Category Archives: A to Z Challenge 2016

Blacksmiths: The heart of the Irish community

Letter B: Second of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, and fourth in a series about the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.

Through clues from my Dempsey cousins and a bit of research, I learned that our Irish great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey — a blacksmith who lived in Baltimore, Maryland during and after the U.S. Civil War — came from County Wexford, where blacksmiths played a prominent role in the 1798 Irish Rebellion/ Éirí Amach.

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December 2015: Traditional blacksmith’s tools at the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum in Madison County, N.Y. In the days before motorized vehicles, the shops of blacksmiths like our ancestor William Patrick Dempsey were important gathering places, and the blacksmith was highly respected by the community he served. Photo by Molly Charboneau

But what about the everyday life of an Irish blacksmith? I wondered. What might that tell us about our ancestor’s experience?

So back I went on the research trail, and was delighted to discover a wonderful book by author Eamon Doyle titled Tales of the Anvil – The Forges and Blacksmiths of Wexford (2008).

Author Doyle has painstakingly amassed a wealth of historical detail on blacksmiths from his home county — using sources from 1798 tradition through 20th century records — and describes how, centuries ago, using fire to turn metal into useful implements led to a belief that smiths possessed supernatural powers.

Though this view waned in modern times, Ireland’s blacksmiths in particular remained highly regarded in both city and town because their work — from rimming cart wheels and shoeing horses to fashioning tools and household implements — was so essential to the day-to-day flow of the economy.

Their role put blacksmiths at the heart of the communities they served, explains Doyle:

The forge and the blacksmith shop became one of the few fixed establishments in every parish and remained so through all the changes in Irish society, in peace, war, oppression and hardship. It was a place at which people gathered when danger threatened and where one could look for information when rumour stalked the land. The forge became a familiar and beloved part of life in every area, long before churches, parish halls and school buildings became established in the mid-nineteenth century. Along with the importance of the forge in local communities came a respect for the blacksmith himself.

Baltimore City blacksmith

I wonder if it was any different for our “William the blacksmith” as he plied his trade in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. from the mid to late 1800s? He had emigrated from Ireland years before — but if he learned ironwork from his father back home, he would likely have  carried its traditions with him.

William’s obituary says he was “a well-known blacksmith” — and probably also highly respected in a city where travel was mainly by horse and horse-drawn vehicle during his working life. So it’s easy to envision Irish ex pats gathering around his forge to share news, swap stories and talk politics.

In short, much food for thought as we Dempsey cousins continue tracking the lives of our mutual ancestors — William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.

Ireland’s forges and blacksmiths

One last word on Tales of the Anvil. In addition to providing a wonderful narrative history of County Wexford’s blacksmiths, Doyle includes photos and a county-wide map of many active and closed forges.

He has also compiled a list of blacksmiths from a variety of sources, and on the list are Willie Dempsey of Blackwater and Michael Dempsey of Ballinastraw  — linking our Dempsey surname to the trade.

Of course, much more research is needed to connect our great, great grandfather “William the blacksmith” to his roots and birth location in County Wexford — let alone to definitively link him to blacksmiths back home.

Nevertheless, Doyle deserves our gratitude for providing valuable background information and context for us Dempsey cousins as we move forward with our family history search.

Coming on April 5: Our Dempsey cousins team makes some discoveries. Right after the next April 4 post: Elizabeths in my family tree. Hope to see you then!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Ancestors: Legacy and lessons

Letter A: The first of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y.
Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y. Ancestors like my gg grandfather, a Union Army soldier during the U.S. Civil War, connect us to great events. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Ancestors have lessons to teach us. Although they may have lived generations, decades or even centuries ago, their path through history leads down to us.

They connect us to great events; to past economic and political developments; and to the life of the areas, towns, cities and countries where they lived.

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull is one example. He served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War and probably voted at the front in 1864, when President Abraham Lincoln was re-elected — connecting his descendants to these great events.

Arthur was also hospitalized several times for war-related illness, but he played his part in a historic conflict that changed the country forever, leaving a legacy for future generations. He also survived to become the father of many children — among them my great grandmother Eva, who was born the year after he returned from the war.

Do you have ancestors who inspire you? Have you thought about researching their history?  What about writing their stories?

Follow along and see if you feel inspired to tell your ancestors’ stories as we learn about my blacksmith ancestor from Ireland in tomorrow’s post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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April 2016 Blog Challenge: Ancestors From A to Z

Molly’s Canopy will feature daily posts on Ancestors From A to Z, one letter per day, during the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Later this month marks the Second Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy, the family history blog where I have shared my ancestors’ stories, beginning with my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull.A2Z-BADGE [2016]

To celebrate two years as a genealogy blogger, I decided to shake things up and accept the Blogging From A to Z Challenge to see if I can write daily about my ancestors throughout the month of April 2016 — one letter of the alphabet per day with Sundays off.

Because this is my first Blogging From A to Z Challenge, I missed the the earlier deadline for the Theme Reveal. But I still plan to write short, daily blog posts on the theme Ancestors From A to Z.

New format, new inspiration

Typically, blog posts on Molly’s Canopy unfold in a serial format that tells interconnected stories about a particular ancestor or family and historic events, geographical locations or occupations that influenced their lives — as revealed by my family history research.

The Blogging From A to Z Challenge will let me try a new approach — shorter, less connected posts and a chance to highlight ancestors and side-line relatives who don’t fit into the longer, serial format.

More than 1,700 bloggers are signed up so far! So visiting and commenting on other A to Z Challenge blogs during the month will also help me connect with fellow bloggers and get inspired by fresh ideas for the future.

At midnight tonight the fun begins! Wish me luck and please join me on the journey.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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