Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wordless Wednesday, almost: 'Gone Fishing...'

Hello Everyone,

On this 'Wordless Wednesday, almost', I hope you are enjoying a lovely summer or winter, depending on your hemisphere. We're taking a little time away to relax and recoup, so until I see you in September (or a little sooner), please enjoy these photos of family members and their friends in a 'by the sea/fishing/boating/holiday' theme from my parents' photographic archive.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sepia Saturday #338: 'How do you think we look in this, love?'

When I saw the inspiration image for today's Sepia Saturday, I was reminded of a street photographer's image taken of my mother, my brother and a friend outside Clery's Department Store on O'Connell Street, Dublin in the summer of 1956. That was the year in which my father, mother and brother emigrated away from Ireland.

During that year my father emigrated first, sailing from Dublin onboard the T.S.S. New York on 10 April 1956, bound for Halifax, and then Montreal, Canada, in order to settle into his new job, and find a home for his little family. My mother and brother followed seven months later, first flying to Liverpool, so they could visit with Mam's brother Patrick, and then embarking from the port of Liverpool onboard the ocean liner Carinthia on 31 October. 

Although I do not have any of the letters my mother and father sent to each other during those seven months they were apart, within their collection of photographs I found that street photographers image, along with additional photographs which my mam sent to my dad during that time. It is lovely to read the message on the back of each one, and have this little window into their lives at a time when I was not yet a part of their family.

The message on the back of the photo reads:

To Michael, All My Love, Mary.
How do you think we look in this, love?
The little girl is Michael's pal.  xx
The message on the back of the photo reads:

Kay and Michael.
To you Daddy with love from Junior xx
Avoca June 24th 1956.
The message on the back of the photo reads:

Kay, her boyfriend Eamonn, Gerry and I, and Junior on Kay's knee
with love
Avoca June 24th 1956
Unfortunately, I do not know the identity of the little girl who was my brother Michael's pal. Since Michael was named after our father, he was sometimes called Junior, thus the salutation 'from Junior'. Kay is Kathleen Ball, one of my mother's sisters, and Gerry is Gerard Ball, one of her brothers.

If you would like to read more about my parents' experience of immigrating to Canada, please visit:
'Toward a brilliant dream': An immigration story and 'A ship of dreams, on a journey toward the future'.

Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to connect with others who have been inspired by today's image.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bloomsday 2016: In celebration of the Dublin of James Joyce

In St. Stephen's Green is a bust honouring Joyce.
The quotation, "Crossing Stephen's, that is, my green", is from Joyce's
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Happy Bloomsday!

Unfortunately, today I am not in my beloved Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday; however, the city centre is no doubt full of Joyce fans, turned out in their best Edwardian togs, primed to revel in all things Joycean on this day.

Bloomsday is the day on which the life of Irish writer James Joyce is celebrated. It is annually observed on 16 June, the date on which the events of his masterwork Ulysses take place. It is said Joyce chose 16 June for the novel because on that day in 1904 he enjoyed his first outing with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would eventually become his wife. (They had two children: Giorgio [b.1905] and Lucia [b.1907], but did not marry until 1931.) On that very first excursion of 16 June, the couple apparently enjoyed a pleasant walk to Ringsend, Dublin.

The name of this day of celebration, coined in 1954, is derived from the surname of the principal figure in the novel, Leopold Bloom. The 'action' of the novel takes place over the course of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

In addition to pub crawls and other gatherings of celebration, one of the principal activities of the day is the tracing of events which are depicted in Joyce's Ulysses. All over Dublin, as well as in other places around the world, groups of people gather together to read aloud from Ulysses, with many dressed in full Edwardian garb, carrying parasols, and delighting in everything Joycean. A little madness is good for the soul, but I wonder what James Joyce would have made of it all.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (1882-1941)
Although Ulysses is a work of fiction, within its pages Joyce makes reference to numerous historical figures, as well as sites from all around Dublin City, and places further afield. Some of these persons and sites are connected to my family members.

