The oldest possible epidemic in Ireland dates back to the sixth century. We actually don’t know if there was an epidemic – it is believed there was one because many monasteries were founded in the sixth century. The thinking is that a plague epidemic caused a rise in religious fervour. Unlike Covid-19, which is a virus, the plague is caused by bacteria. The bacteria are spread by fleas.
We know there was an epidemic, known as the yellow plague, active in Ireland from 664 to 668 and again from 683 to 684. The second one was especially deadly for children, as a lot of adults had gained immunity during the first outbreak.
It wasn’t just plagues. We have descriptions of outbreaks of fever in Ireland since the 12th century. Fever would be endemic in Ireland, with the disease still around in the 19th century.
In the mid-fourteenth century, it was again the plague which wreaked havoc. This would be the most famous outbreak of the disease. It is thought that the “Black Death” as it was called, killed 30-60% of the European population. During the outbreak, it was believed rats were spreading the disease (bacteria were still unknown). This led to rats being hunted down and killed in great numbers. Causing the fleas that were living on the rats to spread and infect even more people! There were further outbreaks of this terrible pestilence until the early eighteenth century.
Another disease that is spread by lice is typhus. During the Famine, hunger was already having a devastating impact on many of the poor. They often had to leave their homestead, expelled by landlords for not paying rent or leaving to find food. In the hospitals, workhouses and on the ships to North America they huddled together for warmth and lack of space. This formed ideal circumstances for the spread of lice and with them the disease. It started in 1846 in the West of Ireland. It reached Ulster in the winter of that year. It is thought 20% of people in Belfast were infected. Although widespread among the poor, still more prevalent was the aforementioned fever, which also became epidemic during the famine. Interestingly it was among the higher social classes that typhus – more deadly than fever, mortality if untreated can be as high as 60% – was more widespread. It is thought it was contracted by those exposed to the disease (clergymen, doctors, member of relief committees) and then spread to their families, etc.
The famine was accompanied by several other diseases such as dysentery and smallpox. Like fever, these had also long been endemic in Ireland but swept the country epidemically during these years. And then in 1848-1849 Asiatic cholera became pandemic.
Dysentery is spread by flies, by direct contact, or by pollution of the water by faeces infected with the bacteria. Like typhus, it became widespread in Ireland during the terrible winter of 1846-47. It was especially the area of West Cork that was badly affected.
Smallpox is no longer active thankfully. Like COVID it is a viral disease transmitted by airborne droplets. Attacks would last for approximately 6 weeks and would work its way through a family. So, it would often afflict families for months. This would often mean even more poverty for already impoverished people, as they lost their earning power for a prolonged period.
Even in the 20th century, Ireland has had epidemics. Tuberculosis was one. Its common name was consumption as the patient was “consumed” by weight loss and breathlessness. According to research by the Irish Red Cross Journal, 12,000 young Irish adults died of TB in 1904. Mortality remained high in the 1920s and 1930s, especially among children. Despite years of non-stop efforts, it was not until the 1950s that TB started to decline and only by the 1970s it had all but vanished from our shores.
Another one was polio. This is again a viral disease, spread through person-to-person or faecal-oral contact. Its mortality is between 5 and 10%, but in some outbreaks mortality of over 25% has been reported. Unlike COVID, it especially affects children under 5. There is no cure but can be prevented with vaccines. In Ireland, vaccines were introduced in 1957, after several bad outbreaks. Ireland had its first registered epidemic of this disease in 1942. There were further waves in 1947, 1950 and 1953 and in 1956 in Cork. Advice from authorities might sound familiar: closure of swimming pools and schools, advice on handwashing and on general hygiene, warnings against unnecessary travel into or out of communities where the disease was prevalent. And for the vulnerable, in this case, children, to avoid crowded places and gatherings of other children. Circus, swimming and tennis tournaments and GAA activities were either postponed or abandoned. Social and commercial life was badly affected. The epidemic was over around May 1957. It was not completely gone but had returned to “normal” levels.
Like the rest of the world, Ireland is now suffering from the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic. The whole country now sees restrictions even more severe than those in Cork in 1956. History shows the importance of adhering to these restrictions: many epidemics/pandemics have seen several waves and high levels of mortality, esp. among the vulnerable. By social distancing, working from home, not having large gatherings, festivals, etc. we should be able to minimise the impact. And nowadays many can work from home and we can stay into contact via social media. So there are no excuses. And the good news: many vaccines have been developed and most of the diseases mentioned have been eradicated or their prevalence has been drastically reduced.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay firm!
The third and final installment of our posts on genealogical resources.
If you are researching the period before civil registration started, your only source is the Parish registers. You do need to know in what County and Parish your ancestor(s) lived. If you don’t know, a good starting point is to look at where your family lived in the Census, as a lot of families would continue to live in a Parish for many generations.
