My great-aunt Margaret

margaret-neary

A great photo of my great-aunt Margaret Neary aged in her early 20’s shortly after her arrival in New York from Tullinaglug in 1905. My grandfather Ned was aged 10 when he waved goodbye at the Sligo homestead to Maggie and his 18 year-old brother Matthew (who traveled with Maggie). He next saw Maggie 30 years later when she visited Tullinaglug in 1935 to show off her youngest child named Eileen [O’Rourke]. Later that year, Ned named his second daughter Eileen – yes, my godmother Auntie Eileen [Jones]. Shortly after 1935, Ned and his growing family left the tiny Sligo cottage and moved to Withnell, Lancashire in England.

At least Ned did meet his siblings Maggie and Matthew. His eldest sister Mary left Tullinaglug for NY before Ned was born – meaning that he never ever saw her! This year, I had the pleasure of showing one of Mary’s American grandsons around the Tullinaglug homestead.

Great Read !! #bookreview

I was always taught that when you start reading a book you have to be captured almost instantly – certainly within the 1st chapter – to know whether it’s worth reading the rest of it …well I was certainly captured with “Where’s Merrill?”

Amazon - Top Ten Thrillers

I can tell you that !!!!

M T Cooper (somewhere in England)

When Latter-Day Irish Saint Johanna went marching on

I am pleased to advise that my complex research into the extraordinary life of Kerrywoman Johanna O’Connor has been acknowledged and enhanced by her Mormon brethren in America. I was asked to research Johanna’s life by her direct descendant Connie from Maryland. Back then, all that was known about Johanna was that she was an Irish widow born over 200 years ago, she once resided in St Louis with three English-born children, and then she disappeared off the family history research radar. It was thought that Johanna had followed the common US immigration route of millions of Irish natives, after a brief spell of sampling life somewhere in England. However, her life story was far from conventional for a former Catholic girl from rural Ireland.

In-depth research was eventually able to establish that Johanna came from County Kerry, and from a particular remote village not even shown on modern-days maps. Johanna spent time in the distant cities of London and Wolverhampton in England, and later re-surfaced in the fledgling far-flung American settlements of Nauvoo and Manti on either side of a spell of residence in St Louis. The common denominator driving Johanna along a highly unusual trail through life was her developing religious beliefs. She was raised as a devout Roman Catholic, converted to Protestantism at marriage, and finally found salvation in the doctrine of pioneering Mormons.When the saints came marching in

You can read more about this amazing lady by clicking on these links:

A Pioneering Irish Mormon and Johanna’s Mormon Ancestry Records

Now, prompted by Connie’s persistent curiosity about her unique Irish ancestor, LDS researchers in both Utah and Nauvoo have dug out every preserved record of Johanna’s existence, resulting in the creation of a detailed biography. This is a fitting honor and tribute to a special lady who will now not be forgotten by her fellow Mormons, her descendants, her researchers and anyone who stumbles across [Saint] Johanna’s tale of survival against the odds.

Johanna’s LDS biography can be viewed by clicking here: LDS bio – O’Connor, Johanna (It’s a large file; allow time for the page to load fully)

Not-so-romantic Ireland of old

In my work as a professional genealogist, overseas clients who are the descendants of Irish immigrants regularly relate to me the passed-down stories of why their ancestors had to leave the beautiful island of Ireland. More often than not, these tales are wildly romanticized having been created by ancestors who lived centuries ago, safe in the knowledge that their claims could not be checked out; well, not in their lifetimes anyway.

I have heard a story about a Kerryman who once lived in a grand castle until he was forced to flee Ireland as part of a honorable settlement between warring clans, thereby bringing peace forever more to his native region. Then there was the Corkonian Catholic who passed every course on offer at Trinity College with flying colours only to find that jealous business-owning Protestant families would not employ his inventive engineering skills, so he had to relocate to America to show off his talents. And I’ve been told many a yarn about numerous brave freedom-fighting Republicans who had to be smuggled out of Ireland with hundreds of British Government spies hot on their heels.

Thorough research can often reveal the truth behind the romance, although many clients prefer to ignore the unearthed evidence and stick to their fantastic family lore. The Kerryman more than likely lived in a pitiful timber shack on a bleak hillside until his heartless British landlord decided that the value of his vast Irish country estates could be increased by ridding them of quarrelsome Irish paupers. Eviction could have been forcefully applied, or at best, “negotiated” by offering the poor Kerryman and his family a handful of tickets for the next available ship sailing out of Queenstown harbour.

The Corkonian was really an uneducated and frustrated young labourer who was not permitted to attend school in rural Ireland purely on the grounds of his religion – but this man flourished as a Civil Engineer in the US when he fell under the tutelage of a kindly American benefactor who had spotted the Irish boy’s potential talents.

The hunted-down Irish freedom-fighter saga seems to have been applied to every Irish immigrant who ever broke the law of the land, centuries ago, and who decided that it was a better option to emigrate than risk serving a long, harsh prison sentence in Ireland. Many laws were unjust way back, but they were laws all the same.

I was reminded of these kinds of contradictory ancestral tales concerning romantic fiction set against bland truisms when I came across an archived newspaper article dating from 1880 which describes my remote genealogical homestead. My American cousins prefer to picture the place in the 19th century with its quaint thatched roof cottages, and the cheerful occupants always singing and dancing to the sound of flutes and fiddles, as healthy children curl up on comfy hay beds in front of a roaring fire in the hearth. The words of The Nation journalist, on the spot in 1880, paints a somewhat different picture … as I always suspected, but could never prove until now.

1880 The Nation (Process-serving in Tullinaglug) #1The reality for the vast majority of rural Irish Catholics over decade upon decade before 1900 was a life lived on the precarious edge of breadline poverty. Poor Irish folk died in their thousands as a result of starvation, even outside of the recognized Famine years. Many, many more suffered with prolonged disease and fever. Most homes would be classed as uninhabitable today, with no sanitation or even running water. The bare-footed Irish paupers of yesteryear often slept next to their livestock for warmth, all housed within a filthy shack called “home.”

My 19th century ancestors drifted down from the barren and windswept Ox Mountains to take leases in the boggy townland of Tullinaglug. To them, it must have seemed like a step up from the very bottom of the social ladder. They survived the Great Famine, only losing the weakest children to hunger and undernourishment, and battled on throughout the following years of nationwide economic depression. Some of the extended family had to up and leave for America; there was not enough space for all to exist on the small farmstead in Tullinaglug. Without knowing it, the US emigrants were to become a Godsend for the survival of their kin back at “home.”

By the winter of 1879, after another year’s crops had failed, the Sligo natives were in the midst of another “mini-famine” which became known as An Gorta Beag in the Irish language. No food meant no income, and the poor tenant farmers could not meet their extortionate rent demands. Rather than provide some economic assistance (or abatement), the landlords of Connacht insisted upon full payment of overdue rent or legally enforced eviction. That was all the thanks my folks got for turning worthless swamp, which scarcely afford footing for snipe into much improved farmland. If it wasn’t for the occasional gift of a few Dollars sent home from American relatives, I am certain that my great-grandparents would have starved to death, and my grandfather Ned (and all who followed) would never see the light of day.

