Saturday 19 December 2015

Kathleen Wynne, a little angel

Had she not passed away at the devastatingly tender age of 'about' nine days, next week my Aunt Kathleen would have celebrated her 69th birthday. Kathleen was born prematurely on or about 23 December 1946, the fifth child of Kevin and Annie Wynne. She was named after her maternal aunt, Kathleen Byrne. However, she never made it home from the hospital, so she never got to meet her brother and sisters.

Virtually nothing remains today of Kathleen’s short life and the few official records of her existence contain numerous errors and conflicts, many probably unresolvable today.

Holles Street Hospital in Dublin registered her birth, incorrectly recording her birthdate as 26 December. But, Kathleen’s elder sister remembers her parents visiting the hospital that Christmas Day and knows Kathleen was born before Christmas.

Her date of death was registered as 31 December 1946, again by Holles Street Hospital. Here, she was said to have been seven days old, so born on 24th December.  The hospital omitted her Christian name on the register and incorrectly described her as ‘male’ - yet another error in the record of her life. She was said to have been the ‘son of a painter.’ My grandfather was indeed a painter, but it was his home address, 80 Leinster Avenue, which definitively confirmed the record related to our Aunt Kathleen. Her cause of death was certified as ‘internal obstruction’.

Kathleen’s family believed she was interred in the Old Angels Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, where a section of consecrated ground was set aside for still-born babies and other children who died shortly after birth. Up to fifty babies share each unmarked grave, and in a strange way, it was comforting to know she was with all these other little children.

When Glasnevin Trust released the cemetery’s records online, I searched for Kathleen Wynne, buried in 1946-47, but did not find her.  When I contacted the graveyard, they advised I should search using ‘Newborn’ instead of Kathleen, as the hospital may not have provided her given name when they organised her burial.

And there she was, my little Aunt Kathleen, interred on 4 January 1947, again sadly unnamed in the register. The cemetery’s records show she died of ‘prematurity’ on New Year’s Day, 1947, aged one week and two days. This suggests her birthday was 23 December, two days before Christmas.  

Kathleen was laid to rest in the section known as St. Patrick’s in Glasnevin Cemetery, at grave UM 190, and not in the better known Old Angels Plot. There are a number of smaller unmarked ‘angels plots’ situated throughout the cemetery.

As Kathleen was born prematurely, it was quite probable her mother never got to hold her. Although her parents visited the hospital every day of her short life, they may not have been allowed in to see her. Her father may never have laid eyes on his baby girl. The hospital organised her burial and denied them the chance to attend her funeral.

This sounds cruel today, but was considered ‘for the best’ in Ireland then. Any opportunity for attachment was thought to prolong the grieving process. Parents were told to forget their loss. They were advised to have another child and to move on as quickly as possible and not to look for sympathy.  There was no understanding of the need to grieve. 

And this is what Kathleen’s family tried to do. Her grave was not visited over the years. The family’s grief was a silent one, and yet she was never forgotten.  All my life, I’ve known about my Aunt Kathleen, the little angel who never made it home.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam / (R.I.P.)

Sources: Birth and death registers, General Register Office; Burial register, Glasnevin Cemetery. Image: courtesy of The Graphics Fairy.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 12 December 2015

Another attempt to outfox an elusive great-grandfather

Michael Byrne was my great-grandfather, my Dad’s paternal grandfather. He is one hard fella to track down. And, I’ve tried! Really, I’ve tried!

According to his own assertions, he was born in county Dublin, about 1870. So, I obtained copy birth registrations for every Michael Byrne I could find in civil and church records, if the parents were named as John and Elisabeth Byrne. But, didn't find him!

And, when the ‘traditional’ records failed to yield a match, I tracked him through the local court records. I checked out his Fan (friends and neighbours) Club. I knew he kept greyhounds, so, I even attempted to trace his origins in the national dog licence registers. I found him there too, from March 1892, three months before his marriage to my great-grandmother in Malahide, Co. Dublin, but no earlier. The man left no clues behind.

Who was he?

Recently, I received some new information about him. This account came from a first cousin of my Dad – also Michael’s grandchild.  Her father had told her, Michael once had a brother. Granted it’s not the first time we’ve heard that ‘there were two of them’, but this time the brother came with a name – Tom – and a story. Sadly, young Tom died when he was a child. He was said to have fallen out of a tree, while at school in the neighbouring town of Swords, and died. Poor lad.

