Monday, December 31, 2007

Here's to 2008!

Happy New Year (Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit) to all of you Small-leaved Shamrock readers! I'm so glad that you've joined us during 2007, our inaugural year. Hopefully you will find that 2008 brings more reasons to visit.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please take a minute to send me a quick message letting me know. I'd like to hear what your favorite posts have been and what you would like to read more about in the coming year at Small-leaved Shamrock. Email me at smallestleaf at earthlink dot net. I look forward to hearing from you!

In the meantime, here is an Irish blessing for you in the new year 2008...

May you have all the happiness
and luck that life can hold,
And at the end of all your rainbows
may you find a pot of gold!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Getting to the roots of your Irish family tree: Part 2

Know the county of origin of an Irish ancestor but don't know where to go next to narrow your research to a specific parish or townland? Below are some resources that might help you to get closer to finding your family's ancestral home.
If you haven't yet found the county in Ireland where your ancestors came from, see Getting to the roots of your Irish family tree: Part 1 for some helpful ideas on how to get started.

If you need a little review on the various political divisions of Ireland, both modern and historical, check out Irish Geography 101 at A Light That Shines Again for a good beginning.

Now for some help on going past the county level:

  • Websites focusing on genealogy of a specific county - Check out this Irish Times webpage for links by county to many helpful resources. This GenealogyLinks.net Ireland webpage also offers many county-by-county links. GenUKI is another place to find an array of webpages that might help to find your ancestors' origins in Ireland, including this page on Researching from Abroad.

  • Local county heritage societies in Ireland - They may hold information about your ancestor and his family in indexes and other resources. Don't forget to check for parents, siblings, etc. The more you know about your ancestor's extended family, the better chance you have to determine which Patrick Foley, Frank McCue, Ralph Kennedy, John McGonigal or Michael Tierney is your Patrick Foley, Frank McCue, Ralph Kennedy, John McGonigal or Michael Tierney. (Yes, those are all names of my ancestors - if you have an ancestor with a similar name, please let me know.)

  • Local county libraries in Ireland - Don't you just love the library? What better place to contact than the library in the county of your family's origin for help in researching that family? I found much of the information that I have about one branch of my family (the Tierney family of Quincy) thanks to the local Massachusetts library. If I have half this success with help from the county library in Ireland my research will go a long way.

  • County birth indexes - according to Michael O'Lauglin's book on County Tipperary research the birth index in that county for the 19th century shows my great-great-grandmother Catherine Kennedy's surname as one of the most numerous. It also gives various spellings of the name: Kennedy, Kenedy and Cannady. Since I know that her husband came from Tipperary, this gives me hope that I might find her origin there also, although Patrick and Catherine were married in Boston.

  • Griffith's Valuation of Ireland - This is a listing of landholders and leaseholders from 1848 to 1864. Although not comprehensive, it can be a very helpful resource. You might want to start by plugging the surname you are researching into this Irish Times index for Griffith's. The most comprehensive online database is located at the fee-based site Irish Origins. If you have a relatively uncommon surname, you might find as I did that Griffith's Valuation may help you to narrow down your geographical search in Ireland. It was interesting for me to view the index's small number of Cowhey families (and similarly spelled surnames) and their locations by county.

  • Tithe Applotment Survey - This is a similar resource to Griffith's Valuation, but only includes rural landholders between 1823 and 1836. Indexes can be found in various libraries, with online indexes available for parts of the survey. Check out the county by county website listings above (see "Websites focusing on genealogy of a specific county"). The indexed versions of both Griffith's Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Survey records are available through the Family History Library.

All of these possible directions for your Irish genealogical research may seem overwhelming. There are many places to start. Perhaps the best advice is: Just begin somewhere. Who knows what records will lead you to your ancestral home and help get you to the very roots of your Irish family history?

The photograph of the traditional Irish home above was taken by Andrea Poel.

Getting to the roots of your Irish family tree: Part 1

Want to get to the bottom of your roots in Ireland? First, you need to get your foot in the door and learn your ancestors' counties of origin.

Here are a few ideas of where to start outside of Ireland in order to trace your family back to Éireann herself.

Note: No room for tunnel-vision here. It's important to not only focus on your direct ancestor, such as a great-great-grandfather, but his wife, siblings and other relatives who might have even immigrated to other places. Even his children may have records indicating their father's birthplace or homeland. Don't forget close friends! I'm planning on doing a little research on the groomsmen in my great-great-grandfather's wedding and the witnesses listed on his naturalization papers to see if their place of origin in Ireland might be of help in finding his.

For all family members and others that might be of help, check the following sources for possible information about where the family originated:
  • Letters, journals and other written family documents - If you are lucky enough to have access to these, scour them for clues as to the possible place of origin for your family. You'll probably find other gems along the way.

  • Naturalization records - The official papers for the new citizen may have information about his county of origin in the old country. This is how I learned that my great-great-grandfather Patrick Tierney hailed from County Tipperary. Check the court where naturalization would have occurred. In my case, I found naturalization records at the National Archives.

  • Obituaries & newspaper articles - Read the obituary columns and search for other articles on all family members for information about where they began or spent their lives.

  • Death certificates - These sometimes offer the town or county which was the birthplace of the deceased.

  • Tombstones; cemetery & burial records - These don't always list birthplaces, but if yours does you will be glad you checked.

  • Immigration records and passenger lists - Another item to check for at the National Archives. According to John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 3rd Edition records from 1820 (Customs Passenger Lists) only list county of origin. Records 1883 and later (Immigration Passenger Lists) also include details about previous place of residence that might be helpful to your search.

  • Military and pension records - These can offer a wealth of information about your ancestor and his family. Another good one to look for at the National Archives.

  • Church records - Marriage records in particular can be of help in finding place of origin. Check the church or diocesean archives for these, particularly when the couple had just immigrated from Ireland.

  • History books - Historical works describing migrations from different parts of Ireland to particular places, and similar titles focusing on the place of immigration may be helpful in gaining clues to your ancestors' origins. If you have Irish relatives that immigrated to Boston, you may find The Irish in New England by Thomas O'Connor and Marie Daly to be a helpful reference. Their research allowed them to break down particular Boston neighborhoods into various origins in Irish counties, since many friends and neighbors settled together in the new country.

  • Books about Irish surnames - If you are researching an uncommon surname, such as the Cowhey family's, you may find help from Edward MacLysaght's classic work Irish Families: Their Names, Arms, and Origins and the "index" for it and his accompanying books: The Surnames of Ireland The Irish Families book helped me to learn the Gaelic version of Cowhey name - Ó Cobhthaigh - and to know to focus on the southern province of Munster for locating my family's origins.

  • The DNA project for your family's surname - While relatively new on the scene, DNA research is providing valuable information for those interested in tracing their roots. If your surname is relatively rare, you may find some clues to the more recent history of your family along with information about deeper ancestry. Read my post about the Coffey/Cowhey DNA project, the Tierney DNA project, or the Carnival of Genealogy on genetic genealogy for more information.
If like me, you have been successful at finding the county of origin in Ireland and but don't know where to turn next, check out Getting to the roots of your Irish family tree: Part 2 for some ideas to get you started.

It may be a long way to Tipperary (or wherever your family originated), but hopefully these tips will make the trip home to your Irish roots a little easier.

Many of the above suggestions primarily apply to research in the United States. See John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 3rd Edition for sections on searching in Canada and Australia for your Irish roots. You may also find Dwight Radford & Kyle Betit's Discovering Your Irish Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage to be a helpful resource.

Tombstone image above courtesy of the William Kennedy family tree website.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A candle in the window on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a magical time. The waiting of Advent is over and the celebration of the Savior's birth is about to begin.

One beautiful way that the Irish have traditionally kept this holy night is with the lighting of a candle in the window. The warm light from its glow acts as a welcome to all so that no one should be without shelter.

Offering hospitality to others by way of a lighted candle is a tradition as old as ancient Ireland. In more recent centuries during times of persecution in Ireland, the candle offered a welcome to priests that the home was a safe haven and that Mass could be offered there. On Christmas Eve, the candle also symbolizes the willingness of the household to welcome the Holy Family, so that the Infant Jesus and his family would not again be turned away. One Irish belief held that Joseph, Mary and Jesus still wandered the world, seeking a place of refuge from Herod.

The words of The Kerry Carol, written by Sigerson Clifford, admonish us to be sure to provide a welcome for the Holy Family on this special night before Christmas. Below are verses two and seven. I've placed the full version of the song here.

Verse 2
Ná múch an coinneal ard bán,
Ach fág é lásta go geal.
Go mbeidh siad cinnte ar aon
go bhfuil fáilte is fiche roimh cách
Sa teach ar an Oiche Nollag naofa seo!


Don't blow the tall white candle out
But leave it burning bright,
So that they'll know they're welcome here
This holy Christmas night!


