant parish registers. A number of transcriptions of registers are already available online, not only for viewing but for downloading too.

For example, in the registers for the Cloghran Parish, Diocese of Dublin, County Dublin, there are some Roman Catholic burials recorded — denoted by the 'RC' in the entry. The transcription of the Cloghran parish registers has burial records dating from 1732 to 1864.

2. Cemetery records:

Rev. James Fay,
Founder & Guardian of the Orphanage of
St. Catherine's Parish, Dublin
Died 30 January 1861, aged 41 years.
Glasnevin Cemetery.
This may seem like an obvious source since ancestors ideally end up interred; however, occasionally what is self-evident is overlooked. There are a number of options in this category for ancestors buried in Ireland. Be aware the date of burial and the date of death are rarely the same, usually differing by one to three days.

Cemeteries such as The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin have their online database available. Conducting a search is free of charge; however, accessing the record is pay-per-view. There are a three options here. For €3 you can get the grave number of the deceased; for €8 you get the grave number and details of the interred for whom you have searched, as well as details for all others buried in same grave. For an additional €2 you can view the original entry in the cemetery register. 

The Irish Genealogy Projects Archives Headstone pages are excellent, and boast a collection now standing at over 82,000 headstones. There are transcriptions of the stones available, and the search function works beautifully. All material is free to access, although donations to maintain the site are graciously accepted. has a significant number of graveyard images and transcriptions, currently with a focus on cemeteries in the west and north counties of Ireland, but with plans for many more to be added from around the island of Ireland. Access is currently free.

Find a Grave and each have a number of gravestones from Ireland. 

The Ulster Historical Foundation at has over 173,000 records of death for Counties Antrim and Down. Access is either by Guild membership or 'pay-as-you-go'.

Grave of Mary Browne, died 15 July 1881,
Murrisk Abbey, Murrisk, County Mayo.
Over thy dead body: A Cemetery Blog is my cemetery blog and has gravestones principally from cemeteries in Ireland. It is fully searchable by surname. Where possible I have included details of those interred within the graves which appear in my photographs.

My sincere thanks to John Tierney (see comments below) for sending along the link to his site As John describes it, this site features more than 700 Irish graveyards, with approximately 400 complete surveys, geolocated headstone photos with inscriptions and person database, and about two graveyards added each week.

If your ancestor died in Dublin you can find a directory for all Dublin cemeteries on the Dublin Heritage website. This listing includes all cemeteries in Dublin City, as well as those in Fingal (North County Dublin), South County Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It features location and contact details and offers the titles of published gravestone transcripts. Some entries include links to online transcriptions and the location of surviving burial records.

If you have ancestors who lived outside of Dublin during the period of An Gorta Mór, The Great Famine of 1845-52, and you are unable to find a burial record or site for them, you may want to check the records of Dublin cemeteries since a significant number of persons migrated to the capital in search of relief, only to die there.

The Long Walk, Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.
Originally a Protestant cemetery, Catholics were allowed interments
beginning in 1920.
3. Obituaries and Newspaper reports:

Although newspaper obituaries are most often limited to those who could afford them, you may be able to uncover the death of an ancestor by searching for stories of murder and mayhem, accidents and illness. Newspaper stories about an event such as An Gorta Mór, The Great Famine of 1845-52, may aid you in narrowing down the date of death of an ancestor. In April of 1848 the Freeman's Journal newspaper published a listing of some 3000 persons who had been evicted from lands in and around Strokestown, County Roscommon.

Given that eviction made persons even more vulnerable, it is not unreasonable to imagine an ancestor whose name appears on that list may have died shortly thereafter, giving you at the very least at starting point in your search for date of death. Also, some 1491 evicted from Strokestown immigrated to Canada, and the Library & Archives Canada site has information about them, including some who died. (See '...really and truly suffering...': The National Famine Museum Strokestown)

4. Civil registration records:

If your ancestor died after 1864, then chances are there may exist a civil registration record of death.4 However, if such a record is not extant, you may still be able to narrow down the date by comparing the civil registration records of birth and/or marriage for his children. It is not unknown for a pregnant woman to have been widowed, so while her husband's name appears on the birth registration of his first child, he may have died before the second was born. Also, a father who was alive for the wedding of one child may have died before the wedding of another, and may be recorded as deceased on the second child's marriage record. Obviously, a comparison is not a record, but at least by comparing the two you may be able to narrow down the date of death for the parent in question.

5. Parish register entries of marriage:

Some parish register entries for marriages sometimes indicate whether or not one or both of the parents of the bride and the groom were deceased at the time of the marriage between their children. As is the case with civil registration records of marriage, if you look at the parish records of marriage for all of the children in a family, you may discover a parent was alive to witness the marriage of one child and then deceased at the time of the marriage of another. Again, not a record, but comparing the two may help you to narrow down the date of death for the parent in question.

6. Irish County Library & Archive Websites:

Online you may find death, burial and transcription records on some county websites. One site which is invaluable for researchers with ancestors in County Clare is the website of the Clare County Library. Although no match for the Clare library, you can connect to sources for death records and gravestone transcriptions via the Mayo County Library. Also, be sure to consult the Irish Archives Resource website, a portal which will link you to archival collections throughout the island of Ireland.

7. Contact the parish or cemetery directly:

In the post entitled 'A secret stash of Irish Roman Catholic parish registers?', I outline the fact that not all Catholic parish registers are online. This holds true for Irish parish registers of death as well, so you may want to contact a parish directly in order to obtain a transcription of a record of death — if one is extant — for your ancestor or relative. Contacting a parish is no guarantee you will be able to retrieve such a record, but it is certainly worth the effort.

