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.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday: The ITGWU Prize Brass and Reed Band

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

Their suggestion this week features a lady holding her musical instrument – a harp. It fits nicely with the photograph I intended to share this week - a photograph recently lent to me by my mother's first cousin, Shay Byrne.  In Shay's picture, the Prize Brass & Reed Band of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union stand on the steps of Liberty Hall, in Dublin, with each member holding their musical instrument and proudly displaying the band's recent prize.

Irish Transport & General Workers Union Prize Brass & Reed Band,
with conductor Mr. A. Gebler, c. 1947

According to the caption under the original photograph, it was taken after the band won first prize at the Feis Ceoil Golden Jubilee Band Contest, in 1947. My great-grandfather, James Byrne, always carried the band's flag, but is absent from this picture. He died in July 1948, so perhaps it was taken after his death. His eldest son, John Byrne (back row, first from left) and John's son, Shay (child seated, front left), are both present in the picture.  

The Transport Union set up the band in 1919, in conjunction with a number of carters working in the Dublin Dockyards. James Byrne was one of its founder members. This was a volatile time in Ireland's history, right in the middle of the War of Independence. In their first year, the Black and Tans (a hated regiment of the police) raided Liberty Hall and smashed most of their instruments. Despite the set-back, the band survived and went on to play in many public parades and engagements.

In the early days, they were often in trouble with the Black and Tans. A history of the band, published in the ITGWU's Liberty Magazine in 1984, tells an amusing story about a parade in Finglas, Co. Dublin:
‘A contingent of Tans stopped the Band and the officer in charge instructed them to cease playing Irish marches. The Band Sergeant agreed and instructed the Band to play the ‘Wearing of the Green' [a ballad celebrating the Irish Rebellion of 1798]. The officer applauded and remarked ... ‘Isn't that much better than your b.... Irish marches?’[1] 
In this instance, the band may have had the last laugh, at the expense of a sectarian police-force, but undoubtedly such occasions were rare.

The band regularly took part in Transport Union activities. When Mrs. James Connolly, the widow of the 1916 martyr and socialist leader, died in January 1938, the Band represented the Union at her funeral. A large crowd of mourners gathered on both sides of O'Connell Street, outside the General Post Office. Here the Band waited - their flag as usual bearing a photograph of James Connolly. As the funeral procession passed the G.P.O., on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery, they played Handel's ‘Dead March’.[2] 

This was the flag always carried by James Byrne, placing my great-grandfather at Mrs. Connolly's funeral, that day.

In less troubled times, the band regularly took part in public concerts and band competitions – outings my mother remembers were often happily attended by the extended Byrne family.  The band even played on Irish national radio, where their Irish ballads were appreciated by many, as well as their renditions of internationally acclaimed pieces like ‘The Beautiful Blue Danube’ by Strausse, Romberg's ‘Desert Song’ and Auber's ‘Crown Diamonds’.[3]

Wouldn't it be great to find a photograph showing my great-grandfather carrying the flag with the band? Surely, one still exists.

Check out what other 'Saturday Sepians' make of the lady with a harp, here.

More about the ITGWU Band here.

[1] Eileen King, ‘History of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union Brass Band’, Liberty Magazine, June 1984, accessed Hayes Peoples History.
[2] Irish Independent, 26 January 1938, p. 11.
[3] Irish Press, 18 January 1938, p. 4; Derry Journal, 26 May, 1939. 

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 17 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday: A day in the life of my great-grandda

For many family historians, there’s nothing quite like extending the genealogy back just one more generation, but for me, it's learning each ancestor's life story that provides the greatest sense of satisfaction.  And, there is no better way to learn what made them tick, than by examining the treasures they left behind.

James Byrne of Lower Jane Place, 1938
James Byrne, Williams Shield won by I.T.&G.W.U. Band - May 1938

Here's an old silver medal that belonged to my great-grandfather, James Byrne of Lower Jane Place, Dublin. He gave it to my mother when she was a child. James died in July 1948, so Mam has had this medal for nearly seventy years.

The inscription on the back reads: Williams Shield won by I.T. & G. W.U. Band - May 1938. Although, he didn’t play a musical instrument himself, James Byrne is remembered as having been a founder member of Prize Brass and Reed Band of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

Until his death, he was said to have carried their flag when they marched in parade. This flag bore the face of James Connolly, the Irish nationalist and socialist, who was executed by a British firing squad following the 1916 Rising. 

Old newspaper accounts told the story of how the band members came by their medals:

Only six bands entered the All-Ireland Bands contest that year. It was held by the Royal Dublin Society, on 4 May 1938, during their Spring Show.  Each band played a French overture, by Daniel Auber, called ‘The Crown Diamonds’ followed by a tune of their choosing. The Lawn Pavilion in the R.D.S. showgrounds was crowded on that Wednesday afternoon, when the ITGWU Band won first prize – the Williams Shield and £20. 