Verse 7
Ná cur ar an ndoras ach an laiste anocht!
Agus coimead na gríosaigh beó -
Agus guí go mbeidh siad fén ar ndíon anocht
Agus an domhan 'na chodladh go suan.

Leave the door upon the latch,
And set the fire to keep,
And pray they'll rest with us tonight
When all the world's asleep.

Tim Dennehy, who has recorded The Kerry Carol, has also written a song of his own to be sung in welcome of the Holy Family on Christmas Eve.

Tim has taken a traditional Irish prayer of welcome and added additional verses and a refrain. His song, An Nollaig Theas, begins as follows:

Dia do bheatha 'dir asal is damh gan riar
Dia do bheatha id' leanbh, id Fhlaith gan chiach
Dia do bheatha ód' Fhlaithis go teach na bpian
Dia do bheathasa 'Íosa.

Dún do shúil a Rí an tSolais, dún do shúile ríoga
Dún do shúil a Shaoi an tSonais, dún do shúile síoda.

Translated to English, the words are:

God's greeting to you untended 'tween ox and ass
God's greeting to you Child and Prince serene
God's greeting to you from heaven to the hour of pain
God's greeting to you dear Jesus.

Close your eyes oh King of light, close your regal eyes
Close your eyes oh fount of happiness, close your silken eyes.

You can find the rest of the lyrics to the song on Tim Dennehy's website Sceilig.com.

If you choose to light a candle in your window this Christmas Eve and would like to follow Irish tradition, remember that it requires that the candle be left burning throughout the night. Oh, and it must only be blown out by one having the name of Mary! Or was that the youngest child in the family? Actually it might have been the youngest child who would, of course, be named Mary.

No matter. As long as you get the candle in the window I think any Irishman or woman would be feel welcomed at your home on Christmas Eve, not to mention Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus.

Image courtesy of DoChara.com.

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Eve on December 24.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The danger of DNA testing: you might not be royalty

I mentioned earlier the value of DNA testing to family history research. It has fascinating possibilities, especially with regard to the deeper history of families back before records were kept.

But it has its drawbacks. If you're like the Guinness family of Irish brewing fame, your DNA testing might reveal that you've descended from peasant folk instead of the royal line that you thought. A new book written by Patrick Guinness, Arthur’s Round: The Life and Times of Brewing Legend Arthur Guinness, details the family's story, including recent discoveries about their history thanks to DNA testing. You can read more at Tim Agazio's Genealogy Reviews Online.

No worries for me to debunk any myths about royalty in the family. All that I've learned about the various branches of my family indicates that they were common people - tough, hearty, faith-filled, peasant-folk. I'm proud to be their descendant. After all, we can't all be royalty, can we Mr. Guinness?

Oldest World War I veteran dies at age 109

J. Russell Coffey was one-year-old at the turn of the century in the year 1900. Although he saw little action in the conflict, he is being remembered this week at his passing as the oldest veteran of World War I.

But as he once confided to his daughter, he would have preferred to be remembered more for other aspects of his life rather than his age. "Even a prune can get old," he reportedly said.

Coffey was an educator who taught in high school and college. He may have first gotten his interest in teaching when he was a young man delivering newspapers. He often read the paper to immigrants whom he delivered to. For more about the life of J. Russell Coffey see this AP article.

You may remember my earlier discussion of DNA and the Cowhey connection to the Coffey/Coffee/Ó Cobhthaigh family. More than likely, J. Russell Coffey is probably a very distant cousin of our branch of the Cowhey family. Jack Coffey at the Coffee/Coffey call weblog described J. Russell Coffey's family history here.

According to Betty Jo Larsen, J. Russell Coffey's daughter, her father had a wonderful memory and way very independent, even driving a car up until age 104 and living alone until age 105.

Let's hope our Cowhey side of the family shares the same genes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Got a wee bit of Irish in 'ya?

One more week for you to submit your entry to the 2nd edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture! The 1st edition, entitled Everyone Loves a Good Irish Story, gave us an upside-down traffic light (with the green on the top of course), an Irish love story, paddy-whacking, Civil War regiments that flew the Irish flag for America, and more.

Now - in time for the new year - we're looking for fresh ideas. The 2nd edition of the carnival will feature Irish research & resources.

Here's the specific topic:

As genealogists and historians, we're always trying to get the facts. What was the world like during a certain time and place in history? Who was there - what were their names and where did they live? What role did they play in the world around them?

