Monthly Archives: April 2011

From the Fields of Athenry to Bondi Beach

In researching the Derryveagh Evictions for an earlier post, I happened on an exhibition entitled ‘Not Just Ned: A true story of the Irish in Australia‘, hosted by  the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Australia has been a destination for the Irish diaspora for centuries. While the circumstances of the migrations have changed down the ages, Australia continues to absorb thousands of Irish emigrants.

A sign on a bridge in Dorset threatening transportation for life. Picture from Wiki Media Commons

Ned Kelly of the exhibition title, is regarded either as an outlaw or as a folk hero who defied the ruling class in colonial Australia. He perished at the end of a rope in 1880 at the age of 25. He was the son of an Irish convict father, John Kelly from Tipperary, who was sentenced to 7 years deportation either for stealing 2 pigs or for being a patriot, depending on which source appeals most, as his trial records have not survived from that time.

The transportation of convicts to Australia is something we in Ireland are familiar with – and why wouldn’t we be ?!  Don’t we sing our anthem, ‘The Fields of Athenry’ till our hearts almost burst, at soccer internationals and at rugby matches, to remind ourselves and our foes about poor fictional  ‘Michael’ , transported to Botany Bay because he…….” stole Trevelyan’s corn, so the young might see the morn? ”. However, not all convicts were male. Children as young as 12, and women were also sent into exile, and in addition, many young children were transported with their mothers. The receiving authorities in Australia complained that the women and female child convicts were arriving unskilled and they were of no use to the settler population. In response a facility was set up in Dublin whereby females were upskilled in needlework, laundry, cooking and knitting , so enabling them to become valuable servants on arrival in Australia. In all some 30,000 Irish men and 9,000 Irish women were sentenced to transportation  ‘across the seas’.

Australia was hungry for people to help it grow as a nation, and Ireland could offer many wretched groups who were in dire circumstances. Between 1848 and 1850 11 shiploads of ‘Famine orphans’ were sent over to Sydney. These girls were mostly teenagers, aged 14 to 19 and most ended up in service. Many were indeed orphans and one wonders what their thoughts were, having lost their parents to hunger, then finding themselves on a voyage across the sea that lasted for some 3 months. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Donegal Relief Fund had been set up in Australia in 1858 for the assistance of people from Donegal who were in dire circumstances and many, including the younger members of the Derryveagh evicted families, left these shores for new opportunities in Australia in the years to 1862.

Drawing of Migrants arriving in Australia about 1885 . From a digitized image by State Library of Queensland.

Voluntary emigration from Ireland increased in the middle of the 19th century when many went to make their fortune in the Australian Gold Rush.  There was an added bonus that it also helped them escape the oppression of  British rule at home. Assisted immigration schemes were then set up by the Australian government which resulted in a huge influx of settlers from all over the world, including Ireland.  By the mid 1940’s it is estimated that a third  of the population of Australia was Irish Australian.

Government assisted passages continued after World War 2 until  the mid 20th Century and were offered as a means of providing a labour force for Australia’s emerging industries as well as increasing the population.  This resulted in one of the largest mass migrations ever from Europe. The so-called  ‘ten pound poms’ were British subjects, including Irish  born prior to 1949, who paid a fare of £10 per adult with children travelling free. Employment, housing and a good lifestyle were promised upon arrival.

In the 2006 Australian census, 51,256 stated that they were born in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million claimed some Irish ancestry.

Australia continues to be a magnet for great numbers of young Irish – whether as backpackers on a gap year, in search of  the surf on Bondi Beach or regrettably, as economic migrants who are once again forced from these shores in search of a better life. While some are happy to go, many more would prefer to have options other than to have to go ‘across the seas’.

References

National Museum of Australia : Not Just Ned, a history of the Irish in Australia. See more here

The Fields of Athenry Lyrics

The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition: Edward (Ned) Kelly 1855- 1880. See more here

Sources in the National Archives for research into the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia (1791-1853) by Rena Lohan. National Archives of Ireland 

Irish Famine Memorial website:   Famine Orphan Girl Ships to New South Wales. irishfaminememorial.org

Irish in Australia essay by Richard Reid, Curator National Museum of Australia accessed here

The Ten Pound Poms  article on Wikipedia accessed here

Wikipedia: The Irish Diaspora Census statistics 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Family History, Irish Australian, Irish Convicts, Irish Diaspora, Transportation

The Titanic: A Night to Remember in Mayo

An artists impression of the Titanic Sinking. Image from commons.wikimedia.

