Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sepia Saturday #181: Bejewelled

When I viewed the inspiration image for this Sepia Saturday, I thought about those images which feature members of my family wearing jewellery, then I began to consider what it means to say something or someone is bejewelled. The Oxford English Dictionary defines bejewelled as follows:

adjective: adorned with or as if adorned with jewels.
verb: to adorn with or as if to adorn with jewels.

"As if adorned with jewels" is the part of the definition which sparked my imagination, and led me to think about some of the beautiful stained glass windows I have photographed in Ireland over the years. The colours which are often used in stained glass windows are what we might think of as jewel-toned, and when you see an array of beautiful windows in a church they certainly appear to be 'bejewelled' precious treasures.

So...for this Sepia Saturday, as my interpretation of bejewelled, I have chosen a few of my favourite stained glass windows found in churches around Ireland.

Be sure to stop by Alan and Kat's blog Sepia Saturday to see how others have been inspired by the theme, and perhaps you will be inspired too.

St. Patrick in stained glass from three different churches,
one each in Mayo, Dublin, and Mayo.
Left to right windows from Mayo, Dublin, and Mayo.
The Rosetta Window of St. Mary's Church, Westport, County Mayo.
A triad of windows dedicated by his children to the 1st Earl of Iveagh.
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
Another triad in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
A triad, with floating windows above, in The Black Abbey, County Kilkenny.
My favourite 'bejewelled' window in St. Patrick's Church Ringsend, Dublin,
the church in which my parents were married in 1954.

Click on images to view larger versions.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: The Admiral and the Death Coach

In Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin City, this extraordinary and intricately carved tombstone stands over the grave of Admiral Burton MacNamara and his wife Jane, Lady MacNamara. The heavily shrouded and perfectly crafted mooring post is replete with rope and an anchor.

The stone reads:

In Memory Of
Of Tromoro Co. Clare
Who Died 12th Decr. 1876
In his 83rd year

Also of
His Wife
Who Died 16th APRIL 1875

A rather curious story surrounds the death of Admiral Burton MacNamara. In Westropp’s Folklore Survey of County Clare, 1913, the following is recorded:

"On the night of December 11th, 1876, a servant of the MacNamaras was going his rounds at Ennistymon [the family home], a beautiful spot in a wooded glen, with a broad stream falling in a series of cascades. In the dark he heard the rumbling of wheels on the back avenue, and, knowing from the hour and place that no ‘mortal vehicle’ could be coming, concluded that it was the death coach and ran on, opening the gates before it. He had just time to open the third gate and throw himself on his face beside it, at the bank, before he ‘heard a coach go clanking past.’ It did not stop at the house, but passed on, and the sound died away. On the following day Admiral Sir Burton MacNamara suddenly died in London."

In Irish folklore of the 19th century, the appearance of the cóiste bodhar — The Death Coach — is a harbinger of sudden death. Manifestations of these death coaches have been described as black as night, and either highly stylized or very plain. They are said to be drawn by a team of ebony stallions without a driver on board to command their pace, or else driven by a headless coachman brandishing a huge whip to coax a gallop of breakneck speed. This ghostly vehicle, which appears only as a nighttime phenomenon, has been typically observed speeding toward, and then passing by, the residence of a person who is about to die.

Did a death coach serve as a harbinger of Admiral MacNamara's demise? Was it simply a coincidence that a speeding coach passed the MacNamara residence in the dead of night on the eve of the Master's death? One also has to wonder if the appearance of this omen of death was perhaps the result of the overactive imagination of a devoted servant.

Click on images to view larger versions.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: Harbingers of Death

Harbinger: noun: a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of something.

Although the Oxford English dictionary defines a harbinger as a person or thing that signals the approach of something, there is no mention made about the possibility of a supernatural component to the agent which bears the signal. When I first heard stories about harbingers in the history of our family, the stories often seemed to include supernatural elements. As a rational person it was easy for me to be skeptical; however, it is clear to me that for the people who experienced their individual event each one truly believed there was something supernatural in what happened to him/her. This is particularly true when it comes to harbingers of death.

