I haven’t been in a record repository for over two months. That hasn’t happened to me since the mid-1980s, when I took six months off to supervise a parish register indexing project. Even then I managed the odd trip to Dublin to feed my habit. Right now I’m blessed to have more than enough work to do at home, but soon I will start to crave the atmosphere of buildings that envelop you in traces of the past. The Registry of Deeds is my spiritual home, but any of the familiar libraries or archives would be a joy to visit in the near future. Meeting friends and acquaintances, staff members and fellow researchers, people I’ve known for decades – there is so much more to visiting a record repository than the records and the architecture.
Covid-19 has paused life and it has had an impact on genealogy in so many ways, some of which will only be apparent in decades to come. It has brought families together, at a distance, like nothing else has done in a long time. Most people are at leisure to talk remotely to parents, children, siblings and cousins. Family quizzes via video conferencing have become a phenomenon of the pandemic. I was talking to a man the other day who was telling me of the enjoyment he gets from his family’s weekly quiz, for which his children and grandchildren in Ireland and the USA get together. Two of his grandchildren, separated in age by a year but geographically by hundreds of miles – living in Colorado and Massachusetts, now chat familiarly and are getting to know their cousins in Ireland as well. In half a century today’s Great Isolation will be remembered by many as a time that created family ties.
Genealogical organisations in this part of the world also are seeing changes. I’ve attended council meetings of two such bodies recently on Zoom. One usually has its meetings in London and the other in Dublin. The London-based society has council members living in Australia, England, Ireland and Scotland. Its first two Zoom meetings had almost full attendance. The Dublin-based organisation is contemplating its first online CPD event. Of course, online events aren’t unusual for many in genealogy, with the likes of the Virtual Genealogical Association leading the way with webinars. But many of us have been slow to follow. Online meetings and webinars may well become the norm even if and when social distancing is consigned to history.
Covid-19 has imposed working from home on office dwellers all over the world, temporarily at least. This may be a welcome development for many, or possibly most. For professional genealogists, in general, there’s nothing new in this – we do much of our work this way in any case. Most professionals have a fairly extensive personal reference library as well as online resources to help in responding to enquiries. Report writing, dealing with email enquiries and corresponding with clients have been at-home tasks for most self-employed genealogists for decades. More recently the balance of research work between record repositories and online resources has swung sharply in favour of the latter. Had this pandemic happened ten or more years ago, things would have been different, for Irish genealogists anyway. Now we can do much of our research online.
‘So can your potential clients’, I hear you say! Indeed they can, but having sources available to you and knowing how to use them efficiently and effectively are two very different things. Some people who become clients are uncomfortable with technology. Others enthusiastically begin researching online and get stuck. Others get a certain distance and realise they need help. Others are long-term family historians who need advice or research in records unavailable to them.
In 1999, when I moved back to my home town of Baltinglass, after twenty years living in Dublin, I had to travel to the city two or three times a week for research. About twelve years ago a gradual change began, when the first significant Irish genealogical records went online. Now my trips to Dublin are spasmodic, but maybe once a week.
One thing I normally travel there for is the Genealogy Advisory Service (GAS) at the National Archives. This service, free to the public, is run by a panel of Members of Accredited Genealogists Ireland (AGI) on behalf of the National Archives. AGI is the organisation from which I hold my credentials. Since 2003, with one short break, AGI has been engaged by the Archives to provide this service. There is one accredited genealogist on duty each day, and I do two or three days’ duty per month. I was to be on duty on Friday 13 March, an ominous date, but that day the Archives closed due to Covid-19 and it has remained closed for the past two months.
As every good family historian knows, Invention’s mother’s name was Necessity. As a temporary measure, the National Archives decided to provide an alternative GAS by email. On Wednesday 1 April, another choice date, I had the honour and pleasure of being the first AGI Member on duty for this new venture. It’s not ideal, as at the real face-to-face GAS there is interaction with the enquirer and it’s much easier to explain the processes. Nonetheless, the email GAS is proving popular and we advisors are getting used to its quirks. It’s strange how the mind works: though I know I do the email GAS at my kitchen table, on other days I still picture my on-duty colleague sitting in the GAS room in the Archives.
This email service, with an accredited genealogist on hand to advise you, is yet another way that the world of genealogy is adapting in the time of Coronavirus. Already I’ve seen it being copied in principle by a commercial company and a genealogy magazine. We in AGI appreciate the flattery!
I sometimes think that I’m more familiar with people who lived in Baltinglass in the past than those who live here now. I mean people who were here in the nineteenth century in particular. It’s not that I communicate with their spirits or anything like that! I just know them from their names in deeds or parish registers, in old newspapers or on gravestones. One such person was Alice Shaw.
Recently someone who knows my interest in the past brought me two large suitcases of old books he had found in an outhouse he was clearing. Though most of them were mouldy, he thought better of just dumping them before giving me the option of saving some of them. They were on various subjects and in varying states of preservation. I kept about twenty of them, some for their content, but others for their individual associations.
One book I rescued was Richmal Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the Use of Young People. I admit that I had never heard of this book or its author. I rely on the generosity and possible accuracy of Wikipedia for what I know now. Richmal Mangnall was, in fact, a woman. She was an English schoolmistress who first published the book anonymously in 1798, then in her late twenties. Later it was taken up by Longmans, the London publishers, and there were 84 editions published up to 1857.