For cemeteries that do not have an online presence it may be possible to gain access to information about your ancestor's burial by contacting the cemetery office by phone, or by making a written request to the sexton or caretaker at the cemetery office.

What tips do you have for finding Irish Catholic Records of death, 
or for narrowing down dates of death?



1. The following burial registers available on the NLI site: Be aware of variations — which are not included here — in the naming of parishes.

A. County Longford, Diocese of Armagh:

Parish of Templemichael: Deaths: 30 January 1802 to 19 February 1829 and 1 March 1829 to 30 October 1865.
Parish of Ardagh and Moydow: Deaths: 16 Nov. 1822 to 24 Oct. 1842 and 1 Nov 1842 to 13 Mar. 1876.
Parish of Abbeylara: Deaths: 9 August 1854 to 1 July 1882.
Parish of Clonbroney: Deaths: 8 Jan 1854 to 27 Feb 1862 and 5 March 1862 to 10 January 1878.
Parish of Carrickedmond: Deaths: 28 Jan. 1835 to 17 Nov. 1842 and 26 May 1848 to 2 Jan 1869.
Parish of Colmcille: Deaths: 22 July 1845 to 21 Dec. 1858.
Parish of Cashel: Deaths: 11 Feb. 1839 to 19 Mar. 1868.
Parish of Drumlish: Deaths: 2 Jan 1834 to 13 Mar 1868, 16 Feb 1870 to 10 July 1872, and 13 Aug 1876 to 27 Aug 1881.
Parish of Clongish: Deaths: 22 Aug 1829 to 6 Oct 1881.
Parish of Granard: Deaths: 18 Dec 1782 to 8 Aug 1816, 29 April 1818 to 18 April 1820, 16 Sep 1816 to 27 Dec 1847, 3 Jan 1848 to 24 May 1865.
Parish of Dromard: Deaths: 11 Dec 1853 to 15 Oct 1868, 26 July 1874 to 20 May 1881.
Parish of Killashee: Deaths: 15 Nov 1826 to 3 Aug 1843, 20 Nov 1858 to 11 May 1868.
Parish of Kilcomoge: Deaths: 13 Nov 1859 to 18 Nov 1880.
Parish of Legan: Deaths: 20 Jan 1855 to 15 Mar 1881.
Parish of Killoe: Deaths: 14 Feb 1827 to 10 June 1853, 23 Aug 1853 to 29 Dec 1868, 20 Jan 1869 to 25 June 1881.
Parish of Rathcline: Deaths: 10 Dec 1839 to 17 March 1899.
Parish of Mostrim: Deaths: 23 May 1838 to 15 May 1882.
Parish of Shrule: Deaths: 4 Aug 1829 to 30 Apr 1830.
Parish of Mohill: Deaths: 3 July 1836 to 9 May 1854, 2 Oct 1850 to March 1882.
Parish of Scrabby: Deaths: 9 Sep 1835 to March 1854, 7 Apr 1856 to 20 Aug 1860.

B. Counties of Westmeath and Longford, Diocese of Armagh: 

Parish of Streete: Deaths: 27 Sept 1823 to 13 Aug 1829, and 19 July 1842 to 19 Oct 1882.

C. County Clare, Diocese of Killable:

Parish of Kilmurry McMahon: Deaths: 5 Nov 1844 to April 1848

2. Fitzpatrick, William J., L.L.D.. History of the Dublin Catholic Cemeteries, Catholic Cemeteries Committee Board, Dublin, 1900.

3. Tait, Clodagh. Death, Burial and Commemoration in Ireland, 1550–1650, Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2003.

4. Copies of civil registration records can be purchased online; however, currently the available dates for deaths include only those deaths registered in the Republic of Ireland from 1921 to the present day. See


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Those Places Thursday: The Forty Foot Bathing Place

Did your ancestors or family members have a local swimming hole, a spot to frolic on a warm summer's day? Well, in Ireland, a few kilometres outside of Dublin City, there is a natural swimming 'pool' of sorts in the Irish sea, a bathing place which locals and visitors alike have used all year round for over 250 years. It is called the 'Forty Foot Bathing Place'.

Located only steps away from Sandycove beach in Dún Laoghaire (anglicised: Dunleary), the promontory is thought to have been named for the Forty-Foot Regiment once stationed nearby to protect the area from invasion during the Napoleonic era. Local folk lore offers other reasons for its name, including one which says forty feet is the distance from the top of the highest stone to the sea floor beneath, while another sees the name as a salute to the nearby Martello Tower which stands forty feet in height.

Huge granite stones form the walls of the 'bathing pavilion' where swimmers leave their belongings before they walk down nature's 'stairs', supported by rusting iron rails, to venture into the bracing waters of the Irish sea. Although the water may look calm, the changing tides of Dublin Bay, along with the wake created by passing ferries, can whip up the tranquil waters quick as you like, so weak swimmers are ill-advised to take the plunge.

My dad and his pals liked to enjoy a swim in the chilly waters at the Forty Foot, especially to cool off along the way if they were on a cycling trip to the southern counties. Occasionally family members would take the train from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire, and while the women enjoyed a swim at Sandycove beach, the men would venture 'round the corner' to the waters of the Forty Foot.

