There must have been much rejoicing when John and Martha Stratford’s eighth child arrived in the mid-1730s, about a decade into their marriage. According to Martha’s second cousin, Pole Cosby, that eighth child, Edward, was their first son. It is said that John and Martha had 19 children, with 15 of them surviving childhood. However, there seems not to be any definite record of all the children, or when they were born. So, it can be said that they had at least nine daughters, very likely eleven, and possibly more.
The Stratfords were upwardly mobile members of the Irish gentry in the early eighteenth century. John was the youngest son of Edward Stratford of Belan, Co. Kildare, and ultimately he succeeded to most of his property, including the town of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, and much of its environs. Martha was the younger daughter of Archdeacon Benjamin Neale and his wife Hannah Paul. The Archdeacon’s career is a little hazy, but he may have been rector of Baltinglass parish about the time of his daughter’s marriage. The Co. Carlow parishes of Hacketstown and Rathvilly also vaguely featured in his curriculum vitae. In any case, he built a mansion in Rathvilly parish, just south of Baltinglass, which he called Mount Neale [now Mountneill]. After his death much of his property, including Mount Neale, and property from the Paul family passed to the Stratfords.
The Stratford family were a quarrelsome and litigious lot. There was always a disagreement going on between some of them. Sir Jonah Barrington, in his colourful and satirical Personal Sketches, commented that they ‘preferred law to all other species of pastime’. John and Martha had a not very harmonious relationship with their eldest son, Edward. Edward in turn was intermittently at loggerheads with his younger brothers, while his sisters appear to have had divided loyalties. According to Barrington, Edward had a dispute with his brothers about the running of the borough of Baltinglass. To remedy the situation he decided to nominate his sister Hannah as the borough’s new returning officer, an extraordinary proposition for the late eighteenth century. It ‘created a great battle’ into which the other sisters evidently waded. Barrington wrote:
The honourable ladies all got into the thick of it : some of them were well trounced – others gave as good as they received : the affair made a great uproar in Dublin, and informations were moved for and granted against some of the ladies.
The order of birth of John and Martha’s eleven, or so, daughters is very unclear. Almost certainly HANNAH was the eldest, though she has been referred to as Edward’s twin. She remained unmarried. If the order in which her sisters wed is any indication of their place in the family, they were born in this order: MARTHA (married 1753 Morley Pendred Saunders), ELIZABETH (m. 1758 Robert Tynte), AMELIA (m. 1760 Richard Wingfield, younger brother of the 2nd Viscount Powerscourt), HARRIOT (m. 1765 Robert Hartpole), GRACE (m. 1778 Rev. Hayes Phipps Queade), ANNE (m. 1778 George Powell) and FRANCES (m. 1781 William Holt). In addition, there was DEBORAH, who did not marry, as well as two others, MARIA and LETITIA, who died sometime before 1789.
Considering that the Stratfords were regarded as wealthy and that they were coming up in the world, the matches made by the daughters were unspectacular. Amelia was the only one who married into the aristocracy and even that was not a major step up the ladder, as her husband’s father had been elevated to the peerage only 17 years before she became the Honourable Mrs. Wingfield.
In 1763 the Stratfords moved up a peg in society, when John Stratford was created Baron of Baltinglass. This made Lord and Lady Baltinglass’s other married daughters the Hon. Mrs. Saunders and the Hon. Mrs. Tynte, while the unmarried girls became the Hon. Hannah, Harriot, Grace, Anne, Frances and Deborah Stratford. If Maria and Letitia were alive at the time they too would have been Honourables! The following year Amelia’s brother-in-law died and her husband became viscount. She was now Lady Powerscourt and once again ahead of her own mother in the pecking order, as viscountess trumps baroness.
