Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sepia Saturday #279: 'What was, that is, but isn't': Marrying past & present

A city should be a living, breathing entity which is allowed to stretch and change in order to remain alive; however, some of us who want to preserve the past cringe when we see beautiful old buildings torn down in favour of 'new builds', some of which seem put up for utility rather than looks. So too, sometimes what is left from the past is not always as beautiful as we might hope.

The inspiration image for today's Sepia Saturday reminded me of those wonderful instances in which developers decide to marry the old and the new. They are able to maintain the living city, by renovating and refitting the structures of the past for modern day usage, while still preserving the best of what once was, and in some cases, even greatly improving on it. So, my contribution for today's Sepia Saturday features some of the spaces and places in Dublin, which exemplify a happy marriage between past and present.

Most striking among these is a metal structure — the old gasworks in Ringsend, Dublin — near my mother's childhood home on Gordon Street. When I was a child I loved the structure, because it looked to me like an enormous cage, perfect for capturing dragons and all sorts of other fantasy creatures. Thought by some to be an eyesore, in recent years it has been transformed into an apartment complex. 

The gasworks, towering over the row houses of South Lotts Road, 1950s.
From a similar perspective, over 60 years later, the gasworks conversion finds the neighbourhood little changed.
Built in 1881, the George's Street Arcade, also called St. George's Market,
is Ireland's first purpose-built shopping centre.
Photo, circa 1895, NLI.
The upper facade of the complex remains little changed. Unfortunately, the awnings are long gone,
as are the tram tracks of South Great St. George's Street.
Powerscourt Townhouse,
home to Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt (1730-1788), and his wife Lady Amelia.
Lord and Lady Powerscourt bought the townhouse so that they could entertain guests
 'in town' during the Parliamentary season.
They were renowned for the parties they hosted in this home.
The street is now much more narrow, but the Powerscourt Townhouse facade remains virtually unchanged.
Inside another sort of party goes on, with all manner of wares to delight shoppers.
Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to connect with others and see how they have been inspired by today's posted image.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Remembering Mom: Mary Jane Teresa Ball Geraghty

Today, on the 3rd anniversary of her death, I fondly remember our mother, 
Mary Jane Teresa Ball Geraghty,

Long before marriage and family,
my mom Mary,
a young woman of 18 years,
in evening dress, 1949.
They say time heals all wounds. It is the lie we tell ourselves so we can learn to live with loss. With the passage of time, I have come to believe grief becomes a precious wound which is better nurtured, not covered up and forgotten.

Yes, life goes on, but it is okay to tend to the wound, not to wallow in it, but to accept that it is still there:
To recognize every word that should have been spoken, but never was,
To recollect every embrace released too soon,
To call to mind each burning question that was left unasked,
To embrace all that I loved about my mother, and to remember each footstep followed, while acknowledging different paths taken.
To remember Mom in the wholeness of her being, as the most splendid sort of chameleon, lovingly transforming herself, so she was able to be different things for different people.

Although I am sometimes visited by the sound of Dad's voice, it breaks my heart that Mom's is now lost to me. I miss the sound of my mother's voice, and long to hear her call me 'Jenn', as only she could do. Daily, I struggle to remember each intonation, the sounds of happiness playing on her words, even the sounds of sadness too, and the timbre of her laughter. I still find myself irrationally longing for more conversations with my mother, more of everything that I can no longer possibly have.

There are brief moments when sounds and images do flash across my mind:

Mom gently dabbing perfume at the pulse points of her wrists.
The click of her heels on the kitchen floor as she rushed out to work.
Mom beautifully dancing with Dad, so happy at my brother's wedding.
The tapping sounds of wooden spoons as Mom mixed together the ingredients for her Christmas puddings.
The fragrance of bread we used to bake together in the summertime, so very long ago, set on the window sill to cool.
Mom wearing a deeply serious expression on her face, as she bowed her head in prayer at church, while somehow managing to cast a smile and a wink my way, when someone showed up in an odd looking hat.

The passage of time makes these small recollections ever more precious.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sepia Saturday #278: In life's picture: We begin and we end with family.

Today's Sepia Saturday inspiration image of a damaged photograph got me thinking about the nature of change, and all of the alterations life brings, some we welcome and some we do not.

Although it may sound counterintuitive to those of us who seek to preserve the past, I like smeared and smudged pictures, off-kilter and slightly damaged old photographs, because they remind me that life is ever changing. No matter how much we try to edit the images of the world around us, despite our best efforts to perfect everything, to make it pin sharp, and saturate it with colour, we cannot stop the natural transformation life brings. To live an authentic life is not only to accept that metamorphosis, but to embrace it.