When I first began to research my Irish family history, I learned that my family is connected to James Joyce, not by blood mind you, but by friendship. Thomas Michael Kettle, my maternal great-grandfather's first cousin, about whom I have previously written, attended university with James Joyce at the Royal University of Ireland (now called University College Dublin, UCD). Joyce was part of Kettle's group of intimates, which included Kettle's future brother-in-law Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, the writer Padraic Colum, and the poet and memoirist Oliver St. John Gogarty. How I would love to have been a fly on the wall at one of their gatherings.

Joyce is said to have been in love with Mary Sheehy, whom Tom Kettle married in 1909. During their university years Kettle and Joyce were among those visitors most frequently invited to enjoy the 'at home' parties on the 2nd Saturday of every month in the Sheehy home on Belvedere Place in Dublin. The family of Mary Sheehy is mentioned in Ulysses, when Rev. John Conmee greets Mary's mother, Mrs. Sheehy, in the street and asks about Mary's father, M.P. David Sheehy:

"He walked by the treeshade of sunnywinking leaves and towards him came the wife of Mr. David Sheehy M. P.
— Very well, indeed, father. And you father?...
Father Conmee was very glad to see the wife of Mr. David Sheehy M. P. looking so well and he begged to be remembered to Mr. David Sheehy M. P. Yes, he would certainly call. 
— Good afternoon, Mrs Sheehy." (p.180*)

Reverend Father Conmee — a rather unfortunate surname — was a real person. He was the rector of Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school for boys founded in 1814 by the Jesuits, near Clane in County Kildare. As well, Father Conmee was an educator, and was said to have been Joyce's favourite instructor — clearly the case, given that the good reverend is mentioned in Ulysses more than 60 times. Both James Joyce and Tom Kettle were educated at Clongowes prior to attending The Royal University. Tom's brother Laurence Joseph Kettle, called 'Larrie', was also educated at Clongowes.

In addition, on page 241 of the novel, mention is made of Michael Geraghty, Esquire, of 29 Arbour Hill, Stoneybatter. My father, Michael Geraghty, was born in the Arbour Hill area of Stoneybatter, mind you, long after the publication of Ulysses. However, if ever I felt inclined to fudge the numbers, as some do, I could always claim a fictional family connection to a fictional character.

As I mentioned, on the pages of the novel Joyce makes reference to numerous places in and around Dublin City. In celebration of Bloomsday, and James Joyce, here are photographs of a few of my favourites, along with some of the lines in the novel in which these places are mentioned. Click on the images to view larger versions.

One of those 'further afield' places: Clongowes Wood College, near Clane, County Kildare, established 1814.
Pictured here are two of the principal buildings; the one on the left is the very first college building.
"Father Conmee walked through Clongowes fields, his thinsocked ankles tickled by stubble." (p.186)

The National Maternity Hospital, Dublin. It is generally known as Holles Street Hospital.
(see quote below)

The National Library of Ireland.
"... To inaugurate a series of static, semistatic, and peripatetic intellectual dialogues, places the residence of both speakers (if both speakers were resident in the same place)... the National Kibrary of Ireland, 10 Kildare street, the National Maternity Hospital, 29, 30 and 31 Holles street..." (p.571)
Hodges Figgis Bookstore, established 1763.
"What she? The virgin at Hodges Figgis' window on Monday looking in for
one of the alphabet books you were going to write. Keen glance you gave her." (p.40)
Left: Sweny's Chemist; Right: The Hughenot Cemetery.
“Where is this? Ah yes, the last time. Sweny's in Lincoln place. Chemists rarely move.
Their green and gold beaconjars too heavy to stir. Hamilton Long's, founded in the year
of the flood. Huguenot churchyard near there. Visit some day.” (p.68)
Daniel O'Connell: 'The Great Liberator'
“They passed under the hugecloaked Liberator's form.” (p.77)
Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.
"Do they know what they cart out here every day? Must be twenty or thirty funerals
every day. Then Mount Jerome for the protestants. Funerals all over the world
everywhere every minute." (p.83)
"As he set foot on O'Connell bridge a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet.
Brewery barge with export stout." (p.125)
Trinity College.
“Two carfuls of tourists passed slowly, their women sitting fore, gripping the handrests.
Palefaces. Men's arms frankly round their stunted forms. They looked from Trinity to the
blind columned porch of the bank of Ireland where pigeons roocoocooed.” (p.188)
The Bank of Ireland building. (see quote above)
Merchant's Arch.
“They went up the steps and under Merchants' arch.
A dark-backed figure scanned books on the hawker's cart.” (p.192)
“Let me see. Is he buried in saint Michan's?
Or no, there was a midnight burial in Glasnevin.” (p.197)
Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, popularly known as Glasnevin.
(see quotation above)
Finn's Hotel, in which James Joyce's wife Nora Barnacle once worked as a chambermaid.
“Striding past Finn's hotel, Cashel Boyle O'Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell
stared through a fierce eyeglass...” (p.209)