A couple of hardy souls enjoying a late afternoon swim.
The craggy rocks above the sea surface serve as a reminder of what lies beneath.
'No diving' is the order of the day here.
In James Joyce's 'Ulysses', the character Buck Mulligan refers to
the 'snot green sea' at the Forty Foot where he swims each morning.
My preference is to describe the waters as a mix of blues & emerald green.
The Forty Foot is near the Martello Tower (now the Joyce Museum)
in which Joyce briefly lived with his friend Oliver St. John Gogarty.

On 23 March 1888, one Alfred Carson wrote a letter to the editor of The Freeman's Journal in which he expressed his concern over the possibility that sewage might be released near the Forty Foot Bathing Place. Carson wrote,

Sir — My attention having been drawn to a new sewerage scheme, having for object the carrying of all Blackrock, Monkstown, and Kingstown sewage through Sandycove, and to be discharged in close proximity to the now celebrated forty foot bathing place, allow me, as one who for years has always taken the deepest interest in the welfare of the above, to most strongly protest against any such scheme being carried out...

Thankfully the scheme was diverted and the 'celebrated forty foot bathing place' was saved.

The sign serves as a reminder the Forty Foot was once strictly the purview of a gentlemen's bathing club. The organisation was founded in 1880, and some of those gents were known for taking to the surf in the nude, thus the single sex restriction. As one local put it, all the better to avoid 'shocking the ladies'. In the 1970s women dared break the rules and climbed down the craggy rocks to enjoy a brisk dip in the sea at the Forty Foot, forever ending male domination of the swimming place.

The bathing club still exists, but now membership is open to all. Swimming at the Forty Foot is also open to everyone, and is enjoyed the whole year long. These days swim togs are requisite, although you may see a few bare bottoms if you venture to this spot, as hundreds do, for the annual holiday plunge on Christmas Day.

On the late September day on which I shot these photographs, I visited the Forty Foot at the tail end of the afternoon, around 5 pm. Although it was lightly raining, and the air temperature was around 15°C (about 59°F), there were a few hardy souls enjoying an exhilarating swim in the Irish sea. The water looked very inviting, but with cameras in hand the best I could manage was to roll up my trousers, doff my shoes and venture down the concrete steps into the sea up to my ankles. It was indeed enlivening!

A natural wading pool on the left hand side of the Forty Foot.

The more cautious may enter the sea here via concrete steps.

The Sandycove Bathers Association maintains the area, and
offers the gentle reminder that togs, i.e. 'a swimming costume', must be worn.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sepia Saturday #303: On All Hallow's Eve: Tales of Harbingers & Ghostly Visits

Harbinger: noun: a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of something.

All Hallow’s Eve, a.k.a. Hallowe’en, often elicits thoughts of the magical and the mysterious. The Hallowe'en inspiration image for today's Sepia Saturday has me thinking about the mysterious beliefs of those members of our family of 'good lineage', who shared tales about harbingers of death, and the supernatural elements which often accompanied those forewarnings.

When I first heard stories about harbingers of death in the history of our Irish family, as a rational person it was easy for me to be skeptical about the veracity of these tales. However, it seems clear each one of the persons associated with such stories genuinely believed auguries of death signalled the imminent passing of their family members.

Also, following the death of a beloved family member, a ghostly visitation from the deceased person was not deemed unusual by a number of family members, neither was hearing, seeing or even smelling something which you would associate only with the loved one who had died.

According to family lore, shortly before a person dies a harbinger of death appears. This is a belief which has been held by a number of members on both sides of the family tree, including my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as aunts, uncles and cousins of all varieties.

Most interesting are those stories in which harbingers manifested as an enormous black dog, a small white dove, and most dramatically, a massive fireball. Also, at least one relative dreaded an entire month on the calendar, believing it portended the deaths of his family members.

Why did Alice believe falling pictures,
broken china and dropped knives presaged
the death of family members?
On the maternal side of our family tree, harbingers of death have been known to present themselves in a more understated fashion as well. According to my mother, my maternal great-grandaunt Alice Fitzpatrick Ward — the woman who together with my grandfather raised the Ball children — believed a number of harbingers manifested through ordinary household goods. For example, a hanging picture which inexplicably fell from the wall, landing face down, portended the death of a family member or friend.

So too, Alice warned that a broken china plate, especially a treasured one, was an omen of someone ‘leaving the family’. For Alice, even a dropped dinner knife might indicate the departure of a loved one. Perhaps such superstitions led to strict rules governing the way in which the Ball children cleared away and washed up the dishes and cutlery.

Alice is pictured here on the left in the only photograph I have of her, from her 'In Memoriam' card. Although Alice was a devoutly Roman Catholic woman, she shared with my mother a number of superstitions about the dying and the dead.


Was September a month to be dreaded?
Did it portend the death of Kettle family members?
Andrew J. Kettle (pictured on the left), brother of my maternal 2nd great-grandmother Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick, had a dread of the month of September. An intelligent and accomplished gentleman, Andrew nevertheless believed September was a month which portended the death of family members. So firm was his conviction that the ninth month was one of fateful foreboding, his son Laurence made mention of the belief in the biographical note to his father's memoir, The Material for Victory.

Seems Andrew J. Kettle had good reason to dread September. Mary and Andrew's mother Alice O'Kavanagh Kettle died in the month of September, on the 24th day in the year 1855. Their father Thomas Kettle also died in that ruinous month, passing over to the 'other side' on 22 September 1871. 

Mary and Andrew's brother Patrick passed away on 25 September 1894. As well, Andrew's beloved son Thomas Michael Kettle was killed on the Somme in France on 9 September 1916, and Andrew J. Kettle himself died only 13 days later on 22 September 1916. Fifty one years after her father died, Catherine Kettle passed away on 13 September 1967. Additionally, other Kettle descendants have died in the month of September. It seems September is indeed a month which heralded death for members of the Kettle clan.

