Saturday, 3 May 2014

Charles Francis O’Neill (c. 1849 – 1895)

Very little is known about my great-grandfather, Charles Francis O’Neill, who died on 23 April 1895, when his youngest daughter, my paternal grandmother, was only three months old. He had just celebrated twenty-one years of marriage with his wife, Mary Agnes Donovan, the previous week. Charles and Mary Agnes had at least nine children together, including my grandmother, Helena, born in January 1895. His large family were seemingly left destitute on his sudden passing and the younger children were separated from their mother and placed in foster-care and industrial schools, across Ireland.

Their known children were Charles Joseph O’Neill, born in 1875, Catherine Mary O’Neill born in 1876, Robert Joseph O’Neill born in 1878 and John Michael O’Neill born in 1879. Mary Agnes, Arthur and Teresa O’Neill were born in the 1880s and Johanna (known as Joan) was born in 1892.

The register of their marriage, in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough St., Dublin, on 19 April 1874, revealed that Charles F. was the son of John and Margaret O'Neill of Dominick Street, Dublin. John and Margaret were seemingly still living at this time, if the word after Agnes’s parents reads ‘mortui’ meaning deaths, however, no further record of them has been located. 

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Marriage Charles O’Neill and Agnes Donovan, 1874, St Mary Pro-Cathedral

The civil registration of their marriage showed that Charles was a law clerk and his father, John, was also a clerk.

According to his death certificate, Charles O’Neill, with an address at 90 Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin, died of a cerebral hemorrhage, in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin at the age of only forty-six years. Three days later, undertaker, William Thompson of 30 Lombard Street, organised his burial in the Garden section of Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. The cemetery's records reflect his cause of death as ‘hemorrhage from lungs’, not cerebral hemorrhage, but regardless of the precise cause, his death truly was a tragedy for his young family. Glasnevin Trust advised that the cemetery owns the unmarked grave, which Charles shares with twelve unrelated people.

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Burial register, 1895, Charles O’Neill - Glasnevin Cemetery Museum 

The registers of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital were identified as a possible source of further information - maybe his date of birth was recorded, or, at least, they might confirm his cause of death. The hospital’s records are now held at the Royal College of Physicians (RCPI) in Kildare Street. Charles’s date of death was more than 100 years ago, suggesting no special permission would be required to view them.

However, while the archivist at the RCPI confirmed that the records of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital are held there, it seems only admission registers are available for this period. The archivist very kindly offered to check my great-grandfather’s details in these admission records, but, unfortunately, a gap in patient records for the period of my great-grandfather’s death, 1890 to 1896, was then discovered. These registers were never transferred to the RCPI and probably do not survive. 

It is unclear where the search for Charles O’Neill’s origins can be taken next. However, the Poor Law records of the North Dublin Union, which are held in the National Archives, might throw further light on the plight of the O’Neill children in the aftermath of their father’s death. A firm called J&C Nichols have operated as undertakers from 30 Lombard Street since 1881 and may once have employed William Thompson. Their early records are also held in the National Archives and may possibly contain some relevant information. 

Sources: General Register Office, copy birth and marriage registers; Church records, Irish Genealogy; Burial register, Glasnevin Cemetery Museum; Harriet Wheelock, ‘Sir Patrick Duns Hospital’, August 2010, p. 4.



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