Saturday 30 January 2016

A glimpse over the brick wall

I’ve just made a genealogical breakthrough – one that might lead me to the origins of my Dad’s paternal grandfather. Michael Christopher Byrne is my longest standing genealogy brick wall and I’ve travelled every conceivable avenue in the search of him - with zero results. Now, there’s more than a glimmer of hope he’ll soon be found.

Do you remember a few weeks ago, back in December, I was following up on a family story about Michael’s rumoured brother, Tom, the child who supposedly died when he fell out of a tree? Well, it seems that story was true after all.  

I found Tom!

Thomas Byrne was only seven years old when he died on 15 May 1876. He suffered from acute hydrocephalus, a condition more commonly known as ‘water on the brain’. And, one of the common causes of hydrocephalus is head trauma, which is not inconsistent with a fall from a tree. The poor little chap survived for three weeks before his death, yet the doctor could do nothing to save his life.

Tom’s death certificate contains a wealth of information. He was described as being the ‘son of a butler’. My great-grandfather’s marriage certificate confirms his father was a butler, though unfortunately, neither record gives any clue as to where the man worked.

The biggest surprise on the death certificate was Tom’s last address. He died in Yellow Walls - the same townland in Malahide, Co. Dublin where I grew up – where Michael Byrne married Elizabeth Mahon in 1892. So, the Byrne family was in Malahide at least sixteen years before my great-grandparent’s marriage.

People in rural villages have awfully long memories. More than 100 years after Tom died in Yellow Walls, the Mahons still claimed us Byrnes were ‘blow-ins from Co. Wicklow’. So, I had expected Michael Byrne was from somewhere other than Malahide, and now it seems he lived there from childhood. He probably did come from somewhere else originally, as chances are I would have found him by now, otherwise.

Back to Tom - Neither his father nor his mother registered his death. Four days after the sorry event, a man named Michael Power made his way to the village of Malahide and informed the registrar of the boy’s passing. Michael Power was with Tom when he died. I doubt Tom was out socialising while suffering from acute hydrocephalus, so he must have been living with the Powers in Yellow Walls.

The question is - why? And where were his parents?

I have come across Michael Power before. It is actually quite intriguing just how often the Powers turn up in my research. In 1873, Michael Power married Mary (Leahy) Radcliffe. Mary was the widow of Christopher Radcliffe, my mother’s second great-granduncle. In 1894, Mary Power was Godmother to Dad’s paternal uncle, John Byrne. And, at the time of the 1901 census, Dad’s mother and her elder sister were ‘living ‘in foster-care’ with Mary Power. Now, here they are, yet again, taking care of poor little Tom.

Michael and Mary Power lived in ‘Rose Cottage’, just up the road from ‘Black Raven’, on the corner of Estuary Road and the Swords Road. When my great-grandfather got married, he gave his address as Yellow Walls, and three months earlier, when he purchased his first dog licence, he said he lived on the Swords Road. Rose Cottage is in Yellow Walls, on the Swords Road.

Is it possible Michael Byrne grew up in Rose Cottage? Perhaps either Mary or Michael Power was a relation of ours. Or, perhaps the two Byrne boys were orphaned and were ‘fostered’ by the Powers. Or, maybe I’m just losing the run of myself.

Next… well, I’ll see if I can find Tom’s birth register. And, I’ll take another look at the Powers. I do have a good feeling this time. For the first time in ages, there are ‘next steps’ in the search for Dad’s grandfather. 

Source: Copy death register, Thomas Byrne, 1876, Balrothery, General Register Office; Image credit: Pixabay

Continued further at:

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Dara, loved all the place names in this post! Congratulations on the glimpse over your brick wall. Good luck with Tom's birth record. ~ Cathy

    1. Thanks Cathy, I was always told I had a colourful address.

  2. How exciting! I hope that brick wall crumbles for you soon!

  3. Me too, Dana! Michael Byrne has proved most elusive since the very start of my genealogy days.

  4. Heartbreaking story. Sounds like you will have your answer any day now!

    1. Should get his birth cert next week, Ellie, so fingers crossed!


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