On the afternoon of Thursday April 11th 1912, the RMS Titanic weighed anchor just off  Cobh – then Queenstown- County  Cork, Ireland, and set sail for America. On board were many people leaving Ireland in search of a better future. Included in their numbers were a group of 14 men and women from the County Mayo parish of Addergoole, on the shores of Lough Conn.

The weather was fine and the voyage went smoothly for the first few days. By Sunday April 14th, the Titanic had travelled some 1,400 miles and was east of New Foundland. Most passengers were asleep when, at 20 minutes before midnight, she struck an iceberg that ripped a 300 feet long gash in her side.

Shortly after midnight on Monday April 15th the order was given to prepare the lifeboats.  At this point, hundreds of the estimated 2,207 people on board were already doomed as the total lifeboat capacity was estimated at 1,178.  At 12. 25 am the order was given to load the lifeboats with women and children, and by 1.15 am, 7 had been lowered.

An eyewitness report :  ‘They called out three times in a loud voice:  ”Are there any more women before this boat goes?” And there was no answer. Mr Murdoch called out, and at that moment a female came up whom he did not recognize. Mr Ismay said: ”Come along, jump in.” She said: ”I am only a stewardess.” He said: ”Never mind – you are a woman; take your place.”

The ship began to list and was tilted steeply when the last boat containing 44 people was lowered at 2 am. Hundreds of people were still on the deck as the water got higher and higher. The ship’s orchestra played ‘Nearer My God to Thee’.  This is sometimes thought to be a romantic invention but, in a book of eyewitness accounts, several survivors and members of the crew attest to hearing the orchestra playing ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ as the lifeboats pulled away.

The stern  lifted out of the water and at 2.18 am the lights flickered and went out. By 2.20 am, the Titanic was almost perpendicular in the water and she slipped into the icy depths.  One eyewitness recounted: ‘After she reached an angle of 60 degrees, there was a rumbling sound, which he attributed to the boilers leaving their beds and crashing down. Finally she attained an absolute perpendicular position and then went slowly down’

An estimated 1,522 people lost their lives.

Included in their number were 11 of the hopeful emigrants from Addergoole:

John Bourke and his pregnant wife Catherine

John’s sister, Mary

Nora Fleming

Mary Mangan

James Flynn

Delia Mahon

Pat Canavan

Bridget Donoghue

Catherine McGowan

Mary Canavan

Three of the women who had left Addergoole just days earlier were among the 700 who survived. They were  Annie Kate Kelly, Delia McDermott and Annie McGowan.

The Lahardane Bell. Picture courtesy of Addergoole Titanic Society

At Lahardane Church there is a bell that is used in an annual commemoration of the people from Addergoole  who were on the ill-fated Titanic. On the 15th of April each year between 2 am and 3 am, they remember their kinsfolk. At 2.20 am, the bell tolls  slowly in memory of those who were lost. The tolling is followed by jubilant ringing in celebration of the three lives saved in this terrible tragedy. Each year, in the still of the night, the bell’s lonely toll and joyful rings resound across the lonely landscape of Mayo.  It is then silent until the following year. Many of the bell ringers are family members of those who left their community 99 years ago.

This is a unique and very moving tribute to the lost members of this community, and to those who survived. The 15th of April is indeed their ‘Night to Remember’.

References

Beesley, L. Gracie, A. Lightoller,Bride, H,  1960. The Story of The Titanic as told by its survivors.   Jack Winocaur, Ed. Dover  Publications . Accessed at Google Books

Addergoole Titanic Society

5 Comments

Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Mayo Emigrants, Oral History

Derryveagh Evictions III: The Scattering

The 10th of April 1861 was the third day of the brutal evictions ordered by the cruel landlord John George Adair, on his estate at Derryveagh, Co Donegal. By 2 o’clock in the afternoon of that day, the work was done. The Deputy Sheriff, Crookshank, and his 200 men had changed the landscape and changed the lives of a group of unfortunate and powerless people who were already living in hardship. Liam Dolan in his ‘Land War and Evictions in Derryveagh’ states:

”By two, Wednesday afternoon, the terrible work had been accomplished and a deathly silence fell over the whole area”.

