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Donated Material: Family Histories

The Family of Thomas Clancy (c.1816-1869) of Ennis

Title: The Family of Thomas Clancy (c.1816-1869) of Ennis
Type of Material: Family History
Places: Ennis, Kilkee, London, Surrey
Dates: 1816-1964
Source: Various
Transcriber/Donator: Virginia Silvester, UK

The Family of Thomas Clancy (c.1816-1869) of Ennis


Thomas Clancy was born about 1816, and he married Mary Dwyer (or O’Dwyer; born about 1821) in Drumcliff Catholic church in Ennis, Co Clare, on 27 August 1838.

Background: Ennis

Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837, described Ennis as a borough and market town, in the centre of County Clare and on the banks of the river Fergus. In 1831 the town comprised 1,104 houses with 7,711 inhabitants; there were “extensive suburbs” consisting “chiefly of cabins”. By 1841, the population has risen to 9,318. Thackeray, visiting in 1842, found Ennis to be “a busy, little, narrow-streeted, foreign-looking town, approached by half-a-mile of thatched cots…The town was swarming with people; the little dark streets, which twist about in all directions, being full of cheap merchandise and its vendors.” In 1845, the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland reported that there were a number of “handsome villas” on the outskirts of Ennis, and went on to list 20 of these “residences”. The business of the town revolved around agriculture – grain trading, butter exports, flour milling, brewing, markets to sell country produce and fairs to sell livestock. The assizes and quarter sessions for east Clare were held in Ennis court house; there was a county gaol, and a police force based in the town, but no street lights in 1837.

In 1838, when Thomas Clancy married Mary Dwyer, the Catholic chapel was an old building “situated in an obscure part of town”, in fact, in Chapel Lane. 94% of the population of the parish of Drumcliff, which included Ennis, were Roman Catholic in 1834; the Catholic chapel had a congregation of 1,000. In 1831 work had begun to build a new church, destined to become the cathedral for the diocese of Killaloe, in a more central position. Progress was slow, and the cathedral was still unfinished when the first Mass was celebrated there in 1842. The interior of the cathedral was completed by 1861, and the tower and spire were erected in 1871. Since 1889, the bishops of Killaloe have lived in Ennis.

The town boasted a range of schools. Ennis College provided a classical education for both boarders and day scholars. A rival private academy, Springfield House, was given diocesan support in 1846, and thereafter functioned as both a diocesan seminary and as a day and boarding school for Catholic boys. In the 1860s, this effectively became a diocesan college under the control of the diocese, called St Flannan’s College. The schoolrooms could accommodate 200 pupils. Education took the form of a junior seminary where intending priests studied before admission to Maynooth, and training youths for the professions, the army and the Civil Service. In 1881, the college moved to new purpose built premises (which it still occupies) on the Limerick Road. We know that at least one of Thomas and Mary Clancy’s sons attended St Flannan’s, and probably others did too, as two others entered the priesthood and one joined the Civil Service. Catholic girls could be educated at the convent, and there was also a National school and various other free, denominational or “hedge” schools.

Meanwhile, in the country outside the town, poverty and hardship were rife even before the famine of the 1840s, in which County Clare suffered severely. In 50 years, its population had doubled to reach 286,000 in 1841. This comprised 49,000 families, the vast majority of which earned their living on the land. Half the land in the county was owned by non-resident landlords, and 22,000 families had no land of their own. These landless labourers suffered a shortage of work which resulted in extreme poverty, and they relied on the potato crop for their main food supply. Severe distress in 1830 had led labourers to begin to fight for their rights, and they succeeded in obtaining more land at lower rents on which to grow potatoes. But during the famine, that dependence on potatoes was to prove their undoing; the population of the county fell to 166,000 in 1861 and by 50% by 1871. There was an obvious impact on trade in the town, with contemporary commentators reporting that there were plenty of sellers but few buyers.