If he’d died as a child, it would certainly explain why I could find no trace of the rumoured brother in later marriage registers. But, some record of his tragic death should survive today, you’d think.

Well, there was no mention of the accident in the newspapers of the day, at least, none I could find.

So back I went to the civil indexes, searching for every child named Thomas Byrne, who might have died between 1864 and 1890. And, there were two potential deaths recorded in the Registrar's District of Balrothery. Balrothery represents the whole region of north county Dublin, including the town of Swords.

One was a child, only seven years old, who died in 1876. Was he too young to have been at school, climbing trees? – Maybe, maybe not.

The second was Thomas Clarke Byrne, aged fourteen years when he died in 1874. Except, this young Thomas was gentry.  I found a memorial inscription for him on a fancy tomb, in the parish of Ballyboghil, Co. Dublin. The tomb was ‘a large sarcophagus over a vault, with inscriptions on three sides’.[1] Interred were:
  • Thomas Byrne, Esquire, Casino, Malahide, died 13 March 1851, aged 65.
  • Anastasia (Relict [widow] of the late Thomas Byrne of Casino), died at 73 Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin, 25 May 1859, aged 63 years.
  • Emily Frances Byrne, died 12 July 1864, aged 32 years.
  • Thomas Clarke Byrne, son of Joseph Byrne, Esquire, Casino, Malahide, died 8 August 1875, aged 14 years.
  • Morgan Joseph Byrne, son of John Byrne, Esquire, J.P., Gardener Place, Dublin, died 27 April 1879, aged 18 months. 

Now, my grandmother Lena, Michael’s daughter-in-law, once lived in ‘Casino’. It is a beautiful, large, thatched cottage in the village of Malahide. Lena was the housekeeper there, for the Dickie family, at the time of her marriage.

But, our Michael’s father was named as John, not Joseph, and in Michael’s marriage record, the only document ever found mentioning his father, he was said to have been a butler. A butler is a far cry from being a ‘J.P.’ [Justice of the Peace]!

Anyway, if we’d been part of this prestigious Byrne family, some rumour of that fact would have survived, and my grandfather would surely not have worked as a labourer.

Nevertheless, I’ve ordered copies of both death registers, and I’ll let you know if either one of these boys died of a broken neck.

[1] Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland, 1894, accessed Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives. 

Continued further at: A glimpse over the brick wall.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 5 December 2015

Genealogy Saturday: The Rattys of Baldoyle

When I first located my suspected fifth great-grandfather, Thomas Ratty, in Baldoyle, it was surprising to find a second man with the same name in the parish. Ratty was a nickname for Radcliffe, an English surname, and rare among the Catholic population of county Dublin. The odds on finding two men of the same name in the small rural village were long – unless, of course, they were related.

While ‘our’ Thomas Ratty married Mary Cullen in 1790, his namesake married Agnes Durneen, probably between 1801 and 1805, coinciding with a gap in the parish registers. According to those same patchy registers, both couples then bore children, concurrently, until at least about 1810.[1]  

So, the second Thomas was seemingly younger, though not young enough for them to have been father and son. Perhaps he was a nephew or a first cousin, someone that might one day help extend our pedigree back even further. Initially though, as I learnt to distinguish one from the other, he only hindered the progress – especially when it transpired the younger Thomas was the more prominent of the two.

It was the ‘other’ Thomas who was buried in Sutton graveyard. His headstone, erected by his son Patrick, showed his wife Agnes died, aged thirty-six, in 1819. Thomas lived to be eighty, not joining her until 1857, while their son Thomas followed in 1858 and Patrick lived until 1887.[2] Throughout the nineteenth century in Ireland, headstones were normally the preserve of the better-off families.

Griffith’s Valuation, a property tax listing dated 1848, listed a Thomas Radcliffe senior as occupying a house and garden, with Thomas junior occupying the house and yard next door. Thomas senior also leased the local forge.  It's even more likely now this was the other Radcliffe family, since our discovery last week that our Thomas was probably a painter.

The only other Radcliffe Griffith's listed in Baldoyle was an Alice Radcliffe, whoever she was.[3] Our Thomas and Mary might have died by then, or perhaps they were living with a married daughter. The last time Mary’s name was found mentioned in the records was in 1809 when her daughter Margaret was baptised.

