These photographs were taken at various times from more or less the same location between July 2018 and March 2020. The field in the foreground is at the very edge of Co. Carlow. It is in Mountkelly townland. Beyond the trees is Killalish (pronounced ‘Killalesh’) Lower townland in Co. Wicklow.
The twin mountains in the background are Keadeen (on the left) and Carrig (on the right). Over the shoulder of Carrig on a clear day you can glimpse the summit of Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Wicklow, and in Leinster. On the side of Keadeen towards where it merges with Carrig, are two discoloured patches that resemble two reclining figures. Local folklore says that they are the shapes of Finn McCool, of ancient legend, and his wife. I wrote about these figures in a previous post.
Here are the images:
(1) July 2018
(2) January 2019
(3) April 2019
(4) Mid-August 2019
(5) Late August 2019
The other evening in Mountkelly Lane. It was beautiful weather and Lugnaquilla managed to peep over the shoulder of Carrig. I've taken the same view at different times for over the past year. The yellow rapeseed dominated at the beginning of the summer. A few weeks ago it was all brown and tumbled down. Now just the stubble is left. I wonder what crop the field will get next year.
(6) October 2019
Yesterday (12 Oct) Mr & Mrs Finn McCool were enjoying a bit of autumnal sunshine on the side of Keadeen mountain. You can just see the figures over the top of the lowest trees. Of course, they were much clearer and closer to the naked eye. Lug is just in the picture also, on the right.
(7) March 2020
Today (21 Mar) Finn & Mrs McCool were a little cold on the side of Keadeen. Not a day for sunbathing! I'm afraid you can't really expect them to understand the importance of social distancing - they never move from that spot. Those clouds looked weirder in reality, as if a UFO was about to appear out of them. Anything could happen now that we're living in a futuristic disaster movie that's changing everything around us.
Supposedly evenings are when television programmes have their greatest impact. Really, with so many channels now, it’s just by chance that people see any programme, unless it’s the news or Nationwide or something spectacular like Line of Duty or something addictive (to some) like Love Island.
In my childhood, rural Ireland had one television channel, so everyone saw just about every programme. I remember (or think I do) watching the funeral of Pope John XXIII. Certainly I remember seeing Charles Mitchell on the RTE news speaking about the assassination of JFK.
Even in the 60s, Dublin had the bonus of BBC and ITV. Years later Ireland got a second domestic channel and before you knew it we had wall-to-wall channels, showing all sorts. So now it’s quite rare for anyone to spot the odd appearance on tellie by someone they know.
In the autumn schedule in 2018, RTE broadcast the third series of the Irish version of Who Do You Think You Are?, a franchise that has had surprising longevity. It’s almost 16 years old now. That third Irish series was made by Animo TV. I featured for less than ten minutes in one episode of it. I was talking to Laura Whitmore about her Farrar ancestors from south Wicklow / north Wexford. Blink and you’d miss me!
A few people told me they saw it / me – maybe four or five people altogether over the space of a few months. Since then, the series has been repeated at least four times at an unearthly hour when only night owls like me would see it. Indeed, I caught “my” episode once by accident.
Last weekend I was busy at Back To Our Past Belfast. On the Saturday afternoon RTE had yet another repeat of “my” episode. Apparently stormy Saturday afternoons are prime viewing time. Despite the competition from all the channels, RTE must have done well that day. Just as my AGI colleagues and I packed up to leave Belfast I got texts from three people telling me that they had seen me on tellie. One of the texts was from Malta! Over the next three days I heard from another six or seven people who hadn’t blinked during the episode and had witnessed my appearance.
In the past few decades I’ve been on the odd programme here or there on the goggle box. This was my only time to be involved in any way with any of the WDYTYA? series. Most of the research for this Irish one was done by my colleague, Nicola Morris, MAGI, and her company, Timeline. I was drafted in for part of the research on Laura Whitmore’s ancestry and that’s why I ended up explaining some of it on camera. In fact, all the professional genealogists who appeared as talking heads in that series were Members of Accredited Genealogists Ireland. I’m pretty sure this was the only series in the entire franchise so far ever to feature only genealogists before the camera who hold credentials. That’s a good development in a profession that generally disregards the importance of credentials.
Laura was very nice, as well as being very clued-in and professional. While waiting about, I had plenty of time to wander around the empty rooms of Coolattin Park, the former Irish residence of the Earls Fitzwilliam, where “my” segment was filmed. My one regret about the episode was that my research credit went to another AGI colleague: another Paul. In a previous episode Paul MacCotter, MAGI, featured in the end credits for his research. Evidently someone copied and pasted those credits into “my” episode and my work became that of the other Paul instead! That’s television for you. :(
On a cold February night in the Glen of Imaal, Co. Wicklow, in 1799 it would have seemed unimaginable luxurious to those trying to stay warm that people in the future would swim in heated man-made pools. Rebels on the run hardly thought about such things. Telling ghost stories or tales about strange spirits might have whiled away the hours, but would they ever have thought that such stories could be told in the future through pictures moving on a wall?
Unless you’re from West Wicklow or have some family connection with the event, you’re unlikely to have heard of the siege at Derrynamuck. It followed the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland and involved the capture of a group of rebels, with only their leader, Michael Dwyer, escaping. On the other hand, if you’re not too young you may be familiar with the film Cocoon, released in 1985. It was about elderly people in a retirement home gaining youthful energy by swimming in a pool owned by aliens. It was a big hit at the time, and led to a sequel.
On the surface there is nothing to connect Derrynamuck and Cocoon. Separated by circumstance, character, the Atlantic Ocean and almost two centuries, they have no visible common factor. However, genealogy has a way of drawing unrelated things together.
It’s a small world, as they say. Mathematicians and social psychologists have long theorised about the connectedness of the human population and their idea has been popularised by the term ‘six degrees of separation’. The hypothesis is that any two individuals on the planet are connected in some way by no more than five intervening people. Well, a person concerned with Derrynamuck was connected to a person who acted in Cocoon through three intervening people. Therefore, there are just four degrees of separation between Derrynamuck and Cocoon.
The connection was not through Michael Dwyer or any of the rebels who were with him. Instead, the person concerned was Dominick Edward Blake. He was a young man in the 1790s and certainly not a rebel. Blake was a Church of Ireland (Anglican) clergyman, though he may not have been ordained at the time of Derrynamuck. Then in his late 20s, he had yet to secure an appointment to a parish within the C. of I. It was not until 1804 that he became the minister in Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow, a position he was to hold for nineteen years. Dominick Blake was born in Co. Roscommon. Exactly why he was in West Wicklow in February 1799 is unclear, but he may have been a friend of William Hoare Hume of Humewood, his contemporary at Trinity College Dublin. In fact, Blake, Hume and the rebel leader Dwyer all were born in or about 1772.
The 1798 Rebellion was an uprising against British rule, led by members of the United Irishmen and prompted by support from the French. The United Irishmen were mainly led by Protestant radicals and in Ulster the rebellion primarily involved Presbyterians. In the general area of Wicklow the rebellion primarily involved Catholics and events led to sectarian distrust and violence. Landlords, such as the Humes, expected their tenants of whatever religious persuasion to support them in fighting the rebels.
It was a trying time for all and the ties of loyalty often were tested. On occasion Dwyer himself was accused by fellow rebels of being too fond of Protestant neighbours. On the other hand, an anonymous letter to Dublin Castle called for William Hume of Humewood to be ‘properly cautioned from screening the disaffected of his own neighbourhood’. This William Hume was the father of William Hoare Hume. In October 1798 he was killed by a rebel named John Moore on the road from Ballinabarney Gap to Rathdangan.
Dominick Blake’s role in the story of the siege of Derrynamuck, four months later, came about by chance. A local man named William Steel got wind of the fact that Dwyer and his party were staying in Derrynamuck on the night of 15 February 1799. Steel was in Humewood at the time, as was Blake ‘who luckily happened to be on horse back’. Steel gave him the information and he galloped off to the garrison at Hacketstown to convey it to the commanding officer of the Glengarry Fencibles, a regiment apparently made up mainly of Catholics from the Scottish highlands who spoke little or no English.
