Saturday, 18 January 2014

Child mortality, the Devine family of Dublin

Something that often strikes me in my research is the high child mortality rate in the nineteenth century. In the era before vaccinations and antibiotics, overcrowding, disease and poor sanitation all impacted on the death rate of young children, as well as adult children. Losing a child is against the natural order today, but in the past, it was an unavoidable fact of life.
My great-great-grandparents, John and Maryanne Devine, had more than their fair share of sorrow, burying five of their seven children. All seven survived their first birthdays, but three died as toddlers and two predeceased them as adults. This must have been a very heavy cross for my great-great-grandparents to bear.

John Devine and Maryanne Keogh were married in St Lawrence O’Toole’s church, Seville Place, Dublin, on 18 September 1859. Their seven children were born in quick succession, all during the 1860s. This was in the aftermath of the Great Famine, which saw Dublin’s population soar. John Divine was a labourer, an unskilled worker in a city then full of unskilled workers. He most probably worked in the Dublin Dockyards, close to where they lived. Likely, he was a day-labourer and had to get up very early every day to look for work to keep the roof over their heads.  Times were surely hard.

Their first and only recorded son, Jeremiah (Darby) Devine, a honeymoon baby, was born on 12 June 1860. Jeremiah was named for Maryanne’s father, Jeremiah Keogh. Anne, their eldest daughter was born on 22 July 1861 and then Jane on 18 January 1863. Jane was named after Maryanne’s mother, Jane Crosby. Kate, christened Catherine, was born on 22 July 1864 and Mary Jane was born on 2 December 1865. My great-grandmother Christina arrived on 19 December 1867, in time for Christmas, and, finally, baby Margaret was born on 21 September 1869.  They were all were baptised in St Lawrence O’Toole’s church.

Jane was the first of Maryanne’s babies to die. She died of bronchitis on 25 October 1864, aged one year and nine months. Her little sister Mary Jane died on 23 February 1867. She was only one year and three months old.  Baby Margaret then died on 31 October 1872, aged just three years. She died of pneumonia, having caught the measles.  All three tots were buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Mary Jane and Margaret in the same grave.

These three babies, Jane, Mary Jane and Margaret died so young they were probably not spoken about afterwards. Such were the customs of the time. Christina may never have even known of Jane and Mary Jane, although she probably remembered her little sister Margaret.

Jeremiah died of an abscess, following a seven-day illness, on 14 July 1888 in the Richmond Lunatic Asylum. He was twenty-eight years old and a labourer by occupation. His father organised his burial in Glasnevin cemetery, listing his cause of death as ‘insanity’. I don’t know how long he was in the hospital or the nature of his illness. The records of the RDL Asylum are temporarily unavailable, while they are being cleaned and catalogued by professionals in the National Archives. The hospital admission records are being ‘computerised’. Jeremiah may be included in these records, which I have heard often even contain photographs of patients.

John and Maryanne buried their eldest daughter, Anne, just two months before Maryanne herself died. Anne caught typhoid fever and died on 13 March 1893, aged thirty-one years.  Kate lived until she was fifty-two, sharing a house with my great-grandparents for many years. She died of an ‘ulcerated stomach’ on 1 July 1917. Both Kate and Anne are buried with their parents in the Garden section of Glasnevin Cemetery.

My great-grandmother, Christina, outlived them all. She christened one of her sons Jeremiah (Jerry) after her elder brother and named two of her daughters after her elder sisters, Anne and Kate. Thus, the names Jeremiah, Anne and Kate are still remembered today, while Jane, Mary Jane and Margaret can now be remembered here.

Sources include - St Laurence O'Toole's church records on; BMD registrations, General Register Office; Glasnevin Trust online burial records. 

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Heartbreaking. I hope you get into those hospital records soon and find a picture.

  2. Now that would be a nice find!


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