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Extracts from Over the Hills and Far Away: Tracing the Sparlings by Kathleen Bryant:
... One wonders how one can reconstruct [details of] a family ... for this, we are lucky in that it was the emigrants who maintained our history.
It was the older members of a family who emigrated, leaving the parents and younger children in Ireland. These firstborn kept in contact with ‘The Old Country’, and treasured many of the letters which kept them abreast of events in the land of their birth. In addition, the emigrants kept up the strong oral traditions of the times, whiling away the long dark winter evenings ‘tracing’ the events and personalities of their childhood. Fortunately, these remained in the memories of their descendants — though in some cases becoming a little distorted in the process.
An appreciation of the geographical background to the Homeland is central to reconstructing the stories. Ireland is divided into four provinces: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. These are divided into Baronies (which do not necessarily conform to the counties), and are subdivided into Parishes and Townlands. The Tithes information of the 1820s and the 1850 Griffith’s Valuation are arranged on these divisions; and are available at the National Library, among other places. It is these townlands which generally feature in the memories of the emigrants, as they were the location of their actual homes. Ballycurrane was the base from whence Christopher’s [Ch VIII] three sons ventured into the New World. One of the few remaining resources available to Irish researchers, the Registry of Deeds at King’s Inn, Henrietta St, Dublin, requires a knowledge of Baronies and Townlands. While there is an alphabetical index to these volumes, it does not list every party to every deed.
It is necessary to search for every deed mentioning the townland where the family reside, if one is not to miss a reference to the family in question. It is a long, dirty and tedious process! However, it must be remembered that it was not essential to deposit all deeds in Henrietta Street; in fact, if tenants were well known to the landlord, and considered reliable, such a precaution was deemed superfluous. Hence the deeds concerning the Palatines were normally kept by the Landlord’s Agent, and most have now been lost or destroyed in accidental fires!
For background information on the Palatines, Patrick J O’Connor’s book People Make Places gives a comprehensive account. However, I find that we need to appreciate the social and economic background too. Only by putting oneself back in time, to when farming was unaided by modern mechanical methods, can we appreciate the lifestyle of the Palatines. Many strong arms were needed to work the land; men, women and children were all involved in a way that would be alien to today’s youth. The Palatines generally intermarried within their own community; and in effect everyone was related to some extent, which reinforced the pattern of obligation. Haymaking and harvest time were tackled by whole community, no farmer being able to exist by his own efforts alone. You helped your neighbours, and they, in turn, helped you.
It was a mutually dependant society, a viewpoint lost to today’s urban populations. Also alien to our thought processes were the arranged marriages which were then the norm. The main form of transport was the pony and trap. This was used to get to market and to church every Sunday, but otherwise the pony was usually needed on the farm. ‘Gadding about’ was frowned on, so how were the young people to meet? In widely scattered Protestant communities, it was usual for matches to be made at the suggestion of older members of the family who happened to be visiting in the area. The bride and groom only met after the suitability of the match had been considered by their parents. The attractiveness of the bride was dependant on her temperament and housewifely skills, not her looks; and that of the groom on his ability to work hard to provide for his dependants. A father who could ensure that his son had a farm would not be short of a choice of bride to bring a welcome dowry to the match. This could be used to buy stock for the farm, so setting the young couple up for life.
Girls married early, in some cases from the age of fourteen. At this age it was usual for the marriage not to be consummated for a few years, the couple living apart until the bride was about 16. A more usual age for marriage was between 18 and 25. Men, on the other hand, tended to marry when in their late twenties and early thirties. By then it was to be hoped that they would be well enough established in their trade to be able to afford to support a wife and family. There was no unemployment benefit, no sickness allowance to fall back on. If a husband was out of work, the family starved, or had to go begging for help from their relatives.
Children generally arrived at two-yearly intervals; there was no birth control other than abstinence. The Palatine women seem to have been a very resilient lot; death in childbirth was a very real danger, but most of our women seem to have borne huge families to no ill effect. The end of childbearing usually came when the mother reached her early forties, which would indicate that they reached the menopause at an earlier age than today.
Another thing which we are not used to considering is that of health. In those days, minor illnesses such as chicken pox and measles were killers. Cholera and typhoid were common, and tuberculosis was rife. Inevitably, even though the Palatines were more careful of hygiene than others, children were lost to these diseases. The Irish born Sparlings followed the local tradition relating to the naming of children. The eldest son is named in honour of the paternal grandfather, and the second son in honour of the maternal line; while the eldest daughter was named after the mother’s mother. The main exception to this rule was where a brother of the father had died—his name had to be carried forward by the next son born to the family.
The Palatine tradition of loyalty to the Crown had a number of side effects. The downside was that they sometimes became the focus of anti-establishment feeling. This peaked in the difficult years of 1821–1822 when the country was suffering from an economic downturn compounded by famine. There were attacks on farmhouses, robbery and murders on the roads resulting in a wave of emigration. History repeated itself in the 1840s, many abandoning the Old Country to seek a life elsewhere.
I hope that the following pages show that there is a magic in the endeavours of our ancestors. They went forward with courage and enterprise, trying to improve their lot in life. They faced new challenges and old troubles with fortitude, and lived in a world very much harder than that which we know. Somehow it seems to put our lives in clearer perspective.
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