It was not surprising, given the level of property and repression, that Irish Nationalism found ready support from the people of Ennis, including members of the Clancy family. The eldest son of Thomas and Mary was said to have taken an “active interest in National questions” as a young man, and had been involved in “the National struggle as far back as ‘67”. Several leading Nationalists had strong Ennis connections. For example, James Halpin, born in 1843, was the same age as Thomas and Mary’s second son Michael, and was educated at the same school. From the age of 16, he was active in Nationalist politics, culminating in election as the Nationalist MP for West Clare in 1906. He served terms of imprisonment for his involvement in activities such as the Land League demonstrations in Ennis, and was prosecuted for erecting huts to house tenants evicted by English landlords. Irish Nationalist hero Daniel O’Connell was elected MP for Clare in 1828 and was instrumental in achieving Catholic emancipation in 1829; he was welcomed into the town enthusiastically, especially by the tradesmen. In 1865, Ennis put up a monument to him on top of a tall column near the spot where he won the by-elections, and named the surrounding square after him, as well as renaming Jail Street, O’Connell Street. Charles Stewart Parnell founded and led the Irish Parliamentary Party, and campaigned for land tenancy reform and Irish home rule; he chose Ennis as the venue for a major speech in 1880, and the town later renamed Mill Street, Parnell Street. Eamon de Valera took part in the 1916 rising and by 1917 was President of Sinn Fein, before founding and leading a new political party, Fianna Fail, in 1926. He represented Clare in the new Irish parliament from 1917 to 1959, and regularly attended local events. According to the obituary of Thomas and Mary Clancy’s daughter Mary, de Valera always visited her when he came to Ennis, and he sent a message of sympathy by telegram when he learned of her death, although by this time he had been prime minister of Ireland for many years. A monument to Eamon de Valera, was erected outside the court house in Ennis. Father (later Canon) William O’Kennedy, a former student and later professor (from 1907) at St Flannan’s College, was a leading figure in Sinn Fein from 1917 throughout the Troubles. This culminated in his arrest (during a retreat at St Flannan’s) and imprisonment in 1921, even though he had been President of the college since 1919.

Thomas Clancy, shoemaker

Thomas was a boot and shoemaker, described as a master shoemaker on his son’s marriage certificate. Family tradition says that this Clancy family had always been shoemakers, and that they originated in Doolin on the west coast of Co Clare. Legend has it that there was a Spanish connection further back, from ships wrecked on the Irish coast following the Armada. Thomas was based in Ennis, and the parish registers from 1850 to 1866 state that he lived in Chapel Lane. This is confirmed by the Griffiths valuations of 1855 which show Thomas Clancy occupying a house at 1 Chapel Lane in the town of Ennis. The immediate lessor was James McNamara and the rental value was £2 10s. A directory of 1856 also shows Thomas Clancy as a boot and shoe maker in Chapel Lane, but he was not included in the 1846 directory. That directory listed no fewer than 26 boot and shoemakers in Ennis, of which six were in Chapel Lane, including Anthony O’Dwyer (or Dwyer). Anthony was probably related to Mary Dwyer; he was a witness at the marriage of Thomas and Mary, and both he and his wife Lucia (nee McGloskey) stood as sponsors at the baptisms of some of their children. Thomas might have worked initially for Anthony; he might have eventually taken over Anthony’s business, or else set up by himself.

There is no firm information about the origins of either Thomas Clancy or Mary Dwyer. As well as Antony and Lucia, other witnesses and sponsors who may well have been related were Ellen Clancy, Stephen Clancy, Margaret Clancy, Michael Clancy, Mary Clancy, Michael Reardon, Susan Reardon, Mary O’Connor, Bridget Lynch, Michael Wall, Catherine Fahy, Michael Doherty, and Daniel O’Neill. (The last name is also recorded on Thomas’ gravestone as his son, but the date of his death is illegible. This is probably his son-in-law, who died in 1888). A further clue may lie in a second gravestone on the same grave, erected by Mary O’Connor alias Fetherston in 1821? in memory of her daughter Mary and son Michael. Another potential clue is that Mary MacNamara of Chapel Lane was described as the cousin of Thomas’ daughter Mary in 1939; this is presumably the wife of Thomas McNamara.

Although the Griffith’s valuations of 1855 show other Clancys – Michael, John - occupying property in Ennis, there does not appear to have been any other Clancy family living in Ennis in the later part of the 19th century. If Thomas and Mary followed the usual naming conventions, then Thomas’ father would have been Stephen Clancy, and Mary’s father would have been Michael Dwyer. When Thomas and Mary’s eldest son died, the local newspaper the “Clare Journal” described the Clancy family as one of the oldest and most respected in Ennis.

