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

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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.

When You Assume

It is natural when conducting research to rely, in part at least, on assumptions. Sometimes when the paper trail becomes patchy they are all we have to go on. But these assumptions can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. We are often told that people in Ireland didn’t move around much before the mid 20th century. That if we could trace them to a particular region then there was a good chance they had been there with several generations. However, recent research for clients and into my own family has made me rethink this.

For instance when we receive information from elderly family members we tend to trust it. That information might state the family had been present in that particular area since records began. Of course we’re going to assume this information is correct, especially if we don’t have a reliable paper trail. It makes for a good starting point in our research and can help us get further. Unfortunately putting too much faith in this information can lead to mistakes. Recently I’ve been doing research into a particular branch of my family in Tipperary, prompted by contact with DNA matches on Ancestry. I had information from my grandfather, written down several years ago, giving a year of birth and location for his maternal grandfather. It was within the same parish and seemed plausible so I didn’t see a need to question it. It was only as I went back further and started digging into the parish registers and other records that I began to realise there could be a mistake. A marriage record suggest this individual married into that particular townland. It still places him in the same parish so not a huge deal. However, looking for baptismal records for the year he was born raises questions. The only individual with that name born in that year within the county is listed as being born several parishes over. Not impossible and goes back to assuming people always stayed within the same area. However, when I searched for his death record the age was off. For those born before civil registration was introduced in 1864 sometimes they simply guessed at their age. So that’s not completely reliable either. However, looking at the census records also throws up questions. This individual is listed on the 1911 census as being born in Co. Limerick originally. All of this evidence taken together is too much to ignore and it suggests the information from my grandmother was incorrect. I can understand where the mistake came from. In the days before online research I assume my grandfather or someone else before him simply asked the local parish priest to look into it for them. He found an individual with that name in a nearby parish and assumed it must be them. This is a mistake that any of us can make and frequently do, even professional researchers.

Talking of parish records, another area that can cause confusion when searching on certain websites are the diocesan boundaries. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the boundaries for a diocese don’t always correspond to the county boundaries. So parts of Cork are in Kerry diocese and some parts of Kerry fall within Cork and Ross. Most of North and East Cork is under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Cloyne and a lot of South Tipperary is part of Waterford and Lismore. This also holds true for parishes. Some parishes sit in more than one county, such as Kilbehenny which straddles Tipperary and Limerick. This is especially important if you are searching for records on Roots Ireland. I was puzzled recently as to why my search for baptismal records in South Tipperary wasn’t producing results, until it was suggested I try searching under Waterford. Suddenly I was getting a lot more information. You can check out a map of the various Irish diocese below.

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When searching for ancestors we should also keep in mind the upheaval caused by the Famine. When we think of migration, we tend to imagine outward migration, of people saying their goodbyes on the quayside before embarking for a new life in America, Australia or the UK. But we shouldn’t ignore internal migration. The Famine led to depopulation and an availability of land. Should we be surprised that some took the opportunity to take land elsewhere, even if it was just a neighbouring parish?

So the lesson is to never put too much faith in our assumptions. Don’t be afraid to question received information and to independently verify. It might mean disproving long cherished family myths (which isn’t always appreciated) but the whole point research is to know for certain.

Crowdsourcing

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A dog living it up. Courtesy of the Poole Collection from the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive

I originally had a different topic in mind for the latest blog but reading this article about the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive got me thinking about crowdsourcing and some of the projects out there which take advantage of it.

What exactly is crowdsourcing? According to the Miriam Webster dictionary it can be defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” Wikipedia might be the most well known example, although there is disagreement as to whether it truly counts as crowdsourcing.

Not surprisingly many genealogy and family history related projects have been keen to tap into crowdsourcing. Sometimes we do it without even realising what we are doing. One of the best examples is on social media. Many of us will have at one time or another posted an image of a difficult to read record in a Facebook group or on another platform in order to solicit help from others.

However there are a number of more formal projects based around the crowdsourcing method. Many of those who engage in researching family history, either at an amateur or professional level, will be familiar with the free website FamilySearch, which is run by the Church of Latter Day Saints. While the website is a treasure trove of genealogical information, not everything on it is indexed. As a free website there is a limited amount of resources they can devote to indexing all these records, particularly when new records are constantly being added. The solution is to allow members of the public to participate in this indexing. If you are frustrated at the difficulty in trying to locate a record on FamilySearch then one solution is to lend a hand with the indexing. That way other researchers won’t have the same problem. You can find out more here.

