Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dublin City Databases

The three new databases launched online
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Three new databases have been added to Dublin City's online collection. The databases were formally launched at a function in the Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse St. last evening (26/8/2015).

Brendan Teeling, Deputy City Librarian

The function was kicked off by the effervescent Brendan Teeling, Dublin City's Deputy Librarian. He set the context and promptly handed over to John Grenham who introduced us to the first database.

John Grenham, Genealogist

This was effectively an extension to work John had been doing over the last few years on digitising the city's electoral registers. The first phase covered the period 1938 to 1963. That digitised database had been available in the library itself for a few years but it has recently come on line.

I have made extensive use of it in my family history research. It proved a particularly useful complement to the long series of Thom's Street Directories. You could find someone's address on a birth, death or marriage cert, and chase them up in Thoms. But if they then changed house you were lost. Once the electoral register was digitised you could easily pick them up again along with supplementary information on family members.

However this database only covered the period 1938 to 1964. The new database covers the period 1908 to 1915 and it is a very useful complement to the 1901 and 1911 Censuses of Population which are already online. John took us through some of its more arcane features.

I could never understand, for instance, why Theodore Brewster's son was paying him rent for staying in the family home. Theodore was not short the penny or two and son Richard could simply have handed up some of his earnings, as we all did, without turning it into a formal rent payment. What I had not realised, and what John explained, was that a lodger qualified for a vote in municipal elections so Theodore and Richard contrived to have a two vote rather than a one vote household. Useful when you're trying to influence the local council.

Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist

Ellen took us through the process that led to the digisation and release online of the indexes to the Dublin City Council minutes. This may seem a small thing to some if you still have to consult the hard copy versions of the actual minutes.

I can vouch for it that it is an invaluable improvement from a researcher's point of view. The library had noticed lots of researchers coming in day after day ploughing through the indexes trying to find relevant items which they then had to look up in the main volumes. Now the indexes can be searched digitally, from home if necessary, and precious library time can be devoted to a very focused search of the actual minutes.

I've been there and done that the hard way and this database is a godsend for anyone who needs to consult the minutes.

Mary Clarke, City Archivist

The city is blessed with having Mary Clarke as its archivist.

At this session she explained how a number of different and inaccessible record collections had been "translated" and digitised into one general directory covering the period 1607 to 1746.

She told us that with the advent of wider literacy the demand for Secretaries was set to fall until the existing Secretaries devised a sort of shorthand which only they could read and so kept their jobs as gatekeepers of the records.

She also drew our attention to some of the water supply accounts of the period where those falling into serious arrears in paying for their water were simply cut off.

John McDonough, Director, National Archives of Ireland

John McDonough gave us an example of inter-institutional cooperation when he revealed that there were gaps in the electoral registers held by the library and that these had been filled by the National Archives providing digitised copies of the missing volumes to complete the library's online database.

John very much made the point that the various institutions involved in keeping and providing access to archives were all in the same business of serving the same public. And the thing is that it is not business from the public's end as all these digitised online databases are provided to users free of charge at the point of use.

Councillor Vincent Jackson
Chair of Dublin City Council’s Commemorations Committee

Councillor Vincent Jackson formally launched the databases but not before eulogising, and rightly so, the city's library services.

The libraries are an integral part of a valuable and much needed and underrated social sub-structure and the miracle is that not only have they managed to continue providing their services free at the point of use, they have succeeded in vastly expanding these services over the years.

In this particular case they have been helped by funding from the Council's Commemorations Committee. It's nice to see something positive coming out of 1916.

You can find the Council's databases at this page. You can either search across the full set of databases with a simple search which will tell you how many relevant entries come up in each data base and you can then go straight in and look at these. Or you can do an advanced search (ie specifying more search variables) on each database individually. There is enough stuff there to keep you occupied until you eventually take your rightful place in the graveyards database.

The Council have also put up a special page on their site covering the launch and the databases.

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Henry Buckley

Henry (Harry) Buckley at his exhibition in Pearse St. Library
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This is Henry Buckley. I found him purely by accident as I passed through the exhibition space in Pearse St. library on my way to Stuart Rosenblatt's presentation of his Irish-Jewish database to the City of Dublin.

Henry has an exhibition here this month (August 2015) which unfortunately closes next Monday.

Overview of a portion of the exhibition

This public exhibition space is a jewel in the crown of the city of Dublin and it is put to good use by the city's library service. This is where I saw Sueann Moore's Dockland Days exhibition which was an imaginative presentation of the Ringsend/Docklands area in images and folklore.

Sueann was a beginner but Henry is a different kettle of fish. He has exhibited at this year's annual exhibition in the Royal Hibernian Academy and has been exhibiting for over a decade.

Like Sueann he is a local, a native of Macken St. now living in Ringsend.

An example from the Horse Riders series (palette knife)

As a matter of personal taste I wasn't gone on the more representational or still life exhibits. But the various palette knife series are quite stunning.

You can see more of Henry's work on his excellent (clean and unpretentious) website which includes contact details.

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Irish Jewry

Stuart Rosenblatt & Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh
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Stuart Rosenblatt has spent the last twenty years attempting to compile a comprehensive data base on every Jew who ever lived in Ireland from 1700 down to the present day. His entries currently run at around 52,000. While the database is stored on his computer and is digitally searchable, he has printed it out and the full set runs to 19 volumes. Last night (25/8/2015) he presented a 12 volume set to the city of Dublin. These are now on open access in the Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse Street.

The photo above shows the Lord Mayor getting a sneak preview before the presentation; the shelving in the background is where the books now reside.

Margaret Hayes

City librarian, Margaret Hayes, welcomed the database to its new home and while she was at it took the opportunity to outline Dublin City Libraries' packed programme of activities over the coming months.

Dublin's Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh

The Lord Mayor thanked Stuart on behalf of the citizens of Dublin who will now have free access to this vast database.

Fuaireas amach aréir gur iníon í Críona le Seán Ó Dálaigh, nach maireann, a bhíodh i mbun Club an Chonartha in Uimhir a 6 ar feadh na blianta fada.

Stuart Rosenblatt

Stuart outlined some of the contents of the database and the efforts required to bring it all together. Along with the set presented to Dublin City, there are sets in the Jewish Museum, National Library of Ireland, National Archives, Genealogical Society of Ireland, and in Cork, Limerick and Belfast.

Stuart, the Lord Mayor and the full 12 volumes (14 books)

Stuart shows the Lord Mayor sample pages from some of the 12 volumes. They are printed on acid free paper which Stuart says will last for hundreds of years.

Stuart expects his next volume to be an update in 2019 for his 75th birthday. This will deal with Heritage and the Book of Irish Jewry and he is toying with calling this volume The Soul of Irish Jewry 1700-2019.

An entry for Burmans in the alphabetical volume
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The Burmans were one of two Jewish families who shared 53 SCR (Portobello) with my grand uncle Patrick Medlar's family in the 1940s. So I thought I'd look them up and you can see the entries in Stuart's alphabetical volume above.

From these records we know that there were four in this family. The father was a (presumably commercial) traveller and the two children were quite young at the time. There is no indication where the family subsequently went.

Patrick Medlar's family performed Shabbos goy services for the Jewish families in the house.

You can check out Stuart's site where he will interrogate his online database for a fee.

Or you can email him (
or phone (+353 (0)85 730 6262).

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Saturday, August 08, 2015

Michael Judge RIP

Michael Judge playing second fiddle to one of his pupils
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Michael Judge was my English teacher in school. He taught the only subject that was taught through the medium of English in that school. That must surely be a distinction of sorts.

He had a very healthy attitude to what was the curriculum of the 1950s and early 1960s. While acknowledging the excellence of what was on the course, his attitude was to get through it as fast as possible and then go on to do something more interesting and exciting.