Thomas Clancy died in Chapel Lane in 1869, aged 53, from disease of the spine. His widow Mary appears to have taken over the business, as she is listed as a boot and shoe maker in Chapel Lane in 1870. She died in 1891, in Mill Street, Ennis, where she may have been living with her son John who registered her death; and is buried with Thomas in Drumcliff graveyard.

Known children of Thomas and Mary Clancy are listed below. The baptisms are recorded in the parish register for Drumcliff Catholic church in Ennis, which is in places too faint to read.

  • Stephen: bap 1? July 1841.
  • Michael: b 1843/4.
  • John: bap 7? Nov 1845.
  • Margaret: b 1848/9.
  • Thomas: b 18 December 1851, bap 19 Dec.
  • Mary: bap 16 Jun 1854.
  • Antony: bap 19 Sept 1856. Said to be born in Abbey Street, Ennis, which was formerly Church Street; but other evidence indicates family still in Chapel Lane.
  • James: bap 5 Sept 1859.
  • Anne: b 28 Feb 1866, bap 1 Mar.

All the Clancy children were Roman Catholics, and they were all able to read and write. In all probability, they were far better educated than that suggests, and at least Michael and Thomas had a gift for writing poetry. John and Antony spoke Gaelic as well as English. Their mother, Mary Clancy nee O’Dwyer, could also write.

Only one of the Clancy children, Thomas, left Ireland permanently, to make his home in Great Britain. Stephen and John both followed their father’s line of business as boot and shoe makers in Ennis. Their three sisters were all shopkeepers in Ennis. The remaining 3 brothers all became priests; Michael served overseas but returned to Co Clare in retirement, while Antony and James were appointed to various parishes in the Diocese of Killaloe. When the last of this generation of the Clancy family died in 1841, the Clare Champion newspaper described it as “a well-known Ennis family, which gave many sons and daughters to the service of the Faith and which could boast of great National traditions”.

Details of the lives of each of the Clancy children follow.

Stephen: bap 1? July 1841. Directories of 1875/6 and 1880/1 show him as a boot and shoe maker in Chapel Lane, Ennis; he had presumably taken over the business from his mother. According to the 1911 Census, he was married about 1886, and had three children of whom two were still living; daughter Gertrude Mary had died in 1890 aged 3. Directories of 1893 and 1905 show him as boot and shoe maker in Church Street, Ennis. 1901 Census finds him as a boot manufacturer living in Church Street with wife Mary Anne and daughters May (a14) and Anne (a12), scholars. In the 1911 census, Stephen and Mary Anne were in Abbey Street (the new name for Church Street), where he had a boot shop; he described himself as a boot manufacturer who also had a warehouse. Their house had 7 rooms. Stephen was still in Abbey Street when he died in 1914, followed by his widow in 1917; their grave is in Drumcliff graveyard. Various notices in the Clare Journal following his death stated that he had been for many years “identified with the commercial life of the town”, as well as actively involved with the National movement when younger. He was described as “an old and most respected inhabitant of Ennis”, “a lifelong, unselfish, thoroughly sincere Irish Nationalist” and “one of Ireland’s truest sons”. Condolences to the family were published from St Patrick’s Total Abstinence Society (Stephen having once been a member), the Kilrush branch of the United Irish League (a nationalist political party founded in 1898), and the Ennis, Cross and Kilbaha branches of the Gaelic League (set up in 1893 to promote the Irish language). His funeral was attended a very large number of local men and clergymen, including the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Fogarty, and the Rev William O’Kennedy, President of St Flannans. Both daughters are said to have become nuns in Dublin; one of these was probably Sister M Columbiere, Sisters of Charity, Dublin, 1955.

Michael: b 1843/4. He entered Maynooth College in August 1863, and was ordained a priest. Family legend and one newspaper report said he emigrated to Newfoundland, but another newspaper report said he was on the Australian Mission. Michael wrote a poem entitled “Lines on Killone Abbey”, addressed to an unnamed brother. In this he recalls childhood visits to the ruined Killone Abbey, three miles south of Ennis on the banks of a lake and in the grounds of Newhall House, and to the nearby holy well of St John, and speaks of picking wild flowers for their mother. He goes on to express the wish to be buried near loved ones in Drumcliff graveyard, rather than overseas. He had retired by 1901, when he was living with his brother Antony in Killimer, Co Clare. He has not been found in the 1911 Census; he was certainly dead before Jan 1939 and probably by 1914.

John: bap 7? Nov 1845. According to the 1911 Census, he was married about 1883 and had two children, both of whom were then dead. The 1901 Census shows him as a boot maker living in Mill Street, Ennis with his wife Ellen, niece Margaret O’Neill, and two boarders. The records for the National School in Ennis show that Andrew Clancy, born May 1901 and son of a shoemaker in Mill Street, joined the infants in 1906 and left on 15 Dec 1906. The 1905 directory shows John as a shopkeeper in Mill Street. The 1911 Census records him at a large house and shop in Parnell St (the new name for Mill Street), apparently without any family members. As a speaker of Gaelic and English, he completed the 1911 Census form in Gaelic. A gravestone in Drumcliff graveyard records the deaths of John Clancy of Crusheen died 1919, Ellen Clancy died 1943, and Andrew Clancy died 1964; it seems likely that this refers to John and his family. John was alive in 1914.

Margaret: b 1848/9. She married Daniel O’Neill, a shoemaker, in the Catholic church in Ennis on 20 Feb 1876, but was widowed by 1901, probably in 1888. Daniel O’Neill was a boot and shoe maker in Mill St, Ennis, in 1881. In the 1901 Census Margaret was working as a shopkeeper and living in Gaol Street, Ennis, with her sister Anne Clancy and daughters Lily and Francis. By 1911 Jail Street had been renamed O’Connell Street, and Margaret O’Neill was still a shopkeeper there with her sister Anne. She had six children:

  • May b 1881/2 (Maisie). In 1901 and 1911 living with her aunt Mary Clancy as assistant.
  • Margaret b 1882/3 (Maggie). In 1901 living with her uncle and aunt John and Ellen Clancy. Married Patrick Griffin, shopkeeper, 1904/5. In 1911 they were living at a shop in O’Connell Street with their 4 young children – Thomas b 1906, Mary b 1907/8, Michael b 1909, and Hugh b 1910. Patrick completed the Census form in Gaelic. Later children included Patrick (b 1916, d 1937), Joe, Jack, Frank, Owen, Jimmie and Tessie (b 1918, d 1939). The Griffins lived at 23 Limerick Road, Ennis. Margaret died in Feb 1955 and Patrick in July 1955.
  • Lily b1883/4/6/7. In 1901 and 1911 living with her mother and working as a type writer/typist. Either Lily or her sister Fanny believed to have married Peter Whitelaw, and had two daughters Isabel and Eileen.
  • Francis (daughter) b 1886/7 (Fanny). In 1901 living with her mother as a scholar.
  • James A (Jim): had a chemist’s shop in O’Connell Street, Ennis. No known children. Dead by Feb 1955.
  • Hugh: born about 1883/4. In 1901 living with his aunt, Julia Curtin, in Harmony Road, Ennis. Became a Franciscan friar, Rev Father Leopold O’Neill, OFM, Clonmel 1939 (possibly the same as Very Rev Father Leo, OFM Guardian, Ennis, 1937 – ie superior of the Franciscan Friary in Ennis). Dead by Feb 1955.

Mary: bap 16 Jun 1854. The 1901 Census shows her working as a stationer/newsagent and living in Gaol Street, Ennis, with her niece May O’Neill as assistant. A 1905 directory shows her as a bookseller and stationer in Jail Street. An undated photograph (sometime between 1880 and 1914) shows three people standing outside “Clancy’s newsagents” in Jail Street. By 1911, Jail Street had been renamed O’Connell Street, and Mary was still a shopkeeper there with her niece May assisting her. The shop was described as a confectioners’. Mary never married, and died in January 1939. The local newspaper, the Clare Champion, described her as “one of the oldest and most respected natives of Ennis…She was a lady of great ability, who could advance her views with eloquence and cogency, and had a real flair for political argument”. It went on to say that “throughout her long life she was an ardent patriot and one of the earliest advocates of the Sinn Fein policy” and a “fervent adherent” of Eamon de Valera, who visited her whenever he came to Ennis. He sent his condolences to her family, and regretted that he could not attend her funeral.

Antony: bap 19 Sept 1856. It was said that “as a youth he gave early evidence of his devotion to religion and of his great love of learning.” He was educated at St Flannan’s Diocesan College and at the Irish College in Paris, where he was ordained and taught for a short period. He was appointed to the professorial staff of St Flannan’s College, Ennis, “when it opened”, ie presumably in 1881. 1893 and 1905 directories show the Rev Anthony as Vice-president of the Killaloe Diocesan College in Ennis, a position he held for many years. In 1901 he was parish priest at Killimer and in 1911 at Clondegad, a village just outside Ennis (this may have been the same as his appointment as parish priest at Ballynacally, a nearby village). The 1911 Census shows that the priest’s house was large, with 10 rooms, plus a stable, coach house, cow house, chicken house, and turf house. As well as his housekeeper, Brigid Griffin, who had also been looking after him in 1901, there was a young male farm servant to care for the animals. Antony was still at Clondegad in 1920. He was parish priest at Killaloe from 1922 till his death in 1941. Here his housekeeper was named Kitty; her daughter kept in touch with Clancy descendants in England for many years. As Canon Anthony Clancy, he lent his support in 1928 to a petition by the inhabitants of O’Brien’s Bridge to site a new canal bridge so as to facilitate their travel to church. By the end of his life, he had been appointed to the Cathedral Chapter and held the position of Vicar Forane; he was termed “Very Rev Canon”. He died Jan 1941. The Clare Champion described him as “a distinguished Churchman, a brilliant scholar and an ardent Irish patriot…a zealous priest…and a true-hearted Irishman”.

James: bap 5 Sept 1859. Like Michael and Antony, James became a priest, but it is not known where he studied. In 1901 and 1911, he was one of two curates in Kilkee, a seaside resort in west Clare. In 1914 he was president of the Cross branch of the Gaelic League. He was possibly priest/curate at Kilballyowen in 1920. Later he became parish priest at Toomevara. He was termed the “Very Rev”. He died sometime between September 1937 and Jan 1939.

Anne: b 28 Feb 1866, bap 1 Mar. She was living with her sister Margaret O’Neill in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, and was described as a shopkeeper in 1911. The 1905 directory shows her as a china and glass dealer in Jail Street.

Thomas: b 18 December 1851, bap 19 Dec. Sometimes used the middle name Ignatius. Thomas Clancy junior moved to England and joined the Civil Service in 1872. He worked on excise duties, for what was originally a part of the Inland Revenue but was transferred to HM Customs in 1909. In 1879 he was based at the Dalmore distillery at Alness, near Invergordon in Scotland where there were a number of whisky distilleries, and there he met Barbara Jane Mackenzie. Thomas and Barbara were married in Invergordon, in the Established Church of Scotland, on 2 December 1880. Although Barbara’s family had been part of the Free Church breakaway, their children were brought up in the Catholic religion. It was said that her family was initially opposed to their marriage because of the difference in religion.

At the time of his marriage, Thomas had already moved to Shalford in Surrey, where the young couple lived at Victoria Cottages, Shalford Common. Their first two children were born there, Rose Mary in Oct 1881 and Thomas Ignatius in March 1883. Thomas was a 2nd class officer working in the Guildford District. In 1884 he moved on promotion to 1st class officer to St Helens in Lancashire. The family lived at North Road, St Helens, where three more children were born – Anthony in July 1884, Victor Mackenzie in July 1886, and Norah in June 1888. As the Inland Revenue Officer in the town, Thomas had an office at 23 Market St, St Helens, which in 1895 was open daily from 9am till 11am. His duties also involved visiting licensed premises to check on what was being sold.

Barbara died in June 1893 and was buried in St Helens cemetery. Shortly Thomas remarried. His second wife, Catherine (Kate), was 14 years younger than Thomas and a local girl, born in St Helens, the daughter of William Battersby, a coal miner. It is said she had been employed as a servant to look after the children, but the marriage has not yet been found. The family moved to Kiln Lane, Eccleston. Their first child was born in Oct 1895 and was named Barbara Jane after Thomas’ first wife. Four more children arrived – Catherine Alice, born in Sept 1897 who died aged 9 months; James, born July 1899; Joseph, born at the beginning of 1901; and Kathleen, born July 1903.

The 1901 Census shows Thomas and Catherine and all eight of the children at home in Kiln Lane. Thomas was described as a 1st Class Officer Inland Revenue; he is said to have had one assistant. Rose, who is said to have attended boarding school in Ireland, was now 19. Norah attended the local convent school, and became a pupil teacher there. Catherine had a general servant, an 18 year old girl, who it is said helped with the washing and cleaning and with looking after the children, but not the cooking.

Catherine did not long survive the birth of her last child, dying a few months later in November 1903. That child too did not survive, dying in August 1904. Catherine and her two dead babies were laid to rest in the same grave as Barbara.

During the early 1900s, Thomas’ eldest three sons left home to move to London where they joined the Civil Service. Victor became a temporary boy clerk in January 1903, but by 1911 he had left the Civil Service and become a clerk for a publisher. Thomas junior was a clerk in the Home Office, while Antony was a clerk in the Post Office. In October 1909, a card posted to Rose at Kiln Lane for her birthday depicted a squad of football players, and was presumably sent by her brothers in London. In 1911, the three boys were boarders at digs in Brixton, along with four other young men. This was to lead to two marriages. In 1914, Victor married Ruby Nellie Robinson, one of his landlady’s daughters. Meanwhile the Clancy brothers became friendly with Alfred Cecil Moss, one of the other boarders in the Brixton digs and a clerk in HM Customs. His family lived in Buckinghamshire, not too far from London, and the Clancys had certainly visited them by May 1912, when Antony wrote a verse in the autograph album belonging to Alfred’s handicapped sister. In due course, Alfred began courting Norah Clancy.

By the time of the 1911 Census, Thomas’ family at their home at Alder Hey View in Kiln Lane, Eccleston, consisted of his older daughters Rose and Norah, and his three younger children, Barbara, James and Joseph, who were still at school.

Thomas remained working in St Helens until he retired in 1913. He then moved south again, to a house called the Beeches in Lower Mitcham, Surrey. In January 1914, his daughter Rose died, and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. Norah and Alfred became engaged before the outbreak of war, and they married in May 1916 at the Catholic church in Mitcham. The witnesses were her father Thomas and sister Barbara. All of her remaining siblings married except for Joseph. In the first years of their marriage, Norah and her husband made their home with Thomas and Joseph, initially at the Beeches and then (by December 1916) at 45 Haydon Park Road in Wimbledon. Their first child, Mary, was born in June 1917, and a few months later Thomas wrote a poem to his baby granddaughter – possibly when she and Norah were evacuated to stay with the Moss grandparents, away from the bombing raids on London.

Finally Thomas moved to 16 Fairway, Raynes Park. He made his will in July 1930, leaving £5 each to his “dear grandchildren” – 6 altogether – and the residue of his estate, about £400, to his daughter Barbara. His son Thomas was executor, and his son James and wife Beatrice witnessed the will. Thomas died in October 1930, and was buried alongside his daughter Rose.

Mary Moss – 4 months old – 8th Oct 1917: Written by Thomas Clancy

Tis sweet to hear the cuckoo tell his name
Across the meadows in the gracious late May;
Tis sweet to hear the skylark’s song, like flame
Ascending up to heaven’s gateway;
But sweeter tis to hear the gurgling sound
Our little Mary makes, with brave endeavour,
To tell us truths and secrets more profound
Than poet, seer, or scholar can discover.

Tis sweet to see the summer sun arise
And flood with light both hill and valley;
And sweet to see the sunset glow in skies
Where soon the myriad stars will rally;
But sweeter far the smile, so strangely wise,
With which our little darling greets us,
While from the depth of her dear eyes
Her spirit leaps with love to meet us.

O gurgle and smile on, amid the world’s mad strife!
May mother Mary in all goodness steep thee;
May Angels guard thy erring steps through life;
And Jesus, Friend of little children, keep thee.

Poem: Lines on Killone Abbey

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