The Nationalist. 23 August 2011
Matter of Life and Death
Unique inquest records
provide evidence of how we lived and died in Carlow during the
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
"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
"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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