Thinking about the ways in which our life experiences transform us reminded me of one true thing that might remain unaltered, 'family'. The combinations and permutations which delineate the noun 'family' may differ widely. Your family may not look like mine, nor mine resemble yours. Nonetheless, what remains is 'Family'. The sentiment is best expressed in writer Anthony Brandt's words,

'Other things may change us, but we start and we end with the family.'

Studio Portrait, Dublin.
c. 1925
Studio Portrait, Dublin.
On holiday at Rush, North County Dublin.
Back garden of the Geraghty family home, Crumlin, Dublin City.
1954, My parents' wedding.
Outside St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin City.
Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to connect with others who have been stirred by today's inspiration image.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Mystery Monday: A curious find in Irish valuation records sparks new questions.

Never let anyone tell you there isn't a little magic and mystery in research.

Last week I shared with you finds made in the revision books of the Valuation Office in Dublin that allowed me to confirm the provenance of Warblestown House, a home that has been in our family for over 150 years. On that research day I went to the office with a list in hand, and specific goals in mind about exactly what I hoped to accomplish. Some of the items were crossed off my list, and some of those goals were met, but then I got distracted.

It was late afternoon, and the office was very quiet, when a deep sigh of frustration bellowed out of the lungs of an elderly gentleman who was sitting at a table behind me, doing research of his own. 'I know the feeling behind that sort of sigh', I said out loud before thinking, adding that I hoped the sound of my camera wasn't disturbing him, since I had been taking photographs shortly before his sigh sounded out. 'No, no, not a t'all', he graciously replied, in a voice that sounded so familiar I nearly fell off my chair when I spun around to see him. Just for a moment I felt as though I was there with my late father, and it was his voice I had heard.

When I had sufficiently recovered myself, we made introductions and struck up a conversation. Tom told me he had been searching in the revision books of the Pembroke West district in Dublin City for the record of a family home. Tom was frustrated because what he had been told — by a cousin even older than him — and what the records revealed were at odds with one another. We chatted for a bit, and then Tom decided to pack it in, talk to his cousin, and try again another day.

Back in 2014, I had searched in exactly the same district as Tom, but in the books of later years, as part of the research included in the post 'Within these walls, the life of a family: 80 years on Gordon Street, Ringsend'. I had found the valuation record confirming that in 1923 my maternal grandparents Patrick Ball and Mary Fitzpatrick Ball were tenants in 69 Gordon Street, Dublin. Beyond the record I had been seeking, I sought out nothing else for Gordon Street at that time.

According to the information I had initially found, in 1923 Patrick Ball was the tenant of Patrick Moran, paying £8 rent for the house at number 69 Gordon Street. Previous tenants are listed as Thomas Sturgeon in 1922, and James Donnelly in 1921. Also, the Irish census shows that James Donnelly and his family were the denizens of 69 Gordon Street in 1911.

69 Gordon Street, Ringsend, Dublin:
Immediate Lessor: Patrick Moran,
Occupiers: James Donnelly, revised to Thomas Sturgeon, 1922, revised to Patrick Ball, 1923.
Here's the magic and the mystery:

As my fellow researcher Tom approached the service desk to hand in the volume of 1909/1910, and settle out his research costs before leaving for the day, suddenly I felt as though my father was giving me a push and telling me I needed to look at that revision book. I scurried over to the desk and asked if I might have it before they returned it to storage, and they obliged me.

Not focussed on a specific find, I decided to browse through the volume. As I settled on one of the pages for Gordon Street, I came upon a surprising entry.

In the 1910 book, Patrick Ball is listed as the occupier of 69 Gordon Street.

Patrick Ball on Gordon Street in 1910? 'Who is this 'Patrick Ball?', I wondered.

In the 1910 book, Patrick Ball is listed as the occupier of 69 Gordon Street.
Click on image to view larger version.
In 1909, I believe, my maternal grandfather Patrick Ball was living with his parents and siblings on Fishamble Street in Dublin. His father, my great-grandfather Francis Ball (son of my 2nd great-grandfather Patrick Ball), died in the infirmary of the South Dublin Union Workhouse, and although Francis' death registration records the place of death as the workhouse, it gives the family address in 1909 as Fishamble Street. (see The Certificate read 'Place of Death: The Workhouse'). The workhouse register shows the Fishamble Street address, and Stafford Street in Dublin as Francis' last addresses, prior to the workhouse infirmary. The Stafford Street address also appears in the record of the Glasnevin burial register.

The census of Ireland shows that in 1911 my grandfather Patrick Ball was living with his siblings, Christopher and Mary, and their widowed mother Jane in Stafford Street, Dublin. Based on the records of Francis Ball, it appears the family moved there in 1909.

