This week we had both local and European elections in Ireland. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour (the traditional parties) held their own. Sinn Fein did badly and the Green Party did exceptionally well.
So who are these parties, with their strange names? Irish parties defy the traditional stereotyping of “right”, “left”, “liberal”, “Catholic”, etc. Here is a very short and high level overview.
The oldest party in Ireland is the Labour Party. It is a social-democratic political party. (Communism never really caught on in Ireland). Founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Larkin, James Connolly, and William X. O’Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trades Union Congress. In those days – and ever after – it was overshadowed by the national parties, which strived for political autonomy or independence. Labour has been traditionally the third largest party in Ireland, although this position has been challenged in the last years.
Sinn Fein is not a party – it is multiple parties! The orginal Sinn Fein was founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith. It was subsequently heavily infiltrated by the Irish Republic Brotherhood and became a vehicle for its struggle for independence. In the 1918 election (then still part of the UK general election) it caused a major upset by beating the up to then dominating Irish Parliamentary Party led by John Dillon. The latter had supported the UK World War I effort by calling for Irish men to volunteer for service. The results were devastating as the picture shows:
After the War of Independence Sinn Fein broke in two: the followers of Eamon de Valera, who had opposed the Treaty with the UK, eventually formed Fianna Fail. After a short period in opposition, it won the election after the 1929 financial crash. Although it did spend some short periods in opposition, the party would be the party of government until 2011. In that year, another financial crash ended this period of dominance and it is now neck and neck with Fine Gael.
This party was also an offshoot of Sinn Fein. Its main component, Cumann na nGaedheal, was formed after the Civil War by the followers of Michael Collins, representing the pro-Treaty side. After its defeat in 1932 it merged with two other parties, to better compete with the Fianna Fail juggernaut. These parties were the National Centre Party (representing mostly farmers) and the National Guard (popularly known as the “Blueshirts”, whose leader turned out to be a fascist and was therefore quickly deposed).
The party currently known as Sinn Fein has its roots in Northern Ireland. Here, discrimination against Catholics boiled over from the 1960’s, leading to a bloody war of terror. This was not ended until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. This Sinn Fein has always had a presence in the Republic of Ireland as well, but it was only after it forsook violence, it became a large force in politics. Despite its heavy losses in this election, it is still the third most popular party in Ireland.
About a month ago we attended a workshop at a conference about politics in Ireland one hundred years ago. We believe some of the notes we took are worth sharing.
Before doing that, we want to set some context: one hundred years ago, in 1919, the War of Independence started in Ireland. This was in effect a guerrilla war fought in Ireland from 1919 to 1921 between the Irish Republican Army (IRA, the army of the Irish Republic) and British forces: the British Army, along with the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC, the police force) and its paramilitary forces the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans. Michael Collins is often depicted as the leader on the Irish side, but he did not start out as such and technically never was.
The War of Independence was a culmination of what had started in Easter 1916. Then the Irish Brotherhood via the Irish Volunteers (or at least part of that organisation) and the Irish Citizen Army launched a rising against British rule. Michael Collins did take part in the rising but only in a minor role. The rising was defeated a week later but the harsh British response led to great popular support for the Irish republicans.
As a result, in the December 1918 election, the republican party Sinn Féin won a landslide victory in Ireland and formed on 21st January 1919 a break away parliament (Dáil Éireann) and government and declared Irish independence. Eamon de Valera was its leader.
And now for some of the notes we took.
The parliament was quite different from what we expect from a legislative house. To ensure that not all TD’s (Teachta Dála, or members of parliament) would not be arrested at the same time, when a sitting was called, some got a letter stating “You are invited not to attend”! It only met 21 times in two-and-a-half years, with two gaps of 4 and 8 months respectively. In its entirety its minutes only amounted to 300 pages.
It was however successful in setting up ministerial departments. Arguably the best run of these were the Department of Finance, led by Collins, and that of Local Government which had Cosgrave at its head. The latter department was based in Wicklow Street, in an office masquerading as an Insurance company. Before leaving, Cosgrave would put on a disguise, as he was a wanted man. This did not fool everyone however, and one day, leaving his office, he was greeted by a beggar with the words “Please spare me a copper, Mr. Cosgrave.”
Not all were able to evade the British forces. By accident De Valera, the leader of the Irish government, was picked up in Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin. The local police must have been disgusted to get an order from British Prime Minster Lloyd George to release their catch! This was because at that stage, Lloyd George had realised he could not win the war and he needed someone to negotiate with.
