Saturday, 14 June 2014

Was Granny’s Uncle Bennie a sailor?

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Benjamin Byrne (c.1895-1966), stoker

Benjamin Byrne was the youngest of fourteen children born to Francis Byrne and Margaret McGrane and a brother to my great-grandfather James Byrne. His birth was registered as being on 31 May 1896, at 1 Lower Jane Place, Dublin, when James Byrne was already twenty-two years old.1 According to the Irish census returns, Ben lived at Lower Jane Place, aged five years on 31 March 1901 and aged fourteen on 2 April 1911.2

In August 1913, the newspapers reported that Benjamin had appeared before the Southern Police Court, on a charge of intimidation, arising out of a trade dispute at the Savoy Confectionery Co. of Clarendon Street. This period in Dublin’s history saw a significant escalation in industrial disputes, as employers used blackleg labour instead of workers who had joined the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Tensions ran high. A Michael Grennan, who was employed at the Savoy factory, accused Benjamin Byrne, of Lower Jane Place, of ‘persistently following him in the street’, adding that ‘he was afraid of him’. On cross-examination, Grennan admitted that Benjamin ‘neither threatened nor spoke to him’. However, Benjamin was bound to the peace for £20, with two additional sureties of £10 each, or faced two months in prison.3

After this, no further written record of Benjamin has been found in Ireland. Nonetheless, it is still remembered that on occasion, during the mid-1950s, ‘Uncle Bennie’ came home to visit relatives in Lower Jane Place.  He did not visit my great-grandfather's house, however, as there had been some kind of falling-out between him and his elder brother. Perhaps the argument arose out of the intimidation charge and court case as I am sure that did not go down too well in the Byrne household. 

In 1919, a Benjamin Byrne enlisted with the British Merchant Marine, claiming that he was born in Dublin on 30 March 1895. This was over a year earlier than Uncle Bennie’s registered birthdate, although it may still have been him. Even though Byrne was the most common surname in Dublin, there was only one other Benjamin Byrne registered as born in all Ireland between 1890 and 1900 and that child died in Limerick in 1901.4 The 1901 and 1911 census returns also confirm that there was no other Benjamin Byrne apparently living in Ireland, who was born around this period. Uncle Bennie’s first cousin, Thomas McGrane, who was born in 1898 and grew up in Lower Jane Place, also joined the British Merchant Marine in 1919. Perhaps, they signed up together.5

Benjamin Byrne, the sailor, worked as a stoker or fireman, tending fires in a steamship’s engine rooms. He settled in Seaforth, north of Liverpool, England to raise his family. In 1939, Benjamin was appointed as the main greaser on board the ‘Imperial Star’ (official number 163212), a motor ship built in Belfast in 1935. This was the last seaman record so far found for Benjamin.5

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Uncle Bennie’s paternal grandfather, Francis Byrne, was also a stoker.6

On 22 January 1918, Benjamin Byrne, aged 21, occupation stoker, married Annie Florence Porter, in St Thomas’s parish, Seaforth. On his marriage register, he named his father as Francis Joseph Byrne, a labourer. Uncle Bennie’s father was also named Francis and he was a labourer. The couple remained in Seaforth for many years and their children were baptised in the parish of St Thomas. James Joseph Francis Byrne was baptised in 1918, Benjamin Porter Byrne in 1921, Edmond Patrick Byrne in 1924, Margaret Jane Byrne in 1927, Kenneth Byrne in 1930 and Audrey Byrne in 1932.7 It is interesting that they named their only daughter Margaret, as Uncle Bennie’s mother was Margaret too. 

The merchant seamen’s records contain a description of Benjamin Byrne.  He was 5 foot 8 inches in height, with blue eyes and fair hair - not unlike his older brother James. This Benjamin Byrne apparently died in Liverpool North in 1966, at the stated age of seventy years.8

So, was Granny's  Uncle Bennie a sailor?  



Updated 16 August 2014, 'Benjamin Byrne, an update'.




1 Copy birth register, General Register Office, Dublin.
2 Census of Ireland 1901 and 1911, National Archives of Ireland.
3 Irish Independent, 6 August 1913, p. 6; Weekly Irish Times, 9 August 1913, p. 3.
4 'Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958', FamilySearch.
5 Merchant seamen’s records for Thomas McGrane and Benjamin Byrne, Southampton City Council Archives, England. 
6 Copy marriage registers, General Register Office, Dublin.
7 Baptism and marriage registers, Church of St Thomas, Seaforth

Photograph from the Merchant Seaman Identity Certificate, 1918-1921 (form CR10), Southampton City Council Archives.

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