Sunday 27 October 2013

John Wynne - Nonagenarian or not?

John Wynne was my great-great grandfather. He was Patrick Wynne’s father.  His place and date of birth remains a mystery today. The first identified record of him places him in Thomas St., Dublin around 1848. Both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses of Ireland state that his birthplace was Dublin city.

When Agnes Fegan registered the death of her father, John Wynne, she confirmed that he was sixty-seven years old and died of ‘senile decay’ on 5 September 1911.
John Wynne, 1911, excerpt from copy death register

A few days later, Agnes’s husband, John Fegan, organised his burial at Glasnevin Cemetery and again stated that John Wynne was sixty-seven when he died.
John Wynne, 1911, excerpt from burial register (Glasnevin Trust)

This indicates he was born about 1843-44. 

However, in April 1911, John Fegan filled out the household return of the 1901 Census and reported that his father-in-law was ninety-one years old. This suggests that his birth was about 1819-20. Why did Agnes and John Fegan then knock twenty-four years off this age, when he died only five months later?  Were they aware of the inconsistency? Did they discuss it and agree that he was not as old as reported in the census?
Fegan household, 24 Haliday Square, Arran Quay, Dublin (1911 Census)

A cynical person might suggest that John over-stated his age in the 1911 census, in an attempt to claim the old age pension before his due time. The pension was first introduced in Ireland in January 1909 and a general unexplained ‘ageing’ of the population between 1901 and 1911 has sometimes been attributed to its introduction. Civil registration of births did not commence in Ireland until 1864 and the authorities acquired a reputation for relying on census records, i.e. 1841 and 1851 records, as proof of age for pension entitlement. 

Yet, John’s age recorded in the 1901 census confirms the estimate birth year as 1820-21 and the 1901 census was completed long before the pension was ever contemplated in Ireland. John Wynne filled in and signed the 1901 census himself and he said he was eighty years old, at the time.
Wynne household, 11 Upper Ormond Quay, North City, Dublin (1901 Census)

So when was he really born?, which freely provides transcriptions and images of many Dublin church records, includes the register of John's marriage to Bridget Hynes. They married in St Catherine’s, Thomas St., Dublin on 16 September 1849. Their first child, Margaret, was baptised in St Catherine’s on 2 July 1850. John could not have been only six years old at the time!

John was surely born at least ten years earlier than 1843-44 and probably closer to twenty years earlier.   John’s own estimate of being born about 1820 seems much more reasonable than the estimate of 1844. 

Was John Wynne a nonagenarian when he died?  Why did his daughter get it so wrong when she registered his death?

Sources available on request.

© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 26 October 2013

Terrazzo Byrne!

My great grandfather Michael Christopher Byrne was born about 1865 and died on 22 December 1927.[1] He worked as a labourer in rural Malahide, Co. Dublin.   According to my Dad, Michael’s nickname was ‘Terrazzo’. He first earned this nickname when he was working as a general labourer with two foreign tradesmen, who were laying a new floor in Hogan’s Pub and Grocery on Main Street, Malahide, probably where the Credit Union is now.   They were laying a Terrazzo floor, which was a type of flooring that none of the locals had even seen or heard of before. They asked Michael what it was and when he told them it was called Terrazzo, they started calling him Terrazzo. The name stuck.
Michael (Terrazzo) Byrne (c.1865-1927), Malahide.

[1] General Register Office, copy death register.

© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 19 October 2013

Little Orphan James Gunne

In 1901, my great grandmother Elizabeth (Bessie) Byrne was living in Yellow Walls Malahide, with her husband Michael Byrne, her father James Mahon and her four children, James, John, Maggie and Michael. Bessie had also given a home to two orphan children, Lizzie Hanlon and an infant, James Gunne. This struck a chord with me as my sister also fosters children in need today.
NAI, 1901 Census, Byrne household, Yellow Walls, Malahide.

I then came across a transcript of James Gunne’s baptism, in the records of St Sylvester’s church in Malahide, and recognised his name. Here, his date of birth was given as 11 August 1900, although this could be his baptism date. He was christened James Francis Gunne. His mother was named as Anne Gunne, but no father’s name was recorded. Elizabeth Byrne and James Byrne were his baptism sponsors, or Godparents.  It seems feasible that these Godparents were actually my great grandmother, Bessie, and her son, my grandfather, James.  James Byrne only turned seven years old in July 1900, but this would not be the first time I have come across Godparents aged only seven years. Maybe James Francis was even named for my grandfather.

Bessie must have been a very kind and generous lady, like my sister today, looking after children whose parents were unwilling or unable to care of them. She had already a son, less than one year old, when she took James Gunne into her home.  There was no sign of James’s mother Anne in the 1901 census.

I wonder what happened to little Lizzie Hanlon and baby James Gunne.

Bessie died of tuberculosis, just two years later, on 25 March 1903. She was only thirty-four years old. 

Sources available on request.

© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 12 October 2013

Mary Clarissa Wynne

John Wynne was my great granduncle, Patrick Wynne's brother.  John moved to Dundalk in the 1870s. His daughter, Mary Camillus, was Granddad Kevin’s first cousin.

Mary Clarissa Wynne (
Mary Clarissa Wynne was the youngest daughter of John Wynne and Margarita (Maggie) Armstrong, born on Saturday, 9 September 1893, in Bachelor’s Walk, Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland. John and Maggie Wynne lived in Dundalk with their ten children: John Augustin, Margaret, Mary Frances, Joseph, Mary Agnes, Nora Mabel, James, Gerald Patrick, Mary Clarissa and Philip Camillus.

Mary Clarissa’s mother died of tuberculosis in 1900, when she was just seven years old, and she was raised by her father and older siblings. Her father was a cork manufacturer, in Dundalk. In 1901 the family lived at 16 Bachelor's Walk, Dundalk in a five-roomed house. In 1911, Mary Clarissa and her brother James lived with their eldest sister, Margaret Stewart.

Mary Clarissa first traveled to Sydney, Australia, where she worked as a domestic servant, or at least that is what I think occupation ‘h’hold’ means in the passenger list; another lady on this passenger list was listed as a ‘h’wife’. At the end of 1929, Mary Clarissa returned from Australia and sailed to New York, via Southampton, England, aboard the S.S. Ausonia.

Her elder brothers Joseph, James and Gerald Patrick had already made their home in New York. In New York, Mary Clarissa worked as a laboratory assistant, in a hospital.  She obtained U.S. citizenship on 6 January 1936, in the district court in New York City. Her declaration of intention to apply for U.S. citizenship describes her physical appearance as: ‘blue eyes, brown hair, fair complexion, 5 feet 1 inch in height, weight 155 pounds’ and provides the above photograph.
US Declaration of intention,  Mary Clarissa Wynne, 1933,

As soon as her citizenship came through, she again crossed the Atlantic, presumably for a visit home to Ireland. She was recorded as a passenger on the S.S. Georgic, returning to New York from Southampton, in July 1936.
Mary Clarissa Wynne, death notice, 
 Irish Independent, 28 October 1965
Mary Clarissa never married, nor had any children. At the end of her life she returned home to Ireland. She died of cancer on 27 October 1965, in the Blessed Oliver Plunket’s Hospital, Dundalk, aged 72 years. Her brother James, who she shared a house with in New York, was also home when she died. She was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Dundalk.

Mary Clarissa’s grandfather and my great great grandfather, John Wynne (c.1820-1911), remains one of my most elusive ancestors. I started researching her family, to see if it would shed any light on John Wynne’s origins. I like Mary Clarissa's story. She traveled the world and back, long before it became so easy and fashionable! 

Sources available on request.

© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy

Sunday 6 October 2013

Peter Radcliffe and the Abbey Graveyard, Malahide

In the early 1870s, the then Lord Talbot de Malahide petitioned to close the Abbey graveyard, adjacent Malahide Castle, stirring up much resentment and anger in the parish of Malahide.  A court case taken by my maternal g-g-g-g grandfather, Peter Radcliffe, to stop the closure is still  remembered by my family today.  Here’s the full story.

© Dara Mcgivern, 2013,
Abbey Graveyard, Malahide Demesne, September 2013

Peter buried his wife of over forty years, Anne Radcliffe, in the graveyard in 1866, as well as his son, Christopher, in 1872.[1] Lord Talbot was both Peter’s landlord and his employer, yet Peter still played a leading role through the courts, so as to be permitted to be buried near his wife and son. Court records mostly perished during the civil war in Ireland, however, nineteenth-century court cases received extensive coverage in the newspapers, often being quoted word for word.

In February 1874, an inspector from the Local Government Board opened a public inquiry in the Royal Hotel in Malahide, to hear Lord Talbot’s petition. Talbot wanted to close the graveyard, believing it to be over-crowded and detrimental to the health of the castle residents.

Thirty-four local men brought a counter-memorial.

The inquiry heard talk of unpleasant smells and disease in the graveyard. One of the butlers at the castle, William Littleton, claimed to have seen ‘five skulls thrown up from one grave’ while the gatekeeper, Patrick Egan, contradicted, saying that the mourners were always ‘very particular’ in digging the graves. Medical doctors gave evidence of the overcrowded condition of the graveyard and its detrimental effects.  Other doctors argued that the graveyard was properly kept, not overcrowded and on the basis of eight or nine burials a year, it was not prejudicial to the health of the castle’s inhabitants.[2]

After consideration, the Board ordered the graveyard be closed, but the order was subsequently set aside by the Court of Queen’s Bench.

