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