*Note: the pagination made mention of for each of the quotes from the novel is from Ulysses by James Joyce, The Gabler edition, First Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1986. Also, the quotations appear exactly as they do in the text, some with little or no punctuation.

Click on photographs to view larger versions.
Copyright©irisheyesjg2016. All Rights Reserved.
(Parts of this post originally appeared in 2013)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Joy in the miserable Irish Catholic childhood

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
                                                                                                        ― Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes

Magee, Geraghty, Dunne and Maher family members on holiday at Rush.
Standing: left to right: Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, a Magee child, Francis 'Frank' Magee;
Seated: left to right: Anne Maher Magee with two of her children, Mary Dunne Magee, my father's maternal grandmother;
Seated on ground: left to right: Patrick Geraghty, Rita Magee, Michael Geraghty (my father).
Dad's grandfather Patrick Magee took the photograph.

When I recollect the reception Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes received in my family, when we read it shortly after its publication, I recall my father and mother had distinctly different responses to McCourt's memoir. My mother Mary found the story incredibly sad, while my father Michael laughed out loud at times, when he read parts of the memoir to which he could relate. One of my father's sisters hated the book because of the reaction it elicited in her work place. Kathleen had emigrated away from Ireland, settling in the UK, and was working in a prestigious position in the British Home Office in London at the time of the memoir's release. She felt as though she was held up as the archetype of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood, with her colleagues apparently assuming her early life had been exactly like that of the McCourt children. Kathleen recounted with disdain the number of times she was asked if her family had picked up bits of coal in the street.

Frank McCourt characterises the Irish Catholic childhood as a miserable one, the worst kind of childhood, but I would argue there is joy to be found in it. It might be said my father and his siblings endured a 'miserable Irish Catholic childhood', growing up in a home of strife and violence, with an alcoholic father who was possibly mentally ill, and whose working life was less than ideal. Despite the difficulties in their family life, my father found joy. This speaks to the remarkable resilience of children who often find happiness in the most simple pleasures.

My father held precious memories of holiday times beginning in the mid 1930s, when he was about six years of age. Dad and his elder brother Patrick travelled with their maternal grandparents, Patrick and Mary Magee, their aunts and uncles — Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, William 'Willie' Halpin, Anne Maher Magee, Francis 'Frank' Magee — and Magee cousins away from the troubled Geraghty home to holiday at Rush, a lovely sea-side town in Fingal, North County Dublin. At Rush, with his extended family, there were delightful memories created, some to last a lifetime.

There was a lightness to these sojourns. The simplicity of the tin 'cottages', with their single windows and tiny doors was all they needed. The soft talc-like sand pushed a path through the fescue grasses on its way to the sea, and the salt air brushed across them in an embrace. The buoyancy of his Uncle Willie's mood, so different from that of his father John, together with joyous shouts of laughter at being tossed into the ice cold sea, was a hitch knot in memory, never to be loosened. Uncle Frank, poised on the crescent beach, a child balanced on one hip and a cigarette on his lips, knew little what it meant for a small lad to hear praise, or have his hair gently tousled, for skimming flat stones just right across the waves. These vestiges of happiness left an imprint on the mind of a tiny boy who grew up and away from Ireland, but never forgot these times.

This post is dedicated with love to the descendants of those in the photographs, to my Irish, English, Australian and American cousins.


Friday, May 13, 2016

On the 85th anniversary of her birth...

Today, on what would have been her 85th birthday, with love we remember our beautiful mother. The collage I've inserted features some of my favourite photos of my mom as she travelled through life, both in Ireland and on her journeys beyond its shores, images which speak to Jonathan Swift's adage, 'May you live every day of your life'.

Our mother was born in Holles Street Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday the 13th, 1931 — always a lucky day — and passed away in 2012, one day after her 81st birthday. We very much miss her 'joie de vivre', and live our lives out loud in honour of our mamma.

Mamma, Happy Birthday in Heaven! 

Click on collage to view larger version.
©irisheyesjgg 2016.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Letters my mother never wrote to me...

Those of us who no longer have our mothers might sometimes daydream about conversations that can never take place and letters our mothers will never write to us. In the lead up to Mothers' Day I begin to feel jealous of those friends who still have their mothers, who can still talk to them about life, seek advice from them, and engage with them on any subject, even those matters of seemingly little consequence.

Like many others, I wish I had asked my mother more questions about family history, and indeed about her own history. Near the end of her life I did pose questions on topics about which I had not previously asked. The answers came at a time when it seemed as though almost nothing was off limits, but still there was some reticence. I have thought about a number of those answers and fashioned them into these letters my mother never wrote, a journey through some of her family history as my mother knew it.


Dear Jenn,

I'll call you Jenn only because some of your friends do, though I've always favoured Jennifer since it was the name I chose for you. You were always a very inquisitive child, annoying at times, especially over things we'd rather not talk about. My life was so very different from yours and I've often wondered if you understood that fact. 

You know your granny, my mother, died when I was five, but do you know how much I remember about her? I remember the softness of her cheek when she would embrace me in her arms, her gentle gaze, the wiry curl of her hair, the fragrance of her apron after she'd been peeling potatoes, and the laces of her black shoes. I remember the way her fingers would roll through the dough as she was kneading bread. I remember helping her in the days just before she died, petting her hand when she seemed so very tired, and saying 'I'll do that for you Mammy', as I wiped down the table. I remember the mark on her face, the thin purple line bruised with blue and yellow. It was there because her blood was poisoned. 

That mark was still there on Mammy's face when Mrs Doyle and the other ladies of Gordon Street came to our house to wash Mammy and dress her in her white burial clothes. Aunt Alice hung black crepe over every mirror in the house. We weren't allowed to gaze at ourselves in the looking glass because the devil might look back. Mammy was laid on her bed, a set of Alice's rosary beads was knitted around her hands, and we weren't allowed to touch her, but I did. Her skin was still soft but ever so cold and she did not look at me. Daddy was beside himself with grief, heavily sighing and very quiet. 

The curtains on the front window were drawn closed until Mammy was taken from our house. I looked for her later that day, and didn't understand why she was no longer in her bedroom. Instead she was inside a long box the men had carried outside. You know the rest of the story. Bernadette, Kathleen and I were allowed to look out the window when they placed that box inside a beautiful black carriage, what I now know to be a funeral cortège. It had glass windows lined with flowers and was pulled by horses, four I think, but maybe only two, beautiful black horses crowned with plumes of black feathers. There was steam coming from their noses, and their hooves made a thick clicking sound as they struck the cobbled pavement. We stood on tip-toes looking out the window each time the funeral cortege passed our house, as it circled the block once, twice, three times, and then it was gone and we never saw Mammy again.

Mary Fitzpatrick Ball, my maternal grandmother,
she of the soft cheek, the gentle gaze and the wiry curl to her hair.
1894 - 1936.

Dear Jennifer,

You’ve asked me about my grandparents, so I’ll share what I can remember of them, which isn’t much I must admit. My paternal grandparents died long before I was born so I didn’t know them, and my father did not talk about them, except to say that I was given my grandmother Jane Early’s name as my middle name, so I was christened Mary Jane Teresa Ball. The only other thing my father ever told me about Jane was that she was a gentle woman with a shock of long silver hair she always rolled up and wore close to her head. I  used to imagine her unfastening her hair and brushing it out long with a silver boar-bristle brush while seated in front of a dressing table — a fantasy I know, but that’s the way I liked to imagine her.

The only grandparents I knew were my mother’s parents, Thomas and Mary Fitzpatrick. To me they were grandmama and grandpapa, though I don’t recall ever addressing them by name. There are only a couple of things I recollect about interacting with my grandparents. My grandfather did not speak — at least I don’t recall hearing him utter a word — but I do remember he had a lovely welcoming face and a little tiny smile tucked in under his white and grey moustache. Sitting in the front room with us, he would cast his eyes toward the floor and smile that tiny smile. 

In a way I remember my grandmother much better, well not really her, but her boots. Our father told us that we were not to look grandmama in the eyes — she forbade it — so on those occasions when she visited I used to look at her boots, fearing that if I did otherwise I might meet her gaze. Once, I was scolded for looking too long at those boots, but I couldn’t help it. They were marvellous, mid-calf black leather, with hooks and laces like an old fashioned corset. I used to wonder how she managed to fasten them up.

Mary Hynes Fitzpatrick, the woman with the marvellous boots,
whose gaze the children were forbidden to engage.

Dear Jenn,

You have asked me about our famous family members and my recollections of them. To us they were not famous, they were family. We knew of our being descended from the Kettle family, and our connection to grandpapa's first cousin Thomas Michael Kettle. We always thought it was odd, and even a little embarrassing, that we had a relation with a bust on a plinth in St. Stephen’s Green. When we were children we knew Aunt Alice thought of the Kettles as the very successful branch of the family, unlike our family unit, the Ball family. Alice shared this in her own special way by treating our father with contempt and saying, ‘No Ball will ever set the Liffey on fire’. 

We knew Thomas Kettle’s brother Laurence Kettle was a very important man, Chief Electrical Engineer for Dublin City. When we were children we thought the best part of that was when he came to visit us and all the neighbourhood was aflutter over the fancy motor car and the chauffeur who waited on Laurence Kettle as he visited with our grandaunt Alice and our father.

We knew him as ‘Larrie’ Kettle, not Laurence. He was a generous, though somewhat intimidating, man who brought us gifts from his travels to the continent, boxes of Belgian chocolate, marzipan from France and rosary beads from Rome. We knew when he was to visit because Aunt Alice would keep one of us back from school to serve afternoon tea. Sometimes he would ask the child kept home a question or two about school, and then Alice would send that child away so only the adults were in the parlour for tea. 

So too, Alice was very particular about the way we were dressed when Larrie or another Kettle would come to visit. She would spend more than she should to make sure we were well fitted out, saying, 'I'll not have the likes of them see us looking poorly.' I was never certain how Alice felt about her cousin Larrie, but I believe he must have cared for her. In the end he paid for her to be taken into the care of the nuns at Roebuck Castle, and there she remained until her death in 1952.

Left: Alice Fitzpatrick Ward, circa 1945.
Right: Laurence Joseph Kettle, circa 1913.

Dear Jennifer,

In this last letter I will repeat what I said at the outset of the first letter, you and I had very different lives. I was raised to be a wife and a mother, and taught that education was not for girls. It was not until long after you graduated from university, once I had a career of my own, that I came to understand why you had wanted an education and held it in such high regard. 

You used to tell me I had a beautiful singing voice and when I was a young girl I had aspired to be an opera singer, but I knew that was never to be the path for me. Back then such aspirations were set aside in favour of learning to cook, to clean and to sew, to be a homemaker. Once, at school I was given a prize for being the best student at kneading bread. I remember hurrying home to tell Alice. It was one of the only times I can recall when I felt as though I had pleased her.

