Friday, December 31, 2010

Did you ever just wake up and realize that you're happy?

Did you ever just wake up and realize that you're happy, really truly happy?

Sometimes, in our house, it seems as though each morning the whole year through involves waking up to the alarm, jumping out of bed, rushing to get everyone ready for the day, thinking about what has to get done, where you have to go, appointments you have to keep. At times it's exhausting just thinking about it.


Perhaps it is that this holiday time of year gets one thinking fully in the gratitude mode, but a couple of days ago I awoke very early in the morning, and just laid in bed for a few minutes listening to the sounds of my husband and our dogs purring softly in their sleep, listening to the sounds outside, the morning wind whistling through the trees. I laid there and realized just how happy I feel, and how grateful I am for that happiness. This is it. This is happiness, just being here in this life with the beings who are my family, both human and canine. Happiness underlies all; no matter what challenges we may face, challenges which at times may seem daunting, happiness is still there.

As the new year begins tomorrow, I wish for all of you this same feeling, Happiness for 2011.

Cheers and love to all!
Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Merry Christmas to All

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of our Family and Friends, and Friends we have not yet met! In whatever way you celebrate, may your holiday be filled with happiness and the makings of wonderful memories. Cheers! Jennifer

Nollaig Shona Dhuit*
Joyeux Noël
Καλά Χριστούγεννα
Feliz Navidad
Buon Natale
Gelukkige kerstdagen
Frohe Weihnachten
Счастливого рождества
Glædelig Jul
Hyvää Joulua
Boldog Karácsonyt
Maligayang Pasko

*(pronounced 'null-ig hun-a dit') is Irish Gaelic for Merry Christmas.
©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Those Places Thursday: Being grateful for this year which is almost past

Yesterday I was reminded by a very wise friend about the importance of looking back over this year and thinking about where I have been, what I have accomplished, the challenges I have faced, and those I have met along the way. In the past, as a year draws to its close, I have often been guilty of only looking ahead and thinking about "those places" I have not yet reached, whether they be in terms of actual physical travel, or tasks I want to begin, or to complete. By just looking ahead I fail to remember "those places" to which I have travelled in this past year.

Venturing to start this blog in March, and 'Over thy dead body' in May, are two of "those places" to which I have 'travelled', so to speak. I am very grateful for the adventures I've had on this blogging journey, both the good and the not so good. I am most truly grateful for the friends and family members I have met, and the people who have been touched by the stories I have so far uncovered about my family. No matter how you travel, important to remember life is a journey, not a destination.

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Sir Richard Griffith, Geologist, 1784-1878

If you have ever used Griffith's Valuation to aid you in your genealogical searches in Ireland, you will want to thank one of the men entombed in this family grave, Sir Richard Griffith.

In 1827 Richard John Griffith was appointed Chief Commissioner for valuation of lands in Ireland. He published a geological map of Ireland in 1839 and, following his 1850 appointment as chairman of the Board of Works, in 1854 he conducted a valuation of Irish property in every townland and parish. This work is widely known as Griffith's Valuation. A wealth of information gleaned from this valuation was used for the purposes of taxation, determination of election franchise, and regulation of spirit licences. In 1858 in recognition of the completion of this vast and complex project, Richard Griffith was knighted. Today, the information in this survey still proves to be a valuable tool for genealogists.

*Click on photographs to view larger version.
All materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A determined father keeps his family together

When my maternal grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball died in December of 1936, she left behind a devoted husband and seven children. Her death was devastating for her family, and her loss meant that her husband had to face some very difficult challenges, not the least of which was keeping his family intact; however, my grandfather Patrick Ball was a remarkable man who met this challenge head on.

Shortly after the death of his wife, Patrick Ball received a visit from the Sisters of Mercy, enquiring after the health of his children, and offering 'the option' of, at least temporarily, taking the children into a Catholic Children's Home. In a move which would have been very difficult for this deeply religious man, he expressly forbid the nuns from taking any of his children. Not to be deterred, the nuns returned a couple of weeks later, and on at least one occasion after that. He refused them entry, and in fact barred the Sisters from any future visits to the family home. This was a very risky move, given the power that the Catholic Church wielded in the period; however, Patrick Ball was determined that his children would not be separated from him.

Patrick hired a well respected local housekeeper/governess to care for his children, but while this met with the approval of the local church and school, the possibility of other 'visits' hung over his head for quite some time to come.

According to Section 58, subsection 1, of The Children's Act (Ireland) 1908, if it could "be construed that a parent [was] unable to support their children, the court will, with the parent's consent, remove the children from the [family] home, and place them in a certified industrial school". In Ireland many of these schools were operated by the Catholic Church. What the statute does not allude to is the influence wielded by the Church with respect to children who might be affected by this law. In the statute the definition of 'support' was a very fluid one. In the case of a widowed father with seven children, some members of the church community believed that, while he could 'support' them financially, such a man was by nature incapable of caring for his own children. Also, the term 'consent' does not speak to the fact that the Catholic Church might apply pressure to such a man, in order to encourage him to surrender his children. In the eyes of both the Irish State and the Catholic Church, in the period in question, a home with a widower, seven children, and no woman in the role of mother was unnatural.

There were also many relatives who wanted to adopt one or two of the children, but my grandfather was determined that his family would not be split up. He did make one concession in allowing his brother Christopher, and Christopher's wife May, to take his young baby into their home, but he absolutely would not even consider allowing them to adopt baby John.

