Saturday 28 June 2014

Untangling the roots of Frank Byrne

The census of Ireland in 1911, which is freely available online, confirmed that Francis and Margret Byrne of Lower Jane Place, Dublin, my great-great-grandparents, were then thirty-seven years married. Their marriage would thus have taken place about 1873-74, well after civil registration began for Irish Catholics, but as their first son Myles was born in January 1873, they more likely married a year or two earlier, maybe 1871-72. Unfortunately, however, no record of their marriage was apparent, either with the civil authorities or in the church registers.

Baptismal records and copies of civil birth registrations for their many children, including those of my great-grandfather, James Byrne, confirmed that Margaret’s maiden name was McGrane (also often spelt Magrane). Byrne was a very common surname in Ireland and is often difficult to research. Actually, a study in 1893 identifies it as the most prominent surname in Dublin.1 However, McGrane was not so common and, even with its numerous spelling variants, the search should have been relatively easy.

The registers of most Roman Catholic parishes in Dublin in this timeframe are freely available online at St Laurence O’Toole’s parish, where their marriage likely took place, even has images of the original registers attached. Yet, there was just no sign of a likely Byrne-McGrane marriage in Dublin, nor indeed in the whole of Ireland, around this time.

O’Toole's register lists a Margarita [Margaret] Magrane, who married Franciscus [Francis] Bird on 17 September 1871. The original page of the register clearly reads Bird, not Byrne. Additional information on the register revealed that Francis was the son of Francis Bird and Jane Daly of Kingstown [now Dun Laoghaire] and Margaret was the daughter of Miles Magrane and Margaret Doyle living in Exchange Street. The marriage, with the ‘Bird’ and not ‘Byrne’ surname, was registered in the General Register Office and the copy register confirmed that Francis Bird senior was a fireman [as in a stoker for a steam engine], deceased, and that Miles Magrane was a labourer. After much searching, I concluded that this was my great-great-grandparent’s marriage record, but with an error in the groom’s surname.
GRO copy marriage register, Bird [Byrne] – Magrane, 1871

No other likely marriage record was located and no further evidence of the existence of this Francis and Margaret Bird was found.   The bride and groom signed the register with ‘their mark’ and being illiterate or semi-illiterate may not have been able to pick up the error in Francis’s surname. Francis Byrne confirmed he could not read in the 1911 census and although Margaret Byrne was recorded as being able to read and write, she signed the birth registers for my great-grandfather, James Byrne, and a number of his siblings with ‘her mark’. All evidence subsequently gathered suggests that this is the correct record for their marriage and the priest just got Francis’s surname wrong.

First, Margaret Magrane was bridesmaid for a Hannah Byrne, the daughter of Francis Byrne and Jane Daly, also of Kingstown, who married John Comiskey in St Laurence O’Toole’s church on 5 December 1869.  Secondly, Charles, son of Francis and Jane Byrne, then of 8 Upper Jane Place, married Mary McCarthy on 19 January 1878 in St Laurence O’Toole’s and their civil marriage register additionally records his father’s occupation as fireman, deceased. These records prove the existence of Francis Byrne, a fireman, whose wife was Jane Daly with a onetime address in Kingstown and prove a McGrane connection to their family. It is highly improbable that there was also a Francis Bird with these exact same particulars, with a son Francis who was living in the same street at the same time as my great-great-grandfather, who also married a Margaret McGrane, probably in St Lawrence O’Toole’s parish, in the early 1870s.

At this stage, I was fairly certain that I had untangled Frank Byrne’s roots and discovered my great-great-great-grandparents were Francis Byrne and Jane Daly. However, the next step was to prove that the Margaret McGrane, recorded as marrying Francis Bird, was in fact my Granny’s paternal grandmother. More on this, next week.

1 Robert Matheson, Special Report on Surnames in Ireland (Dublin, 1894) p. 27.
Note: click on images to enlarge.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 21 June 2014

St Laurence O’Toole’s GAA – 1914 Winners of the Junior League

St Lorcan O’Tooles GAA club won the Dublin junior football league in 1914. The final of the league was played at Ballyboden on Sunday 21 June – one hundred years ago today – and O’Tooles won the match by 2 points.  They scored 3 goals and 4 points to Bulfin’s 3 goals and 2 points.  My great-grandda, James Byrne, aged forty years, was part of the winning team. This is the medal that he won that year.
Front: Co. Dublin Football League Championship
Back: GAA Junior League 1913-14, Winner St. Lorcan O’Toole’s

The 1914 winning team were named as: James Barrett, Jim ‘Beck’ Byrne, Mick Colgan, Tom Delahunt, Tom Ennis (captain), John Fay, Chris Finlay, William Hampson, Johnny McDonald, Paddy McDonnell, Matt O'Carroll, Frank O'Growney, John O'Neill, Andrew O'Reilly, John O'Rourke and Jack Reilly.1  How on earth did my great-grandda earn the nickname ‘Beck’?
James 'Beck' Byrne, 1914
I found this picture of James as a young man when I was researching his football medal. Previously, the only photo that I had ever seen was of a much frailer, old man. 

In early May 1913 (Whit weekend), a contingent of O’Toole’s footballers, hurlers and camogie players took the boat to Liverpool, accompanied by their pipe band. There, the teams played against the Lancashire Gaels at Aintree.2 I wonder if Beck Byrne went too, although, by then he would have been a married man with young six children.

James was one of the founding members of O'Tooles GAA club. When it was up and running, he and some other members went on to establish St Joseph's GAA in Eastwall. He was said to have enjoyed playing football into his fifties.