The judges, who listened without seeing the competitors, were seemingly not too impressed with the general standard of playing that day. They gave low marks to all the bands, saying ‘it is a great mistake to award high marks to a band that, although deserving to be placed first, does not deserve such marks’.

Nevertheless, the judges surprised themselves in naming the Transport Union Band as the winners, adding they had ‘improved considerably since they last participated in a similar contest’. Perhaps this had something to do with their new Musical Director, Mr. Adolf Gebler, who was appointed the previous year.

Not too bad for a bunch of carters from the Dublin docklands, I'd say!

The other contestants were the Dublin Postal Band in second place, the Tramway Employees' Brass and Reed Band in third place and St George's Brass Band who received a consolation prize. Holy Family Confraternity Brass Band and St James's Brass and Reed Band also entered.

It was the following October, before the band were presented with the cup. A special ceremony was held at Liberty Hall, the Unions headquarters in Dublin, and Senator Thomas Foran did the honours. Senator Foran was General President of the Union and had been instrumental in setting up the band, in 1919. 

On behalf of the Dublin District Council, Senator Foran also presented a set of medals to the band members – one of which can be seen above.  

Afterwards, there was dancing and an ‘enjoyable smoking concert’ (whatever that entailed) held in the adjoining Hotel Workers Hall. About 500 people attended the event. I wonder if my great-grandmother, Christine (Devine) Byrne, was there too. It's rumoured she did not attend the wedding celebrations of any of her children, so perhaps formal events like this were not her cup of tea.

Sourced:  Irish Press, 5 May 1938, pp 1,9; Irish Independent, 5 May 1938, pp 8-9; Irish Press, 11 October 1938 p. 9.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

For more about my great-grandfather’s band, see here

Saturday 10 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday: Cousin Violet

Little is known about Violet Perrody, born in 1897, the second surviving daughter of Richard Perrody and Isabella Wynne. She grew up in Dublin city, with her parents, her elder sister Maud and her younger siblings Louis, Vincent and Clarissa.  Her father worked as a carpenter.[1]

Violet never married.  After her mother died in 1930, she continued to share the house at 2 Nelson Street with her brother Louis and her sister Clarissa. In around 1944, Clarissa followed Maud and Vincent to live in London and Violet stayed in Dublin with Louis.[2]

When she was in her early fifties, Louis decided to convert the house into self-contained flats and Violet moved out. She relocated to number 8 Henrietta Street. Henrietta Street is arguably the finest Georgian street in Dublin, lined on both sides with grand four-story mansions, each built to house the great and the good of Irish society.

But, all was not as rosy as it sounds for my grandfather’s first cousin.

Henrietta Street, Dublin, by William Murphy

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the once magnificent houses of Henrietta Street had been transformed into one of Dublin’s most notorious slums.  Abandoned by the wealthy, the houses were divided into as many rooms as possible and each room was rented out to whole extended families - tenement style. 

In 1901, ten families shared 8 Henrietta Street - sixty-three men, women and children all living in just six rooms. In the midst of these cramped conditions and the resultant squalor, dressmakers, labourers, skilled workers and even a national school teacher attempted to support their families. One thing is sure, no one had any privacy.[3]

Conditions in the tenements were further described in a government commissioned report, published in 1914:
‘Generally, the only water supply of the house is furnished by a single water tap, which is in the yard… The closet accommodation [toilet] is common not only to the occupants of the house, but to anyone who likes to come in off the street, and is, of course, common to both sexes.’  
‘The passages, landings and stairs are, in many cases, cramped and narrow, and the woodwork defective. The floors of the rooms are often out of repair, and the window frames and sashes in poor condition, those in the landing windows being not infrequently absent. The fireplaces in the rooms are small open ones, unsuited for general use.’[4]

8 Henrietta Street, Dublin
There is no indication living conditions in Henrietta Street improved in the forty years between this report and the time Violet moved in. But, by then, number 8 had become known as ‘St Mary’s House’, indicative of its status as some kind of institution. Number 9 was ‘St Bridget’s Hostel’ and number 10 was ‘Our Lady’s Home – Religious Community’.  All the residents of these three houses were female, or at least, all those who registered to vote were female.[5] 

In the early 1960s, the Sisters of Charity operated three hostels in Henrietta Street. One was a school for servant girls above the age of seventeen years; one was a hostel for girls working in business and the third was a hostel for nuns and other religious. I suspect St Mary’s House was the hostel for working girls).[6]

According to the Dublin city electoral registers, Violet Perrody lived in Henrietta Street in 1950, 1962 and 1963. She likely lived there continuously, except was not always registered to vote. During this period, Violet shared the house with an average of twenty-six other women.[7]  

Perhaps Violet’s living conditions were not quite as bad as her neighbours in the more open tenement houses. The nuns would have ensured the houses were kept pristine clean - nevertheless, having to share a room with five other ‘strangers’, or maybe more, it was still fairly bleak.