Although we might view the Kettle deaths in September as purely coincidental, it is not difficult to imagine this deeply religious man might have come to believe September would continue to ring out the death knells in his family.


Was the enormous black dog on Ringsend Bridge an omen of the death of my paternal grandfather?
By December of 1954 my paternal grandfather John Geraghty — never an especially robust fellow — had been ill for quite some time. On the 9th of December, my father Michael and mother Mary had been married for just over four months, and were out together for an evening's entertainment, visiting friends in Ringsend. At the end of their evening, Michael and Mary decided to stop by her family home on Gordon Street. They were walking across the Ringsend bridge over the River Dodder when toward them came an unattended enormous black dog walking very slowly. The dog crossed the road and passed them on the opposite side of the bridge. 

Startled by the sheer size of the animal, my father said he felt compelled to look at the dog, to be sure it wasn't wending its way back toward them. He stopped at the centre of the bridge and looked across the road to see it, but the dog had disappeared. Inexplicably in that moment my father knew his father was dead. My father told my mother they must go immediately to his family home. They flagged the lone black taxi travelling down Ringsend Road and asked the driver to hurry to the Geraghty home in Crumlin. Upon their arrival they discovered Dad's father John Geraghty had indeed passed away. Although my dad felt skeptical about what his own eyes had seen, he believed the massive black dog, who seemingly disappeared in the middle of the stone bridge, had been a harbinger of his father's death.


Did a tiny dove appear in a china teacup,
presaging the death of my maternal grandfather?
In February of 1963, when my maternal grandfather Patrick Ball died, my parents and brother were living in Canada. My mother shared with me the story of an incident which occurred in the early hours of the day on which her father died. That morning, standing in her kitchen drying the breakfast dishes, my mom reached to draw a china teacup from the drying rack. 

My mother said she was stopped in her tracks because curled up inside the china cup was a very small white dove. Frightened, she ran to a neighbour's house, but simply could not bring herself to tell the neighbour what she thought she had seen, and why she was so frightened. My mom thought her neighbour would think she was 'mad as a hatter'. Later that day my mother and father received a telephone call from Ireland bearing the news that my mom's father Patrick had died that morning. In retrospect, my mother believed the appearance of the tiny dove foretold her father's death.


Did the spirit of Patrick Ball visit his daughter?
After her father died, my mother profoundly regretted the fact that, during the almost six and a half years since she and my father and brother had emigrated away from Ireland, my mom had not telephoned her father very often, nor written to him as often as she then felt she should have. Mom dearly wished she had taken the opportunity to tell her dad how much she cherished him, and lamented not having the chance to say goodbye to her father before he passed away.

A couple of days after her father died my mother was once again in her kitchen. This time she was preparing the evening meal. Although my dad Michael had not yet returned from work, my mom heard a male voice softly calling her name. 'Mary, Mary, Mary'. Initially thinking it was Michael, Mary called out, 'I'm here in the kitchen'.

The disembodied voice repeated Mary's name. Suddenly, she realized the voice she was hearing was not that of her husband, but was instead her father calling to her. In this instance she did not feel frightened. Instead she believed her father had come to say goodbye to her. With tears of happiness in her eyes, she called out 'Goodbye Dad, God Bless You!' Although her words were met with silence, Mom said she whole-heartedly believed she had heard the voice of her father bidding her goodbye, and she felt very happy he had come to 'visit' her.


Did Mollie truly see a terrifying fireball,
and was it a harbinger of her sister's death?
Perhaps the most extraordinary story about the appearance of a harbinger is one told by my paternal grandaunt Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin.

On 26 March 1953, Mollie's sister, my grandmother Anne 'Annie' Magee Geraghty was hospitalised for 'exploratory' surgery. It was discovered Annie had undiagnosed diabetes, as well as a whole host of other very serious health problems. The doctors quickly concluded nothing could be done for Annie.

Unaware of the dire state of her sister's health, Mollie waited until the end of the day to visit her sister in hospital, On her way, she had a very strange encounter of the supernatural variety.

Mollie said she was walking across a bridge, when from the opposite side she saw a massive fireball rolling across the bridge toward her. She was both shocked and horrified by what she saw, but was unable to run away, and could do nothing more than turn away from the fire to protect herself. Mollie swore she could feel the heat from the fiery sphere on her back as it passed her on the bridge. When she turned to look at it, the fireball was gone and a feeling of deep peace and serenity came over her. Mollie said in that moment she felt with absolute certainty her sister Annie had died.

When Mollie arrived at the hospital her feeling of certainty was confirmed for her when she learned Annie had died of cardiac and renal failure. According to the attending physician, Annie's death had occurred around the time Mollie was crossing the bridge. Her whole life long Mollie fervently believed the fireball was real, and was a harbinger of her sister Annie's death.


As I said at the outset of this piece, it is easy to be skeptical about such stories. However, there remains so much about death and dying that we do not know, and what truly goes on in 'the great beyond' remains a mystery to those of us still on 'this side’, so perhaps such harbingers do appear when Death comes knocking on Life's door.

Do you have similar beliefs about harbingers of death, or stories of 'visits' by deceased relatives, on your family tree?

Be sure to fly on over to the Sepia Saturday blog to connect with others and read their take on today's inspiration image.

Happy Hallowe'en!