Please share with us your recommendations for books and resources on Irish genealogy and history. What is your favorite (or most frustrating) database of Irish records? Can you recommend a favorite book or resource for Irish research? How about sharing your favorite Irish history books? Any online resources that have helped you in your search for Irish
ancestors or your attempt to gain an understanding of Irish history in general?

Don't have Irish heritage? Join us anyway. The only requirement is that you have a wee bit of appreciation for the Irish and their culture, heritage and history - and a good story to tell.


So to your last minute list of Christmas preparations, add the writing and submission of your carnival entry. Or, if you like, wait until the quiet of a day or so after Christmas and do it then.


I'm looking forward to receiving your recommendations via carnival entry by December 28 and publishing them on January 1, 2008 at Small-leaved Shamrock just in time for a fresh start on our projects for the new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Can't forget Killarney...

Speaking of Christmas carols, I can't help but mention one of my favorites. It also evokes a traditional Irish Christmas like the songs I wrote about earlier, but it is certainly a more modern song.

The carol I'm referring to is Christmas in Killarney by John Redmond, James Cavanaugh and Frank Weldon. Bobby Vinton's version of the song conjures up memories for me of my childhood living room: me resting on the floor below the Christmas tree with Christmas in Killarney playing on the stereo system's record player. It might have been the very song that inspired me to learn how to use the record player and place the needle at just the right place so that I could repeat my favorite song, although I remember enjoying all the songs on Bobby Vinton's Christmas album.

Only now listening to it again do I realize all the references to Irish culture in the song: the holly leaves, the ivy green, the mistletoe, the jigs and reels...

Click here for Jim Corbett and Chris Caswell's version of the song, sung with a nice Irish brogue.

Here are the words (a more complete set of lyrics than the ones used in the audio version linked above):

Christmas In Killarney

Verse:
The holly green, the ivy green
The prettiest picture you've ever seen
Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home
It's nice, you know, to kiss your beau
While cuddling under the mistletoe
And Santa Claus you know, of course
Is one of the boys from home

Bridge:
The door is always open
The neighbors pay a call
And Father John before he's gone
Will bless the house and all
Our Hearts are light, our spirits bright
We'll celebrate our joy tonight
Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home

Repeat Verse

Bridge:
We'll decorate the Christmas tree
When all the family's here
Around a roaring fire
We will raise a cup of cheer
There's gifts to bring,
And songs to sing
And laughs to make the rafters ring
Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home

Repeat Verse

Bridge:
We'll take the horse and sleigh all
Across the fields of snow
Listening to the jingle bells
Everywhere we go
How grand it feels to click your heels
And dance away to the jigs and reels
It's Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home

Repeat Verse

Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home

In the mood for more Christmas carols? Check out footnote Maven's "heavenly host" at A Choir of GeneaAngels. The angel to footnote Maven's right in the center of the choir is standing in for me.

Also see Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Music on December 21.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December 26: Not a good day to be a wren

If you've been reading Small-leaved Shamrock and A Light That Shines Again this Advent season, hopefully you've learned some new information about the customs and traditions of an Irish Christmas. We've covered whitewashing the house, decorating with holly, Irish Gaelic holiday greetings, Irish Christmas songs of modern times and of old, and even the symbolic meanings behind one song that may have an Irish connection. We've remembered St. Nicholas' visits to Ireland, and Christmas morning, and more and more...

One additional Irish holiday tradition that cannot be forgotten actually lands on the day after Christmas. December 26 is the feast of St. Stephen, whom you may remember as the first martyr, stoned to death shortly after the death of Jesus. According to legend, Stephen was taking refuge in a furze bush to hide from his enemies when a little bird began to sing, betraying him to his pursuers.

The actions of that bothersome little bird have caused the discomfort and often the downfall of many a wren over the centuries in Ireland. Presently in Ireland the bird chosen by the "wren boys" to represent that first bird is not killed, but just caught and fed. For centuries, however, many a wren met its end on St. Stephen's Day. In fact, the custom of sacrificing a wren actually may go back to the ancient Druids, to whom the bird was sacred.

An interesting account of the custom of the "hunting of the wren" was written by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough published in 1922. Frazer's book states:

A writer of the eighteenth century says that in Ireland the wren “is still hunted and killed by the peasants on Christmas Day, and on the following (St. Stephen’s Day) he is carried about, hung by the leg, in the centre of two hoops, crossing each other at right angles, and a procession made in every village, of men, women, and children, singing an Irish catch, importing him to be the king of all birds.” Down to the present time the “hunting of the wren” still takes place in parts of Leinster and Connaught. On Christmas Day or St. Stephen’s Day the boys hunt and kill the wren, fasten it in the middle of a mass of holly and ivy on the top of a broomstick, and on St. Stephen’s Day go about with it from house to house, singing:

“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze;
Although he is little, his family’s great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.”

Money or food (bread, butter, eggs, etc.) were given them, upon which they feasted in the evening.

Today the custom is often referred to as the "Feeding of the Wren". According to this Museum of Science & Industry Holidays Around the World webpage, St. Stephen's Day is celebrated in modern times as follows:

...Irish children scour the countryside for a wren, a small bird similar to a sparrow, or they purchase one. The wren is placed in a cage and the children go door to door collecting money for the poor. Young men costumed and in masks go through the villages and towns making loud noises. They carry a holly bush that is on top of a long pole. The holly bush has a wren in it and the young men solicit money for the poor. At the end of the day the wrens are released.
In honor of this Irish tradition and their many residents whose ancestors emigrated from the Emerald Isle, Schuylkill County's Ashland Area Historic Preservation Society focused their annual Old Fashioned Christmas on Ireland, entitling it Going on the Wren.

It looks like the wren won't live down its ancestor's behavior any time in the near future, nor will it have a restful December 26, even on this side of the Atlantic.

See Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family if you're in the mood for more good Christmas stories. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Grab Bag on December 22.

Sing of Christmas!

The Irish have long been known for their love of music, their talent for writing poetry, and their devotion to faith. All of these come together beautifully in traditional Irish Christmas carols.

You may not be as familiar with The Wexford Carol and others as with some of the more frequently-played modern-day carols and other traditional favorites. But the richness of the words and the Irish charm of the music may call you to make these carols an important part of your family's Christmas celebration.

The Wexford Carol is one of the oldest Irish carols and may date back to the 12th century. You can find the audio version of the music here or here. These are the words:

The Wexford Carol

Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.

But mark how all things came to pass;
From every door repelled alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but an humble ox's stall.

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star,
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay,

And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah was,
They humbly cast them at his feet,
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God's angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.

"Prepare and go", the angels said.
'To Bethlehem, be not afraid,
For there you'll find this happy morn,
A princely babe, sweet Jesus born.

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our savior Christ behold.

Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side the virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

A newer but also well-loved Irish song, The Kerry Christmas Carol (An Ciarrí Carúl Nollag), was first published in 1955 in a book of poetry entitled Ballads of a Bogman. Written by Sigerson Clifford, it focuses on a traditional Irish Christmas Eve custom. Each household welcomes the Holy Family to their home by lighting a candle and placing it in a window. According to Jack & Vivian Hennessey's Irish Page about the Kerry carol, "There was a pious belief that Joseph and Mary and the Child still wandered the roads of the world, looking for a place to rest from the persecution of Herod. That they should show a preference for the roads of rural Ireland was accepted as a given."

The only online audio version of The Kerry Christmas Carol that I could find is this little snippet from Tim Dennehy's Between The Mountains And The Sea. Here are the words to the song in Irish-Gaelic followed by the English translation (thanks to the Irish Page):

An Ciarrí Carúl Nollag
The Kerry Christmas Carol

Verse 1
Scuab an t-urlár agus glan an teallach,
's coimead na grísaigh beo,
Ar eagla go dtiocfhaidh siad anocht,
Agus an domhan 'na chodladh go suan!

Brush the floor and clean the hearth,

And set the fire to keep,
For they might visit us tonight
When all the world's asleep!

Verse 2
Ná múch an coinneal ard bán,
Ach fág é lásta go geal.
Go mbeidh siad cinnte ar aon
go bhfuil fáilte is fiche roimh cách
Sa teach ar an Oiche Nollag naofa seo!

Don't blow the tall white candle out
But leave it burning bright,
So that they'll know they're welcome here
This holy Christmas night!

Verse 3
Léig amach ar an mbord, arán is feoil,
Agus braonín bainne don leanbh.
Agus beidh beannacht ar an dtine
Agus ar an té a bhruith an t-arán
Agus ar an lamh a dhéin an t-obair dian.

Leave out the bread and meat for them,
And sweet milk for the Child,
And they will bless the fire, that baked
And, too, the hands that toiled.

Verse 4
Beidh Naomh Iósaef túirseach,
Tar éis an turas fada.
Agus aghaidh Mhuire fann, bánghnéitheach
Agus beidh néal codlata aca.
Sar a n-imthígheann siad arís.

For Joseph will be travel-tired,
And Mary pale and wan,
And they can sleep a little while
Before they journey on.

Verse 5
Beidh túirse na mbóthar fada ortha
Agus seans aca a scíth a ligint,
Ó's iomai an míle fada uaigneach
Atá roimh an dtriur aca
Uaidh seo go dtí Beithil.

They will be weary of the roads,
And rest will comfort them,
For it must be many a lonely mile
From here to Bethlehem.

Verse 6
Ó is fada an bóthar 'tá le taisteal aca,
Agus é idir garbh is mín
Agus Cnoch Chalvaire mar ceann scríbe aca,
Agus chroise adhmad indan.

O long the road they have to go,
The bad mile with the good,
Till the journey ends on Calvary
Beneath a cross of wood.

Verse 7
Ná cur ar an ndoras ach an laiste anocht!
Agus coimead na gríosaigh beó -
Agus guí go mbeidh siad fén ar ndíon anocht
Agus an domhan 'na chodladh go suan.

Leave the door upon the latch,
And set the fire to keep,
And pray they'll rest with us tonight
When all the world's asleep.

Another favorite Irish carol is Once In Royal David's City written in 1848 by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander. You can find an audio version of it at this page. Here are the words:

Once in Royal David's City

Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior Holy.

And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly Maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Jesus is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

For more on Irish Christmas carols read Bridget Haggerty's An Irish Christmas - Ding Dong, Merrily on High...

You might also enjoy these Gaelic versions of popular Christmas carols (including Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer) courtesy of Vivian and Jack Hennessey.

In the mood for more Christmas carols? Check out footnote Maven's "heavenly host" at A Choir of GeneaAngels. The angel to footnote Maven's right in the center of the choir is standing in for me.

Also see Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Music on December 21.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

St. Clair, PA and a Merry Christmas to all!

Historian Anthony F.C. Wallace has provided a wonderful gift for a family historian researching the past in a small 19th-century Pennsylvania coal town: he spent years researching and writing about the town of St. Clair, its industries and its people. The result is his book St. Clair: A Nineteenth-Century Coal Town's Experience With a Disaster-Prone Industry.

The book provides an amazing and thorough glimpse into the world of the people of Schuylkill County, its coal mines and the big business that controlled them, and a slew of other aspects of life in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania in the 19th-century.

This region provided hope for many new immigrants, people of varying ethnic backgrounds and religions, who looked to the coal industry in Schuylkill County for their living and their future. Irish, Welsh, English, German, and people of other ethnicities. Catholics and Protestants. All came to live their lives within the world of the coal mines and the industries that sprung up around them.

But as Wallace indicates in his book, "The churches...were supposed in Christian doctrine to be places where all social classes mingled in common devotion, but they were also bastions of ethnicity." I found interesting, however, his description of times when the ethnic and religious barriers came down for a time. "There were... occasions when some blending of congregations occurred. The most regular of these was at Christmastime, when all of St. Clair was invited on Christmas evening to attend the annual concert organized by the Sunday School at the Methodist Episcopal church." According to Wallace, "Attending services at another denomination's place of worship was a common Christmas practice in some other parts of Pennsylvania as well, permitting even Catholics and Protestants some admission of their mutual Christianity."

Knowing that this age and place was one where Irish Catholics had their own church and German Catholics had another (with similar situations for the Protestants), this is a nice bit of history to encounter.

Wishing a wonderful Christmas season to all of you, no matter what ethnic or religious background is yours. Merry Christmas to all!

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Church Services on December 17.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Nollaig Shona dhíbh!

With Christmas just a few short weeks away there is still time to add one more project to your holiday to-do list: learning how to offer Christmas greetings in Gaelic.

Unlike Christmas shopping, it doesn't cost much to spread the kind of Christmas cheer that a "Nollaig Shona dhíbh!" can bring to your friends and family. And if they don't understand you at first, wishing them Christmas greetings in Gaelic can be the start of some good conversation on the topic of Irish heritage and the holiday season.
Here's a little lesson in Gaelic greetings for you (with generous thanks to the Irish Culture & Customs webpage Bunús na Gaeilge - Basic Irish Language):

Christmas is Nollaig, pronounced "null-ahg".

If you want to wish a happy Christmas to another person, you can say: Nollaig Shona dhuit, pronounced "null-ig hun-ah gwich".

A similar Christmas greeting to more than one person would be: Nollaig Shona dhíbh, pronounced "null-ig hun-ah yeev".

