The Big Freeze 2010: We Are Not Bred For This Weather!

December 30th, 2010

Note: The following was contributed by an Irish relative in County Sligo, Ireland. He will be a guest contributor from time to time. It is a personal account of the current “big freeze” in Ireland, told by the Irish relative in County Sligo. Please take a look and let us know your thoughts. Read it through to the end. You won’t be disappointed:

“The recent cold weather is the worst since records began. The lowest temperature ever recorded of -22 C occurred one night and we had forecast minimum temperatures of -17 C to -20 C for almost a fortnight. It was discord testing to see the forecast -18 C sitting right over my village one evening. Our clothes, houses and cars are not designed to cope with sustained low temperatures like that but we managed to cope reasonably well and there was a wonderful community spirit of strangers assisting one another.

We only got 6 inches of snow, three inches on successive days. I have a rather long drive up to my house with two steep stretches so as soon as the snow fell I started shovelling a track to get the car out. On the first day I broke my 30 year old shovel which proved a blessing in disguise as I bought a new navvy shovel (?19.50) with a sharp point which was most effective in dealing with ice. The first thing I learned is that you cannot work without gloves in temperature of -6 C for any length of time. I have not owned a pair of gloves since we returned from England thirty years ago but do have a pair of work gloves for dealing with briars and roses which saved the day. My local road soon became a solid two inches of ice which remained passable at 20 kph for three miles to the main road. The local councils did well in that they kept the main roads open until they started to run out of salt the Sunday before Christmas. Salt is procured, usually from Liverpool, by the National Roads Authority but for the second time in 2010 the idiots managed to leave us short of salt. On the Wednesday a shipload of salt arrived in Dublin from Turkey and on the Thursday another from Algeria arrived in Cork .

The anti-freeze in our cars only protect them down to -10 C so many people had difficulty starting their cars. I had none myself though each morning many of the dashboard warning lights came on though they went out when the engine warmed up properly after about half an hour of driving.

Many people had difficulty with their water supply and this became even more serious after the thaw as the councils struggled with burst water mains. My own house consist of two houses built in 1939 which I joined together in 1986 with the result that the structure of the plumbing is based on the original 1939 design. As a consequence we had hot and cold water in the bathroom and cold water in the kitchen so that the washing machine, dish washer and showers were out of action. A friend of mine, with his blow torch, got the water back for us the Wednesday before Christmas and we managed to get the clothes washed and I got my beard washed in the shower. (Washing a long beard, other than in a shower, is very messy.)

On the Thursday morning before Christmas both the heating and the satellite television had failed and how they were dealt with are a case study of the difference between a local and a multi national supplier. I rang our local oil supplier to get the number of a technician and he said he would have it fixed by dinnertime. At 12 o?clock he arrived with an assistant. They removed the filter on the oil tank which could not cope with the very low temperature and said they would put it back the next time they made a delivery. It took five phone calls to Sky to make any progress with the satellite television. Their call centre is in Scotland and being somewhat hard of hearing I found the Scottish accent difficult to cope with. The first four calls were terminated by them when they had told me to hang on. Eventually, they agreed that a technician would call on the 29th December.

Not having television meant we watched some old favourite films. My own all time favourite is The Seven Samurai which I watched with my 13 year old grandson. He thought the battle sequence, which goes on for over an hour, was better than anything in Avatar. Another film I watch over and over again is The Quiet Man which is full of ironic and comedy gems. My own favourite is where the train crew go off to watch the hurling match because ?The Mayo hurling team has not been beaten for three years?. Mayo are a strong football county but very weak in hurling and to say they have not won a hurling match in three years would be more accurate. Another favourite moment in the film is where Maureen O?Hara says to the parish priest, Ward Bond , something like ? Níor chodail mé i leaba mo fhear go foil?. ( I did not sleep in my man?s bed yet). Just at that moment Ward Bond hooks a salmon and, up to his waist in water as he tries to hold on to the salmon, and as he tries to tell her to do her duty at the same time is one of its lovely comedy moments. Another film we enjoyed was ?In Bruges? with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes . It is a black, black Irish comedy about two Irish hit-men who are hiding out in Bruges and one is supposed to shoot the other. The writer and director is Martin Mc Donagh a young Irish playwright from London who has already won awards for his plays on Broadway. I expect, over the years, that he will make some memorable films.