Most Parish Registers only started round 1830, and for many counties even decades later. Also, over time, many have been lost. You should also consider that errors – both in the original entry and in transcription – are not uncommon. Names were also often misspelled: priests would write down what they thought the name was and many of the parishioners could not check it as many could not read or write.
The three main sources for the Parish records are:
The second of three posts on Irish genealogy resources: the Civil registrations of Irish births, marriages, and deaths. This was started in 1864, although Non-Catholic marriages were registered from 1845. If you are looking for records from before these dates, you will have to rely on the Parish records, of which more in our third post. You should also be aware that a significant portion of births, marriage, and even deaths were never registered and thus go unrecorded.
The main resources for these records are the following two free databases:
We recommend you search BOTH databases, because they are not identical.
On Irish Genealogy you will find the indexes for
The index often contain a link to the original registration, which you can download for free. But if not, the record will need to be ordered. If you require help with obtaining a record, please feel free to contact us.
When searching, be aware that you might have to try different variations and spellings of the names you are looking for. Also, you will be asked for the “Registration District”. There were usually 3 to 6 registration districts in each county, and some districts crossed county borders. If you don’t know, it can be quite a puzzle to find out. Again, we would be happy to help. Finally, be aware that people were not always born, married or died in the same area they lived in.
Family Search, Ancestry (paid) and FindMyPast (paid) also offer Irish civil registration indexes up to 1958 (excluding records from Northern Ireland after 1922). However these are indexes only, and it often hard to be sure that you are looking at “your” ancestor or someone else’s.
For Northern Ireland after 1922 you will need to go to GRONI This contains the records for births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years and deaths over 50 years. You can search and view the original registrations for this period but you do need to sign up and purchase credits to undertake a search.
This is the first in a series of posts to help you discover your Irish roots. This first installment you will probably be familiar with, but we hope our tips might still be useful.
This should really be your first port of call for your research into your Irish roots. Unfortunately, during the Civil War which followed the War of Independence most censuses were destroyed. Only the 1901 and 19011 remain, although there is a list at the National Archives from people who applied for a copy of their entry in the 1841 or 1851 Census to prove that they were old enough to claim a pension when this was introduced.
The 1901/1911 censuses contain:
Both can be searched free online. The surname requires exact spelling so you might try a number of variations, and I have seen cases of misspelling which makes it very hard to find someone. You should also note that ages can be wrong; these were often estimated, or people lied about their age to be older (for a job or pension entitlements) or younger. Unless you are lucky enough to have a very uncommon surname, you will need a townland as well. Alternatively, you might consider searching for a townland and review all occupants. It is possible to refine the search with additional data, but unless you are very sure about your information, it is best to start wide and narrow it down until you get a reasonable number of records. These you review record by record. Make sure to tick the “Show All Information” box. The database contains both a transcription and images of the original census form. The latter also contains a description of the buildings occupied by the household (Form B1).
As you will have noted, it is important to know the townland where your ancestors lived to search the census. The townland is the smallest unit of administration and often only contains a small number of families. Above the townland sits the civil Parish (not to be confused with the ecclesiastical parishes, which were entirely separate). Next up were Baronies and finally Counties. Confusingly in the Census you will also find the DED (District Electoral Division) which was for the administration of the vote. If you don’t know the townland, you might consider asking us for help.
As we approach the Christmas season, we urge you to try and make time to share memories with your family, look at old photos to see if you can uncover any new gems. We take this opportunity to look back to Christmas in Ireland over 100 years ago. Christmas was simpler, but like today, it was also a family affair. We found this gem in a family memoir box, written by Kathleen Hassett in the early 1980s. Her childhood was spent on a small rural farm Knockanean, near Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland. The pictures show her as a girl and later in life.
Christmas in the 1900s, Kathleen Hassett (1897 to 1985)
I was born in the last few years of the reign of Queen Victoria, so I can say something of Christmas before the First, or Great War. It was a holy day rather than a holiday, but that did not mean we all wore long faces. Schools closed for almost a fortnight, as it does today; that in itself was a holiday; through as always had little tasks to perform – washing up, wiping up, dusting, shopping etc.
Each Christmas season the local grocer gave us a “Christmas Box” of a quarter stone of sugar, 1lb.tea, 1lb. each of currants, raisins and sultanas, and perhaps even half lb. of candied peel. Though the actual goods and the amounts varied from one business to another, the custom of giving Christmas boxes to customers was general, but it came to an end due to rationing during the 1914-18 war and was never renewed.
By Christmas Eve, we were excited – Father Christmas or Santa Claus would come during the night, but we had to be asleep. We hung up a stocking borrowed from an adult or used a pillowcase. We slept soundly and awoke bright and early to see what the great man had brought us. The toe of the stocking was usually filled with sweets, and an apple and an orange took up more room.
