Evidence, evidence, evidence
Dick Eastman writes the genealogy world’s longest-established and most authoritative family history blog, at blog.eogn.com. So when he started a recent post with “John Murphy lived to be 219 years old”, I sat up and paid attention. The story was from last week’s Limerick Leader and described how a local man had come across a headstone in Knockainey recording the death of a John Murphy in 1784 and giving his age as 219. Dick was sceptical, to say the least, but a link from his post took me back to the Leader article, complete with a photographic close-up of the age, “219″, apparently carved on the gravestone.
People in 1784 were no more stupid than we are. Someone claiming to be 219 in 1784 would have been born in 1564 or so, around the same year as Shakespeare, and would have been widely celebrated and just as widely disbelieved. A monumental mason will not carve something self-evidently ludicrous without a very good reason. It all seemed a bit Irish, in the Healy-Rae sense of the word. So what was going on?
Then I remembered that Knockainey is one of the areas covered by the Historic Graves project. And yes, there is the inscription in St, John’s Knockainey. But in full it reads ” John Murphy died the 11th day of October 1784 aged 29 yrs.(sic.) May the Lord have mercy on his soul”. Most importantly there is also a high-quality photograph of the stone, showing the “2″ and the “9″ widely spaced, but with nothing between them. John Murphy was born in 1755, not 1564.
The moral is, of course, “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” Or in a blog, not even this one: always check the evidence. The Limerick Leader story is at tinyurl.com/b8jym77. The historicgraves.com image and transcript are at tinyurl.com/aq2757z.
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]