If (surprise of surprises!) someone wishes you Nollaig Shona dhuit, an appropriate way to say, "And to you..." would be: Go mba hé duit, pronounced, "guh mah hay gwich".

Bhfuil an siopadóireacht le h-aghaidh bronnantanais na Nollaig críochnaithe agat go fóill? (That was "Have you finished all your shopping for Christmas presents yet?" pronounced "Will shup-ah-dhoh-ir-ukth leh heye brun-than-ish nah null-ig cree-ukh-knee-heh ah-guth guh foh-il?") If not, the time is now.

If you have finished all your shopping and perhaps other Christmas preparations, then you might want to take some time to work on your Gaelic. Here are a few good resources to get you started:
When Christmas day is over and all the gifts have been unwrapped, ná déan dearmaid litreacha buíochais a scríobh as bhfúir mbrontannais. (That's Gaelic for: "Don't forget to write thank-you letters for your presents" pronounced "naw djayn djar-muidh lith-ree-uckha bwee-khish ah shcreev ahs woo-ir mrun-thahn-ish".) If your Gaelic studies have been successful, maybe you can throw in some new words and phrases in Irish Gaelic in each thank-you note.

Who knows, maybe it will increase your chances of seeing a little more luck of the Irish in the new year ahead.

Don't forget to check the Irish Culture & Customs webpage for a nice lexicon of Irish Gaelic holiday words and greetings.

Image courtesy of O'Brien's Irish Cottage.

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Grab Bag on December 15.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Doing Pennsylvania genealogy?

This might be of interest to you...

A grassroots organization called PaHR-Access (People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access) has started a campaign to get the commonwealth's attention. The idea is that Pennsylvania lags far behind other states when it comes to ease of access to vital records, particularly death certificates. Check out what states like West Virginia and others are doing for good examples of what might be possible for Pennsylvania.

PaHR-Access is looking for help from genealogists, historians, professors and all types of researchers (both Pennsylvania residents and out of state) to encourage Pennsylvania to consider:


  • Allowing less-restricted access to pre-1957 death certificates (access added each year so that fifty-year-old records will be available)
  • Providing an online searchable index for these records
At this time post-1906 records require several pieces of information from the requester, including date and place of death (which is often unknown). The process also costs $9 and a good number of weeks to receive a reply, which as PaHR-Access calls it, is "counterintuitive and cumbersome" and includes "burdensome restrictions".

Interested in helping? If you are not a Pennsylvania resident, write a letter to the governor, sign a petition and mail it to the governor, or post a flyer to encourage easier access to Pennsylvania's vital records. If you are a Pennsylvania resident, you can also write to your state senator and state representative.

Contact Tim Gruber at timarg at rcn dot com for more information about PaHR-Access and what you can do to help.

For more information on similar concerns regarding New Jersey records, see my post entitled
Doing family history research in New Jersey? at 100 Years in America.

Thanks to Barbara of Our Carroll Family Genealogy for spreading the word about PaHR-Access.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas greetings circa 1870


Click on the article to the left to step back in time to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania during the holiday season in the year 1870.

Published on December 22, 1870 in the Shenandoah Evening Herald, the article is a nostalgic look back into Christmas of yesteryear. It also provides an eye-opening realization that some things haven't changed

The editors of the paper wish their readers "...a right merry Christmas unalloyed by the troubles and cares of every day life...". They mention that, "Unfortunately, in too many instances Christmas is but made a season of jollity and festivity, without a thought of the occasion that originated its observance. Properly it is a time of great joy, but the event that it commemorates should not be forgotten in its celebration."
What would the Shenandoah Evening Herald's editors think of our world and its Christmas celebrations today?

The vintage postcard image above (circa early 1900's) is courtesy of twogatos.com. Visit the website to view more beautiful postcards.

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's
Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Grab Bag on December 7.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Your Irish ancestors are online

...or they may be soon.

The Irish Times has announced the National Archives of Ireland's digitization of the 1911 census for Dublin, and is working to add all counties of Ireland for both the 1911 and 1901 censuses.

This is great news for Irish genealogists! Particularly interesting is the fact that, unlike census returns of the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, the records are actually the forms filled out and signed by the head of household, not the census enumerator.

Had your ancestors all emigrated before 1901? You may still find the project relevant to your search for family history. As mentioned by Megan of Roots Television, siblings and other family members often remained behind. Personally, I'm looking forward to searching for any of the elusive Cowhey family members who might have remained in County Cork or neighboring counties. Looks like Cork is one of the first counties on the planned digitization schedule. Thanks to the National Archives of Ireland for making research easier on us long-distance cousins!

