Genealogists are not morbid, but many of us to have a fascination with cemeteries. There are plenty of interesting ones in Dublin, and this is a report on a very old one, which we visited a while back: Old Carrickbrennan Graveyard, Monkstown, Dublin. We believe it has an interesting story to tell!
According to Parish history, the history of Monkstown stretches back to Viking times. A monastery at Holmpatrick, Skerries was sacked by the Danes in 798 AD. Some monks fled and established a new monastery in what is now the old cemetery at Carrickbrennan in Monkstown. We don’t know however if this story is truth or fiction. There are ruins of an old church at the graveyard, but these are of later origin: a church dedicated to St. Mochanna was build here in 1668. It is said, however, that this church was built on the ruins of an older.
We are on a more firm footing when the area was granted to the Order of the Cistercians, who build Monkstown Castle around 1250 AD, just opposite the cemetery. This castle still exists, but only as a ruin. This picture is how it looks now.
Like all other church properties, during Henry VIII’s reformation, the abbey was confiscated and sold off in 1545. The new owner was Sir John Travers who is buried in the graveyard.
The 1668 church became too small and ruinous around 1777. (The remains are still there, see photo). Thus, a new church for the protestant Church of Ireland was built in Monkstown village, a short distance away from the castle and graveyard. Construction started in 1785. In 1861 a start was made with the construction of a new Catholic Church, dedicated to St. Patrick, also in the village.
The old graveyard at Carrickbrennen continued in use, however. In 1874 it was closed due to fears of cholera, but it was subsequently re-opened and burials took place until the middle of the last century.
As the cemetery ran out of space a long time ago, graves were put on top of other graves. That is why the ground level is much higher on the western side; a stream on the eastern side prevented the practice there!
Some remarkable people that are buried here are:
On 19 November 1807 the ‘Rochdale’ sank and 265 people perished. Many of the were buried in Carrickbrennan, as it was close to the sea.
Joseph Holt He was born of Protestant Cromwellian parents but nevertheless joined the United Irishmen. He became one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion in Wicklow and Wexford and was transported to Australia after he was captured. He was however allowed to return and died in Ireland in 1814.
During a huge storm in 1861, twelve ships were trying to make their way to shore in Kingstown as Dun Loaghaire was then known. Several of them got into trouble. Captain Boyd and his crew went out on the rescue vessel ‘Ajax‘ but all of them perished in the effort. The crew is buried at Carrickbrennan, but the captain was never found. Instead, a monument was erected.
One other thing of notice is the little guardhouse. This was necessary because in the 19th century many cemeteries suffered from the theft of corpses, which were sold to medical schools for examination! This was also the reason why some graves have railings surrounding them.
In the second half of the 20th century the graveyard fell into decay but in 1985 it was cleaned up. Now, the county council organises tours of the cemetery every summer.
The volunteers from ‘Ireland Genealogy Projects & Archives have transcribed 30 of the gravestones. These can be found here.
Sometimes only visiting the sites where your ancestors lived can give you that last bit of information. And provide the rich context of their lives. If you are not able to visit Ireland yourself, we can go and visit these sites for you and provide a report and especially pictures.
A site visit is divided in a number of focus areas:
First, if you know in which cemetery your ancestor(s) are buried, we will go and look for their grave. Gravestones are often very informative on the people buried and/or give other names to research. Provided we find the grave, we will provide you with a detailed transcription and photos of the grave and surroundings. It should be noted though that especially the poor often did not have a gravestone. In this case we will make photos of the cemetery.
A second area is the village or townland where your ancestor(s) lived. We will provide background information on the village or townland. Some buildings that were relevant to your ancestor(s) might still exist, such as a church they likely attended or a school where they learned to read or write (like the 1907 school in the picture below). If their house still stands, we of course include that. And we will take photos of all of these.
Then there is the history of the local area. We are members of a local history society and have been published in their magazines. We will include research into the local area your ancestor(s) lived to provide an overview of how it would have looked and what was happening there in the time of your ancestors. Below is a picture of Blackrock train station, one of the oldest surviving stations in the world. The coming of railways impacted hugely on where people lived and worked and how villages developed.
Finally, we will bring together all documentation and findings of our research in a professional report and provide you with digital files containing all photos we have taken.
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.
The Kilmacud Stillorgan Historical Society has been publishing its annual journal, Obelisk, for 13 years. Since 2016 – for 4 years now – Genealogy.ie’s Michael van Turnhout has been contributing an article to it.
These articles are about local history, rather than family history. However, we believe local history is important to get a better understanding of the society your ancestors lived in. In this case, it gives you a picture of what kind of school your mid-nineteenth Irish ancestor would have gone to.
St. Mary’s National School, Sandyford, Dublin, Ireland
On our page dedicated to the growing list of articles that we have contributed to magazines and journals – including the respected Irish Family History Journal of the Irish Family History Society and North American Magazine Your Genealogy Today you will be able to download our article and follow a link to the Society’s website, if you are interested in purchasing a copy of the journal.
You can visit this page by following this link:
We would like to wish you a very Happy Christmas and hope you will find lots more long lost family members in 2018.
TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
Family stories can be found in many places. Ever looked in that box in the attic with old films? Super8 films can now be converted to digital format, as we did with this short video, which was taken by a relation when she visited Bath in 1965. Included in this video is the front of 58 Hungerford Road, 3 Wellington Place and 19 Camden Place (all homes of ancestors). By 1966, 3 Wellington Place no longer existed as it had fallen away. Of course, in the film you will also see the Assembly Rooms, Bath Cathedral and life at that time.
PRAISE FROM DOWN UNDER
Finally, we just completed work for Michael, all the way from Queensland in Australia. We were very chuffed with his feedback, which we are quite happy to share with you.
“Your work is perfect Jillian, thanks very much. I’m so pleased I commissioned you to research my family, it saved me countless hours of fruitless searching. Your final report is so detailed, professionally presented and easy to read. I really wasn’t expecting so much, information. Well done and again thank you, it was well worth it.”
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