When Violet Perrody died, aged seventy-seven years, in 1974, her last address was given as Balcurris Rd, Dublin.[8]  This is where the Ballymun Flats were built in the 1960s, to accommodate many of the former residents of the inner-city slums. While the flats later suffered their own social problems, I’d like to think Violet enjoyed having her own space, in the final decade of her life.

More posts on our Perrody family:

[1] Perrody family, Brunswick Street, Great, Dublin, 1911 Census, National Archives of Ireland
[2] Violet Perodie, 1939-1950, Dublin City Electoral Lists 1938-1964,
[3] 8 Henrietta Street, Inns Quay, Dublin, Form B, House and Building Return, pp 4-5, 1901 Census, National Archives of Ireland.   
[4] 1913 Report of the Departmental Committee into the Housing Conditions of the Working Classes in the City of Dublin, (Local Government Board for Ireland, 1914), p. 4, accessed South Dublin Libraries
[5] Numbers 8, 9 & 10 Henrietta Street, 1962-63, Dublin City Electoral Lists 1938-1964,
[6] Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries (chapter 9), pp 218-9, Department of Justice and equality.
[7] Violet Perody / Perrody, Dublin City Electoral Lists 1938-1964,
[8] Glasnevin Cemetery burial records, Glasnevin Trust

Image Credits: William Murphy, ‘Henrietta Street, Dublin’, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons; 8 Henrietta Street, Dublin, GoogleMaps.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 3 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday: Louis Perrody (1900-1974)

Patrick Louis Perrody was born in Dublin, on 17 March 1900. He was the eldest son and third surviving child of Richard Perrody and Isabella Wynne.[1]

He may have been called Patrick in honour of our patron saint, whose feast-day is celebrated on his birthday, or perhaps he was named after his maternal uncle, my great-grandfather, Patrick Wynne. Perhaps he was named for both of them.  Either way, by the time he was eleven years old, he had adopted his middle name ‘Louis’ as his moniker of choice.[2]

As Louis Patrick Perrody, he enrolled in the Royal Navy Marines on 17 January 1918, two months short of his eighteenth birthday. Like many young men, it appears he was underage, but so anxious to fight in the Great War, he lied on his application and gave his birthday as 17 March 1899.

Louis served aboard the HMS Colleen, a depot ship for the Auxiliary Patrol Service, stationed at Queenstown (now Cobh), Co. Cork. This was far better than the trenches!

The famous Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean, served as acting boatswain on the HMS Colleen and may well have served with Louis.

According to the naval records, Louis was five foot, two and a half inches tall, with a chest measurement of thirty-four inches. He had grey eyes and a dark complexion. 

The records also reveal Louis was awarded the Victory and the British War Medals, for participating in the campaign.[3]

Louis returned to Dublin after the war and enlisted in the Irish Republican Army, where he fought for Irish Independence from Britain. He was in the Cycle Company, later known as “A” Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 1st Dublin Brigade.[4]

He inherited his parent's house at 2 Nelson Street and was recorded at this address throughout the 1940s to 1950. Here, he lived with his sisters Violet and Clarissa. Various other people shared the house with them - presumably boarders.[5]

Inherent in ancestral research is the potential discovery, not only of a person's greatest achievements, but also their lowest moments. It is these very ‘extremes’ that are most likely to be recorded and when I was searching for an obituary for Louis, I happened upon what would not be described as his finest hour. 

In December 1950, he was charged with the larceny of three gas cookers. He pleaded ‘guilty under extenuating circumstances’. He had intended to convert his house in Nelson Street into self-contained flats, when he got into financial difficulties. He received a nine-month prison sentence, which was suspended on condition he repaid his debt, in weekly installments of £1. The newspaper report of the court case described Louis as a musician.[6]

According to my cousin Aileen, Pat Fagan, a first cousin of Louis, now deceased, said Louis was a musician in a band. She believed, they were the resident band at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin during the winter season. Louis played piano, banjo, accordion and the even the electric guitar. 

Louis migrated to England, probably in the 1950s. He died in Birmingham, aged seventy-four years, in 1974.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

[1] England and Wales, civil registration death index, General Register Office. 
[2] 1911 census of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland.
[3] Royal Naval Reserve ratings' records of service, The National Archives (UK).
[4] IRA Membership Series, Organisation and Membership, Military Service Pensions Collection, Military Archives, Dublin I Brigade, MA/MSPC/RO/3, Military Archives.
[5] Louis Perodie, Electoral Lists 1938-1964, Dublin City Library and Archive
[6] Irish Press, 8 December 1950, p. 2.

Image credit: World War I recruitment poster, Wikimedia Commons.