Paul MacCotter, MA, Ph.D., MAGI

Anne Webb

As a genealogist and member of AGI I am proud to tell the tale of being ‘Oul Stock’ of ‘The Marsh’. ‘The Marsh’ is to Cork City what the Liberties is to Dublin, a residential area in the city center on the island between both branches of the River Lee. It is therefore not the ‘North Parish’ nor the ‘South Parish’, but the ‘Middle Parish’. The implication here is that the true Cork City person comes from the Middle Parish just like the true Londoner or Cockney must have been born within earshot of Bow Bells. The Northsiders and Southsiders are considered blow-ins to Cork. The Marsh was largely emptied of its population during the social housing boom of the 1940s and 1950s apart from a few families. I belonged to one such, and was raised in The Marsh. I am seventh in descent from my earliest known ancestor, James Walsh, who ran a bakery in Paul Street, in 1799. The standard greeting among the few remaining genuine ‘old stock’ of The Marsh is ‘howarya oul stock?’ (‘How are you, Old Stock’).

None of this explains the picture above, however. The beautiful young lady is Anne Webb, my grand-aunt, my maternal grandmother’s sister, and this picture was taken around 1910, for what reason is unclear. As the spinster aunt she ruled my grandparents home with a rod of iron. My earliest memory of her is sweeping her black shawl around her shoulders in ‘high dudgeon’ and walking out of my house in reaction to my mother complaining of her giving me a banana shortly before dinner time (‘you will spoil the child’s appetite’). This was when I was five or six. Mother and Anne did not speak for several years after that, but were reconciled in time and ‘Annie’ duly came to live with us when her arthritis crippled her. As a child of ten or eleven I would spend a little time with her each evening, paying little attention to her ‘raimeis’ and biding my time until I could go out and play. She died when I was 19, in 1977, and I was among those who shouldered her coffin.

A couple of years after her death I discovered my interest in genealogy. As part of this I wrote down what I could remember of her stories, for Annie was the last of her generation. I remembered perhaps 10% of her tales, and this cruel reality relates to one of the primary principles of genealogy: TALK TO THE ELDERS FIRST AND RECORD THEIR MEMORIES. And she had some memories! There was her fiance Tom Woulfe from Limerick, who left for the Great War and never returned, hence her spinster status. Then there was the evening during the War of Independence when she heard a commotion on the street outside and poked her head out of the bedroom window only to be shot at by a Black and Tan (the British police). And then there were the tales of her working life in St. Peter’s (indoor) Market on the ‘Coalkay’ in her mother’s stall, where the family produced cotton ‘shifts’ and other items of working class ladies clothing.

There were sad stories as well, such as Annie’s mother’s premature death from cancer, eased by the only medicine then available, alcohol. Annie, then in her early teens, would be sent out to the nearest pub to buy a pitcher of stout for her mother, ‘Mag’, to ease the pain. The story I loved best was Annie’s memories of living with her invalide grandmother as a child in Millerd Street. She recalled how her maternal grandmother, Julia Murphy nee Leary, was a fluent Irish speaker and how Annie would sit at her bedside and listen to Julia saying the rosary in Irish. I was able to confirm all of this from an entry in the 1901 census which shows Annie, then aged eleven, living with her aunt and grandmother in Millerd Street. In the census Julia’s age is given as 90, so she was born around 1811, and is blind and illiterate. But I knew somebody well who knew her well! How are you, Old Stock! May you all rest in peace, Amen.