Saturday, 20 April 2019

Michael Byrne & that charge of animal cruelty

I wrote about this case before. My great-grandfather, Michael Byrne of Malahide, Co. Dublin, was taken to court on a charge ‘did cruelly abuse or torture a dog, contrary to the law’. What shame! But, to my relief, he was not actually found guilty. In October 1907, the case was ‘dismissed on merits’, whatever that really means. Anyway, the whole sorry business left a sour taste in my mouth.

It turns out, a local newspaper reported verbatim what was said in court that day. So, now I know the full story and am happy to conclude my great-grandfather did not torture his dogs.

In court, Sergeant Tyndall of the Malahide police testified he had found two men on the platform, at Malahide train station, arguing over a greyhound.  One had the dog by the head and the other by the hind legs and both were trying to take possession of it. The brave Tyndall said, until he intervened, they were tearing the dog in two and subjecting it to excessive cruelty. Poor puppy!

Mr. Dickie, a solicitor, appeared in court on behalf of my great-grandfather. When cross-examined, Tyndall admitted Michael Byrne had gone to him complaining Patrick Mahon had taken his dog. But, Tyndall did nothing to help. He advised my great-grandfather to take out a summons against Mahon for the dog. When my great-grandfather said he was afraid he would never see the dog again, if it went to Dublin, Tyndall advised him to go to the platform and try to get it back himself. Which is obviously exactly what my great-grandfather was trying to do when Tyndall then arrested him.

The dog wasn’t injured during the incident, thankfully, and was healthy and present in the court a couple of weeks later. It was a young dog belonging to my great-grandfather. When it was a pup, it had been promised to Patrick Mahon, and Mahon thought he had a right to come and take it back to Dublin.  

The case was dismissed and, with Mahon’s consent, the dog was returned to my great-grandfather. 

So, Michael Byrne might not have covered himself in glory that day, but at least he loved his dogs.

Boy with greyhound, Malahide, Co. Dublin

This barely visible picture probably features one of my great-grandfather's beloved greyhounds. It was found at his home in Malahide. The boy may even be my grandfather, James Byrne, Michael's eldest child, born in July 1893.

Source: Drogheda Independent, 26 October 1907, p. 7; Findmypast, ‘Irish Petty Session Order Registers 1828-1912’, Swords Court, accessed 25 November 2013.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Funeral Notice ~ Michael Christopher Byrne (1867 – 1927)

Death of Michael Byrne, Irish Independent, 23 December 1927, p. 1

This is the funeral notice for my great-grandfather, Michael Byrne of Yellow Walls, Malahide, as published on the front page of the national newspaper.  Michael died of heart failure at his home in Malahide, Co. Dublin, on 22 December 1927.

There are two errors in this brief announcement. Michael was not 61 years old when he died. He had just celebrated his 60th birthday on 2 December, twenty days before his death. In fairness, his children, who likely made the announcement, probably didn’t know his exact birthdate. His son-in-law, Peter Dignam, registered his death and he said he was 61 years old in that record too. But all his children knew well where he lived. They all lived in Yellow Walls, Malahide – not Yellow Sands, as shown in the newspaper.  So, I wonder how this error occurred.  

I had long suspected my great-grandfather was buried at the Abbey Graveyard, at Malahide Castle, it being the family burial ground around that time. No one ever erected a headstone on his grave. Neither were any burial records kept for the graveyard, leaving nothing to ‘prove’ this was Michael's final resting place. So, it’s good to see it confirmed in writing. 

It was certainly sad for his family to bury their father on Christmas Eve.  I’m sure Christmas was never quite the same for them after that.  And, by a perhaps startling, unhappy coincidence, Michael’s son James Byrne, my grandfather, who died in 1964, also passed away on 22 December. And, he too was buried on Christmas Eve.

Is it any wonder my Dad was never overly fond of Christmas, and probably even harboured a slight fear of each approaching season!

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Law trouble for James and John Byrne

The story this week relates to my mother's grandfather James Byrne and his eldest son John. They both worked as carters in the Dublin dockyards. Their brush with the law happened in 1930, when John was nearly thirty years old, just months before he married Alice Cummins. I'm sure it was a big deal for them at the time, but now, all these years later, it serves to let us know what they liked to do in their free time. 

