The National Archives of Ireland is Ireland’s repository for records relating to administrations, Public Records (administrative, court, and probate records), and records of Government Departments and their agencies.
Recently the NAI agreed that an organisation that had handed over their old archives to the National Archives, would be allowed to film them. Very unusually, it allowed the archives to be taken from its offices for the duration of the project. Filming them on the premises of the NAI would mean spending a long time there. Because of COVID-19 this was not considered best practice from a health point of view.
Taking the opportunity, Genealogy.ie was asked to digitise the 20 boxes of archives, with due care.
The archive consists of documents, pictures, certificates, logbooks, etc. in many different formats and sizes. Some were individual documents, some stapled together and others were in book form.
To be able to cope with the vast amount of archive material Genealogy.ie decided to invest in some proper equipment, which you can see in the pictures below. It comprises a high-resolution camera, mounted in a stand. In manual mode, there is a handy separate remote control button to take a picture. But there is also an automatic mode, which takes a picture every 5 seconds.
The software that comes with it allows you to crop and adjust the pictures and export them in a number of different formats, includes searchable PDF. This way, not only are the archives copied, but also digitised.
Even with the new equipment, the project will take about 3 weeks to complete.
Whilst carrying out family history research, we all encounter brick walls. One particularly stubborn one that I revisit every few years is the question of who the parents of my Great Grandfather Michael Foley were.
As I am a professional genealogist, you would think I would have my own family tree done. But take it from me, you are never finished. That is why I always keep an eye on new records becoming available. I got a flutter when I heard new records of the parish where my great grandparents hailed form had become available. I couldn’t resist and immediately looked… but first, let me give you the background story.
When I started working on my family tree, I quickly found the marriage certificate of my Grandfather, Michael Foley to Julia Cronin on 23 April 1898. The certificate informed me that Michael Foley was a teacher living in Cromane, Killorglin, County Kerry, and that his late father, John Foley, was a farmer. As a child, I spent many a happy summer holiday in Cromane in the former home of my Grandmother and my Great Grandparents.
To put a face to the name in this story, Michael Foley is on the left in the photograph, he is the man with the fantastic moustache. I can only imagine the scene, my Grandfather John Francis Hassett took a photo of his wife, his then five children, and her parents. My father, Michael Hassett, is the child sitting in the centre on his Grandmother’s lap. It took me some time to realise it was my Dad as I saw a ‘child in a dress’. I soon learned it was not unusual for young boys at the time, around 1940, to be dressed in this way.
This photo is very special to me as by 1945, both of my Great Grandparents Michael Foley and Julia Cronin, and my Grandparents John Francis Hassett and Mary Foley had all died. And this is one of the few pictures I have of them.
Since my childhood, I have always known my Great Grandfather was a school teacher and was the first ‘Master’ in Cromane near Killorglin. Through family history research, I established that Master Foley was the first headmaster of the newly built school in Cromane in 1886. I have visited the site of the old school and, with sincerest thanks to the current headmaster, I have been able to view and take photographs of the old school registers.
I discovered that his grandchildren, including my father, regularly came from their then home in Cork for a long summer to Cromane. They would arrive around March and leave around October – thus enrolling in school for a few months and then returning to school in Cork. On occasion, they would even spend a full year in Cromane living with their grandparents.
I visited the Killorglin library and read an article from the 1980s published in a local history publication entitled “COIS LEAMNTHA”. A local oral historian had interviewed William Griffin, who was born in Cromane Upper in about 1894 and attended the school in the late 1890s / early 1900s.
From other information available to me, I know Michael Foley taught at Cromane National Boys School from 1886 to 1918, when Stephen Coffey succeeded him as Head.
Michael Foley had four children: Helen Maria Foley (1900 to 1980), John Laurence Foley (1904 to 1933), Mary Catherine Foley (1904 to 1944), and Catherine Mary Foley (1907 to 1909).