As Charles Dickson’s The Life of Michael Dwyer states, the twelve rebels staying in three houses in Derrynamuck were surrounded by the Scottish regiment in the early hours of 16 February. In the exchange that followed a private soldier was shot dead, a corporal was fatally wounded and three of the rebels were killed. Dwyer escaped and the remaining eight rebels were captured. On 23 February they were tried in Baltinglass and sentenced to death. Three who were deserters from army and militia regiments were shot. Four others were hanged. The other man saved his life by informing about a murder which he may well have committed himself.
Four months after the siege Dominick Blake married Ann Margaret Hume, whose father had been killed the previous autumn. The marriage took place on 25 June 1799 and by then Blake was an ordained minister. His first recorded appointment was two years later, as curate in Kilcock. In 1804 he became Rector of Kilranelagh and Kiltegan. The present church in the village of Kiltegan, St. Peter’s, was built in 1806. The adjacent Glebe House (since enlarged and now no longer a church property) was built about a decade later. However, the Glebe House may not have been completed during Rev. Dominick Blake’s lifetime, as his address when he died was Barraderry. It may be that he rented Barraderry House, just outside Kiltegan, from the Pendred family. On the other hand, he may have had a residence on the part of Barraderry townland owned by the Humes.
Dominick Blake and Ann Hume had two sons born in Kiltegan, the younger being William Hume Blake (1809-1870). He added to the Hume-ness of his line by marrying his cousin Catherine Hume in 1832. In the same year his extended family, including his mother, emigrated to Upper Canada. He and various relatives were prominent enough in their new country to merit entries in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. William Hume Blake and Catherine Hume were the parents of Sophia Blake who married Verschoyle Cronyn. Their son Hume Blake Cronyn (1864-1933) was a lawyer and politician. His son, also named Hume Blake Cronyn, became an actor.
Hume Cronyn may not have been the biggest name in Hollywood but his was a very recognisable face among character actors from the 1940s to the first decade of the twenty-first century. His first film was Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943). He received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the 1944 film The Seventh Cross. It was the first film in which he appeared with his wife, Jessica Tandy. Cocoon was one of the last in which they worked together (as one of the elderly couples swimming in the aliens’ pool), but it was released four years before Jessica Tandy’s career reached its zenith with Driving Miss Daisy.
Hume Cronyn’s other films included Cleopatra (1963), The Parallax View (1974), The World According to Garp (1982) and Marvin’s Room (1996). He won three Emmys and a Tony for performances on television and stage, as well as a Tony in 1994 for Lifetime Achievement, jointly with Jessica Tandy.
Following Dominick Blake’s death on 2 October 1823 in his 51st year his parishioners in Kiltegan erected a plaque in St. Peter’s church expressing ‘their deep sense of his worth’ and ‘their grief for his loss’. A decade later his widow Ann emigrated to Canada, where she died in the 1860s.
After Derrynamuck Michael Dwyer spent nearly five years evading capture in the Wicklow Mountains before surrendering in the belief that he and his companions would be pardoned and sent to the USA. The man he chose to surrender to was Dominick Blake’s brother-in-law, William Hoare Hume. That instead the rebels were sent as convicts to Australia was never blamed on Hume. Hume died in 1815 in his early 40s. Dwyer died in New South Wales in 1825, almost two years after Blake, aged 53.
In August 1948, during the 150th anniversary of the 1798 Rebellion, what became known as the Dwyer – McAllister Cottage in Derrynamuck was handed over to the state in the person of President Seán T. O’Kelly. The ceremony was attended by William Hoare Hume’s great-granddaughter, Catherine Marie Madeleine ‘Mimi’ Weygand. Mme. Weygand died in 1991, ending the Hume family’s association with Humewood, Kiltegan and West Wicklow.
[I wish to thank Canon Jones and Kiltegan Parish for allowing me to use the image of the Blake plaque; also, I wish to thank Ms. Tandy Cronyn (daughter of Hume Cronyn), Darryl Reilly (New York City arts blogger) and Alan Hanbidge (Kiltegan Parish) for their assistance.]
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.
