Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Old Rose and Her Blessing

My previous post, Two 19th Century Catholic Chapels in Creggan, focused on the chapel in Crossmaglen, where Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) took his old, blind “nurse” so she could hear the bells toll while she prayed with her rosary. We know from several letters, that Thomas received from his mother Eliza, that the woman’s name was Rose.

The first and last page of July 11th, 1893.

In the mid to late 1800s. Eliza Jackson (1815-1903), a farmer’s wife in south Armagh, wrote thousands of letters to her son when he was working in a bank in Hong Kong. A few of them were found in the mid-20th century, in a bog. Since she had a habit of writing at least once a week, and did so for close to four decades, if every letter had survived, there would have been 13,000 of them. As it is, I have to be content with the seventy-seven letters that did survive. In several of them, she mentioned a blessing which Thomas had received from old Rose. No last name was needed. She and her son both knew who she was talking about, even if I don’t.

For the purposes of context, it helps to know that Eliza Jackson née Oliver was not only a Presbyterian, but was a really devout Presbyterian. The records of Freeduff Presbyterian Church  show that even in her old age, she maintained perfect attendance at communion – this when travel by horse and cart were required from Urker for 3 km over rough roads. Even though in her later years she became so deaf that she couldn’t hear the sermons, she also regularly attended Church of Ireland services at Creggan, her husband’s family church. Given this, it is remarkable that even though Old Rose was Catholic, her blessing mattered so much to Eliza.

The fact of this blessing was mentioned in October 10th,1888; March 31st, 1890; and twice in 1893 – March 4th, 1893 and July 11th, 1893. In the last of these letters, Eliza also mentioned that there were others who also gave their blessings: the blessing of Rose & some other old hags always went with you. No doubt, there was some keening and sighing going on as Thomas prepared to leave for Hong Kong. They knew all too well the sad fates of other neighbours and relations, and the risks of travel by sea, or from malaria, spotted fever and the Plague. The last mention of old Rose is dated March 28th, 1894:

But you had the blessing of a holier woman than ever I was. Do you remember old Rose’s dying words, “My blessing go with you Tommy Jackson”? So it did by land and by sea.

I could not help but be struck by the fact that a staunch Presbyterian of this time was describing a Catholic nurse as a holier woman than ever I was. So who was this old Rose? I am hoping that by posting this, there may be someone out there who has the missing piece. One thing, that I am uncertain of, is Rose’s supposed role as Thomas’s nurse. He didn’t live at Urker until he was about 5 years old, a little past the stage of needing a nurse, I would think.

When it comes to the official records, there is not much to go on, at least amongst the records that I have access to. In the 1864 Griffiths Valuations, there were eighteen women named Rose in the Parish of Creggan and all of them leased small acreages and/or very modest buildings. In these records, which would most likely be held by women who were widows or spinsters, Rose was a moderately popular name, not as popular as Mary, Anne, Bridget, Catherine, or Margaret, but more popular than the other twelve names of female lessees. Since I do not know if old Rose  ever leased a small plot of land, here is a list of all the Roses who did own leases in the Armagh part of the Parish of Creggan in 1864, the year that Thomas left for his career in the Far East:

Rose Burns - Claranagh
Rose Conlon - Crossmaglen
Rose Duffy - Teer. NOTE Members of the DUFFY family lived with JACKSONs
Rose Finegan - Glasdrumman
Rose Gartland - Clonalig
Rose Harvey - Creggan
Rose Hughes - Cornoonagh
Rose Kearly - Creevekeeran
Rose Keenan - Liscalgot NOTE: This townland borders Urker on the east.
Rose Loy - Lissaraw
Rose Macken - Finiskin
Rose McCann - Tullydonnell O’Callaghan
Rose McConville - Teer
Rose McDonnell - Cornoonagh
Rose McGurk - Rathkeelan
Rose McMahon - Cullyhanna, Big
Rose McShane - Monag NOTE: This townland borders Urker on the west.
Rose Nugent - Urker