When I was a child I used to sit at the foot of my father’s work bench when he was carving wood, shaping a cabinet door or box lid. As he worked, the curled shavings from the wood rained down onto me. I would pick them up and pin them into my hair like ringlets, imagining my hair styled for a fancy dress dance with a handsome beau. I imagined marrying a man just like my father, a man who worked hard, as my father did. These were the dreams that filled my childhood, imagining a life to come, following a path which had been strictly laid out for me, a path that lead me to life with your father, and your brother and you. 

Mary Jane Teresa Ball Geraghty,
my mom at the age of 16, 1947.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Travel Thursday: The Sacred Site of Clonmacnoise

On the grounds of Clonmacnoise.
For many of us who search for evidence of ancestors, rarely are we able to cite the location of a found ancestor in a monastic settlement. Nevertheless, depending on where our ancestors settled on the island of Ireland, and how far back in time their homesteads were established, some among us may be able to count an ancestor or two among those interred on the grounds of these sacred sites. Sadly, I cannot count myself among those lucky souls. Still in all, I find early Christian settlements fascinating, and muse that perhaps one day I shall learn of an ancient ancestor or relative interred among the ruins.

Recently I revisited two monastic sites— Monasterboice in County Louth, near Drogheda (founded in the late 5th century by Saint Buithe) and Clonmacnoise in County Offaly on the River Shannon (founded in 544 by St Ciarán Mac a tsar). The sites are approximately 140 kilometres (87 miles) apart via good roads. Thankfully, the rain held off and the drive was uneventful. Today's post features images from my visit to Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is the much larger of the two, and is said to have been more like a small town than a monastic settlement — it is estimated that in the 11th century between 1,500 and 2,000 people lived here. Unlike other monastic settlements, there was a significant lay population living and working here. All of the domestic buildings were constructed of timber, so none remain, but traces of them have been found during archaeological excavation.

There are remarkable similarities between Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice, with respect to not only the structures, but also the High crosses, replete with carved figures said to have been used to illustrate biblical stories and the history of Christ. Such similarities between the sites give you a sense of the efforts made so very long ago to spread Christianity across the untamed wilderness of Ireland.


Perhaps it is its place on the edge of the River Shannon, or the fact that within the grounds of the settlement there are so many markers of lives once lived in this community, but the spirit of this place is palpable.

On his visit to Ireland in 1979 Pope John Paul II made it a point to include Clonmacnoise in his itinerary. Upon his return to Rome he reportedly said, "I will never forget that place ... the ruins of the monastery and churches speak of the life that once pulsated there. Whole generations of Europe owe to them the light of the Gospel. These ruins are still charged with a great mission. They still constitute a challenge."

From the hillside looking toward the River Shannon.
Between the 6th and the 13 centuries, the grounds between the buildings were used for burials.
Temple Connor: Also called the Little Church,
it has been roofed and used by the Church of Ireland since the 18th century.
Temple Finghin with its round tower.
Looking toward the round tower of Temple Finghin from the ruins of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral dates to 909, with the main entryway replaced around the year 1200.
In front of the ruins of the Cathedral, a replica of the Cross of the Scriptures,
placed outside where the original cross once stood
when the original was brought into the museum to protect it.
The original Cross of the Scriptures. The shaft and the ringed head were
crafted from a single piece of sandstone sometime around 900 AD.
It stands 4 meters tall (13 ft). The stories depicted with the carved figures include
The Crucifixion, the Last Judgement and Christ in the Tomb.
As well, there are figures of ecclesiastics and King Flann depicted on the cross.
One out of a large collection of burial slabs which date from the 8th to the 12th century.
These are now inside the onsite museum in order to protect and preserve them.
In English: ‘A prayer for Turcain by whom this cross was made.’
A burial slab. The inscription reads:
in English: 'A prayer for Tuathal the craftsman'.
Clonmacnoise Castle: dating to the 13th century, it was plundered on many occasions,
including one last time in 1552, when English soldiers from an Athlone garrison reduced it to a ruin,
carrying away what they could and destroying the rest.
The 'New' Cemetery beyond the walls of Clonmacnoise.
©irisheyesjgg. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday's Tip: 'Grandpa was in the G.P.O': did he apply for a pension & a medal?