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding Michael: In search of the life Dad once knew in Crumlin, Dublin City

In 2012, a few months after my mother died, I made my way through her childhood neighbourhood in Ringsend, Dublin. It was a journey I had made before, but with the loss of my mom the walk along those footpaths bore new meaning. My father died what seems like so long ago now, 16 March 2000, but in recent years I had not ventured into the neighbourhood of his growing up years, Crumlin, Dublin. I cannot say for certain why I had not gone there, but perhaps there was still a part of my heart that ached when I recollected my father's profound sadness on visiting his old neighbourhood when I was a young teenager.

It was an absence, an erasure of past life, which defined that journey for me. It was what had been missing from our plans which left the deepest impression. We spent weeks in Dublin, visiting family and catching up with old friends, but despite our proximity to Dad's childhood home, it seemed not a single time when we ventured out would we travel near the road on which he had lived. 

One day we did journey out. Although I do not know what triggered Dad's desire to see the place, we wound our way from a visit with Auntie May, whose house had been jammed to the rafters with family, music and laughter. Travelling down from Santry, we happily chatted about Uncle Gerrie's funny poems and songs. Mom was charmed that Auntie May's front parlour was festooned in flowers, as it had always been, and that May still had her beautiful ebony piano. I delighted in all the different kinds of houses we saw along the way, and wondered which one best resembled Dad's former family home.

As we slipped into the north end of Crumlin, Dad got very quiet, then suddenly he stopped the car. It must have been at Bangor Road, though I do not recall for certain, but he shifted the gear into park, turned off the engine and sat there at the intersection closest to his part of Kildare Road. Despite curiosity-driven exhortations from my brother and me, Dad would not make the turn which would bring us to his old front door. Our enthusiasm was stilled by the heavy silence which came over my father. I was completely shut down when he lowered his head and began to quietly weep.

For the next while not a single word was uttered by either my mother or my father. My own emotion caught in my throat, and my eyes filled with tears I did not then understand, but in that moment I felt a love and compassion for my father I had never before known. Although we had never talked about it, I knew my father had endured a difficult childhood. As my mother gently caressed my father's shoulder and brushed his hair away from his eyes, we sat completely quiet. There was no explanation offered for our journey's pause, nor was one begged. After a few minutes passed, Dad started the car, put it into gear, and spirited us away from his memories.

We drove out of Dublin a couple of days after our stop in Crumlin, and travelled throughout the Republic. We went to all of those places of significance in terms of Irish history, but not family history. My father had cycled throughout Ireland when he was a young adult, so he knew the best routes to the ancient ruins, magnificent castles, and overgrown cemeteries. He travelled with ease during those weeks and seemed very happy to visit places which in no way bore the imprint of his family. We did not return into the heart of Dublin, and the last my teenaged eyes saw of the capital on that trip, was through the rain streaked windows of the hired car, as we travelled along the coast road to the airport on our last day in Ireland.

On my adult journeys to the places in Dublin my father knew best, I have ventured into Stoneybatter and visited the home into which my dad was born, travelled out to Cabra where their family had briefly lived, and stopped by Belgrave Square in Rathmines, the last home my father, mother and brother lived in before they emigrated away from Ireland. However, Crumlin was a place I always managed to bypass. Time and again it was on my 'go to' list, but each trip I managed to avoid it.

In September, a few days before I left for Ireland, I decided perhaps it was time to visit Crumlin again, to see the house on Kildare Road where my father had lived with his family, the house he would not visit, and maybe finally lay to rest the ghosts of the past.


The former Geraghty family home on Kildare Road, Crumlin.
The streamers were put up in celebration of
the All Ireland GAA Football Final on Sunday 20 September.
The former Geraghty home is not on the principle part of Kildare Road, so I was not certain I had arrived at the correct address when I turned into a sort of cul-de-sac. As I emerged from my hired car, an ancient gentleman spied me through narrowed eyes, as though he had me already mapped out as a stranger. Immediately he asked where I was headed. 

Extending my hand to him, I introduced myself, uttered the address and said I had come to visit 'the terraced house in which my Dad grew up'. 'I'm Tom*', he replied, his eyes brightening and the deep creases in his time-worn face seeming to open up to me. 'Geraghty', he repeated as he pointed out the house and then scurried across the narrow road to get 'Kate*', whose family now lives there.

The three of us, Tom, Kate and I, stood in front of the house for quite a while, chatting about the past and the present. They generously listened as I talked about my dad. Tom said he's lived on Kildare Road all his life. He knew the Geraghty family and said he must have known my father Michael, but he could not recall, since his memory is not as good as it was in his younger days.

One part of the past Tom did recollect absolutely delighted me. He explained that the house was quite different now from what it had been when he was a child. In the 1960s or '70s — Tom couldn't quite recall when — two houses, #B and #C, were built onto the end of the row, forever changing the Geraghty home as Tom had known it. When Tom was a child, the house was the last one in the row of terraced houses. 

All of the houses in the row are quite small and have few rooms, 'two up, two down', as they used to say. The homes were constructed by the Dublin Corporation in the mid 1930s, on 250 acres of land in Crumlin, a large scale housing 'estate' for families who lacked decent homes. Because it was on a corner, Tom explained, the Geraghty house had a large back garden. In that garden was a ramshackle shed, and all of it was surrounded by a tall wall. 

Tom remembered my granny — 'Mrs. Geraghty', as he called her — as a very nice, though nearly blind, lady who always let all of the neighbourhood children play in what was the only large back garden on the street. He especially liked that she allowed them to climb up and over and all around that tall garden wall. Tom laughed when he recalled Mrs. Geraghty 'seeing to him' after he tumbled off the wall and into the hedge one summer's day when he was 9 years old. It made me smile to see Tom's face light up as his recollected those long ago days.