The book I have is a ‘New Edition, corrected and improved’, printed in 1829. Curiosity as it is in its own right, it might not have caught my attention but for the signature on the title page: ‘Alice Shaw Baltinglass’. Of course, I knew Alice well, though she had not lived here for over a century and a quarter.
A book gains a life beyond itself when its owner signs it. In the first half of the nineteenth century Alice Shaw sat down in Baltinglass and wrote her name into this book; in the second decade of the twenty-first century I was standing in Baltinglass holding that book, looking at her signature. The book bridged the time difference. Alice Shaw was not just a random name that meant nothing to me. Immediately I knew who she was and I wanted to keep the book for that reason.
Alice Shaw did not lead a remarkable life, as far as I know, and I have no idea about her personality. She may have been lively, humorous, outgoing and charitable, or dour, crotchety, reserved and miserly. Whatever her character, for about eighty years she was part of the life of my home town: one of my predecessors in the space I inhabit.
Going from memory and material easily to hand, I can outline a bit about Alice’s background. The Shaws might be regarded as one of the old Baltinglass families. They were here from at least the mid-eighteenth century and the last of the family to live in the town died in 1911. A branch farmed just outside the town in Boley and they survived a few years more. Alice’s parents were Robert and Hannah Shaw. Robert was a builder, or building contractor. Hannah’s maiden surname most likely was Jackson, as there is a Robert Shaw to Hannah Jackson entry dated 1812 in the Index to Marriage Licence Bonds for Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin dioceses.
The Shaws were Church of Ireland. Baltinglass C. of I. parish is one of those whose registers were destroyed in the Public Record Office in 1922, so there is no surviving baptismal record for Alice. If her parents married in 1812 she must have been younger than the stated age on her death record, so probably she was born in late 1812 or in 1813. It is known that Robert and Hannah had at least two children, Alice and Esther. It is very likely that they had several more children, since Esther was about twelve years younger than her sister.
As Alice Shaw’s copy of Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions was published in 1829, she may have received it about that time, when she would have been in her late teens. Certainly her signature seems mature, but it is unlikely that she would have acquired a book like this beyond her mid-twenties. I wonder was it was a gift from her parents or a teacher or a friend? Maybe she bought it herself. I have a feeling that it meant something to her.
It is uncertain where precisely the family lived during Alice’s youth. In the 1840s Robert Shaw occupied two properties in the town and at least from that time the family lived in the one at the end of Main Street, directly opposite what is now the Credit Union. Robert’s other property was what is now Patterson’s in Main Street. Apparently he was renting other houses in the town to tenants, as Alice later did likewise.
Alice was in her early thirties when her father died in February 1846. Five and a half years later her mother died, in September 1851. For the rest of her life Alice was the owner of all the family’s property. As well as two pieces of land, in Sruhaun and Baltinglass East, amounting to 19 acres, she had tenants in two houses in Weavers’ Square and two houses in Mill Street. She and her sister Esther never married and apparently they continued to live together in the family home for over thirty years. By the 1880s they would have been regarded as elderly ladies.
In June 1888 Esther died of hepatitis at the age of 60. She was buried in Baltinglass Abbey with their parents. Four years later Alice also left this world, dying on 2 November 1892 from what was described as an intestinal obstruction which she endured for almost two weeks. She was probably about 79 years old, though her death record stated that she was 81. Her cousin and neighbour, Lizzie Shaw, was the informant on the record. The executor of Alice’s will was Rev. John Usher, the then Rector of Baltinglass parish. She left an estate of £354-16-0.
Alice Shaw was part of the life of Baltinglass for several decades. Her entire existence was spent in my corner of the world. No doubt she was buried with her parents and sister in Baltinglass Abbey, but no one bothered to add her name to the inscription on the gravestone. However, one day she sat down and wrote her name in her book; now that book is mine.
A week ago I attended a marathon of an event. It lasted from 10.30am to sometime about 9pm, long after I had left. It was absorbing. It was full of surprises, good and bad. It was a glimpse into the past, and it said a lot about the present Irish economy. For anyone from my locality who attended it, there was no doubt a tinge of sadness as well as great fascination.
This event was the sale of the contents of Fortgranite, a gentleman’s residence just a few miles outside of Baltinglass. For over two hundred years it had been the home of the Dennis family, but recently it was sold and now we were picking over the family’s heirlooms, their more personal possessions and the things they had forgotten in the less visited corners of the ancient house.
As well as wanting to purchase a pair of Victorian bookcases and some genealogical books, I had the mad notion of ‘saving’ one of the many portraits for Baltinglass. The house was crammed full of the images of the Dennis family’s ancestors. Most of them were from the Swift family. Apparently they had come to Fortgranite from Swiftsheath, Co. Kilkenny.