This third post in the series marking the 150th anniversary of the Derryveagh evictions looks at the fate of the dispossessed.

A Derryveagh Family- From an article by Paul J Mc Geady, Donegal Genealogy Resources.

The names of these people and the townlands where they lived, live on in lists. Unfortunately as there are differences in family names and numbers in particular townlands, it is hard to know which list is the definitive one. However, at the end of this post, I have included the names of the families and the townlands, according to one such list, from the Londonderry Standard.

So what became of these unfortunate families? Where did they end up?

Records from the Workhouse in Letterkenny list the people who went there and provide information on their occupations, their townland of origin and their date of entry. Many of these would have left the workhouse when their prospects changed – if work became available, to go to live with relatives, or perhaps to emigrate.

Others who had been offered temporary shelter, in Cloughaneely for example, may well have stayed in the area, as perhaps would those who found shelter with relatives and friends. May McClintock suggests in her publication that many may have indeed stayed in the general area, around Creeslough, Glendowan and Churchill.

A third tranche, mostly younger people, and many probably children of the people evicted, took advantage of the Donegal Relief  Committee Fund and availed of assisted passage to Australia. The Donegal Relief  Fund had been set up in Australia in 1858  for the assistance of people from Donegal who were in dire circumstances. The geography of the county in the bleak and cold north west with its barren, mountainous terrain, together with the decision by land owners to end the practice of allowing tenants to graze their sheep on the upper slopes in summer, gave rise to an annual famine lasting about three months. Following supplications from the local clergy in Donegal, the Donegal Relief Committee in Australia raised funds to help with immigration. The relief fund appears to have operated from 1858 when large numbers of people from Gweedore, Cloughaneely and Tory Island availed of the opportunity for a new life ‘down under’. Following the Derryveagh evictions, new pleas for help were made by the local clergy with the result that many young people had an opportunity to leave for a new life in Australia. And so in January 1862, 143 persons from Derryveagh joined 130 Gweedore people who departed Plymouth on a sea voyage of 3 months or more. That more family members  left Ireland is a certainty. England and Scotland were close to home and were accessible relatively cheaply. It is known that many went to Australia, some ended up in New Zealand and a number also went to America. The nature of the records at the time – where addresses recorded on ships lists often state the county of origin and not the townland, together with the preponderance of similar family and first names provide a challenge for researchers.

One researcher in particular stands out in the telling of the story and tracing of the families of Derryveagh. She is Lindel Buckley, a direct descendant of a family from Glendowan. Her great great grandmother who lived in Stramore, just to the south west of Altnadogue, and whose sister had married a Sweeney from Derryveagh, emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s. Lindel has located and transcribed hundreds of  historical records from Donegal and of relevance to Donegal, and has made them available without charge on her website Donegal Genealogy Resources. Her extraordinary compilation has been and continues to be an inspiration to many. Through her work and her enthusiasm, she is one of the people who keep the Derryveagh story alive.

A new book, written by local school teacher Christy Gillespie and his pupils, documents the personal stories of the people who were evicted in Derryveagh and was launched last Saturday by the Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Bruce Davis and the local historian May McClintock. Aptly named “A Deathly Silence” this new book will hopefully interest a new generation and give  new insights into the people who are the key figures in this story,the people of Derryveagh.

THE  DERRYVEAGH PEOPLE BY TOWNLAND

BINGORMS

Hanna M’Award (Widow) and 7 children. – evicted and house levelled.

Joseph M’Cormack, wife and 5 children – restored to possession as caretaker.

ALTNADOGUE

Hugh Sweeney ( Widower) and 2 sons – evicted and house locked.

James Sweeney, wife and 8 children- evicted and house locked.

Owen Sweeney, wife, mother and 8 children – evicted and house locked.

MAGHERNASHANGAN

James M’Monagle, wife and 6 children- readmitted as tenant until November.

John Brady, wife and 5 children- readmitted as weekly tenant.

Francis Bradley, wife and 5 children -readmitted as weekly tenant.

Patrick Bradley, wife and 4 children -evicted and house levelled.

John and Fanny Bradley, a brother and sister, both deaf and dumb – allowed to retain possession.

Roger O’Flanigan, wife, brother, mother and 4 children- evicted and house levelled.

James Gallagher, wife and 7 children – evicted and house levelled.

