Sliabh Aughty Journal No. 18 2022 Edition
McNamara's, Scariff, Co. Clare, Friday 23 Sep 2022, 9pm
Tá áthas orm labhairt libh anocht maidir leis an foilseachán iontach
nua seo, Sliabh Aughty Journal uimhir a h-ocht déag.
The Sliabh Aughty journal and East Clare Heritage had already been
on the go for fourteen years when I first came to live in East
Clare, or technically speaking just across the bridge in Ballina,
nineteen years ago next week, so I protested when Ger Madden asked
me to speak this evening that I am just a blow-in and completely
unqualified for the task at hand.
It was not long after I came to Ballina that I got to know two Ger
Maddens, whose overlapping interests cause them to be frequently
confused, much to the consternation of both. This Ger has been
urging me for many years to write for the journal, but I think has
given up on me at this stage after realising that I prefer doing new
research to writing up the old research that I have already
done. In recent years, my own interests and those of the other
Ger have drifted together further off topic, into the fascinating
new field of genetic genealogy, so I am even more surprised to be
back here talking about more conventional historical and
The early issues of Sliabh Aughty had already become collectors'
items by the time I learned of the journal, and so I have had to
make do with photocopies of some of them. It has been a
wonderful achievement by Ger and his co-editor Denis Moloney, and
their fellow members of the East Clare Heritage Group, to produce
new journals in eighteen of the last thirty-four years. I was
disappointed to find that Thaddeus C. Breen's usually excellent
website on Irish Archaeological and Historical Journals lists the
contents of only the first 13 editions.
A lot of water has flown under Dereney Bridge, depicted on the front
cover of the 17th edition, since Caimin Jones launched that previous
edition here in Scarriff on the 15th of December 2019, when COVID-19
was something none of us had ever heard of. Stepping into
Caimin's shoes is a big challenge for me.
As the Clare Champion reported recently, Ger has long complained
that local history, culture and folklore are not being prioritised
by some schools, and has stressed that it is important to chronicle
these subjects for future generations. This new Journal no. 18
does just this, with the usual series of well researched articles on
culture, history, genealogy and folklore from East Clare and South
Galway. Culture Night is a most appropriate date on which to
launch this new journal. Until Ger persuaded me to change my
plans, I had intended to be enjoying a different type of culture at
the All-Ireland Wren Boys' Championships, which are taking place in
Listowel right now.
The journal begins with an amazing article by William Prentice of
Prentice and Ormsby Solicitors, about the iron industry in East
Clare and Woodford, which has featured in several previous
journals. In 1713, the House of Lords heard a case involving
an alleged breach of trust relating to two ironworks, at Scariff and
at Woodford, which was the culmination of litigation that started
some years earlier but had its roots back in the early 1680s.
While I spoke metaphorically a moment ago about water flowing under
the bridge, Tom McDermott, a fisheries scientist with the Marine
Institute in Galway writes about the biodiversity supported by the
water flowing through Lough Derg. This is the second of a
series of three articles mark ing the centenary of
scientific investigations at the Limnological Laboratory at
Ger himself has two contributions this year. One is a
biography of the murdered solicitor and landlord Thadeus Callaghan
or O'Callaghan, inspired by his tombstone inscription on Ger's
beloved Inis Cealtra. While Ger declines to name the reputed
1856 murderers in print, he may let you in on the secret if you buy
him a pint this evening.
Ger's other article is a history of the Gleesons of Bodyke,
including Paddy Gleeson, who has been a member of the East Clare
Heritage committee from its foundation back in late 1988.
Paddy has also helped and supported numerous local organisations,
including, to name just a few, Raheen Hospital, Scariff Chamber of
Commerce, the Integrated Rural Development Scheme, East Clare
Tourism, Bodyke Water Group Scheme, Tulla and District Angling
Group, and St Coelan's Burial Ground Committee.
One of Paddy Gleeson's proudest achievements was the creation of the
memorial park at Callahy in memory of those who died and were buried
there during the Great Famine. Indeed, Paddy first brought
that Caisaoireach in Callahy to public attention with an article in
the very first edition of Sliabh Aughty, from which I learned the
etymology of the word Caisaoireach, which comes from the Irish
`caith siar iad' or `throw them down', referring to the practice of
dropping bodies into graves or burial trenches by releasing the
bottom of reusable coffins.
I know from my own background and research in West Clare how many
such forgotten traces of the Great Famine remain in the landscape of
County Clare and of Ireland. I'm sure that everyone here is
familiar with the sketches from the Illustrated London News of late
1849 and early 1850 which illustrate almost every modern work on
Irish history, including this journal, where Christy Cunniffe uses
one of them on page 64 to illustrate his article on
Knockauncarragh. Most of these sketches depict locations in
West Clare, including the townland of Moveen where my own
grandmother was born. A few years ago, I visited the Moveen
scene with John Rattigan of the Clare Museum and archaeologist
Graham Hull, in the hope of organising an archaeological dig on the
site. Nothing came of those discussions, but I was taken aback
when driving through Moveen yesterday to see a new house under
construction on the very spot where we had proposed the dig.
Christy Cunniffe's article is about the townland officially known as
Knockauncarragh, but often referred to locally, including in birth,
marriage and death records, as Rock Hill, just north of Woodford
village. Christy reminds us that it is important that every
townland be the subject of an in-depth study and it is only once
each townland is examined in detail that a comprehensive
multidisciplinary history can be written. With about 61,000
Irish townlands listed at logainm.ie, there is no shortage of
subjects for future articles.
Another detailed genealogical article by Paddy Madden tells the
interesting story of how five Hogans from one family in Ballyglass,
Whitegate fought in four wars in three different countries and two
of them fought on different sides in the War of Independence.