The lowest temperature recorded in my car was -15 C after 9 pm Mass on Christmas Eve. All my good boots and shoes have smooth soles so to cope with the icy conditions I used a steel capped pair of work boots I have. I wore these to church for the Mass, changed into shoes in the porch and changed back again after Mass. It reminded me of when I ran barefoot as a boy over the bogs of Mayo from about 1st May to 1st November every year. I used to carry my socks and shoes to Mass, changed into shoes at the gate before Mass and went barefoot again as soon as Mass was over. A warming memory in the apparently unremitting cold we were enduring.”

Irish Citizenship

September 24th, 2010

If you were born outside Ireland and have a grandparent born in Ireland, are you interested in obtaining Irish citizenship? Let us know your thoughts and interests.. We look forward to hearing from you.

U.S. Cities with Large Irish American Populations

May 16th, 2010

Large cities with the highest percentage of Irish ancestry
Boston, Mass 18.87%
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 14.60%
Buffalo, New York 11.23%
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 10.74%
Kansas City, Missouri 9.66%
Cleveland, Ohio 9.43%
Baltimore, Maryland 9.14%
Cincinnati, Ohio 9.05%
St. Louis, Missouri 8.73%
Indianapolis, Indiana 8.61%

Medium-size cities
Augusta, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Mobile, Alabama
Charleston, South Carolina
Albany, New York - 18.1%
Omaha, Nebraska
Scranton, Pennsylvania - 30.3%
Syracuse, New York
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Huntsville, Alabama

Source: Wikipedia

See more Irish family history articles and lessons learned in earlier posts below and in the archives.

County Mayo Family Names

April 10th, 2010

Some Irish surnames frequently found in County Mayo -
Barrett, Brady, Browne, Burke, Burris, Byrd, Conn, Connor, Conway, Costello, Crean, Cusack, DeExeter, Dillon, Doherty, Duffy, Dunlaney, Durkan, Erris, Fair, Fleming, Gallagher, Garvey, Gibbons, Golden, Higgins, Hughes, Jennings, Jordan, Joyce, Kane, Keane, Kearns, Kelly, Killala, Lavin, Lawless, Leonard, Loftus, Lynott, Lyons, MacAndrew, MacAveely, MacCunneen, MacDavett, MacDonnell, McEntee, MacEvilly, MacGarry, MacGavan, MacGeraghty, MacGibbon, MacGreal, MacHale, MacHenry, McHugh, MacJordan, MacKerribly, MacLaughlin, MacMorris, MacNally, MacNicholas, MacNulty, MacPhilbin, MacPhillips, Martins, May, McDonnell, McNulty-Gannon, Moore, Moran, Morris, Murphy, Murrish, Milford, Meelick, Morris, Mulroy, Nangle, Neary, O’Bannan, O’Beirn, O’Bligh, O’Brogan, O’Cahaney, O’Callaghan, O’Canny, O’Carney, O’Clery, O’Comane, O’Connigan, O’Connellan, O’Conway, O’Conor, O’Coolahan, O’Cummin, O’Derrig, O’Dolan, O’Donnell, O’Dorcey, O’Dougherty, O’Dowd, O’Duffy, O’Dugan, O’Fergus, O’Finan, O’Finnigan, O’Flannelly, O’Flannery, O’Flynn, O’Gara, O’Gaughn, O’Gavagan, O’Gilleen, O’Gearan, O’Gormley, O’Grady, O’Halloran, O’Henaghan, O’Higgin, O’Keerin, O’Keevane, O’Kerrigan, O’Killeen, O’Kirwan, O’Larissey, O’Lavel, O’Lennon, O’Loughane, O’Malley, O’Monghan, O’Moran, O’Mulkerin, O’Mulleeny, O’Mulrenin, O’Mullarkey, O’Mullover, O’Mulroy, O’Murray, O’Quigley, O’Quinn, O’Roddan, O’Rolan, O’Ronan, O’Rory, O’Tierney, O’Tolleran, O’Toole, O’Towey, Petit, Phillips, Prendergast, Reid, Reilly, Scahill, Solan, Stanton, Staunton, Sweeney, Twigg, Walsh. Add your County Mayo family surname here.