In the male line the Dennises originally were Swifts. Meade Swift, a first cousin of the famous Jonathan Swift and a second cousin of the poet John Dryden, was the father of Thomas Swift who married Frances Dennis. Frances’s brother Lord Tracton died without issue in 1782. He left his estates in Co. Kerry to his nephew Rev. Meade Swift on condition that he adopt the surname of Dennis. In 1780 Rev. Meade Swift had married Delia Sophia Saunders of Saunders Grove. Through this marriage the family’s connection with the Baltinglass area had come about. It was their son Thomas Stratford Dennis who was the first owner of Fortgranite. It would appear that the property came with his marriage in 1810 to his first cousin Katherine Martha Maria Saunders. The last resident owner of Fortgranite was their great-great-grandson Piers Dennis, who died in January 2016.
The Swift portraits were not the ones I was concerned about. I got it into my head that the Stratford family portraits should remain in Baltinglass, where they had history and context. In my mind’s eye I could see them on the walls of Baltinglass Courthouse, a building almost contemporary with Fortgranite. Unable to interest anyone with money in being philanthropic, I innocently decided that I might manage to ‘save’ one of the portraits. Who could possibly wish to go beyond the guide price to purchase portraits of complete strangers by unknown artists? Well now I know that the answer to that is many people. The Stratford portrait I was least interested in was that of Lady Maria Stratford, about whose very existence I was previously unaware. The guide price was €4,000 to €6,000 but Lady Maria was fought over by a number of people before someone bidding over the phone got possession for €18,000. It must be said that the catalogue indicated that this painting was attributed to James Latham.
So, why did the Stratfords interest me, and why where their portraits in Fortgranite? Robert and Mary Stratford had a residence in Baltinglass in the 1660s. Their son Edward, though he lived in Belan, Co. Kildare, purchased the town of Baltinglass and many of the townlands in its vicinity from the Carroll family in 1707. His son John Stratford did much to encourage the development of Baltinglass. He married Martha daughter of Rev. Benjamin Neale (apparently Rector variously of Hacketstown, Kiltegan and Baltinglass) and through the marriage acquired further local property, including Mountneill, Co. Carlow, a few miles south of Baltinglass.
John and Martha became Baron and Baroness Baltinglass in 1763, Viscount and Viscountess Aldborough in 1776 and finally Earl and Countess of Aldborough in 1777. Their eldest son, Edward, was the more famous 2nd Earl. It was he who build Aldborough House in Dublin and founded the industrial town (now village) of Stratford-on-Slaney, a few miles north of Baltinglass.
The Dennis family were descended from John and Martha through their daughter, Martha Saunders. The last of the Stratfords was the 6th Earl. When his residence, Stratford Lodge (where Baltinglass Golf Club is now located), went up in flames in 1858 four Dennis brothers were among those who attempted to save its contents. Whether the portraits were there at the time is unclear but they came into the possession of the Dennis family either then or on the death of the last earl’s mother. In any case they adorned the walls of Fortgranite for over 130 years.
As for the portraits, they included one of the original Edward Stratford, one of his son John (1st Earl), two of John’s wife Martha and one of their son Edward (2nd Earl). To me, these historical characters were part of the story of Baltinglass and their images bring to life an aspect of our heritage. I determined to at least bid for the ‘cheapest’ of them, the nicer of the two of Martha Neale. The guide price was €1,500-€2,000 and I was sure it would sell for less. I never got to take part. The bidding started at €1,500 and the portrait sold for €5,000.
Martha Neale may not be a well-known historical character internationally but she possibly was the earliest woman associated with Baltinglass of whom there is a surviving image. Genealogically she made her mark on the world. As the mother of at least fifteen (family legend says nineteen) children she produced thousands of descendants. Among those living today are the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and the acting brothers Ralph and Joseph Fiennes.
During the auction various military jackets went for huge prices. Much attention was given to a letter dated 1901 from Winston Churchill replying to Capt. (later Col.) Meade J.C. Dennis, who took exception to his comment on the conduct of the Boer War. With the interest shown in military memorabilia it might have been expected that the letter would fetch a hefty sum, but this was not the case.
One portrait that went past me unnoticed, because it was surrounded in the auction by several Swifts, was that of ‘Miss A. Plunkett, niece of the first Lord Aldborough, Countess of Antrim’. This was Anne Plunkett, a granddaughter of the Edward Stratford who purchased Baltinglass in 1707. She was also the great-great-great-great-grandmother of Winston Churchill. I doubt Churchill was aware that the man he was replying to in 1901 was his fifth cousin twice removed.
It wasn’t necessary for me to find space in my house to accommodate Martha Neale, and she left Baltinglass after all. However, I learned that she and the other Stratfords of whom I was concerned went to ‘good homes’ in Ireland. This is reassuring to know. The Dennises were the last descendants of the Stratfords living locally, some three and a half centuries after Robert and Mary Stratford first came to Baltinglass. ‘The end of an era’ is a dreadfully hackneyed phrase. But in this instance the auction was just that, and I was there to witness the end.
The recent intense and prolonged heatwave experienced by Ireland reminded me of a short newspaper article I came across a few years ago. I included it in my contribution to the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society, No. 6 (2011), ‘Miscellaneous Biographical Notices Relating to Baltinglass, 1748-1904’.