Helen Maria Foley was my Godmother and I was very lucky to have her in my early life. She encouraged me to explore the world. I didn’t realise until I started working on my family history that she had been a customs officer and that that was the reason why she was so informed about countries around the globe, bringing to life in her bedtime stories their sights and smells.
Mary Catherine Foley was my Grandmother. She sadly died when my father was only eight.
John Laurence Foley was also a customs officer and died at the young age of 29 of TB, still very common in those days. The write-ups in the newspaper articles I found were very moving.
It was only when I visited the cemetery where my family was buried, in Killorglin, I found evidence of a fourth child, Catherine Mary Foley, who died at age two.
However, despite finding all of this information, I could never find out more about my Great Grandfather John Foley. From the wedding certificate of his son Michael Foley in 1898 I could see he had been a farmer and had died before his son married. I searched all deaths of all John Foleys before 1898 in the area (and wider area) in the records available but without success. My search was made more complicated, because, at that stage, I didn’t even know if my Grandfather Master Michael Foley was born in the area. I only knew that in 1886 he was the first schoolmaster. Also, Foley is not an uncommon name in the area.
Through a newspaper article on the death Michael Foley’s son, John Laurence, in 1933, I was able to confirm that Michael Foley had a sister: the newspaper article listed the mourners and this list included an Aunt Joanna Conway. She married a Francis Conway. Joanna Foley was also a school teacher. This information would prove to be important, as you will see later.
Then, a few years ago, the National Archives shared a gem of record set: the ‘List of Teachers Employed by the Commissioners of National Education on 31 March 1905’ went online. With this list, I was able to establish the month and year my Grandfather was born and where he went to primary and secondary school. I now knew he did grow up in the area. I doubled down and tried DNA, but it didn’t open any obvious doors. The wall seemed to be getting higher.
Every year, I would dip in again and see if any new information would become available. And it finally paid off when I looked at the new parish records mentioned at the start of this article. The 1898 Marriage register of my Grandparents Michael Foley and Julia Cronin had the names of the father and the mother of each of my Grandparents. The parents of Michael Foley are John Foley and Ellen Murphy. My great-grandmother’s name was there right in front of me. It almost seemed too easy. I admit to doing a little dance.
And if any more proof was needed, I also found the baptism record of Joanna Foley with her parents John Foley and Ellen Murphy, and the dates matched.
Next, I looked for the marriage of John Foley and Ellen Murphy and found a transcription on RootsIreland of the marriage of John Foley and Ellen Murphy on 2 March 1840 in Killarney, County Kerry. The transcription stated John Foley lived at Coolcorcoran, near Killarney. The witnesses were Timothy Murphy and David Foley.
So, I then searched land records available for Coolcorcoran and could find that a Timothy Murphy was a tenant and could find baptism records for an Ellen Murphy and her siblings and a marriage record in 1803 for Timothy Murphy and Hannah Sullivan.
However, there was no sign of any Foley’s living at Coolcorcoran. As a genealogist, I was of course now itching to see the original marriage register. On Ancestry.com, I found the original page on the register from Killarney Parish Register. And as you can see, it was Ellen Murphy who was from Coolcorcoran.
In a short few hours, I was now back two further generations. And have many new doors open to examine and explore. I wish you equal success with your brick walls.
The Irish Government has launched a new online resource for the Decade of Centenaries – it is called Mná 100 (Women 100). The updated website Mna100.ie includes original research with some previously unseen photos and historic documents drawn together in new and innovative ways.
This new resource will reflect on key themes, such as the role of women in advocating for Ireland internationally; the role of women’s organisations during the Campaign for Independence and the Civil War; women in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament); and the stories of the pioneering women who were trailblazers within their chosen professions.
We recommend the special curated short film for Mná 100 called Toward America. The film looks at the American Committee on Conditions in Ireland and the foundation of the Irish White Cross. The piece is grounded in original research, with a wealth of images from private and public collections in Ireland and the United States. It is exclusively curated for Mná100.
