In search of Murtagh

For those of you who haven’t read my ‘about’ page you may wonder why I choose to call the blog Murtagh’s Meadow. Basically the field in which our house was built was always know by our family as Murtagh’s Meadow – named by the man who used to own it. Living on a farm it is always useful to have names on fields. So for example, as a child if my father said “bring the cows back to ‘Murtagh’s Meadow’ or the ‘Far Field’, or the ‘Barley Field’ you would always know exactly where he meant.

Murtagh's Meadow when it was still a meadow

Murtagh’s Meadow when it was still a meadow

Today the census enumerator arrived with our census form for the latest Irish Census which will take place on the 24th April. Each household gets a form and fills in some basic details of their household on that evening – like name, age, occupation etc.

My son, who is 8, was interested so we read through the form and I explained as best I could about the process. Then we went online to visit the National Archives Census pages. This fascinating resource has complete records of the Irish 1901 and 1911 Census, as well as some earlier records. As an exercise we decided to look up our own townland and see if we could recognize any family names from the 1911 census. And indeed we could.

But the most fascinating finding was that of Michael Murtagh, aged 60. He lived with his widowed sister, Mary Gallagher (53), and four of her six children; Bridget (25), Ellen (20), Patrick (15) and Thomas (12). Michael’s occupation was “farmer”.

With one success under my belt I decided to dig a bit deeper and look at the 1901 census. And here things get a little bit confusing. There is indeed a Michael Murtagh listed. But his age is down as 42 (which wouldn’t add up). He lives in a house where the head is listed as Margaret Murtagh (80 years) and he is listed as her step-son. Other people listed in the house include Margaret’s daughter Mary Gallagher (listed as 43 which would suggest that she is the same Mary as in the 1911 census!).  Some of the children are also listed and again the names and ages match up, but strangely they are listed as being nieces and nephews to Margaret though I would have thought they were grandchildren. Because many of the adults were unable to read or write census enumerators would have completed the forms in earlier censuses and I wonder if a mistake may have been made here. I think it probably was the same Michael. Chances are that it could have been Margaret Murtagh’s field and/or her husband’s (she is listed as widowed) before her.

It is all quite fascinating. I am sure when the Murtagh and Gallagher families filled out those census forms over one hundred years ago they would never have imagined that anyone would be looking at digital copies of them today. We have no idea what the future holds for us. Today there are no Murtagh’s or Gallagher’s living in our townland, but now that I have started digging i may ask some of our other neighbours what they know of these families.

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27 thoughts on “In search of Murtagh

    1. Murtagh's Meadow Post author

      Thank you Cathy. My mother has done a lot of research on our family since she retired which is interesting too.

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  1. Eliza Waters

    History, especially local, is pretty fascinating. I like to look through the history of our town (published for our bicentennial in 1967) and look at photos. Many buildings are still standing, but the biggest difference is that it has been reforested. It was wide open 1800-1950 because of sheep/dairy farming.

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    1. Murtagh's Meadow Post author

      That too is fascinating Eliza – how farming changes over time. In the past our farmers were even smaller and would have been more mixed with farmers having small numbers of livestock but also growing oats and potatoes for food.

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  2. Pingback: Future: Places | What's (in) the picture?

  3. aj vosse

    Gosh… mat a fascinating read! I clicked over to see the usual silent Sunday photo only to be surprised by this great piece. I really hope you find more info and to think… in a hundred years when someone else does what you’ve just done they’ll find a comment about the descendent of KD living at what was once known as Murtagh’s M!! 😉

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  4. Melissa Shaw-Smith

    Fascinating! And such a great home lesson with the kids. A recent school project for my 8 year old involved choosing one of our village’s historic buildings and researching it’s history. The whole family spent a morning boggling over archive newspapers from the 1850’s through early 1900s. Really interesting and entertaining. We learnt so much. Even the adds were fascinating.

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  5. Cynthia Reyes

    It is indeed fascinating and one wonders how often mistakes were made back then. They sure get made today! Thanks for sharing this background into the naming and ancestry of Murtagh’s Meadow.

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  6. Jane

    Living history which has clearly touched a nerve with everyone. No luck researching my grandfather from Ayr so it’s down more of the Merchant Navy direction, I think. Wonderful research.

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