Remembering The Fallen

One the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, the First World War came to an end. Right up until the last minute the guns stayed firing.

You can listen to the final seconds of the conflict and the moment the guns fell silent in this recording

https://metro.co.uk/video/imperial-war-museum-approximate-end-wwi-1798600/?ito=vjs-link

The commemoration of the conflict in Ireland has always been a touchy subject. There was certainly a perception that the memory of the Great War had been overshadowed by the events such as the 1916 Rising and the Irish War of Independence. In recent decades, the inevitable distance of time has allowed for more recognition of the role played by Irish men and women in the conflict. We will likely never know exactly how many from Ireland lost their lives in the war. As well as the Irish regiments, there were Irish serving in British, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand armed forces, along with any number of civilian organisations involved in the war.

This weekend I was fortunate to attend a number of commemorative events in Cork to remember those who died 1914-1918. On Friday night there was an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This has become an annual event, organised by members of the Cork Branch, Western Front Association. This is always an especially poignant ceremony, featuring music, poetry and songs to commemorate not just those from Cork, or the Allied forces, but all of those who died in the war. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Mick Flynn and the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, delivered particularly moving speeches, reflecting on the impact of the war on their own families. They recognised also that even those who survived the war, often came back with physical and psychological wounds. Bishop Colton made an especially valid point about the impossibility of grasping the magnitude of those who died during the war and it’s immediate aftermath. Instead he advocated for focussing on the personal, of remembering those who died as individuals.

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St Fin Barre’s Cathedral

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Crowd gathering for the Evening of Remembrance

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WW1 memorial in the Cathedral

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WW1 Memorial in the Cathedral

Bishop Colton and the Dean of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Very Reverend Nigel Dunne, have also been engaged in a project the last four years in gathering together pictures of those from the diocese who died in the war.

Today there were a number of events held at the Cenotaph in Cork, to mark Armistice Day. There was a civic ceremony organised by the Lord Mayor and members of Cork City Council. This was followed by a mass in St Francis Church and a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph by members of the Royal British Legion and relatives of those who died. The ceremony also includes members of the current Irish Defence Forces, veterans of the United Nations and even the British Armed Forces. Bishop Colton also delivered another address and there was a later Ecumenical service in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

The act of commemoration itself cannot help but be political and likely there will always be those who feel that by commemorating a conflict we are signalling approval. However, I would disagree with this. We may not agree with why WW1 or any other conflict is fought but that doesn’t mean we should simply forget it and those who fought. Commemoration doesn’t have to be about approval or condemnation. As the events in France today have shown, where the French President and German Chancellor stood side by side at Compiègne as they marked the centenary of the armistice signing, commemorating the end of the war can also be about present unity and learning from the mistakes of the past.

Regardless of how we feel about conflicts past and present, we should never forget those who have lost their lives, no matter how complicated their motives. If you are looking to trace your own relatives who served during WW1, most of the major genealogical websites such as Ancestry, Findmypast and MyHeritage have made their military collections available for free this weekend.

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Sporting Ancestors

Sundays Well Tennis Club

I was invited recently to deliver a talk on researching Cork ancestry to Sundays Well Boating & Tennis Club. Located near Fitzgeralds Park and University College Cork, I must have passed it a number of times without realising it was there. The club have a monthly Circle Group get together for older and retired members and often invite someone in to give a talk. I was honoured to receive such an invitation, especially when I realised the long history the club has in Cork. The talk was very well received and as is often the case, talking to some of those in attendance afterwards, I learned quite a bit from them. One gentleman in particular had put together a large booklet on his family history and had even taken a number of DNA tests from 23andMe.

One perk of giving the talk was being introduced to the long history the club has in Cork. Founded in 1899 it still has a collection of records dating back to it’s founding. Names of chairmen from it’s founding are on plaques dotted around the clubhouse. Looking at them I could see plenty of familiar Cork names, even a few I would have come across when researching the history of Christchurch. I was also presented with a fascinating book on the history of the club.

All of this got me thinking about sports clubs in terms of genealogy. It’s an area we rarely think of and yet Cork has such a long and proud sporting history. From tennis, rugby, cricket, golf, soccer and of course GAA. The second ever meeting of the Gaelic Athlethic Association was held in the Victoria Hotel on St Patrick’s Street in the heart of Cork City on December 27th 1884. Although the hotel itself has long closed, a plaque still remains on the corner commemorating this meeting. Cork has also produced a number of celebrated boxers and athlethes.

Boxer Mick Leahy

With this level of sporting activity in Cork and throughout Ireland as a whole, it’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors might have been involved with a sporting club in some capacity. Sporting clubs provided (and often still do) a social outlet for people of all backgrounds. Our ancestors might also have helped out in the form of caretakers, groundskeepers or may have even been committee members. Genealogy is about more than just gathering names, for most people it is about learning what sort of lives their ancestors lived. Quite often some records will survive. If the club is still in operation, it’s no harm to check with them to see what they might have. Perhaps one of their members has taken on the role of archivist.