The article recounted the tragic death of a little boy during a hot spell in August 1882. It appeared in the Saturday 12 August edition of the Kildare Observer, under the heading ‘Death from Sunstroke’:
During the past week a child of Mr. Felix Bowes, of Baltinglass, died from the effects of the intense heat. The deceased was a fine little boy of five years of age, and was playing with a number of other children, when he complained of having a pain in his head, and, after a short illness, succumbed. It appears his head was uncovered, and it would be desirable children should not be allowed to expose themselves to the heat of the sun this weather.
The little boy was John Bowes. He was indeed five years old, as he was born in Baltinglass on 7 January 1877. On his birth record he parents were named as Phelim Bowes, a tailor, and Margaret Bowes, formerly Parker. The names Phelim and Felix were used interchangeably, due to Felix being used as a pseudo-translation of Phelim.
The exact date of John’s death is in doubt. Theoretically, the newspaper was published on Saturday 12 August but it may have appeared a few days before or after that date, as local newspapers often did until recent years. John’s death record gives his official date of death as 13 August, but it was not registered until 13 October, so the date is most likely inaccurate. The record stated that the uncertified cause of death was ‘Sunstroke two days’.
A little bit of digging showed that Felix Bowes married Margaret Parker in 1870 June in the Leeds area of Yorkshire. They were not identified in the 1871 Census in England and the first reference found to them in the Baltinglass area was John’s birth record in 1877. Presumably Felix was a Bowes of Killabeg, Co. Wicklow (between Shillelagh and Tullow), as Catherine Bowes of Killabeg was informant on John’s birth record. John’s mother, Margaret, converted to Catholicism in Baltinglass on 17 October 1878. She was baptised conditionally and the record stated that she ‘was married before Baptism in Protestant Church’. The record gave her parents as Edward Parker and Sarah Watson.
Felix and Margaret Bowes had three younger children – Charles (1879), Felix (1881) and George (1882). Felix died at birth. Then, the following year, John died of sunstroke. George died just over four months after John, aged seven months. The cause of his death was hydrocephalus, more commonly called ‘water on the brain’. The final tragedy came sixteen months later, when Margaret herself died on 21 April 1884 at the stated age of 36. The certified cause of death was ‘Decline’, which she had suffered for ‘years’, possibly from the birth of her last child.
The loss of four members of his family in the space of three years did not entirely defeat Felix Bowes. Four months after his wife’s death he married again. This was not unusual and, indeed, with at least one living child it was necessary that he find a wife who would share the burden. He married Mary Roche of Baltinglass in August 1884. Initially they lived in Car’s Rock, just outside the town, where their son, another John, was born in 1885. Their other children born in Car’s Rock were Michael (1886), Catherine (1888) and Walter (1890), while Felix (1892) and Edward (1894) were born in Baltinglass. Edward died at five weeks old. Felix Bowes, the father of the little boy John, died a widower in April 1916 in Baltinglass Workhouse, at the stated aged of 78.
If you were to take a photograph to capture the essence of Baltinglass you might think of a general view of the town from the Carlow Road, or one of the Abbey from across the river. But you’re as likely to think of the McAllister monument as your symbol of Baltinglass. McAllister has been at the heart of the town for a lot longer than living memory. In fact, Sam McAllister has been standing in Main Street for exactly one hundred years [first published in 2004].
In May 1904 a huge crowd gathered for the unveiling of the new statue to commemorate the 1798 Rebellion. Six years had passed since the centenary, but the idea of a monument had only been mooted in Baltinglass at a meeting in March 1898. Raising money for the statue was a long process. Two organisations based in Dublin were the driving forces behind the commemorations throughout Wicklow. On a local level the Dwyer and McAllister Memorial Committee did their best to raise funds. However, much of the money came from outside Ireland, with emigrants in America subscribing substantially.
The first ceremony at the monument site was the laying of the foundation stone on Sunday 15 June 1902. Special trains ran from Dublin with a return fare of two shillings. Hundreds of people poured into the town. Despite unrelenting rain, there was a long parade before the stone was laid by E.P. O’Kelly, the Baltinglass man who was then Chairman of Wicklow County Council.
It was almost another two years before the monument was put in place and unveiled. On Sunday 8 May 1904 an estimated 10,000 people crowded into the town. Fortunately it was a sunny day. A parade started at the railway station, where the Lord Mayor of Dublin and other dignitaries arrived. With flags, banners, costumes and marching bands, it was an exciting day for Baltinglass in an era when entertainment was not to be had at the press of a button.
So began Sam McAllister’s long vigil in Main Street. The railings that once surrounded the base of the statue were removed decades ago to be placed at McAllister’s grave in Kilranelagh. In more recent years the area around the statue was paved, and now Sam is floodlit at night [not anymore]. After a hundred years keeping watch over the town McAllister is recognisable to all Baltinglass people as a symbol of home. But the irony is that the real Sam McAllister was an outsider with no real links to the town.
Little is known about McAllister’s life other than that he was a Presbyterian, originally from Ulster, who deserted from the Antrim Militia and joined the rebels. The historian Ruán O’Donnell says that McAllister joined the Antrim Militia on 1 April 1798 in Co. Wicklow and that he may have been resident in the area at the time. That being the case, there is a strong possibility that he was living in Stratford, where there was a significant number of Presbyterians among the weavers working in the textile factory.
What gave him his heroic reputation was the circumstance of his death in the early hours of 16 February 1799. A group of rebels led by Michael Dwyer were sheltering for the night at Derrynamuck in the Glen of Imaal. They were ambushed by a detachment of soldiers and McAllister was wounded in an exchange of fire. In order that Dwyer might escape, McAllister stood in the doorway and drew the fire of the surrounding soldiers.
Unlike other rebellions in Irish history, 1798 involved people from various religious backgrounds. In Ulster it was primarily a Presbyterian phenomenon; in Leinster it was primarily Catholic, but there were Church of Ireland activists, such as Joseph Holt from east Wicklow. However, it has to be admitted that in Wicklow the revolt had a sectarian element and the rebels were no heroes to the general Protestant population.
Sam McAllister was, therefore, something of an oddity. It would be nice to think that the choice of McAllister for the Baltinglass monument was primarily inspired by a desire to be inclusive of all elements in Irish society. However, tradition has it that he was selected in place of Michael Dwyer because Dwyer was held responsible in Baltinglass for a sectarian killing spree in Sruhaun and Tuckmill on 8 December 1798.
Monuments have a way of developing their own character. In 1904 McAllister represented heroism in rebellion. After a century on the street in Baltinglass, Sam has become a symbol of the town. The real Sam McAllister was an outsider. His image in the heart of our town is a reminder that today’s outsider is tomorrow’s old resident.
[First published in The Baltinglass Review, 2004]
Those who died in the Great War (1914-1918) are commemorated each year on 11 November. Huge numbers of Irishmen enlisted to fight in the British Army, the Royal Navy or the forces of other countries in the British Empire. They joined and fought for a variety of reasons. Those who died in that terrible conflict deserve to be remembered in their home place, especially at this time of year.
Saturday, 1 July 1916, when the Battle of the Somme commenced, was a particularly black moment. Over 19,000 British soldiers lost their lives on that single day. Among them were five men from the Baltinglass area - Thomas Devine, Patrick Greene, Andrew Jones, Patrick Kane and Edward Tutty. Hundreds of Baltinglass lads faced the dangers of that war over its five-year course. It’s impossible to determine how many there were in all. It’s easier to count the ones who never returned.
The following were 45 lads from the Baltinglass area who lost their future by taking part in the Great War. Five of them are commemorated on a plaque in St. Mary’s church in Baltinglass: all are now commemorated on the Co. Wicklow War Dead memorial at Woodenbridge, thanks to the initiative of Billy Timmins, former TD, and the committee he formed with a view to creating a permanent memorial to this lost generation.
Charles Ferris of Lathaleere (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Patrick Sullivan (Scots Guards – Western Front)
Patrick Doyle (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
James Glynn of the Sruhaun Road aged 24 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
George Herbert Morris aged 22 (Gloucestershire Regiment – Western Front)
James Dunne aged 23 (Leinster Regiment – Western Front)
Michael Brien aged 23 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Patrick J. Kehoe of Weavers’ Square aged 35 (East Yorkshire Regiment – Western Front)
Matthew Whyte of Tuckmill (Connaught Rangers – Gallipoli)
John Abbey of Weavers’ Square aged 24 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
James Hennessy of Chapel Hill aged 24 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
John Nolan (Connaught Rangers – commemorated in Alexandria, Egypt)
Laurence Sutton of Belan Street aged 22 (Leinster Regiment – Western Front)
Richard Jones of Mill Street aged 29 (Royal Horse Artillery – Mesopotamia)
Joseph Bayle of Main Street aged 27 (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – Western Front)
John Joseph Behan aged 27 (Royal Irish Rifles – Western Front)
Patrick Doyle of Belan Street aged 18 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Henry O’Neill aged 23 (Royal West Surrey Regiment – Western Front)
Thomas Devine from Stratford aged 45 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Patrick Greene (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Andrew Jones of Boleylug aged 35 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Patrick Kane of Holdenstown (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Edward Tutty aged 27 (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – Western Front)
William Byrne aged 22 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
William Lanegan shoemaker in Clarkes of the Bridge aged 24 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Thomas William Middleton aged 28 (Royal Navy – near Dunkirk)
James Christopher Doogan of Main Street aged 19 (Royal Irish Regiment – Western Front)
Thomas Fitzgerald (Royal Garrison Artillery – Western Front)
Anthony Ovington from Woodfieldglen (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
William Conway of Deerpark aged 26 (Connaught Rangers – Western Front)
James Kearney of the Green Lane (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Michael O’Neill (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
George S. Brereton of Weavers’ Square aged 42 (Royal Irish Regiment – East Mediterranean)
Joseph Doody of Stratfordlodge aged 23 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Henry Hawkins from Newtownsaunders aged 41 (Royal Navy – Orkney, Scotland)
William Kelly (Irish Guards – Western Front)
William J. Mallen of Grangecon aged 18½ (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Michael Kane (Royal Field Artillery – Western Front)
Thomas Malone of Main Street aged 39 (Machine Gun Corps – Western Front)
Ambrose A. Shearman cashier in the National Bank aged 26 (London Regiment – Western Front)
Hubert L. Grogan of Slaney Park aged 21 (Worcestershire Regiment – Western Front)
Michael J. Harbourne of the Bridge Hotel aged 21 (Australian Infantry – Western Front)
Joseph Brean (Army Service Corps – Southern Front)
Henry Pollard (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – in Germany)
1919 (from wounds)
James Moore of Ballyhook aged 24 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – in Germany)
Time for my annual appeal for Baltinglass to embrace its heritage and bring back the juggies to the streets at Halloween. Banish the dreadful “trick-or-treat” expression and tell Baltinglass children to do what Baltinglass children did from at least the early years of the twentieth century – tell them to go out juggying, knocking on doors saying “HELP THE JUGGIES”.
Halloween isn’t something we got from America. It’s an old Irish custom and different parts of Ireland have different words to describe the activity of children dressing up in old rags to disguise themselves and going door to door asking for nuts, fruit or sweets. In Baltinglass it's called juggying. No one seems to know where that word came from or what exactly it represents. It’s been discussed a lot in recent years. What can be said is that it’s a word almost unique to Baltinglass. Other towns have other words for juggying, or none at all.
Don’t let the juggies be replaced by a bland international copy of the real Baltinglass thing. Banish the pumpkin and bring back the turnip! Leave the fireworks till night-time and give the kids time to go juggying. Don’t destroy a living tradition. Tell your kids that when they dress up at Halloween they’re dressing up as JUGGIES. Tell them when they go door to door they’re going JUGGYING. And tell they when the door is opened to say “HELP THE JUGGIES!”.
It’s well known that the family of Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse and all that sparkles, came from north Co. Kilkenny. But Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, had a very close connection with the Disney family. One of them lived in Baltinglass for many years. Mary Disney (Walt’s great-great-grandaunt) married John Jones in 1810. They lived in Newtownsaunders and were part of the Methodist congregation in Baltinglass. John Jones was a farmer and a land agent. In 1833 he was one of the trustees for the Methodist congregation when they leased a plot in Mill Street where they built their meetinghouse.
In the early 1850s John Jones moved into Weavers Square to the house now owned by the O’Shea family. I cannot honestly say whether Mary was still alive by the 1850s. I have not looked into this in enough detail, as I have not looked closely at John and Mary’s gravestone in Hacketstown. Mary was one of several children of Robert Disney and his wife Mary Capel / Kepple, who married in Carlow Church of Ireland parish in 1775. Another of their daughters was Elizabeth who married William Cooke in 1809. The Cookes lived in Griffinstown in Ballynure parish, just north of Baltinglass.
Theoretically, Elizabeth Disney and William Cooke could have descendants in the area. Certainly Mary Disney and John Jones have quite a number of descendants around Baltinglass. Walt Disney’s distant cousins live in the area and his great-great-grandaunt once lived here, so there is a little touch of Disney sparkle to the town.
What’s the oldest gravestone in St. Joseph’s graveyard in Baltinglass? I really don’t know. But I do know that it’s not the one with the earliest date on it. Am I confusing you? Well, there is a gravestone that includes ‘Michael Brophy who gave his life in Ireland’s cause at Baltinglass in 1798 aged 55 years’. The headstone and that inscription were put in place in the oldest part of the cemetery in about 1920 by Michael’s great-grandson, William Henry Brophy of Bisbee, Arizona, USA.
Michael Brophy was a prosperous farmer who lived in Rathmoon House (now Burke’s) but he was originally from north Kilkenny. He had twelve sons and one daughter. In the 1790s he was known to be involved in the United Irishmen. Family tradition suggested that he was at the Battle of Vinegar Hill in June 1798, after which he was captured and executed. Over a century later E.P. O’Kelly wrote that Brophy was hanged from a beam at the entrance to Tan Lane (on one side of Mill Street).
Michael’s son George, who was born in Kilkenny, attended Carlow College before training for the priesthood in Paris and Madrid. He returned to Paris and was ordained in 1798, the year of his father’s death. George spent decades in France before moving to the USA in 1843. He died in Davenport, Iowa, in 1880, reportedly at the age of 105. Rev. George Brophy moved in exalted circles and in his time met Napoleon Bonaparte and six American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln.
Another of Michael’s sons, William, was intended for the church but he decided it was not for him and emigrated to Canada where he practised law. His grandson Truman William Brophy, born in Illinois in 1848, became a dentist and then a medical doctor. In the late nineteenth century, based in Chicago, he pioneered surgical procedures to repair the cleft lip and palate. Truman Brophy travelled internationally performing operations and lecturing, and he published two books on the subject. His work alleviated the suffering of countless people born with the condition.
Another of Michael’s sons was James Brophy, who succeeded him in Rathmoon. In 1815 James married Catherine (‘Kitty’) Cullen of Prospect, Narraghmore, Co. Kildare. Kitty’s younger brother, Paul Cullen, became Ireland’s first cardinal in 1866. James and Kitty’s eldest son, Michael Brophy, succeeded to the Rathmoon property. He had married Matilda Lalor, from the Goresbridge area of Kilkenny. Michael and Matilda’s son William Henry (‘Billy’) Brophy was baptised in Baltinglass on 18 October 1863. He went to America when he was aged 17, arriving in New York with his cousin Hugh on 11 April 1881.
Billy Brophy gravitated to the mining settlement of Bisbee, Arizona, where his older brothers had already begun to work. A mercantile, mining and banking career ultimately made him a millionaire. When the USA entered the First World War in 1917, Brophy became a ‘Dollar-a-Year’ man. He was one of a number of high powered businessmen who gave their expertise for a token salary of $1 plus expenses. He was based in Paris for the duration.
It was shortly afterwards that he had the gravestone erected in Baltinglass to his grandparents, James and Kitty, and to his great-grandfather Michael Brophy, the 1798 rebel. In the early 1920s he moved to Los Angeles. In November 1922, while on a fishing trip in the Gulf of California, Billy Brophy was swept overboard in a storm and drowned. He was aged 59. Mass was celebrated for him in Baltinglass a few months later. In 1928 in his honour his widow, Ellen Amelia, founded Brophy College Preparatory, a Jesuit boys’ school, in Phoenix, Arizona. The stained glass windows of its Brophy Chapel were designed and executed by artists from Dublin’s An Túr Gloine.
2013 (when this post was first aired on Facebook) was the 150th anniversary of the birth in Baltinglass of William Henry Brophy, who erected the gravestone with the earliest date in the oldest part of St. Joseph’s graveyard. But it’s not the oldest gravestone.
Oliver and Margaret Walsh may never have been internationally recognised figures, but they had a significant impact on the world. Were it not for them the Abbey Theatre might never have been founded, the word ‘Disneyland’ would mean nothing to anyone, and the course of the Second World War might well have been different.
When Margaret Borrowes married Oliver Walsh she was probably looking forward to a happy life, to having children, and to the relative comfort she was used to. The Abbey Theatre, Disneyland and the Second World War were far from her thoughts, as they were then unimagined developments of the distant future. Oliver and Margaret lived in Ireland in the seventeenth century. The happenings of the twentieth century were for their famous descendants to influence.
By the standards of the time Oliver and Margaret were prosperous people. He was what was termed a ‘gentleman’ and he had the means in 1639 to purchase lands at Ballykilcavan in what was then Queen’s Co. (now Laois). Margaret was from Gilltown, Co. Kildare, some twenty miles away. They both witnessed the 1641 Rebellion, in which her father lost heavily for his support of King Charles. They were again bystanders when in 1649 the wrath of Cromwell descended on Ireland.
Cromwell died in 1658, and so too did Oliver Walsh, bequeathing his DNA to posterity. Three years later his and Margaret’s son, another Oliver, married Editha Hunt of Dublin. About the same time their daughter Mary married a young man from Warwickshire named Robert Stratford. With the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, Charles II was trying to perform a miracle of loaves and fishes in confirming Irish land to Cromwellian soldiers while restoring the same land to dispossessed royalists. It was a chaotic time ‘when land was cheap and money dear’, and Robert Stratford snapped up some bargains, buying or leasing various properties. One of these was the town of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, and he settled there with Mary.
Oliver and Editha Walsh remained at Ballykilcavan, which is still today in the possession of descendants. Their daughter Rebecca married Toby Caulfeild of Clone, Co. Kilkenny. A century later, in 1795, Rebecca’s great-great-granddaughter, Frances Best, married a farmer called Kepple Disney. In the 1830s Frances and Kepple’s son Arundel left Ireland with his wife and their infant son, sailing for New York. They later settled in Ontario in Canada, but the son moved to Kansas. His son Elias settled in Chicago, where he worked as a carpenter, and it was there that his son, Walt Disney, was born in 1901. So if Oliver and Margaret Walsh had never married the man who turned his surname into a byword for fantasy and entertainment would never have existed.
Returning to the Stratfords, Robert must have done well out of his property speculation in the 1660s, as he was able to marry off his seven daughters quite respectably and leave his son Edward in a comfortable position. Despite heavy losses incurred in his support for William of Orange in the civil war fought out in Ireland against James II, Edward Stratford prospered. His son John was eventually elevated to the peerage, first as Baron Baltinglass in 1763 and ultimately as Earl of Aldborough in 1777, the year of his death. John’s son Edward was the 2nd Earl. As well as developing the town of Baltinglass, constructing Aldborough House in Dublin and Stratford Place in London, he dreamt up a new industrial town in Co. Wicklow which he called Stratford-on-Slaney. For decades it was a prosperous textile manufacturing centre but after the industry failed it dwindled to the quiet, pleasant village it is today. There were four more earls of Aldborough, the last being an eccentric recluse who died in 1875 at Alicante in Spain.
In 1697 Abigail Stratford, one of the seven daughters of Robert Stratford and Mary Walsh, married George Canning of Garvagh in Derry. Their only surviving child was Stratford Canning. Stratford’s eldest son, George, was a great disappointment to him. Having got himself into serious debt in London, he was bailed out by his father but in return had to renounce his inheritance. Then, in his early thirties and still in London, he married a young lady with no fortune, fathered three children and died after less than three years of marriage. His impoverished widow was forced to take to the stage and she drifted into an even more socially unacceptable position as the mistress of a disreputable actor.