In Ireland, our institutions have been quick to embrace crowdsourcing. In 2011, the National Library of Ireland uploaded it’s photographic archive to Flickr, making them freely available to browse from anywhere in the world. Alongside that, the library began soliciting help from users to identify the places and people featured in the photos. I wrote a post on this collection a few years ago when discussing sporting ancestors. I would highly recommend browsing through the collection. Who knows what family secrets you might help uncover or mysteries you might be able to resolve.

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The National University of Ireland Maynooth also saw an opportunity with crowdsourcing when they created the Letters of 1916 project. Launched in 2013, this was the first public humanities project in Ireland. The original goal of the project was to collect letters from 1916 and make them available online. The letters weren’t just those belonging to libraries, archives and universities. Members of the public were also encouraged to contribute their own letters from the period to the project and collection roadshows were held around the country. Once a letter has been contributed, volunteers can register to assist with transcribing. The letters cover a wide range of topics, from official government correspondence to letters of a more personal nature. The project has been such a success that it’s remit has been expanded to cover the entire revolutionary period in Ireland, from 1916 to the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923. Anyone can volunteer and it’s a great way to learn more about the period.

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If you have an interest in Irish folklore, then my recommendation would be to explore the Schools Collection of the National Folklore Collection. These stories were collected by primary school children throughout the country in the 1930s and came from interviews they conducted with relatives and neighbours. The stories range from the origins of local placenames, to tales of the supernatural. Volunteers are needed to assist in transcribing the collection. It’s always worth doing because you never know what you might find. Searching through the collection revealed that some of my own relatives had been collectors.

There are many more examples of crowdsourcing projects out there and most don’t require more than an hour or two of your time every so often. Be warned though that once you start volunteering you might find yourself addicted.

Of course, crowdsourcing won’t work for every family history project and it requires effective management in order to succeed. But when it works it can be a great way for professionals and members of the public to learn more about the past.

 

A Sense Of Place

There is an often expressed sentimentality among the Irish diaspora for the ‘ould sod’ or the original homestead that their ancestors came from. It is something that those of us  living in Ireland too often dismiss or mock. We like to believe that modern Ireland has evolved beyond such concepts, that we are citizens of the world who aren’t tied down to anything as simple as a piece of land or particular homestead. But yet that isn’t quite true. While those of my generation have experienced unparalleled freedom and the ability (at least in theory) to pack our bags and move elsewhere, it is impossible to completely forego all attachments. For myself, I have spent the majority of my life living just outside Cork City. But there is still a part of me that thrills at the sight of the Galtee Mountains and feels to some extent like I’ve come home. Perhaps this is simply due to so much time spent visiting family in Tipperary and walking the region during my childhood.

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Galtee Mountains

Equally I know friends born in Ireland and who have lived out their entire lives here who feel that home is London, Edinburgh or Paris. Our sense of home isn’t always tied to where we lived our entire lives. The next time an enthusiastic descendant of Irish emigrants comes seeking the ancestral homestead, instead of dismissing them or laughing at them, perhaps we should try our best to help them. We might even learn something ourselves in the process.

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Grace Kelly visiting Drimurla, Co. Mayo where her grandfather originated

But how does someone go about this process? Too often many of those researching their Irish ancestry don’t have a lot to go on. Maybe they only have a surname and a vague recollection of a certain county being mentioned by elderly relatives. Sometimes they will get lucky and might have documentation such as a death certificate or passenger listing which lists the place of origin. However, even then the name can sometimes get mangled in the period between boarding the ship and arriving at the destination. This was typically down to a lack of standardised spelling of placenames and also a lack of literacy among those emigrating.

There is help at hand though. One of the best resources for tracing Irish placenames is the Placename Database of Ireland, which can be conveniently found on the Logainm.ie website. The site is very user friendly and is invaluable in trying to locate a specific Irish placename. It provides a listing of baronies, civil parishes and townlands along with streets in Irish towns. For some of these placenames it also has a helpful breakdown of how the name has evolved over the centuries. Many have kept much the same name with some spelling variations, while others have undergone more drastic transformations with the original name being lost completely.

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Another great resource for Irish placenames is Irish Ancestors, John Grenham’s website. Over the years John has amassed a large database of Irish surnames and placenames. His website includes maps of the various different parish types and Poor Law Unions. An invaluable resource when trying to figure out the relationship between the old Civil Parishes and modern Roman Catholic Parishes.

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However, one thing to keep in mind when trying to figure out where your Irish ancestors came from is the unreliable nature of mapping in the age of Google. When planning a trip to Ireland it is easy to look at a map and assume that because it’s a small country that everything must be close together. This isn’t accounting for geography, which Ireland has no shortage of. Neighbouring parishes might be separated by an inconvenient mountain range or a lake, perhaps even both. The road system was often poorly maintained or almost non-existent. The vast majority of people had to travel by foot and as such rarely ventured beyond their own own immediate surroundings. Someone born in Macroom, West Cork is unlikely to have ever set foot in Cork city. Journeys that we can now complete in hours would have taken our ancestors several days.

A very useful means of making sense of the landscape are the Ordnance Survey Ireland Maps. The first maps were produced in 1847 at a scale of at a scale of 6 inches to 1 mile. Ireland was the first country to be mapped to such a scale. In times gone by it was necessary to use the physical copies of the maps held in local libraries or purchase them from the OSI. Thanks to modern technology however it is possible to use the online map viewer to overlay the modern and historical maps. This can provide some invaluable perspective on the landscape our ancestors inhabited.

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Historic 6 inch Ordnance Survey map of Ireland 1837-1842

Just remember when researching your family history to underestimate geography at your peril. Also keep in mind there are no shortage of excellent publications on Ireland and it’s landscape. Before making your journey it might not be any harm to pack an old fashioned atlas of Ireland rather than relying on Google Maps and GPS to help you find your way around.

 

Upcoming Events

It’s going to be a busy week. As part of the annual Cork Lifelong Learning Festival I am fortunate enough to be delivering two free talks, both in the surrounds of the lovely St Peter’s on North Main Street.

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St Peter’s Cork

The first talk will be on Thursday April 6th at 4pm. I will be representing Cork Decorative and Fine Arts Society for a talk on church memorials and monuments in Cork. This will look at some notable monuments from the city and county and the families commemorated on them.

On Saturday from 2pm to 4pm I will be delivering my first solo genealogy workshop. The goal of this workshop will be to provide attendees with an introduction to Irish genealogy and the main sources. I will also be discussing the increasing use of DNA in genealogical research. At the end there will be an opportunity for people to ask questions about their own family history research.

I always enjoy doing these talks because while it is nice to help people with their own family history, it is also an opportunity for me to learn something from the audience. That joy of mutual discovery is one of the many reasons I enjoy genealogy.

Secret Family Histories

What’s your family secret? We all have one. That skeleton in the closet that we can’t help but be fascinated by, despite the refusal of other family members to acknowledge their existence. Sometimes it can be something personal, an addiction or an illness that was always referred to euphemistically. Perhaps it could be the lack of a marriage certificate, or the date of the wedding coming a bit too close to when the first child was born. Then there are the other types of omissions, the ones that might have resulted from an ancestor being caught on the wrong side of history. Every country has this because it is human nature to try and simplify our historical narrative. This side was ‘good’ and the other side was ‘bad’.

With the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland and all the various discussions taking place, it is easy to assume that Ireland has put all our historical hangups behind us. That we have learned to accept our past and any of the uncomfortable truths hidden there. To some extent this is true. Irish soldiers who fought in WWI now get the recognition they deserve for their bravery and sacrifice. While those who served as members of the pre-independence police forces haven’t been rehabilitated to the same extent, their role in Irish life during the period is better understood.

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Group of Royal Irish Constabulary officers and men (Image courtesy of National Library of Ireland)

I have come across some of this myself when looking into my own family history. Most of my maternal side of the family would have considered themselves to be of Irish Republican lineage. However, that wasn’t the case for everyone in the family. I had one great uncle from Co. Waterford who had served in WWI and was also a constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary. He was stationed in Co. Wexford where he died in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. His death wasn’t particularly glorious, being accidentally shot by a fellow constable while on patrol. To me and some of my cousins this proved fascinating, but other members of the family weren’t as interested. Perhaps because his role as a servant of the British administration in Ireland during a contested time doesn’t fit with how the family see themselves. This is not to criticise. It is simply who they are. All of us have our inbuilt biases.

