Saturday, 28 May 2016

A storm in a teacup

In 1906, ‘Ma Power’, Granny’s foster-mother, got into trouble with the authorities and faced prosecution by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Board of Guardians of Balrothery Poor Law Union. It was all a big storm in a teacup really, but the whole sorry saga was recorded in the minutes of the Board of Guardians and provides my only insight into Granny Lena’s life in foster care.  

Following her father’s death in April 1895, Lena O’Neill and her elder sister Joan, the two babies of the family, were placed in foster care with Mary Power in Malahide, Co. Dublin. Lena’s older brothers and sisters were less fortunate and ended up in various orphanages and industrial schools across Ireland.

Presumably, their mother was unable to provide for them, despite working as a musician and despite her remarriage to Thomas Ellis. All I know is, at some point between their father’s death and the 1901 census, the unthinkable happened, and Mary Agnes O’Neill/Ellis lost her children to the care of the state (and the church). And, even though the Victorians documented everything, until now, I’ve found no record of the family’s plight during this time.

The fuss with Ma Power kicked off in March 1906 when Miss Boylan, the Inspector appointed under the Infant Life Protection Act, carried out her first home inspection visit in Malahide. Miss Boylan complained to the Board that Mary Power, Yellow Walls, refused to allow her to inspect the children stating that she had received instructions from the nuns of St Bridget’s [sic] Orphanage that no person should be allowed to inspect the children, the ages of the children were 12 and 10' [the same ages as Joan and Lena].’

Miss Boylan further reported ‘Mary Power, Yellow Walls, has four nurse children. The home has only two apartments, a room 10 x 15 feet and a kitchen. The Inspector points out that this woman keeps 7 dogs, and states that she had great difficulty making an inspection as the woman at first refused to allow her to do so.’

The Board then ordered ‘Copies [of the report] to be sent to the convents and orphanages from which these children were sent out to nurse, also to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Board’s solicitor (Mr Early) to take proceedings against Mrs Power...’

Obviously, having seven dogs wasn’t an offence under the Act, for the solicitor wrote back to the Miss Boylan seeking ‘sufficient particulars to enable him to decide what proceedings should be taken against Mrs Power.'

And, somewhat strangely, the Superioress of St Brigid’s Orphanage replied stating ‘Mrs Power of Yellow Walls has not been on their staff of nurses for the past 3 years.’

In any case, Miss Boylan soon had a change of heart for her next monthly report to the Board was far more conciliatory in tone. She said on revisiting these people they apologised for refusing an inspection in the first instance as they were not aware the Guardians had appointed an Inspector under the Infant Life Protection Act, and they promised to facilitate her in the discharge of her duties in the future.’

And with that, the Board ordered all prosecutions to be withdrawn.

There's lots of interesting information in these minutes that I’ve yet to digest, but more than anything else, I’d dearly love to hear what Ma Power and Granny Lena had to say about Miss Boylan and the complaint to the Board. I can imagine it was not complimentary. They probably thought she was an interfering old busybody.

Source: Balrothery Poor Law Union, Board of Guardian’s minute books A119 - A120, October 1905 to September 1906, accessed on Findmypast.

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Oh I too would love to know their side of things! Seeing a little spunk makes me smile. She had to be a strong woman to do all that she did and I am sure that was evident in all aspects of her life.

  2. She was probably mortified too, Michelle. Miss Boylan sounds like she was very condescending, looking down her nose at their little home.

  3. I bet they did think she was a "interfering old busybody." :) What wonderful records that give you insight into Ma Power.

    1. It was really great to find them, Dana. What's rare is wonderful :-)

  4. I have included your blog in Interesting Blogs on Friday Fossicking at

    Thank you, Chris

    1. Thank you Chris, I'm glad you enjoyed the post and appreciate you including it in your list of interesting blogs.


I look forward to reading your comments, even more especially if you're related to someone mentioned in this post.

Comments are visible publicly. You may also contact me privately by email - blackraven.genealogy [at] gmail [dot] com.