A new inquiry opened in November 1874 and heard basically the same evidence as before.[3] In December 1874, the Board told the solicitor acting for the locals that ‘they would not feel justified in closing the burial ground upon the conflicting evidence’ and that ‘they would not… proceed further in the case’. Public opinion, or certainly the opinion of the editor of the Freeman’s Journal was that a just victory had been won by the locals.[4]

It must have come as a great shock and disappointment to Peter Radcliffe and his neighbours, when, without further public inquiry, the Board issued an order, effective 1 June 1875, to close the graveyard. The Board had received a report from an analytical chemist and concluded that no further inquiry was necessary. Peter Radcliffe immediately took the case to the Court of Queen’s Bench and on 29 April 1875 he also wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Freeman’s Journal:[5]
Letter from Peter Ratcliffe, Freeman’s Journal, 30 April 1875

Agents for Lord Talbot responded immediately that ‘it would have been more consistent with propriety and good taste to have abstained from addressing and seeking to influence the public on a subject which is to be again brought before the tribunals of the country’.[6]

In May 1875, the Court of Queen’s Bench granted a conditional order setting aside the Board’s decision to close the graveyard. In June 1875, in a further case taken by Peter Radcliffe, the Court of Queen’s Bench made their order absolute. However, this was not the end of the matter and in October 1876, Lord Talbot again tried to have the graveyard closed. Another new inquiry reheard all the evidence. Peter Radcliffe was one of the witnesses deposed:[7]
Peter Radcliffe’s deposition, 
Irish Times, 7 October 1876
Peter Radcliffe deposed that he had lived at Malahide all his life. He had been at several burials. He knew the average number of persons buried there yearly from 1853 to 1873. The average number was between seven and eight. He had helped to make some of the graves, and generally speaking they were from five to six feet in depth. Once more were buried in the graveyard than there are now, because the population of Malahide has greatly decreased in numbers, thirty-seven families having become extinct. There are about forty-one families who have the right of interment in the burial ground. He had worked all his life – seventy years – at the Castle as a painter and plasterer. During that time about six persons died there, and he never experienced or heard a complaint of any bad smell arising from the graveyard. There was frequently a difficulty in opening the graves, and a pickaxe had often to be used.

Mr. Shekleton – Who consecrated the burial ground?

Witness – Father King did it roughly and Father Keeran put the gloss on it. (Laughter) There should be a space of about three feet six inches from the top of the coffin. He never heard that a coffin was buried at a depth of fourteen inches.

The Board concluded that from 1 January 1877 only eight burials a year could take place in the graveyard.[8]

Peter Radcliffe died on St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1887, aged about 90 years, and I’d like to think he is buried in the Abbey Graveyard with his wife, Anne. His name was never added to the headstone.


  1. Memorials of the Dead, no. 9, 1996, p. 153.
  2. Freeman’s Journal, 11 Feb. 1874.
  3. Freeman’s Journal, 17 Nov. 1874.
  4. Freeman’s Journal, 14 Dec. 1874.
  5. Freeman’s Journal, 3 May 1875; 30 Apr. 1875.
  6. Freeman's Journal, 3 May 1875.
  7. Irish Times, 7 Oct. 1876.
  8. Notice from Lord Talbot’s agent, 29 May 1877, in Roger Greene, Old Malahide, 2012, p. 126.

© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy

Welcome to Black Raven Genealogy!

Hello everyone,

Welcome to my blog. I’m from Dublin, Ireland and have been researching my family history for a number of years now and I love it. I’m starting this blog as a way of sharing my ancestors’ stories with family and friends.

My interest in genealogy started when my parents and I visited the little graveyard at St David’s, Kilsallaghan in Co. Dublin. My great-great-grandmother, Mary Mahon, nĂ© Aungier, was supposedly buried there. Just inside the gate, behind the tree, we found her grave. The headstone was in fairly good condition and it read:
'Erected by JOHN MAHON of Yellow Walls, in memory of his beloved wife, MARY MAHON, who departed this life, September 14th 1888, aged 68 years.' 
© Dara McGivern, 2013,
Mahon grave, St. David’s, Kilsallaghan, Co. Dublin. (Aug. 2011)

Mary and the surname Aungier appealed to me and I started to research her family history.   I then discovered that Mary was not my great-great-grandmother after all. My great-great-grandfather was actually James Mahon, who was probably John’s Mahon’s twin brother and Mary’s brother-in-law. By then however, I was hooked on genealogy, so I thank Mary for sparking my interest in family history. 

I chose the name Black Raven Genealogy because ‘Black Raven’ is the name of the house in Yellow Walls, Malahide, Co. Dublin where I grew up; the same house where my father was born, and his father before him, and his mother before him, and maybe even James Mahon himself. 

My direct lineage surnames include:   Byrne, O’Neill, Mahon, Donovan, McDonnell, Coyle, Cavanagh and Wynne, Byrne, Carroll, Devine, Hynes, McGrane, Radcliffe, Keogh, Daly, Cummins, Doyle, Sarsfield, Crosby, McGuirk and O’Hara.   They all lived in Co. Dublin, Dublin and mainly Dublin.  Here’s hoping this list gets ever longer!

If we share ancestors or if you just want to say ‘Hi’, it would be great to hear from you. 

For those more closely related, if these stories spark any ‘recollections’ or if you know any good tales that should be investigated further, please let me know. 

© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy