The 1916 Series: Patrick Pearse's Meath roots
Patrick Pearse wrote that his mother’s family was from Nobber in Meath. On behalf of Ann Finnegan, national president of Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann, Henry Cruise undertook some research in an attempt to find out more, and came up with some surprises.
Patrick Henry Pearse was born on 10th November 1879 in Dublin to an English father, James Pearse and an Irish mother, Margaret Brady. James and Margaret were married on 24th October 1877 in the Roman Catholic church of St Agatha’s on North William Street. Margaret’s family were from Meath, and the exact nature of the relationship of the family with this county has long been a matter of conjecture.
Folk memory in Nobber contains strong anecdotal evidence of the village’s connection to Margaret’s family. This evidence is not however, always entirely consistent, and at least three separate locations are pointed out as to the exact location of the old Brady homestead. Some stories maintain that Margaret was born in Nobber, but two vital pieces of evidence firmly contradict this assertion. The parish register for St Agatha’s reveals that Margaret was born in Dublin, not Meath on 12th February 1857. Both the 1901 and 1911 census confirm her birthplace as Dublin city. Her parents were Patrick Brady and Brigid Savage of Clarence St, Ballybough. Margaret had three known siblings, Walter who died as an infant in 1855 as did Brigid in 1860. Another sister, Catherine, died in 1888 leaving a young family behind. Margaret herself died in 1932 and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
The Nobber connection is a real one however, and alluded to by Pearse himself in a fragment of autobiography where he states that: ‘On my mother’s side I can go back to a great great grandfather, Walter Brady of Nobber in the County Meath, a Cavanman by origin. He fought in ’98, and one of his brothers was hanged by the Yeos; another lies buried in the Croppy’s Grave at Tara. His son Walter, my great-grandfather, married Margaret O’Connor, who had five sons and three daughters – Catherine, Phil, Anne, Patrick, Larry, Christy, John and Margaret The famine year drove him from his land in Meath, and he came to Dublin with his five tall sons and his three daughters’. He has therefore given us an extremely useful genealogy of his Brady family forbears, but what can we discern of these individuals in the historical record? Pearse writes that the Famine drove the younger Walter to Dublin from his land in Meath. Can information related to the family in Dublin provide us with a clue as to the link with Meath?
Walter Brady first appears in the Dublin records in the 1851 census living in Ballybough and true to his Meath roots, engaged in the dairy business. Ballybough, now in the shadow of Croke Park, at that time was on the edge of the city and had rolling grasslands stretching to the north. Walter died in January 1871 at the age of 84 giving an estimated birth year of 1787 but research to date has been unable to locate his exact birthplace. His business interests had expanded as he was recorded as a ‘car owner’, a reference to the horse-drawn jaunting cars which were the taxis of their day. Walter was buried in Glasnevin cemetery alongside his wife, Margaret O’Connor, who predeceased him in 1855 at the age of 66. Two adjacent Brady plots in Glasnevin hold many members of the extended family and show an enduring relationship with the neighbourhood of Ballybough.
One of Walter’s sons, Laurence Brady, also involved in the cab business died barely six weeks after his father in 1871. Another son, John (married Jane Fox) followed the occupation of dairyman and died in 1872. Walter’s daughter Margaret (Pearse’s grandaunt) died in 1892 having never married. Christopher Brady, dairyman, son of Walter married Anne Keogh and passed away in 1899. Patrick Brady (Pearse’s grandfather) died in 1894, his occupation listed as both dairyman and cab proprietor. In his will Patrick left effects of £216 14s 6d, and his executors were none other than Patrick Pearse’s parents James and Margaret Pearse. Patrick’s wife, Bridget Savage predeceased him in 1888. All of the above lived in the Ballybough area and are buried alongside each other in Glasnevin.
Evidence gleaned from death records points to a date range of the 1820s-30s for the births of the known children of Walter Brady and Margaret O’Connor. Based on Pearse’s own writings, it is entirely reasonable to expect to find the baptisms of Patrick Brady and some or all of his siblings in Nobber during that period. The baptism register of Nobber RC parish was searched between the years 1810-1850, but disappointingly no baptisms for any of these children were found in the register. A search of the registers for all neighbouring parishes similarly produced no results. When the search was widened to include all Meath parishes however, some intriguing new evidence came to light. Four names matching known children of Walter Brady and his wife Margaret O’Connor were found in the baptism registers of Ratoath and Curraha in south Meath. These are Laurence Brady baptised 1822 in Ratoath; Christopher Brady baptised 1827 in Curraha; Margaret Brady baptised 1831 in Curraha and John Brady baptised 1833 in Curraha. All are recorded as the children of Walter Brady and Margaret Connor. The dropping of the “O” in Connor is not significant. No baptism for Patrick son of Walter Brady was found in this or any other parish.
The unique combination of so many known Brady family names makes it highly probable that this is the correct family. Further, the baptismal dates of these children are well within the acceptable margin of error worked out from records associated with their deaths. This evidence immediately raises a number of questions, the primary one being why were the children born in the Ratoath area and not in Nobber? Is it possible they moved to Ratoath from Nobber a number of decades earlier than previously thought? If the location of Walter Brady’s marriage to Margaret O’Connor was known this would help matters greatly, but a nationwide search of marriage records between the years 1750-1850 has failed to locate this information.
Two other important 19th century genealogical sources also fail to give us conclusive evidence. Although Griffith’s Valuation, published in the 1850s, records a number of Brady households in the general localities of both Nobber and Ratoath, none can be definitively linked to Pearse’s ancestors. The Tithe Applotment books of the late 1820s record no Bradys in Nobber or neighbouring parishes, and no Walter Brady in the vicinity of Ratoath or indeed anywhere in Meath.
Pearse writes that two of the brothers of Walter, his great-great-grandfather were killed in 1798 and that one was buried in the Croppies grave after the Battle of Tara Hill in May 1798. The names of most interred there will most likely never be confirmed. Author Liam Chambers makes the point that ‘the identity of the leading figures on the rebel side in [Meath] remains unclear’. Without therefore even the names of their leaders, it is unlikely that the names of the majority of the estimated 400 rebels that died that day were recorded anywhere except in the memories of their families.
In conclusion, in Pearse’s autobiography, he records his line of descent back to Walter Brady of Cavan and Nobber. The uncomfortable fact remains however, that if the family lived in Nobber for the best part of fifty years c.1798-1848 one would expect to find some mention of them in the historical sources, especially the parish registers. The new evidence of the baptisms in Ratoath would appear to firmly show the family living there between the years 1822-33, over a decade before coming to Dublin. The Nobber connection, although still undocumented, remains a valid one. It seems likely however, that the Brady family left that area a generation before it had previously been assumed. Hopefully, a further examination of the records in Ratoath might reveal the exact nature of the Nobber connection.
* Henry Cruise can be contacted at email@example.com.