Archive of the Month
Finding the Kinmonths in Shandon, Cork – A Genealogical Mystery Solved in the RCB Library
by Michael Foley
It is certainly not a Cork name, but some older Corkonians would have heard of the Kinmonth family as being poultry and egg merchants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. William Kinmonth was a Town Councillor, Justice of the Peace, President of the Cork Rowing Club, and living in a fine house called Ferney, overlooking Lough Mahon in Blackrock, in 1911. Cork wits would have called him ‘Chicken Choker’ Kinmonth.
But the story goes way back to another William Kinmonth in Cork in the 18th century. The search for him was a year long journey by present day Kinmonths (and this Kinmonth in–law) in Ireland, England and the US, and it all came to a focus in the treasures revealed in just a few registers from St Anne’s Church of Ireland parish in Shandon – of “de bells” fame, located with many other parish records at the RCB Library in Dublin. For a full list of the parish record collection see this link.
Anecdotal family lore among the various strands of the Kinmonth family from Cork put them as ‘planters’ in Ulster, originally from weaving communities in Perthshire in Scotland. The strands of Kinmonth descendants today knew this much; that they came from three Kinmonth men; Hugh, John and William, who were in Cork in the period from the Battle of Waterloo to the Great Famine. Were they the first to arrive in Cork? Did they come directly from Scotland? Or were they already in Ulster and come south? They seemed so different, Hugh a weaver in Bandon, John a lace merchant in St Patrick Street, and William, a would be murderer who ended up in Van Diemen’s Land for attempted murder of his wife. How were they related, or were they?
The first known record was of the marriage of Hugh Kinmonth (spelled Kinnott in the register) to Elizabeth Screech on the 19 May 1813 in Kilbrogan church in Bandon. He was a weaver as were many Kinmonths in Scotland, and he may have worked in the big cotton mill owned by George Allman in Overton outside Bandon.
They had a number of children in Bandon but nothing after 1820, although we knew that he had more later. There were two Johns baptised in 1815 and 1820, but no trace of Thomas who I was seeking as he was the father of William the future poultry merchant. Maybe one of the Johns was a mistake for Thomas. The cotton industry in Bandon collapsed in 1826 and, so we thought, maybe Hugh took his wife back to Cork, but to where? We had no clue where to look for more baptism records and it would be a daunting task to pick parishes at random. So we let it rest – and the anomaly of no record for Thomas too.
Next, we knew that John Kinmonth married Sarah Craig in 1826 (but did not know where), with whom he had three children, but she died in 1835 and is buried at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. He married a Catherine Craig the following year in Douglas parish, maybe a sister, and they had many children. We found that he became a Methodist (or ‘Dissenter’ in the parlance of the day) and had his children baptised in the Wesleyan chapel on Patrick Street, next door to where he had his lace shop. Would Hugh ‘Weaver’ have joined him?
From the Kinmonths in Dublin and London we knew that there was a Charles Villiers and a James Kinmonth born in Cork about 1833 and 1842 respectively to a William Kinmonth, but who was he? A possible answer came in articles in the Cork newspapers of the time of a trial of a William Kinmonth for ‘attempted murder of his wife’. His wife Elizabeth gave evidence that she married him in 1831 but that after three months she banished him from the house for his abusive behaviour towards her. Eight years later he returned from England and set up as a draper in Youghal. Very quickly he reverted to his abusive ways and one morning in 1841 while she was taking a break from the shop he stole up behind her and slashed her with a razor. In the evidence in court she related that she had been living with her mother in those eight years of William’s absence, “on Wellington Road”. “Aha”, we said; “Wellington Road!” That is close to St Luke’s Church of Ireland church – a chapel of ease in the mother parish of St Anne’s of Shandon. Maybe we could find baptism records there.
As I was the only family member living in Dublin, I headed over to Braemor Park in Churchtown, where the Library of the Representative Church Body is located. Here there are now 1,155 collections of parish records, including St Luke’s and within a few minutes of arrival I had ordered up and was looking at the baptism records of same parish in a register covering the 1840s, the period when James Kinmonth was born and maybe the son of this William. I also ordered up registers of St Anne’s Shandon as well, thinking that the baptisms could have taken place there. After just ten minutes I found the baptism of James Kinmonth, his mother listed as Elizabeth, while there was an interesting stroke of ink where the father’s name should be – maybe our man on a convict ship? The date was earlier than presumed by descendants, 19 August 1841 instead of 1842, but now fitted perfectly with William ‘Razor’ (as we call him) being the father.
There was a downside to finding the record in St Luke’s – the records prior to 1837 were all destroyed in the tragic fire in the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 and no copies are known to survive. No chance then of finding Charles Villiers in 1833. I resigned myself to not finding a baptism record for this man who was the opposite of his father – he became a scripture reader in the Church of England. It was doubly disappointing because his direct descendant in London was one of our little group and she too would be dismayed. But as I already had the St Anne’s records in front of me I thought that I would check out some early dates – after all, maybe Hugh ‘Weaver’ Kinmonth had his children baptised there in the 1820s. We had no clue that the Kinmonths lived in Shandon.
