The emergence of local history and family history as interesting and compelling sources of study is one of the noteworthy features of the last twenty years or so. In that time local history societies have sprung up throughout Ireland, each of them confident in the belief that all history is local. Local in the sense that history is about the man in the field, the woman in the house or in the workplace, who in their comings and goings interact with their community and so help create the living canvass which the historian is called upon to sketch.
It is the people of the local community that interest the local historian. It is their deeds, their mistakes, their joys and their sorrows which the historian chronicles so as to give a voice to the present and a printed record to the future.
I was prompted to think on these matters when I read an email received some days ago from Wagga Wagga, Australia. My correspondent, whom I have never met or previously known, asked me to help him in tracing past family links with Athy which started in 1846 and lasted for 30 years or more.
Andrew Sanders and Rachel Purcell married in Dublin in 1845 or thereabouts and arrived in Athy one year later. Nine Sanders children were born in Athy between 1846 and 1861 and I am told all were baptised in the local St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church. Andrew Sanders died on 8th March 1887 in the Athy Workhouse and the only other details I have indicate that several of his issue married locally in St. Michael’s Church.
What a pity that the census records prior to 1901 were destroyed as they contained quite an extraordinary amount of material for researching family history. In the absence of that primary source material those seeking to compile their family histories must have recourse to the Births, Deaths and Marriage Registers compiled by the various churches in Ireland. The task of checking through these registers is not an easy one and it is sometimes rendered even more difficult than it should be by the reluctance of some Church authorities to facilitate family research.
As for the Sanders family I have not been able to find any record of a gravestone or grave memorial in St. Michael’s Cemetery. This does not necessarily mean that no member of the Sanders family is buried there. It was not always possible for families in the 19th century to undertake the expense of marking the last resting place of a family member and the death of Arthur Sanders in the local workhouse might tend to support the belief that such was the case with the extended Sanders family. Can anyone help my Australian correspondent with any information on the Sanders family?
Of course the query from Wagga Wagga came via computer, as did another contact, this time from a Dublin man who had read a piece I had written quite some time ago on Michael Territt of Athy. Michael who was from Kirwan’s Lane was just 18 years of age when he died of wounds in France some weeks after the Easter Rising of 1916. Michael, like his older brother John, had enlisted in the Dublin Fusiliers at the start of World War I. My Dublin based correspondent had acquired the death plaque of Michael Territt and he offered to sell it to me. It is now on my desk as I write this Eye on the Past showing a small hole drilled in it by a previous owner. That it was a treasured memento of a young lost life is obvious from the worn state of the shiny plaque. Clearly it was polished regularly, so much so that the name has been worn down. The polish which escaped through the drilled hole and lies congealed on the back of the plaque confirms, if confirmation was needed, that someone, somewhere, at sometime in the past lavished care and attention on this reminder of a young life which breathed its last in a foreign country.
If local history means anything it must accord to men such as 18 year old Michael Territt of Mount Hawkins, a place in the record of our community’s past. He never reached beyond the beginnings of manhood, unlike Andrew Sanders who at 70 years of age breathed his last in the local Workhouse.
Sanders and Territt, Territt and Sanders, names to conjure with, names forgotten for so long and yet names which have been resurrected by 21st century technology. The internet, email and all the gadgetry of today brings us closer to others outside our local communities and helps us to fill in the missing pieces of the story of those men and women who once walked the streets of our ancient town. Local history is for all of us a source of pride and a source of fascination. The Patrick Moran lecture in the Arts Centre on Wednesday, 27th April at 8.00 p.m. which I mentioned last week will I am sure prove this to be true.