At the time of George’s death his second child was a year old. He was another George. He spent his early childhood in near penury before being rescued by the Cannings, who paid for his education at Eton and Oxford, where he gained a reputation for academic brilliance. Entering politics, he rose to the position of Foreign Secretary during the Napoleonic Wars, but lost it after being wounded in a duel with a political rival, Lord Castlereagh. However, he returned to that office in 1822 following the suicide of the erstwhile Lord Castlereagh, then Marquess of Londonderry. After a successful five years as Foreign Secretary, in April 1827 he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However, he became ill in July and died on 8 August at the age of 57 after serving one of the shortest terms of any British Prime Minister. In his day George Canning was regarded as a man who rose from humble origins to the highest political office on his own merit, a unique achievement in nineteenth century Britain. Though he visited Ireland only once, both his parents were born in the country and he referred to himself as ‘an Irishman born in London’. He was also a strong advocate of Catholic emancipation, a position that would have horrified his great-granduncle, Edward Stratford, the staunch supporter of King Billy.
That Edward Stratford’s daughter Elizabeth married Charles Plunkett of Dillonstown, Co. Louth. Their daughter Anne married the 5th Earl of Antrim in 1739. Anne’s only son, Randal, became the 6th Earl on his father’s death. He eventually married but had no son to inherit the title. He obtained a new patent in 1785 allowing for his three daughters and their male issue to succeed. On his death in 1791 his sixteen year old eldest daughter, Anne Catherine, became Countess of Antrim in her own right. She married Sir Henry Vane-Tempest but their only child was a girl named Frances Anne. She could not inherit her mother’s title as it was limited to her male heirs, so the earldom passed to Frances Anne’s aunt. However, on his death in 1813 Sir Henry left his daughter a very rich heiress, with an estimated £60,000 a year. Lady Frances Anne might have attracted all the gold diggers in London. However, her mother encouraged the attention of Charles, Lord Stewart, a forty year old widower. Though he was twice her age, he had a sizeable income of his own and very good connections. They married in 1819. Three years later Charles’s half-brother, the Foreign Secretary popularly known as Lord Castlereagh, committed suicide. Frances Anne’s distant cousin, George Canning, became the new Foreign Secretary and she herself became the Marchioness of Londonderry.
Lady Londonderry’s eldest daughter, Frances, took a further step up the aristocratic pyramid by marrying the Marquess of Blandford, as he later succeeded his father as Duke of Marlborough. While her husband served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 1870s there was a threatened return of famine, and Frances, Duchess of Marlborough set up a relief fund that raised £135,000. While in Dublin the Marlboroughs resided at the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin). That was how it came about that their grandson Winston Churchill’s earliest memories were of being in a pram in the Phoenix Park. Though he was a Nobel Prize winning writer, it was through his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II that his memory became immortalised.
Producing two British prime ministers was not the only legacy to the world from the Stratford branch of Oliver and Margaret Walsh’s family. Many descendants were prominent in politics and the arts. Included in their number was Charles Stewart Parnell, who led the constitutional Irish nationalist movement from the 1870s. On the other hand, so was Sir Basil Brooke (Lord Brookeborough), leader of the unionist movement in the mid-twentieth century and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
Another descendant was Augusta, Lady Gregory, one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre which influenced Ireland’s cultural identity at the beginning of the twentieth century. The artist Sir William Orpen was hardly aware of Oliver and Margaret Walsh, or his distant relationship to Churchill when he painted the future legend’s portrait in 1915. There were other artistic individuals hidden in the branches of the extensive family tree grown by Oliver and Margaret. The architect Sir Thomas Newenham Deane was one of them. Among his works were the National Library and National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin. The popular twentieth century author Elizabeth Bowen was another. The Canadian-born Hume Cronyn who died in 2003 was a Broadway star and a Hollywood character actor whose films ranged from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in the 1940s to television movies made in the 2000s. Along the way he starred with his wife Jessica Tandy in such films as The World According to Garp and Cocoon.
In the world of the arts today the most prominent offspring are the Irish singer-songwriter Chris De Burgh, and the highly successful English acting brothers Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, who spent part of their childhood in Ireland. Their kinsman, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, is another Stratford descendant. Another celebrity descendant is the 2003 Miss World, Rosanna Davison, who is the daughter of Chris De Burgh. Jemima Goldsmith, wife of the Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan, inherits her Walsh blood from the Londonderrys. Oliver and Margaret have royal descendants in Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York, whose mother, Sarah Ferguson, traces her ancestry from the Stratfords through the Wingfields of Powerscourt.
Oliver and Margaret are thirteen generations back from Rosanna Davison and the princesses. Beatrice and Eugenie are Rosanna’s eleventh cousins. They are ninth cousins three times removed of Walt Disney. Most people have no contact with relatives as remote as third cousins, and few have traced their ancestry back any more than about five or six generations. So most people have no idea of who else might be sharing their bloodlines.
Today there are thousands of Oliver and Margaret Walsh’s progeny all over the planet. They are by no means all wealthy, famous, or successful people. They are in all walks of life, and most are unaware of the seventeenth century Irish couple whose DNA contributed to making them the individuals they are. Oliver and Margaret may not have done remarkable things during their lifetime, but without them the world’s history would have taken a slightly different shape. That should be a sobering thought for any parent.
[First published in Ireland of the Welcomes, Vol. 55, No. 1 (January-February 2006)]
I'm a genealogist by profession, with credentials from AGI. I also dabble in local history and the history of Irish golfers, and I'm always writing something!