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.
I'm feeling quite happy today because my new book Seven Signatories: Tracing the Family Histories of the Men Who Signed the Proclamation is hot off the press. It concerns the ancestry of the leaders of the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916.
Originally it was an Irish Family History Foundation / Rootsireland project, which I was given while editing online material for them. It was first published as a special issue of Clann, the online Rootsireland magazine, at Easter 2016. In more recent months Kildare County Council and Merrion Press / Irish Academic Press took the project further to publish it in book form.
I've yet to see a copy but I'm reliably informed that it is now in print and ready for the Christmas market. It's on the Merrion Press / Irish Academic Press website.
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)]
In the 1911 Census my great-grandmother, Bridget McDermott, was stated as having had 11 children born alive and 9 still living. I accounted for 10 of these children and, over the years, I tried to find the missing one. The parish register was patchy to say the least and I tried civil birth records for the significant gaps between known children, guessing at the likely names. Bridget’s known children were Catherine, Charles, Mary, Patrick, Peter, James, John, Sarah, Thomas and Luke, all pretty predictable in terms of the family’s traditions. No one in later generations knew this extra child’s name or whether it existed, though my aunts thought their father had two brothers who died young. After drawing blanks many times I decided that 11 was someone’s error or that the eleventh child was stillborn and mistakenly included in the number.
The accessibility of Irish records has changed a lot in recent years. Last weekend I spent some time online trying to disentangle some other McDermott families who were definitely related to my family in some way. My main source was the Roscommon database on Rootsireland.ie, which provides transcripts of civil as well as church records. Since Rootsireland.ie changed to subscription rather than pay-per-view its search facility has become much less restrictive.
One of the other McDermott families had a child in 1877 with two forenames (unusual in the circumstances) and one of those names was fairly out of place. I decided to check for a death for this child and up came three references for the name, two births and one death. I clicked on the death without looking at the date. Immediately there was something wrong. This was a child of a shopkeeper named Patrick McDermott. Then I saw that the death was in 1876. My head swam. I clicked on the two births. Two McDermott children (possibly second cousins) were born within a year of one another and given the same two forenames. One died at 7 weeks old in 1876. He was the son of Patrick and Bridget McDermott, my great-grandparents. His name was Paul Francis. Having searched in vain for this child over the years I found that he was in fact my namesake!
Paul is not a traditional name in my family. There were relatively few Pauls in Roscommon in the nineteenth century (26 in the 1901 Census, only one of them a McDermott). The “Civil Registration Births Index, 1864-1958” on Ancestry shows 21 “Paul Francis” or “Francis Paul” (with any surname) births in the period 1864-1884 anywhere in Ireland. Only two of these were from Co. Roscommon and they were the Paul Francis McDermotts I already identified. The Irishgenealogy.ie “Civil Records” database is useless for comparison as it omits second forenames in most cases. In it the two Paul Francis McDermott births are entered as just “Paul”, while the 1876 death is entered as “Paul Francis”. That in itself is a poor reflection on the long awaited and ultimately restrictive Irishgenealogy.ie database.
I have yet to determine what prompted two related McDermott couples to name sons Paul Francis within a year of one another when Paul was not a family name and neither couple lavished two forenames on their other children. There must have been an external factor, but I have yet to figure it out.
The Rootsireland.ie transcript did not include the cause of death from my granduncle Paul’s death record, so I went to the GRO Research Room in Dublin early on Wednesday morning and purchased a photocopy of the record. Paul Francis McDermott died at just 7 weeks old having had croup for two days. After 139 years he is remembered again in his family.
When the golf craze really got going in Ireland in the last years of the nineteenth century it took root in Belfast, Dublin and pockets of activity mainly in coastal areas. Clubs that could afford to engage professionals had to entice them over from Scotland. Locals got employment as green-keepers or caddies. In those days it was just a short step from green-keeper or caddy to professional, and club-making professionals took on local apprentices, so that slowly a new breed of native professionals emerged. One small area of north-east Wicklow was to produce more than its share of golf pros through the years.
At the end of the nineteenth century Co. Wicklow had three golf clubs, Greystones (founded in 1895), Bray and Woodenbridge, both dating from 1897. Of course, Bray was the site of one of the earliest recorded golfing greens outside Scotland, back in the 1760s, but by the 1890s golf was being re-introduced as a new activity. The three early clubs were joined by Wicklow in 1904 and Delgany in 1908. Greystones and Delgany are a stone’s throw from one another, yet they set many caddies on the road to professional golf. But the story of north-east Wicklow’s professionals began in Bray.
