Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Tailor Boylan, and a ghostly lady

So who was the ghostly 'lady in white' in Kilcullen who so scared young Rose Anne Union at the end of the 19th century that she ran into a nearby cottage in fear, and was told she hadn't been the first to see her?

Rose Anne, who was then somewhere between ten and twelve, had been sent to the shops in Kilcullen for a message for her grandfather, James Boylan. We can presume from the story that it was probably dusk of a winter teatime, because a girl so young wouldn't have been out any later. She saw the strange woman in a blacksmith's workshop as she was on her way back.

The neighbour she ran to said the woman had once been the wife of a blacksmith, and had worked there with him, and that her vision was often seen in the workshop after she died.

It may be that little Rose Anne had heard the story since she had come to live in Kilcullen from the Dublin home of her own parents, Rose Boylan and Abraham Union. And perhaps she simply saw a real woman in the workshop, and a trick of the light had made her seem ghostly. None of which, of course, we will ever know for sure.

The anecdote came up recently when Rose Anne's daughter, Joan Smith, came to Kilcullen to find her great-grandfather's grave, and to renew some memories of when she herself previously visited Kilcullen. Now a sprightly 88-year-old, she was in the company of her nephew Dr Maurice Gleeson, and his father, also Maurice.

Boylan Family Search

Her story of the 'ghost' and where the event had happened struck a chord with this writer. The house where I grew up, Moyola, is on the site of a blacksmith's shop, operated by Patrick Dowling. And a row of cottages ran from there up to where is now the Garda Barracks.

Further, although there is now no local indication of where James Boylan and his wife Catherine Farrell lived and raised their six children, Dr Maurice Gleeson has established from an issue of Griffith's Valuations that it was likely in the area of Kilcullen close to what I know to have been Dowling's forge.

In addition, Joan Smith had been told by her mother that James Boylan was looked after in his home by the Passionist nuns, in his latter years when he was bedridden. This suggests that he lived fairly close to the convent, opposite Moyola, formerly Dowling's.

So there's some evidence that suggests the 'ghost' may well have been in Dowling's shop, on the site of the house where I grew up. Very intriguing.

But back to facts. James Boylan, whose parents were John and Mary, was born in Kilcullen in 1801, and died there in 1897. During his working life he plied a trade as a tailor, and his customers included officers stationed in the Curragh Camp and the members of the Kildare Hunt. He was assisted eventually by his son, also James, and between them they had a very good reputation. When a new Master of the 'Killing Kildares' wanted to move the business to another tailor, he was told in no uncertain terms by his members that it wasn't on.

"They told him nobody could do the work 'like Mr Boylan'," Joan Smith recalled what her mother Rose Anne had told her.

James Boylan the younger didn't marry, and he didn't live much beyond his father's death, passing on in 1902. His brother John and three sisters, Marie Bridget, Ann and Mary, were perhaps no longer around when their father was old. If they were, Rose Anne hadn't mentioned them to Joan. Certainly, by the time of the census of 1911, no trace of the Boylan family was left in Kilcullen.

The elder James Boylan had during his life been noted in a number of documents of his time. In the 'Nation' newspaper of September 23, 1843, he was a signatory to the calling of a meeting of protest at Mullaghmast, on the matter of repealing the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland. Other Kilcullen men who signed that call were Daniel Brennan, Patrick Burke, Peter Berney, John Butterfield and P Brennan.

In the 'Freeman's Journal' of December 18, 1869, James is noted in a record of a Parish of Kilcullen & Gormanstown collection as having given 2s/6d towards a total fund of £7.

In the Slater's Directories of 1881 and 1894, James Boylan is listed as a tailor in Kilcullen, though it isn't clear whether the latter entry relates to the younger James. Other tailors in town in 1894 were James Kelly and Henry Hannersley. Patrick Dowling, blacksmith, is also listed in the 1894 edition.

In addition to the Unions, the Boylan family extended through marriage to include Careys and Martins, and eventually Harts (Joan's father was a Hart) and Gleesons. There is also an American branch, from a brother of James Boylan Snr, William, who emigrated and according to family lore served in the US Navy. His son JJ became a barrister. Maurice Gleeson Snr has been researching the family connections for many years, while Dr Maurice has only taken it up relatively recently. Both admit it is an activity that becomes addictive.

During her recent visit, Joan Smith recalled coming to Kilcullen with her mother in the late 30s and calling to see a Mr Berney who was ill. "We went into the house off the Main Street to a room where he was in bed, and my mother had a long talk with him."

An Ellen Berney, who died of influenza in 1918 at the age of 37, is buried in a Union family grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. It's not known if her husband was related to the Kilcullen family of the same name.

Rose Anne may also have known my grandfather, James J Byrne Snr, during her time in Kilcullen. Maurice Gleeson Snr remembers bringing her into The Hideout during the early 60s, while driving up from his home in Tramore, and she apparently had a long chat with my late dad, Jim Byrne Jnr.

Joan Smith was also very interested in seeing the former Cross & Passion Convent. "It seems that my great-grandfather had been generous to the nuns and they were very fond of him. On the day he died, he asked for his razor and shaved himself, and I think he knew he was dying. He passed on with the nuns by his bedside."

Boylan Family Search

The grave where James Boylan is buried is in New Abbey Cemetery, in a walled enclosure just inside the main gate. Pleased at having located it, Joan and the Maurices were surprised to find the plot is also the resting places of several members of the Martin family. The inscription on the Boylan headstone notes that it was erected by James the son in memory of his father and his mother, and also of his nephews and nieces Patrick and Annie Carey and Annie Union. There's no notation of James the son being buried there.

Boylan Family Search

An older gravestone between that of the Boylans and the Martins required rubbings to be taken to work out whose it was. And the result is something of another small mystery, because it was erected by one William Waters of Kilcullen in memory of his wife Mary, who died in 1836 aged 42. Maurice Gleeson hasn't yet been able to find a family connection with the Boylans, through there is a possibility that Mary Waters might have been a sister of James Snr. But that's a matter of speculation.

Their day in Kilcullen was very enjoyable, and Joan Smith was delighted to have found her great-grandfather's resting place. The family were very impressed with the way New Abbey Cemetery has been maintained, and will be making a donation towards its continuing upkeep.

But there's still the unresolved matter of the ghostly lady ...