Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Family History Gleaned from the 1911 Census

Like many others, I've been having some fun searching the 1911 census, which the National Archives in Dublin have just put online. I've done a bit of detective work seeking out the Becketts of Foxrock (or Ballybrack, as the census has it - the four-year-old Sam, it seems, was as of yet unlettered); what remained of the Joyces living out an impecunious existence at 20 Gardiner's Place; Eamonn Ceannt, one of the more easily traceable of the signatories to the Proclamation, at that time living in the shadow of the prison where he would be executed five years later; a young Christy Ring; An Craoibhín Aoibheann, and future President Douglas Hyde, and an infant Francis Bacon. A lot more work is needed to dredge up some of the other luminaries of the day or the future, given the commonness of surnames and, especially, Christian names, not to mention the difficulty of determining people's movements on the night of the 2nd of April of that year.

But often the more interesting stories are closer to home, and I had little difficulty finding my paternal family, seeing as they remained in the same house for another half-century and the family name is not terribly common (finding my mother's family, Gallaghers from Donegal, was a good deal more onerous). There were nine people present in the house that night, six members of the family and three lodgers. The head of the family was Maggie Farry, widowed at the age of 45. She had five children, aged from 5 to 16, all but the youngest were literate. She held the family pub and shop, which my grandfather Bernard (Bertie) would later run until his death in 1956. Maggie managed to combine intense Catholic bigotry (her sons once played a trick on her by pretending a church they had stopped into on a journey home one day was a Protestant one, causing her no end of pain) with a loyalty to the British crown (the second son was named John Albert after the late Prince Consort). Though, according to my father, later in life she developed a hostility towards the crown, which allowed her to turn a blind eye when her sons Albert and Bertie joined the Irish Volunteers. Maggie was also a bit of a snob, naming her children Bernard Agustine, Leo Tynation and Thomas Alphonsas (though Alphonsas was not unknown in the devout Ireland of the day and my own uncle was later named Alphonso).

The family, like most Irish, went their separate ways - Alphonsas (Al) went to New York and later Chicago. Albert lingered in Ballymote for a couple of decades after losing his job at the local creamery for backing the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War (like the rest of the family). His vaguely leftwing views later mutated into admiration for the Nazis (my father claims Albert had official Nazi party literature in his bedroom during the war) though this was driven more by an intense Anglophobia than out of any real ideological persuasion. He was probably naive and ignorant due to his isolation in the inter-war period; he spent the last two decades of his life in England, of all places, dying just as the outbreak of the Troubles may have landed the ageing Republican in prison for recrudescent activity. My grandfather took on the family pub and shop and was a founder member of Fianna Fáil and was elected county councillor in 1944. In 1938 he went bankrupt as his toeing the party line forced him to extend ruinous credit to farmers and party supporters at the height of the Economic War.

I never met any of the nine people listed as being in the house that night. All family members (bar Al) were dead by the time I was born. I was struck by the name of one of the three lodgers. I knew that the family took on lodgers and many of them were RIC men, which provided convenient cover for the house to be used as a safe house during the War of Independence.* But one of the lodgers that night was a Jewish Russian emigré by the same of Solomon Malamed who had the vague profession of 'wholesale marine dealer'. I had never known the family housed a lodger of such exotic provenance, though there's really no reason why I should as he may have stayed as little as a week or two. I'm not sure if my great-grandmother's strident Catholicism allowed her to look kindly on a member of the tribe of Israel, especially given the anti-semitism of the Church at the time, though business was probably looked on as business. Mr Malamed, two years later welcomed into the world a daughter, Yetta, who would later grow up to be a thorn in the side of the Apartheid regime as a prominent South African Communist, being charged with treason in December 1956, the same week my grandfather, young as the century, died at the age of 56. Yetta Barenblatt lived to see the fall of apartheid and died ten years ago in Johannesberg. It would have been nice had she met Albert, whom she might have managed to make see reason.

*Or rather it served as a clearing house, to temporarily shelter Volunteers after guerrilla attacks in the village. The lodgers, including the RIC men, stayed in a smaller annexe next door, so people could pass through the house without much notice.

The Farry family declaration for the 1911 census

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