Irish Roots

John Grenham


April 27th

Last week I wrote about Dr. Albert Casey’s monumental O'Kief, Coshe Mang (…), sixteen volumes and twenty years of unremitting doggedness. He was by no means the only one to create an extraordinary collection of records through sheer persistence.

Brian J. Cantwell (1914-92) was an amateur genealogist whose fortuitous discovery of a photo of his great-grandfather’s memorial unlocked his own family history and persuaded him of the value of gravestone transcripts. He set about recording inscriptions in his home town of Greystones and steadily expanded his focus, taking in all of Co. Wicklow (self-published in four volumes between 1974 and 1979), all of Co. Wexford (five volumes 1979-85), south Dublin (1990) and much of West Clare. He also produced and published, thank God, an index to the collection. All of this he did using only Ordnance Survey maps, a typewriter and a lot of determination. In all, over twenty-five years, between 1966 and 1990, he visited 546 sites and transcribed 24,392 memorials with the names of 67,297 people.

I can still remember the awe I felt the first time I used them. They were clearly models of accuracy, thoroughness and consistency. But the inevitable question arose of what it must have cost, in a personal sense, to produce them . A flavour of what those 25 years of travel, transcription and editing were like is appears in the dedication (apology?) to his wife, where he speaks of “many lonely hours, in all weathers, outside graveyards, down lanes, on the mountain side”.

Copies of Memorials of the Dead are available in most major libraries in Clare, Dublin, Wexford and Wicklow. A complete collection of his transcriptions, edited by his son Ian, is now also available on CD-ROM, published by Eneclann - see www.eneclann.ie. It will also be appearing on www.origins.net in the next few weeks.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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