1 Jimmy Wren, Saint Laurence O'Toole G.A.C., 1901 - 2001: A centenary history, (2001).
2 William Nolan, ed., The Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin 1884-2000 (3 vols, Dublin, 2005), i, p. 101.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 14 June 2014

Was Granny’s Uncle Bennie a sailor?
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.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Sunday 8 June 2014

Isha, a Clan Mother

Feeling disillusioned with our DNA testing endeavor, my uncle recently complained ‘So far, for 600 quid, I'm told that Aileen is my daughter and Treasa is my sister!! Surprise, Surprise!!’ I felt the same as it became clear that our genealogical brick-walls were unlikely to come tumbling down any time soon. But, there is something that my uncle didn't know before he forked out his 600 quid. It wont change his life, but he may find it interesting, nonetheless.

We are directly descended from a woman known as Isha, Iris to some. The ‘we’ in this sentence means my uncle, his sisters and all their children. It means anyone who descends from Granny Annie or from anyone on her maternal lineage, all the way back to Isha herself. We know this because my uncle’s mitochondrial DNA places him in a clan that scientists call mtDNA haplogroup I.

Just so you are clear, Isha was not merely some kind of hypothetical ancestor. She was real. While her contemporary friends may have known her by another name, Isha was once a living, breathing woman, a mother, who became a 'clan mother'. We descend directly from her, through her actual daughter and her daughter’s daughter and so on, all the way down to Granny and to us.

So, who was she? That seems to be a difficult question to answer and, although widespread, her descendants are now apparently relatively rare. She was not one of the Seven Daughters of Eve (Helena, Jasmine, Katrine, Tara, Ursula, Velda and Xenia), who the once-renowned geneticist, Bryan Sykes first identified as the mothers of all Europeans. These seven are now known to have been the maternal ancestors of only 95% of European natives. 

While relatively few in number, present day descendants of Isha are found mainly in Europe; their frequency in Ireland being 2.34%.  

Isha herself was believed to have lived roughly 21,000 years ago, give or take a few thousand years. She possibly lived in Iran or somewhere in the Near East and her descendants may have been among the first to migrate into Europe.

How cool is that - Granny Isha!

Isha, or Iris, is but a single thread in the tapestry of our ancestors. But now that they have given her a name, or two, I’d like to learn something more about her and her descendants and how they ended up in Ireland.

Sources: Byran Sykes, Blood of the Isles, London, 2006; Wikipedia article ‘Haplogroup I (mtDNA)’.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Brendan Wynne (1908-1972)
Brendan Wynne, 1908 - 1972
This young man is believed to have been Brendan Wynne, born on 6 April 1908 at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. He was the second son of my great-grandparents, Patrick Wynne and Teresa Carroll. Brendan grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne in England, where his father worked as a brush-maker. The Wynnes also ran a grocery store in Two Ball Lonnen, Fenham and it was Brendan who took over and expanded this business. Brendan married Dorothy McDonnell in Newcastle in January 1960, sadly, on the same day that his brother, my grandfather, was buried in Dublin.

Everything else currently known about Brendan and his life in Newcastle comes from his musings in a single surviving letter that he wrote to my grandfather.

Here is a transcript of this letter, calculated as having been written during the first half of 1953.

297 Two Ball Lonnen,
N/C on Tyne,
Dear Kev,
Please excuse long delay in answering your welcome letter, but believe me, in this trade, we have to work at top pressure all the time, one thing seems to follow on top of another, without a break & now its feverish preparation for the coronation.
Well Kevin, I was highly delighted to hear your good news that you were much better, for without health you have nothing. Well, it’s up to you not to over-do it for a while & to take it as easy as life allows. Maurice [their elder brother] paid us one of his rare visits recently, his address by the way is "The Cottage" War Dept, Ryhope, Co. Durham". 
I hope Annie and the children are keeping fit & well. Give them my regards. I bet I would see a great change in them for it's about 6 yrs since I saw them & it makes a huge difference in children. 
I have opened another shop in Coatsworth Rd, Gateshead, to try and improve turnover, as I am buying very big now, so at present I am full of it, until I get it going to my satisfaction.
Eileen [sister] generally comes up for a couple of hours daily, but recently the baby has been ill, so haven't seen her for a few days. He, the baby that is, is a proper handful. She dare not take her eyes off him for a second, or he's sure to fall and cut himself. He's a funny kid. When he decides to be good, he’s very good but when he takes the opposite view there is absolutely no doing with him. He screams the place down for no apparent reason. Poor Eileen is absolutely worn out. She doesn't get her proper rest, I'm sure.
Mother is as well as can be expected. She has gone to Benedictions, so I have a bit of peace and quietness to write this letter.
I have been writing for the last 3 hours, books, accounts & orders, so I am beginning to get a bit bleary eyed. Laurence [brother] is getting married this year, sometime in August is the tentative date. As for myself, there is no change, if I get married it will have to be on a Sunday, for that's the only day I have.
Your loving brother,

Brendan’s signature on the letter is very similar to his signature on the above photograph. 

The photograph of Brendan was received, with many thanks, from descendants of the Carrolls, still living in Newcastle. Brendan was known to have maintained a relationship with his half-first-cousin, Maurice Carroll. The Carrolls migrated to Newcastle on Tyne, at the same time as, or just before, the Wynnes. This was around the beginning of the twentieth century. Through this blog, I have recently been in contact with Maurice's grandchildren and they have been very generous in sharing some fascinating photographs and stories about the Newcastle Carrolls.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy