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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Pat Purcell Papers

A Matter of Life and Death

The Nationalist 23rd August 2011


The Nationalist. 23 August 2011

 A Matter of Life and Death

Unique inquest records provide evidence of how we lived and died in Carlow during the 19th.century

By Suzanne Render

A UNIQUE set of documents just recently made public is providing a rare insight into life -and more specifically death - in County Carlow during the 19th century. An incredible number of recorded Inquests held between 1801 to 1871 for Carlow county was 1,523 were recently purchased at auction for €1,900 and are now on loan to local historian Michael Purcell.

What makes the inquests unique is that Carlow is possibly the only county in the country with this information, as the records from many counties were destroyed in a fire at Dublin's Four Courts in 1922.

"This is a great genealogical utility and really puts Carlow to the fore," explains Michael. "To my knowledge, no other county has a complete set of inquests for the 19th century, as many of the records were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Four Courts."

An English man bought the County Carlow inquests at a sale in Whyte's Auctioneers, Dublin, paying well above the guide price of between €300 and €500. The purchaser, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a descendent of the former high sheriff for Carlow during the 19th century, Benjamin D'lsraeli, who was a nephew to the British prime minister of the same name.

"He was over on business dealing with the protocol in advance of the Queen's visit and bought them. He also has the inquests for the earlier years of the 19th century, so we now have a complete set of inquests for 70 years -from 1801 to 1871," explained Michael.

"It's amazing stuff and I'm delighted to have it for the next two years to go through it and put as much as possible from it onto the Carlow IGP (Ireland Genealogical Projects) website."

The inquests detail the deaths of hundreds of Carlow people, including information on the dates of their deaths, their addresses and, most interestingly of all, the cause of their deaths.

The cause of death listed is not just an incredible look at life two centuries ago but also a snapshot of that era's attitudes beliefs and lack of medical knowledge.

A huge number of deaths were caused by falling from carts or horses, while burning was also a significant factor in 19th century Carlow, with one woman dying as a result of "drinking boiling water from the spout of a kettle".

"Cramming his mouth full of potatoes" is written as causing the death of one man, while another in 1849 died by "choking on a piece of beef". A "visitation by God" was reported in many cases, while the horrific case of a three-year-old dying as a result of "the left side of her face eaten by rats" was also recorded.

"Neglect”, "destitution" and "died from want" were also recorded among the causes, while the "effects of drink and whiskey to excess" was also a regular entry.

The fascinating collection also includes reports from a number of murders committed in the county during the period, including the homicide of William Mara on Graiguecullen Bridge in 1835.

"Generations of old people used to talk about seeing the black dog on Graiguecullen Bridge, which was supposed to be William Mara's dog that was with him when he died," explains Michael, recalling the old legend.

Interestingly according to the records the number of people killed as a result of car / horse accidents during this period totalled 212.

The number killed by burning was 176.

The number who died by murder or under suspicious circumstances was 165.

Some of the records will be made available over the coming months on this website and you will be notified via the Carlow Mailing List.

Source: Michael Purcell c.2011


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