SLOGHALL (STAGHALL?)

Daniel Friel, wife, mother, brother, and 1 child- evicted.

William M’Award, wife and 2 children- evicted and house levelled.

James Doherty, wife and 1 child- evicted and house levelled.

James Lawn, wife and 9 children – readmitted as tenant until November.

CLAGGAN

John Bradley, wife and 3 children – evicted and house levelled.

Michael Bradley, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled.

Catherine Conaghan (Widow), sister in law, brother in law, and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

WARRENTOWN

Edward Coyle,wife and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Knocker Friel, wife and 6 children – evicted and house levelled.

Knocker Kelly and two servants – evicted and house levelled.

William Armstrong (Widower), and 3 children-evicted and house levelled.

Rose Dermot, Orphan – evicted and house levelled.

ARDARTUR

Daniel M’Award, wife and 6 children- evicted and house levelled.

Charles Doohan, wife, son and  2 grandchildren – evicted and house levelled.

William Doohan, wife and 4 children- evicted and house levelled.

John Doohan, wife and 5 children -evicted and house levelled.

Connell Doohan, wife – retained as weekly tenants.

Patrick Curran, wife and 5 children – evicted and house levelled.

DRUMNALIFFERNEY

Owen M’Award, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled

Mary M’Award (Widow) and 3 children -evicted and house levelled.

CASTLETOWN

Bryan Doherty (Widower), mother, sister and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Hugh Coll, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled.

Patrick Devenney, wife and 2 children -evicted and house levelled.

John Friel, wife and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

Michael Friel and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Robert Burke, wife – evicted and house levelled.

Charles Callaghan- evicted and house levelled.

John Moore, wife and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

Manus Rodden, brother and two sisters – orphans- evicted and house levelled.

Bernard Callaghan, mother and brother – evicted and house levelled.

SHREEHAGANON (SRUHANGARROW?)

Edward Sweeney and 3 children – evicted and house levelled.

Daniel Doherty, wife, father and 2 children -evicted and house levelled.

Bryan Doherty, wife and 4 children-evicted and house levelled.

– From the Londonderry Standard, Glenveagh, April 10th 1861.

References:

Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.

McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Families evicted from Derryveagh

Donegal Relief Fund- Australia. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources



14 Comments

Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish_American, Oral History, Social Justice

Derryveagh Evictions II: Shattered Hearths

On April 9th 1861, the second day of the Derryveagh Evictions, the Deputy Sheriff and his 200 men, armed with battering rams and crowbars made their way through the townlands of Derryveagh. Their purpose was to clear the land of men, women and children to make way for the flocks of sheep that landlord John George Adair had imported from Scotland. Convinced that one of his stewards had been murdered by his tenants, and vexed that the murderers had not been identified by police, he set in train a legal process to evict all of them from his lands.

The townlands of Derryveagh where the evictions took place. Click to enlarge. Compiled from Historic and OSI maps - With many thanks to Sara Nylund.

 

 

According to the official report, 37 Husbands, 35 Wives, 159 Children and 13 ‘Other Inmates’ were evicted – a total of 244 people. Of these, 31 people, representing 4 families, were readmitted into possession as tenants, and a further 28 people, representing 6 families, were readmitted into possession as caretakers. These numbers include children. Eventually however, only 3 of these families were permanently reinstated, the rest were removed in the months after the main evictions. In Derryveagh, on those 3 terrible days, 28 of the 46 houses were either levelled or had the roof removed.

Accounts of the evictions and the effects on the families concerned make for harrowing reading. The first house to be levelled was that of a 60-year-old widow, Hanna Ward (Award), her 6 daughters and one son. Eyewitness accounts tell of the wailing and deep distress as they were forced from their home. When the ‘crowbar brigade’ began to demolish the house, the family ”became frantic with despair, throwing themselves to the ground; their terrifying cries resounding along the mountains for many miles”. It was said that ”those who witnessed their agony will never forget the sight”. This scene was repeated over and over again during the following few days. It was reported that the scenes were so harrowing that the policemen carrying out the evictions were moved to tears. In one house, an elderly man was repeatedly told by the sheriff to leave the house, and “the old man in doing so, kissed the walls of his house and each member of his family did the same”. There was no regard for individual circumstances  – no mercy was shown to Rose Dermott, an orphan, whose house was levelled just the same as those of 3 of her close neighbours, although a brother and sister who were both deaf and dumb had their house spared.