According to family lore, just before a person dies a harbinger of death appears. This is a belief which was held by several members of my family such as my parents, and aunts and uncles on both sides of the family, including my paternal great-aunt Mollie, sister to my grandmother Anne Magee Geraghty. In the history of our family these forewarnings have manifested as a large black dog, a small white dove, a dreaded month on the calendar, and, most dramatically, a large fireball. Following the death of a beloved family member, you might also hear or see something which you would only associate with that individual.

In the biographical note to his father's memoir The Material for Victory, Laurence J. Kettle, the son of my great-great grandmother Mary's brother Andrew J. Kettle, writes of his father's dread of the month of September. Andrew believed the month portended the death of a family member. Mary and Andrew's mother Alice O'Kavanagh Kettle had died in the month of September, on the 24th day in the year 1855. Their father Thomas Kettle also died in that fateful month, on 22 September 1871, as did their brother Patrick, on 25 September 1894. Andrew's beloved son Thomas Michael Kettle was killed on the Somme on 9 September 1916, and Andrew J. himself died only 13 days later on 22 September 1916. It seems September was indeed a month which heralded death for the Kettle clan.

Ringsend Bridge over the River Dodder
Did the large black dog on the bridge portend a death?
In December of 1954 my paternal grandfather John Geraghty was very ill. My father and mother — Michael and Mary — had been married for just over four months, and were out for an evening together. At the end of their evening Michael and Mary decided to stop by her family home on Gordon Street in Dublin. They were walking across the Ringsend bridge over the Dodder river when toward them came an unattended large black dog walking very slowly. The dog crossed the road and passed them on the opposite side of the bridge. 

My father said for some reason he felt compelled to look at the dog. When he turned to see it, the dog had disappeared. Inexplicably in that moment my father instantly knew his father was dead. Michael told Mary they must go immediately to his family home. Upon their arrival they discovered his father John Geraghty had indeed passed away.

The white dove: a symbol of peace or a harbinger of death?
In February of 1963 when my maternal grandfather Patrick Ball died my parents were living in Canada. My mother said that in the morning on the day her father died she was standing in her kitchen drying the breakfast dishes. In the process of drawing the plates and cups from the drying rack, she reached for a china teacup. My mother said she was stopped in her tracks because there was a very small white dove inside the cup. Frightened, Mom ran to a neighbour's house, but wouldn't tell the neighbour what she thought she had seen, and why she was so frightened. That night my mother and father received news from Ireland that my mother's father Patrick had died.

One of my mother's deepest regrets over the loss of her father was, that over the almost six and a half years my mom had been living in Canada, she did not telephone her father very often nor write to him as often as she then felt she should have. Mom dearly wished she had taken the opportunity to tell her father how much she cherished him, and she wished she had had the chance to say goodbye to her dad before he passed away.

My mother told me that a couple of days after my grandfather died she was once again in her kitchen. This time Mom was preparing the evening meal. My father had not yet returned from work, yet my mom heard a male voice softly calling her name. 'Mary, Mary, Mary', it repeated to her. Suddenly Mom realized the voice she was hearing was that of her father. In this instance she did not feel frightened. Instead my mom felt her father had come to say goodbye to her. With tears of happiness in her eyes, she called out 'Goodbye Dad!' Mom said that although her words were met with silence, she fervently believed she had heard the voice of her father bidding her goodbye, and she felt very happy he had come to her.

Was there a ball of fire on the bridge that day?
On 26 March 1953 my paternal grandmother Anne 'Annie' Magee Geraghty was hospitalized for minor surgery. It was discovered she had undiagnosed diabetes, as well as a whole host of other very serious health problems. Annie died of cardiac and renal failure within hours of being admitted to hospital. Annie's sister, the late Mollie Magee Halpin, was on her way to the hospital to check on her sister when Mollie encountered a very strange harbinger of death. 