On Sunday night, 8 June 1930, Joseph Kelly from Clarence Street, and John and James Byrne, both of Lower Jane Place, were charged by Station-Sergeant Maher with playing 'House' at the offices of the I.T.G.W.U., on Beresford Place. House was a game of cards. It must have been some quiet weekend for Station-Sergeant Maher, if this was all he had to worry about! 

Maher told the court there were sixty men playing the game. Kelly, was in the chair, while James and John Byrne were distributing the cards, at a cost of a penny each. The cards used were about half the size of ordinary playing cards, with thirteen numbers on each. It seems to have been a game of chance, though some men were 'better than others in spotting the numbers'. Sounds to me like they were playing bingo!

The event was being run by the Band Club, in aid of the unemployed and various other charities. The trouble is, it was held in an unregistered premises, and according to the law, the Justice was obliged to convict them. He did, and imposed a fine of £5. 

Although 'Byrne' was the most common surname in Dublin, it is easy to conclude this was my great-grandfather and granduncle. First, they did live in Lower Jane Place, a row of only thirty-one cottages. Also, as carters, they were paid-up members of the I.T.G.W.U. (the Irish Transport and General Workers Union). And, we know for sure they were members of its Band. I previously shared a photograph of the I.T.G.W.U. Prize Brass and Reed Band, including my granduncle John, here, and a picture of my great-grandfather's band medal here

Station-Sergeant Maher was obviously on a mission to rid Dublin city of groups of men, gathering together with their pennies, to play the game. The court next heard how he'd also found 200 men playing a game of House, at the Butcher's Hall, Lower Gardiner Street, on 8 June 1930. House must have been the in thing, at the time. This club also gave the profits to charity. My understanding is the winner of each game was paid a cash prize, £3 at this event, and the surplus takings were considered profit. 

The Justice deemed it 'strange that one section of the community could back horses all day and that the members of this club could not play House for a couple of hours'. Still, as he said himself, 'such was the state of the law'. He was compelled to convict them. He imposed a fine of £2 on each of the defendants. 

Source: The Irish Examiner, 20 August 1930, p. 4; Evening Herald, 19 August 1930, p. 1.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Hospitalisation of Bridget (Hynes) Wynne

Today's post comes thanks to my third cousin, Phyllis, who first discovered our mutual great-great-grandmother, Bridget (Hynes) Wynne, was admitted to the Dublin Workhouse, on 30 October 1895. 

By 1895, in addition to catering for the destitute poor, the workhouse infirmary acted as a public hospital. Still, this probably did little to relieve Bridget of the awful stigma generally attached to workhouse inmates, and her admission was undoubtedly hugely distressing for her and the whole family. 

Bridget was suffering from bronchitis and was referred to the infirmary with a note from her doctor, a Mr. Newell, who presumably felt she needed urgent medical attention she could not receive at home. Thankfully, her stay in the dreaded institution was brief, and she was released five days later, on 5 November.

Bridget Wynn (c.1831-1895), Dublin Workhouse, 1895, accessed $Findmypast (Click on image to enlarge)

Although admitted under the variant surname 'Wynn', there is no doubt this was our Bridget, given her stated age of sixty-four years is consistent with our estimates and she entered the workhouse from her known home address - 4 Christ Church Place. 

Also, we know Bridget was ill at the time. She died not long afterwards, on 17 December 1895. Her cause of death was listed as 'phthisis', a lung disease now commonly known as tuberculosis, which, without modern-day medicines, would have seen Bridget literally waste away, over many months, before her family's eyes.

One thing we also learn from this record - Bridget worked, outside the home, as a packer's assistant. Our family lore tells us she was a midwife, and I did find a hint of evidence to support this, discussed previously here, so the day-job comes somewhat as a surprise. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Wynne family in the newspapers x 3

My first cousin recently gave me a subscription to the $ Irish Newspaper Archives, so I thought I'd use it to find her something new about our Wynne family.  This post is for you, Aileen 💝

1. Agnes (Wynne) Fegan
Agnes Wynne was born at 10 Christ Church Place, on 7 July 1877, the youngest daughter of our great-great-grandparents, John Wynne and Bridget Hynes. She married John Fegan, a salesman, on 1 March 1905. They made their home at 24 Halliday Square, in Dublin city, where they raised a large family. Sadly, Agnes died young, on 3 October 1921, aged only forty-four years. Five years after she died, her husband placed this 'In Memoriam' notice in the newspaper:

In Memoriam, Agnes (Wynne) Fegan, Evening Herald, 2 October 1926, p. 2

Do you think she went by the name Winnie, or was the intention to include her maiden name, Wynne, in this notice?