I was not prepared for the mountain of records of Kinmonths that I found there. The earliest one was for 29 April 1780 (239 years ago this month –see attached time line) the baptism of Thomas and the ‘reception’ of William, sons of William and Eliza Kinmonth, And there too amongst them I found Thomas who was baptised on 3 December 1815 along with the daughter of a Franklin couple. Fantastic – I now had the baptism record of my wife’s great–great grandfather. It did not end there however. Going back in time I discovered the baptism of Thomas’s father Hugh to William and Elizabeth Kinmonth on 17 August 1790, and going forward I found the baptism of Thomas’s son, William Kinmonth on 4 May 1842, the poultry man. Three generations, all in the records of Shandon! Not only that but so too was the baptism of John ‘Lace’ Kinmonth, son of Hugh and Catherine Kinmonth, on 29 May 1803, and his marriage to Sarah Craig in 1826.
And there, unexpectedly, was the record for Charles Villiers Kinmonth, born 18 June 1832, exactly the right time for him to be William ‘Razor’s’ son. The sight stopped me in my tracks – like a lost treasure it had turned up. I leaned back in my chair in the RCB Library reading room, and took it in. Won’t she be delighted, my collaborator in London, I thought– this is the magic of genealogical search, the sudden rush at finding something that one thought was lost.
The only way to make sense of these records was to build a time line from the two earliest couples; William and Elizabeth Kinmonth and Hugh and Catherine Kinmonth. The time line can be found here.
One of the most valuable sources of information in these records is the listings of sponsors, or ‘surities’ as they were called then, at the baptisms of the Kinmonth children and those of their friends. They paint a picture of a very close–knit community ‘living in each other’s pockets’ as it were, in the Blackpool area as it was subsequently discovered in later records. William and Eliza and Hugh and Catherine are sponsors of each other’s children and together appear at baptisms of the Woods, the Craigs, the Clarks, and later the Franklins, and the Shuttleworths. One family to whom the Kinmonths were especially close was the Craigs, and not just one couple, but many Craigs; John, James, Isabella, Jane, George and Susana, Eliza, Catherine, William and Mary. It is no wonder then that John Kinmonth (son of Hugh and Catherine) married Sarah and then Catherine Craig, possibly daughters of William and Mary Craig.
One disturbing find was the burial of three Kinmonth children in the one year, 1780, and all of them called William. I had found two Kinmonth couples, but there must have been a third. Given the date these Williams must have been the first born of these couples, and according to Kinmonth family protocol the firstborn was always called after the grandfather. So it is likely that the fathers of these Kinmonth children were brothers and that their father was William. The clincher was a militia pension record for Hugh Kinmonth (father of John ‘Lace’ and William ‘Razor’). It gave his age, place of birth and occupation; he was in born in St Ann’s (early records omit the ‘e’) in Shandon in 1755, and he was a weaver. While unfortunately we don’t have the records for 1755 we now know with good confidence, and thanks to the surviving records of St Anne’s in Shandon, that all of the Kinmonths in Cork most likely descended from a William Kinmonth who was in Cork with his wife in 1755. One hundred years of baptisms in the one parish, and in the same baptismal font that is used today. A very rewarding search!
Coming back to William Kinmonth the poultry merchant, his origins as the son of a humble weaver to becoming a wealthy merchant and buying a grand house on 25 acres called ‘Ferney’ on the shores of Lough Mahon. He and his family were the last residents in the house and after it was sold in 1940 it lay empty before being demolished for housing. The good news is that the land in the front and to the right of the house was used, by happy coincidence, to build St Luke’s Home, which for 130 years has provided residential care and support services to older people in the Cork region. Given its close association with the parish of St Anne’s Shandon, the current chaplain is priest–in–charge of St Anne’s, the Revd Sarah Marry – a virtuous circle! For further information about St Luke’s see this link.
PS. How and why the original William Kinmonth came to Cork is another story that is yet to be revealed. Most likely he was invited among a number of weavers that were hired by landlords and woollen weavers in Cork city and county who were moving into linen weaving and bringing weavers from Ulster and Britain to train and supervise local workers during the 18th–century economic boom. (Andy Bielenberg: Cork’s Industrial Revolution 1780 – 1880. Cork University Press, 1991).
For further information about the parish of St Anne, Shandon, see http://cork.anglican.org/places/cork-st-annes-shandon/
Michael Foley is married to the granddaughter of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Kinmonth (1871 – 1913). Michael worked in educational technology all his working life, first in the Education Department in University College Dublin (UCD) teaching audio visual media to trainee teachers. In 1985 he founded and was the first director of the Audio Visual Centre at UCD where he and his team pioneered the use of emerging communications technologies in creating access to knowledge, using satellite broadcasting, videoconferencing, TV broadcasting, and early use of the web. In 1997 he was invited by the World Bank Institute in Washington DC to help design what became the Global Development Learning Network, a partnership of knowledge institutions in developing countries which promoted knowledge sharing among development practitioners. He retired from the World Bank in 2012 and lives in Ranelagh with his wife Aileen. A keen photographer, he has exhibited in Ireland and the US on people and places from South Asia.