Sunday, 8 December 2013

Petty Sessions Records, Swords Court

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Scales of Justice
The Petty Sessions, were a prelude to the District Courts in Ireland, where Justices of the Peace (usually local landlords) had summary jurisdiction in minor criminal and civil matters. The petty sessions order registers for the court in Swords, Co. Dublin, which covered the parish of Malahide, have recently been released online by genealogy vendor Findmypast.
The registers released span the period 1872 to 1913, the time of my great-great-grandfather, James Mahon (1823 – 1903), as well as his son-in-law, my great-grandfather, Michael Byrne (c1865 – 1929).  So the search began… 

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An Irish goat
There was only one possible reference to my great-great-grandfather in the Swords registers. Sergeant William Sandes charged James Mahon of Yellow Walls with… wait for it… allowing one of his goats to wander on the public road near his home. On 11 June 1887, the case was heard and James was fined six pence, plus costs.

This story reminded my Dad of another time a goat got loose. Until the 1960s, my family's nearest water supply was from a pump at the top of the road. One day, during the rut season, my grandfather, James Byrne, went out with his bucket to get water. Half-way up the road, a billy goat forced him into retreat. My grandfather backed up, all the way home, keeping the bucket in front of him, for protection against the goat's long horns.  

My great-grandfather also featured in the Sword's court records. On 26 July 1913, Michael Byrne of Yellow Walls was charged with keeping his son, also Michael, home from school, without excuse, contrary to an attendance order. He was found guilty and fined three shillings. Young Michael was born on 18 October 1899, so being three months shy of his fourteenth birthday, he was still obliged to attend school.

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Michael Byrne in the Swords Petty Sessions, 1913

Compulsory school attendance, for those aged between six and fourteen years, was introduced in Ireland in 1892, but only in urban areas and many rural local authorities delayed its introduction. Compulsory attendance was presumably a fairly recent requirement in Malahide in 1907, when the attendance order was issued to my great-grandfather. Traditionally, parents kept children home from school for any reason and the majority of children had left school by Michael’s age, so my great-grandfather probably resented the state's interference in what had always been a family matter. My young granduncle was quite likely out picking potatoes or doing other summer jobs to help feed the family, when he should have been in school. He may even have started in paid employment.


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