The 100 Year Journey will guide the viewer through the journey of women through the 20th century and early 21st century. The 100 Year Journey showcases women who implemented change, through an easy-to-navigate timeline that includes images and illustrated biographies, with personal archive material and animated content.
Mná 100 was launched both simultaneously in Ireland and in New York with guest speakers from Glucksman House, NYU, and the Irish Consul General in New York.
In family history, we often find it more difficult to trace female lines. We welcome and encourage all new resources that are working to uncover women in Irish history.
James Hoban was born around 1758 in Desart near Callan, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. His parents were Martha Bayne and Edward Hoban. We know he had three siblings – Joseph, Philip, and Ann – but there might have been more. The estate they lived on was owned by Baron John Cuffe. It is not sure what the position of the Hoban’s on the estate was, but they were not very well off.
James learned the skills of a carpenter on the estate. He was given the opportunity to go to the Dublin Society’s School of Architectural Drawing in 1780. This society was and is an Irish philanthropic organisation founded on 25 June 1731 to see Ireland thrive culturally and economically. It would become the Royal Dublin Society in 1820. They would not charge fees to talented but poor students. This is how James became an architect.
He specialised in the Georgian style then popular in Ireland. An excellent example of this style is Leinster House. It was constructed as a home for the Duke of Leinster and designed by the famous architect Richard Cassels. In 1815 it was purchased by the Dublin Society, the same society that had sponsored James’s education. In 1922 the newly formed Irish state rented the main meeting room as a temporary chamber for its parliament. It would become its permanent home.
Back to James: his first job was that of an apprentice to the school’s principal Thomas Ivory. But it was in the United States that he would make his fame. He moved shortly after the Thirteen Colonies had gained their independence, presumably attracted by the possibilities for advancement in the United States. He went where his work took him: first, in 1785, he worked in Philadelphia, then in 1787, he went to Charleston and Columbia in South Carolina, where he designed the Capitol building (burnt in 1865).
The new republic had made plans for a new capital, including a grand home for its president. In 1791 a French-born architect called Pierre Charles L’Enfant was hired, who chose the location. However, his designs did not meet the approval of the president’s commissioners as it was deemed too opulent. L’Enfant was fired and an open competition was held to find a replacement. James Hoban entered the competition and won. And this is how he got to design and manage the construction of possibly the most famous building on the planet right now: The White House.
It is sometimes said he modeled it on Leinster House. We rather believe they are both simply examples of the same Georgian design style, which is called Neoclassical in North America. Construction of the White House started in 1793 and was not finished until 1801. And then Hoban had to do it all over again: The first White House was burned down during the invasion by British troops from Canada in 1812, in an attempt by Britain to regain the colonies. This time the job took 3 years, as the building was not completely destroyed.
James also worked as a superintendent on the construction of the Capitol (designed by William Thornton) and designed the State and War Offices in Washington DC (1818) as well as many, many other buildings.
James Hoban was a local councilor in the District of Columbia. He founded a society (Sons of Erin) to help Irish workers with food, medicine, and a roof over their heads when they needed it. He would speak up for immigrants. But he also owned slaves, some of whom worked on the construction of the White House.
James was married to Susanna Sewall. They had 10 children and he had considerable wealth at the time of his death on 8 December 1831 in Washington. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
At Genealogy.ie we love when we come across the work of previous genealogists. In this regard, we hail Dr. Francis Crosslé and his son Philip Crosslé (1875-1953) who created the Crosslé Genealogical abstracts in the 19th century. Their work is now available online, and for one of our clients, it helped us break through a brick wall.
The Crosslé Genealogical abstracts are a miscellaneous collection of more than 657,000 detailed abstracts dates from 1620 to 1804. Many records are transcriptions from prerogative wills subsequently destroyed in the fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922. Crosslé also provides a wealth of material for those tracing military ancestors, including yearly Army returns from 1767 to 1816. A large proportion of the material comes from the Northwest of Ireland.