Earlier this month, on Facebook, I posted the first of two short pieces about the figures of Finn McCool and his wife on the side of Keadeen Mountain in West Wicklow. Actually the figures are on the western face of what is two mountains in one, Keadeen having the higher, northerly summit and Carrig the slightly less talked-about southerly one. Here is what I said:
In the January 1905 number of the Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society (Vol. IV No. 5), Charles Drury published an article, ‘County Wicklow Archaeological Notes Around Kiltegan’. He covered folklore associated with 34 locations (many some distance from Kiltegan). No. 28 was ‘The beds of Finn M‘Cool, his wife, and dog’, with no further explanation. Evidently Finn McCool’s spot on the side of Keadeen was an old folk tale by 1905. So 113 years later it’s a very old folk tale.
When I was young my father pointed Finn McCool and his wife (and maybe his dog) out to me. I’ve been very fond of them ever since. I see them most days I go cycling. They can be viewed from a long distance, though their dog is not quite as conspicuous. Coming into Baltinglass from Castledermot at Clough Cross is a good place to see them from. At the side of Talbotstown Church is another. It’s not that easy to get a good photograph of them as they are always quite far away, no matter where you are.
Two weeks ago I shared this photograph of them on my personal Facebook page because Finn McCool and his wife were quite visible when I was out cycling. Normally they are a sort of light brown / straw colour. In the present, unprecedented heatwave the grass everywhere around turned to straw and the McCools turned green!
In response to that post I got several comments. One questioned which of Finn’s wives was with him, as ‘Did not Diarmuid run away with Gráinne, Finn’s wife?’ I replied:
My wonderful Googling skills have unearthed the information that Sadhbh was Fionn (Finn)’s most famous wife and that Gráinne was his wife when he was at an advanced age. I’ll give the name of Sadhbh to Mrs. McCool of Keadeen from now on!
Another response was from Duncan, a local man much younger than me, who was told when he was a child by an old man named Paddy Kelly that the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne was depicted on the side of the mountain. He said ‘Hounds visible either side of Gráinne and Diarmuid, Finn and hounds visible on the left side of the mountain chasing them’.
Apparently Duncan believed that the Finn McCool and wife figures were those of Diarmuid and Gráinne.
I’m afraid the additional story of Diarmuid and Gráinne in relation to Keadeen is of recent origin! The folk tale of Finn McCool and his wife [possibly Sadhbh] on Keadeen is an ancient one. I only heard Diarmuid and Gráinne added this week! That aspect may have been the invention by Paddy Kelly, who told Duncan when he was a child.
A good measure of folk memory is the National Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Collection, dating from the 1930s. Of course, 1930s children didn’t always get things right, but the collection can help us know about traditions from 80 years ago. There is one mention of Finn McCool on Keadeen in the Schools’ collection. It’s from Talbotstown National School, and dated 27 May 1938 (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0917, Page 171). I’m reproducing the image of the relevant section here, acknowledging the National Folklore Collection’s copyright.
It would appear that the information from Talbotstown was written by the teacher rather than any of the children, as no child’s name is given and the composition and penmanship are advanced and consistent. The informant about Finn on Keadeen was Mr. Richard Geoghegan of Danesfort, ‘whose father resided at Talbotstown’. Richard Geoghegan was living in Danesfort at the time of the 1911 Census, stating his age as 36. In 1901 he was living in Talbotstown Upper, stating his age as 26. So he was born about 1880.
The tale told by Mr. Geoghegan in 1938 was that Finn and his wife died on the western slope of Keadeen. It’s interesting that the writer says ‘The remarkable thing about it is that even when the rest of the mountain looks green in the distance the two brown patches stand out in contrast to the rest …’. That’s exactly the opposite of what is happening in the present heatwave, as I remarked in recent weeks.
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)
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.
Old bridges have a strange way of blending into the landscape. Often we don’t notice them at all. Some of the smaller ones are camouflaged by greenery or hidden by road resurfacing. Larger ones are so familiar that they seem to have been there forever. With so much concern about flooding this year our bridges have come back into focus. Eldon Bridge and Baltinglass Bridge have been in the public eye more in 2010 than at any time since 1965. That was the year when another of our old bridges was swept away by the waters of the Slaney.
It may surprise people that there are well over twenty bridges in our parish, not counting those over the old railway line. Most of them are nameless and secretly cross small streams. ‘Our parish’ may seem a vague term. In this instance we are talking about the Catholic parish. It has set geographical boundaries, incorporating Ballynure, Baltinglass, Rathbran and Rathtoole civil parishes in Co. Wicklow and parts of Graney and Kineagh civil parishes in Co. Kildare.
In the Kildare end of our parish are two bridges of note. Miller’s Bridge, on the road between The Pike and Bigstone, crosses a stream that flows off Carrigeen hill. The stream joins forces with others before reaching the bridge at Graney. This familiar humpback on the road from Baltinglass to Castledermot was the scene of the infamous Graney Ambush on 24 October 1922, a brutal episode in the Civil War. This stream flows into the Lerr at Castledermot and enters the Barrow north of Carlow Town.
In the west of our parish, straddling the boundary between Wicklow and Kildare, is Ballycore Bridge, now most noticeable as a narrowing of the R747, which links Baltinglass to the new M9. The stream it crosses flows on through Timolin to join the Greese and make its way into the Barrow just south of Maganey. Close to Ballycore, but on a less trodden path is Rathtoole Bridge. It links the R747 with the ‘Bed Road’. Despite its name, this narrow single-arch bridge is slightly outside Rathtoole townland. The north side of it is in Baronstown Lower and the south side is in Lackareagh and Moneymore.
Apart from the Slaney crossings there are two other named bridges in our parish. Kyle (officially spelt ‘Kill’) is a two-arch bridge over a stream fed from Kilranelagh and Baltinglass hills. Further on its course this stream once powered the mill in Tuckmill. It still flows unnoticed under the N81 to join the Slaney just north of Tuckmill Cross. Further south, a network of streams from the Talbotstown area drain into a small river that enters the Slaney at Kilmurry. The small river separates Baltinglass from Rathvilly parish and Wicklow from Carlow. Spanning it with a single arch is Mountneill Bridge, a venerable humpback with great character.
The bridging of the Slaney goes back to the 1600s. Tradition has it that there was a ford in Baltinglass north of where the present bridge stands. The Cistercian monks who built the original mill on the west bank of the river had to have some crossing point from the Abbey on the east side. Sometime in the latter half of the seventeenth century Sir Maurice Eustace built a bridge in the town. It may have been immediately adjacent to the ford. A map from 1745 shows it about where Gillespie’s SuperValu now faces St. Kevin’s. Before the present SuperValu was built in the late twentieth century the line of the street leading down the slope to this bridge was discernible. The popular name for Jimmy Donohoe’s pub, ‘the Hollow’, most likely originated from this sloping street.
In the late eighteenth century the then owner of the town, Edward Stratford, 2nd Earl of Aldborough, built a new stone bridge south of the original one. Its western approach was aligned with Cuckoo Lane (Belan Street), which led to his residence at Belan, Co. Kildare. The bridge crossed the river at a slight angle so that its eastern approach was not exactly aligned with the existing north side of Main Street. Presumably this was to centre it on the widened street. Edward’s three-arch bridge had triangular cutwaters and dressed granite voussoirs and it was under construction in 1788. At the time it must have been impressively wide. Built for horse drawn vehicles almost a quarter of a millennium ago, this bridge still stands at the heart of the town, tested daily by twenty-first century articulated lorries.
Despite its antiquity, Baltinglass Bridge is not the oldest existing Slaney bridge in our parish. That honour goes to Manger Bridge, which is estimated to date from some decades earlier and may be the oldest bridge on the river’s entire course. In its heyday this narrow five-arch crossing was on the road from Baltinglass through Dunlavin to Dublin. Lord Aldborough’s new town of Stratford-upon-Slaney was built on this road in the 1780s. The realignment of the Dublin road to the east of the river in the early nineteenth century diminished Manger’s importance. It may well have saved it too, as road expansion inevitably would have seen a wider bridge replace it.
Tuckmill Bridge is another eighteenth century construction. The late Tommy Doyle of the Lough maintained a tradition that one of his ancestors was drowned at a fording place in Tuckmill in the 1770s. Subsequently the present bridge was built. Tommy stated that the Dempsey family came to work on it and then settled in Tuckmill.
An old fording place that has long been defunct is Maiden’s Ford, between Cloghcastle and the end of the Green Lane in Newtownsaunders. According to the Ordnance Survey Name Books, compiled in the 1830s, it got its name from ‘a young woman having been drowned at it about a hundred years ago’. Michael Coogan of the Redwells appears to have been the source of this information. Further downstream, between Holdenstown Lower and Slaney Park, was Lady’s Ford. It connected a now abandoned road through Holdenstown with the Redwells. Apparently again quoting Coogan, the Name Books state that it was named after ‘a Lady being drowned at it in crossing the River about 50 years ago’.
In the 1940s the place-names expert Liam Price dismissed the explanations of Maiden’s Ford and Lady’s Ford as unconvincingly similar. Perhaps Price was too quick to reject the traditions. In the mid-eighteenth century Slaney Park was the home of Sir Warren Crosbie who called it Crosbie Park. His wife was Dorothy Howard from Northumberland. Their grandson, the balloonist Richard Crosbie, Ireland’s first aviator, is believed to have been born at Crosbie Park. Lady Crosbie drowned in the Slaney on 29 October 1748. Pue’s Occurrences of 1-5 November 1748 reported:
Last Week the Lady of Sir Warren Crosbie was unfortunately drowned, as she was crossing the River Slany near Enniscorthy in her Coach, occasioned by a great Flood that was in the River. Sir Warren Crosbie and some other Gentlemen who were in the Coach, happily saved their Lives by swimming to Shore; two of the Coach Horses were also drowned.
The coincidence is too great to ignore. It is easier to dismiss the newspaper’s mention of Enniscorthy as inaccurate than to dismiss the potential connection with Lady’s Ford.
The old road leading through Holdenstown ran parallel to the present one, which came into existence before 1838 and possibly much earlier. At some stage, perhaps in the 1820s, Aldborough Bridge was built, linking this road to the Redwells. The three-arch humpback still serves this quiet road.
The Building Bridge also was erected sometime before 1838, linking the village of Stratford to the new Baltinglass to Dublin road. This may well have been to provide better access to the cotton printing factory that was then just a few hundred yards from the bridge. On the night of 17 November 1965, during the greatest flood in living memory, the Building Bridge gave way, causing concern for the other old bridges downstream. Indeed a small portion of Tuckmill Bridge also went in that flood but it was repaired. Afterwards the Building Bridge was replaced by a temporary wooden structure before the present concrete bridge was put in place some twenty years ago. It is a functional structure but not as pleasing to the eye as the older bridges.
Perhaps the most noticeable crossing of the Slaney within our parish is Eldon Bridge, tucked into a sharp bend on the N81. Before its construction the way from Baltinglass to Dublin ran from Chapel Hill to Tuckmill along what we now call the Sruhaun Road. On the other side of the river the way from Baltinglass to Grangecon and Dunlavin ran from Mill Street to Raheen. In about 1829 a new stretch of road was run from the western side across the new Eldon Bridge to join the existing Dublin road at the foot of the hill. John Scott, the first Earl of Eldon, was Lord Chancellor until 1827 and the bridge appears to have been named for him. It spans three arches, but slightly at a remove on the eastern side is an additional dry arch for use in floods. Until just a couple of years ago there was a marked dip on the western approach to Eldon Bridge. This allowed river water to cross the road at times of high flooding. Controversially the dip was smoothed over when the road to the dump in Rampere was widened. Many people familiar with the Slaney’s habits fear that this change might weaken the bridge’s structure if another major flood were to happen.
We may pay little attention to our bridges as a rule, but they are part of the fabric of our parish and we would miss them if they were to vanish from the landscape. Baltinglass Bridge is barely wide enough for the vehicular and pedestrian traffic it is taxed with now. The provision of a free-standing walkway beside it could relieve the congestion and make it safer for those on foot. Ultimately though, this old familiar bridge will only be preserved for posterity by a bridge that has yet to be built. The Baltinglass Town Development Plan has identified the route for a relief road south of the town. Unfortunately, it is left to private enterprise to develop such a road so we may be waiting quite some time for our first bridge of the new millennium.
[first published in The Review 2010 – A year in the life of Baltinglass, Bigstone, Grangecon and Stratford]
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!