Monday, 4 June 2012

Little Ireland, and an Offaly update

Three months ago I wrote about a puzzle of three CONDRON families of Cloghan, Co. Offaly ("Family 1", "Family 2", "Family 3") because I could find no link between them. I still have not solved that puzzle, though I have found out some more about at least one of the families. In the 1871 UK census, the following members of "Family 3" are living in Hulme, south Manchester: John (age 2) with his parents William (age 28) and Judith (nee ROURKE) and younger sister Jane (age 10 months). In the same household are two other CONDRON families: Thomas (age 30) with wife and one child, and Michael (age 32) with his wife Joanna (nee WALSHE or WELSH). Everyone except Thomas's child was born in Ireland. Could Thomas perhaps be the same Thomas who was head of "Family 2" in Cloghan? It seems quite likely though not proven that William, Thomas and Michael are brothers. One small piece of supporting evidence is that Michael's marriage record to Joanna at St Wilfrid's RC church in Hulme shows that his father was called John, which I know also to be the name of William's father.

The historic townships of Hulme and Chorlton-on-Medlock (not to be confused with Chorlton-cum-Hardy) lie within the registration district of Chorlton, which is located just to the south of Manchester and was separated from it by the River Medlock. (Today this area is very much part of Manchester). Many Irish immigrants lived in Hulme and Chorlton-on-Medlock in the nineteenth century, many CONDR*Ns among them. More than 70 CONDR*N births are recorded in Chorlton between 1845 and 1900.

One area adjacent to the Medlock was known as Little Ireland because of the high density of Irish immigrants living there, and is described in horrific detail by Friedrich Engels in his 1844 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England. Of the Medlock, Engels say, "Along both sides of the stream, which is coal black, stagnant and foul, stretches a broad belt of factories and working-men's dwellings, the latter all in the worst condition." And he goes on:
But the most horrible spot ...  lies on the Manchester side, immediately south-west of Oxford Road, and is known as Little Ireland. In a rather deep hole, in a curve of the Medlock and surrounded on all four sides by tall factories and high embankments, covered with buildings, stand two groups of about two hundred cottages, built chiefly back to back, in which live about four thousand human beings, most of them Irish. The cottages are old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys. A horde of ragged women and children swarm about here, as filthy as the swine that thrive upon the garbage heaps and in the puddles. ... The race that lives in these ruinous cottages, behind broken windows, mended with oilskin, sprung doors, and rotten door-posts, or in dark, wet cellars, ... this race must really have reached the lowest stage of humanity. ... [I]n each of these pens, containing at most two rooms, a garret and perhaps a cellar, on the average twenty human beings live.
Apparently, and fortunately, Little Ireland was demolished in about 1847. One can only hope that the CONDR*Ns and others who lived in Chorlton district lived in better conditions than Engels so harrowingly described.