Questions, questions, questions:

Is the Patrick Ball living at 69 Gordon Street in 1910 my maternal grandfather?
Is it possible that this Patrick Ball is my 2nd great-grandfather, father of Francis Ball, and my Patrick Ball's grandfather?
(After the fact edit — insert knock on the head here — 2nd great-grandfather Patrick Ball died in 1884, so he could not have been resident in Gordon Street in 1910, at least not in corporeal form.)
Is this Patrick Ball not connected to me at all?

Is it possible that in 1909 my grandfather Patrick Ball was living with his family in Fishamble Street, and then moved to Stafford Street later in 1909, and then in 1910 was the tenant of 69 Gordon Street? Did he move back to Stafford Street in 1911, only to move back into 69 Gordon Street thirteen years later, in 1923, with his wife and baby son in tow? I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Is it possible? Yes, it is in the realm of possibility, but is it probable?
Is it more likely than not that the Patrick Ball who lived at 69 Gordon Street in 1910 and the Patrick Ball who lived there in 1923 are one in the same?

I'm not so sure about that likelihood.

More research is definitely in order, but I do like a good mystery.

Thanks Dad for being on my mind that day, and giving me a push!

The tome of Pembroke West revisions, 1909-1910.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bealtaine: An Irish springtime celebration of optimism

Bealtaine is the Irish word for the month of May, and also the word used to denote the springtime celebrations and festivals that take place in Ireland on the first of May — Lá Bealtaine or May Day — and throughout the month of May. All around the world you will find many countries in which there are celebrations of May Day as the beginning of a new cycle of life.

According to historians, in Ireland the month of May has long been a time for celebrations of the optimistic variety, going all the way back to the time of the ancient Celts. The people would hold festivals with music and dancing, and build huge bonfires for purification and renewal. All this was done in praise of the natural world in order to optimistically welcome the planting season, and with it renewed hope for a successful future harvest.

These days during the month of May, all over Ireland there are festivals that mark with optimism the coming of spring. has a lovely PDF you can download featuring information about May Day traditions around Ireland.

Here are just a few of the festivals and events going on in Ireland in the month of May:

The 'Bealtaine Festival: Celebrating creativity as we age', is a festival that inspires young and old to reach their full potential, with events held from the 1st to the 31st day of May in many locations throughout Ireland.

Even Glasnevin Cemetery is in on the festivities with the Bealtaine Festival 2015 Literary Tour on the 10th day of May.

The Féile na Bealtaine Arts Festival in Dingle town, County Kerry, from the 30th of April to the 4th of May is a celebration that 'aims to extend and broaden the community's artistic horizons' while entertaining locals and visitors alike.

The Punchestown Horse Racing Festival at Punchestown, just south of Naas, County Kildare and not far from Dublin City, runs from 28th of April to the 2nd of May. Not strictly a spring festival as such, Punchestown is one of the highlights of the Irish horse racing calendar. It is very much a family affair, with music and all sorts of entertainment. The perfect place to don a beautiful hat, walk out in your Sunday best, and watch the races.

With springtime celebrations in mind I was thinking about what it is that makes me feel optimistic, and which images might express that optimism. On this Lá Bealtaine (Law B-yel-teh-ne), in celebration of optimism, here are a few of my favourite images that make me feel hopeful.

Shona Lá Bealtaine go léir!
Happy May Day to All!

Observing people together, just having fun and enjoying life, sparks the light of optimism, whether it's family traipsing through St. Stephen's Green on the occasion of a wedding, or buskers on Grafton Street, enthusiastic football fans on the train from County Mayo, or skilled polo players in the Phoenix Park. All of these remind me that people are basically good, and want to enjoy life and make each other happy, and that definitely makes me feel optimistic.

Seeing the beauty of stained glass windows makes me feel optimistic. At times it seems as though some people are only capable of wreaking havoc and causing ruination; however, the fact that others chose to skillfully apply their hand to crafting intricate pieces such as these, for the enjoyment of their fellowmen, just has to make you feel hopeful. These windows are from St. Mary's Church in Westport, County Mayo.

Looking over the grandeur of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, with the ocean waves crashing at their base in perfect rhythm, reminds me of the fact that we humans are a small part of the whole picture. We have been given the privilege of living in this big and beautiful world, and that always makes me feel optimistic.

On a morning flight travelling back from Ireland in 2011, the plane flew in a parabolic arch, cruising over Greenland. The mountainous region of the land was perfectly visible in the light of the morning sun. I shot these images out of a small round window in the front galley of the plane. The natural splendour of Greenland, and the colour from this perspective, was awe inspiring. Seeing it made me hopeful that no matter what happens in the world, nature will prevail, and that makes me feel optimistic.

Being able to coax this exquisite bloom out of a hibiscus plant in my back garden a couple of summers ago makes me feel optimistic, because of the possibility that, if I find my green thumb, it might just happen again.

What makes you feel optimistic?

Click on images to view larger versions.
To hear pronunciations of Bealtaine visit Forvo.
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