In Irish research you will often find clusters of family surnames in places – Bluett in Ballina, county Mayo; Clooney in county Kilkenny; Butterly in county Louth, to name but a few. These are not the names of the Irish clans that ruled territories. Names like these represent more recent settlement, when families moved into a townland, married locally, and produced children in large enough numbers to firmly establish the name in the parish for generations.
In Ireland, traditional naming patterns ensure that Christian names also appear in clusters in the records. Traditionally the first boy of every marriage was given his paternal grandfather’s Christian name; the second boy, his maternal grandfather’s name; and the third boy, his father’s name. If any of them died young, subsequent children were often given the same name, to ‘keep’ it “alive” in the family.
Where Christian-names and surnames occur in clusters, it can sometimes be difficult to pick out the correct ancestor from their doppelgangers.
Ironically, this same problem vexed successive Irish governments, especially when it came to collecting taxes.
In the first Irish tax applied systematically to all Irish householders – Griffith’s Valuation – the government adopted a “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” policy, and adopted the simple methods used across Ireland in virtually every local community.
Where an adult child has the same name as their parent and remains in their home-place, we can distinguish between parent and child by the use of ‘senior’ and ‘junior’. So we see ‘Andrew Clooney sen.’, and ‘Andrew Clooney jun.’ in the townland of Knickeen co. Kilkenny in 1850.
Where two people in the same townland have a common name – as is often the case with paternal first cousins – we can sometimes distinguish between them because the name of their father, (less often their mother) is given in round brackets. In 1855 in Clifden, county Galway ‘Patrick Folan (Pat)’ is distinguished from his namesake ‘Patrick Folan (Tom)’.
Where there are no obvious clues in the Christian or family-names, you can sometimes only prove a parent-child relationship, by comparing land and parish records across two or more generations.
Sometimes the long-way round is the shortest way home.
By Fiona Fitzsimons,
Expert Researcher at Eneclann.