Such unimaginable terror was in itself bad enough, but the evicted families and their children had to find someplace to live. In the townland of Altnadogue for example, three Sweeney families with 18 children between them, were locked out of their homes. They moved to nearby Glendowan, away from Adair lands, and built sod houses for themselves. Hearing of the evictions, people in nearby Cloughaneely provided temporary shelter for some of the families. One family in Staghall, a man his wife and two children,were found to still be living in the ruins of their house some time later. The family had lived there for generations. A further group of five men were discovered huddled around a fire with no shelter as they were unwilling to move away. A month after the evictions, 14 families were still unaccounted for or were wandering through the ruins of their homes.

Six families found shelter with or near to, relatives and friends, but 13 families had to take refuge in the Workhouse in Letterkenny. In the Workhouse it was reported that the Derryveagh people sat in a huddle weeping, and were so distressed that they were unable to eat. The elderly John Doherty of Castletown died only days after being admitted to the Workhouse and Michael Bradley is said to have gone insane.

News of the evictions and the desperate plight of the dispossessed reached Irish people across the world. In Dublin, in France and in Australia  money was collected. The Donegal Relief Committee assisted young people from Derryveagh in making new lives in Australia. On January 18th 1862, emotional and heart-rending scenes once again broke the hearts of the people of Derryveagh as parents and friends bade farewell to 68 young men, 70 young women and a young married couple with their 2 small children, as they left Derryveagh forever on the long journey to Australia, probably never to return.

Over the next few years, many mostly young people emigrated from this locality – they headed to America, to Australia, to New Zealand.

References:

Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.

McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Official Statistic Report of the Evictions

Donegal Relief Fund- Australia. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources

2 Comments

Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora

Derryveagh Evictions I: Shattered Homes, Shattered Lives

April 8th 1861,150 years ago, marked the beginning of three days of terror for tenant farmers and their families in a beautiful scenic part of Co Donegal. By April 10th, 85 adults and 159 children had been evicted from their homes by their landlord, John George Adair. In this,the first of 3 posts to commemorate the evictions, I will look at the circumstances leading up to the event itself.

John George Adair hailed from Co. Laois (then Queen’s County) and was a land speculator who purchased land all over Ireland, including Tipperary, Kilkenny and Laois. His family had been engaged in managing estates for absentee landlords and as a result, made enough money to acquire property of their own. John George Adair married a wealthy widow in the USA and in 1857 he began to buy up property in Donegal. By 1859 Adair was landlord of the Glenveagh, Gartan and Derryveagh estates and had hunting rights on some adjoining estates, in a barren but spectacularly beautiful part of  County Donegal.

Donegal,Ireland and location of Evictions

He imported great numbers of  sheep from Scotland together with Scottish shepherds to tend them. Some of these shepherds were men of dubious repute. His near neighbour, Lord George Hill, had acted similarly on his Gweedore estate lands, and that resulted in great unrest among the tenants who were  fearful that their mountain pastures and small strips of land would be confiscated to make way for the grazing of sheep. So too, on the Adair estates, the tenants were fearful of losing their tenancies to make way  for sheep.

The relationship between Adair and his tenants was fraught right from the beginning. He was a quarrelsome and deeply suspicious man; there were confrontations  about  straying animals and at one point he was convinced that he was the victim of a deliberate arson attempt, when in reality a fire was started accidentally in the house in which he was living. He generally treated his tenants with disparagement.

In January 1860, he served notice to quit on his Derryveagh tenants, with a view to ‘rearranging the holdings’. In November 1860 however, all the tenants were left in place with no evictions. But, just two weeks later, one of Adair’s Scottish shepherds – a man named Murray – was murdered and Adair suspected that he had been killed by one or more of the tenants. When the police failed to find the murderer, Adair decided that all of his tenants would be evicted for harbouring the wrongdoer. They were served with summonses and by the beginning of April he had obtained a decree for the repossession of his lands in Derryveagh, in an area near Gartan Lough.

Gartan Lough, the general area of the clearances. Photo courtesy of Petie McGee.