Irish History 1916-1923; Military Pension Records & Medals
One page of a lengthy application
for a dependant's allowance for a
member of my family.
(Information has been redacted)
In Ireland, 2016 has seen the marking of the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. In addition to the commemorations of this landmark rebellion, the government has seen fit to release medals records for those who served in the Rising, (as well as the War of Independence). If you suspect any members of your family were among those in the battalions who played a role in the Rising, then you may want to visit the pension and medals records collections web page of the Bureau of Military History Archives.

When it comes to the history of the 1916 Easter Rising, it sometimes seems as though every Tom, Dick and Harry claims one of their relatives was in the General Post Office (G.P.O) in Dublin during the Rising. However, there were many sites across Dublin, including The Four Courts, North King Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Liberty Hall, Jacob’s Factory and the Royal College of Surgeons, among others, as well as a few sites outside the Capital, including Cork and Mayo, where insurgents set in to battle the British.

All those laying claim to family history in the independence movement, no matter where their relatives fought, may finally have proof of their service, because of the extraordinary collection of military pension files which was first launched online in January of 2014, and the complete medals files which was released online today.

If one of your ancestors or relatives participated in the 1916 Easter Rising and/or the Irish War of Independence, and that individual or his/her dependants applied for a military pension and/or a medal for service, these records may provide you with evidence of his/her participation.

The military pension collection comprises the applications of over 60,000 individuals. Pension records for those only involved in the War of Independence and/or the Civil War are not currently online. However, the first part of the pension application collection, which is concerned with those involved in the 1916 Easter Rising, is available via the fully searchable Military Service Pensions Collection. The medals collection includes the War of Independence.

To mark the official opening of the new Military Archives building at Cathal Brugha base on Tuesday 26 April, the Department of Defence has released the files of 47, 554 applicants for the 1916 Medal and The 1917-1921 Service Medal. In all 66, 174 Medals applications and related files are being released via the Military Archives. You can search for a record of your family member's medal via this page --> Medal Applications Files. This page also gives access to the Organisation and Membership files of the independence movement, including the IRA Membership Series, the IRA Brigade Activity Files, the Cumann na mBan (The Women’s Branch of the Irish Volunteers) Series, The Fianna Éireann Series and the Irish Citizen Army Activities Files. A wealth of information.

A caveat:

If you believe you have a family member or family members who served during the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and/or the Irish Civil War, but they (or their dependents) did not apply for either a medal or a military pension or a widow/dependent pension, then you will not find their name/names in the pension/medals records. The Irish government did not simply award pensions and medals to persons whom they believed had served in these conflicts. Instead, those individuals had to go through a petitioning process, beginning with a lengthy application on which the applicant had to fully outline the particulars of their service covering the period for which they were claiming a pension and/or medal.

The pension application process:

Irish History 1916-1923; Military Pension Records & Medals
One page of a lengthy application
for my grandmother's military service pension.
(Information has been redacted.)
In 1923, the first in a series of legislation was passed by the government of Saorstát Éireann, the Irish Free State, for the founding of a pension system intended to recognise and compensate those who fought for the freedom of Ireland.

Pension applications for service during the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and/or the Irish Civil War were made in the period from 1924 to 1949. These applications were adjudicated by a panel of referees.

The applications were viewed as 'statements of claim’. In effect people could assert whatever they liked with respect to the details of their service. However, the individual applicant had to provide proof of that service and of those claims, so a pension application had to be accompanied by sworn affidavits made by witnesses attesting to the veracity of an individual's assertions. 

Persons deemed acceptable to serve as witnesses included commanding officers, comrades with proof of their own service, as well as other high ranking officials. Also, despite the inclusion of letters of affidavit, a pension applicant was not always given full credit for what he/she was claiming. An individual could claim to have served with the I.R.A. for years but, based on the affidavits of others, as well as the judgment of the referees, he/she may have been denied their pension claim entirely, or had it significantly altered.

