When Oilioll Olum, King of Munster, died early in the 3rd century AD, his kingdom was split between his two sons, Eoghan (who secured South Munster, or Desmond) and Cormac Cas (who secured North Munster, or Thomond). Eoghan’s descendents were known as the Eoghanacht and amongst these was Cárthach, lord of the Eoghanacht, who was killed when his house in Tipperary’s Golden Vale was deliberately set on fire in 1045. His descendents, the Mac Cárthaigh, were to become bitter foe of the O’Brien’s of Thomond until the middle of the 12th century when the McCarthys were effectively expelled from Tipperary. They moved south into the modern counties of Cork and Kerry. One of the four main branches of the family to emerge after this was the Duhallow McCarthys who basically controlled northwest Cork until their land was seized in the wake of Cromwell’s invasion.
John McCarthy, who probably descended from the Duhallow MacCarthys, was born on 23rd July 1838 on the Harold-Barry estate at Ballyvonaire, between Buttevant and Doneraile, in County Cork. He was the fourth of seven children born to Denis Mc Carthy and Julia Ann Carroll who were married in Doneraile on 8 February 1828; the witnesses were John Shinnon and Michl Finn. His siblings were:
1. Denis born 22.12.1828; sponsors - John Barry / Mary Blake
2. James 08.09.1831; sponsors - James Mc Carthy /Mary Mc Carthy
3. Ellen 13.09.1835; sponsors - Robert Carty / Ellen Carty. One of John McCarthy's sisters married a train driver called McDermott from Dublin so it was presumably Mary or Ellen.
4. John 23.07.1838; sponsors - Denis Connors / Mary Fitzgerald
5. Michael 25.10.1840; sponsors - John Coughlan /Johanna Donagen
6. Robert 08.10.1843; sponsors - Patrick Corbett /Bess Keeffe) - there was a 69-year-old stonemason called Robert McCarthy living in Buttevant at the time of the 1911 Census.[i]
7. Mary 03.01.1847; sponsors - Timothy Leary / Mary Walsh)
Also: Michael born to Robert Mc Carthy and Norry Leary on 10.11.1867 sponsors Denis Mc Carthy / Mary Connors.
The above information from Donneraile church records, provided by Michael Henry (Harry) Mc Carthy born and living in the Cooley peninsula (near Carlingford), Co Louth, a great-grandson of John.
Buttevant, a medieval town in the north of the county, was once famed for its cattle and sheep markets and its horse fairs. Copenhagen, the black stallion which the Duke of Wellington rode at the Battle of Waterloo, was purchased at Buttevant’s Cahirmee Fair. Indeed, the entire concept of the steeplechase originated in 1752 as a result of a horse race from the steeple of the Protestant church in Buttevant to that of Doneraile, 4 miles away. In more recent times, the town served as a location for the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
Another man who may have been John’s cousin, if not his brother, was Daniel McCarthy (1829-1895) of Buttevant. Daniel emigrated to Argentina with his wife Honoria (nee Barry) and three daughters, Ellen, Ann and Julia, and became a shepherd. They had two further sons, Daniel and Juan (John), who settled around Buenos Aries where they worked for a British company that built the railways.[ii]
On St Patrick’s Day 1849, John’s options broadened considerably when the Buttevant and Doneraile railway station opened, enabling him to journey directly to Dublin or Cork. He appears to have been a keen huntsman from an early age, no doubt encouraged by Buttevant’s strong links to the racing world. He is said to have been employed to look after the hounds of the Galway Blazers, before transferring his allegiance to the Ward Union Hunt which hunted in north Dublin and Meath.
The Meath countryside, over which the staghounds also hunted, was generally fenced by big, solid banks and wide, deep, open ditches, so one had to be somewhat fearless to negotiate the terrain. An Irish hunter generally approaches the bank slowly and off his hocks, jumping on to the top of the bank, pausing for a second, changing legs and then jumping out on the other side far enough, the rider hopes, to clear the ditch and any other lurking dangers. Nonetheless, the Wards were considered amongst the steeliest and most skilled huntsmen in the British Isles during John McCarthy’s day. It was not without reason that Whyte-Melville, a famous hunting poet, wrote:
‘For a horse may be grassed and his rider be floored,
In a couple of shakes when they start with the Ward’.
One of John’s Ward Union colleagues was the Viceroy, Lord Spencer. In April 1885, Lord Spencer surprised society when he chose to go out riding with the Ward rather than watch the future Queen Alexandra (then Princess of Wales) break a bottle against a new dock in Dublin and declare its new name, ‘Alexandra’. Another grandee who hunted with the Wards was Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, the wife of Franz Josef I, the last of the Hapsburgs. Indeed, it was while riding out with the Wards that Empress Sisi, as she was known, became acquainted with her paramour, Bay Middleton. On one occasion, as the couple were hacking home past Fairyhouse, the fun-loving Empress insisted that herself and Middleton jump the entire course of the Irish Grand National, then run over banks, which they duly did
Harry McCarthy heard from an uncle in Meath that either the brothers or cousins of John Mc Carthy built a ‘Big stone house’ near Fairyhouse racecourse and emigrated to US when they completed the work and were paid.
In 1866, 28-year-old John McCarthy married Anne Meehan at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. She is thought to have come from either Galway or Westmeath. Their firstborn son Denis was born on 4th April 1871 and baptized in Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath. At this time John was described as a groom and his residence was given as Newcastle. It is likely that John's brother Michael had also moved northwards by this time since he stood as sponsor for Denis.
Their second son Michael was born in 12 Herbert Lane, Dublin four years later. After Anne's death, John was married secondly to Susan Flynn, born in 1841.
In the 1911 Census, 73-year-old John McCarthy described himself as a farmer and was living at Grange End, on the east side of Dunshaughlin, which remains the main ‘home place’ today. With him were his second wife, Susan McCarthy, then aged 70, and his eldest son Denis, then 41. Graded 2nd class by the Census, it was the smartest of the five houses in the area. The property included two stables, a piggery, a fowl house and a shed.
John and Anne McCarthy’s eldest son Denis was born in Westmeath in 1870. He was baptised at Rochfortbridge and his godparents were another Michael McCarthy (possibly his uncle) and an Ann Gannon. The latter was probably Ann Gannon, born 1843, wife of Michael Gannon, shepherd of Dunshaughlin, both still living at the time of the 1911 Census. The village of Rochfortbridge had been rebuilt by Lord Kilmaine of the Cooper family in 1847 as a famine relief project. By 1911, Denis was working as a barman. He was primarily employed by Findlaters, working in both Dublin and Belfast. As a Findalters man, he must have followed closely the actions of the boss’s `Uncle Harry' during the Easter Rebellion. Harry de Courcy-Wheeler was staff captain to General Lowe, the commander of the British Army forces responsible for putting down the rising. It was de Courcy-Wheeler who accepted the surrenders of Pearse and of his wife's first cousin, the Countess Markievicz. Denis’s passion was greyhounds and he was a formidable trainer. His best-known dog was “Juryman” which coursed in 1921 and 1922, winning the National Coursing Championship. Denis registered the McCarthy racing colours, sky blue and white jacket with a cap of black and red squares. Thomas J Nolan – grandson of Johnny McCarthy, son of Rosaleen, and a jockey with trainer John Carr - is now in the process of re-registering these colours.
John and Anne McCarthy’s second son Michael was born in Dublin City in 1875. He was Ted’s grandfather and it is presumed that he grew up at Grange End, Dunshaughlin. By the time of the 1911 Census, the 36-year-old had relocated east to Ratoath where he was operating as a butcher-cum-grocer on what is today called Pullwee Street, on the Lagore Road just outside the village.[iii] The copse at the back of this house is still known as McCarthy’s Wood. Also at this residence was his 19-year-old assistant grocer, Kildare-born James Carter.
After the McCarthys left for Dunshaughlin, the house on Pulwee Street passed to the Tooles and from them to the Eiffe family. Amongst these was Detective Sergeant Sean Eiffe who was killed in the line of duty during a bank raid in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, on 7 December 2001. Sean Eiffe Park, Ratoath’s GAA grounds, was named in his memory. The house remains private and is now owned by Matty McCabe.
