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.

 

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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.

Ancestral Connections

Tomorrow sees the start of the ACE Genealogy Summer School: Ancestral Connections: Names, Places & Spaces in University College Cork. This is an annual summer school organised by genealogy Lorna Moloney and has been running since 2013

Ancestral Connections Poster

I have been acting as a volunteer since the summer school began and it’s gratifying to see it grow each year. Last year there were roughly 50 delegates in attendance for the entire week, with others attending for one or two days. The delegates come from all over the world and is a testament to the spread of the Irish diaspora.

The range of speakers covers a huge variety of topics concerning Irish genealogy, from land records, workhouses, adoptions, military and graveyards to list only a few. There are also a number of field trips to allow the delegates a chance for some fresh air and to explore the Irish scenery.

This will also be my first time speaking at the summer school. I have been selected to deliver the final presentation of the week ‘Using genealogy to interpret memorials & monuments’. It’s a great honour to have such an opportunity.

Although the lectures come to an end on Friday July 3rd, for those who decide to stay around for the Saturday there is an opportunity for a field trip to West Waterford.

More information on Ancestral Connections is available here http://www.ucc.ie/en/ace-genealogy/