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Some Historical Notes on the Guerin Surname in Co. Clare by Pat Guerin
Some Co. Clare Guerins of Note: Thomas Guerin

The following short biography on the life of Thomas Geeran or Guerin of Scariff is taken from “The Dictionary of National Biography ”, published by Oxford University Press.

“GEERAN or GUERIN, THOMAS (d. 1871), reputed centenarian, was, according to his two credulous biographers, son of Michael Geeran, a farmer, and was born at Scarriff, Co. Clare, on 14 May 1766. The same authorities make the following doubtful statements respecting him. He remained at school until his twentieth year, during which time he learnt a little French and Latin, and became a master of arithmetic. On the death of his father he removed to Limerick, where he lived some years, until he enlisted in the army in March 1796.

After a voyage of twelve months and two days he landed at Madras, joined the 71st Highlanders, and was present in 1799 at the siege of Seringapatam. In 1801 his regiment was sent to Egypt. In 1809 he was present with his regiment at the battle of Corunna, and in 1815 at Waterloo.

He returned to England in 1819, and was discharged from the army at Gosport, but without any pension. After this he worked at his trade of a sawyer in various parts of the country. Finally he settled at Brighton, where he made a living by relating his military experiences and dilating on his great age.

He died in the infirmary of the Brighton union on 28 Oct. 187l, aged, according to his friends, 105 years and five months.

Mr. W. J. Thoms, F.S.A., investigated this case, and at the Public Record Office, London, obtained access to the original muster-rolls, pay-sheets, and description-rolls of the 7lst regiment. From these he established the facts that Geeran had never served abroad with that regiment, and that the regiment had not been in many of the places as mentioned by him. Geeran's case was, on his own applications for a pension, investigated several times by the authorities of Chelsea Hospital, who failed to find any record of his services.

However, from the pay-sheets of the regiment it appeared that a Michael Gearyn or Gayran enlisted on 3rd March 1813, and deserted on 10th April following. If this were the same person as T. Geeran, as is most likely, he was in the army for about a month only, and at the time of his death was probably about eighty-three.

Two lives of Geeran were written. The first, published by subscription for his benefit, was entitled “Life of Thomas Geeran, a Centenarian, with photograph and autograph. [By H. R. Williams, M.A., Ph.D.] London; Brighton Circulating Library,” 1870.
The second was called “Longevity, with Life, Autograph, and Portrait of Thomas Geeran, & Centenarian, Brighton,” 1871.

In these two works, published within two years, appear many notable contradictions. [Thoms's Human Longevity, 1873, pp. 12, 131-54; Times, 20, 22, 24, 25,27 Nov. 1871; Medical Times, 26 Nov. 1871, pp. 642-3.] G. C. B. ”

This Thomas Guerin[1] of Scariff was apparently an imposter but possibly with some small amount of schooling. “He remained at school until his twentieth year, during which time he learnt a little French and Latin, and became a master of arithmetic”. What is interesting is the variations it exhibits on the spelling of his name between the time he enlisted in the army in 1813 until his death in 1871 - from Gearyn/Gayran to Geeran/Guerin. Like the Gerins of Killaloe he seems to have inherited only a phonetic pronunciation of his name and to have left it to the enlisting officer/biographer to put whatever spelling they wished to the phonetics.

Also the biography says he was the son of a farmer. If so, then he was most likely of older native Irish, non-Huguenot stock. Although not unknown, it would have been unusual for a Huguenot to go directly into farming as a lone individual in an isolated rural area. Instead they tended to cluster into settlements of fellow refugees where they engaged in trade (import/export) and manufacturing (spinning, weaving, glassmaking etc.); in this latter activity they were directly encouraged and assisted by the government of the day. Furthermore there is no mention in the literature of a Huguenot settlement in the Scariff area.

In connection with this Thomas Guerin it is interesting to note that the 2003 telephone directory still lists the name Guerin (sic) with addresses in Scariff, Co. Clare.

Also on the opening page of the church Register for the neighbouring RC Parish of Kilnoe & Tuamgraney, a Michael Guerin (sic) introduces himself as ‘scribe to Father Vaughan’. The towns of Scariff and Tuamgraney are only one mile apart. (Incidentally these towns belong to two distinct RC Parishes – Kilnoe/Tuamgraney and Scarriff/Moyne).

Michael Guerin seems to have held the position of scribe for many years in Kilnoe parish. His copperplate script is a pleasure to read compared to the scrawl one sometimes encounters in other parish registers.

The Kilnoe & Tuamgraney register is the earliest (1832) Co. Clare RC register in which I have found the name Guerin (sic).

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Mathew Geran