Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Damien Fitzhenry retires!

Damien Fitzhenry was one of the leading lights of the Irish hurling scene. He retired from the sport last week at the ripe old age of 35. Here's our tribute to another great Fitzhenry.... shamelessly gleaned from all the other tribute articles in the Irish press.

Damien Fitzhenry was born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford
in 1974, the youngest of 15 children.
Back in 1991, this article showed the multi-talented sporting Fitzhenrys making up half the Duffry Rovers gaelic football team, with three of Damien's sisters featuring in the Duffry camogie team.

Here is his entry on Wikipedia detailing his hurling exploits for Wexford.
And here's a You-tube clip with an interview with our man and there are many more clips on You-tube showing just how fast and furious hurling can be!

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Friday, 19 February 2010

Benjamin Fitzhenry 1848 -1925 A Life Of Loss Remembered -

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When first embarking on the investigation of one's family history, there is usually one, maybe two, family stories that engage one's curiosity. For me, my grandmother's history always intrigued me. To begin with, she was English, and as such, was the only immigrant family member I knew. Secondly, she had a fascinating name - Fitzhenry. I had never heard anyone else with this name and it had - and still does - have an intimation of solidity and the slightly exotic. This image was further ensconced in my little 10 year old brain when the details of her families move to Australia were hinted at. Lilian and her two older brothers Charles and Herbert Fitzhenry travelled to Australia in 1897 with their mother Isabella Matilda Fitzhenry (nee Worms) on board the ship Orient. As a child this story was accepted without comment. However, as I grew older I wondered about my grandmother's father - what was his name, what did he do, why didn't he come to Australia with his family? It transpired that Grandma's father was indeed alive at the time the family emigrated, and yet no-one spoke of him. Why? and what happened to him? A mystery. Thus started my search for my great grandfather, Benjamin Fitzhenry. What I have discovered is a story of love lost, hardship and tragedy.

Benjamin Fitzhenry was born the third son of Michael Fitzhenry, a compositor / printer, and his wife Elizabeth nee Kemp. It was a large family, though not unusually so, made up of 4 daughters and 4 sons, initially living in the area around St George Hanover Square in Westminster, but later moving to Holborn.
All the children were quite literate, due no doubt to both parents being able to pass this on.
Whilst Benjamin and his older brother George both entered their father's occupation as printers, George soon opted for a career in the Army and spent much of his subsequent life travelling throughout England and Ireland. His other brothers William and Harry became a librarian and a commercial traveller respectively. Benjamin though, stuck with printing his entire life.
In nineteenth cenury London, child and even adult mortality rates were high, and it was common for early death to be experienced within most families and the Fitzhenry family was not immune to this. Thus in 1852 when he was only 5 and a half Benjamin's oldest sister Elizabeth, aged 20 died, then when he was 13 his sister Sarah died in childbirth having her first baby. Yet not everything was doom and gloom!
In 1875 at the age of 26 Benjamin married the daughter of a skin dresser from Saffron Hill, Mary Ann Lines. The marriage was apparently happy, and two years later their first child, Helen, was born. This was followed two years later by another daughter - Jane Elizabeth - and another two years later by their first son Ernest Harold.

However Benjamin was soon to experience a double edged tragedy.

Whilst heavily pregnant with her fourth child Mary Ann became ill. Three days after giving birth to her second son, Frederick, Mary Ann died of pleuro pneumonia. Benjamin was faced with the tragedy of losing his wife, in addition to the practical loss of his son Frederick, since he was unable to look after the newborn. His grief along with the practical realities of looking after 3 other children under 5 resulted in the decision to give up the care of his days old son, at least temporarily, to his wife's family, the Lines. The fact that his beloved sister Jane Fitzhenry had cemented the Lines/Fitzhenry connection by marrying Mary Ann's brother Joseph Lines might well have made the decision easier, but was still a terrible choice to have to make for a man who loved his children.
, with the help of his sister Jane and his in laws the Lines, Benjamin struggled on.

At this point, family lore 'kicks in'.

Mary Ann was said to have worked at Novello's the famous nineteenth century music publishing company, along with her friend Isabella Worms. Whilst it is certainly true that Isabella worked (along with several of her sisters) at Novello's, and it is possible that Mary Ann had as well, it is more probable that Mary Ann and Isabel's connection was initiated through their residence as children in the notorious Saffron Hill in the 1850s. Saffron Hill at this time was described as a squalid neighbourhood, the home of paupers and thieves. To give an indication at just how awful the place was, Charles Dickens in his book Oliver Twist described Fagan's den as being on Saffron Hill. Oliver's first impressions was that 'a dirty and more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very muddy and the air was impregnated with filthy odours'.(Charles Dickens Oliver Twist Chapter 8 pg 43).