In 1911, while Michael was distributing cutlets and trotters to his customers in Ratoath, 18-year-old (Mary) Margaret Plunkett was sweeping the floor and washing dishes for 56-year-old Patrick Barr, a Scots Presbyterian farmer living at Finnstown, near Lucan, and his wife of 18 years Charlotte. The Barrs had no children and Margaret was their solitary ‘domestic servant’.
Soon after this, Michael and Margaret married. It is not yet known where or when they were wed but their daughter Mary (Mosie) was born in 1915. They settled in Johnstown, Ratoath, where they had seven children. Patrick Gerard Joseph Connolly, Margaret’s grandson, recalls her as ‘a great story teller’ who ‘had a way of combing her long mane while telling the ghost stories that had a few folks edgy on the dark roads home.’ She died on 23 April 1947, aged 54. Michael survived her by two years and died aged 75 on 1949.
The McCarthy children were all educated at the primary school in Ratoath which had a very good reputation in those days. There were four classrooms in the school, the two main rooms and two more that were partitioned off by sliding doors. The teachers were Mr. & Mrs. James Doonan, Mrs. Staunton and Mrs. O’Brien from Curragha.
Michael and Margaret’s eldest daughter was Nancy McCarthy. As a young girl, she was reared by her grandmother, Mary Plunkett, in Curraha. She then went to live in Dundalk with her aunt, Alice Plunkett, who was working as a housekeeper for Canon Donnellan. [p. 14]. While at school in Dundalk, Nancy impressed Canon Donnelan with her intelligence. In his will, he agreed to provide for her further education. (4) However, when he died, the Canon's nephew, Father Aiken, and other members of the family refused to give her any money. (4) Nancy duly took them to court and the case was settled in her favour on the doorsteps of Dundalk’s imposing classical courthouse. Nancy subsequently left Ireland and settled in Manchester. Her aunt Alice also left Dundalk and went to live with her sister in Scotstown, Co. Monaghan, where she died.[iv]
Known as Mosie, Mary Christine McCarthy was born at home in Ratoath on 14 December 1915. During the late 1930s, she and her younger sister Peggy found work in Bogan’s bar in Church Street, Dundalk. There they both met their future husbands - Peter Connolly, who worked as an accountant at the Great Northern Brewery on the Carrick Road, and Kevin Finnegan, who worked in the Bakery. Peter and Mosie were married in St Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, on 8th February 1943. At the time, she gave her address as Linenhall Street, while he was based at Chapel Lane. The witnesses were Peter’s brother Bernard (Barney) and Sadie Bogan, presumably a kinswoman of the publican whom Mosie worked with.
Johnny McCarthy was born on 26 January 1917 and, like his siblings, educated at Ratoath Primary School. He went on to the Technical School in Navan and then secured work at Fairyhouse, home turf of the Irish Grand National. He later became the racecourse foreman and stayed at Fairyhouse for an impressive 62 years. His daughter Mary Dinneny (nee McCarthy) recalls how he arose at 6am on race days and would work through until 10pm. ‘Easter Monday and Tuesday were especially busy’, she says, ‘but he absolutely loved his job’. In 1947, he married Roscommon-born Rose O’Shea and they settled at Glascarn Lane. They had two daughters, Mary Elizabeth (born 1949) and Rosaleen Margaret (born 1954). The annual John McCarthy Memorial Hunters Chase was set up in his memory after he died in November 1996.
Hughie McCarthy (Senior) was born in the latter days of 1918, a cruel post-war winter in which 20,000 perished across Ireland from the effects of the Spanish Flu. He was 21 years old when, as new storm clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, a young lady called Josephine McNulty walked down the aisle to become his bride. Following his mothers’ death in 1947, Hughie and Josie moved to the family home at Grange End which he farmed for the rest of his life, although he also worked with many other farms in the area.
In 1956, Hughie played an instrumental role in establishing the Dunshaughlin Fire Brigade, of which service he was Sub-Officer for 13 years until 1969. His son Christy (the welder) worked as a fireman from 1960 to 1969. In the early days, the fire truck was a handcart which they pushed around the town but in the early 1960s they received their first fire engine which Station Officer Paul Foley recalls as ‘a small truck with a wooden box built on the back for the crew - reminiscent of 'Dad's Army'.’ Paul also recalled how the siren on the cart was so loud, it alerted the entire population and yet, going at 30mph, they were frequently overtaken by a bus. The ‘Father Ted’ imagery was further enhanced when a County Councilor suggested the firemen should instead go to fires on bicycles. Frank Hall later caricatured these events in his 'Hall's Pictorial Weekly' on R.T.E. with firemen on bicycles pulling a water-squirting elephant in a trailer. In 1969, the year both Hughie and Christy left the service, a brand new Dennis fire engine arrived.
As his obituary in the Meath Chronicle noted, Hugh was also a dedicated member of Dunshaughlin Gaelic Football Club’. He was described as ‘committee man supreme’ in the 1950s and 1960s, when the club was developing its grounds at Drumree Road.[v] He was largely responsible for the renowned Dunshaughlin Carnival, travelling to many dance halls to organize fund raising events for it. He served as a selector when the club won two championships, one in hurling and one in football. Always the first to arrive on the scene and the last to depart, he won the club’s hall of fame award. He served as both gateman and umpire during the club’s successful seven-a-side era, as well as umpiring at both club and inter-county level. After every game he collected the jerseys and took them home, where ‘Josie washed them and sent them back aired and spotless … which in those days was no mean feat as washing machines and dryers were not yet invented.'
Hughie and Josie celebrated 65 years of marriage in 2004. Josie passed away in July 2005 and Hughie followed on 1st August 2008. They are buried in St Seachnall’s Cemetery, Dunshaughlin.[vi]
As a young woman, Peggy joined her sister Mosie working in Bogans Bar in Dundalk. She later married baker Kevin Finnegan. He may have been a kinsman of Patrick Finnegan who had a grocery near the Connolly house on Dundalk’s Chapel Lane in 1911. The world of bread, pies, tarts, pastries, biscuits and cakes was not to be forever and the Finnegan's moved to a farm near Inniskeen, the small Monaghan village immortalized by the poet Paddy Kavanagh. The village went into decline following the closure of the Dundalk to Enniskillen railway line on 1 January 1960. Inevitably its proximity to the Border and Crossmaglen in County Armagh tumbled the community into the Troubles.
Denis ‘Dinny’ McCarthy, the youngest son, was born on 8 February 1918. He was also at Ratoath National School until he was 14 and later recalled how his teenage years were spent hurling. His first job came in the Big Snow of 1932 when he and his uncle took a crosscut saw to fallen trees on Mrs. Little’s farm in Curragha. He frequently walked Mrs Little’s cattle to the train station in Clonsilla and the market in Prussia Street, Dublin. As a young man, he lived with his step-aunt, a sister of Susan McCarthy (nee Flynn) in Batterstown, where he served his time as an apprentice blacksmith. He later went to Mayo but returned to Co. Louth in 1939 to serve with Bill Smith, resident blacksmith of the Cooley Peninsula. As hydraulics replaced the horse in the 1950s, Denis reinvented himself as a boilermaker and welder and worked in England for fifteen years. He returned to Ireland to work with the Dundalk Engineering Works, ultimately inheriting Bill Smith's Cooley forge. Denis died in May 1989. He married Catherine Murphy and had six children, including Harry McCarthy who so kindly helped with the writing of this story.
Like her uncle Denis McCarthy, the youngest child Susan worked at Alex Findlater & Co. Ltd in Dublin. Here she met her husband, Desmond Thornton, who was born on 9th May 1918. Desmond may have been there in the 1950s but Alex Findlater, the present-day family head, recalls him working in the wine department on O’Connell Street. Alex also notes his name in the company’s’ Liquor Division from 24th July 1961 for eight years to 25th February 1969. They lived in Churchtown, Dundrum, Co Dublin, and had one son, Paul, who married Pauline, and was father of Amy.
[i] Robert McCarthy was a stonemason, born circa 1842. In the 1901 census, Robert (stonemason), was living with his wife Ellen and a daughter Maggie at 57 Main Street, Buttevant. Main Street is not listed in the 1911 Census but Robert, Ellen and their only child, 26-year-old Mary Julia, are all listed.
In October 2014, I was contacted by Eva Davis who felt there might be a connection between Robert McCarthy of Buttevant and her McCarthy family from Tankardstown North, Bruree,Co Limerick. The censii for Tankardstown in 1901 and 1911 list Eva's great-grandfather Michael McCarthy, a Master Stonemason, who had ten children - including two sons Robert and Martin (Eva's grandfather) who were also Stonemasons, and three daughters Ellen, Julia and Margaret. Another son Denis was kiled in action in WW1 while another, James McCarthy, an anti-Treaty man was arrested in 1923 and sent to the Curragh camps.
Griffith Valuation lists a John McCarthy in Tankardstown North.
There was also a 74-year-old Patrick McCarthy, a labourer, living in Buttevant at the time of the 1911 Census. He was born in 1837, and lived with his wife Margrett; they had ten children of whom seven were still alive in 1911.
[ii] He was also said to have been a relation of Timothy McCarthy (1888-1917), the young merchant sailor who went exploring in the Antarctic on the Endurance with Sir Ernest Shackleton. Timothy was born in the in Lower Cove district of Kinsale, County Cork, in 1888, the son of John and Mary McCarthy. His brother, Mortimer (Morty) was six years older and went on an Antarctic expedition with Scott on the Terra Nova. The district where they came from was well known for its skilled seamen and fishermen. Frank Worsley, who captained the Endurance, described Timothy as ‘the most irrepressible optimist I've ever met - when I relieve him at the helm, boat iced and seas down yr neck, he informs me with a happy grin, `It's a grand day, sir`’. On Friday 16th March 1917, only three weeks after returning from the expedition, 28-year-old Timothy was killed in action at his gun post on board the S.S. Narragansett. It was his first day under enemy fire.
[iii] The 1911 Census lists it as No. 33 Ratoath Village.
[iv] Father Aiken many have been a kinsman of Frank Aiken (1898-1983), commander of the IRA and co-founder of Fianna Fail, who famously led a surprise attack of 300–400 anti-treaty IRA men on Dundalk during the Civil War. They blew open the army barracks, took control of the town (at a cost of just two men killed), freed 240 republican prisoners and seized 400 rifles. However, while in possession of the town, Aiken publicly called for an end to the civil war. The barracks are now named in his honour.
[v] Hughie was also delegate to the county board, and on one occasion, along with two other delegates from the club, missed his lift home and had to walk the 11 miles back.
[vi] Hughie was predeceased by his son, Michael, grandson Robert, granddaughter Linda Rodgers and son-in-law, Willie Ryan. He was survived by his six children, Peggy Ryan (Leixlip), Christy (Drumree Road, Dunshaughlin, who formerly worked in Foley’s forge, originally shodding farmers horses and nowadays considered one of the finest in Ireland for gates and decorative ironwork), Hughie (Blanchardstown), Esther (Hillview, Dunshaughlin), Dinny (Grange End, Dunshaughlin) and Tommy (Hillview). Another Hugh McCarthy works with fire brigade in Dunshuaghlin today.
The author would like to extend particular thanks to Siobhan Ryan, Pat Connolly and Harry McCarthy for providing the information upon which this story is based. Harry McCarthy has accrued considerable information on both the Plunkett and McCarthy families and, in November 2009, he organized a memorial mass for his great-uncle Hugh Plunkett who was killed in action during the First World War. He would also like to thank the following for their advice and assistance during the writing of this history.
Tony Darby (Ratoath Historical Society)
Mary Dinneny (née McCarthy)
Beryl Donnelly (Secretary, Ratoath Heritage Group)
Ann Kanavagh (Ashbourne Historical Society)
Middlesborough Council (Tee Valley Indexes)
Ratoath Chamber of Commerce
Noel Ross (County Louth Archaeological & Historical Society)
Susan Wilson (Office of CEO, Cheeverstown House)