Each little girl got a doll usually beautifully dressed; my younger sister, born in 1908, was the first in the family to have a Teddy Bear from Father Christmas. Little boys usually got a game or a ball. Father Christmas was a wise man – if we had a doll, we did not usually get another. Dolly perhaps got a dolls house, or a tea-set, or some doll’s furniture. As we grew older, our gifts also grew older – we got a sewing-set or a book, which we found exciting.
Soon it was time to get washed and dressed and go to Church. The highlight of Christmas morning was to see the Crib where the Holy Child lay sleeping.
Dinner time brought fresh excitement, especially when the Christmas pudding appeared. We had all had to stir it, and we knew that silver 3d pieces and 6s pieces were there, and if one found a silver coin in your portion, you would have a year of good luck. Afterwards, we played games, or read until tea-time after which we were advised to get to bed early to sleep off the excitement of the great day.
At Genealogy.ie, we wish we could give each of you a big hug and hope this article will act as a virtual hug. We would like to wish all of our customers and friends a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.
PS: If you are really stuck for a Christmas present, you might consider giving a Genealogy.ie. voucher. Contact us for more information.
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.
We are going to visit Canada this year. Yes, we will be visiting tourist haunts, do shopping, visit art galleries, etc. But a visit would not be complete if we did not also remember the influx of Irish people into Canada in one of its darkest times.
Although Irish immigration into the USA has traditionally received more attention, many Irish would move to Canada. Both countries were, of course, part of the British Empire until Irish independence. It was therefore much easier for someone in Ireland to move to Canada than it was to emigrate to the USA.
In our last magazine, we wrote about the Jeannie Johnston, a ship that transported people to Canada during the famine. It provided excellent care and is one of the few ships that did not have a single death during its voyages. Unlike many other ships, which caused these ships to be called “coffin ships”.
There were those that perished as a result of shipwrecks. We read a very interesting article on this here.
Most deaths were, however, the result of diseases. The deadly results were often exacerbated because crews would not let the passengers out on the deck, because they were afraid of becoming ill themselves. But of course, after delivering their human cargo into cities like Montreal, these diseases spread among the locals. To protect themselves, the Canadian authorities decided to create a quarantine station, at Grosse Isle, and island in the St. Lawrence river. We intend to visit this island during our visit to Canada.
The quarantining of immigrants would later also happen in the USA, where the Castle Garden Landing Depot, which is located on the island of Manhattan, was replaced by Ellis Island Immigration Station , which was on a separate island of the coast.
Grosse Isle predates this. It actually even predates the Great Famine! This famine has become very notorious and “overshadows” many other calamities. In fact, the quarantine station was created as a result of a major cholera outbreak in 1832. In the famine times of the 1840s, you can add of typhus, ship fever and starvation to the list. The station was however completely inadequate for the enormous numbers arriving as a result of the famine, starting in 1847.
Note: I have borrowed heavily from an article by Michael Quigley, who is a historian for Action Grosse Ile, an Irish Canadian lobby group for the below information.
“The Syria was the first ship to arrive [in 1847]. She sailed from Liverpool on 24 March carrying 241 passengers and anchored at Grosse Ile on 15 May. Six days later, 202 passengers from the Syria were ill. The quarantine hospital on the island, built for 150 patients, could barely accommodate 200, and was already filled to capacity.”
In May 1847, 40 ships with 12,500 starving passengers would lie waiting at Grosse Isle to “offload” their passengers. At that stage between 50 and 60 people would die every day!
A medical commission visited the island in June. There were then 21,000 emigrants at Grosse Ile and the death toll had tripled: 150 people were buried that day. They were very critical of the management of the quarantine station but were unable to offer anything beyond instructions to comply with the regulations — which was of course completely impossible: on 20 July 1847 more than 2,500 fever cases were housed in the island’s hospitals!
After this, however, it appears authorities got to grips with the influx. In September, there were still 14,000 people held in quarantine on board of ships at anchor off Grosse Ile. At the end of October, the Grosse Ile quarantine station closed for the winter.
Because the quarantine station was completely overwhelmed, it did not succeed in its intended aim. Many of the Irish immigrants who were “released” into the cities of Quebec and Montreal would later become sick. In these cities too, fever sheds were built, victims hastily segregated. It did not do much for the immigrants who would still die in their thousands.
And it did not protect their hosts either. Clergymen, Catholic priests, stewards, nurses, orderlies, cooks, policemen, and carters were infected and died. And it was not only them: John Mills, the Mayor of Montreal caught the fever at the sheds and died ad did Toronto’s first Catholic bishop, Michael Power.
In 1909 a fifteen-metre tall Celtic cross was erected on the highest point on the island, built by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
We will come back to the story of Grosse Isle after we have visited it later this year.
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.