In the Crosslé Genealogical abstracts, we came across this great quote from Philip Crosslé when he was writing to a potential client:
“The fees for search and matching of abstracts of records are 3/ per hour, but when one is experienced a good deal may be done in a short time”.
In the past year, we have seen an increasing number of records becoming available online. If you have a brick wall, perhaps the time is now to relook at the information you know and to see if there are any new resources to help you find out more about your ancestor.
If you need help to find out more about an ancestor, explore a line on your family tree, or build your family tree, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check out our customer testimonials on our website:
As the Covid19 pandemic continues, why not take some time to interview your older relatives or answer these questions yourself to leave for future generations? While you may not be able to be physically together, you could phone or use online software to meet your relative? Take the time over the coming weeks to share and engage?
Remember, this should be a conversation and not a memory test; here are some suggestions for conversation starters. It is best to keep your questions as open-ended as possible and to let the interview flow naturally.
1. What is your full name? Do you know why that name was selected for you?
2. Where and when were you born?
3. Where did you live growing up?
4. Were there other family members in the area? Who?
5. Who’s the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
6. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
7. What was your favourite thing to do for fun (playing ball, going to the movies, etc.)?
8. What is your earliest childhood memory?
9. Describe the personalities of your family members.
10. Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
11. How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
12. Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favourite foods?
13. Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles, or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
14. What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
15. What did your family enjoy doing together?
16. What was your profession and how did you choose it?
17. Of all the things you learned from your parents, what do you feel was the most valuable?
18. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
19. What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
20. What haven’t we talked about that you would like to discuss in the time we have left?
Ensure you record (with permission) or transcribe your notes afterwards to keep an accurate record of this rich and valuable information you have gathered.
Christmas Customs in Ireland
One hundred years ago, in December 1920 in the Freeman’s Journal, Mary Mackay felt it was essential to share her views about a true Irish Christmas. She looked to the west and south of Ireland where they are “jealous and tenacious of their own national customs and celebrations”. “There we have words and phrases lingering through centuries to tell us”.
26 December is nowadays called “St Stephen’s Day” in Ireland. In the past – and in some places to this day – it was called “Wren’s Day” or in its Irish form “Lá an Dreoilín”. The tradition consists of “hunting” a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole. “The Wren Boys appear, masked, beribboned, and covered with green and coloured wreaths and garlands, chanting the story of the captured wren, which their leader is supposed to carry attached to the top of an ivied pole”.
In her article, Mary Mackay explains that Christmas Day is scarcely noticed in favour of “Little Christmas” or “Twelfth Day” which was the day the festival was observed before the change of calendar. Little Christmas is marked on 6 January and is more widely known as the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated after the conclusion of the twelve days of Christmastide. In traditional custom, this was the day of a festival in Ireland. In some parts of Ireland, it was and still called “Nollaig na mBan”, literally “Women’s Christmas” and it is the day the menfolk take down the decorations while women relax or meet their friends socially returning home to a meal cooked for them. It is also the traditional end of the Christmas season and usually the last day of holidays for school children.
The article tells us of the old and purely Irish tradition of candles. On Christmas Eve, “custom says that it must be a man, preferably dark-haired, who will light the first [candle]; and all the other will be lit from that flame. They are supposed to be kept burning all night, though that is seldom found practicable; but it is extremely unlucky if one goes out or is quenched accidentally before its time. Then for Christmas wishes …”.
In more recent times, and I think appropriate now, is to light a candle in your window for the Irish diaspora in the world. This year, we will light our candle and think of all the family histories we have uncovered and the stories we have shared. From all of us in Genealogy.ie we will light our candle to send a warm glow and message of love to all the Irish and friends of Ireland around the world.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
If you want to read the original article, click on it below to download it.
Our Michael van Turnhout has been a member of the Kilmacud Stillorgan Local History Society since 2016. Every year the Society publishes a journal, called “Obelisk”.
Michael van Turnhout has been a regular contributor to the magazine. This year his article is “Fernhill House and Gardens”, about a beautiful estate just around the corner from where Genealogy.ie is based, and which has recently been turned into a public park.
The fifteenth edition of the “Obelisk” was launched on 28 November 2020. Normally, the launch takes place in a local sports facility, where the members get a chance to meet the authors and enjoy some refreshments together. COVID-19 makes that impossible. So instead, the launch was a virtual one. Why not relax with a cuppa or a glass and enjoy the six-minute presentation by clicking here.
The image, which features on the cover of the journal, offers a view of Dublin Bay from the Stillorgan area in the early 1800s. Click on the image for the list of contents.
You can buy your own copy on the Society’s Online Shop. (Scroll down for “Obelisk 2021”).
Wishing you all a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.
Accredited Genealogists Ireland (AGI) is a representative body for professional genealogists in Ireland. It has been in existence since 1986. You can’t just join it, anyone* wishing to become part of the organisation will first need to apply to become an “Affiliate”. Affiliates who meet certain criteria will have a chance to become a full member in due course.
The initial application is assessed by an independent Board of Assessors and includes proof of experience and a case study.
Jillian decided to start this process and has now cleared the first hurdle:
* Membership is open to professional genealogists based on the island of Ireland, who are not engaged in full-time work outside of genealogy and whose research is mainly in Irish sources.
In the nineteenth century, most land in Ireland was owned by a small elite of – mostly – Protestant landlords. They would rent out their land to tenants or would have large estates cultivating land directly (the “Demesne”). Often it was a combination of the two. Some landlords would live on their estate, but others would not, leaving the management to middlemen. It was also not uncommon for landlords to own multiple estates. The Irish estates were an investment, run to provide a return for their owners. However, many estates had ceased to be profitable even before the famine of 1845 – 1849. The famine threatened their viability even further, as many tenants could no longer afford to pay rent. The famine afforded however also an economic opportunity, of which more later.
But let’s step back in time a bit further. Even before the famine, poverty was widespread in Ireland. It had 8 million inhabitants (today, 170 years later, the number is 6 million) and many Irish had to compete for work as landless labourers. Others would be tenants, but the growing population meant that many of their holdings had been subdivided into smaller and smaller plots of lands with each generation. For a lot of Irish people, the potato was their only source of food, as it was nutritious and cheap. Some would be able to afford bread and only a few meat. The “Board of Works” had been established in 1831 to deal with this poverty, by offering work to the unemployed on public works.
The famine was not caused because there was no food. As a matter of fact, Ireland still exported grain throughout the famine years of 1845-1849. The cause was a potato disease, called “blight”, making them inedible. The potato shortage also pushed the prices of other foods up. As a consequence, most simply could not afford any food anymore. Unfortunately, the “Board of Works” was completely overwhelmed, and by 1846 its failure was widely accepted.
An attempt at relief for the Irish poor was the purchase and sale of cheap grain. The budget was £100,000, or about £12 million in today’s money. To maximise the amount of grain, so-called “pigs-grain” (it was deemed only suitable as animal feed in India, where it came from) was bought. It required three times the amount of labour to turn it into usable flour, using heavy-duty utensils, as shown in the pictures below.
But Trevelyan, who was in charge of emergency food supplies in Ireland during the famine, advocated a policy of effectively withholding relief and allowing market forces to take their course. As the importing and selling of cheap grain by the government was deemed to be distorting the proper working of the free market, it was discontinued in 1847.
Private relief efforts did not fare much better. Best known of these efforts are the “Soup Kitchens”, where cheap soup was sold. However:
“Nicholas Soyer was a French Chef at the Reform Club during the famine. The soup he devised for the victims of the famine was pronounced excellent by members of high society who visited his Model Soup Kitchen in Dublin. However, it was widely attacked for its lack of real nutritional value. One meal of Soyer’s soup only provided one-tenth of the necessary daily intake of calories.”
National Famine Museum
The Quakers – who were heavily involved the running of soup kitchens – concluded in the end that without fundamental reform, their attempts were futile.
Which left the local Unions running Workhouses. They were also completely swamped by the famine. The authorities responded by increasing their number and expanding the existing ones. The problem was that they were financed by contributions made by landlords, based on the number of poor tenants they had.
This led to the next phase in the development of the famine. Landlords now had an incentive to get rid of their poor tenants, as well as an excuse (as the Unions were supposed to look after the evicted tenants).
Charles Trevelyan, Secretary of the Treasury, in The Times on 12 October 1847:
“.. the change from an idle barbarous isolated potato cultivation, to a corn cultivation, which enforces industry, binds together employer and employed in mutually beneficial relations, and, requiring capital and skill for its successful prosecution, suppose the existence of a class of yeomanry who have an interest in preserving the good order of society, is proceeding as fast as can reasonably be expected.”
As per the statement above, not only would the eviction of tenants reduce the taxes estates had to pay, but it also offered estates a much more profitably future: many estates were inefficient and badly managed before the famine, with many small sub-holdings. Switching to the growing of grain and the rearing of cattle on large farms was a much better economic proposition. And this required getting rid of the small plots and a lot fewer tenants.
Strokestown was an estate of about 11,000 acres and had its own village attached to it. It was owned by the Mahon family. Major Denis Mahon had inherited it in 1845, just when the famine started. The estate was not in a good position: a previous member of the family had run up debts by significantly enlarging the mansion. He was followed by his bother who was mad; and after that, there were 10 years of legal cases to determine who would inherit. For all of this time, it had been badly managed.
To rescue his estate, Major Denis needed to reform, which meant getting rid of his tenants. Like other estates, Strokestown did offer incentives to tenants to emigrate, including forgiveness of debt and payment of passage. About a thousand Strokestown residents would take up the offer. But the ships the estate chartered did justice to the name “coffin ships”, with over a third of their human cargo not surviving the trip.
And it was nowhere enough for the heavily indebted estate: by late 1847 Strokesdown had become a byword for mass evictions. Strictly speaking, the estate could only evict tenants from their land, not their house. But the landlord also controlled who would be registered for relief with the Unions. And the condition invariable was that the tenants would leave their house as well. Which would subsequently be demolished to prevent them from being re-occupied.
This obviously created tensions. Priests in the Catholic Church were often accused of inciting violence and disobedience, and the local priest in Strokestown was accused of having a role in what was to follow. Most priests would preach obedience to law though, so it is more than likely that a “secret society” of disgruntled locals was responsible for the shooting dead of the landlord of Strokestown: on 2 November 1847 the patriarch of the family, Major Dennis Mahon was assassinated. It is this event that made him famous, as he was the first landlord to be killed. Other assassinations would follow and soon almost every landlord would fear for their lives. Quite a few decided to leave Ireland.
The estate did survive, however. The last member of the Mahon family to live on the estate, Mrs. Olive Hales Pakenham Mahon, moved to a nursing home in England only in 1981, at the age of eighty-seven.
She had already sold the estate in 1979 to a group of local businessmen. They started a much-needed restoration; it was in a very bad state of repair as Olive Mahon had run out of money. A consequence of the latter is that a lot of the features and fabrics are original, as there never had been money for replacements. This did not include the paintings, as they had been sold off a long time ago to generate some income. But it does include a beautiful kitchen that is 200 years old. The gallery below gives you an impression.
The new owners did find a large collection of estate and family papers which formed the basis of the development of the National Famine Museum on the premises of the house. You can visit the museum, as well as the house and its walled garden. For more information, click here.