Originally, the rules governing the release of the military pension records permitted only next-of-kin access to the pension application form, and letters from the applicant. The release of pension and medals records has not only opened up access to all, but the files which were released include items to which even next-of-kin were not previously given access. These include such documents as letters of affidavit submitted in support of the application, notes produced by those judging the application, and other notes, maps, and/or letters germane to the file.

For those of us who have family members who served, and who were vetted through the application process, access to these previously unreleased materials gives us a more complete picture of what life was like for them during this period.

Do you have a family member or family members 
who served in the Irish independence movement?

See also: Records of the Military Service of Irish Soldiers, Volunteers & Freedom Fighters.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

24 April 1916: The Easter Rising: 'An Irish Republic has been declared': Commemorating 1916

Today, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which began on 24 April 1916,  I would like to share with you a select few of the many images I shot of the variety of ways in which the rebellion has been commemorated. All around Dublin — the principal site of the Rising — there have been parades, receptions, wreath laying ceremonies, artists' installations, and banners across buildings, as the Irish people have sought to honour those who fought for Irish freedom.

On Wednesday 30 March I was honoured to attend a private wreath laying ceremony at Arbour Hill,
the burial site of 14 of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising.
In front of the Joyce Library at UCD hangs this banner bearing the names of all those killed during the Rising.
Even Dublin bus shelters commemorate some of those involved in the Rising, U.C.D.
On South Great St. George's Street, The Mercantile remembers the 7 signatories of the Proclamation.
On South Great St. George's Street, Irish artist Gearoid O’Dea's mural depicting
Countess Markievicz (left), Margaret Pearse (right) and Grace Gifford-Plunkett (bottom)
honours the women who served during the Rising.
The Tapestry of 1916 enwraps the SIPTU building, Eden Quay, honouring James Connolly
and all those who fought for Irish freedom.
On Holy Saturday, 26 March, there was a parade from the SIPTU building in which participants marched in costume to
remember those who fought in the Rising as part of the Irish Citizen Army.
On a banner in Lusk, North County Dublin, Thomas Ashe is quoted and remembered as part of the Fingal Brigade. 
Throughout the area delineating the reserved section for the Easter parade were banners such as this one.
On  Dawson Street, a banner featuring some of the persons
portrayed in the e-book '1916 Portraits and Lives' (go to to
download your free copy.) 
On Dame Street a banner featuring Dr. Kathleen Lynn,
Chief medical officer for the Irish Citizen Army during the Rising
(and incidentally a gun runner in the weeks leading up to the Rising).
A banner on Dame Street featuring a photograph of some of the 77 women who served during the Rising.
The original flag of the Irish Republic which was raised over the General Post Office on the morning of 24 April 1916.
On O'Connell Street, the office of Dublin Bus bears an image of the GPO prior to the Rising.
On Benburb Street, this photographic installation created by photographer Steve McCullagh
features 19 out of the 150 Volunteers who served in the Four Courts Battalion (my granduncle Michael Magee's battalion),
pictured together with a living relative or relatives.
In each pairing the past and the present are joined together with a quotation drawn from
the individual Volunteer's respective Bureau of Military History Archives Witness statement.
Seán Heuston, commander at the Mendicity Institution, Usher's Island.
The banner covering the building depicts it as it looked in 1916.
Inside the courtyard of The Four Courts, on Monday 28 March, I joined other members of 1916 Four Courts Battalion families in remembering the service of our respective family members who served with the Four Courts Battalion.
On Parliament Street (at Cork Hill) windows filled with important figures from the Independence movement.
All around Dublin lamp posts bear similar flags marking the centenary.
On Harcourt Street (at St. Stephen's Green) a banner honouring the service of Countess Constance Markievicz.
At Eden Quay the tri-colour flies next to the SIPTU tapestry.
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