1880 The Nation (Process-serving in Tullinaglug) #2To legally evict tenants who fell behind with rent payments, a landlord (or his representative) had to commence a legally-backed “process” wherein the defaulting tenant was served with a notice setting out the terms in which he or she must pay monies owed, or vacate the ramshackle premises immediately after further default. In Tullinaglug, the landlord Phibbs demanded full payment within days … or else!

And so it was that on 7th January 1880, Mr Phibbs, accompanied by 60 policemen carrying muskets with fixed bayonets, set off from Tubbercurry to “process-serve” in Tullinaglug and Escra (aka Eskragh). There he saw his loyal hard-working tenants half-naked, pale and ill-fed, in the words of the journalistic observer.

Their wretched houses black, damp, and poorly thatched, are fast sinking into the mud.

It is apparent that the people of Tullinaglug were too weak to offer physical resistance 1880 The Nation (Process-serving in Tullinaglug) #3(as attempted by the residents of neighboring Curry parish in the same newspaper Process-serving report of January 1880). The Sligo serfs made a peaceful but noisy protest – yet the more bloodthirsty police constables still could not resist striking out at defenseless, even heavily pregnant, women:

A little girl named Stenson was knocked down senseless, and a poor woman named Mary Walsh, on the eve of her confinement, was stunned by a blow from the butt end of a policeman’s musket, and remained unconscious for some time.

1880 The Nation (Process-serving in Tullinaglug) #4This is all a far cry from the Americanized vision of the twee life of villagers in dear auld Ireland. Now you know why America was seen as a last desperate place of sanctuary. Now I know why my grandfather Ned took my family to a damp but much pleasanter home in England. Four of Ned’s eleven siblings were born before Mr Phibbs insisted on slipping a very threatening court eviction notice under the Neary’s cottage door.

For those that can stomach hearing more about the horrors endured by their Irish ancestors, the full-page report of just a few examples of Process-serving is accessible by clicking on this link: 1880 The Nation (PROCESS-SERVING IN THE WEST)

Another Irish Drowning Tragedy ~ this time inland

On the morning of Thursday, 4th September 1828, twenty people travelling from the village of Annaghdown to Galway city on the rickety old Lough Corrib ferry boat Caisleán Nua were drowned. The boat was overloaded with too many passengers trying to get to Galway Fair, and the additional freight of timber and ten sheep did not help matters. In fact, it was one of the sheep that initiated this sailing disaster.

The Connaught Journal newspaper of September 4 published this harrowing account of events in the evening edition:

An old row-boat in a rotten and leaky condition, started from Annaghdown early in the morning, a distance from Galway up Lough Corrib of about eight miles, having, it is calculated, about 31 persons on board, who were coming to the fair of Galway; the boat and passengers proceeded without obstruction until they arrived opposite Bushy Park within two miles of Galway, when she suddenly went down and all on board perished except about 12 persons who were fortunately rescued from their perilous situation by another boat. Eighteen of the bodies of these unhappy creatures were taken out of the lake in the course of the day and presented a most heart-rending scene, being surrounded by their friends who came to identify them, and by whom they were removed in a boat to Annaghdown.

The boat was in such an unsound state as to render her unfit for the passage. The unfortunate accident happened by a sheep putting its leg through one of the planks, which produced a leak, in order to stop which one of the passengers applied his great coat to the aperture and stamped it with his foot. In doing so he started one of the planks altogether, which caused the boat’s immediate sinking, having been overloaded; ten sheep, a quantity of lumber, and about 31 persons being on board.

Eighteen of the bodies have been found; 12 have escaped, and one is missing. Major Dickson and a party of the 64th Regiment attended and rendered every humane assistance in their power. An inquest was held on the bodies by John Blakeney Esq., Coroner, at which James O’Hara, Esq., M.P., and J. H. Burke, Esq., Mayor, attended, and the jury returned a verdict of “accidental drowning”.

The following are the names of the persons drowned and taken out of the lake: Bridget Farragher, Mary Costello, Judith Ryan, Bridget Hynes, Mary Newell, Winifred Jourdan, Mary Flynn, Bridget Curley, Catherine Mulloy, Mary Carr, Michael Farragher, Michael Cahill, John Cosgrove, John Concannon, Thomas Burke, Patrick Forde, John Forde and Timothy Goaley.

P.S. two more drowned bodies were later discovered these being Thomas Cahill and Mary Ruane, making a total of 20. John Cosgrove, a local man, saved two women, but was also drowned in trying to save a third victim of the tragedy.

Annaghdown Pier memorial

                             Annaghdown Pier memorial

The following poem was composed by the renowned travelling blind Irish poet, Antoine Ó Raifteiri, as a lament to the twenty people drowned at Menlo, Galway, on that fateful day in 1828.

Original Irish version of “Eanach Dhúin” [Annaghdown]:

Má fhaighimse sláinte is fada bheidh trácht

Ar an méid a bádh as Eanach Dhúin.
‘S mo thrua ‘márach gach athair ‘s máthair
Bean is páiste ‘tá á sileadh súl!
A Rí na nGrást a cheap neamh is párthas,
Nar bheag an tábhacht dúinn beirt no triúr,
Ach lá chomh breá leis gan gaoth ná báisteach
Lán a bháid acu scuab ar shiúl.

Nár mhór an t-íonadh ós comhair na ndaoine

Á bhfeicáil sínte ar chúl a gcinn,
Screadadh ‘gus caoineadh a scanródh daoine,
Gruaig á cíoradh ‘s an chreach á roinnt.
Bhí buachaillí óg ann tíocht an fhómhair,
Á síneadh chrochar, is a dtabhairt go cill.
‘S gurb é gléas a bpósta a bhí dá dtoramh
‘S a Rí na Glóire nár mhór an feall.
English language translation:
If my health is spared I’ll be long relating

Of that boat that sailed out of Anach Cuain.
And the keening after of mother and father
And child by the harbour, the mournful croon!
King of Graces, who died to save us,
T’were a small affair but for one or two,
But a boat-load bravely in calm day sailing
Without storm or rain to be swept to doom.

What wild despair was on all the faces

To see them there in the light of day,
In every place there was lamentation,
And tearing of hair as the wreck was shared.
And boys there lying when crops were ripening,
From the strength of life they were borne to clay
In their wedding clothes for their wake they robed them
O King of Glory, man’s hope is in vain.

A nice short story

The sun was shining again in Claddagh, at last. The previous two months had been very dark, almost black on some days, then simply gray and gloomy for long periods afterwards. Jed and Sue are putting the finishing touches to the springtime overhaul of their front garden as Postman Pat’s little green van glides to a halt by the river bridge.

“There’s a lovely smell in my van for a change,” says Pat.

“You had your fortnightly shower then, Pat? Or was it the auld tin bath in front of the turf fire?” quips Jed.

“Nah – it’s coming from the back here. Look Sue. In this parcel with your address on.”

Sue picks up the scent as Pat waves around a bulky padded envelope. “Mmm. Lovely!”

2015 candle“It’s my guess it’s from the States, and I’ll bet you 50 Euros it’s a scented candle from one of Jed’s genealogy groupies,” challenges the old sage, Pat.

“Patrick, you con artist. I can see the Air Mail stickers from here – and they’re not groupies; they are my valued clients. And a special few are now my even more valued friends.” Jed approaches the bridge and gives cheeky Pat a playful slap across the back of the postman’s balding head with one of his gardening gloves. Sue studies the parcel, and declines Pat’s ridiculously tempting offer to make some quick bucks in the roadside guessing game.