Transcription Errors

January 24th, 2010

When researching your Irish ancestors online, be aware that transcription errors may occur when old handwritten paper records are transcribed or transferred to electronic databases. Prior to the Irish National Archives launching its searchable online 1911 Irish Census database last year, I already had my grandfather Martin Healy?s 1911 Irish Census record listing him, his wife Mary, and Mary?s brother John Sweeney, living at the same residence on King Street in Ballina, County Mayo. When the online 1911 census database opened for business, I decided to test it by entering ?Martin Healy, male, County Mayo? to view the results. I was surprised when my grandfather did not appear anywhere in the resulting list of Martin Healys in County Mayo in 1911. After some repeated tries with no success, I decided to try John Sweeney, knowing that John appeared on the same record at the same address as my grandparents. Lo and behold, there they all were, Martin, Mary, and John, King Street, Ballina, County Mayo. It turned out that the National Archives records specialist, entering the handwritten record information into the electronic database, mistook the script ?H? in ?Healy? for a ?K?. Thus, Martin and Mary Healy are listed as Martin and Mary Kealy in the database. I submitted a correction to the Archives for their attention.

Lesson Learned: Transcription errors are frustrating for the Irish ancestor researcher. They can throw you completely off track. If, at first, you don?t find your ancestor in an electronic database, you may have to try other spellings of a surname with completely different letters to find the correct electronic record. You may need to guess what errors the records specialist may make when entering the data in the database.

See more Irish family history articles and lessons learned in earlier posts below and in the archives.

Christmas -- Nollaig

November 22nd, 2009

The following was contributed by an Irish relative in County Sligo, Ireland. He will be a guest contributor from time to time:

As a child growing up in 1940?s rural Ireland Christmas was a time of excitement and wonderment. During Advent the adults were required to fast but this did not affect us children. The Christmas season really started the Sunday before Christmas and one of the first manifestations of Christmas was a visit to the local shop with an ass and cart to purchase paraffin, flour, candles and other provisions for the Christmas period. My grandfather killed the goose and turkey and plucking, which took place in an outhouse took about an hour and a half. (When my grandfather became too infirm to kill the fowl I took over his duties as my father was too squeamish for the task and I performed those duties for the family for about 10 ? 12 years).

Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence (no meat) but my mother believed in the Celtic day which starts at night-fall and so we had a special meal after dark to commence the Christmas festivities. After the war tinned fruit became available and a big treat at that Christmas Eve meal was tinned pineapple, to this day my favourite fruit. A huge excitement was caused by lighting the candles as two candles were lit in every window in the house and to look around the village and to see candles in every window except those houses that had a bereavement during the year. (Someone who was a bit tight- fisted would be described as ?He only lit candles in his front windows?).

We were lucky and unusual in that Santy came to our house with a toy, a book, an orange (a huge treat after the war) and a garment knitted by my mother or grandmother.

Christmas Day we walked to Mass fasting and while I was an altar-boy a big treat was the shilling we got from the parish priest after Mass. (We were terrified of upsetting him and he did not know how to deal with children but in hindsight he was a most compassionate and caring man. When I got involved in local history I found out that as a young priest he had campaigned vigorously to improve the material lot of his impoverished parishioners).