In 1776 John Stratford was elevated to the title of Viscount Aldborough, but this did not change the status of his daughters. However, the next year he became Earl of Aldborough and his daughters’ prefix of ‘Honourable’ was replaced by ‘Lady’. This had no bearing on Amelia’s status as she already was the wife of a peer. By then all of the Stratford daughters ranged from young adults to middle-aged women. John Stratford had long been a wealthy landowner with social aspirations. With his newly found position as a peer in the 1760s, and a houseful of daughters, it might have been expected that better matrimonial alliances would have been a priority for him and Martha. For whatever reason, there were no advantageous marriages.
John died less than six months after gaining his earldom. His son Edward became the 2nd earl and he too had aspirations to greater social connections, but his sisters who married in the following four years did nothing to enhance the family’s grandeur. All three married with their mother’s approval, as she was a party to each of their marriage settlements. One married a student and future clergyman, while the other two settled for fairly ordinary gentlemen. Considering that each of them had a dowry of £4,000-£5,000, you might expect them to catch the younger son of a peer at least.
In relation to this generation of the Stratford family, original documentary sources are supplemented by Ethel M. Richardson’s Long Forgotten Days (London, 1928) and Ronald W. Lightbown’s An Architect Earl: Edward Augustus Stratford (Thomastown, 2008), and by an article, ‘Recollections of Visits to Belan House, Co. Kildare, in the Early Victorian Period’, by an anonymous female writer, published in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. V, No. 5 (1908). Mervyn Archdall’s 1789 revision of John Lodge’s Peerage of Ireland, or a Genealogical History of the Present Nobility of the Kingdom listed nine of the daughters of John and Martha Stratford, including the little known Maria and Letitia, both of whom were stated as deceased by that time. Archdall’s source on these two daughters was ‘Information of the Earl’, their brother. Strangely Archdall omitted Frances and Deborah, both of whom were alive and well at the time. Richardson likewise listed nine daughters, omitting Maria and Deborah.
No one seems to have carried out a full inventory of the Stratford offspring. Over the years, daughters’ names have been thrown about and the total of nine has been quoted, without a careful head count. Assuming that Maria and Letitia actually existed, and there is scant evidence of that, there were at least eleven daughters. Certainly there were six sons. If there were 19 children altogether there are two others unaccounted for, and their gender is unknown.
The following is a very brief summary in relation to each of the eleven daughters of whom there is record:
Hannah: Apparently she was the eldest, named after her maternal grandmother, Hannah Paul (Mrs. Neale). However, Lightbown refers to her as Edward’s twin, and Edward was preceded by seven girls. Certainly Hannah was the eldest surviving unmarried daughter, as she was referred to as Miss Stratford before she became Lady Hannah, evidently at about the age of fifty. By all accounts she was a formidable woman. Apparently her opinion held sway with her parents. According to Barrington’s lively account of the dispute over the borough of Baltinglass, she was an ally of her brother Edward, the 2nd Earl. Hannah died unmarried in 1801 at 8 Great Denmark Street, the Dublin residence her brother the earl had used before building Aldborough House. At that time she was possibly in her mid-seventies.
Maria: According to Archdall’s revision of Lodge’s Peerage of Ireland, Maria was deceased by 1789. The only other evidence of her existence is the ‘Portrait of Lady Maria Stratford, daughter of 1st Earl of Aldborough’ which was sold at auction in 2019 as part of the contents of Fortgranite, the residence of the Dennis family, descendants of the Stratfords. Despite her want of biography, Maria’s picture fetched £18,000, three times the guide price. The portrait was attributed to James Latham, an Irish artist who died in 1747. If it was by Latham, Maria must have been one of the older daughters.
Letitia: Archdall also mentioned Letitia as deceased by 1789. The only other reference found to her was Richardson’s ‘to complete the long list, at the very end, came the little Lady Letitia, who appears to have died early unmarried’. Her position ‘at the very end’ may have come from Richardson’s imagination rather than real evidence.
Martha: The first of the children of John and Martha to marry. Her husband was Morley Pendred Saunders of Saunders Grove, just north of Baltinglass. The ceremony was celebrated at St. Anne’s in Dublin on 20 February 1753 by George Stone, Archbishop of Armagh. That little social coup may have come about by ecclesiastical connections through the Neale family. Stone started his rapid rise through the ranks in 1733, when he became Dean of Ferns. In the same year Martha’s grandfather, Benjamin Neale died in office as Chancellor of Ferns. Martha was still alive in 1800, when she was bequeathed a legacy by her brother Edward. Her many descendants included the Tyntes of Tynte Park and the Dennises of Fortgranite, both in West Wicklow, as well as the Saunders family. The 2019 sale of Fortgranite brought an end to her progeny’s association with the Baltinglass area.
Elizabeth: In 1758 she married Robert Tynte of Old Bawn, Co. Dublin, and Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. He died in June 1760 near Bristol, on his way to Bath ‘for the recovery of his health, which was much impaired’. Their only child was born posthumously. This was the future Sir James Stratford Tynte, who was created a baronet in 1778, while still a minor. He married his first cousin Hannah Saunders, Lady Martha’s daughter. Lady Elizabeth remained a widow for the rest of her life. According to Lightbown, she died in 1816. The Tyntes of Tynte Park were her descendants.
Amelia: She married Hon. Richard Wingfield in St. Anne’s parish, Dublin, on 25 September 1760. Four years later she became Lady Powerscourt. Her husband died in 1788, but she was still alive in 1807, when she testified in a Chancery case concerning the will of her brother Edward. According to Richardson, she died in 1830, by which time she would have been in her late eighties at least. Among her living descendants are Sarah Ferguson and her daughters the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York.
Harriot: She also married in St. Anne’s parish, suggesting that the Stratfords’ town house was in that area of Dublin at the time. The wedding took place on 30 May 1765 and her husband was Robert Hartpole of Shrule in Queen’s Co. [now Co. Laois], then a grand house in decline. Richardson mentions an account of ‘when she, suffering the agonies of smallpox, gave birth to a dying baby boy’. According to Lightbown, Harriot died in 1775 (in which case she was never ‘Lady Harriot’). Her only surviving son, George, was the subject of one of Barrington’s Personal Sketches, in which the Stratfords were lampooned. He died in 1795, bringing an end to the Hartpole line that had been associated with Shrule for generations. Hannah’s daughter Martha married Charles Bowen and her daughter Maria married John Lecky. The historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903) was one of her descendants.
Grace: In 1778, the year after the death of her earl father, Grace married Hayes Phipps Queade. The ceremony also took place in St. Anne’s parish, on 1 September. As Grace’s mother was born no later than about 1708, Grace must have been in her early twenties at least by the time of the marriage. Her husband was a scholarship student at Trinity College, Dublin, aged about twenty-one, and the son of a clergyman. He graduated the following year and was ordained in 1780. Apparently his first appointment was not until 1799, when he became curate at St. Anne’s. Considering his youth and lack of prospects at the time of the marriage, it is not surprising that Grace’s marriage settlement stipulated (with Queade’s consent) that none of what she brought to the union would be ‘at the disposal or subject to the Controul of her said then intended Husband’. Grace died in or before 1803, when her will was proved. In 1805 Queade married his second wife, Narcissa McNemara.
Anne: James Shiel, an ally of the 2nd Earl, in a letter of January 1778, quoted by Richardson, observed:
Lady Ann sings to admiration the song in ‘The Beggar’s Opera,’ ‘I’m like a ship in the ocean lost.’
At the end of that year Anne married George Powell, apparently a distant cousin who attached himself to the Stratford family and later became agent to Anne’s brother Edward. Anne was still alive in 1798 but must have died soon afterwards. Her earl brother died on the second day of the nineteenth century, 2 January 1801, and eleven months later his widow, Anne Elizabeth, married George Powell. That union lasted only a few months before Anne Elizabeth also died.
Frances: She was the last of the sisters to take a husband. She married William Holt of Dublin on 26 April 1781 in St. Anne’s parish, with her brother-in-law, Rev. Hayes Phipps Queade as celebrant. She had two children, Edward Stratford Holt and Hannah O’Neale Holt, both mentioned in her will. In the late spring of 1792 it was known in the family that Frances was dying. On 30 April Lady Aldborough and Lady Hannah went to visit at her home in Crumlin, Co. Dublin. According to the 2nd Earl’s diary, quoted by Richardson, they brought home ‘her only child’ to stay with them in Dublin ‘as her poor Mother is not like to live’. A few days later ‘little Miss Holt’ was brought back to visit Frances. On 15 May Lord Aldborough wrote ‘Lost my poor sister Holt’. Three days later he entered:
Went to Crumlin, to do the last sad office to my departed sister in attending her remains to St. John’s. After the burial service was performed, had the coffin replaced in hearse, and Conveyed to Family Vault in Baltinglass, and grave intended for her in St John’s closed. Spent the rest of the day at home.
The ‘Family Vault’ was not a vault as such, and should not be confused with the much later Stratford Tomb that is to be seen now in Baltinglass Abbey.
Deborah: Debby, as she appears to have been called, remained unmarried. She was little mentioned until her later years. After the death of Edward, the 2nd Earl, in 1801, the next brother, John, became the 3rd Earl of Aldborough. At some stage John and his wife decided to lead separate lives. He remained at Belan House, to which he succeeded along with the title. After his wife’s departure his sister Debby lived at Belan with him, leading a quiet life. The anonymous ‘Recollections of Visits to Belan House’ paints a picture of Lady Deborah’s management of the household:
She was a notable housekeeper, always carrying a large bunch of keys, and keeping her store-room filled with all sorts of good things ; she distilled herbs, roses, and lavender ; she doctored the tenants, or thought she did so, for though they accepted her medicaments, they threw them all out, doctor’s stuff, as they called them, not being to their taste. At Christmas time she laid in great stores of raisins and currants, and, with the help of a boy named Hagarty, stoned all the raisins and prepared the Christmas fare herself. This same Hagarty must have had a bad time ; she watched him closely when stoning the raisins, and, if caught putting one into his mouth, boxed his ears so soundly that he tumbled off the high stool on which he was perched.
Eventually the earl’s daughter, Lady Emily, came to live at Belan, and Lady Debby departed. The anonymous writer added:
In a short time she retired from the scene , and lived a very retired life in Dublin in a large house, I rather think in Leeson Street. Her fine jewellery and a considerable sum of money which she took with her from Belan she carefully kept sewed up in her mattress.
There may be portraits of various of the Stratford sisters in existence. Apart from that of Maria, the only other encountered on this journey of discovery was one of Elizabeth with her young son James Tynte, reproduced in Lightbown’s book.
At the age of 116, Sam McAllister is the oldest resident of Baltinglass. He has stood at the centre of Main Street since his unveiling on 8 May 1904. He has become a symbol of Baltinglass and even a minor place-name. People often meet ‘at McAllister’. Pop-up events sometimes take place ‘at McAllister’. Unfortunately, on occasion Sam is made hold flags for sporting events or nationalist commemorations – not the most respectful treatment for such a venerable resident.
Sam is very much an accepted part of our community. I doubt that anyone dislikes him. People may be indifferent to him and take him for granted, if they don’t actively like him. Visitors take photographs of him. He was only in his mid-fifties when I was born about a hundred yards away from where he stands, and he’s been at the focal point of my home town all my life. The centre of Main Street would look very bare without him.
McAllister was a late starter in the centenary commemorations of the 1798 Rebellion. Other towns in Wicklow, Carlow and Wexford got their rebel statues before Baltinglass got Sam. The main impetus and funding came from Dublin-based organisers and nationalist emigrants living in the USA, but local committees were expected to raise money too. Baltinglass was a bit tardy, so the foundation stone was laid four years after the centenary and it was another two years before the unveiling.