The War of Independence was fought by the Irish Army. However, it always adhered to the civilian government, as least in theory. The negotiations also took place between the civilian governments of the United Kingdom and that of what would later become the Republic or Ireland. The veneer was kept intact that a civilian democratic government was in charge. This was important for Ireland’s future development. The country easily could have gone autocratic a number of times in its history. Thankfully the seeds of democracy were sown and Ireland has always been a democracy.
Back to the negotiations however: De Valera was still the leader of the government. Rather than leading the delegation himself however, he requested Collins to lead the negotiations.
Collins had become notorious. The British press had created an image of Collins as a most dangerous man, responsible for most violence in country. Collins was a mystery for a lot of papers. Once a paper even thought he did not exist. Others described him as the most wanted person in world, thought he had dozens of doubles and was even called the Moriarty of the IRB. A US reporter wrote he did not find a man, but a god. There were stories of Collins dressed as a monk or woman, some even saying Collins kept trinkets of his murders. He was called a bloodthirsty chief, mysterious Mike.
When negotiations started officials on the British side were disappointed. Descriptions from them at the time said he had the demeanor of a civil servant, that he was uneducated, stupid, ordinary. Although all agreed he was a good military leader.
In fact it is not even certain Collins ever killed anyone, or even fired a gun. He was a manager, an organiser. One of his biggest accomplishments was the ensure money would come in and was managed properly. He did create his murder squad (called Collins squad, or the 12 apostles), but was not in control of most of the violence in the country. He was however very accomplished in PR – using outrages about the violence committed by the British forces to his advantage, and he is thought to have stopped a plan to kill the British government because it might lead to adverse opinion. And he probably fanned the imagination of the British papers, leading to the above descriptions. However, violence was for Collins functional and not an aim. Despite photos of Collins in an army uniform are the best known, he only wore one in the last 6 weeks of his life. And again the reason was more political than military: he was trying to convince the army to support the treaty he had negotiated with the British. The treaty that would lead to Irish autonomy and as Collins predicted, would form a stepping stone to Irish independence. Unfortunately he had to fight a Civil War first against the opponents of the treaty, which would lead to his killing in 1922.
Although there are undoubtedly more symbols of Ireland, we will tell you a little more about three of them. The official one is the harp. The shamrock is probably the most used. And we chose St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint.
Ireland has the distinction of being the only nation to have a musical instrument as a national emblem. The Harp is exclusively an emblem of the State, both at home and abroad. It is used by Government Departments and Offices, as in the example below taken from gov.ie
The Harp was first recorded as the arms of Ireland in medieval times. It is depicted as such alongside the coats of arms of a dozen or more medieval European kingdoms on a single folio of the Wijnbergen roll of arms (a Flemish roll of arms) compiled about 1270. The model for the current standard representation of the heraldic Harp is the 14th century harp now preserved in the Museum of Trinity College Dublin, popularly known as the Brian Boru or Brian Borumha Harp.
The State coat of arms is a gold Harp with silver strings on an azure field. This is adapted in flag form as the Presidential Standard, which is flown at the President’s residence, Áras an Uachtaráin. The Government, its agencies and its representatives at home and abroad, also use the Harp as the ordinary emblem of the State. It is the principal element of the seals of the office of President and all Government Ministers. The Harp is also found on the obverse of Euro coins minted in Ireland.
St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint. He lived from ca. 385 to ca. 465 AD. He was born in Roman Britain, apparently in a well-to-do family. This did not protect him from being kidnapped by Irish marauders who sold him into slavery in Ireland. He managed to escape and return to his homeland, where he became a priest. It was in this role he returned to Ireland, this time to convert the then still pagan Irish to Christianity.
Nowadays, his day – 17 March – is a huge celebration across the world.
Every year our “an taoiseach” (Irish Prime Minister) gets to visit the White House in Washington to offer the sitting President of the USA a bowl of shamrock.
The parade in New York City is one of the biggest parades on New York’s calendar. It has been going since 1762 (although initially it was a gathering and not a parade).
And of course people drink and eat green food, fountains spout green water and landmarks “go green”. In 2017 a record 278 iconic landmarks and sites in 44 countries were turning green for St Patrick’s Day.
In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day has been turned into a 5-day festival and it is an excellent excuse to visit the beautiful country of your forebears.
