Kiara Gregory, M.A.G.I.

Death of an old judge

David Moriarty from Decatur in Georgia was researching his Moriarty family history in Kerry Local History Library, when he found an obituary of my great-great grandfather, Timothy Moriarty, in The Kerryman1, dated 4 September 1909. According to his obituary, Timothy Moriarty was eighty six when he died, and he was a fit, tall, sporting man. His career, as discussed in his obituary, was very interesting, and on this I will focus.

Timothy Moriarty was seneschal or judge of the Manor Court for the barony of Corkaguiny in Co. Kerry. He was also the last surviving seneschal in Ireland at the time of his death. Manor courts were very important in early modern Ireland though abolished in 18592. They regulated society but very few records remain. Manor courts not only worked on judicial cases. According to Gillespie, ‘they acted as a venue where a landlord could convey to his tenants, through the charge given to the jury by the seneschal, his complaints or congratulations about their behaviour on estate matters.’3

Timothy Moriarty was also one of the first elected guardians of the Dingle union after the passing of the Poor Law Relief Act in 1838. According to O’Brien, ‘property as well as popular power were represented on the boards.’4. I’m proud that Timothy Moriarty was very well regarded as a poor law guardian and looked after the poor during the worst days of the Famine. He used what skills he learned as a judge to be fair and considerate.

An obituary may contain a wealth of genealogical information that can paint a vivid picture of one’s ancestor as a living, breathing person. I was delighted to be able to find such detail about a family member who died over one hundred years ago.

Note: my thanks to Maire Mac Conghail, Ruth Cannon and Liam Chambers for their guidance in this small piece.

[1] The Kerryman, 4 September 1909.
[2] Raymond Gillespie, ‘A manor court in Seventeenth Century Ireland’ in Irish Economic and Social History, xxv (1998), p. 81.
[3] Gillespie, ‘ A manor court in Seventeenth Century Ireland’ p. 84.
[4] Gerard O’Brien, ‘The establishment of poor law unions in Ireland, 1838-43’ in Irish Historical Studies, xxiii, no. 90, (1982), p. 113.