Sliabh Aughty Journal No. 18 2022 Edition

Comments by Paddy Waldron at the launch

McNamara's, Scariff, Co. Clare, Friday 23 Sep 2022, 9pm

Dia dhaoibh

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 genealogical research.

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 Portumna.

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, 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 biography.

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 Ireland.

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 costs.

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 Gleeson's brother-in-law.

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.