Life was made even more difficult for my grandfather when the woman he had hired to care for his children left his employ. For a while the family went through a series of 'housekeepers', a term which makes my mother's eyes roll. It seems that many of those hired were well aware of the power of the Church, and recognized the precarious position of the family. These women took advantage of the situation and simply took money for very little work done in return. My mom remembers one in particular who had all of the children, down to the youngest daughter, cleaning the house and preparing the meals, while this woman took her leisure, smoking and chatting with friends in the garden, or taking naps. Eventually a more permanent solution had to be found, and it came in the person of Alice Fitzpatrick Ward, the widowed aunt of the late Mary Fitzpatrick Ball.

Alice had no children of her own. She moved in with the family in order to help raise the children, and make certain none of them would be taken away. Despite the fact that when she moved in Aunt Alice was close to 75 years old, and almost crippled from Rheumatoid Arthritis, she ensured that no one got out of line, as she ruled the roost with an iron fist. As the family grew and Alice's health worsened my mother was charged with the care of this woman, whom my mom both feared and respected. In the months before Alice was finally taken into care at Roebuck Castle, she was completely bedridden. My mother fondly recalls Aunt Alice's words to them on the day she had to be taken from their home. As they carried her down the stairs the old woman wept, as she observed how beautifully the children had kept the home while she was bedridden, and she told them how proud she was of all of them.

Whenever my mother speaks of her father it is always with great love, respect, and admiration for him as a man, and for the fact that he worked so hard to take care of his children, no matter what the obstacles. I now understand why my mom and her siblings were so devastated by his death. The same is true of Aunt Alice. Although Aunt Alice was mightily feared, my mother credits her presence as that which helped her father keep their family unit together.

*Click on photo to view larger version.
All Materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

NOTE: Although the Children's Act was amended in 1929 and 1941, the most significant change to the act followed the Irish Supreme Court ruling of 1955 in favour of an Irish single father named Desmond Doyle, who was fighting to have his children returned to him after he temporarily surrendered them to a Catholic Children's Home. The Supreme Court concluded that to deny a parent access to his/her children contravened the Irish Constitution. The film "Evelyn" presents a highly fictionalized account of the Doyle family's story.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday, almost: The Dunbrody, a famine ship

The ship in these photographs is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody built in 1845 in Quebec Canada by Thomas Hamilton Oliver, an Irish emigrant from County Derry. The Dunbrody was built to carry about 175 people; however, on one crossing, at the height of the Famine in 1847, she carried 313. Many of her passengers were the evicted tenants of Lord Fitzwilliam's Wicklow estates and Viscount de Vesci's Portlaoise estates.

The Dunbrody carried two classes of passengers - the cabin passenger who paid between £5 and £8, and the steerage passenger who paid between £3, 15 shillings and £4. This fare was the equivalent of about two months income for a tenant farmer in the 1840s. Just imagine leaving behind the life that you knew, and travelling on rough seas for up to 40 days in these close quarters, driven by the dream of a new, and hopefully better, life in Canada or the United States. For some the dream would never come true.

For more information, including a searchable Irish emigration database visit

A single bunk for an officer

The listed names are those who occupied these small spaces

*Click on photographs to view a larger version.
All materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Matrilineal Monday: A mother lost: Mary Fitzpatrick Ball

The image of the mark on her mother's face is forever emblazoned on my mother's brain. You can tell by the look in her eyes each time she talks about it, at exactly that moment, she is seeing the mark and remembering what followed from it. This loss had a impact so profound for my mom that I will never truly understand it. My mother describes the mark in precisely the same way each time she mentions it, and she gestures to show on her own face exactly where it was, followed always by the exhortation, "God Bless the mark". She says, "A slender purple line, with blue and grey behind it, going from here to just there", and I imagine the colours soft and smudged like those in a Monet pastel.

They say that women learn how to be mothers from their own mothers, but for my mother the lessons never took place, because she was only five years old when her mother died. Mary Angela Fitzpatrick Ball died of blood poisoning, the result of an infection at the site of a cut, possibly made by the very tiny fingernails of her young baby John.

My mother's memories are the memories of a five year old child. She does not recall the neighbourhood women coming to the house to prepare the body and lay out her mother in the bed Mary Ball shared with her husband for almost sixteen years. All of the mirrors were covered over with black crepe fabric, the death announcements were rimmed in black paper, and each man wore a black arm band on his sleeve, but these details are not recalled by my mother. Intellectually she knows each one of these rituals were a part of that day, but her memories are the emotional memories of a child.

There was a very pretty dress donned for the occasion; Mom does not recall its colour, only the white lace collar that felt slightly itchy against her skin. My mother and her sisters wore pristine white knee socks and black hornpipe shoes. She remembers the stilled faces of the adults, and their hushed conversation. She remembers standing on tip-toes with her sisters Bernadette and Kathleen, looking out the window each time the funeral cortege passed their house, as it ritually circled the block once, twice, three times. She remembers the muscular black horses, the steam emitting from their noses, the tall black plumes which crowned each of their heads, the sound their hooves made as they struck the cobbled pavement. For my mother these moments are locked in time.

My maternal grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball died 18 December 1936, seven days before Christmas. Penicillin, which could have saved her, was invented in 1928, a full eight years before her death, but it was not widely available, so she was not treated with it. When we talk about the loss of my grandmother I never mention how unfair it was, because somehow that detail seemed unimportant. Only the memories of this five year old girl matter.

Maria (pronounced Mariah) 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick was born 22 June 1894 in Swords, County Dublin, Ireland. She was the second born child, and the first born daughter, of Thomas Fitzpatrick and Maria Hynes Fitzpatrick. For almost sixteen years she was married to Patrick Ball, for whom she bore eight children. When she died Mary was 42 years old. Her youngest child John was less than a year old, and her youngest daughter Kathleen was two; neither one has any memory of her. Her eldest son Anthony had just turned thirteen.

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