Anyway, it must have been clear to Mary Ann at some point in late February or early March 1882 that she was dying, and she entreated her friend the slightly built but none-the-less daunting Isabella Worms to 'look after Ben and the children'.

Isabella was the daughter of a Scottish Presbyterian mother, an immigrant to London, and had inherited a no nonsense and rigid outlook on life. At nearly 36 she was older than Benjamin, but this was a woman who liked her spinsterhood, and had no interest in marriage. She apparently spent the next 18 months helping out with Benjamin's young family, but within the 'limits of propriety'. This was Victorian England and for Isabella particularly, propriety meant that she could not - or would not- be left in a house alone with an unmarried man. As the young children grew older, the practicalities of such an arrangement became ... well... challenging. It may well be that Benjamin seeing his youngest child Frederick nearing 2 years of age, felt that marriage would enable him to regain full custody of his youngest from the Lines family. Whatever the reasons, in 1884 Benjamin married Isabella Worms. In the terminology of romance novels, it was not a love match.

After the marriage the family moved to Norwood in Croydon, where despite the inauspicious beginnings three more children were born to Benjamin - two sons, Charles William born early in 1886 and Herbert Arthur born in 1887. After a long break (and at the age of nearly 49 !!) Isabella had her first daughter, my grandmother, Lilian Julia Isabel Fitzhenry, born in May 1895.

Having married into the Worms family, Benjamin would have been keenly aware of the extremely close bond between his wife and her five sisters. They visited each other regularly (some might even say excessively) and when first Elizabeth, and then Julia moved to Australia their close relationship was maintained through regular letters and visits. Isabella and her sister Julia were particularly close. For Benjamin this closeness was to prove life changing. Julia had married a wealthy Australian however, she never had children. With wealth and no family encumbrances she would regularly visit England and her sisters. Isabella, who had made no secret of her distaste for marriage prior to marrying Benjamin apparently was confirmed in this belief after the marriage. She regularly voiced her dissatisfaction to her sisters, and as a consequence Julia and Isabella secretly devised a plan to extricate herself from a marriage she was not happy in. After some months (possibly years) of planning in 1897 Julia paid the passage for Isabella and her 3 children to Melbourne, Australia, leaving Mary Ann's children with Benjamin. At this time Helen, the eldest, would have been 20 and she was working as a bookfolder (no doubt helped by Isabella who had worked in this field herself until her marriage). Initially I had located an entry for a marriage of a Helen Fitzhenry in 1897, and thought this must have been the catalyst for Isabella to leave, however, further investigations indicated that this was a mis-indexing of Ellen Fitzhenry (Jo's ancestor). As at the time of writing, I do not have a definitive answer as to why Isabella chose that time to go. However, the most revealing aspect of her departure relates to Isabella's secrecy regarding her plans. Despite her almost claustrophobic relationship with her sisters, Isabella did not inform them of her decision to leave Benjamin, nor the plan to emigrate to Australia despite the fact that this would mean she would not see them ever again. Informing this decision was the fact that they may well have disapproved and attempted to dissuade her from taking the planned action and secondly, her knowledge that Benjamin would attempt to locate and reclaim her and the children. No doubt his first 'port of call' in the process would be to contact the sisters. With total secrecy she could be assured that Benjamin would not be alerted to the fact of her flight or destination until well after she had left English shores.
I can but wonder at Benjamin's reaction to the realisation that his wife had taken his young children and that he was unlikely to ever see them again. Not a wealthy man, his financial ability to pursue them was non existent, and even if he could muster the means to to follow them he would have known that Julia's means could ensure his family was kept hidden from him indefinitely. Legal options whilst open to him were both expensive and unlikely to result in the children being returned. Having lost the love of his life Mary Ann, and his son Frederick, who at 15 was still living with his former sister in law, Martha Lines, he was now confronted with the loss of his three youngest children.

Yet Benjamin continued on.