On 1 January 1841, the inhabitants of Howth, Baldoyle and Kinsealy called a meeting at 2 p.m. in Howth, to be attended by the famous Catholic emancipator, Daniel O’Connell. There, they all signed a petition calling for the repeal of the Act of Union between Ireland and Great Britain. The 'other' Thomas senior, Thomas junior and Patrick were among the men listed, their surname being misquoted as Batty.  Thomas Ratty, probably my fifth great-grandfather, was also named as a petitioner, suggesting he was still living in 1841.[4] None of his sons signed the petition.

So where did the rest of our Radcliffe family go? 

A clue might be held in a government survey published in the mid-1830s suggested living standards in Baldoyle were poor. According to the Parish Priest, Revd Young, the labouring class lived on potatoes, herrings and milk, with bacon on Sundays, occasionally.

But, in periods of unemployment – i.e. the long winter months - conditions became ‘wretched’. Some parishioners even resorted to begging, while others were forced to eat cockles collected from the shore. Shell fish was known as poor mans' food then, a prejudice that lasted in Ireland until recently. They all considered themselves ‘well-off’ to have potatoes.[5]

So, it's easy to understand why the sons of Thomas Ratty, all left Baldoyle to earn their living elsewhere - Mark in the city of Dublin and Peter in Yellow Walls, Malahide, five miles along the coast.

Malahide was a small rural village then too, but, in the 1820s and 1830s, Lord Talbot commenced a program of extensive repairs and renovations to the Castle. There was probably a plentiful supply of painting work for Peter Ratty, my fourth great-grandfather, as he came of age.

Malahide Castle, c.1840

1 Baldoyle (Archdiocese of Dublin), Catholic Parish Registers at the National Library Ireland.  
2 Kilbarrack Cemetery, Sutton, County Dublin, Cemetery records online at
3 Radcliffe, Baldoyle, Co. Dublin, Griffith’s Valuation, Ask about Ireland
4 Freeman’s Journal, 1 January 1841, p. 1.
5 Poor Inquiry (Ireland), pt i, Reports on the state of the poor, with supplements containing answers to queries, H.C. 1836, first report, supplements to appendix D, p. 53.

Image Credit: Irish Penny Journal, 14 November 1840. 

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 28 November 2015

Genealogy Saturday: The story of Mark Radcliffe

From before his marriage in 1825, my fourth great-grandfather, Peter Radcliffe, lived in Malahide, Co. Dublin, where he plied his trade as a painter-cum-plasterer.  I suspect his parents were Thomas Ratty and Mary Cullen from the nearby parish of Baldoyle.

Thomas and Mary had a son Peter born in November 1798, around the same time as our Peter, so, to help ‘prove’ their son and my ancestor was one and the same man, I’m investigating their other children.  And this week, I’m on the trail of Mark Radcliffe (nickname Ratty), my would-be fourth great-granduncle, born in Baldoyle in January 1797.

No further record of Mark was found in Baldoyle, apart from in 1838, when he sponsored the baptism of his niece, Mary Harford.  

But he turned up in St Michan's parish in Dublin city in February 1825, when he married Anne Broderick. The names of their children followed a similar naming pattern to those chosen in our Radcliffe family, though in Mark's branch, Thomas and Christopher both died as infants. They also had a son John, born in 1835, the same name as my third great-grandfather. 

Mark's first wife Anne died, at the age of thirty-six years, in 1837. It was many years before he remarried, but in May 1850, he married Mary Anne Callaghan. Mary Anne was seemingly of the Protestant faith, for the couple married in St Thomas, Church of Ireland parish. This turned out to be a truly lucky break for us!

Church of St Thomas, Marlborough Street, Dublin, c. 1890

From 1845 onward, non-Catholic marriages were required to be registered in Ireland. So, additional details, not normally kept for Catholic marriages, are now available – i.e. the names and occupations of the couple's fathers.

Mark's father was confirmed as being Thomas Radcliffe. Thomas was said to have been a painter by trade – just like our Peter Radcliffe. Trades were often passed down from father to son, so this is certainly yet another point in favour of the proposition that Thomas was Peter's father. 

