Friday, 8 August 2014

Chapel Lane, Longford - my Irish ancestors' home

Last night I watched Julie Walters' episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and was inspired to look a little more closely into the the house where my maternal grandfather was raised in County Longford, Ireland. Julie was able to stand in the ruins of her ancestral home in County Mayo and touch the very walls where her great grandfather brought up his family. The census also disclosed who her ancestor's landlord was. By the time the programme was ending I was itching to get to my laptop so that I could also find out who my family's landlord was.

At the time of the 1911 census my grandfather, John, was seven years old. He lived with his father George, mother Annie, his younger siblings George and Mary Ann, his grandmother Ann and his uncle Patrick in a house in Chapel Lane, in the parish of Templemichael in Longford Town. Seven people shared this one house. Probably not a huge number in comparison to other families.

I had discovered the 1911 Ireland census many moons ago, but hadn't really studied the information regarding their house in any detail until today. The 'House and Building Return' attached to each family's census page provides particulars on the actual construction of their home. I've learnt that my family's property was made of either stone, brick or concrete; that it was roofed with slate, iron or tiles; had two, three or four rooms, and there were two windows on the front of the house. These attributes meant that the home they lived in was classified as a second class dwelling. A paper presented by the Registrar General, William J Thompson, in 1913 states:

'The Census of 1911' by William J Thompson, presented 1913

The marvel that is Google Street View shows two main types of building on Chapel Lane today. On one side of the road are two-storey properties such as that which can be seen in the photo of my great grandmother Annie, below. On the opposite side of the road are a series of smaller, single level properties seemingly made of the same construction materials. From the description on the census, I believe that my family lived in one of the single storey dwellings, although whether the buildings there today are the same as in 1911 I cannot tell.

Chapel Lane, Longford, c.2009 c/o Google Street View

The house therefore was made of concrete and roofed with tiles. It's good to know that my grandfather was raised in what was classed as a fairly decent home. As the census states that the family lived in two rooms (I'm assuming that, as in the UK census, the bathroom wasn't counted, and it's likely they had an outhouse) it would have been a tight squeeze for four adults and three small children.

My great grandmother, Annie Wenman, born Greene,
tending her garden in Chapel Lane, Longford.

I was interested to see that my family's landlord was Lord Longford, otherwise known as the 5th Earl of Longford, Thomas Pakenham. He was the landlord for just two of the homes on Chapel Lane which surprised me. My assumption had been that just one landowner would have owned all the homes in the area. Lord Longford made his career in the Life Guards but was killed in action during the Battle of Scimitar Hill at Gallipoli in 1915. He was clearly a brave and fearless soldier. Whether he was a good landlord I do not know, but I like to think he was.

1911 House and Building Return for Chapel Lane, Longford

I can't believe it's taken me this long to really delve into the type of house that my ancestors in Ireland lived in at the beginning of the twentieth century. Photos have always made my Irish ancestors look a little ragged, a little worn around the edges, but they clearly had a sturdy home. It may have been rather crowded, and was probably rather noisy but it would have kept them warm and dry. Their small property was their cave, their castle, their island. I believe Chapel Lane was their home for many years; it was their refuge against a fast-changing and increasingly unpredictable world.

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