Tradition holds that St Patrick used the shamrock, a green trefoil, when preaching the Christian gospel in Ireland to explain the concept of the Trinity. The first records of it being used as a badge on St Patrick’s Day date from the 17th Century. Today the shamrock is also used extensively as a badge by Irish sports teams and, to a lesser extent as a component of the logos of some Irish State organisations and companies, both semi-State and private. It is also displayed on the uniforms of Irish troops serving abroad.
We in Ireland are looking forward to next weekend, when we celebrate St. Patrick. Patrick is Ireland’s most famous saint. He lived from ca. 385 to ca. 465 AD. He was born in Roman Britain, apparently in a well-to-do family. This did not protect him from being kidnapped by Irish marauders who sold him into slavery in Ireland. He managed to escape and return to his homeland, where he became a priest. It was in this role he returned to Ireland, this time to convert the then still pagan Irish to Christianity.
Nowadays, his day – 17 March – is a huge celebration across the world.
Every year our “an taoiseach” (Irish Prime Minister) gets to visit the White House in Washington to offer the sitting President of the USA a bowl of shamrock.
The parade in New York City, this year under Grand Marshal Loretta Brennan Glucksman,is one of the biggest parades on New York’s calendar. It has been going since 1762 (although initially it was a gathering and not a parade).
And of course people drink and eat green food, fountains spout green water and landmarks “go green”. Last year a record 278 iconic landmarks and sites in 44 countries were turning green for St Patrick’s Day – the biggest number to date.
In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day has been turned into a 5-day festival. This year it takes place from 15-19 March. You can read all about it here: St. Patrick’s Festival Dublin 2018
It is also a busy time for genealogists, as many Americans, Canadian, Australians, etc. want to learn more about their Irish roots. If you have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is interested in his or her Irish ancestry, can you imagine how happy they would be to get professional help?
Here at Genealogy.ie we sell vouchers in USD, EUR and GBP and in various amounts. You can order them by clicking on the picture below.
Yesterday, we had a lovely visit to June Blake’s Garden in Blessington, Co. Wicklow. Even on a autumn’s day it was a sea of colour and life. Huge thanks to June and her son Dara for the very informative tour. You can find out more about June’s garden and the holiday rooms she has available to rent here: June Blake’s Garden.
Below you can enjoy our short video of our visit.
Blackrock is nowadays a suburb of Dublin, but it once was a Town of its own. Up to about 1700, the area where it is located was just an empty bit of coastline, south of Dublin. Strangely, as it was then quite a distance away, it did belong to the City of Dublin. We know this because the Mayor of Dublin, together with his sheriffs, would every three years take a tour of the boundaries of the city. They would end up in modern Blackrock, where the Mayor would ride on his horse into the sea and throw a spear as far as he could: they would claim even the sea, up to where the spear would land. The oldest artifact found in Blackrock is this cross, estimated to be from the 12th Century. Although by no means certain, one theory is that it was a boundary marker.
Just south of Blackrock used to be a castle, which was owned by the Byrne family. No trace of it remains, and even its exact location is uncertain. Around this castle, a little village sprung up. This village was originally called Newtown. The problem with this name was that there were many places in Ireland with this name. To distinguish it, it was therefore also called “Newtown Castle Byrne” or “Newtown at the Black Rock.”. It is the latter name in abbreviated form that survived.
The Black Rock in question was a large limestone. Blackrock is at a geological border. North of it, towards Dublin, the ground is made up of gravel on top of limestone. South of it, it is mostly granite. The limestone, over thousands of years, has eroded away and created the plains on which the City of Dublin sits. The granite is much harder, and has eroded much less. This is why we have the mountains of Wicklow and the beautiful cliffs at Killiney. Blackrock is also mostly on granite, and would therefore be higher above sea level than Dublin. But as it was at the spot where the limestone and granite met, a large piece of limestone sat in between the granite. This limestone, when wet, would be black and would be clearly visible against the light grey and brown of granite and thus form a natural marker. Hence the name. You can see the difference in the picture below (ignore the brick, they are from a later repair of this old wall).
Dark Grey Limestone, Light Grey and Brown Granite
From about 1700, bathing in the sea became popular as a leisure activity. As the Liffey and Dublin Bay nearer to the City of Dublin were heavily polluted (sewerage treatment plants did not exist yet), people traveled a bit further away. Blackrock, with its cleaner water and attractive views from its elevated position fitted the bill. It became one of the first seaside resorts.
