Saturday 28 February 2015

An Unexpected Prisoner

This week, as we were watching the mid-week movie on television, I was also entering the names of my Wynne ancestors, one by one, into the search field of the genealogy website, FindMyPast. I was doodling really, only half paying attention, just to see if anything new turned up. 

Well, you are never going to believe who I found in their Irish prison registers! 

I started with Grandad Kevin, born in 1909, but found only a few BMD (birth, marriage and death) indexes and a census index, all readily available elsewhere. Next, I entered the name of Kevin's father, Patrick Wynne, remembered as being a bit of a Fenian, so it would not have come as a major surprise to find him mentioned in the prison registers. However, Patrick migrated to England about 1915, before getting into trouble, and his name only appeared as next-of-kin to his elder brother Joseph, discussed previously here

It seemed opportune to search, yet again, for Kevin's grandfather, my elusive ‘brick-wall’ ancestor, John Wynne, born about 1820, but I found nothing new. I entered the name of John's wife, Bridget Wynne, certainly not expecting to find anything on her – after all, married women were notoriously absent from the official records of the nineteenth century. At least, most married women were.  Yet, the prison registers are full of women - prostitutes and drunkards and vagrants - all signs of the widespread destitution of the era. 

I stumbled upon a record for a Bridget Wynne, aged fifty. She was imprisoned for ten days, in Grangegorman Female Prison, on 27 March 1884 - the charge was ‘Abusive and threatening language.’ I was merely going through the motions, not expecting it to be my ancestor, so you can imagine my surprise when it transpired this Bridget lived at ‘4 Christ C. Place’. My great-great-grandmother, of the same name, resided at 4 Christ Church Place at the time of her death in 1895. Her daughter Mary Wynne lived there too, when she married Michael Finnegan in 1885.

This was hardly a coincidence.

What did we already know about our Bridget? She was said to have been born Bridget Hynes, from Co. Limerick. She was remembered as having been a midwife, though no proof of this has been found. Her marriage to John Wynne, in 1849, was listed in the register for St Catherine’s Parish, Meath Street.  She was named as the mother of ten Wynne children, all born in the Liberties area of Dublin, between 1850 and 1877. Her father was John Hynes, with an address in Limerick City, named when her sister Catherine married James Tucker, in 1857. Her mother, Margaret Hynes, died on 20 November 1884, the widow of a carpenter and shared Catherine’s grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. When Bridget died from phthisis in 1895, her youngest daughter Agnes Wynne registered her death and estimated Bridget’s birth as having been about 1831. Her baptism record has not so far been identified. 

So, now we also know Bridget was no shrinking violet!
The prison records provide, previously unknown, details about her physical appearance: In 1884, in her fifties, she was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, with black hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion. Is this where our typical ‘Wynne-look’ comes from? 
Her birthplace was confirmed as Limerick.

This was not Bridget's only brush with the law.  She also served two short prison sentences in 1889. It was undoubtedly the same woman, although by 1889 her hair was described as being dark grey. Her weight was given as 106 Ibs. She still resided at 4 Christ Church Place, just across from the Cathedral, in the heart of what was once medieval Dublin. On the second offence her address was listed as ‘4 Church St.’, most probably in error. On 6 November 1889, Bridget was committed to serve seven days for being drunk. The following month, on 27 December, she was again sentenced to four days, for the same offence.

It's sad - poor Bridget - her life was obviously no picnic.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Abusive and threatening language -- now there's a crime! It's sad to learn about the drunkenness though. Even though the news wasn't at all flattering, it's still fun to learn anything at all, especially when you're just messing around not expecting to learn anything at all.

  2. I agree Wendy, it's especially nice to know what she looked like.

  3. For just absentmindedly poking around in that database, you certainly found a keeper. How exciting, Dara! It's nice to have some official confirmation of that Limerick connection, as well.

    1. It’s great to have confirmation of the Limerick connection, Jacqi, especially as Bridget’s sister was alive for the 1901 census and listed her birthplace as Dublin City.

  4. Now that's a fascinating find. Very cool! Sad, for her, with the alcohol. But still, a fscinating find.

  5. I agree with Jo Hen... a sad, but fascinating find! I have found a few of my male ancestors in prison, but no females... at least not yet. :)

    I'm enjoying your posts and will follow your blog. Great stories!

  6. I was recently scrolling through old newspaper archives and came across a murder in Dublin's infamous Monto area. One name that leapt off the page was that of Margaret Carroll who turned out to be my Great Grandmother. She was named as a prostitute as was her sister and both of them were arrested and charged with being involved in the murder of a "Customer" over money. I have just published a book, 'Murder in the Monto' on this whole episode of unknown information on my mother's family...

    1. Sounds like an intriguing story Martin, best of luck with your new book.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!