For those clubs that no longer operate or don’t have their records, its possible some information might survive with the Local Studies department of the library. If you are extremely fortunate, the club might have even handed over their records to the local archives. Cork City and County Archives for example holds many of the records from Cork Constitution Rugby Club, which had been founded in 1892 by members of the Cork Constitution newspaper. While the newspaper itself ceased publication in 1924, the rugby club has continued to operate. The archive collection also has plenty of other material connected to sporting activity in Cork, including a number of diaries that describe sporting events. The National Library of Ireland have put many of their old photos on Flickr and it’s worth browsing through their photos of sporting events, even an informal kickabout by a group of workers on their lunchbreak.

Winning oarsmen at Waterford Boat Club c. 1885 from the NLI collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/6078681751

Local newspapers will also often have recorded details on sporting events. In some cases they might even have a full list of the players on each team or perhaps photos of the teams. In some cases websites like British Pathe might have video footage from sporting events. Youtube is also a great source for historic footage.

Sporting records might not seem like the most obvious of genealogical sources but they can be worth delving into simply for what they can tell us about how our ancestors lived their lives. In the days before television and the internet, sport was one of the most popular ways for people to spend their leisure hours and our ancestors would have been no different.

Visit to the Representative Church Body Library

Representative Church Body Library

Last week I made my first visit out to the Representative Church Body Library, the Church of Ireland archives. Based in Churchtown, Co. Dublin (near Dundrum) the RCBL is the repository for many of the surviving Church of Ireland parish registers and other records. It was founded in 1931 and has been at it’s present location near the Church of Ireland theological institute since 1969.

It is impossible to overstate just how valuable the collections in the library are. A law passed in 1875 declared that marriage registers dated pre-1845, and baptismal and burial records pre-1871 were public records and should be deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin. Some parishes opposed this decision and there was a further Act passed in 1876 which allowed records to remain in local custody, provided there was provision made for their safe keeping in the form of a fire-proof safe. This typically meant the larger churches that could afford such a measure. By 1922, the records of 1,006 Church of Ireland parishes had been deposited in the Public Record Office, while a further 637 parishes kept their records in local custody. When the Public Record Office was destoryed by fire during the Irish civil war in 1922, all but four sets of registers were completely destroyed. Those in local custody which survived comprise roughly a third of the records.

But given that the Church of Ireland was never the majority faith in Ireland, with most Irish people remaining Roman Catholic, why should you need to be aware of their records? Up until 1869 the Church of Ireland was the Established Church. This meant that it was the official state church. Many of the Civil Parishes (as opposed to the more modern Roman Catholic Parishes) correspond with the Church of Ireland parishes who inherited the medieval parish system. Before the creation of county councils, most local civic services (even the fire brigade) were administered by the Church of Ireland. This is also where the phrase ‘parish pump politics’ comes from, referring to the old fire pump kept by the local Anglican churches. Tithes were paid by the populace, regardless of denomination, for the administration of these services. By the early 19th century this was a cause of much resentment among the non Church of Ireland populace but that’s a story for another time. Because these churches were so central their records may contain references to events in the local parish, which is important for understanding the social context in which our ancestors lived. Since record keeping in Catholic churches before the 1800s was so patchy there might be no other surviving church records for that area.

It is also quite feasible that your ancestors had Church of Ireland ancestry. When consulting the parish register for Holy Trinity, Cork (now the Triskel Christchurch) for the early 1800s I was surprised at the amount of typical Irish surnames in the register. We tend to assume that Irish society of this period was fixed. That it was only the descendants of British settlers who were members of the Church of Ireland, with no mixing between them and the ‘poor’ Irish Catholics. However this is an overly simplistic view of Irish history. Both groups lived side by side and membership of the Church of Ireland did not necessarily imply wealth and position. Inter marriage did occur between Catholics and Protestants, as did conversion (sometimes on more than one occasion). There were also quite a number of other small Protestant dissenter denominations that your ancestors might have been part of. We should always be careful not to make too many assumptions when examining the past. Our ancestors were real people with complicated and sometimes baffling lives. This especially applies to the issue of faith and belief.

For the purposes of this visit I was consulting the Parish register for Holy Trinity along with the Vestry Minute Books. The early part of the Parish register was very well laid out with details on baptisms, burials, marriages and churchings. However by the 1820s it was evident that a new Parish clerk had taken over the record keeping, and it became much more difficult to read. The Vestry Minute Books detailed the day to day running of the church. While these may not contain as much genealogical information, they are still very informative for learning what was happening behind the scenes of the church. The names of prominent parishioners occur often, along with details on changes made to the fabric of the church, including the commissioning of memorials and stained glass windows.

If visiting the RCBL it is advisable to allow yourself plenty of time, like with any archive visit. Churchtown is accessible by the no. 14 bus from D’olier St and the Luas Green Line from St Stephens Green. When you enter you will be advised to leave your belongings in one of the lockers provided. This includes anything electronic such as laptops, phones and cameras. The archivists are very strict about the photography of records. The only things you are allowed bring with you is pencil and paper. When you go upstairs to the office you are provided with a handy list of available records, which is especially helpful on a first visit. Once you fill out the request form you are directed to the reading room where the materials are brought to you. If visiting for the whole day be aware the library closes for lunch from 1-2pm. Being out in the suburbs there isn’t a huge amount of places to eat nearby, aside from a local Spar. Bringing a packed lunch is advisable.

More details on the RCBL and it’s collections can be found here: http://library.ireland.anglican.org/index.php?id=42