Irish Roots

John Grenham

June 22nd

No matter where in the world your ancestors came from, genealogy eventually shades off into local history. In Ireland, because of the destruction of so many records in 1922, we reach that point much sooner than most other places. I recently reached that point myself.

The problem was to interpret records from an early baptismal register. Over the first three decades of the 19th century dozens of families of the same name were recording baptisms, and many of the place-names were not listed in any reference sources. On examining property records and maps, it emerged that there were actually three separate small rundale villages in a single townland. Rundale was a tradition of land sharing very close to medieval European practices, which lasted in Ireland up to the 19th century. Small strips of land were co-operatively managed by extended groups of up to 20 or so households, and periodically redistributed. It created an intensely communal way of life, with a wealth of tradition, musical, verbal, culinary. Some things about the extended family became clearer, especially the long-standing, intense attachment to an apparently nondescript patch of East Galway.

It also became clear that I was never going to be able to sort out one family from another with baptismal records, or indeed ever. My ideas of what makes up a family just didnít apply. Looking at the villages on the map, with their tight nets of in-facing houses, vegetable gardens and outlying fields, it was clear that these people were working, dancing, telling stories, intermarrying in generation after generation, and living lives that did not have the boundaries that I take for granted.

I donít think Iíll ever uncover the names of the direct generations before 1800, but there is plenty of compensation in the vivid sense how they lived.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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