Saturday, 20 December 2014

Just another brick-wall

In 1892, Michael Byrne married Elizabeth Mahon and moved into the Mahon home in Malahide, Co. Dublin. One hundred years later, the Mahons still referred to us Byrnes as ‘blow-ins from County Wicklow.’ Maybe they believed our ancestors actually came from Wicklow or maybe Wicklow was advocated solely as it was the historic homeland of the Byrne sept after the Anglo-Norman invasion – it is not remembered. On the contrary though, in both the 1901 and 1911 census returns, Michael Byrne was shown as born in Co. Dublin. He completed the 1911 return himself, maybe adding some credence to this claim. Whether from Dublin, or Wicklow, or from somewhere else entirely, the ‘blow-in’ gibe clearly labels the Byrnes as ‘unwelcome newcomers’ to Malahide, so, presumably not originally 'from' the area.

We might not know where he came from, but we do know Michael Byrne loved his greyhounds. The records for Swords courthouse show he first purchased a licence for a greyhound there, three months before to his marriage, in 1892. The absence of a dog licence in Michael’s name, prior to 1892, opens up the possibility he purchased one in another district, and perhaps in the district of his birth. 

It seems slightly surreal to trace one’s ancestors using the Irish dog licence registers, but that is exactly what I attempted to do. 

In 1891, the year before my great-granddad first appeared in the registers of Swords courthouse, eighty-two dog licences were issued to men named Michael Byrne in Ireland. Only one of these was issued in Dublin, twenty-five were issued in Wicklow and the remainder were issued across the country. Not all the registers have been indexed yet, but it is still possible that one of these eighty-two licences was purchased by my great-grandfather. 

The Dublin licence was bought in Swords by Michael Byrne of Pickardstown. He owned a brown terrier. This man also purchased a licence for the dog in 1892, so cannot be my great-grandfather. Our Michael was living in Malahide by 1892. 

Of the twenty-five licences issued to men named Michael Byrne in Co. Wicklow, only one was for a greyhound – a yellow greyhound. It was purchased on 20 March 1891, in Avoca, by Michael Byrne of Ballinamona. Michael also bought a licence for a cocker [spaniel] that year, but did not buy any dog licence in Avoca in 1892. In fact, no Michael Byrne bought a licence for a greyhound in all of Wicklow in 1892, at least according to the available registers. So, like my great-granddad, this Michael may have moved in the intervening year. If it was my great-granddad, and there is no real reason to think it was, he left both dogs behind, as our Michael licensed a blue greyhound in Swords in 1892.

Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register (greyhound), Avoca , 1891
Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register, Avoca courthouse, 1891

The only other potential Michael Byrne was a man from Edenderry in King’s County (now Offaly). He had two greyhounds in 1891, one was black and the other was brindle coloured. This Michael purchased a licence for three greyhounds in Edenderry in 1892, and four in 1893, so can be ruled out of the reckoning. 

So, I cannot say I found my great-grandfather this week and as my mother says, maybe he does not want to be found. A possible townland of origin may have been identified - on its own yielding nothing conclusive - just another brick wall really. Still, one day it may prove to be of interest. I’ll also check out the licences issued in 1890 and earlier years. I may need all the help I can get with this one!

Source: ‘Ireland Dog Licence Registers, 1866 – 1914’, index and images, Findmypast (subscription site).  

Dog image: From paintings by Louis Fuertes in Ernest Baynes, The Book of Dogs, National Geographic Society, Washington D.C., 1919, The Internet Archive. 

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

See tales of further searches for Michael Byrne at: Targeting the FAN Club and Clutching at Straws.


  1. What an interesting way to search for an ancestor. It's not just an unusual database, but it also reveals something of the personality of your ancestor. Do you know whether your great-grandfather used the dogs for racing?

  2. Thanks Wendy, as far as we know they were used for racing. Supposedly, he had some success too, most especially with a dog named ‘Black Raven’.

  3. Dara. The first thing I noticed on your post was the name Byrne. I have a brick wall Byrne/Bryne in my direct line. She was listed as the mother on my 3rd great grandmother's death certificate. And the father's name was Jacob Cooper. I have absolutely no information on them. According to the death cert their daughter was born in Cato, Cayuga, NY in Feb 1815. I have other brick wall direct line ancestors too. Lots of Scottish, Irish and English bloodlines and my DNA has confirmed it. WOOHOO! I enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Thank you, Diane. Unfortunately for our research, Byrne was the most common surname in some counties on the east coast of Ireland -Wicklow, Dublin, etc., so much so, it makes Smith seem easy.

  5. I hope you are able to find your great-granddad, Dara. There’s always a warm place in my heart for a man with a dog.

    I’m also a big fan of the dog license registers; they are a wonderful source for finding family members. My search in the registers has softened my view toward some ancestors. Also, a find in the registers confirmed for me what I’d found in another source, that my maternal great-grandfather remained at Warblestown after the deaths of his parents. I find it especially interesting to see ancestors who had the same, or similar, breeds of dogs as those our family members have today.

  6. Jennifer, I did notice your Kettle ancestors in the registers for Swords – as well as quite a few other members of my own family and I’m looking forward to doing some more digging to see who else I might find! I’m glad you were able to use them as evidence to support your theory.


I look forward to reading your comments, even more especially if you're related to someone mentioned in this post.

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