Mark and his new wife moved to 9 Little Strand Street, a tenement home on the north shores of the River Liffey, and there they began their family. Their son Mark was born in 1853, and daughters Catherine, Elizabeth and Margaret followed in 1856, 1858 and 1860. The children were baptised in the Roman Catholic faith, at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral.

In 1862, Mark, suffering from bronchitis, was admitted to the infirmary in the North Dublin Union Workhouse. His appearance at the time was described as being ‘tolerably good and clean’. He spent six months in the infirmary before being deemed fit for release.

Sadly, this was not Mark's sole stay at the workhouse. On his second visit, his appearance had deteriorated somewhat and he was said to have had ‘scanty and bad clothes’. This time, Mark was not released from the workhouse. Nearly five months later, on 12 November 1865, Mark died. 

Mark's story, while not overlapping with our Peter Radcliffe's, does not rule out his relationship to our family. On balance, it tends to increase the probability Thomas Ratty, the painter, was my fifth great-grandfather.

Sources: Church Records, IrishGenelaogy.ieNorth Dublin Union Workhouse, Dublin Workhouses Admission & Discharge Registers 1840-1919, (subscription required).

Image Credit: St Thomas Church, Dublin, Wikimedia Commons.  

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy  

Saturday 21 November 2015

Seeking my Ancestors in the Irish Catholic Parish Registers

No doubt, you’ve all heard our National Library recently published the historic ‘Catholic Parish Registers’ online, for all the world to view. Well, like other genealogists, I too have been enjoying the fruits of their labour.

Granted, transcriptions of most of these registers have long been available on the web-site. And, as I live near Dublin, it has always been reasonably easy to validate these transcripts against copies of the registers held at the Library. Now though, not only can I do this from home, but I'm finding records seemingly missed or completely mis-transcribed, by

And, one such record was the long-sought marriage of my fourth great-grandparents, Peter Radcliffe and Anne Sarsfield, from Malahide, Co. Dublin. We already know quite a lot about Peter. He was a plasterer-cum-painter, who worked for Lord Talbot at Malahide Castle, and lived to the ripe-old age of about ninety years. But, until the copy registers became available, the earliest record relating to this family was dated May 1826, when their son Peter was baptised.

Then, I found, on 3 July 1825, exactly when and where expected, Peter Ratty (a common nickname for Radcliffe) married Anne Sarsfield, in Swords Roman Catholic church. Their witnesses were Thomas Tully and Catherine Ratty.

Swords, Co. Dublin, 1825, Marriage of Peter Ratty & Anne Sarsfield

Unfortunately however, as was customary in the parish at that time, their parents’ names were not recorded. 

So, we’ll probably never find anything to directly link this Peter to the baptism of Peter Ratty in the neighbouring parish of Baldoyle, in November 1798.  Hence, there is likely no surviving document to confirm his parents were Thomas Ratty and Mary Cullen.  

Yet, I strongly suspect these were his parents, and not only because the surname was fairly uncommon in Dublin, or because of their proximity to Malahide, but also because our Peter named his third son Thomas and his only daughter Mary. But, that's not quite 'proof'.

Thomas and Mary’s marriage was likewise discovered in the newly released registers. They married in Baldoyle, on 29 June 1790, making this the very earliest record ever found for one of my ancestors (if indeed, Thomas and Mary were Peter’s parents). The witnesses to the marriage were Barney Cullen, Barney Barrett and Rose Doyle.

Baldoyle, Co. Dublin, 1790, Marriage of Thomas Ratty & Mary Cullen

The Baldoyle parish registers also reveal the names of Thomas and Mary’s children - John, born in 1791, Thomas in 1792, another John in 1794, Mark in 1797, Peter in 1798, Ellen in 1806 and finally, Margaret, who was born in 1809. A gap in the records between December 1800 and August 1806 probably conceals the names of some more, one of whom might have been Catherine, the witness to Peter and Anne’s marriage.

Nearly everything I know about Thomas and Mary, my would-be fifth great-grandparents, is here, in the baptisms of their children. So, this is where I’ll concentrate the search to ‘prove’ our relationship.

And, it was their daughter Ellen who I found first. Named as Ellenor Radcliffe, she married Michael Harford in Baldoyle, in June 1835. This was ten years after Peter had established himself, five miles up the coast, at Malahide. Michael and Ellen had five children baptised in Baldoyle before 1844, and then their names ceased to appear in the church registers.

Sadly, nothing was found to link Ellen’s family back to our Peter and Anne. The only known family connection I recognised was Mark Radcliffe, Ellen’s elder brother. He sponsored the baptism of Mary, their second child, thus, confirming he survived childhood, and opening up another avenue for research.

Sources: Parishes of Swords and Baldoyle, Catholic Parish Registers, National Library or Ireland; Church records,

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 14 November 2015

Genealogy Saturday: Yet another dreaded ‘Brick Wall’

Unluckily for me, both my paternal great-grandfathers have me stumped. They show up, at the time of their marriage to my great-grandmothers, leaving no clue as to where they came from. Or, more to the point, any clues they left behind lead nowhere.

This week the spotlight is on Charles O’Neill, again. He was my granny Lena's father, a law clerk by occupation. He died in April 1895 when Lena was only three months old. Given everything uncovered during my recent foray into Lena's maternal line, I'm hoping to spot something new specific to the O’Neill genealogy. So, I started with a review of everything already discovered about Charles.

And, the earliest record of Charles O’Neill found previously was dated 1874 - his marriage to Lena's mother, Agnes Donovan. He was then living in Lower Dominick Street, Dublin and working as a clerk. Their marriage was witnessed by George Turley of Cullenswood, which is near Rathmines in Dublin, and Mary Newport of Cole’s Lane.

By now I'm familiar with the Newports, who were recently confirmed as being friends on the Donovan side, so there's a chance George Turley was connected to Charles. Plus, in August 1876, when daughter Catherine O’Neill was born at 26 Denzille Street, Dublin, Thomas Turley acted as her Godfather. Maybe this was a family connection worth pursuing.

There were few people named Turley living in Dublin at this time, so the family were easily found in the church records available online. On 6 February 1870, in Westland Row, George Turley married Katherine Kavanagh, the daughter of Patrick and Mary Kavanagh. But, this was not a match made in heaven. Their daughter Edith was born the following day, so perhaps the marriage was forced upon the couple. In any event, four years later, George published a notice in the newspapers, disclaiming all responsibility for his wife's debts.

George Turley, Cullenswood, Dublin, 1874
George Turley, Cullenswood, Dublin, 1874

Divorce - Irish style!

The search for the second Turley, Thomas, found him marrying Elizabeth, daughter of George Brandon and Elizabeth Fleming, in September 1877. At the time of their marriage, Elizabeth lived at 28 Denzille Street, just two doors up from where Catherine O’Neill was born the year previously. Maybe Thomas met his future bride at the Catherine’s baptism celebration.

Further back, George and Thomas were baptised in Rathmines Roman Catholic parish – George in 1841 and Thomas in 1845. Their parents, John Turley and Margaret Bourke married in St Peter's Church of Ireland parish, in 1833, presumably a mixed marriage with the children brought up as Catholic.

There's no sign of any familial relationship between Charles and the Turley brothers here, although, given we do not yet know Charles' mother’s maiden name, it's hard to say for sure.

Like Charles, who died at the young age of forty-nine years, George was only forty-seven when he died in 1887. An entry in the ‘Calendar of Wills’ that year contains the first real clue as to the probable connection between the Turley lads and my great-grandfather and it seems less likely they were blood-related. All three were law clerks by profession, so chances are they were just friends through work.

As law clerks working for a firm of solicitors, they probably performed the same work as a qualified solicitor, but for a lesser salary. Nevertheless, they were likely far better off than the average worker in Dublin, at the time.

Charles died before the 1901 census was enumerated, but Thomas Turley was still living at the time. Thomas, his wife and two children, plus his son-in-law and granddaughter, were all together in Belmont Avenue, near Donnybrook, in what was then determined as being a first class house. The house had nine rooms, far more than the rest of my ancestors enjoyed in Dublin at that time.

At the very least, this gives us a glimpse into the standard of living possibly enjoyed by our O’Neill family, prior to my great-grandfather's untimely demise.

Sources: Church records on; Freeman's Journal,2 March 1874, p.1, Calendars of Wills and Administrations 1858-1920, National Archives of Ireland; 1901 Census, Ireland, Same.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Flood – Adding a new Surname to our Family Tree

Flood surname;
It's always exciting to discover a new ancestral surname! In my genealogy quest to learn more about John and Maryanne Donovan, Dad's maternal great-grandparents, I may have had just such a breakthrough.

As I worked my way backwards through the names of the fourteen other people interred with Maryanne, in the Donovan family grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, I came to a John Flood of Upper Liffey Street. John was from the parish of St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin city, same as John and Maryanne. He died in April 1854, aged 64 years.  

First off, I searched the digitised church registers of Dublin city for any records containing both surnames, Flood and Donovan. The search yielded sixteen records.[1] But, it was the marriage of Thomas Donovan and Cathe Flood in November 1821 that initially caught my attention. They also married in the Pro-Cathedral.

This was not the first time I'd noticed the couple. A Catherine Donovan, who died aged 86 in 1873, was also buried with Maryanne – and I suspected she might have been her mother-in-law. Catherine's husband, a carpenter, had survived her passing and the search for a Donovan male, of such longevity, who died after Catherine, on the north side of Dublin city, led me to Thomas Donovan.

Thomas was a sawyer, said to have been 86 years when he died in 1875.  I already knew that a Thomas Donovan was present when Catherine died – he registered her death. So, it's easy to speculate Thomas and Catherine Donovan were John's parents, my third great-grandparents, or else they were close relatives.[2]

There were a few other couples named Thomas and Catherine Donovan in Dublin city around this time – and there may have been more who did not feature in these online church records. But, even before the newly found Flood connection in a family grave, this Donovan-Flood couple had stood out. They were the only couple who seemingly lived in St Mary's parish, in the 1820s. Plus, at one point, they may have lived in Great Strand Street.

And, the prison admission registers indicated John Donovan was born in ‘Strand Street, Dublin’, between about 1822 and 1826.  Although no record of John's baptism has been found, a Thomas Donovan of Great Strand Street was baptised in the Pro-Cathedral in 1828. This child might have been my second great-granduncle. His parents were Thomas and Cath Donovan, though unfortunately, the baptism register did not mention Cath's maiden name. 

In the relevant time period, there were four children, born to Thomas and Catherine Donovan, all baptised in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. The mother’s surname was not actually stipulated in any record, but there was a Flood connection, via the Godparents.
  • June 1820, Eliza, Sponsors: Richd Flood & Mary Flood
  • August 1823, Elizabeth, Sponsors: Edwd Gregan & Jane Flood
  • April 1828, Thos, Sponsors: Mich Kennedy & Mary Ann Rice
  • September 1832, Cathe, Sponsors: Patk Flood & Mary Rice

In three of these baptisms, the Godparents were members of the Flood family, including the first Eliza, born the year before Thomas Donovan and Catherine Flood married. The surname ‘Rice’ seems to connect the records with Flood Godparents to the birth of Thomas Donovan in Great Strand Street, where my second great-grandfather said he was also born.

So, we know my second great-grandfather was somehow related to Thomas and Catherine Donovan – why else would Catherine share a grave with his wife? And, we've found a Thomas and Catherine Donovan living in the same street, around the same time he was born. And, the best guess is this couple was Thomas Donovan and Catherine Flood. What are the chances these were John's parents?

Admittedly, the evidence is not conclusive. On the plus side, John Flood, of a similar age to Catherine, was interred in our Donovan family plot - at least proving a Flood connection to our family. So maybe my third great-granny really was Catherine Flood. It's definitely a reasonable hypothesis to work on...

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

[2] Copy death registers for Catherine Donovan, 1873 and Thomas Donovan, 1875, General Register Office. 

Image credit: image chef  

Saturday 31 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday - The cartoonist, Bobby Pyke

Sepia Saturday prompts bloggers to share their family history with old pictures.

Their suggestion this week features the cartoon image of a fair maiden, who is none too happy. She has just seen the less than handsome face of her future husband in the magic mirror. Bobby Pyke, my Dad's first cousin, was a cartoonist - an artist with a pen - and a talented one too. Bobby's subjects may not always have been too happy with the face he revealed, either.

Born, Robert Charles Pyke, on 3 May 1916, at 2 Portobello Place, Dublin, Bobby was the only son of Robert J. Pyke and Mary A. O'Neill.[1] His parents were better known in my father's family as Aunt May and Uncle Bob and his three sisters as Madge, Molly and Tess. The family were from Dublin, Ireland. Bobby believed seven generations of Pykes wandered the city's streets before he was born, and he was proud of his heritage.[2]

Bobby Pyke, by Bobby Pyke

He started his working life as a butcher, initially following in his father's footsteps, but this was not the career for him. He was working as a mechanic in 1935, when he achieved his life's dream and enrolled on a four year course, three evenings a week, at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.[3]
On leaving college, Bobby worked in the film-studios in England, sketching the movie stars for magazines and newspapers. Work was never as plentiful or as lucrative in Ireland, but Bobby soon returned to his beloved Dublin. Here, he painted the backdrops for shows of the comedian, Jimmy O'Dea, and sketched newspaper advertisements for the sweet company, ‘Lemons’.  He then became a press cartoonist working, at various times, with The Irish Press newspaper, the Sunday Press and the Irish Times.[4]

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), Poet

Bobby produced much of his best work during the 1940s and 1950s, immortalising many of the most prominent Irish characters of the day. His subjects included writers and artists, actors, businessmen and politicians. Among them were the likes of William Butler Yeats, Jack Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Austin Clarke, to name but a few. 

His now famous and somewhat valuable sketches are often signed with the single name, 'Pyke', if they are signed at all, and examples of his work are held in the National Library of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland.

Bobby much preferred drawing women, telling Noel Conway in an interview with the Irish Press, 'women take more kindly to my playful exaggerations of the pen.' 'Men', he added, 'the trouble with them is vanity… they wish to be portrayed as they see themselves.'[5] Yet, I found no caricatures of the women he sketched, while researching this post.  

John B. Keane (1928 – 2002), Playwright

Seamus Martin, an ex-Irish Press journalist, described Bobby as 'a dapper man, usually dressed in tweeds with his grey hair swept back.' Yet, Bobby never married.[6] In the 1950s, he pursued the beautiful fashion-model, turned businesswoman, Betty Whelan, but their romance didn't lead to anything.[7] Perhaps, this was because Bobby was 'almost permanently drunk' and then 'capable of the most outrageous behaviour'.[4]  This, to me, would sound the death-knell for any relationship.

It was in his obituary, written by the journalist and biographer, Tim Pat Coogan, that I first suspected Bobby Pyke had a problem with alcohol. Coogan wrote:
'though a somewhat mercurial colleague, Bobby was also a gentle one and even at his most rumbustious never gave anyone the slightest cause for concern - even while conducting one of his famous post-closing time soliloquies on a crowded bus or train'.[8]

Following a short illness, Bobby died in St Michael's Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, on 12 July 1987. He was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, in south county Dublin.[9] 

According to his friend and a one-time colleague, Douglas Gageby, 'his friends will remember him for his splendid professionalism and his wonderfully diverting company.'[10] 

It sounds like the world lost much of its colour, when Bobby died.

See what other faces magically appear this week, over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

[1] Copy birth registration, General Register Office.
[2] Liam Robinson, ‘The man who sketched 1000 faces’ (an interview with Bobby Pyke), Irish Press, 22 April 1987 p. 8.
[3] Enrollment Register, 1932-37', College Student Registers, Ref. IE/NIVAL CR/CR59/586, National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL)
[4] Theo Snoddy, Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century (2nd ed., Dublin, 2002), pp 543-4.
[5] Noel Conway, ‘The days when men were men’ (an interview with Bobby Pyke), Irish Press, 15 May 1968, p. 10.
[6] Seamus Martin, Good Times and Bad, from the Coombe to the Kremlin (Cork, 2008), p. 39.
[7] Kieran Fagan, ‘Betty Whelan’, Sunday Independent, 3 July 2011.
[8] Tim Pat Coogan, Irish Press, 13 July 1987, p. 4.
[9] Chris Dooley, Irish Press, 13 July 1987, p. 4.
[10] Douglas Gageby, Irish Times, 22 July 1987, p. 7.

Image credits:
i) Bobby Pyke by Bobby Pyke, Irish Press, 22 April 1987. 
ii) W. B. Yeats by Bobby Pyke (1941), Irish Comics Wiki, under licence CC-BY-SA.
iii) John B. Keane, by Bobby Pyke, Irish Press, 20 November 1992.