“You must think we were born yesterday, you old rogue. Look at this sticker, ‘description of goods – candle’ and it gives off a heavenly smell. Voila! There’ll be no beer money contribution from us today, Mr Postman.”

“Aw shucks, Sue,” says Pat with a wink, getting ready to depart the scene.

Jed and Sue come together and embrace each other, and the parcel. “It’s from Connie!” they both declare out loud in unison.

“…. and Tom, I bet,” mutters the know-all mailman.

“No more bets, please, Pat. Drive on.” Jed and Sue wave Pat away, but he’ll be back for more fun soon.

Irish boy jailed for playing football

I was shocked and puzzled when I made this particular discovery. There does not seem to be any sub-story or political overtones about this grievous offence. It’s as straightforward as the headline. A schoolboy plays football, and is charged with the offence of playing football, and ends up in prison alongside hardened adult criminals.

Here’s the offence as written by the prison clerk upon the poor lad’s admission to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. 1907 playing footballJohn Honer was a 15 year-old lad in November 1907. He was just four feet, five and a half inches tall, and weighed in at a worryingly undernourished 77 lbs. Despite all this, the local constabulary, and the judiciary, and the prison service, thought it right and proper that this tiny schoolboy should be removed from Dublin’s streets to make it a safer place for the law-abiding majority. In court, he was fined one shilling and sixpence when convicted of his misdemeanor. Obviously, the boy was not carrying this amount of cash, so he was thrown into jail sharing cells with drunkards, beggars and fighting men.

Thankfully, the family of young John Honer soon paid for the release of the dangerous footballer. Hopefully, he was not scarred for life by his experiences at the mercy of the custodians of pre-Free Irish State law.

1907 Prison Register (crime of playing football)

                    There’s young footballer John Honer … on the bottom line

You would be forgiven for thinking that this sad event was linked to the British authorities’ ban on the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and their ancient Irish sports. The Brits suspected that GAA sports meetings were also used to rouse anti-British feeling and recruit rebel soldiers – and their suspicions were right, of course. But GAA games were never banned outright, and it was as late as 1916 when a decree from Dublin Castle insisted that permits must be sought for organised competitions. The GAA ignored the order and, in an act of outright defiance, increased the number of official fixtures on the following weekend. An estimated 54,000 GAA members played their beloved games on Gaelic Sunday [August 14] 1918. I hope “big” Johnny Honer was one of them.

 

The Researcher’s Lament

to be sung to the
tune of the Beatles’ song –
Yesterday

Yesterday,
All those backups seemed a waste of pay
Now my database has gone away
Oh I believe in yesterday

Suddenly,
There’s not half the files there used to be
And there’s a deadline
hanging over me
The system crashed so suddenly.
I pushed something wrong
What it was I could not say
Now my data’s gone
and I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay.

Yesterday,
The need for back-ups seemed so far away.
Thought all my data was here to stay,
Now I believe in yesterday.

From Dick Eastman’s Newsletter – you have been warned

More ways to get a copy of Where’s Merrill?

The real-life genealogical thriller “Where’s Merrill?” is now being distributed by the Draft2Digital platform. D2DThis means that e-book readers who prefer to purchase their novels via Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK, Scribd or KOBO are all catered for.

page foundryFurthermore, “Where’s Merrill?” can now be purchased from the growing e-book online retail store that is Page Foundry (aka inktera.com).

 

Where’s Merrill? a genealogical thriller

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kobo2

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Confirmation of a name

If any of your ancestors were raised as Catholics, consider looking for a record of their Confirmation. This holy event is one of the seven sacraments in which Catholics participate as they pass through life. According to Catholic doctrine, in this sacrament participants are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and are strengthened in their Christian life.

Traditionally, these days, Confirmation is the third of the three sacraments of Christian initiation (following Baptism and First Holy Communion) normally undertaken when Catholic children are in their early teens. However, in ancient times and still today in some more obscure parts of the world, a younger Catholic child could be “confirmed” prior to Holy Communion, so long as the baptism ceremony had been completed.

1905 Liber ConfirmatarumFortunately, history dictates that the vast majority of our Irish ancestors were raised as Catholics, so if you have Irish heritage, then extend your vital record search criteria for each Irishman or woman to the following events. A written record of each occasion would have been registered at the time.

  1. Birth / Baptism
  2. Confirmation
  3. Marriage (if applicable)
  4. Death

Recently, I was delighted to find a preserved copy of my Irish grandfather Ned’s Confirmation record held in the custody of his native RC parish church in Tourlestrane, County Sligo. The library in the Parochial House had the usual Baptismal and Marriage Registers but I noticed a smaller section headed Liber Confirmatarum or Confirmation Book. This hand-written register had only been formally kept since the start of the 20th century but this was late enough to include the Confirmation of the 12th and last child of Tom Neary & Kate Stenson born in May 1894. In fact, Ned Neary must have been one of the oldest participants (at age 15) to receive the Bishop’s blessing because the date of the event was May 1909. The poor education of Ned and his parents was displayed by the fact that my grandfather was wrongly registered as a fourteen year-old.

Confirmation records are very interesting because they record the full names (and “reported” ages) of all the ancestral children in a generation who lived into their teens.1909 Confirmation (Edward Joseph Neary) This information may not appear in registered format anywhere else. It is easy to detect siblings where the full names and address of each child’s parents were recorded, as shown here. In some instances, the parental data might enlighten or verify your understanding of a mother’s maiden surname which was not forthcoming from other research sources.

As part of the Confirmation ceremony, each child is awarded a Confirmation forename which must be an established Catholic saint’s name. My grandfather chose a popular one, Joseph, but the record above is the only document I possess which proves that Edward Neary ever had a middle name. So, 120 years after his birth, my granddad can now be officially referred to as Edward Joseph Neary.

Perhaps even more poignant for me was reading the Confirmation record of my granddad’s sister, and the 11th child of Tom & Kate. This was the Neary girl known by the giggle-inducing name of Fanny who no-one could seem to recall. My earlier detective work verified that she was born in April 1892, but she passed away at the age of just 25 in the Sligo Asylum Hospital. Now, at last, funny Fanny had a proper and saintly title. As a young teenager in St Attracta’s RC church, my “lost” great-aunt was blessed with the full name of Fanny Mary Agnes Neary.

I am so glad that she chose a female saint’s name. 100 years ago, the vogue at Confirmation time in Ireland seems to have been that boys picked boys’ names, but girls could choose either gender. The Confirmation Book shows many examples of poor ill-advised teen-aged girls choosing new but odd male middle names such as Aloysius or Stanislaus.

One last research tip, worth remembering. Our Irish ancestors had a strange tendency of adopting their middle names as alternative new first names in adulthood, particularly if they migrated abroad. When searching for those elusive records featuring your forefathers (and mothers!), don’t forget that extra Confirmation Name as you fill in the search data box.

Then again, I can’t imagine that “Stanislaus Brennan, gender: female” will return many search results … unless she became a nun … but that’s another story for another day.

 

Murder in Medieval Kilmactigue

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WThe oldest memorial stone in the graveyards of Kilmactigue parish in south County Sligo commemorates the death of a local resident in the 16th century. The image  on the right obviously portrays the more modern recreation of the inscribed obituary of Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn which can be found at Banada Abbey cemetery. The story behind the premature death of Tadhg (pronounced as Tigue or Ty-g) reveals the perils of being an Irish literary artist in Medieval times. As shown, Tadhg Dall was a renowned Poet and Scholar who was often asked to recite his nationalistic compositions in the courtyards of provincial Irish lords and clan leaders.