2. John Wynne (junior)
John Wynne was baptised on 1 June 1851, in St Catherine's parish, in Meath Street. He was Agnes (Wynne) Fegan's eldest brother. He married Margarita Mary Ward/Armstrong in July 1876, in Dundalk, Co. Louth, where they made their home.  After his wife died and his children were all reared, John came back to live in Dublin for a few years. Records show him in the city in 1911 and 1916. But, until now, his last known address was in Glasgow, Scotland, sometime between 1916 and 1918, and I've never been able to find a record of his death, anywhere. Now, I know he returned to Dublin, where he died on or around 20 July 1923.

Death notice, John Wynne, Evening Herald, 23 July 1923, p. 4

Here's the relevant excerpt from the copy death register:

Copy death register, John Wynne, Dublin, 20 July 1923

The register states he was fifty-one years old when he died. He was really seventy-two years of age, which is why I never paid any attention to this record in the index before now, but there are enough correct details to be comfortable this was our great-granduncle. It's true, he was the eldest son of John and Bridget Wynne, Dublin; he was a widower; his occupation was cork-maker; and his given residential address - 2 Nelson St - was the known address of his sister, Isabella (Wynne) Perrody. 

3. Bridget (Hynes) Wynne
And, saving the best for last - who'd have thunk there'd be a newspaper death notice for our great-great-grandmother, Bridget (Hynes) Wynne, herself - in 1895! 

But, voilà!

Death notice, Bridget (Hynes) Wynne, 
Irish Independent, 19 December 1895, p. 1

Most interesting, apart from the fact the notice was published in the first place, is the sentence 'American and East Indian papers please copy'. We already know Bridget's daughter, Mary (Wynne) Finnegan, emigrated to America and was living in Colorado Springs, when Bridget died. But who in 'East India' was concerned with Bridget's passing? This is a new clue.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

An impostor in my DNA?

This week, rolled out enhanced ethnicity estimates for everyone who has taken their DNA test, and the genealogy world is awash with stories about their 'increased precision'. I got my update several months ago, but as I’ve never been a fan of DNA ‘ethnicity’ tools, I didn’t find reason to mention it before now. I’m Irish, so these tools never seemed to add much to the understanding of my ancestors.

Originally, Ancestry had me down as 66% ‘Ireland, Scotland and Wales’, and 34% ‘Great Britain’. Granted, you might think they pinned it down nicely to the right corner of the world… but 34% British! Hmph!!! To an Irish person, that’s bordering on a major slur. And, there's no supporting documentation for this statistic! What happened to innocent until ‘proven’ guilty?   

My pre-June 2018 Ethnicity Estimate from

Their new release seems to be going in the right direction, in my perhaps somewhat prejudiced opinion. They’ve broadened the geographic scope, yet homed in more precisely on Ireland - 21% more precisely to be exact. But that still leaves 13% ‘England, Wales and Northwestern Europe’ in my DNA.  That’d be the equivalent of one great-grandparent being of 'the old foe’.

My post-June 2018 Ethnicity Estimate at

MyHeritage reports a similar ethnic background to Ancestry’s original estimate, with me supposedly being 40% ‘English’. But, although these figures came from a separate, independent test, I didn’t believe them either. My parent’s test results were also uploaded to MyHeritage, and they both showed 0% ‘English’. That's more like it. 😅 So, where did my ‘English’ supposedly come from? I didn’t lick it off a stone. It was obviously bogus. Right?

My Ethnicity Estimate at MyHeritage (based on FTDNA test results)

Plus, my parent’s results were far too exotic for our tiny, historically subjugated island, on the fringes of western Europe. Dad showed 9% Italian and 8% Eastern European. My mother showed 20% Scandinavian and, with 1% ‘Central American’, she could even claim a mythical ‘Indian Princess’ among her distant ancestry. It’s all just too far-fetched to be taken seriously, especially if you ever met my parents.

