Friday, 16 March 2018

My Irish ancestors: Teachers, conquerors and a female poet

EDIT 9 May 2018: The family story of our English - and Irish - connection is proven wrong. This blog post is no longer valid!

Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig), a time for people of Irish descent to celebrate their ancestral culture and homeland. I thought this would be a good occasion to end my recent blogging slowdown by writing a post about my own Irish roots.

My most recent Irish-born ancestor is Isabella Bull, my 5th great-grandmother. More precisely, because the connection is through the controversial Lister line, I should say she is my likely 5th great-grandmother.

Born in Dublin in 1757, Isabella seems to have been brought up in a harsh environment. In 1778, at the age of 20 or 21, she married an English mariner named Anthony Harris. They were married in Dublin, but soon moved to Maryport in Cumbria, England. Anthony was a Quaker, and Isabella seems to have converted to the Quaker faith upon marrying him. Among other things, Anthony was a staunch and vocal opponent of the enslavement of Africans. He tragically died in 1795 on a sea voyage to Waterford in Ireland; he was hit in the head by the main boom, fell into the sea and drowned.

After being widowed,
"Isabella, then in her thirties and the mother of more than a half-dozen children, became a well-respected Quaker educator in England in the early decades of the 1800s. An 1833 edition of the Annual Monitor, a Quaker publication, recorded the 1832 death of Isabella Harris and noted her more than twenty years’ service as the “principal mistress” of the Ackworth School [in Yorkshire] between 1803 and 1826." (Source)

Her daughter, my 4th great-grandmother Isabella Harris (1792-1864), also became a teacher at Ackworth School. Strong, independent and intelligent women seem to be a theme in this family line, as in several of my other ancestral lines.

Digging further

Who were Isabella Bull's ancestors? The surname Bull, I am told, is not a native Irish (Gaelic) name, but an English one, and it seems like at least one of Isabella's ancestors might have come to Ireland as part of Oliver Cromwell's conquering army in 1649-53, or in its wake.

We know that Isabella was the daughter of one William Bull. A William Bull got married to a Mary Munk in Dublin on 14 September 1756. I haven't found any other William Bull whose age and location fits Isabella's father, so I believe this couple must be Isabella's parents. I don't know for sure what William and Mary's ancestral backgrounds were, but there was a Mon(c)k family in Dublin at this time who were of English origin, which suggests that Isabella Bull's family background was probably mainly Anglo-Irish rather than native Irish.

Mary Munk was reportedly born around 1735. My sources are limited to and FamilySearch, but I have found only one Mon(c)k/Mun(c)k couple baptizing children in the 1730s in Dublin, namely Henry Stanley Monck of St Stephen's Green (1700-1745) and his wife Jane, née Percy (1702-1742). Although the connection is not proven, it seems likely that my Mary Munk is the daughter of this couple.

This Monck family traces its direct paternal origins to Devon in England. Among the ancestors of Henry and Jane are several Cromwell allies who came over in the mid-1600s, but also many Anglo-Irish and Hiberno-Norman families with roots in Ireland stretching back many more centuries. There are more exotic connections as well. Henry's maternal family, the Molesworths, descend (through at least two different lines) from the Spanish noblewoman Sancha de Ayála, who came to England as a lady-in-waiting in 1371 and died in 1418. Sancha was of Spanish, Portuguese and converso Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and she probaby also had some Moorish ancestors as well.

One of the most interesting ancestors along the Monck line lived in much more recent times. She was the honourable Mary Molesworth, "a woman of great beauty and considerable poetical abilities". Besides English, Mary knew Latin, Italian and Spanish. She was born around 1677 and had grown up in literary circles, as her father Robert Molesworth (1st Viscount Molesworth) was himself a writer and a friend of Jonathan Swift. Mary married George Monck of Dublin sometime before 1700, and died at Bath in England in 1715 at the age of about 38. A collection of her poetry was published posthumously in London in 1716, entitled Marinda. Poetry and Translations upon several occasions.

Mary Monck, as she was known after marriage, was the mother of Henry Stanley Monck and the likely grandmother of my ancestor Mary Munk. Again, we see the strong and independent streak among the women of this line.

Mary wrote a poem on her deathbed, which can be read here.

Although the majority of my Irish ancestry is probably of Anglo-Irish extraction, my family history has still been deeply rooted in Ireland for centuries, and there must certainly be some native Irish blood connections - albeit distant - in the Bull and Monck families. At the same time, I recognize that several of my direct ancestors took part in the bloody English conquest and oppressive colonization of Ireland which led to much human deprivation. For this reason, I celebrate St Patrick's Day with a mixture of pride and humility.

Irish DNA

I get 9 % "British Isles" at FTDNA, and 4.4 % "British and Irish" at 23andMe. AncestryDNA is the only one of the large companies to separate Irish autosomal DNA from British, but I haven't tested with them yet. MyHeritage does have a "Irish, Scottish and Welsh" category that is separate from "English". I get 21.3 % "Irish, Scottish and Welsh" at MyHeritage, which is obviously an overestimate, but it shows that I do have a certain amount of genes from this region, some of which may very well be inherited from Irish ancestors. Most of my "Celtic" DNA may however be due to Brittonic (i.e. Welsh-related) ancestry from Yorkshire and Cumbria, where many of my English ancestors come from; cf. screenshot below.

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