Thanks to Chris Denham at The Genealogue for announcing this exciting Irish genealogy news in such a timely manner.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"We put our shoes on the hearth, hoping St. Nicholas would come"

Many children around the world for many generations looked forward to December 6 with great anticipation. That was the day they expected a generous visitor to their homes. It wasn't Christmas Eve that he would arrive, but a few weeks earlier - on his very own feast day: the feast of Saint Nicholas.

You can find a charming story about the Saint Nicholas day memories of one little girl (now all grown up) at An Irish Christmas - Waiting for St. Nicholas. Bridget Haggerty tells us how Saint Nicholas eve was the day that began the fun and festivities of the holiday season: "when we put our shoes on the hearth, hoping St. Nicholas would come."

She tells of her mother's annual tradition of telling her children about the story of Saint Nicholas and his good deeds. The next morning it was a dash from the bed to the fireplace to discover what their shoes might be filled with.

If you're reading this on December 5, tonight's the night. Maybe you should polish your shoes and set them out. You never know what goodies they might be filled with in the morning. If Saint Nicholas does rounds in your neighborhood, that is.

If not, as the Irish say, "May yours be the first house in the parish to welcome St. Nicholas.”

Irish Father Christmas image courtesy of All Posters.

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Santa Claus on December 6.

Deck the halls with boughs of cuileann

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la..."

This beloved carol, believed to be originally of Welsh origin, had already been around for quite awhile when Mozart used it for a piano duet in the 18th century. You can read more about its interesting history in William Studwell's A Christmas Carol Reader.

Even older than the song is the actual tradition of using holly to ring in the Christmas season. In fact, it may have even been used in Ireland during the time of the winter solstice long before the advent of Christianity. But for many, many centuries now, the Irish have celebrated Christmas and holly has been a part of that celebration.

Here's how it went in the olden days, according to Bridget Haggerty's An Irish Christmas - Then and Now. In preparation for Christmas the women cleaned the inside of their homes, the men cleaned the outside, and the children's job was to "scout the countryside for appropriate decorations to be cut and brought home on Christmas Eve." Holly, cuileann in Gaelic (pronounced "qwill-un"), was considered one of the best finds because of its colorful berries. After the "gathering of the greens", sprigs of these glossy leaves and clusters of red berries graced mantles, doorways and other places of the Irish home at Christmastime. According to Christmas in Dublin, the plant came to symbolize the Savior: the spiky holly leaves were the crown of thorns and the red berries were drops of blood from Jesus' face and head.

Lucky children in a few particular counties in the south of Ireland might be able to add mistletoe, or drualas (pronounced "dhroo-ah-lus") to their collection of greenery. Mistletoe also had a long-standing role in Celtic culture, symbolizing peace and fertility.

Many Irish emigrants took the tradition of decorating with holly and mistletoe to their new countries, and that may be why many of us hang holly and mistletoe at Christmastime today.

Image of the holly courtesy of Scenic Reflections.

The vintage postcard image above (circa early 1900's) is courtesy of twogatos.com. Visit the website to view more beautiful postcards.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Poor man's holiday goodies

I don't know too much about the holiday feasts that were held by my Irish Pennsylvania side of the family. They had come early from Ireland to America (pre-famine) around 1820. I have always wondered just how many of their Irish traditions they clung to after so many years.

One family member who spent many Thanksgiving dinners with the Cowheys in Mount Carbon as a child has fond memories about those holidays. I asked her what types of foods she remembered, wondering whether or not they served traditional Irish fare or food with a more Pennsylvania flavor. Her answer: "Depression-era food".

Makes sense. The family had lived through tough times. Money was tight and the Cowhey family always had many, many mouths to feed. The most memorable items on the menu were two recipes I had never heard of: Poor Man's Fruitcake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Poor Man's Fruitcake lives up to its name: made with fruit but not so expensive as regular fruitcake. There's a nice recipe and description of it courtesy of Sally Jameson and her Pennsylvania grandmother on this Southern Maryland webpage. (Scroll down to the 5th recipe.)

Tomato Soup Cake may sound strange, but according to Food Network chef Emeril Lagasse, it is a favorite of spice cake lovers. See his 3-generation-old recipe for Tomato Soup Cake.

Sometimes it is the simplest things that bring the most pleasure, especially during the Christmas season. But who would have thought it would be a can of tomato soup for dessert?

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Holiday Foods on December 3.

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