Bray initially engaged a Scottish professional but he did not stay long. By 1898 twenty-one year old Richard Larkin had replaced him. Though Larkin was born in Meath, he grew up in Dollymount, Co. Dublin. When he was twelve, Dublin Golf Club moved from the Phoenix Park to the Bull Island close to Richard’s home. Two years later it became Royal Dublin, but in later years its links became familiarly known as Dollymount. The arrival of the club brought employment as caddies for the boys of Dollymount. Richard Larkin was one of many youngsters from the area who went on to careers in golf.
Larkin’s presence in Bray had a long-term influence. In 1898 he married Ellen Martin from Greystones. Ellen’s younger brother Eddie came to live with them in Bray and work at club-making with Richard. This began a long association with golf for the Martin family. In about 1902 another Dublin golfer, James Barrett, came to Greystones as caddy master and later professional. About four years later, when he moved on to Hermitage, he was replaced at Greystones by a local man, Tom Walker, who was a club-maker of some note. In 1907 Barrett returned to Greystones to celebrate his marriage to Ellen Larkin’s sister Mary Martin. Later that year he played on Ireland’s first professional team, in a match against Scotland. Shortly afterwards he moved to Carrickmines, where he remained pro until his death in 1950. His son Jimmy Barrett succeeded him in the post.
Presumably it was under Barrett at Greystones that another of the Martin brothers, James, learned his craft. In 1907, aged 20, James Martin was appointed the first professional at the new Milltown Golf Club in Dublin. The pinnacle of James Martin’s career came in 1922, when he won the Irish Professional Championship by a margin of five strokes at Portrush.
The Martin family’s association with golf continued for many decades. Eddie Martin, the youngster who was making clubs under the guidance of his brother-in-law at the beginning of the twentieth century, eventually became professional at Greystones. Eddie’s son Jimmy was born in Killincarrig, Greystones, in 1924 and he followed in his father’s footsteps. He followed also in his uncle’s footsteps in becoming Irish Professional champion in 1969. As a touring professional Jimmy Martin became the most successful member of the Martin family, winning four British Tour events, and playing for GB&I in the 1965 Ryder Cup team.
Jimmy Martin was related to another golfing family through his mother, Christina Darcy. The most prominent of the Darcys of Bellevue, Delgany, was Jimmy’s much younger second cousin, Eamonn. One of Ireland’s most successful touring professionals, Eamonn Darcy had eight tournament wins and four Ryder Cup appearances. Extraordinarily, Eamonn was related also to another important figure in Irish professional golf. His granduncle was Pat Doyle who was runner-up in the 1912 Irish Professional Championship. Doyle was born in 1889 in Kindlestown, between Greystones and Delgany. He is claimed by Delgany Golf Club as its first professional, which is possible as he was 19 when it opened. He emigrated to the USA in 1913 and that year finished tenth in the US Open. He remained in America, one of the first generation of Irish golfers to carve out a career in that country.
During James Barrett’s time at Greystones one of his protégés was a young caddy from Delgany named Ned Bradshaw. Ned was to become professional at Delgany, with his sons Harry, Eddie and Jimmy following him into the sport. Of course, the most illustrious of the clan was Harry Bradshaw, born in Killincarrig in 1913. Harry made three Ryder Cup appearances, won the Canada Cup with Christy O’Connor, and almost won The Open in 1949.
Bill Kinsella, born in Greystones in 1906, began another family of golf pros. In 1930 he became professional at Skerries in north Co. Dublin, where his grandson Bobby is currently the third generation of the Kinsellas to occupy that position. Bill’s sons Jimmy, Billy and David all were professionals, with Jimmy being a successful touring pro in the 60s and 70s.
Twice Irish Professional champion, Christy Greene, was another native of this extraordinarily fertile golfing haven. Born in Kindlestown in 1926, he began caddying at Greystones at an early age and learned the game alongside Jimmy Martin.
Greystones / Delgany has proved a rare breeding ground for professional golfers. The Martins, the Bradshaws, Tom Walker, Pat Doyle, Bill Kinsella, Christy Greene and Eamonn Darcy have left a lasting mark on the golfing landscape.
[First published in the Irish Clubhouse, June, 2014]
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!