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Exterior of the Curragh Internment Camp in the 1940s (Image courtesy of Irish Examiner)

A recent visit to the National Archives of Ireland also put me in mind of another aspect of Irish history that is often overlooked and it’s connection to my own family. Ireland maintained an official policy of neutrality during WWII, although a number of Irish did enlist with the British army and the armed forces of other Allied forces. On the home front there were those who believed in the old maxim that Britain’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity. The IRA launched a bombing campaign in Britain. In order to maintain their position of neutrality, and avoid a potential invasion by Britain, the Irish government felt the safest course of action was to intern all those suspected of IRA membership. This was certainly not the first or last time such a policy was carried out on this island. The internees were placed in a camp in the Curragh, nicknamed ‘Tintown’. Among those internees, was my grandfather, his brothers and some of their friends. My grandfather never liked to speak of his time in the Curragh and it is a period rarely discussed in Irish history. I suspect there is a certain shame when it comes to the history of internment without trial.

This being my first research visit to the National Archives, I wasn’t entirely sure of how I would find the appropriate records. Were they considered criminal records? Or were they military? Or perhaps they fell under another category entirely? I guess I’ve been spoilt by the easy access to online catalogues. I approached the archivist on duty and sought her help. I think it shows how rarely these records are consulted that it took her some time to figure out what they were held under. We eventually located some of the records related to the Curragh under the Department of the Taoiseach. Although I didn’t locate anything specifically connected to my grandfather on this visit, I did come across one illuminating account of how order was maintained in the camp. Some of the guards carried guns and during one particular disturbance, they opened fire on the internees. A number were injured and one died of his wounds not long afterwards. I don’t know if my grandfather was present for this disturbance or if he had any involvement in it. I can tell I have more research to do and I have become curious about delving into this period. If anyone reading this does have more information or photos of internees from the period, please send me a message.

All of this has made me realise that genealogy doesn’t stop within recent memory. Just because we knew a previous generation, doesn’t mean that there is nothing more to uncover. Sometimes these secrets may be uncomfortable but that is the inherent risk with delving into our family history.

 

Remembrance Weekend

Great War Memorial on South Mall, Cork

Great War Memorial  South Mall, Cork

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous conflict. What was originally hoped to be a short and limited European war, ‘over by Christmas’, turned into a period of prolonged stalemate which enveloped the world. As part of the British Empire at the time, Ireland became embroiled in the conflict. The current estimate is that 200,000 Irishmen served in the conflict, although this is a difficult number to be sure of. With many Irish living abroad and enlisting in regiments in their new homes, it can be hard to know for certain how many were involved. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 50,000 lost their lives (depending on whether you count just those serving with Irish regiments or Irish enlisting in other armies).

Until recent years it would seem that the role of the rish in WW1 was ignored and overlooked due to the focus on the events of Easter 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence in Ireland. Fortunately perceptions of the conflict have changed, although it still remains a controversial subject for some, especially the practice of wearing a poppy. Our Taoiseach has today laid a wreath in Enniskillen as part of their Remembrance Sunday events and our Minister for Foreign Affairs was a participant in Belfast events. Our President has attended the Remembrance service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association

Members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association

Here in Cork we are fortunate to have a number of groups and individuals who are very dedicated to commemorating those who served in the Great War. Over the last few years the members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association have organised a number of events over the weekend closest to November 11th. On the Friday they hold an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This is always a truly moving event combining songs, music, stories and poetry. On the Saturday they organise is a gathering at the WW1 memorial on the South Mall in Cork for a wreath laying ceremony. Both the Lord Mayor of Cork and the Mayor of Cork County delivered speeches. On the Sunday a seperate ceremony is held by members of the Royal British Legion, along with a number of special masses.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O'Leary

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O’Leary

Crowd gathered at the WW1 memorial for the wreath laying

Crowd gathered at the WW1 memorial for the wreath laying

From a genealogical point of view these commemoration events can be very important. We don’t have to approve of the War or why and how it was fought. But it is important to remember those who lost their lives in the conflict. Every family in Ireland would have known someone who enlisted to fight in the War and each had their own reasons for doing so. These commemoration events help us to learn more about the lives our ancestors lived and to appreciate who they were. Too often when we read about these conflicts it can seem like an endless stream of numbers and big battles. But by commemorating them, we realise that each of these numbers was a living breathing individual at one point with a story to tell.

As part of the Rembrance weekend, Ancestry have opened up their WW1 records to explore for free. Usually I’m not one to plug the subscription websites, simply because they are so well known. However on this occasion it’s a great opportunity to search for your WW1 ancestors and see what sort of information might be out there.

WW1 Medal Roll

WW1 Medal Roll