We had Christmas dinner in my grandparents? house next door. My grandmother cooked the turkey and my mother the goose in large ovens by an open turf fire. Glowing coals had to be constantly replaced on top and under the oven and the duties of keeping the fire blazing and providing a supply of hot coals was assigned to one of the children. How they managed to get them as perfectly as I remember is a wonder to me as even with an electric oven I still struggle to get the goose right.

On St. Stephens Day we dressed up as mummers (also known as wren-boys or straw-boys) and went round the village singing and dancing in each house. A neighbour made the classical straw-hats for us and in most houses we got a few pennies and some sweets or cake.

The candles in the windows were again lit on New Year?s Eve and we had the Scottish custom of first-footing where it was considered lucky if the first person through the door was dark and carried a sod of turf for the fire. All children old enough blackened their faces with polish or soot and came as an excited group all together. Ours was a tee-total house so there was no whiskey as is usually involved.

The candles were lit for the last time on the eve of ?Little Christmas? the 6th January. It is known in Irish as ?Nollaig na mBan? . ?The Women?s Christmas? and on that day my mother and grandmother did no cooking.

I still put two candles in a window (I am tight-fisted) after dark on Christmas Eve to welcome the Baby Jesus. Join me.

Guibhim Beannachtaí na Nollag agus Ath-Bhliain faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise oraibh uilig

(I wish for the Blessings of Christmas and that Next Year will be content and successful for everyone).

American City ? Irish Village Connections

November 3rd, 2009

Throughout the peak Irish emigration years, it was very common for a number of Irish people from the same Irish village to settle in the same American city when they emigrated to America. For example, people from a small village just west of Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland, all came to Holyoke, Massachucetts and settled there with their friends and families. Likewise, people from Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland, all came to Cleveland, Ohio, when they emigrated to America. Hence, today you?ll find a large sign on Achill Island proudly proclaiming that its sister city is Cleveland, Ohio, USA. It is estimated that up to a quarter of the population of the Ohio city can be traced back to the West of Ireland and to Achill Island in particular.

Knowing where one Irish American family in an American city originated in Ireland, may lead to the origins of other Irish American families in the same American city.

Let us know what Irish villages sent Irish emigrants to your city.

See more Irish family history articles and lessons learned in earlier posts below and in the archives.

The Mystery of the Illegible Name: Deciphering Handwritten Documents and Records

November 1st, 2009

When reviewing and extracting information from an old handwritten U.S. or Irish document, you should look at the entire document to determine the unique handwriting traits of the official who completed the document long ago. From these unique handwriting traits, you can identify how the official formed the individual letters in words on the document. For example, on a handwritten birth certificate, a person?s surname, written in script, appears to have the letter ?r? in it. On closer inspection, comparing the script surname with other script word entries on the certificate reveals that the ?r? is actually an ?e?. If there is any doubt or question about an illegible name on a document, it is smart to look at all of the handwritten words and entries in the document to help solve the mystery of the illegible name.

Translations: Place Names

July 4th, 2009

The English translations of Irish village and town names have taken different spellings over the years. In the early 1800?s, engineering and map surveyors traveled throughout Ireland, translating Irish place names into English, with varying results (see previous posting about Translations: The Play). The Irish word for ?head? is ?cean?. Irish village names starting with ?cean? translated to ?cane? or ?keane? in the English versions. In the 1901 Irish census, the grandfather of one recent client lived in Canearagh in County Kerry. The same man?s 1878 birth certificate spelled his birthplace as Keaneiragh. Both of these spellings are correct spellings for the same place. Discovering and knowing these spelling differences make Irish family document searches that much more satisfying and interesting to do.

The Juice of the Barley

June 7th, 2009

Note: The following was contributed by an Irish relative in County Sligo, Ireland. He will be a guest contributor from time to time:

(This is a loose translation into English of an article I wrote in Irish some years ago for a local antiquarian publication. From my two short and most enjoyable visits to America, your laws on alcohol are more draconian than our own).

I have a theory that the skills of making poteen came into the Gaeltacht from English speaking areas as all of the terminology associated with its making, used in Irish, are English words such as still, worm, wash, mash, cap, first-shot and round. In my youth, the old people, speaking in Irish or English, called poteen ?fuisgí?, and the legal variety they called ?Parliament?. (i. e. a Parliamentary tax had been paid on it.)

I never saw poteen being distilled, but I often heard my father describe how it was made from barley. There is a lot of time-consuming preparatory work before the barley is ready fore distillation. In this post, where I am not sure of the quantity or time, I use a question-mark. Two (?) hundredweight bags of barley were required for a full round (four and one quarter gallons of poteen). They took one third from each bag and placed them in a third bag.

Steeping (3 days)
The barley has to be steeped in water for three days. Running water was preferred. During this time the barley expands 20% to 25%. This is the reason that a third bag is required.

Sprouting (10 ? 12 days)
After steeping, the Barley is spread out on a dry floor to a depth of four or five inches. The top layer has to be kept wet. This is accomplished by raking the barley every day and by sprinkling the top layer with water. The barley gets very hot during the sprouting process. After three days or so, 4 or 5 rootlets, no thicker than a hair, emerge from the broad end of the seed. A couple of days later the sprout emerges from the pointed end of the seed. The time is dependent on the weather, but the sprouting continues until most of the sprouts are about one quarter inch long. The rootlets are about an inch long by now and the barley is matted together in a single mass.

Drying (2? days)
The sprouted barley has to be dried to stop the germination and to allow it to be ground up. It was dried in the big pot used for spuds. They had to stand with it all the time and stir the barley every 10 minutes.

Grinding (2? days)
The dried barley was then ground on a quern. A good grinder, usually a woman, could grind two stone in an hour.

Fermentation (5 - 7 days)
The ground barley was put in a big barrel together with 50-60 gallons of water and half a pound of bakers yeast to start the fermentation. When the yeast starts to work, little bubbles are released, forming foam on the top. Fermentation takes 5 ? 7 days. At the end the alcohol content is 4 ? 5%. This is now the ?wash?.


Distillation (8? hours)
A still would usually hold 10 to 15 gallons. Alcohol boils ay about 80C and water at 100C so therefore they did their best to keep the temperature of the wash at about 85C so that the alcohol was boiling briskly and only a little steam coming from the water. They tried to keep the thread of fuisgí coming from the still as fine as possible and at any rate less than a linen thread. The first cupful had to be thrown on the ground for the fairies. This was very wise as the first cupful contained poisonous, volatile, higher order alcohols and esters.

They found the wash was exhausted by lighting a dry tráithnín and putting it to the thread of fuisgí. If there was still alcohol coming from the wash, the flame would flare up; if not, it would quench. They had to fill the still six or seven times before the round was complete. They fed the solid material left to the pig. It was said that the poor pig could not go out a gap without banging his head

At the end of the round there should be four gallons and one quart ( taking into account the amount drank) If there was very much more, say six or seven gallons, they had to do another run, which did not take long as the alcohol content was high. If there was less than four gallons they made it up with water. Fuisgí has a proof rate of 55 compared with 40 for Parliament. At this strength if you drop a little drop into a glass it will make individual beads around the bottom.


But if you are a farmer in France you can distil as much brandy as you like for yourself and your friends. In some states in Germany you can even sell up to 60 litres of homemade schnapps to tourists. Harmonisation? How are ya!

(Harmonisation of its laws is an objective of the European Union and some progress has been made in the areas of transport, health and safety, and labour laws though harmonisation of taxes and excise duties are decades away.)

See more Irish family history articles and Irish genealogy lessons learned in earlier posts below and in the archives.