Old Kilkenny photographs and their family values uncovered

John Kirwan

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John Kirwan

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Old Kilkenny photographs and their family values uncovered

A cousin, well known in GAA circles, from the Tullogher area of Rosbercon parish recently sent me a collection of old photographs which his mother had collected during her lifetime.
This lady was one of the many maternal first cousins of my mother, Eileen Kirwan, née Hogan (1925-2012). Her mother, Annie Hogan (1880-1940), née Ryan of Ballycurran, Tullogher had one brother (John, died 1951) and seven sisters, three of whom became nuns while the other four girls married.
Three of these sisters had families. Today their descendants are scattered around south Kilkenny, Wicklow and Dublin and must number hundreds of Ryans, O’Farrells, Dunphys, Duggans, Wallaces, Holdens, Healys and Dowlings to name but a very few.
All have a common ancestor in Richard Ryan of Guilcough and his wife Mary Hartley of Busherstown, Glenmore. The couple leased a farm at Ballycurran adjacent to the Ryan home at Guilcough Mór. The family are still in both places today.
The collection included many of my mother as a young school-going girl who, though born and reared in Inistioge parish, went to live with her aunt, Mrs William Drea (née Kate Ryan) of Brownstown, in order to attend the nearby national school. The school was much closer to the Drea house than Inistioge National School was to my mother’s home in Ballyvoole, which was a long three mile walk each way, in the days before school transport. My mother often spoke of ‘Aunt Kate’, Bill Drea and of Brownstown, a place she visited all her life.
As with most collections of family photographs there are a number of unidentified images. The most interesting of these (main picture) depicts perhaps a newly married couple and is by the Waterford photographers Poole & Co, who operated for many decades from 34, The Mall.
Happily, the Poole Collection survived the closure of the business and is today one of the great photographic treasures held by the National Library of Ireland (Temple Bar branch).
They are a handsome couple and, to my mind, the woman has the dark looks of the Hartleys, ancestors and cousins of the Ryans. But that is just a guess. Perhaps a reader out there might be a descendant of this prosperous couple?
Poole & Co were the Waterford equivalents to August Nielsen, later Fox, Greenhough of Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny. This collection has a number of photographs by the latter, largely of couples on their wedding day.
Another photograph (bottom right) which depicts three young schoolgirls is also a bit of a puzzle. The girl in the middle is Mai Ryan, later Mrs Michael Dunphy, Ballyvoole, Inistioge, but the identity of the girls on either side of her are unknown. Can anyone help? Mai had only two brothers, Richard and John Ryan.
The next two photographs (far right) depict Kate Ryan and her husband Bill Drea, standing and seated in their very smartly turned-out pony and trap.
Sunday Best
Both are in their Sunday best. Perhaps they are off to a wedding? Maybe even that of my maternal grandparents, Andrew Hogan and Annie Ryan in 1924.
Kate wears a cloche hat and coat with a fur collar and a dropped waist, reminiscent of the 1920s, while Bill has a bowler hat and a well tailored knee length overcoat. Between them in the second photograph stands her niece Mai Ryan. Bill Drea was a member of the family of that surname which still farm at Kilmacshane, Inistioge. The couple had no children, so informally adopted Anastatia O’Farrell, her niece from Kilcurl, Knocktopher, who in the course of time inherited the Brownstown farm.
This was not an unknown Irish arrangement. My mother had another cousin on her father’s side, a Dowling of Annaleck, Goresbridge, who as a young girl was sent to live with her maternal widowed grandfather, James Ryan of Raheenduff, Inistioge.
My paternal grandmother, Anne Murphy of Dunbell, had a similar experience. She lived with her unmarried maternal uncle, Luke Murphy and his spinster sisters, Kate and Ellen at Dungarvan, Co Kilkenny. All three girls grew up away from their siblings, whom they only got to know later in life.
Two, I know, felt that they had lost out on the rough and tumble of everyday family life though fully acknowledging that they had had a very loving upbringing. I remember the late Frank McEvoy of Hebron, Kilkenny talk about a similar experience.
All these images tell us something of Irish life from the early days of the 20th Century. The people in them are well dressed and well-fed. They are a mirror of our immediate past. Within 30 years the pony and trap ceased to be a feature of everyday life.
The formality of the dress also tells us a great deal about their attitudes when going beyond the front door or the farmyard gate into the wider world. Women hardly ever ventured out without a hat or head covering. It was a much more formal age than our own.
All this was achieved through tedious labour, as few if any of the houses of these people would have had water on tap, not to mention washing machines.
Brownstown was lucky in that it had a good well with a bucket and winch, steps from the front door. My father who grew up in Lower Grange, Goresbridge, occasionally made reference to bringing water by the barrel, loaded on carts, during long dry summers from a nearby bog. Irish life has changed hugely in the space of perhaps two life times.
These photographs are a valuable insight into the life of Ireland a mere hundred years ago. Ahead of them lay the hard times of the ‘Economic War’ and later still the ‘Emergency’ when Ireland was largely isolated from the wider world and subject to rationing, minor hardships compared to the murderous conditions that most of western and central Europe experienced between 1939 and 1945.
It also brought back into widespread use the pony and trap. This was also the first generation of Irish farmers to own the land they farmed.
The last big photograph depicts members of the O’Farrell family of Kilcurl and the Hartley Family of Busherstown. This is also by Poole & Co of Waterford.