By 1901 the family was still living in Camberwell but had moved from Sunnybank to Millais St. In April 1904 his daughter Jane married John Henry Horobin, and Benjamin was there to give his daughter away, along with his brother in law (and his sister Jane's husband) Joseph Lines as witness. The connections to Mary Ann's family clearly remained strong. Yet, Benjamin's trials were not at an end. Less than 4 years later, tragedy struck Benjamin again. His son Ernest had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and after being admitted to London Hospital, he lapsed into a coma, and died in January 1908. Ernest was only 27, and the informant was his father, the ever stalwart Benjamin. In 1911 his eldest daughter Helen became a mother, and Benjamin, Helen and her baby daughter, also named Helen, all lived together in Kingsdowne Rd. It must have been reassuring for Benjamin to be able to be an active part of his granddaughter's early life, particularly given the many losses he had already experienced.

Benjamin Fitzhenry died in December 1925, unknown to his Australian children. Although they knew his name and various details about him, out of respect for their mother his name was rarely if ever mentioned. Indeed, his name was left off her 1932 Australian death certificate.

Yet despite Isabella's claims that she left Benjamin because of his drinking habits, her sons Charles and Herbert took quiet issue with this. Whilst their mother was generally known as a woman with strong opinions and intolerant of attitudes and behaviours that did not meet her exacting and inflexible standards, the boys remembered their father as a happy and sociable man, who would invite friends to the house and who would have a social drink, but never to excess. The fact that he retained his employment, and - according to one source - received promotions to positions of responsibility, whilst remaining close to his English children and his Lines in laws is quiet testimony to the fact that Benjamin Fitzhenry was a man who despite many trials in life, was able to persevere where others might well have faltered.

Whilst I cannot claim to have an intimate knowledge of this forebear who had died long before I was even born, I would like to think I have uncovered some truths that give an appreciation of his life - a life of loss and tragedy that would test the resilience of even the most optimistic of characters.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Marriage of James Fitz Henry and Mary Morisy in Ballykelly Wexford 1866

Another great marriage certificate find from Bev Kronk as she systematically works her way through the parish registers of Ireland!

1866 – Marriage solemnized at the Roman Catholic Chapel of Ballykelly in the Registrar’s District of Old Ross in the Union of New Ross in the County of Wexford

10th September 1866
James Fitz Henry, 24 years, Bachelor, Labourer, Bally---t (looks like Ballyagot)
Father – Martin Fitz Henry, Labourer
Mary Morrisy, 26 years, Spinster, Labourer, Fisherstown
Father – Miles Morrisy, Farmer
Both placed their mark
Witness [both placed their mark] – Martin Sutton and Bridget Farrell

Marriage performed by Thomas Staples C.C.

Ballykelly is about 8km south of New Ross, and Fishertown is another 5 km south-south-east of Ballykelly. Both places may be found on Google maps. I can't find any place that approximates to the spelling of Ballyagot.

Marriage certificate Ref. 1866 Volume 19 Page 467 New Ross. Film No. 101502.

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Monday, 1 February 2010

Peter Fitzhenry of the Royal Army Medical Corps

I've come into possession of a 1914-1918 British War Medal for a Private Peter Fitzhenry 73815, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Unfortunately, he is one of the many soldiers whose records were burned during the bombing of London during World War 2, so there is no service record to link him to. The Royal Army Medical Corps enlisted men from all through Great Britain and Ireland, so there is no local regimental link suggesting where he lived.

The good thing is that he seems to have made it through the War alive, as he doesn't appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

All I know about this man so far is that he was born before 1901 (in order to be over 18 years of age at the end of the war), and he enlisted somewhere in Great Britain and Ireland.

His medal card shows that he wasn't promoted above the rank of private, that he wasn't mentioned in dispatches, and came out of the War with the "standard" two medals - the Victory Medal and the British War Medal (and not the 1914-14 star, so he enlisted in or after 1916). All in all, you would think, a pretty quiet war.

However, the inscription at the bottom of the medal list "SWB list RAMC/1875" shows that Peter's war was anything but quiet.
SWB stands for Silver War Badge, and was often known as the Silver Wounds Badge. There is a very comprehensive description of the history of the badge here at the excellent "The Long, Long Trail" WW1 family history research site.
In brief, the badge was mainly awarded to soldiers who had been invalided out of the forces after having seen service abroad (there's a list of the other less common reasons). Each badge was numbered to the soldier it was issued to. It was designed to be worn on civilian clothes to indicate to the public that the person had been discharged from the Army, rather than he was someone who was avoiding enlisting.

The SWB lists are held at the National Archives and contain some service details of each soldier who was issued with the badge including the reason for discharge. So the next time I'm there, hopefully I can find out more about Peter.
If anyone is at the archives and fancies doing a look-up for me, the document number is WO329/3237, looking for Peter Fitzhenry SWB RAMC/1875.
And if Peter was your forebear please write to us at the Blog and tell us more about this war hero.

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