He brought us through Beckett and the War Poets (Owen and Sassoon). He gave us a feel for Owen's para-rhyme and Hopkins's sprung rhythm. While we lacked a context in those days for WWI in the trenches, largely due to rejection of the Irish fighting there, there was no gainsaying the sheer savagery of Owen's poetry.

And not forgetting Harold Pinter, whose writings hot off the press came streaming into Judgie's classroom.

Nor did Judgie exclude music from his own personal curriculum, as you can see above. In fact, he was a bit of an all-rounder and was also our art teacher, which I'm sure he taught through the medium, though I don't remember at this remove.

I never had any contact with his writing for RTÉ radio or television, or for the Abbey, though I gather he was very good at it.

For me he will always remain an innovative and dedicated teacher of English and I hope my own writing over the years bears testimony to this.

Those were the days.

I attended Judgie's final class today - his farewell service at Mount Jerome cemetery.

I was standing outside the chapel, waiting for the hearse to arrive when I sort of felt someone looking over my shoulder. I turned around, and who was it but the bould Sir William Wilde, Oscar's daddy. I smiled, and thought to myself, Judgie would have loved that.

Oscar's Daddy

The service was well attended and the Garden Chapel was packed. Standing room only, or even a space in the porch. God be with the days.

The breadth of the attendance was wide, but the ceremony centered very much on the family - four generations of them. Family members recalled aspects of Judgie's life and character. There was much joy and love in the air, and many tears too. Tiny tots of great grandchildren were carried up to place sunflowers on the coffin. Tributes read out included those from former pupils, many of whom had left school half a century ago but turned up to honour a man who left a lasting mark on their lives.

In keeping with Judgie's love of theatre, as the final curtains slowly inched across to a close, we were treated to a fabulous foot tapping jazz number, which could only make you smile. A lovely script. A writer to the end.

In what was, I suppose, a throwback to the 1960s, I became aware of the absence of any Christian Brother at the service. But I suppose that community barely exists in the modern world. Then it struck me to wonder if Judgie would get a job in a faith school today. An ironic thought about a man who had been one of the shining educational lights of the Coláiste.

His gone now.

But it was clear from today's service that he is not, and that his legacy lives on, not least in his family and in his former pupils.

May he rest in peace.

Joe Ó Muircheartaigh & Judgie (le déanaí)

Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, Iarscoláire and journalist, recently interviewed Judgie in relation to the Coláiste's connections with the 1916 rising. He expects the material to surface in a radio programme he is currently working on. His extensive comment on the Iarscoláirí Facebook page is reproduced in a comment below.

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Friday, August 07, 2015

Henffych i'n Prifardd

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My first duty is to thank the BBC for giving me a front row seat, and more, at the chairing ceremony at this year's National Eisteddfod of Wales. The Welsh version of their caption denotes a seat in the pavilion, and a first class seat it was.

I hope this effusive outburst will allow them to forgive me for nicking a load of their shots of the ceremony for this post. Or to put it another way, the photos in this post are courtesy of the BBC.

I had to start, as they did, with an outside shot of the pavilion. When I first started attending the festival this was a wooden structure and the talk was of replacing it but it took a while for the pavilion to evolve into its current form.

Anyway, we are here to follow the ceremony of the Chairing of the Bard, which event is for most aficionados the peak of the week, so to speak. The Chair is awarded for the best poem in cynghanedd, a strict traditional metre.

The event is replete with ceremony, as it is not only an Eisteddfod competition; it is also a major event in the calendar of the Gorsedd which really notches it up the ceremonial rankings.

Nuff guff and back to the event. The Corn Gwlad (two of them!) summons the audience from the four corners of the earth. This is even better than the trumpets at the 1969 investiture in Caernarfon Castle. Believe me.

Next, the Archdruid welcomes the assembly and introduces the ceremony. Christine James is the first ever female archdruid and this event will mark the end of her three year term. The election of a female to this office was long overdue. There was a serious glass ceiling here and another ceiling below it. Nominees for archdruid must be winners of the Chair, Crown or Prose Medal and women were scarce in these ranks up to recent times.

The first woman ever to win a chair was Mererid Hopwood in Denbigh in 2001. I have written about that chairing elsewhere.

And who pops up to read the adjudication on behalf of the three person jury but Mererid herself.

I should mention that she not only won the chair in 2001, but two years later also won the crown. She launched into a lively adjudication as the tension mounted in the pavilion. I should make two points here. The judges only know the competitors by their pen names, so the judging is absolutely fair. And, there is an absolute standard to be achieved for the award.

In recent times, in 2009 and 2013, the chair was not awarded as the required standard was not reached. The phrase in Welsh, "neb yn deilwng" (no one worthy), is one to send an audience's collective heart down into the pits. Without the award the bottom falls out of the ceremony. And, don't forget, each chair is specially commissioned for each particular eisteddfod. It is made of local materials and by a local artist. So there are many levels of potential disappointment here.

As I watch Mererid's lively and sometimes amusing adjudication my heart starts rising. Her enthusiasm is tangible. There must certainly be a chair this year.

And so there is. The winner is called by his pen name and asked to stand as the searchlights sweep the audience. Suddenly applause breaks out in one corner of the crowd; on this cue the searchlights converge.

The camera finally picks out the winner in the crowd. Everyone is wildly curious to know who he is but they'll have to wait awhile until he is vested and led to the stage.

He turns out to be Hywel Meilyr Griffiths, from Talybont in Cardiganshire, and a previous winner of the crown in 2008.

Once he is comfortably seated in his new chair the honours begin.

The traditional song of praise is sung. "Henffych i'n Prifardd ...", the first words of which I have taken for the title of this post: Hail to our chaired poet ...

He is then read a witty poem in his honour, which an accomplished and clever poet has personalised at the last moment.

Then we have the first of the local elements. Dawns y Blodau, the flower dance, is performed by a bevy of very young local schoolgirls. It is very impressive and is a touch added by Cynan way back in 1936 when he reformed what was a stodgy old show and turned it into a modern performance.

Next, the Aberthged, the offering of the fruits of the earth, is presented by a local young girl.

The Corn Hirlas, or horn of plenty, is presented by a local married woman.

And, finally, the Archdruid wraps it up, and, on this occasion, seeing as she is bowing out, thanks all and sundry for their help and cooperation during the three years of her reign.

A rousing version of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau swells from the audience, ably channeled by the Gorsedd choirmaster.

And this finds its echoes on stage.

After which the Gorsedd and all its pomps goes to ground until next year's event.

This year's eisteddfod was in Meifod (near Welshpool) and next year it will visit Caldicot (near Cardiff).

I had a go at tweeting the ceremony live from the pavilion (via BBC) and you can see the results here. It turned out to be a bit frantic but it was fun. Unfortunately there's a serious typo in Mererid's name (blot on copybook). But otherwise it worked out OK. Start from the bottom.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Nobody's Children

Michael Robinson & Redmond's volunteers
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Yesterday's (30/7/2015) lunchtime talk in the National Library of Ireland was entitled Nobody's Children:The treatment for Shell-Shocked Great War veterans in the Irish Free State and it was given by Michael Robinson of the University of Liverpool's Institute of Irish Studies. The talk was based on part of his research for his PhD.

I always enjoy going to these talks. Even if I don't learn something directly relating to my family history or local history, or meet with new contacts, there is always some aspect of the thing to file away for the future.

I had an uncle who died on the Somme and a grand uncle who returned from WWI wounded. While I gather the latter's wounds were physical, I don't think there is any way anyone could return from at least three years in the trenches and still be completely right in the head.

So I was really interested in Michael's take on how the shell shocked returnees fared.

I was aware of the shame of it: them having fought for the monarch who was occupying Ireland and against our potential ally, the Germans. Indeed, had I known about either of the above soldiers at the time I would certainly not have mentioned them in the school I went to and would probably have felt quite bad about the whole matter. Thankfully, however, they have been allowed down from the attic for some time now and we have a better appreciation of the reality of those times.

What I hadn't appreciated was some of the nuances that Michael highlighted.

For example, had these shell shocked returnees been given special treatment by the Free State, would the same have been required for those who suffered in the War of Independence, and in the Civil War (including, God forbid, the anti-Treatyites)?

Also, poverty and unemployment were rampant at the time and there would have been very little inclination to give special treatment to the returnees anyway. While Michael has established that they were not actively discriminated against they certainly did not benefit from any positive discrimination such as we might see as desirable today.

And if there had to be any prioritisation, it would surely have been for the physically disabled whose disabilities would be more obvious to all.

And then there was the general stigma attaching to mental illness at the time, not just for the victim but for the whole family.

There were only three institutions in the whole of Ireland at the time which took in these shell shocked returnees. That clearly was only a drop in the ocean.

There was a scheme called the King's National Roll which employers signed up to and where they guaranteed to allocate 5% of jobs to ex-servicemen with disabilities. However, that scheme was not implemented in the Free State where the attitude was that these men fought for the British so the British could look after them.

Also, the benefits the British Legion brought to those in Britain and Northern Ireland were not replicated in the South where the Legion was very disorganised and underfunded.

Some employers, such as Guinness, did undertake at the outset to re-employ returnees and they did honour this undertaking, but that still left a lot of returnees fending for themselves or living a life of panic and despair under the cloak of caring families.

John Burgess, his wife Tess (née Fitzsimons)
& firstborn Sadie (c. Sept. 1910)

The story of my wounded grand uncle, John Burgess, is an interesting one. His father Christopher was a master bootmaker with premises in James's Street. The father was approaching retirement and John, who worked in the business, and even had a company house provided nearby, was the heir apparent.

When John enlisted, possibly as late as early 1915, his father disinherited him and threw his wife and children out of the company house. They took refuge in Oxmantown Rd. on the northside and when John eventually came home wounded he was unemployed.

He got a temporary job with a shoemaker in Capel Street whose sons were not quite old enough at the time to do the work. That didn't last and he subsequently got a job in the Gas Company and eventually in Dublin Corporation. I suspect his getting the latter two jobs were not unconnected to his campaigning for Alfie Byrne in Corpo and Dáil elections and to a nephew being a prominent member of the Corporation itself.

So, at the end of the day, he could have come out worse. But, of course, most of the returnees wouldn't have had those sort of connections.

John Burgess's ex-UK-serviceman's Irish medical card

Since originally doing this post yesterday, I have just come across John Burgess's medical card, issued by the Irish Department of Social Welfare, but based on his WWI military disability discharge. So despite what was said above, the Irish State, albeit at a later stage, did seem to accept some responsibility or agency in the matter.

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Monday, July 20, 2015


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I'm not sure this is quite what Delacroix had in mind when he painted "Liberty leading the people" at the time of the 1830 revolt against Charles X. His Marianne was almost equally well endowed but not a patch on our Molly

This is Molly as we normally think of her, wheeling her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow - from Grafton Street to Andrew Street as it happens.

This piece of street sculpture has fascinated me since it appeared on the streets of Dublin. Boobs aside, it is a most expressive and elusive piece of work.

I have strung together here just a few of the photos I have taken as I passed by. Molly can be domineering, teasing, bewildered, coy, attractive and even pretty.

Some people may feel the boobs intrusive but I have seen them defended on the basis that in those days mothers were breastfeeding all over the place and boobs were popping in and out like nobody's business.

Quite a current resonance then.

I always felt she was up for more than just pushing a wheelbarrow round the streets of Dublin. These photos show just a few of the Mollys encapsulated in this one piece of street sculpture.

This lady could be mistress of one of those nearby Georgian Houses instead of delivering fish to the door.

Here she is in her new, temporary, location in Andrew Street, outside the church that now serves as a tourist office.

This is her most assertive pose. You can feel the steel, so to speak, and this is the one I used to give her a play at being Marianne for Delacroix.

But I'd prefer to leave you with this one which has an air of gentility and serenity about it.

The background is a building currently, and conveniently, being renovated in Suffolk Street.

Molly was sculpted by Dubliner Jeanne Rynhart.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Grand-aunt Ellen

NLI Catholic Parish Registers Home Page
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Full marks to The National Library of Ireland (NLI) for digitising their microfilm collection of Roman Catholic parish records. This will make a priceless resource available to a wider audience and all in the comfort of their own homes. And the service is still for free.

I would also like to compliment NLI on an earlier stand they took, in the face of possible hellfire and legal challenge, to release the records of those dioceses where the bishops, and one in particular, sought to limit or deny access to the filmed version of their records. I have recorded my own adventures in this saga elsewhere.

A tiny word of warning: while virtually all the parishes in the country appear on film there are a few exceptions. I don't know the reason for these. Perhaps the PP had a liver on the day. Don't despair, though, the chances are you can approach the parish office directly and you never know, it might turn out to be a well worthwhile visit. Mine did.

Exploring Murroe parish in East Limerick

Now that we have access to the digitised versions, don't think it will be all plain sailing. The clergy of the day were not uniform in the way they kept their records. In some churches, such as the pro-cathedral in Dublin, the information was entered into pre-printed templates in a ledger, and this is relatively easy to navigate. In other cases the registers are more like a child's scrawls in a copybook and it needs a very intensive effort to decode them. You may need to keep the aspirin or the panadol handy, particularly if you are searching for entries where you don't know the precise dates you're looking for.

Where you do know the date, the NLI have incorporated a very useful slider to zone in on it and they have also indicated, in a side box, the range of dates covered by the page on the screen. They have also included buttons to allow you to vary the brightness and contrast and so forth and you will very quickly see why these are a godsend.

Part of the two page spread per frame

It is important to remember that these records are not digitally searchable for names. The images have been digitised by the NLI but not transcribed.

The diocesan authorities have had transcriptions done (by FÁS and possibly for free) but these are retained by the diocesan heritage centres who charge a whack for pushing a search button and there is no guarantee that such searches are comprehensive. There are also some other providers who have compiled searchable data bases.

Even where you have the information from such transcriptions you may need to consult the originals, as I did, and this is where the great value of the images comes into play.

You will get an idea of what faces you from the image of part of a two page spread above (click on the image to enlarge).

Entry for Ellen, daughter of William Dwyer & Mary Maly/Haly

This is the bit of the page I was particularly interested in. It relates to 11 December 1844 and records the birth of Ellen Dwyer. Her parents are recorded in the diocesan transcription as William Dwyer and Mary Maly. However, the family I was trying to assemble had as their parents a William Dwyer and a Mary Haly (modern Healy). The Dwyer bit was straightforward: this is East Limerick on the borders of Tipperary which is Dwyer country. To the west of Murroe and deep into Limerick we have Maly (modern Malley) country. So the transcription was quite feasible and the transcriber was likely on his umpteenth Maly of the hour.

As above, cleaned up a bit

However, I wanted this woman for my family. Other than her mother's transcribed name she was a perfect fit for a missing piece from my family jigsaw. So I looked very carefully at the M in Maly. Could it have been a H. It certainly looked quite different from the M in what was clearly Mary. So what to do next?

Houlihan to the rescue

Well, I decided to see if I could find that shape elsewhere in a context where it might be clearly identified as a H. One small problem was to find sufficient other entries by the same flamboyant priest who entered the original. Finally I found it. H as in Houlihan. No question. She was mine. Grand-aunt Ellen.

And she's the one who, thirty-one years later, married James Meehan and their descendants are today living on the old homestead in Cappanahanagh.

So thank you National Library of Ireland, and, Bishop Clifford, may you choke on your porridge.

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