Moving on, Martin A. Timoney chronicles how Pádraig Ó Bheacháin from
Broadford introduced him to East Clare archaeology in 1969 and
1970. Locals here in Scarriff probably remember Pádraig, who
died in 1992, as Principal of Scarriff Vocational School, but
blow-ins like me, who have not heard of him before, merely have to
go back to the long out of print Sliabh Aughty No. 4 for a detailed
Finally, Denis Moloney's article on the Terry Alts in East Clare
shows how violence linked to land, employment, and the price of food
was a continuous feature of early nineteenth century life in rural
Comhghairdeas leis na húdair go léir.
The variety of articles in this new journal illustrate how deeply
intertwined family history and local history are here in Ireland.
I am constantly advising members of the Irish diaspora not to jump
to hasty conclusions when doing genealogy, and to remember that
their ancestors from different rural Irish counties who met and
married in New York or in Sydney would have been most unlikely to
have ever met if they had remained at home in Ireland, where the
vast majority of marriages were between couples who grew up within
five or ten miles of each other.
When it comes to genetic genealogy, on the one hand I cringe when I
see the American DNA companies perpetuating ethnic divisions by
spending millions of dollars on marketing estimated ethnicity
percentages derived from DNA anaylsis. Their customers often
don't even realise that the same DNA results can be used to identify
real individual ancestors with names, dates and even faces.
On the other hand, I continue to be surprised by how the closest DNA
matches of people from rural Ireland are inevitably those with roots
in the same townlands and parishes, even if details of the precise
relationship were never published in a journal like Sliabh Aughty
and have now been forgotten. Simple mathematics, based on our
number of ancestors doubling with every generation, makes it almost
certain that any two people whose ancestors have lived in the same
parish or even just the same county for generations are no more
distantly related than about seventh or eighth cousins.
As with every rule, there are exceptions to this one. For
example, those involved in policing, like my own ancestors, could
not serve in either their own or their wife's native county, so
helped to introduce some genetic diversity wherever they ultimately
settled. Those from minority religions also often had to
travel further afield to find a spouse of the same religion.
The world sometimes seems to be a lot smaller than these theories
might imply. To illustrate this with an example that leads to
Scarriff, let me tell you about one of the many requests for
genealogical assistance to which I have responded on Facebook in
recent years. Just over a year ago, I responded to a post in
the County Limerick Ireland Genealogy group by Brian Newman in
England, asking about his GGGgrandparents Thomas Peacocke and Mary
Ann Switzer, who married in County Limerick, but settled in Kilrush,
where I am PRO of the local historical society. To those of my
generations, Switzers was an upmarket department store in Grafton
Street in Dublin, now a branch of Brown Thomas. The Switzers
originally came to Ireland back in 1709 as one of the Palatine
families from Germany who were settled in County Limerick as
religious refugees, but the Peacocke origins are less certain.
At one stage, the family had a private bank in Kilrush. Thomas
and Mary Anne had a daughter named after her mother, who married a
Kilrush-based policeman named Thomas Newman, who was transferred to
Listowel as a result of marrying a local girl. My jaw dropped
when Brian sent me his family history, including a photograph of the
house where they lived in Listowel. I recognised the house,
two doors from John B. Keane's famous pub, as the subject of the
long-drawn out probate case of Waldron v. Dee, in which the
plaintiff was my greatgrandmother, Polly Waldron, formerly Polly
Nolan. The Newman house had passed into the hands of the Nolan
family after Thomas Newman's death. The case epitomised one of
the secret maxims of the legal profession, which a solicitor friend
of mine let slip during a recent historical talk: "It would be a
pity to waste a good estate on the beneficiaries!" In this
case, which my late father and myself wrote up in the Old Limerick
Journal back in 1990, the house eventually fell down and the
countless first cousins who had been squabbling over possession got
nothing, as the funds realised were insufficient to cover the legal
To make a short story long, the same Peacocke query sent me down yet
another rabbit hole which led to Scarriff. About a generation
after the Peacocke/Switzer marriage, another Peacocke also married a
spouse with a Palatine surname - Ellen Peacocke and Henry Thomas
Sparling, who settled here in Scarriff in the mid-1800s. This
brings us neatly to one of two founding members of East Clare
Heritage who have died since the previous volume was published in
2019 and whom we remember especially here this evening, Henry and
Ellen's greatgreatgrandson Alan Sparling, and also William
MacLysaght. Both gave generously of their time and expertise
over many years promoting the history, heritage and culture of the
Sliabh Aughty region.
I don't think I ever met Alan, but I am familiar with his ancestry
from the monumental book "Over the Hills and Far Away: Tracing the
Sparlings" published in the year 2000 by Kathleen Bryant, formerly
Kathleen Benson from Killaloe, where the Benson family have been
major employers for many years. Kathleen speculates:
"We know nothing of Ellen [Peacocke]; but, as the Palatines
generally intermarried within their immediate social circle, I
wonder if she might have been a daughter of the Thomas Peacocke of
the City of Limerick who married Mary Ann Switzer ... The Peacockes
of Limerick were merchants - which might explain Henry [Sparling]'s
move into business."
That is the sort of speculation which might today be confirmed or
refuted by DNA comparison.
I crossed paths with William MacLysaght at a number of events in
this area. As a genealogist, I have to keep reminding myself
to remember people for what they themselves did and not for what
their ancestors did, but I must point out that William's late father
Edward MacLysaght's Surnames of Ireland is one of the most consulted
books on my bookshelves, where it sits alongside Edward's
fascinating autobiography Changing Times. William gets another
mention on page 12 of the new journal, as he was of course Paddy
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar anamnacha dílis Alan agus William agus
comhbhrón ó chroí lena muintir.
Finally, it gives me great pleasure to declare the Sliagh Aughty
Journal no. 18 formally launched.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.