Molly said she was walking, again across a bridge, when from the opposite side she saw a large fireball rolling across the bridge toward her. She said she was frozen in her tracks and could do nothing other than turn away from the fire to protect herself. She swore she could feel the heat from the fireball as it passed her on the bridge. Mollie said that at that moment she felt with deep certainty her sister Annie had died. When Mollie arrived at the hospital her feeling of certainty was confirmed for her when she learned her sister Annie had indeed passed away.

Some may not agree that belief in harbingers of death is a sort of wisdom. However, one can surmise that if over the history of a person's life the deaths of members of his/her family are always preceded by these kinds of forewarning, then we might say a person had learned from his/her experience. Such learning might make him/her more intuitive, and such intuition may be said to be wisdom.

Are there any similar beliefs about harbingers of death in your family, or about 'visits' by deceased family members?

Thanks to The Graphics Fairy for the image of the dove.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday's Tip: An additional 2.5 million court registers added to

This morning I received the following press release from FindMyPast Ireland. If you have any ancestors who might have occasionally been on the wrong side of the law, stop by and have a look to see if any of their names appear in the Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers.

Press Release:

Over 2.5 million court registers added to

Records dating back as far as 1842

Leading Irish family history website has made an additional 2.5 million court records available to search online in its Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers 1828-1912 record set, which exposes the petty crimes Ireland’s residents committed and how they were punished.

The additions feature forty-four new courts in nineteen counties around Ireland. A further fifty-five courts have been supplemented with records from additional years. This brings the total Petty Sessions Court Registers on to over 12 million records.

Notable new courts that have been added are the Limerick City Children’s Court and two courts with pre-famine records – Moynalty, Co. Meath and Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. As well as that, for the first time, seven new courts from Co. Longford have been added, bringing online over a quarter of a million new records for the county. Also well represented with totally new courts are Laois (five) and Cork (four).

Being drunk in a public place, being drunk in charge of a cart, failure to pay rent and allowing livestock to wander on the road are among some of the most common misdemeanors that our ancestors found themselves in court for.  Although most defendants got away with a fine, the variety of cases heard gives a real flavour for life in Ireland at the time.

Cliona Weldon, General Manager of, says “We are really excited about this add-on to our Petty Sessions court records. As usual, the stories you can find in them really paint a picture of what life was like in towns and villages in Ireland at the time. From harrowing stories in the Limerick City Children’s Court to amusing ones in Longford’s seven new courts, there is something for everyone in there”.

New courts have been added to the following counties: Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Laois, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Westmeath.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sepia Saturday: A Traditional Irish Festival in Sepia

Every January for the last ten years, a traditional festival called Tradfest has taken hold of the Temple Bar neighbourhood, and the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. Ringed by the wrought iron fences of the Christ Church grounds, many beloved Irish traditions are on display, such as Irish dancing and children's choirs singing time-honoured Gaelic songs. Old time practices of farming life are also demonstrated, such as the hand milling of grain, the cutting of peat bricks, and the weaving of St. Brigid's crosses.

Also on the grounds are lots of lovely creatures, both human and animal, which you might find on a farm, such as Gentlewoman farmers dressed in traditional costume along with goats and lambs, turkeys and chickens, and even a donkey or two. These images which I shot this past January were originally in colour, but in the spirit of Sepia Saturday I have reproduced them here in sepia.

Be sure to stop by Alan and Kat's Sepia Saturday blog to see how others have interpreted today's inspiration image. Perhaps you'll be inspired too.

This gentle little donkey bore most of these peat bricks to the festival in the cart to which he is strapped.
A Gentlewoman farmer, dressed in traditional costume, with two of her furry charges.
Himself out walking his turkey.
Pouring himself a drop of poteen.
A traditional Gypsy caravan.
A sheepish smile for me? Wooly the sheep enjoys a bit of straw.
Click on images to view larger versions.
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