At first it would mainly attract day trippers. Then, some entrepreneurial people built houses and started renting them out to holiday makers. The very rich would built their own homes. These were often very grand affairs. The grandest of them all was Frescati House, owned by the Duke of Leinster. It was their third house, as they would also own Carton House in Co. Kildare, their main seat where they would spend the summer) and a Town House in Dublin, where they would spend the winter, attending balls and other social occasions. The latter is now home the Irish Dial and Seanad (lower and upper chambers of parliament). Frescati House was built in 1739 for the family of John Hely Hutchinson, the Provost of Trinity College, but was sold in the 1750’s to the aforementioned Duke of Leinster. Unfortunately it was demolished in the 1980’s, being in a very bad state. Although of a later date, the 1850 Newtown House gives an idea of the splendor of Blackrock’s residences:
Later in the 18th Century, “promenading” became very popular. This meant walking in a beautifully maintained area, for which an entry fee had to be paid. This way, only people of “status” would get access, and the rich would have a chance to see and be seen by the others of their class. One such promenading area was also built in Blackrock, with the name “Vauxhall Gardens”. It was not a commercial success, and later became a private residence until in 1873 the Town Council (of which later more) purchased it and turned it into a park. The park was bigger than the original Vauxhall Gardens: when a railway between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire was constructed (see below), in Blackrock, it sat on top of a man made embankment in the sea, thus creating a “lagoon” type area. This was soon used as the local rubbish dump. When the park was developed, the area has been almost completely filled and it was decided to grass it over and add it to the park. The park itself was a Victorian affair complete with bandstand. Bands were then very popular, with most organisations (including large companies) having their own bands.
The railway (Dublin & Kingstown Railway) is also worth mentioning: it was the first railway in Ireland, constructed in 1834. In the world, only the Manchester to Liverpool railway is older (1830). The railway connected Dublin to Dun Loaghaire, which was then called Kingstown. There was only one stop in between: Blackrock. The Dublin station – orignally Westland Row, but now called Pearse Station – has been redeveloped in 1981. As the heart of Dun Loaghaire moved over time – as a result of the harbour – it too got a new station. That leaves the Blackrock station as the only original station. It is still in use today. It was designed by a local architect, Mulvaney, and you can see his trademark in it: the recessed doorway with the Ionic columns.
The railway did cause some problems though as it separated the town from the sea, and bathing was still popular. The railway company therefore provided footbridges and bathing areas (men and women separated, as bathing costumes did not exist yet). These were very basic affairs, just a platform and a wall that protected the bathers from wind and their modesty. See the picture below to the left. Towards the end of the 19th Century a private entrepreneur constructed new sea baths, which had changing areas, diving boards, etc. It was purchased in the 1920’s by the government for their “Celtic Games”, essentially a form of Olympic Games for the Celtic Nations. Seating for 1150 people was added. The baths closed in 1987, as a result of cutbacks necessitated by the economic crisis of that decade. In the picture below to the right you can see what is left of it.
The town was at this stage already booming, and no doubt the railway helped to sustain its growth. Due to a previous reorganization, Blackrock was no longer part of the City of Dublin but of County Dublin. Towns like Blackrock could ask the government to be officially incorporated as Town Councils, by petition. The citizens of Blackrock decided to do so in the 1860’s. This was mainly because people started to demand more of the government: they wanted paved streets and pavements, street lighting, fire stations, etc. It was the role of the Town Council to ensure Blackrock would get these amenities. And as we already saw, they added a Town Park in 1873. To house the administration a City Hall was built, which was extended when the Blackrock Council was made responsible for its rural hinterland (stretching all the way to Stillorgan) as well. In this period we also see the construction of the Catholic St. John the Baptist church (1842-1845) as well as continued building of residential houses, such as Idrone Terrace.
In the 1870’s Dublin is getting its first trams. These only covered small distances, as they were originally horse drawn. Most companies would operate only one line. To get from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire you need to take three different trams. In the picture below, you can see the sheds in which the original trams were kept (until recently the were in use as a car dealership, they are now vacant). The tram companies would be amalgamated in the 1890’s by William Murphy (of 1913 Lockout fame) in his Dublin United Tramways Company. He would also start a program of electrification. The tramway from Dublin via Blackrock to Dun Loaghaire and further to Dalkey was the first to to electric. It was also the last line to be closed down in 1949, when trams were replaced by buses.
Before that, in 1930, there was also an amalgamation of local councils. One victim of this was Blackrock, which became part of Dun Laoghaire. The local council is now – after several further reorganizations – called Dun Loaghaire County Council. The Blackrock City Hall has been turned into a Library.
Blackrock still has its own identify however, and although no longer a seaside resort, its Main Street with its many shops is still worth a visit.
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Cobh, pronounced Cove and previously known as Queenstown, is near Cork in the South West of Ireland. It is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
First of all, it is a a very important port in the history of many Irish families. Of the 6 million Irish who left Ireland between 1848 and 1950, 2.5 million left from the port of Cobh. If you are doing your research, please note that Cobh was renamed Queenstown after the visit of Queen Victoria in 1849. It remained so until the early 1920s and the formation of the Irish Free State.
The port is also famous as the last port of call for the ill-fate Titanic. The tenders “Ireland” and “America” brought 123 passengers to the ship from Cobh . Seven lucky passengers disembarked at Cobh including Jesuit priest Father Francis Browne and the Odell Family. Their photographs, taken aboard, are now world famous. Of the 123 passengers, 79 perished. There is a fantastic museum (there is an admission fee) in Cobh telling their story, located in the original departure building. We have included a link to their website below.
Only a few years later, in 1915 1,198 people perished when the Lusitania was sunk off the Cork coast by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat. Only 289 bodies were recovered. 169 were buried in the Old Church Cemetery just outside the town in three mass graves while only 20 were buried in individual plots.
Dominating the town is the Roman Catholic Saint Colman’s Cathedral that is perched on the hillside. It is a magnificent neo-Gothic building that took 47 years to build, starting in 1868. For many Irish emigrants, it was the last bit of Ireland they would ever see. (Click on photo to see a larger picture).
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Genealogy.ie believes that your family story is not just about names and dates of people in your family tree. We think it is also about the places where they lived and worked, the houses they lived in. This is why, when we search Irish ancestry for our clients, we also offer Irish local history research and investigation. In most cases our research is into the history of a house or farm. But it can also be a village or even an event. Depending on records available this gives you a picture of how your ancestors would have lived. And thus add colour to your Irish family history.
Take Marlay House. Up to quite recently it was a large demesne (mansion house which was also a working farm, albeit a large one). Watch our short presentation:
Marlay as a land holding traces its origins back to the Anglo-Norman times. The Fleming family were the first owners, followed by by the Cistercian religious order. Religious orders were the biggest landowners at the time. King Henry VIII abolished them and resold the lands he took. The new owner was called Taylor.
He build the older farmhouse, a large part of it still in existence (courtyard). It was then bought by a series of families who used the property as their ‘out of town’ refuge. Living in the growing city of Dublin was unhealthy. Therefore rich families bought farms and lands and constructed mansion houses in the immediate environs of the city. The area around Marlay was very popular as it was at the foot of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. This not only had fresher air but also offered stunning views. The first of these families built Marlay House.
This was actually the name of the wife of the owner, a bishop’s daughter. His own name was LaTouche. His family were Huguenots who had fled France. They started as weavers but became a wealthy banking family. After a few different families had owned the property, the last of them, the Tedcastle family, sold it to the local council who has turned the gardens into a great public park and is in the process of restoring the house. This spring free tours are available to see the inside of the ground floor of the house.
We hope you enjoyed the video and story. Why not have a look at the rest of our website?
Click on the photo for a larger picture or scroll down for the text.
Martello towers are small defensive round towers that were built across the British Empire during the 19th century. They were named after the “Torra di Mortella”, which in 1794 kept an entire British fleet at bay for two days. It was captured in the end, and the British marveled at the fact that this small fort with only a few men had resisted for so long. So they decided to copy it.
In Dublin they were built after the French Revolution, to ward off a potential invasion. Most towers have 2 floors and are approximately 40 feet/12 meters high. They would be guarded by a small garrison of about 20 men, commanded by 1 officer. The officer would be responsible for the health and well being of the men. He would normally reside downstairs, where he could keep an eye on the stocks and weapons.
Because the towers were round, and were constructed of very thick walls of solid masonry, they could withstand cannon fire. At the same time, their height made them an ideal platform for a single heavy artillery piece. This cannon could be found on the flat roof. It could be turned and thus cover a large area. By building a string of these towers, with overlapping ranges, they covered the entire Dublin coast.
In Dublin they never fired a shot in anger and they became obsolete towards the end of the 19th Century. Quite a few have survived to this day, like the one in Seapoint, pictures of which you can see on the page. We visited this tower as part of the Summer Heritage program of the Dun Laoghaire County Council.
For a YouTube video impression of the Seapoint tower, click on the link (opens in a new window).
Another tower is open all year, as it is now a museum dedicated to James Joyce. Admission is free. Follow this link for more information
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