Tadhg was descended from a family of respected professional poets from the north of the Connacht region in the west of Ireland. He was given the distinguishing middle name of “Dall” because he was blind, and this is the Irish language word for blind. He made his home in the townland of Coolrecuil in Kilmactigue parish. Tadhg’s brother Maol Muire also rose to prominence as an Archbishop of the Tuam Diocese.

For centuries, the Ó hUiginn family had been aligned to the O’Conor clan of Sligo, their historical patrons, but by the 1500’s, the O’Hara’s had the upper hand in the south of the county, and Kilmactigue became the O’Hara stronghold. It appears that Tadhg Dall’s bravery in speaking out about the injustice meted out by the ruling O’Hara’s to his fellow parishioners, cost him his life.

An inquisition held at Ballymote in 1593 recorded that Tadhg Dall had died at Coolrecuil on the last day of March 1591. Many years later, a special chancery inquisition in 1617 provided further details of the circumstances of Tadhg Dall’s untimely death as he entered middle age. The 1617 inquest notes tell us that members of the Ó hEadhra (O’Hara) sept from Cashel Carragh, Kilmacteige, were detained in 1591 for murdering one Teige Dall O Higgen his wife and childe in the year one thousand five hundred ninetee and one or thereabouts”. Apparently, Tadhg had composed a satirical poem which narrated the actions of six “robbers,” all called O’Hara. The ruling Lord of the Manor was outraged and reacted by ordering that Tadhg Dall’s tongue be cut out. The obedient perpetrators clearly went even further and butchered all the inhabitants of the Ó hUiginn cottage in Coolrecuil.

The ancient poetic works of Tadhg Dall and his forefathers were preserved in early 17th century manuscripts created by banished Irish exiles living on mainland Europe. Fortunately, Tadhg Dall’s bloodline was also preserved because his nine year-old son, Tadhg Óg Ó hÚigínn, was absent from his childhood home when the murderous O’Hara gang spilled blood in medieval Coolrecuil. Tadgh Óg’s grandson, Pól Ó hUiginn also became a scholar and preacher of repute, although he defiantly converted to Protestantism after falling out of favour with his Roman Catholic peers.

In a perverse way, the gruesome events of 31st March 1591 at Coolrecuil have permitted historians to compile the oldest definitive Family Tree of a non-aristocratic resident of Kilmacteigue parish. Here is the upper part of the Ó hÚigínn tree covering the pre-18th century years which rarely feature in typical Irish Ancestry research projects.

1315 Irish FT #1

Do you believe in Fairy Stories?

Bridget Boland & husband Michael Cleary

Bridget and her husband Michael

Bridget Boland was born at Ballyvadlea, between the towns of Drangan and Cloneen in County Tipperary on 19th February 1867. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Patrick Boland and Bridget Keating. She attended Convent School in Drangan and was later apprenticed to a dressmaker. On 6th August 1887, she married a local cooper [barrel-maker] named Michael Cleary, after which she worked successfully as a dressmaker and egg seller. The couple remained childless and Bridget was recognized to be an unusually independent woman for this era in rural Ireland.

After her mother died in 1894, Bridget developed a habit of visiting the so-called fairy forts in the district. Local superstition named such places as haunts of the fey folk. Perhaps Bridget was seeking supernatural help to overcome her infertility.

Bridget became severely ill on 6th March 1895. Her headache, fever, and congestion were diagnosed as bronchitis by the local doctor, but family members thought that her lassitude indicated a clear case of fairy stroke. Michael Cleary, in particular, became convinced that his wife’s spirit had been stolen by the fairies.

As a consequence, for the next nine days, Bridget was forced to endure the rigours of a secret fairy trial. Bridget’s family and neighbors confined her to the house, and then doused her with urine and hens’ dung to keep the evil fairies away. Next, Bridget was force-fed all manner of odious potions and dry herbs. At the peak of the “trial,” Michael scarred his sickly wife with red-hot fire brands in an effort to force the occupying fairy within Bridget to release her good spirits, and enable her to make a recovery. The wicked fairy was not to be overpowered, and retaliated by weakening Bridget even more.

In the predawn hours of March 16th, Bridget was dressed in her best clothes and taken before the hearth where her husband doused her with lamp oil and burned her to death. Bridget’s body was then wrapped in a sheet and buried in a shallow grave in a bog ditch little more than 1000 yards from the Cleary cottage. The body was discovered five days later and a coroner’s inquest was held. Nine of Bridget’s family members were arrested on charges of murder. The subsequent trial became a religious and political showcase in which different parties attempted to quash potential Home Rule for Ireland by denigrating the whole population as superstitious primitives. Prominent Catholic churchmen who attempted to defend the actions of a grief-stricken family were duly rounded on and made a laughing stock as supporters of supernatural nonsense. “What is the difference in believing in God and his angels, as opposed to the Devil and his demonic fairies?” This was the national argument in the Spring of 1895.

1895 photo (Bridget Cleary's grave, Drangan)

Four stones between the cemetery wall and the crucifix indicate Bridget’s final resting place

In the end, Michael Cleary was convicted of manslaughter and served fifteen years of his twenty year sentence at hard labor. Bridget’s elderly father, Patrick Boland, served six months hard labor. Several cousins and an uncle of the deceased also served sentences between three to five years.

Bridget’s body, unclaimed by her incarcerated kin, and untouched by the local RC church reluctant to associate themselves with a scandal so steeped in superstition, was quietly buried one evening by two constables just outside the churchyard wall at the Drangan and Cloneen Parish Church, not far from her mother’s grave within the Holy Cemetery.

Aclare in 936 [to be precise]

Information from 900 years back (written in 1836)

How the name Aclare originated is thus (according to the OS Memoirs of Lance-Corporal Henry Trimble in December 1836) :

In former days there was no bridge at Aclare but a ford with large stepping stones across the river, and when flooded the people had to throw a plank across those stones to get across the opposite side of the river.

In them days there were three brothers of the name of O’Hara. Their place of residence were in three castles, two of which are in this parish and the third in the parish of Achonry, namely Ballyara Castle. The Kilmacteige castles were at Bellaclare and Castle Rock.

The eldest brother was Clare O’Hara who lived in Bellaclare (Belclare) Castle.

2014 Aclare Bridge

The “modern” Aclare Bridge over the River Eignagh

A in Irish is “a ford,” and the Christian name of O’Hara being Clare, A and Clare joined together to make Aclare, being the name and true origin of this market village.

December 1836: OS Memoirs – Parish of Kilmactigue #1

Compiled by Lance-Corporal Henry Trimble

The Anders Family of Carns Townland

“The oldest and first family that became inhabitants in the parish of Kilmacteigue was the name of Anders. There were 7 brothers of them and it appears they were the first that ever employed a horse beast as an assistant in reclaiming a portion of ground. However, in them days people were quite simple. This Anders found it necessary in providing a pair of creels for equipping the horse, and when tackling the horse first they brought the horse inside of their house, and when they fitted the creels each side of the horse they could not conceive how the horse would get out of the door.

donkey creel

Remaining some time in a deep study, they concluded the only method was to throw down the gable of the house. Consequently they done so and permitted the horse and creels to get out. However, they never thought of taking the creels and tackling the horse outside of the house so as to prevent this serious trouble and expense.”

As related by Mr Williams of Carns

[Ornance Survey Memoirs]

1852 Emigration Atlas

I came across this wonderful publication on the Ancestry website. The official title was “Emigration Atlas 1852” by W Hughes Esq, and it was published in London for the benefit of British and Irish citizens who were considering emigrating to the faraway civilized lands of the world as established at that time, over 160 years ago. Many present-day nations were yet to be founded with the geographical boundaries we recognize in the 21st century..

The complete atlas book only stretches to a dozen or so pages, but it contains a veritable mine of emigration info of great value to readers of the day, and of course, readers of today from a historical perspective. It includes detailed maps of Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, the Cape Colony and Fort Natal, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. These were the British emigration hot-spots in the 1850’s. The maps show the primary overland travel routes to far-flung cities and new towns offering employment opportunities. The original maps were printed in color with settlements where British subjects would be made welcome shown in red outlines.

Most interesting of all (for me), the atlas contains write-ups for each destination, giving a concise description of the country, the cost of passage, the journey in miles and time, the types of workers needed at each destination, potential wages to be expected, the local cost of living, and other invaluable particulars for the would-be intrepid voyagers.

1852 emigration guide

The timing of the publication means that the “newly-acquired” US territory of California is given suitable prominence. The atlas text tells us that since the recent discovery of gold deposits in CA “a continual stream of emigration has poured towards it, and continues to do so with increasing strength.” Those wishing to join the Gold Rush are offered three travel routes to get to California from the British Isles, as follows:

  1. By sea to New York and then overland westwards “through a country destitute of roads, and presenting almost insurmountable difficulties to the traveller.” Plucky pioneers were advised that the Trans-American leg alone would take 3 months. Despite the warnings, most of the early Irish settlers in California took Route One; it was the cheapest and the only affordable means of getting to the gold mines.
  2. By sea voyage to the port of Chagres on the Panamanian Isthmus, either directly or via New York Harbor. Then 50 miles overland to the Pacific Coast of Panama, taking 3 whole days! Finally, another 3,500 miles sea voyage northwards to San Francisco – before buying a mule and heading off into them thar hills, possibly to become rich or to never be heard of again.
  3. By a direct sea voyage around Cape Horn, disembarking at San Francisco. This excursion was favored by the wealthier, upper-class passengers. In 1852, it took a mere 5 months to complete the 17,000 miles across several fearsome oceans.

The author, Mr Hughes, does point out that plans are well underway to make Route Two more popular by the construction of a railway and canal across the 50 miles of impenetrable Panama forests and mountains. When the canal is completed, seafaring ships can trim 9,000 miles off the Cape Horn route. Mr Hughes was as optimistic as the 19th Century canal engineers. We now know that it took three attempts and sixty more long years to get the Panama Canal finished. This world-famous waterway celebrated it centenary last month in August 2014.

1852 emigration atlas

The 1852 map of California showing Native Indian territories and Utah which was                                     not admitted to the American Union until 1896

✞ Iggy pops off {RIP} ✞

The passing of a close family member in old age always results in sadness, and then happy reminiscences going all the way back to our childhoods. Old family photos are dusted down and shared, and we suddenly realize how special and unique those snapshots of a bygone era really are.

The peaceful death of my uncle Ignatius on 29th August brought about the same happy and sad memories, plus the rare opening of ancient photo albums. Lifelong bachelor boy Ignatius was fondly known as “Iggy” to family and friends. In the words of one of his own funny catchphrases: “He was a very nice man. A very, very nice man.”

There is only one photo of the complete Neary clan (circa 1950) as a proud family unit. This outstanding image, reproduced below, shows my grandparents, Ned Neary and Ellen Durkin, and all seven of their children – plus the family dog, of course. My father, John Thomas, was the eldest child, and also tragically the first Neary sibling to pass away in 1980. The photo was taken about a dozen years after the Neary family relocated from Tullinaglug in County Sligo, Ireland, to Withnell in Lancashire, NW England.

Ned was a hard-working labourer whose weather-beaten face always made him look much older than he actually was. By 1950, all the Neary children were smartly-dressed. Ned & Ellen did a fine job after escaping the comparative poverty of the west of Ireland in the 1930’s.

Ned Neary & family (2014)

✞✞✞

Paperback Payback

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WWhen “Where’s Merrill?” was published as an e-book, 18 months ago, many of my clients and associates asked if they could purchase a copy of the novel in paperback. At that time I said that the answer was ‘no’ because paper-printing costs were unrealistic. You see – my novel was written for the e-book market. It was written “in color” – a new concept – and there are several (crucial) color photos and diagrams embedded within the story.

BUT – I always wanted to see a paper version (before the movie, of course). So I have formatted a colorful paperback edition, and made it available from an amenable publisher, at a {ahem} rock-bottom price. WELL – at a little over 20 dollars, it’s an expensive book …. but that’s the going rate if you want full colour and glossy, combined.

“Where’s Merrill?” has featured regularly in Amazon’s Top Ten Best-Seller chart in the genealogy category. This is unusual for a novel also listed in the fictional mystery and thriller genres. It’s a cross-over book. Fact-based fiction, I call it.

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 The author will not make a cent from paperback sales. It’s payback time!

Thank-you clients … for sharing your unique and wonderful family histories.

Purchase at Amazon (in paperback)

Jest for Genealogists

I’ve got to admit that when I am commissioned to research the ancestral family members of my clients, I (very, very) occasionally guffaw at the new names discovered – and then wonder how to break the news. I use my own experience as guidance. Regular readers will know that I am still searching for the resting place of my elusive [great-aunt] Fanny. This remark brings titters from my younger nephews and nieces, usually set off by their own children.

For the uninitiated, “fanny” is a funny word on both sides of the Atlantic, today – but it’s a beautiful and historical female forename – and it has no etymological link to front or back bottoms!

So … when I was browsing the US city directories, searching for another elusive Irish immigrant ancestor, round about 1903, I must admit that I spat out my coffee and laughed out loud … briefly. I am a professional, y’know.

And so … whatever happened to William and Leonard? Did their Syracuse saloon bar ever take off? Did they know that most European emigrants were wetting themselves, before having a drink? Was the bar partnership name manufactured as an hilarious publicity stunt?

“D’ya fancy a pint down at the D & K?” Take a look:

1903 Dick & Kuntz saloon

 

 

My unorthodox family gravestone that says it all – but also hides so much more

It took me many years to locate my great-grandmother’s grave. Her maiden name was Kate Stenson, but everyone in Ireland knew her as Kit. She was born in 1852 in Ballincurry, a County Sligo townland located between Tubbercurry and Curry. After marrying my GGF Thomas Neary in 1874, her name became Mrs Catherine Neary. She delivered twelve children, and subsequently became the grandmother of 24 grandchildren, the majority of whom were called NEARY (including my father).

As Kit’s youngest son, my grandfather Ned ended up caring for his widowed mother at the home place in Tullinaglug, up until the late 1930’s. At that point, for financial reasons, Ned elected to relocate his growing family to England – but Kit, in her mid-80’s remained in Ireland. Family lore told that Kit went to live with the only one of her six daughters that got married and lived in the west of Ireland; the others having emigrated to New York and/or died before Kit. For a long while, the identity of this daughter was uncertain … but elderly family members recalled that she lived in the coastal resort of Enniscrone, after her marriage to a man called Mullaney.

Extensive research eventually verified that my great-aunt Bridget Neary had initially emigrated to New York City in the late 1890’s, as did eight of her siblings, but Bridget returned home broken-hearted 10 years later. Apparently, a sister had “stolen” Bridget’s first love interest in NYC, and went on to marry him. Within months of re-settling in County Sligo, Bridget married a carpenter called Patrick Mullaney from Enniscrone. On this basis, my search for Kit Stenson’s grave headed in the Enniscrone direction – in the days before the online indexing of headstones!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WOne summer’s afternoon, a trek around Kilglass cemetery miraculously located Kate Stenson Neary’s grave in a position high on the hill towards the rear of the graveyard, among older more weather-beaten headstones – but more ancestral mysteries were instantly raised. Catherine Neary died in 1944 aged 92, and she was buried in a grave already containing two corpses with names which meant nothing to me, or my family.

Kate Stenson’s grave is marked by the inscription “Grandmother of the Mullany Brothers [of] Enniscrone.” The grand headstone reveals that a male and female both named Fox, and who both died in Jan 1939 aged in their 70’s, are buried in the same plot. I could only guess that this mystery couple had a connection to the equally unfamiliar Mullany Brothers.

On the base of the main headstone, I detected some roughly inscribed words which have been rather unprofessionally added at some later date (after 1944), perhaps without removing the stone to a mason’s yard. These words read as “Erected By Her Son ?? Thomas Neary”. There are two engraved marks before the name Thomas which I cannot make out. My grandfather’s brother Thomas was a US Army career soldier and lifelong bachelor boy.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WAfter a bit more research, and lots of head-scratching, I developed a plausible theory about Neary family events back in 1944. My theory is that Kate Stenson passed away at the grand old age of 92, after being resident in Enniscrone for no more than about the last 8 years of her life. This was a financially depressed era in Ireland, and the World War was still raging around Europe and farther afield. Her daughter, Bridget [Mullany] would have sent letters to my grandfather Ned in England, and other siblings in the Bronx and around NYC, including bachelor Thomas, to inform them that their mother had passed away. The war would certainly have prevented travel from the US for a funeral, and probably also from England. I reckon that the Mullany family could not afford a new burial plot, so they opted to bury Kate in the grave used by some family relatives called Fox. I discovered that the mother of Bridget’s husband, Patrick Mullany, was called Mary Fox, and that Patrick was raised as a child by aunts and uncles named Fox. The extra grave inhabitants were siblings of Patrick’s mother who never married. Initially, this grave would have remained without a significant headstone after the 1939 interments and again immediately after September 1944 when my GGM Catherine was laid to rest..

My guess is that Thomas was still in the US at this time, probably offering his services to the war effort, even if just in a clerical capacity. When the war was over, Thomas most likely officially retired from US Army service, and he would have received a generous pension. I think that he kindly offered to send money to the Mullany family to ensure that his mother had a suitable memorial headstone.

The Mullanys then (sort of) respectfully obliged Thomas’s wishes, and hence we get the gravestone listing the grave’s occupants – with Catherine Neary listed as the primary “resident”. Next, I think that Bridget & the Mullanys would have been surprised when later in the 1940’s, Thomas advised that he intended to return to Sligo to see out his final days as soon as trans-Atlantic passenger travel routes were safely re-established. However, Thomas got the greater shock when he visited the Kilglass cemetery for the first time to pay his respects to his deceased mother. Here he found his mother’s remains lying in a grave alongside two strangers (in Neary family terms). Furthermore, the grave inscription paid homage to the fact that Kate was the grandmother of Bridget’s children; three local brothers who were builders aged in their mere 20’s. No mention of her father Charles Stenson, or Thomas Neary her husband, or Thomas the son who paid for the headstone, or the other ten Neary siblings, or Tullinaglug, Kate’s home for over 60 years.

I believe that Thomas would have been justifiably alarmed by the fact that the Mullany’s had effectively hijacked his mother’s memorable lifetime. Kate gave birth to 12 children. Many had overcome adversity and forged good lives in and around New York. My grandfather Ned had looked after his mother and the family farm for over 20 years as the main bread-winner. The Mullany’s had belatedly got to know Kate very late in her life – why should this family feature in isolation on her tombstone?

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        “Erected by her son ? ? Thomas Neary”

I can imagine Thomas & Bridget exchanging a few heated words about the bizarre headstone inscription. I think this resulted in the amateurish additional words being added at the base of the headstone, as a compromise to an angry or bemused Thomas. I can just picture one of the “jack-of-all-trades” Mullany brothers saying that they would personally inscribe a tribute to Thomas on the foot of the stone – and they made a right old mess of the inscription. The illegible marks before Thomas’s name could even be a spelling error which was crudely obliterated, but remains as a sign of unprofessional stone-masonry forever more.

In my opinion, the whole episode was triggered by Bridget’s rejection as a potential bride-to-be in the 1900’s decade in New York. Two of her sisters married two out of three very eligible Irish sibling bachelors in America. One of these handsome men became a fully qualified and renowned Civil Engineer and lived in the eye-catching big Bronx Reservoir House. Bridget must have felt bitter and jealous of her sisters’ good fortune when she returned to Ireland as an aging spinster. She had to settle for marrying a local small-town building tradesman, six years her junior. By the time her mother Kit Stenson died in 1944, it is likely that Bridget had disowned her successful siblings in New York, apart from Thomas who only emigrated after the Mullany/Neary wedding. Bridget’s bitterness is evident on Kit’s gravestone. The inscription acknowledges the relationship of my great-grandmother to Bridget’s own family, and no-one else …. except for those telling extra words added in amateurish fashion recording that my great-uncle Tom Neary actually funded the selfish memorial.

I might be interpreting the evidence wrongly, and doing my distant Mullany cousins a disservice. As might be expected from this tale, there has been no direct communication between Nearys and Mullanys for almost 50 years. If anyone can shed more light on the burial events of 1944, then please step forward.

Retired US Army soldier Tom died in Ireland in 1954. The whereabouts of his grave, and that of his father Thomas (the husband of Kit Stenson, and my GGF) have yet to be located.

Bobbi King of EOGN reviews “Where’s Merrill?”

 

 

EASTMAN’S ONLINE GENEALOGY NEWSLETTER

It’s relaxing to sit down and read a book just for pleasure’s sake. Set aside the hefty genealogy reference guides and just escape into an easy and comfortable read.

Where’s Merrill would be a good story to slip into. I have it on my e-reader, and it’s an agreeable way to pass the time on a crowded airplane, relax while on vacation, or read just propped up on the living room couch.

Merrill is a fictional genealogical thriller based on factual events and people, but written with artistic license permitting character embellishment and dramatic plot building.

The central character is Merrill Harrison, whose story begins in 1890s-era Kansas. The author narrates two stories back and forth between Merrill and Jed, the researching genealogist of today who is unraveling the background of the Harrisons. But not disconcertingly so, the narrative is clearly-presented and easy to follow.

There are several characters, of which Merrill is the most dissolute. He becomes an embarrassment to his family and the kind of ancestor we don’t want to find in our family trees. Family box charts inserted into the chapters aid in keeping everyone straight, a familiar approach to us all. There are twists and turns to the plot, and interesting research tactics to read about as the professional present-day Jed character goes about methodically stalking the elusive Merrill.

Mr. O’Neary has a quirky way of writing. It’s a little stumbly, and he doesn’t break any new ground in the creative writing genre, but I didn’t find any of that to be a detriment to the read. Mr. O’Neary obviously likes to write, he obviously likes to tell a story, and that’s exactly what he did.

We can enjoy his story, and he should be pleased that he got his story into publication, no mean feat by anyone’s standards.

We’re all happy.

You can purchase Where’s Merrill from Amazon as a Kindle ebook at http://goo.gl/uAOk4U.

Ancestry Research-wise … Ireland regresses from ground-breaker to stone-age in 15 days

Those of you who follow the latest news in genealogy research developments will be well aware that July 3rd 2014 was a momentous day in Ireland. The indices to the Republic’s civil records of births, marriages and deaths up to 2013 were made available to viewers online. It was a marvelous occasion, celebrating over 6 month’s hard work by dedicated civil servants (at great cost to the public purse), rightly trumpeted by government Ministers as a big step forward in promoting Irish ancestry to the vast worldwide diaspora.

ig website

Temporarily? For over a month, and counting?

15 days later the website was closed down … by a [Nanny] State watchdog voicing concerns about data protection. Billy Hawkes, Ireland’s Data Protection Commisioner, declared that a monumental “cock-up” had occurred. It seems that one Irishman was concerned that his DOB and mother’s maiden name were now traceable via the civil birth registers, so the whole website was abandoned overnight. This unprotected public data is available to any Irish resident or visitor to Ireland who cares to venture into one of two General Register Office research rooms.

Our neighbours in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland appear to have no such concerns regarding the publicity of DOB’s or the maiden surnames of citizen’s mothers. All are traceable (for recent decades), if you know how to interrogate British government-funded websites which promote the identification of births, marriages and deaths of loved ones, relatives and ancestors.

Billy Hawkes seems to be overly concerned that some half-wits use their DOB or mother’s maiden name as their sole “password” on unidentified websites of extreme importance to the financial security and privacy of all citizens of the Irish Republic. Really? There are only two High Street banks left in Ireland, after the recent mismanagement of the nation’s economy … by the Government. Neither bank requests DOB’s or maiden names as account passwords – in isolation. Nor does any financial institution to my knowledge. Sensibly, they all have double or triple encrypted password protection for electronic account access, with at least one alphanumerical password randomly selected by the money processor, not the account holder.

Yes, we know that Facebook demands to know its sad users’ birthdays … so that other saddos can send an annual image of a cake or balloon … BUT daft gossip via social media platforms is not of national importance … IMHO … LOL … as they say on FB or similar.

Things are moving on …. yet Billy Hawkes and the Government as a whole remain tight-lipped. Thanks for spending all my income tax on a commendable genealogy research promotion exercise that you cannot agree on. Shame on you all.

Latest announcement by the Department of Heritage, Arts and the Gaeltacht

Personally, I believe that Ireland’s Office for Data Protection is very culpable in this ludicrous affair. Surely, part of its role is to oversee and guide any publicized venture that intends to make more personal data readily available to the masses. This office’s staff were fully aware of the Irish civil BMD database project, yet they stood back and then claimed to be shocked by the end result … which they did not even check out until a third party raised a minor concern. What do these nameless Data Protection officials do all day? Swap jokes on Facebook?

Billy Hawkes and his team could redeem themselves by recommending that the Irish government funds a series of public service announcements aimed at warning the less computer-savvy man in the street not to use a DOB, marriage date or family maiden name (or forename or address or phone number or bank account number, etc) as their deadly secret “password” which gains immediate entry into all sorts of private online accounts and personal files … if the ill-educated man wishes to retain privacy, of course. It’s a free world, and many social media users seem to like to share everything about their humdrum private lives with total strangers (including addresses, DOB’s, marriage anniversaries and full family details c/w excruciating photos). Then again, if such a public service announcement was made, Billy Hawkes would be justifiably accused of scare-mongering because every IT expert would point out that personal electronic banking and payment systems cannot be hacked by simply entering an associated DOB or name.

Archives are closed today

                                        TEMPORARILY

 

South Sligo National Schools – Largan & Kilmactigue outdo Drimina

No sooner had I publicized the fact that a very old photo of the (named) pupils of Drimina National School existed, dating from the 1920’s, and not one, but two, even older photos come to light from the relatively small Kilmacteigue RC Parish in South County Sligo. The photo below features the pupils in attendance at the tiny Largan National School overlooking the beautiful Lough Talt in November 1913. As you will see, a name has been put to each schoolchild. Do you know any of these families? Were they your ancestors?

1913 November 6 - Largan NS

Largan National School – 6th November 1913.

Back Row: Joe Murry, Joe Murry, Tom Cooke, Willie Curley, Joe Deehan, Francis Murry, Martin Deehan, Pat Walsh, Joe Gallagher, Annie Cooke, John Henry Murry, Beezie O’Donnell, Mike Curley, Bridget Mullarkey, Jim O’Connor, Mary Kate Cooke, Mary O’Connor, Mary Walsh, Maggie Henigan, Florrie Henigan, Kate Quinn, Delia Quinn, Mary Jane Goldrick, Mary Kate Deehan, Mary Ellen Mullarkey, Kate Mullarkey.

Front Row: Martin Quinn, Micheal Walsh, Jim Goldrick, John Lang, Jim Quinn, John William Mullarkey, Mike Quinn, Annie Kate Goldrick, Mary Ann Durcan, Kate Curley, Mary Agnes Murry, Emma Goldrick, Mary Frances Murry, Bridget Curley, Annie Theresa Mullarkey, Maggie Lang, Kate Deehan, Mary Walsh, Kate Kildunne, Maggie Deehan.

The next day, the unknown professional photographer set up his tripod at nearby Kilmactigue National School. This excellent photo was the result:

1913 nov 7 - Kilmactigue NS

Become a Reviewer

askdavid

     Hi, I’m David

If you’ve read Where’s Merrill? a genealogical thriller then I would welcome the submission of your considered review at my askDavid author page – just click on the book title link above.

Is it memorable ★★★★★ or forgettable ★ ?

You decide. Thanks.

When maps were maps (before Google Street View)

Regular followers will know that I collect old maps, particularly of Ireland or its provinces. Perhaps, more infuriatingly, I am always trying to get others to admire the beauty of the ancient craft of cartography. It is said that the island of Ireland was mapped more than any other place on the planet up until the early 1900’s. There are historical reasons for this. Some Irish maps were drawn in order to plan invasions, and others were created in order to “sell” vast portions of the countryside to foreign investors.

Check out Trinity College’s admirable Down Survey of Ireland webpage if you want to learn more about the regular mapping of Ireland, and the reasons behind this historical phenomenon.

Ireland may not possess its fair share of preserved vital records or census returns, but it can boast extant copies of maps dating from many decades of the most recent centuries.

Here is an image of one of my favourite vintage maps of Ireland, reproduced for no particular reason other than it deserves to be looked at – like a renowned work of art.

Vintage Ireland mapI wish I could afford the original, or an original antique copy.