Mam's Ethnicity Estimate at MyHeritage (based on FTDNA upload)

Dad's Ethnicity Estimate at MyHeritage (based on FTDNA upload)

But, with everyone singing the praises of Ancestry’s revised results, I’m having second thoughts. As reference populations increase and become more dependable, the results are bound to become more accurate, someday. Has that day arrived? Am I letting historic sensitivities get in the way of tracing my real ancestors? 

I do have one great-grandfather whose origins cannot be proven – Charles O’Neill, born about 1849, the son of John and Margaret O’Neill. He sounds Irish enough. Was he descended from the ancient High-Kings of Ireland, as his name suggests… or was he an impostor? 

That may be the real question here!

P.S. to all my lovely English friends, I’m only joking… sort of.😀

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Aunt Tessie, Uncle Jack and the Mafia

‘Aunt Tessie, Uncle Jack and Mafia’ - Amusingly, this is exactly what it says on the back of a photograph, purporting to be my Dad's O'Neill family. The down-arrow is labeled on the back as 'Aunt Tessie', with 'Uncle Jack' named as shown, implying the rest of them are the 'Mafia'.

Aunt Tessie, Uncle Jack and Mafia, c.1934

I recently received this picture from Marie, my granduncle's step-granddaughter. She got it from her step-aunt, May O'Neill. May was Arthur O'Neill's daughter, and my Granny Lena's niece.

Initially, I didn't know anyone in the picture. Lena did have a sister called Teresa, known as Aunt Tess in our branch of the family. And, like nearly everyone else in Ireland then, she also had a brother John. He went by the name Jack. Tess and Jack were May O'Neill's aunt and uncle, so it all fits. 

When I showed the picture to my mother, she immediately spotted my grandfather, James Byrne, in the back row, on the far left.😍 Mam also thought 'Aunt Tessie' looked like my grandmother, Lena. And, she would know. While my paternal grandparents passed away long before I was born, Mam knew them all her life.

Once pointed out, I could easily identify my Granda. Or, more specifically, I recognised the outfit he was wearing, especially the badge on his jacket. I'd seen it before... in my grandparent's wedding photo. 

Comparing James and Lena, c. 1934, to the couple in the ‘Mafia’ picture

It's definitely my Granda in both pictures, though I'm not completely sure the second picture shows my Granny. The two ladies do look very similar, but their hair is parted differently. May O'Neill may have been correct, and the lady in the second photo is her Aunt Tessie, and not her Aunt Lena. 

Granda was a farmer. He probably only had one suit, for Sundays and special occasions, which lasted for years, but these pictures were unquestionably taken around the same time, perhaps even on the same day. It's even possible, they were both taken on my grandparent's wedding day.

My grandparents married on 11 February 1934, in St Sylvester's church, Malahide, and the celebrations were held at her sister Tess's house, at 19 O'Neachtain Road, Drumcondra. Tess lived there with her husband Richard Greer, her step-children, including Thomas, Richard, Patrick, Mary and Eileen Greer, and her mother, Mary Agnes (Donovan, O'Neill) Ellis. Mary Greer was Lena's bridesmaid.

Mary Agnes Ellis was an accomplished musician, playing both piano and violin. She entertained my grandparent's guests, on the evening of their wedding. They had a great big hooley that night, according to our family lore. All four of my grandparents attended. It would be wonderful if this was a picture memento of that occasion. 

Images on Google Street View suggest it's quite possible the photo was snapped at O'Neactain Road. House number 19 has since been completely remodeled, but number 11 still bears a striking resemblance to the house in our photo. They both have similar shaped windows, cobble-dashed walls, and a cute little flower garden in the front, immediately under the windowsill. Do you see the resemblance below?

So, chances are our photograph was taken at Tess Greer's house, making it more than feasible the man standing behind her is Richard Greer, and the two girls are her step-daughters, Mary and Eileen. That's my theory for now; perhaps someday we'll know for sure. 

In the meantime, it's great to have another picture of my Granda. Thanks again, Marie.