Monday, July 1, 2013

Stones can talk - Part I

On June 13th, 1886, the entire city of Vancouver, BC went up in flames. All that remained was the Hastings Mill Store, which was built out of stone, and a few remaining buildings along False Creek. As a long-time Vancouverite, this is part of why I still can’t stop gawking when I walk around downtown Dublin. Many of the old buildings, ones that I have read about in centuries old deeds, are still standing. Amazing.

It doesn’t mean that they necessarily serve the same function that they did centuries ago. How could they? It took me a few visits before I realized that St. Mary’s Church of Ireland, the parish church of lots of Jacksons from the mid-1700s, had morphed into the Church Bar & Restaurant. I recently mentioned it in a post where I also included a picture of Nick Reddan and myself, along with a plate of decidedly decent fish and chips.

Later, as I walked around inside, I thought about those ancestors who have held on to so many deeds, letters and photos. Without such collectors, both amateur and professional, we would have no historical memory. At the same time, there are those other family members who have tossed bushels of family history into the bin or the flames. Ironically, we need these people too. Without them, we would be up past our eyeballs in dead people’s stuff. Dublin wrestles with such compromises on a continual basis. There is a difference between history and baggage, and yet both of them shape what stays and what goes. The end result is often telling.

Inside the Church Bar & Restaurant are dozens of memorials mounted on the walls, a reminder of those long gone souls who were once part of its life in its previous incarnation as a Church. As it is, these plaques are probably seen, appreciated, and pondered over more than they would have been had the building remained as a Church, especially one that lacked a viable congregation. As I walked around, I played snatches of Handel’s Messiah in my head. It was first publicly performed in Dublin in April 1742. Although it was performed on Fishamble Street, the organ that Handel used for practice was here in this church.

In sussing out the theological tilt of this church in the mid 1700s, it is probably worth noting that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, delivered his first Irish sermon here in 1747. In terms of political heritage, the founder of the United Irishmen, Theobald Wolfe Tone was born here, and just so we don’t get too pious, Arthur Guinness, founder of the Guinness Brewery, was married here two years before baby Theobald was baptised.

Although St. Michan’s seems to be the church that was more connected to some of the Jacksons involved in the 1798 Rebellion, Pill Lane, where the rebel Henry Jackson (1750-1817) lived and conducted his iron forging business, was just as close to St. Mary’s as it was to St. Michin’s. The neighbourhood was also about a ten minute walk from the Linen Hall on the corner of Coleraine and Lisburn St. This would mean that the church likely had connections to those families of Jacksons who leased lands in Londonderry from the Mercers and Clothmakers Companies of Coleraine. Elizabeth Ball, daughter of Dorothy Jackson (1696-1760) and John Ball (1702-1764) was baptised at St. Mary’s in 1724. It is likely that several of the other Jacksons in the St. Mary’s Parish Registers in this time frame were also her near relations.

The old graveyard is now a paved, open space frequented mostly by pigeons. Missing are any of the memorials of those whose burials I have records of: William Jackson,1718; Elizabeth Jackson, 1722; Thomas Jackson, 1724; two John Jacksons,1729 & 1736; Solloman Jackson, 1735; Margaret Jackson, 1739, and three Mary Jacksons in1729, 1734, and 1738.

Behind the church, old grave marker slates are stacked against a wall, but from what I could see their inscriptions are no longer legible. Other stones are laid like flagstones in the graveled courtyard, and some of those are still legible. Had I ever thought that I might write about them, I would have taken more pictures. Then again, there can always be a future post.

.... at his ...
Who died on the 8th May
Aged 68 Years
Also of SUSANNA his wife
Who died Nov 21st 1835
Aged 76 Years
In the same grave was laid the remains of
Michael Henry WHITESTONE Esq.
Late of Hardwide St
Who departed this life on the
16th of Sept 1845
Aged 57 years
He was a kind and affectionate Husband
And a sincere friend
His bereaved Widow
Catherine Maria WHITESTONE
Inscribes this to his memory
Rector of
The Parish of Killeevan Co. Monaghan
Diocese of Clogher
Died April 8th 1858 Aged 52 Years
Late of Gt Charles St who departed this life
9th November 1858 Aged 66 Years

The words carved on such stones are merely a starting point. An obit for the Rev. John Thomas Whitestone adds to his story:

April 8th. At Dublin (where he suddenly dropped down dead whilst attending the meeting of the Protestant Alliance) aged 52, the Rev. John Thomas Whitestone, B.A. Rector of Killeven.

Dropped down dead. Ah, yes. Much more evocative than the inscription. Even so, discoveries such as this are why it makes sense to visit Ireland in person. Sure, you can find the on-line internet records for St. Mary’s Parish and they do include the burial records for both John Whitestone, and Michael Henry Whitestone, but for whatever reason Susanna Whitestone was missed. Why? I don’t know. If I hadn't seen the stone, I would never have known about her. There is one more reason for traipsing about in person. How likely is it that would I ever have found a gravestone for a Co. Monaghan clergyman who just happened to drop down dead in Dublin? Not likely at all.

My next post will include a handful of memorials mounted inside the restaurant, ones that caught my fancy for one reason or another. Nothing logical. I am rarely that. Until then, I will give the pigeons the last word. They seem to enjoy the space.
The flagstones in the foreground are actually old grave markers.

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