Visitors may look at the statue and see its message of rebellion. Baltinglass natives may see an old friend. But McAllister is also a minor work of art. The sculptor was George Smyth of Dublin (c1857-1927). He created a life-sized statue of Sicilian marble, representing a defiant McAllister with his right arm in a sling and a rifle by his left side. The base was made of Ballyknockan granite.
Apparently George Smyth was known more for church sculpture. His premises were in Great Brunswick Street, across the road and a few doors down from those of another firm of monumental sculptors, the Pearse family. The street was later renamed after Patrick Pearse, while George Smyth’s premises were absorbed into Trinity College. George’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him were sculptors. The great-grandfather was Edward Smyth, who worked on the ornamentation of the Custom House in Dublin for the architect, James Gandon, who was greatly impressed by him. The riverine heads that adorn the keystones of the Custom House were Edward Smyth’s creation.
As a minor work of art, our McAllister statue has an interesting pedigree, but what of its purpose? Commemoration of 1798 was a way of keeping nationalism to the fore as the centenary of Ireland’s integration into the United Kingdom approached. There is no doubt that the proliferation of statues built a hundred years after the United Irishmen’s ’98 Rebellion had a political motive, one not shared by all Irish people. While the leaders of United Irishmen had set aside religious differences and the rebellion had been led in Ulster by Presbyterians, the fighting in the south-east had a strong sectarian element. Joseph Holt, a Protestant from the Redcross area of Co. Wicklow, was almost the only exception to the rule. Those who involved themselves in the rebellion in the south-east were almost exclusively Roman Catholic; those who were involved in opposing it were primarily Protestant. And then there was Sam McAllister.
Sam is someone of whom little is known. Certainly he was a Presbyterian from Ulster. He may well have come to the West Wicklow area as a textile worker in the calico factory in the new town of Stratford-on-Slaney. While in Co. Wicklow, he enlisted in the Antrim Militia, for whatever reason, in April 1798 but deserted three months later and joined the rebels. In February 1799 he was one of a party of rebels on the run with the local leader, Michael Dwyer, when they sheltered one night in a number of houses in Derrynamuck in the Glen of Imaal. They were ambushed and surrounded by a detachment of the Glengarry Fencibles. McAllister and Dwyer were in one house with two other rebels, both of whom were killed. McAllister was wounded in the arm and the thatched roof was set alight. According to Dwyer, McAllister sacrificed his life by standing in the doorway and drawing the soldiers’ fire in order that Dwyer might escape, which he did.
When it came to erecting a centenary statue in Baltinglass, the original intention was that Dwyer would be represented by it. However, there was a lingering resentment against him in the town due to a sectarian killing spree in December 1798 by a group of which he was the leader. It took place as they left Baltinglass on a Fair Day and walked along the Dublin Road (now Sruhaun Road) towards Tuckmill. Apparently Dwyer was not forgiven for this and so, remembering the Derrynamuck ambush, the shadowy figure of the little-known Presbyterian from Ulster was chosen in preference to the folk hero.
The monument’s inscription refers to both Dwyer and McAllister, and mentions the various nationalist struggles down to the Fenians in the 1860s. This structure cannot have been a welcome new feature in the centre of the town for the several Protestant families who lived here, because it represented a tradition that largely alienated them. Whatever they felt about it at the time, as the years went by McAllister became familiar. He wasn’t preaching or fighting or causing any disturbance. As the decades passed, he grew older and mellowed, and now he is older than anyone in Baltinglass. His persona has developed and grown.
With all his ambiguities, he represents what the beholder wishes to see. He’s a rebel, a shadowy hero, a Presbyterian nationalist, a work of art, an Ulsterman, an outsider, a ‘blow-in’ or (less politely) a ‘runner-in’, a migrant worker, an old friend, a venerable resident, an institution, an icon of Baltinglass, a symbol of our community, a constant in time of change.
I’m very fond of Sam. I look at him and see all those things at different times. Mainly I think of him as an old friend. He’s like a man of contradictions, all whose opinions I don’t have to share in order to appreciate his friendship.
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.
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!