When it was time for me to head on my way, Kate asked me to wait until she cleared her kids' bicycles out of the drive, so I could take some 'good photos' of the place, then she wished me 'all the best' on my journey. Tom held open my car door and told me to take very good care of myself. As I stepped into the car he seemed lost in recollections again and said, 'We all loved playing in Mrs. Geraghty's garden, and climbing on that wall. Ah, we'd great fun in your granny’s garden. We'd great fun.' My eyes filled with tears as I bid Tom farewell and thanked him so very much for hanging on to those happy memories. 

As I drove away I quietly whispered 'thanks' to my dad for guiding me there. The knowledge that the garden of Dad's family home had been a place of joy brought me comfort, and I felt perhaps I had finally laid to rest the ghosts of Crumlin and the house on Kildare Road.

Two of my father's brothers, pictured with friends,
in front of the old shed and next to the tall wall in the back garden of
the house on Kildare Road.
Left to right: unknown, Enda Geraghty, unknown, John Geraghty.
My father's youngest siblings, Kathleen and Declan Geraghty, in the garden next to the shed.
Less than a year after this photograph was taken Declan disappeared.
A few blocks from the house on Kildare Road is St. Agnes,
the Roman Catholic Church my father attended with his family.

*Note: In the interests of privacy, the names have been changed and no address is noted.

To learn more about Declan's story see: Walking away from family: A disappeared brother, Declan Geraghty


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday: 'Walk on air against your better judgement'

Out of Dublin City, County Dublin to Bellaghy, Magherafelt, County Derry/Londonderry*, I drove to visit the grave of one of my favourite poets, Seamus Heaney. It is an overwhelming sight to see his grave and know there will never again be another word penned by this talented poet and playwright. The first-born son of a farmer, Seamus Heaney would grow to become beloved the world over, winning many literary prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Literature, all the while remaining a down-to-earth and gentle man. For me, Seamus Heaney put Ireland and the Irish people into words.

The epitaph engraved on his gravestone is a line taken from his poem entitled 'The Gravel Walks':

So walk on air against your better
Establishing yourself somewhere
in between
Those solid batches mixed with
grey cement
And a tune called ‘The Gravel 
     Walks’ that conjures green.

As I stood by Seamus Heaney's graveside I said a prayer for all of us, the writers, the poets, the dreamers.


Nearby Seamus Heaney’s grave, his little brother Christopher is interred together with their mother, father and other members of the Heaney family.

Tragically, Christopher Heaney died in February of 1953, at the age of 3 years, after being hit by a car. Seamus Heaney beautifully encapsulates the experience of the loss of his little brother in the heartbreaking poem ‘Mid-term Break’. Here are a few lines from the poem:

Next morning I went up into the 
     room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I
     saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left
He lay in the four-foot box as in his
No gaudy scars, the bumper
     knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every

St. Mary's Church and the churchyard from the perspective of Seamus Heaney's grave.
The Heaney family grave is second from the left in this image.

Click on photos to view larger versions.

Lines from 'The Gravel Walks' & 'Mid-term Break' in Heaney, Seamus. Opened Ground, Poems 1966-1996, Faber and Faber, London, 2002.
*Note: In the Republic of Ireland the county is recognised as County Derry; in Northern Ireland it is recognised as County Londonderry.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sepia Saturday #300: The Heavenly faces of Earthly Sprites.

For the last few weeks I have been 'virtually' absent, spending time away in the world of university and military archives in Ireland, doing research for my history work, as well as a tiny bit of family history research, and enjoying a holiday in London and Paris with my husband in celebration of our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Sepia Saturday offers the perfect opportunity to jump back into blogging.

The inspiration image for this Sepia Saturday takes us far from the light and the lovely toward the dark and the ugly, but for my contribution on this very special anniversary I am going to flip the inspiration on its head and look at some of the little lives lived on, or near, our family tree.

Some of the most charming images to be found in my parents' archive of photographs are those of young children. Their cherubic faces and bright wide eyes convey an innocence that warms the heart and lightens the soul. So, with best wishes to the Sepia Saturday blog on this anniversary #300, and a big thank you to Marilyn and Alan, I offer you 'The Heavenly faces of Earthly Sprites'.

This little cherub faced sweetie is a member of my mother's family. According to the information on the back of the photograph, it was taken in Dublin, but no name is noted. I was told by an aunt that this tiny boy is my mother's youngest brother. Strange to think that when the photograph was taken, this poor little fellow and his siblings were motherless. Their mother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball had died in the winter of 1936, leaving seven children to the care of their father Patrick Ball and an elderly grand-aunt Alice Fitzpatrick Ward. Baby John was only six months old at the time of his mother's death.

The adorable little girl in the photograph below is not a member of my family, but is a daughter of the Brennan family, near neighbours of the Ball family in Ringsend, Dublin. The Brennan family lived at #73 Gordon Street, just four houses away from the Ball family home at #69.

The photograph was taken in the early 1940s, and the name written on the back of the photograph in very light pencil is barely legible, but reads 'D. Brennan'. Long ago my mother told me this little one's name, and if I recall correctly, her name is Dolly Brennan, though the name Dottie seems to stick in my brain.

Dolly (or Dottie) is such a tiny girl that she does not look old enough to be making her First Holy Communion, since at the time children aged around six or seven were eligible. After her family returned home following her First Communion mass, she was captured in this photograph while making the rounds of the neighbourhood to show off her lovely outfit, and be given scapulas or holy medals, and perhaps a penny or two, by admiring neighbours. Her little lace dress is exquisite, as is the veil, and the tiny white leather shoes beautifully complete the outfit. There is just a hint of mischief in her lovely eyes.

