This new lifestyle of semi-housebound lockdown allowed me the time I needed to categorise, tidy and then publish my extensive family tree research which had taken over five years to amass. Nowhere near completion, the 9,000 word 82 page document consists of a sizable amount of written notes, digital images, copies and originals of birth, death and marriage certificates. To complement this, I researched and collated primary and secondary source material in the form of poor law archives, newspaper articles and various military paperwork to help contextualise the documents with accurate and accountable social history.
Somebody’s got to do it!
My paternal clan originated in Galway, likely of traveller descent or of a settled status somewhere in the beauty of Connemara, given our surname: I’ve yet to fully pinpoint exactly where. The Irish in my maternal line were Catholics from Ballymoney and mostly of the servant class.
The paternal family line, which is the one most researched, were Glasgow rooted from 1880 onwards just in time for that new football and athletic coy formed in the Calton. My great great grandfather Bartholomew or Barth, Bartly and Barclay as he was sometimes known, was the origin migrant and an Irish Gaelic speaker according to the 1911 census data.
At aged twenty something, he was in Dale Street (now Tradeston St) of Tradeston before the bright lights of the Gorbals’ Portugal Street beckoned. All of which were a stone’s throw away from the Clyde which brought him in. By 1920 Barth and wife Delia, along with some of their 13 children were either Saltmarket, Calton or Gallowgate based.
They briefly flirted with the idea of moving to Montreal via the S.S. Sicilian, a migrant ship captained by a Mr. Freer, but they were back in the east end of Glasgow within the year. Thank goodness for that – no offence to Canada, but I love Glasgow with all my soul and cannot imagine anywhere else to call my home.
So, it was Galway to the Calton via the Gorbals – undoubtedly a journey made by thousands of many other Tims through the years.
I wonder how many who sit shoulder to shoulder at Cetic Park or who are packed, cheek by jowl, in Tim bars like the Tolbooth, The Old Govan Arms or The Brazen Head share similar histories but aren’t actually aware of it?
An Gorta Mor
Bartholomew, a cement worker and stone mason right into his 70s, must surely have frequented some of the Tim haunts mentioned above on at least one occasion. Moreover, with my Tim tinted specs firmly on, I like to imagine that he and his sons took part in the Brake Club and ‘away day’ culture of the early Tims too. Suited and booted in full regalia with God Bless Ireland blaring from someone’s accordion. A charabanc of characters and chancers no less!
Image taken from theshamrock.net
His father Patrick was born in the c1820 – 1830 period and, being of Galway stock, means that he was a survivor in one of the worst affected parts of Ireland during one of its darkest episodes – An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger). Christine Kinnealy, the founding director of the Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, writes what I regard as the most definitive account of An Gorta Mor in essay form within Joe Bradley’s ‘Celtic Mnded 4’. She writes that it was British imperial policy, fuelled by its ethnic outlook on the Irish Gael in particular as being inferior and defective in character, which turned a potato blight into a very avoidable humanitarian crisis. And is quoted in the New York Times (2014) as rightfully asserting,
“The whole British argument in the famine was that the poor are poor because of a character defect…it’s a dangerous, meanspirited and tired argument”
Empirically speaking, there are few better statistical accounts of the devastation caused by An Gorta Mor than the Relief Commissioners Map of 1847 (taken from The Ireland Story) shown below. The worst affected regions are the darker ones – all are to be found in the west and south west regions of 19thC Ireland. The more dark the area is, the more rations were taken up in an attempt to simply stay alive. These were also the areas which experienced high levels of forced evictions during the Hunger – evictions mostly on British and Irish absentee landlord soil. The significance of capitalistic landlordism and the ways in which it exacerbated the Hunger in these parts of Ireland is made very clear by The Glasgow Sentinel who reported in 1851 that,
‘…landlordism had long reduced the people of that country (Ireland) to almost exclusive dependence upon that root (potato)…the ravages of disease among a people, enfeebled by subsisting upon innutritious and scanty diet were, in like manner, equally traceable to the monopoly of the soil by a selfish and dominant class…the people of Ireland found no resting place for the soles of their feet in their native land. The landlords had appropriated it all…Famine, pestilence and expatriation, were merely different methods of executing the behests of landlordism’
(The Glasgow Sentinel, 19/07/1851, Pg. 7)
My 3x great grandfather’s Galway lies in one of the darkest shades of red. He was one of those ‘native souls’ who had no soil to call his own.
It’s true to say that the politicised Tim is amongst the most learned of the Scottish population with regards to the Hunger and the capitalist and ethnically charged policies which prioritised profit and helped to prolong it.
These types of Tims know the general stats, the dominant narratives and the scale of the collective denial which many Scots shamelessly partake in.
Our History is Very Much in the Present
But when you find out that your own kin were actually there, it’s true to say that this has an altogether more powerful impact on the self and the soul.
Knowing what they must have seen, endured and eventually survived, provided a real sense of context and clarity to any of the ‘major’ dramas which I was currently grappling with.
All such ills quickly eased up as I realised that these were the smallest of things when placed next to the hardship and genuine misery experienced by Patrick and his wife, my great, great, great grandmother Anne SanLedger (St Leger).
When such a family history is discovered it feels very auto-biographical. And this despite the fact that I wasn’t actually there. It is somehow tangible to me as a 21stC citizen of Scotland, even though it happened 150 years ago in Ireland. Because I know as definitively as I could know that my blood was there, I am therefore a part of it and Ireland’s An Gorta Mor is forever a part of me.
I may just be an untouched piece of peripheral fibre at the edge of its dark tapestry of pain which eventually caused a starving for life among millions – but I am there and it is part of me nonetheless.
If you have the chance and the means to do so, I encourage you to have a look into your own genealogical history. Although it can be a hefty investment both personally and financially, it is surely worth it. Asylums, prisoners, unmarked graves, First World War medals and a great deal more was uncovered as I got to grips with my own family heritage.
For those of you who have an Irish history, the following sites are of tremendous help and are all completely free, thanks to the Irish government’s embracing of Heritage Tourism.
Catholic Baptism/Marriage records – original and handwritten, organised by county.
Access to Church, Census (limited) and Civil Records of Ireland from the 18thC
This very readable article in The Irish Times gives a good outline of the free sources to use in order to trace your hibernia heritage