Friday, 20 March 2015

Friday's Faces from the Past ~ Uncle Artie and Aunt Winnie

My granduncle, Arthur O'Neill, died on 7 January 1965, in London, having moved there soon after the war. Dad was just a boy when he left, yet, he still has fond memories of his 'Uncle Artie.' Although my father knew very little about his maternal ancestry, his recollections of Uncle Artie have enabled me to piece together the highlights and the lowlights of Artie's life.

Artie was born into a family of nine children, in Dublin city, the fourth and youngest son of Charles O'Neill and Mary Agnes Donovan. Around his tenth birthday, his father died suddenly, catapulting the family into crisis. Although his mother remarried in 1896, within a year of his father’s death, she was unable to take her dependent children with her to her new home with Thomas Augustus Ellis and they ended up in care.

Arthur O'Neill, (c.1885 - 1965)
Arthur O'Neill, 1901 Census, Industrial School, Limerick
Click on image to enlarge

At the time of the 1901 census, when my grandmother and her sister Johanna were found in foster care, the only potential sighting of young Artie, was in a boys’ industrial school, run by the Christian Brothers, in Limerick city. Many miles from home and without the company of his elder brothers (who were, by then, working and living with their mother and Mr. Ellis in Dublin), life in the industrial school was most likely not fun. It was certainly not fun, if the unspeakable abuse allegations, which have since come to light, are anything to go on. But, Artie survived this ordeal, and by 1911, he was back in Dublin, working as a hairdresser, and living with his mother.

In April 1917, Artie married Winifred (Winnie) O'Connor, nĂ© Earley, in the church at Sandymount, Dublin. Winnie was the widow of Bartholomew O'Connor, who died in January 1913, leaving her with three children, Brendan, aged five, Ellen, aged four and Winifred, barely two years old. When Bartholomew died, Winnie was pregnant with their fourth child, Bart, born eight months later.  

Winnie's situation obviously reminded Artie of his own experience, following his father's untimely death and undoubtedly his heart went out to the children. He was perhaps determined to keep them all together, and that, he did. Artie and Winnie went on to have four more children, Mary (May), Charlie, Art and Tom and when they were still young, the O'Neills and the O'Connors, all moved to Kiltimagh, in county Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland, where Artie worked as a barber.

Arthur O'Neill & Winifred (Earley, O'Connor) O'Neill (Dublin & Kiltimagh)
Arthur and Winifred O'Neill, c. 1919

This photo, probably taken about 1919, is believed to be of the young Arthur O'Neill, with his wife Winifred and one of their children. 

Some thirty years into their marriage, Winnie became very ill. Knowing she was going to die, the couple came back to Dublin, and stayed with my grandparents, in Malahide. As they had come of age, many of Winnie's children had migrated to England, in search of work, and settled there. 'Black Raven', the name of our house in Malahide, is situated conveniently close to Dublin Airport. So, not only was my grandmother able to care for Winnie in her final days, but the move back to the east coast also made it easier for her children to visit. It was during this time that Dad came to better know and like his Uncle Artie. Winnie died at ‘Black Raven’ on 8 October 1948 and was laid to rest at Glasnevin Cemetery, next to her first husband, Bartholomew O'Connor.

Arthur O'Neill & Winifred (Earley. O'Connor) O'Neill (Dublin & Kiltimagh)
“1947, Art O’Neill & Winnie”

This photograph was taken in 1947, not long before Winnie’s death. Do you see a resemblance between them here and the young couple in the earlier photograph above? I believe I do.

Shortly after Winnie died, Artie went to England to live with his daughter, May. He was listed in the London Electoral Registers in 1949, at 44 Victoria House, on the South Lambeth Road, living with his children May and Tom O'Neill. After May and Tom had both moved on and gone their separate ways, Artie continued to live in the same flat in Victoria House, with his step-son, Bart O'Connor. Bart was the child born after his own father's passing. He married Teresa Byrne in 1953, and Artie remained with the newly-weds in Victoria House, until they all moved together, to Chatsworth Way, in South East London, in 1960. This was still their home when Artie died, in 1965, at the age of seventy-nine years. 

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Dara, Artie had a difficult life but seemed to keep moving forward despite everything. I do think the photos are the same people. I like the 1919 photo, the serious faces on the adults and the sleeping child.

    1. Thank you, Colleen, I like the 1919 photo too, though they do look like they've been sitting there a bit too long. They look so much more relaxed in the later one.

  2. What a lovely tribute to Uncle Artie. It's inspiring to read a story of someone with a difficult upbringing who developed a good heart despite it all. Today we want to excuse bad behavior due to a bad childhood. Artie's story demonstrates that we make choices. He seems to have had a good life overall and was worthy of your dad's admiration.

    1. Thanks Wendy, I also believe he led a happy life, despite the rocky start.

    2. What a touching story Dara, love the photos.


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