A posse of some 200 police and the Deputy Sheriff marched into the Derryveagh valley on the morning of April 8th, to begin the evictions. According to press reports at the time, there were harrowing scenes as the misfortunates were dragged from their homes by a ‘crowbar brigade’. Battering rams were used to drive holes in the walls and in some cases to demolish the buildings altogether. At the end of 3 days, 244 people from 47 families, had been evicted from 46 houses, and 28 of those houses were either totally destroyed or de-roofed.

Evictions were  relatively common in Ireland up to the 1850s, with 45,000 families dispossessed between 1845 and 1853. By 1861 evictions were usually confined to people who were troublesome or in rent arrears, but there was still an astonishing number of people removed from their homes. In 1863 for example, 1,522 families were evicted in Ireland and in 1864 the number was 1,590. Mass evictions however, such as those in Derryveagh were unusual. Tenants faced with eviction would normally (in Ulster at least) be allowed to sell the tenant-right to their plot of land, giving them some money when they were put on the road. This did not happen in Derryveagh.

The Derryveagh evictions caused widespread dismay. They were debated in Parliament; they were discussed and dissected in the newspapers of the time; they were the subject of correspondence between Adair and the Irish parliament, his estate management was investigated by the police. All of this was of no help to the hapless and unfortunate people who lost their homes.

John George Adair went on to build Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh, some miles from the area of the evictions. He died in the USA in 1885. The Glenveagh Estate and Castle are now in the ownership of the People of Ireland, thanks to one of the subsequent owners of Adair’s lands, Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia, whose father was born some miles away. As I was growing up nearby, it was said that Henry McIlhenny was a descendant of an evicted Derryveagh family. He was not, but it was a good story! I like to think though that that this beautiful estate is in the care of the people of Ireland to honour those who were evicted. It is indirectly in the ownership of their descendants, wherever they may be, for they are scattered all over the world  – in Ireland, England, Canada, the United States of America, Australia and beyond.

The next post in this short series to mark the 150th anniversary of the Derryveagh Evictions will take a closer look at the the men, women and children evicted from their homes on those fateful days in April 1861.

References:

McGeady, Paul J. The Derryveagh Evictions. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Family History Ireland a blog by Darren McGettigan

Glenveagh National Park

9 Comments

Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Living in Ireland, Oral History, Social Change, Social Justice

Mothering Sunday: Ireland’s Mother’s Day

”Mother’s Day’ is not an invention of Hallmark cards, but in fact has its roots in ancient history. In Ireland, as in the UK, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the 4th Sunday in Lent. In other parts of the world it is usually celebrated in March, April or May.

Celebrations of motherhood can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks held a spring festival dedicated to Rhea, the mother of the Greek Gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. They also celebrated the  Festival  of Cybele, Mother of The Gods, at the time of the March  equinox and this was later adopted by Romans who celebrated it around the Ides of March ( March 15th  to 18th). Also in ancient Roman religion there is mention of the Matronalia when women got gifts from their husbands and daughters, husbands were expected to offer prayers for their wives and slaves were given a day off work.

Several Christian denominations, including Anglican and Catholic, celebrate Mothering Sunday. It falls approximately mid Lent, on Laetare Sunday (‘Laetare’ means ‘Rejoice’). On this day, there was a relaxation in the austerity of Lent. In Elizabethan times, girls who had been hired out as servants  were given a holiday in the middle of Lent, so that they might visit their families. In the 16th century there was a practice of returning to the ‘mother church’ (the main church of the area), which meant that children in service would be reunited with families on that day. To prove their new-found cooking skills, they brought home a gift of a ‘Mothering’ or ‘Simnel’* cake.  Dairymaids or laundrymaids who had no cooking skills, would often be presented with a  ‘mothering cake’  by a sweetheart.

The Lenten fast was at that time very rigorous, so the cake was made with a rich mixture so that it would keep until Easter. They also picked wildflowers for their mothers as they made their way home and the wild violet became a traditional gift for mothers.

The tradition of Mothering Sunday gradually died away over the decades. It is said to have been revived by visiting  American and Canadian soldiers who celebrated Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. The celebration was indeed revived but the original day – the fourth Sunday in Lent – was retained in these islands. Our Mothering Sunday has now become Mother’s Day, but call it what you will, it remains a day to celebrate motherhood in general and your mother in particular.

Happy Mothering Sunday to all mothers!

* I have an old recipe for Simnel cake. If anyone would like to have it, please email me.

4 Comments

Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland