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Notes from the Past

            19 November 1860

The Freeman’s Journal, reporting on proceedings in the Law Courts on the previous Saturday noted the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal in the case of the The Queen v William Roche. This case involved a prosecution of Mr. Roche for bigamy, originally at the Carlow Assizes. Mr. Roche had married a Margaret Oughton at Gorey in County Wexford in March 1842 and had afterwards lived with his wife in Carlow. A second marriage to Lizzie Smith took place in September 1859 in Liverpool. However it seems that Mr. Roche and his first wife had executed a deed of separation in 1857, which they believed in error to have had the same legal effect as a divorce. 

The jury at trial had found Mr. Roche guilty, but had “recommended him strongly to mercy”. The case was before the Court of Criminal Appeal on two points of law, one of which related to technical requirements for proof of a legal marriage. The Court ruled that the conviction was good, but the newspaper reported that the Chief Justice was less than satisfied with the practical result. He reportedly noted in his judgment that he “would have been very glad if he had been able to work out a flaw in the conviction; for he had never met a case less deserving of punishment than the present”. The Chief Justice commented that Mr. Roche and his first wife had lived “in the same county for several years under a deed of separation, and they were under the impression that it constituted not only a legal separation, but that it avoided the marriage altogether”. He hoped that his “good opinion” might be of assistance to Mr. Roche when called up for sentence.

Sharon Slater on the ‘Limerick Life’ website provides an account of another interesting case of bigamy from Counties Clare and Limerick in earlier decades, which you can access by clicking here.

Meanwhile for information on sources relating to the system of marriage ‘banns’ and marriage licences, the subject of one of the legal points raised in the Roche case, the website of the National Archives of Ireland provides some leads – just click here.


            13 November 1852

The Galway Vindicator and Connaught Advertiser on this date devoted much of its front page to reports of an earthquake some days before felt in several locations throughout Ireland, but particularly on the east coast. Numerous detailed witness accounts were relayed, many including similar details as to the timing and experience of the shock, which took place in early morning. Some of the correspondents commented on the weather and even planetary alignment at the time in attempting to understand the phenomenon. There were also some less than calm reactions. One steward on an estate in north county Dublin was said, on being awoken by the noise, to have believed the house was being attacked by robbers and “actually got up and fired a shot to frighten them off”!

In an article on the history of earthquakes in Wales, Phil Carradice notes that the epicentre of the 1852 quake has been traced to the town of Caernarfon in north Wales. The quake was felt in both London and Glasgow, but Caernarfon is actually much closer to Dublin, at a distance of about 60 miles over the Irish Sea (Glasgow and London both being more than twice that distance from Caernarfon). The town was the site of a number of quakes through the centuries which must also have been felt in Ireland. You can read Phil Carradice’s article on Welsh tectonic activity through the BBC Wales website by clicking here.


            10 November 1854

On this day the Limerick Reporter newspaper noted the success of “Edward William, the eldest son of William Smith O’Brien Esq.” in taking “first place for first premium in Hebrew at his examination, on Saturday, in Trinity College Dublin”. This note of the everyday conceals unfortunate and dramatic family circumstances. William Smith O’Brien, a former Member of Parliament, had only then recently received a conditional pardon from exile in Tasmania, having been convicted of treason for his part in an attempted rebellion during the course of the Great Famine, some five years before. It would be another two years before he could return to Ireland. 

An article on Mr. Smith O'Brien by Carmel Heaney in the magazine History Ireland relates how, writing in exile, he urged his wife Lucy to arrange for Edward to attend Trinity College, Dublin rather than Cambridge University as he was unhappy with the education he himself received in Cambridge. Ms. Heaney’s article, which you can access by clicking here, notes that Edward was not present at the unveiling of a statute to his father on Dublin’s main street (now O’Connell Street) some years following his death, and presumably therefore did not share his father’s political outlook.

Perhaps your ancestors may have been among the 80,000 signatories to the famous petition for clemency arising from an original sentence of death passed on Mr. Smith O’Brien, which was later commuted to transportation.

             8 October 1841

The Cork Examiner carried news of the week’s proceedings at the well known Fair at Ballinasloe including the first occasion of the use of gaslight street lighting in the town. That novelty attracted large numbers of the townspeople and visitors out of doors who "paraded the town until a late hour”.

The weather was reported to be ‘awful’ with ceaseless rain. The standard of horses was also noted to be bad that year. Any that were “tolerably good" were said to have "fetched high prices” and there was a particular scarcity of good carriage horses.

The weather for this year’s Fair may not be fantastic either but the standard of the horses at ‘Europe’s Oldest Horse Festival’ hopefully won’t disappoint. For details of this year’s festival click here.

            7 October 1805

209 years ago today, the Hibernian Chronicle carried a Proclamation by the Lord Mayor of the City of Dublin relating to observance of the Sabbath Day, calling upon “Church Wardens Peace Officers and all persons duly authorised to aid and assist me in the utmost of their power in detecting and prosecuting offenders against the Law”.

Among the possible offences in mind were “playing any sports or games on the Sabbath Day”, “exercising any trade or occupation” and also “profanely cursing or swearing”. While the concept of a Sunday without sport did not exactly take in Dublin in the long run, the idea of “profanely cursing of swearing” could be said to be a matter of current debate, recent commentary indicating that a referendum is in the offing to remove the present Constitutional prohibition on blasphemy – read Patrick Smyth’s article on the issue in yesterday’s Irish Times by clicking here.   

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