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)

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

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.

The Fair Day in Aclare


(Recounted by John Sheerin, 25th February 2001)
 

“On the fair day each townland had its own area where they kept the cattle.  The people from Gurterslin and Drumartin areas always parked near the entrance of the village on the low road. The people from Tourlestrane, Carrane, Tubberoddy and Coolreagh parked from the barracks up the high road.  Carrowloban, Kincullew and that area parked down the main street. The Killassers parked on the bridge.  Each townland had their own place to park.  When the cattle were sold they were put into Leheny’s yard. Then they were loaded on to lorries up the road.  Before my time, the pigs were taken to Sligo. The farmer of that time would bring the pigs by horse and cart to Sligo. They would bring loads of meal and flour back on the return journey. 

There were a lot of pubs in Aclare in those days. Some shops had both groceries and hardware on sale. There was Kathleen Feehely, Loftus’s, Higgins’, Ellen Haran’s (which became Mayes), Bradleys, Flatleys and Quinns. We had the fair winter and summer.  Each farmer herded his animals in a cluster. The villagers from each townland would hold their animals together up against a wall or steer them around the street. Everyone watched their own cattle. 

The sheep were on the backway. They were held with the dogs. They stayed together. When they had walked ten miles they were damn glad to stand for a while. When they were bought they were taken home on carts. 

Aclare market, Co. Sligo

                                     1961 Aclare Fair Day

The country people brought the banabhs in on carts.  They’d sell them in front of Gallaghers. Touhy’s from Ballaghaderreen came with lorries for banabhs, which they kept in crates. 

On the fair day the village was hard to pass through. It was noisy with voices bargaining, donkeys braying, the mooing of cows and baaing of sheep. The smells were strong. The place used to be in an awful mess when the day was over and the animals were taken home. The next day the County Council would come and sweep the streets. There was no water or electricity that time. We didn’t get the electricity until the 50’s. In the late 50’s we got the water on tap. 

Of course there was many a row on a fair day. When the tinkers were around we often had fights with them. Mind you, not on fair days. One day there were only two guards in the barracks and a row got up. The guards came looking for help to put the troublemakers out of the village. Four or five of us tackled them with the guards. We put them out over the bridge and gave them a good hoisting. Nobody got injured and there were no bad feelings. The fair days were great.  I miss them.  They ended sometime in the 60’s.  Then the mart was started in Aclare by Kennedys.  That continued for about ten years. 

The village had a shoe maker called Dinny Walsh. Kate Fahy was another shopowner. She sold sweets. Other owners were Bretts, Sheerins, McAllisters and Evans. Each shop had a hardware section. Charlie Brett was the blacksmith. Years before I remember there were three bakeries in Aclare; Loftus’, Higgins’ and Lundys. There was also a cooper who lived down at the edge of the river where the car park is now. I don’t remember him but he was in it. There was also a butter house down along the river.  

But getting back to the fair day. It was one of the best fairs in Ireland. The jobbers used to come from Sligo, Ballina, Northern Ireland and Roscommon. The fair was held on the last Wednesday of the month. We stayed in the shops and protected the outside by putting barrels and bars on the streets. These stopped the cattle coming up on the footpath and breaking the windows. 

The jobber would come along and ask the farmer the price of the animal. They made the bargain and finished the thing with a slap of the hand. The deal was made. After that they’d go into the pub and have a drink.”

All-Ireland Inquest

Dear Danny,

Went to the Roaring Cock yesterday lunchtime for a pint and the post-All-Ireland inquest discussions. I overheard this bar-room conversation between two locals:
“What time did you leave on Sunday?”
“I dunno. I woke up in Charlestown, early hours Monday. Why – what time did you leave?”
“I dunno.”
“So – did I see you on Sunday?”
“I think so.”
The Irish really know how to celebrate big sporting events.

Gearoid, Ha ha, brilliant ! I was really sad to hear The Green and Red had been beaten again; I thought they might have done it this time around. I’m sure mighty craic was had whatever. Did you watch it in the Cock ? I was wondering if the Killybacside gang were for Mayo or Donegal.

Danny, as you should know – Mayo & Sligo are in the Connacht province, and even though Mayo “bet” Sligo in the Connacht final, healthy local tradition says that you support your neighbours – even after defeat. I know it’s the opposite in Lancashire. Could you ever support Burnley in the FA Cup Final if they beat Blackburn Rovers in the semi!! Then again, this FA cup final could only ever be played on Fantasy Island.

Donegal play in the Ulster Championship. They are close neighbours but they’re separated by a small strip of Leitrim. We were glad that the GAA final involved two teams from the West for a change, but the Green & Red flags were flying in our parish on Sunday. My great-grandmother was a Mayo lady, so I cheered them on too. I was first in the Roaring Cock on Sunday morning (before the bar officially opened), escaping early from yet another midday funeral mass. I even beat old Hughie O’Gara to the bar, and he is a permanent fixture on the bar stool by the turf fire. I took my car home when I was only 1 or 2 jars over the limit, and vowed to return if Mayo got off to a good start. They didn’t. Two goals down in no time. Game over – barring a miracle. So I got sozzled at home, channel-hopping between Premier League soccer, GAA & Formula One.

I think Mayo’s failure just contributed to excess partying in the Cock for no good reason at all. Many say they cannot remember the second half – or the next few hours – or the closed door session after midnight, etc. Where do they get the stamina? Years of practice, I suppose.

Gearoid, I am so happy. I slept ! I went out for dinner with the Dublin/Nottingham girls and had a few beers before I leave Pamplona; I put the earplugs in to drown out the phantom snorer and was dead to the world. Today’s another day. I woke at 6.00am today pleasantly surprised to have slept so well. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that ”Foghorn Leghorn” had kept half the dorm awake again. In the spirit of the Camino, I gave a spare pair of earplugs to an Australian pilgrim who looked like she was more in need than I was.

Early start for me too, today, Danny. Got to research some Dubliners called Costello, a typically Irish surname – but they turn out to have been the Costa family originally from Lucca in Tuscany 200 years ago, and then they started to appreciate their Italian heritage in the 20th century and they start calling themselves Castello after further emigration around the world. Irish genealogy is never straightforward, especially as many Irish folk “adopt” forenames in adulthood which were never mentioned on their baptism records. I have Irish three aunts; my dad’s sisters. They were always known to me in Lancashire as Maureen, Eileen & Doreen. It turns out that they were born as Mary, Attracta & Joan ….. and even Hughie O’Gara (Cock fixture & fitting) was never christened as Hugh or anything like!

Danny, as you’ll appreciate, drink-driving around our parish involves keeping your vehicle in the two well-worn ruts in the single track lanes separated by the green strip of overgrown grass which has sprung up from the ancient tarmac last laid decades ago. It is impossible to leave the road, but meeting a fellow drink-driver coming the other way is a difficult challenge. And if the approaching fellow traveler is perched upon a rusty old red (unlicensed) tractor, then take evasive action. My shiny new motor now has the scars of one of these encounters.

But a bump or two on the family car is like a badge of honour around here – as is the 12 months driving ban for those heroes daft enough to venture into town after a few pints in the village “shops”. Liver complaints are unheard of – but bowel cancer seems to be the price you pay in old age for a lifetime of living off nothing more than Guinness soup. The recommended local medicine for bowel cancer is more Guinness, so that’s alright then.

By the way – Happy Arthur’s Day! Will you find a pint of the black stuff beyond Pamplona – if you dare venture off today.

Arthur’s Day is a great Irish invention which now ensures that the 12 month wait for Paddy’s Day is halved. It’s always better to have a reason to get totally “locked” as the Dubs say. But with Arthur’s Day falling midway between the GAA Football Final and the All-Ireland Hurling replay this year, there won’t be much turf cut this week ……

Which reminds me – a great headline in the Western People this week, as follows:No sun, no silage, no turf, no Sam – a Bad Year for Mayo.

Up Galway, in the replayed hurling final. Might venture out for a drink.

Gearoid , that cracked me up. You should write a book. Oh I forgot , you already have! Did you see the news? Rioting in Pamplona by Spanish austerity protesters.

The Spanish are mid-table rioters as far as I can see on the TV news. Be thankful you’re not passing through Athens. The Greeks really know how to trash the place.

Meanwhile, in parallel to your long trek, the 9-Day West of Ireland Drinking Olympics reached midway on Arthur’s Day. I gave up work early and ventured into the main stadium (aka The Roaring Cock) at about 4pm to check on progress. After patiently waiting for landlord Con’s middle daughter, Mae O (from Sligo), to set me up the perfect pint of Guinness, I jokingly asked whether I was too early for the Happy Hour free black stuff which I knew officially commenced at precisely 17:59. Hughie O’Gara in his familiar corner piped up that in Charlestown they had free drinks for two hours. Now Hughie has an odd Sligo accent which combined with the effects of a mild stroke makes him speak in a strange Dalek-like tongue. To me, it sounded like Hughie said that our Mayo neighbours were offering “free drinks for chihuahuas” – so as my pint settled right on cue, I was able to raise my glass to the regulars and exclaim (as per the Guinness TV ad) –
Chihuahuas!
Hughie didn’t get it. He just said, “I’m not kidding ye. Two hours.”
The session had been re-invigorated. Mae O gave everyone a free pint ahead of time as we giggled like kids and saluted our hero – “TWARTA!”

Next up, Matt The Truth explained that a new word had been invented locally. He told us that the definition of the word is – “to fall into a drunken stupor whilst watching your sporting heroes not unexpectedly let you down yet again in the biggest match of the season.” He advised that this word is DEJAVOODOO.

And then we saw the story in the Irish Independent newspaper on the bar top, wherein a Hong Kong business tycoon is offering $50 million to any man who will “woo his lesbian daughter”. This headline gave ample scope for a prolonged debate about different folk’s interpretation of the art of wooing, especially if the lady prefers to bat for the other side. As you might expect, the conversation degenerated and made young Mae O blush, and cannot be repeated here. Pious Peter was cringing, and said with his lisp, “Now, that’s what I call wooed [rude]” – so I retorted with “as the Chinese millionaire said to his spread-eagled dyke of a daughter.”

My drinking companion, innocent 89 year-old bachelor ‘uncle’ John asked his usual question when female homosexuality is raised. “What do lesbians actually do?” he enquired. Matt The Truth gave him a subtle clue when he said that there’s two lesbians who live on his lane, and they grow a lot of courgettes. John was baffled and advised us that he prefers cabbage.

Sore knees are nothing. My guts are starting to ache this week. Is it the porter, the side-splitting craic, or both?

Keep going Dan. You’ve progressed about 1.5 inches along the Camino map on my 12″ screen.

camino de santiago

Where’s he heading?