You can choose your friends – but not your Ancestors

A recent purchaser of my novel “Where’s Merrill?” posted a mediocre review, and made the following bizarre observation:

“Write about someone more interesting next time”

Considering that this true story is sub-titled a genealogical thriller, and that it is now listed for sale as a genealogy reference book as well as a fictionalized thriller, the reviewer seems to have completely missed the point about Family History research. You cannot choose your ancestors. They are who they were. They are not made-up characters or a figment of a fantasy writer’s creative but far-fetched mind. It took all my willpower to not commit the author’s Cardinal Sin of responding directly to the negative reviewer with my personal feelings about the ridiculousness of their publicized opinion.

When you research your own family history, you might start out with a little knowledge about your ancestors’ backgrounds based upon memory or passed-down tales. However, when a genealogist is commissioned to research the ancestry of a complete stranger, possibly from a different country, then no-one can predict where the trail is going to lead. This is what makes genealogy so interesting, and such fun at times, and occasionally and tragically, so very sad. One thing is certain – you cannot manufacture your findings to be “more interesting” than they are.

It is also difficult to fathom why my dissatisfied reader finds Merrill to be dull. His researched life story was selected from over 3000 genealogy case histories to demonstrate the surprises that can lurk in anyone’s ancestral closet. Outwardly, as a young man, Merrill appeared to live a dream life; a successful businessman with a beautiful wife and two children. Then cracks start to appear. Hints at unsavoury vices, violent outbursts and dramatic lifestyle changes creep into the tale. Why? What caused this man to spiral downwards until he just vanished from the planet? And why would no-one talk about what happened? That is what makes Merrill so very, very interesting. It is not fiction. I have no control over the places Merrill resided in or the people he associated with. More importantly, I cannot change who Merrill was related to in a tangled Family Tree inhabited by some very dark characters.

Merrill had his good points and his bad points – like us all. No-one should be judged purely on their final chapter.

1934 October (Merrill)

The Burning of Tubbercurry

I am always fascinated by the fact that there are still living witnesses in our parish who saw from afar the local town of Tubbercurry ablaze, during a night of infamous terror. This event occurred in October 1920, so our witnesses are aged 100+. There must be something in the South Sligo water because we have more than our fair share of centurions. Obviously, the number of survivors is dwindling yearly – but the tale is etched into the consciousness of all elderly and not so old Tubbercurry natives.

Wolfe Tone Square

               Tubbercurry 100 years ago

Nationalist rebels had been active in South Sligo for 50 years when the Irish War of Independence erupted at the beginning of 1919. Decades of anti-British sentiment saw ordinary Irish men and boys take up arms against their oppressors. Tubbercurry and surrounding districts instantly became a hotbed of secret IRA military offensives. Well-organized small units in each parish soon became masterly at the new art of guerrilla warfare. Constabulary and judicial targets were attacked in surprise overnight raids, and then the IRA soldiers disappeared back to their farms and cottages. The perpetrators were very difficult to distinguish from innocent civilians, thwarting British military leaders who were more used to fighting a visible army.

By 1920, a pattern of IRA ambushes followed by indiscriminate British-backed reprisals had been established, leading to ever-greater atrocities. The British Government sent in WW1-hardened troops to assist the overrun Irish Constabulary. These mercenary war veterans were ill-disciplined and regularly counter-attacked non-military Irish businesses. As a result, the whole of Ireland rose up to ensure that British rule over the island was ended once and for all.

IRB soldiers

            A typical Flying Column unit of IRA soldiers, young and old

Wartime events in our locality reached a terrifying peak on the night of 30th September 1920. An IRA Flying Column unit successfully ambushed a police and military patrol on the outskirts of Tubbercurry. The aim of the mission was to kill, wound or capture a recently-appointed Police Inspector, thereby sending out a loud message of local defiance. After a gun battle, the Police Inspector was fatally wounded, and the IRA retreated without suffering any losses. The British reprisal attack was swift and brutal. A company of “Black and Tans” entered the once-sleepy town of Tubbercurry and proceeded to burn the shops and homes of suspected IRA sympathizers. As the town was composed of adjoining terraced streets, soon the whole town centre was ablaze with women and children in fear of their lives. A small number of town-based IRA Volunteers could not quell the outrageous violence of an out-of-control British Army.

Read local Commander John Brennan’s witness statement to gain a full overview of the nature of the frightening War of Independence in Sligo: 1918 Tubbercurry Volunteers

After 30 months of fighting a losing battle, the British called a Truce and political dialogue about Home Rule provisions commenced. Then a short but tragic Civil War broke out as squabbles about the governance of the new Nation got out of control. Peace eventually prevailed in 1922. Local memories are long – but somehow, former enemies were graciously forgiven and Tubbercurry re-emerged from a charred past as though nothing had ever happened. That’s how it is today, and that is why it’s amazing, considering that living witnesses are still around.

My Brick Wall

In genealogy circles, the common term for a seemingly insurmountable research dead-end is a “brick wall.” Professional genealogists have the experience to know that a classic brick wall cannot be scaled – but if you keep digging, and dig deep enough, you might just be able to squeeze part-way through a hole and take a peek at the other side. And what you see might convince you to give up trying to go through that brick wall; it’s pointless. There was nothing of value on the other side. On the other hand, a glimpse of something bright and shiny might inspire you to reverse back a bit, head off to the side (not losing sight of that wall), nudge forward and eventually come out somewhere on the far side of that brick barrier that was holding you back for so long. Then you can start to try and make sense of things in a strange new place, but you can, eventually – if you stick around.

My personal brick wall (shown below) is a beautiful thing and pointless. Well, if you look closely enough, you will see that there is no pointing. No mortar. There never was. It’s a work of art; ancient Irish art.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310WMy wall is the gable-end of an ancient Irish stone barn. It has withstood all weathers for over 200 years. It is a State-protected structure, and I am the Protector because it sits on my property. I wish that this meant that the State would contribute to the upkeep of the structure, but no! Oh no – as the private Protector, I am expected to privately raise my own funds and get on with the Protecting without a cent of State assistance. Of course, if my beloved wall ever falls down, then I am in big trouble … with the State – who would not hesitate to prosecute me for trying my best, spending a fortune, but ultimately failing, alone, in my lifelong task.

“Where’s Merrill?” in most book shops (not all)

When I advised that my novel Where’s Merrill? is available in most of the popular book outlets in many sales territories, I should have clarified that my Genealogical Thriller is not stocked in this particular shop:

Wong Book Store #1

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

The complete novel

is available at:

© AMAZON or

© LULU or

© SMASHWORDS

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Aclare: back then, and now

Thanks to Gordon Parker, a remarkable snapshot of forgotten life in a village in rural County Sligo has re-surfaced and returned home after over 50 years. Gordon’s family, based in London, recorded the image below in Aclare village way back in August 1961 when touring Ireland on a summer holiday. The rare, high quality colour picture was captured by using the now defunct Kodachrome camera film with the resultant photograph then developed and mounted as a slide, for viewing through a projector. The age of the digital camera has made all that processing a thing of the past … like an ass-cart.

1961 August - Aclare, Sligo

The village is full of asses …. in 1961

The date of Gordon’s photo is significant, i.e. August. The village of Aclare was full of animals and other eccentric characters because the Parkers passed through on the Summer Fair Day. The (sometimes infamous) history of this once well-known and important livestock trading fair has been discussed in previous posts. Refer to Aclare Fair Day and Old Fair Day (Revived).

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

The asses have all gone; never to return