Three of these Roses seem to be most worthy of a second look.
·       Rose Loy at Lissaraw.
o   In the late 1700s, an Alice JACKSON of Liscalgot, daughter of George JACKSON (1718-1782) married a man named LOY. I know nothing more.
o   In the 1828 Census, there were four LOYs mentioned at Liscalgot (a townland adjacent to the Jackosn’s home at Urker): Patrick, Peter, Manus and Thomas. Their forenames suggest that they were Catholics.
o   In 1849, a James LOY was at Liscalgot.
o   In the Belfast Newsletter of the 1850 Ballybot Registry of Poor Law Rates, a Rose LOY at Liscalgot was assessed £1.6.7.
o   In 1864, Rose LOY had a number of small holdings in Lissaraw, as did Felix, John, James & Bryan LOY.
o   There were 27 mentions of LOY in the 1864 Griffiths Valuation.
·       Rose Nugent at Urker.
o   In 1828, a Denis Nugent was included in the valuation of Monag, and a Michael & Thomas NUGENT lived at Urker. SOURCE: Monag Timeline.
o   In 1864 valuation, a Denis, Mary & Rose NUGENT were at Urker.
o   In the 1901 census, a Denis Nugent, a Catholic farmer, was living at Urker. He was born in 1828 in Co. Kildare. He was not listed in the 1911 Census, which is not surprising since he was already 73 years old in 1901. Was he a son of old Rose? Not impossible.
o   The birthplace of Co. Kildare may be significant. There is a family story that Thomas Jackson owned a farm in Co. Kildare, although I yet to learn where this farm might have been. If Thomas or his family did own such a farm, then the farm help at Urker may have hailed from there. According to family stories, this is what happened with the Jackson farm at Cavananore.  It was managed by Patrick Lynch, who Thomas brought up from Co. Kildare in the early 1890s.
o   There is a convergence of the lives of Thomas Jackson and Denis Nugent that makes the possibility of a Rose Nugent being the old Rose of the letters even more tantalizing. The same Denis Nugent who lived at Urker in 1864 was presumably the one who still lived at Urker in 1901. In the early 1880's, he was charged with treason-felony and conspiracy to murder as part of the alleged "Crossmaglen Conspiracy". He served time in prison for it, and part of the rationale for his sentence may have been that he was one of two alleged authors of “The Dummy Clock of Crossmaglen”. This was a satirical song about the insult of a wooden clock that the landlord had installed in the marketplace at Crossmaglen in 1873 (instead of a proper one as had been promised).  In 1903, this example of landlord insensitivity was removed when Thomas Jackson had a proper clock installed in the Crossmaglen marketplace. The song received a significant rewrite to create a version praising Thomas. Both songs received significant airplay in the local pubs of that era.
·       Rose Duffy at Teer.
o   In a letter from Eliza July 11th, 1893: I have taken poor Duffy and his three little children to live in the pigeon house. To go up and down to his own land & attend the work here, would have killed him, if he had as many lives as a cat; and I might give up farming if he was not here. NOTE: I suspect the pigeon house was a house connected to the PIDGEON family in some way, not a place for pigeons.
o   The Journal of the Creggan Local History Society, 1990, p.58. “My father, James Duffy” worked for Jackson in Tavananore (sic). They also had a property in Urker, … They took my father and family to live in the yard in a house they called the pigeon-house …”

So, was old Rose one of the women mentioned above, or not? Right now, I do not have access to the burial records for St. Patrick’s Crossmaglen, but if an elderly woman named Rose was interred in November or December (or even October), then I would figure that we will have made a big step forward. If her name is LOY, NUGENT, or DUFFY, then even better. As to whether Thomas’ life was saved by the blessing of old Rose, well, we do know that he missed getting on a ship that he was supposed to sail on, and that it sank. That coincidence was compelling enough for Eliza to have faith in its efficacy.

·       For background on the Crossmaglen Conspiracy see: Creggan.
·       For background on the “Dummy Clock of Crossmaglen” see: Gregoryology.
·       A picture of the remains of Moybane Chapel can be seen here: Gregoryology: Moybane.

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