North Street, Newry, County Down

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

Thursday 22 May 2014


I found the journal when I was helping to clear a relative’s house for auction.  It was old and dusty, and a little worm eaten in places but it looked interesting. I saved it from the skip and the bonfire and put it carefully away. It wasn’t until recently that I finally found the time to take it out and examine it more closely.  With rapidly increasing interest I began to follow the adventures of a young Irish man called John, aged twenty-one, as he set out from Liverpool to New York for the first time.
            “We left Liverpool on the morning of the 8th April 1834” he wrote. “Every thing favored us.”
In his company I met and dined with the best of American Society in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Famous names cropped up constantly – Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, Barclay, and Cunard. He attended the races, saw Fanny Kemble perform in the theatre, visited the Law Courts, attended the Senate and crossed the River Hudson by steamboat.
Then he left the cities and travelled through Virginia and Kentucky.  Throughout he kept up a running commentary on life in America, on politics, on slavery, on agriculture. He visited a prison and attended a Shaker Chapel. He grumbled about the roads, the inns and taverns and he never failed to mention the pretty girls. It became obvious at this point that romance would strike sooner or later, and strike it did. By the time he reached the Military Academy at West Point he had met an eighteen year old American Beauty called Delia and had fallen in love. Delia Tudor Stewart was the daughter of a naval hero, Charles Stewart, whose family had played a prominent part in American public life since the Revolution. She was tall, vivacious and striking with her oval face, her dark hair and her blue eyes. Whenever she was mentioned in the journal she appeared lively, energetic and fearless. At Kosciusko’s Retreat – a favourite spot for lovers – he proposed to her, and she, surprisingly, accepted. Unfortunately the journal had been heavily edited at this point, presumably by him. Whenever he wrote about Delia pages had been removed, doctored and replaced.
From the States John travelled North on a Cunard Steamer – still a novelty then – to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he indulged in some fruitless Moose hunting. The journal ended in mid-sentence on the last page in Frederickton, Nova Scotia, on the 5th October 1834.
 It seemed to suggest that there had been a second journal, perhaps even more, and now these were presumably lost forever. A little research  resulted in the discovery of a second journal in the National Library, which had been bought by them in 1926.  This journal started on the 7th October in Frederickton, only two days after the end of my journal.  The story was now complete.
John and Delia were married at Grace Church, New York on 31st May 1835. John brought his American bride back to Ireland, to his home at Avondale in Co. Wicklow. There she bore him eleven children. In 1854 she appears to have left Ireland to live in Paris with some of her children.
 Delia never returned to Avondale until after John’s death. It was her second son, named after her father, who made Avondale famous. He was Charles Stewart Parnell.

[Previously broadcast on RTE Sunday Miscellany]

Monday 12 May 2014

James Stanislaus Blake [1816-1873] [5]

In 1869 James wrote a poem for his wife Cornelia.

To my Wife
On the 24th Anniversary of our Marriage
7th May 1869

When first I met thee, dearest wife
Before our time of wedded life
No Maiden be she low or high
So charmed my soul or pleased mine eye.
Thy voice was musical to mine ear
-My pulse beat fast when thou wert near
-And when my hand was closed on thine
I felt 'twere bliss to call thee mine.
So thought I then - What think I now
When Time has marked with care my brow
And years have passed, full twenty-four
Of married life? - I love thee more
I have not seen, nor do I see
Maiden or wife to equal thee
For good thou art and wise and fair
-No other can with thee compare
Of all life's treasures thou art best
For him who hath thee God hath blest.[1]

[1] "Blessed is he that dwelleth with a wise woman." Ecc.

Saturday 10 May 2014

James Stanislaus Blake [1816-1873] [4]

James Blake was born on the 4th of March, 1816, the eldest child of Andrew Blake of Waterford and his wife Mary Galwey. The Blakes were Rope and Sail makers and had a Ship Chandlers on the Quays.
James Blake entered Stoneyhurst College, Clitheroe, Lancashire on 1 June 1827 and left on 12 March 1829 following the tragic death of his father Andrew in a coach accident in Blackrock, County Dublin. Andrew and Mary had been returning from Liverpool to Ireland after a visit to their two sons, James and Patrick, in Stoneyhurst.
After Andrew's death, Mary Blake [nee Galwey] married again, Robert Joseph O'Brien. She is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Cork.
James attended Trinity College in Dublin:
Blake, James, Pen. (Mr. Sheahan), Apr. 17, 1835 aged 18 s. of Andrew, defunctus, b. Waterford. B.A. Vern 1839. (Alumni Dublinenses - Burtchaell and Sadleir 1593-1860).
He subsequently became a barrister:
Law Intelligence. Hilary Term was opened yesterday with the usual formalities when the following gentlemen were sworn in Barristers before the Lord Chancellor... James Stanislaus Blake, eldest son of Andrew Blake, of Waterford in the County of Waterford. (Freeman's Journal, Tue, Jan 12, 1841)
In 1845 he married Cornelia Ronayne, daughter of Edmund Ronayne of Cork. They lived in Ballinamona, Thomastown, County Kilkenny, and had six children, one of whom, Isidore, died in 1866 aged 12.
James Blake died at Ballinamona, Thomastown on 11th September 1873 and is buried in Teampaill (Thompal) Teagan graveyard in County Kilkenny, together with his son Isidore. The inscription of his grave reads:


Cornelia Blake [nee Ronayne] died in 1897.

Saturday 3 May 2014

James Stanislaus Blake [c.1817-1873] [3]

James Blake describes in his journal an encounter with customs in Le Havre. Clearly some things never change!

"Ah bon!" in Havre now I stand.
Here, as elsewhere, the porters run
For luggage; but the Frenchmen stun;
And set on by this ruthless crew,
From mild to savage soon I grew.
"Stop! That is mine. Let go my trunk;
D'ye hear, you scoundrel; are you drunk?
I wish to manage my affair."
"Mais monsieur, il est necessaire,
Voici mon carte, voila l'hotel -"
Then for my luggage fought pell-mell;
And when at length by dint of blows,
I gained a passage through my foes,
I was seized on by two gens-darmes,
Who kindly said, "they meant no harm,
But to the custom-house I must go,
With them to search in my portmanteau."
To government all must give way,
So with bad grace I gave my key:
They oped my trunk, and out they shook
Coat, breeches, shirts, and pocket-book;
And then politely bade me pack,
My scattered things in order back:
This done, I made no more delay,
But sought with haste the first cafe.