North Street, Newry, County Down

North Street, Newry, County Down
North Street, Newry, County Down

Sunday 30 March 2014

The disappearance of women from the Western seaboard in the first half of the nineteenth century

          The true extent of the oppression of women in 19th century Ireland becomes apparent when searching through the cemeteries of that time in the West of Ireland. Here women have been totally subsumed into the families of their spouses. Whether searching through Bohola cemetery, or Kilcolman old Cemetery at Ballaghadereen, or Tulrahan cemetery in Claremorris the story is the same. On almost every gravestone with few exceptions the wife is recorded only by her Christian name.  There is no longer any link with her father’s name, her bloodline and her own family. It becomes impossible to make for all but a handful of these women any physical or historical link with her forbears. No matter that her father may have been the most important man in the area, she is no longer his but has become her husband’s chattel. The implications are frightening. These are stone records. They were intended to and will last longer than any other record. Yet because these women have no name they are literally buried forever. They have lost their own identity. Before 1864, when births, deaths and marriages began to be officially recorded, there was no requirement to preserve the name of the female of the line. Only the parishes kept records, many of them poorly written, almost illegible, and now so faded in parts as to be useless.
But this wasn’t the only way that women were lost. Numerous living loving human beings were wiped from the records, even more completely, in the long lists of families who left the West of Ireland on the coffin ships of the 1840s never to return. These passenger lists strike a chill to the heart. Here wives and mothers travelled almost anonymously.  There is no way of linking a wife on board ship with the family left behind. Whole families were gone from the countryside, carrying with them their memories, a storehouse of our past - such a rupture between their past and our present – some of them did not even make it to the shores on the far side. Others reached port only to die of fever and starvation, to be buried hastily in alien soil. Their names, whether of the living or of the dead, were also frequently recorded incorrectly. The names were misheard, misunderstood and misspelt. Families were lost simply because they became untraceable in the records. A variety of accents from Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal caused identical names to be misheard and spelled in completely different ways by the recording clerks.
Both these examples illustrate in a truly terrible way the humorous proposal “Would you like to be buried with my family?” In this context it takes on a deeper and altogether darker meaning.

No comments:

Post a Comment