The last in my trio of photographs is one of my favourite images. The photo was taken in 1937 and features my dad (on the far right) at almost six years of age, as well as his eldest brother Patrick (holding the arm of a Magee child), on summer holidays with their Magee cousins in Rush, North County Dublin. Dad had fond memories of holidays at Rush with his brother and their grandparents Patrick and Mary Magee, their Aunt Mollie Magee Halpin and Uncle Willie Halpin, and their Aunt Anne Maher Magee and Uncle Frank Magee. The look of joy on Dad's face in the series of photos from Rush always makes me smile.

Be sure to skip on over to the Sepia Saturday blog to see how others have connected with today's inspiration image, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

'Share a Memory': Preserving your family history and genealogy

Inspiration in Sepia: Although they speak to us through images,
it would be lovely if we could hear the sound of their voices.
This post is inspired by DearMyrtle, a.k.a. Pat Richley-Erickson, who has created the series '#30 ways in 30 days, Share a Memory'.  In addition to writing my blog, a favourite ‘Share a Memory’ idea I have for preserving my Irish family history and genealogy is my ongoing and ever evolving project of creating audio files.

After the death of my mother, one of the things I missed most was the sound of my mom’s voice, with her lovely Dublin accent gently touching her words. Although I am sometimes visited by the sound of my dad's voice, it breaks my heart that my mother's is now lost to me. I long to hear Mom call me 'Jenn', as only she could do. I struggle to remember the intonations in her voice, the sounds of happiness playing on her words, the sounds of sadness too, and the timbre of her laughter. On rare occasions, just for an instant I hear my mother's voice in my own, when I am talking about certain subjects, or laughing at a good story, and it is a comfort to me.

When I began to consider the special impact the voices of those we love can have on us, my feelings prompted me to create a series of audio files. Essentially, the files comprise an audiobook in which I read aloud stories which hold special meaning for our family, as well as share family history and genealogy, and favourite blog posts. Once I have created the audio files, I can save them on my computer, post them on iTunes, send them in an email as an mp3, or burn the recordings onto a disc or discs so they can be shared.

The GarageBand software on my Mac works well for creating audio because it enables me to work with a number of aspects of the recording to change the tonal quality, add music, and so on. I have made a few recordings, but am still experimenting in order to get them exactly the way I want them. Also, although my Mac has a built-in microphone, which works really well for podcasting or web chat purposes, I have found using an external mic produces the best results. GarageBand is also available as an iPad and iPhone app. The devices app gives you fewer options than the Mac version, but it does also work well for recording the spoken word.

Here are 10 tips I use to help me when recording audio files:

1. Speak in calm, dulcet tones. When I record I speak in the way I would when reading a story to a child, adding spirits of excitement, joy, etc. where appropriate, and being especially careful not to sound monotone. If it fits the mood, I smile as I am speaking in order to ‘put a smile into my voice’, something I learned from a voice coach many moons ago.

2. Practice before recording. Producing a good sound track is not easy, so you will have to practice before creating your audio file. You may find yourself recording, erasing, and then recording again when you trip on your words, and believe me you will occasionally trip — ‘brass plaque’ is my achilles heel. Those who are more experienced with audio recording may wish to clap loudly when an error is made, so the visual wave form in the audio file spikes, making it easier to find when you go back to correct it. 

3. Sit up tall and open your chest as if you were going to sing. Sometimes I stand in order to maintain a feeling of energy when I am recording.

4. Exercise your vocal cords before you begin recording your voice. I use vocal exercises: motor boat lips, vowel sounds, and running a scale of musical notes. If necessary, sip room temperature water in very small sips. Soothing herbal tea is also helpful for lubricating the vocal cords.

5. Chant sound phrases in order to improve diction, using for example, 'la, lo, le, lo’, ’ma, mo, me, mo’ and 'ta, toe, te, toe’.

6. Recite tongue twisters such as ‘She sells sea shells by the seashore’ or 'If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?', or any number of other tongue twisters you might enjoy reciting. Repeated recitation of tongue twisters will help you to improve your diction.

7. Read aloud at a measured pace, as you would when presenting a paper at a conference, or performing at a public speaking engagement. It should take you about 15 to 20 minutes to read aloud an 8 page double spaced piece. If you speak too quickly your listeners may not be able to follow along.

8. Enunciate, being sure to pronounce all the syllables in a word, while endeavouring not to sound stiff. Be careful not to drop syllables in your words. Be sure to speak the entire word.

9. ‘Pronounce’ punctuation, so you hit a pause when there is a comma, and have a brief stop when there is a period. Remember, your voice should go up when there is a question mark at the end of a sentence, and there should be a tone of exclamation when there is an exclamation point.

10. Above all relax — yeah, right — and have fun, so your voice sounds as natural as possible, like you only a slightly better version.


What 'Share a Memory' ideas do you have 
for preserving your family history and genealogy?


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday's Tips: A secret stash of Irish Roman Catholic parish registers?

St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, established 1858.
One of several Dublin City churches
whose parish registers are not online.

The launch on 8 July of the National Library of Ireland's Roman Catholic Parish Registers website (click on blue links to connect to sites) no doubt delighted many the world over. Yes, the site may be a bit glitchy at times, and for some here is absolute proof those of us who said some of the registers might prove difficult to read had been telling the truth; however, overall it is a boon for researchers who find themselves away from the island of Ireland and in search of baptism and marriage records for Irish Catholic ancestors.

Despite this godsend from the NLI those researchers who land on a page bearing the statement 'The NLI does not have any registers available for this parish' may find themselves asking 'well, where are these parish registers'? 'What happened to them?' 'Is there a seemingly secret stash of Roman Catholic parish registers, and if so where are they?'

Contrary to a belief held by some, Roman Catholic parish registers were never housed in the Public Records Office (PRO) of the Four Courts. The obvious upside of this is no Catholic registers were destroyed in the huge explosion and fire that decimated the Public Records Office in the west wing of the Four Courts complex on 30 June 1922, during the Irish Civil War. It is parish registers of the Church of Ireland, along with a significant cache of irreplaceable documents — some dating to the 13th century — which were stored in the PRO (See: this post).

Historically the Catholic Church has always borne sole responsibility for keeping and protecting its own original records. No doubt over time this proved quite a challenge, considering the suppression of Catholicism and its accompanying penal laws, not to mention that lovely fellow Oliver Cromwell and his Irish campaign of 1649-50, a marker of which was his penchant for blowing up Catholic churches.

Although no Catholic parish registers were destroyed at the Four Courts, what some researchers may not be aware of is not all Catholic parish registers have been made available to the public. Some parishes still hold all of their own registers. They are neither part of the collection held by the NLI, nor are they part of what is online at or at RootsIreland.

St. Colmcille's Church, Swords,
built in 1827.
Thankfully their records are accessible.
The original National Library of Ireland microfilm project, which is now online, covers 1,066 extant parish register sets out of a total of 1,153. This translates to an NLI collection comprising over 3,500 individual registers. Among the registers not included in this number are those for some of the churches in Dublin City. Also, the County Dublin parishes of Clontarf, Naul and Santry are not a part of the NLI set of registers. RootsIreland (see Dublin North) does have some records for Naul and Clontarf, but Dublin City is not part of RootsIreland reserve, and Dublin City Library & Archives has a database of burial registers for three now closed cemeteries at Clontarf, Drimnagh and Finglas. As well, there are a number of parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.1 

If you have had no luck online with the NLI collections or other online sources, you may wish to contact a parish directly. Also, you may find such an approach helpful if you are in search of a post-1880 record for which no civil registration record exists, since most of the NLI collection pre-dates 1880. For contact information see the website Catholic Hierarchy which has a listing of the 26 current Catholic dioceses. Within this catalogue are links to parish churches throughout the island of Ireland. As well, the Archdiocese of Dublin has a listing of all its parishes, including location and contact information, at Many churches have their own websites; some include information about retrieving transcriptions of records.

In some parishes a sacristan or administrator will search the registers for you. You will need to submit as much information as possible with your request, including the approximate year for the record you are in search of, as well as the name or names of the person[s] in question. Sometimes you will be required to pay a search fee, in addition to the fee for the transcription of the individual record itself.  Whether or not such a fee is specifically requested, a donation to the church is always welcome. Transcriptions usually cost between €5 and €10 each, but rates vary around the country.

From Westport parish for €10 I was able to purchase a transcription of the 1885 marriage record of my paternal great-grandparents, a very helpful transcription since the register is not online, nor is there a civil registration record for their marriage. From St. James Church in Dublin, I was able to obtain baptism transcriptions for all of my paternal grandfather's siblings for €5 a piece. On a side note: although the registers for St. James Church dating from 1737 to 1890 are listed as among those on, oddly enough the registers holding the baptismal entries for my relatives —which date between 1887 and 1890 — are not among those on the site. The sacristan for St. James explained to me that not all of St. James' old registers are on the site. Yet another good reason for contacting a parish directly if you cannot find the record for which you are searching.

Transcription of the 1885 marriage of Patrick Geraghty and Margaret Toole.
This record cannot be accessed online.
A transcription from St. James Church, Dublin City, County Dublin.
The parish register in which this information appears is not online.
Of course, making contact with a parish is no guarantee a record will be retrieved for you. Some churches have neither the staff nor the facilities to conduct searches. Privacy concerns are sometimes cited as a reason for no immediate access to parish registers, no matter what the dates. For example, Louisburgh Parish in County Mayo notes the following on their website: "For reasons of security and confidentiality old registers cannot be made available for inspection by the public." However, when possible Louisburgh parish will reply to written requests for records. Some members of the bishopric believe such records should only be viewed by immediate family members.2 As well, there are churches, such as St. Nicholas of Myra in Dublin, that require you to seek permission from the Diocesan Chancellery before they will provide transcriptions for any records dated after 1914.

As you can see the rules for access can be many and varied, and are sometimes dependent on which parish holds the records you are seeking. Still in all, contacting a parish directly is definitely worth the effort if you are in search of baptism, marriage and death entries in parish registers with no online presence. After all, parishes aided in these searches long before the internet came along, and your ancestor's records may be a part of the almost secret stash of Irish parish registers which cannot be accessed online.

What success have you had finding parish register records 
with no online presence?

St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh, County Cork,
built in 1879, consecrated in 1919.
Registers for Cobh are part of the NLI collection,
although some are in very poor condition.

1. See John Grenham's Catholic Records Locations for specific parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.

2. Taoiseach Enda Kenny received a 'belt of the crozier' — i.e. admonishment or condemnation from the clergy — in a letter from Kieran O’Reilly, the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. Archbishop O'Reilly cited the release of the content of the NLI microfilm online as a "major breach of trust" of Irish Catholics.

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