Irish History, Genealogy and Culture

Below are some of the more popular books and articles on the website. But first, several true and gripping tales from the library:

Thomas Andrews and the sinking of the Titanic

RMS Titanic

In a world in which so many people in positions of authority are only too willing to blame their failures on anyone but themselves and to desperately seek absolution from all guilt, the few who accept responsibility and behave honourably in the face of even the greatest of adversity shine out like beacons and act as examples to us all.

One man from the pages of history who deserves to be remembered for his selfless and stoic conduct in the very face of death itself is the designer of the ill-fated ship RMS Titanic.

Thomas Andrews was born in Comber, County Down, in 1873, the son of a wealthy flax mill owner, also called Thomas.

In 1889, when it came time for Thomas junior to make his own way in the world, he chose to forsake the family business and take on an apprenticeship at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

RMS Titanic

Thomas Andrews, Shipbuilder

A little over 20 years later he was Chief Designer and Naval Architect at Harland & Wolff and the man ultimately responsible for the design and construction of the luxurious liner Titanic for the White Star Line. Andrews regarded it as his ship.

Although the Titanic was built in Belfast it sailed from the port of Southampton in England on its maiden voyage to New York. It left punctually at noon on April 10th, 1912, with Thomas Andrews on board.

Few will be unaware of the fact that the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of Sunday, 14th April, which ripped the keel on the starboard side by a length of about 300 feet.

The seriousness of the damage would not have been lost on Andrews, but he kept outwardly calm and carried on regardless, trying to avoid panic setting in among the passengers and to marshal as many of them to safety as possible.

He told one stewardess “… to get her passengers to put on warm clothing and their life belts and assemble on the Boat deck. But she read his face, ‘which had a look as though he were heart broken,’ …”

To another he said, “Now, if you value your life, put on your coat and belt, then walk round the deck and let the passengers see you.”

“He left me then,” writes the stewardess, “and that was the last I saw of what I consider a true hero and one of whom his country has cause to be proud.”

Many survivors recall the noble actions of Thomas Andrews on that fateful night, one of the last of which was throwing deckchairs overboard to help people struggling in the water below to stay afloat.

Thomas Andrews appears not to have had the least concern for preserving his own life, but only for the safety of the passengers on the Titanic.

As described in the book Thomas Andrews, Shipbuilder by Shan Bullock (1912), he seemed perfectly resigned to his fate—see The Sinking of the Titanic.

The tragic death of Bridget Cleary

Hooded cloaks of young Irish married women

Young Irish married women wearing the hooded cloak common during the times of Bridget Cleary

In March of 1895, in the townland of Ballyvadlea, County Tipperary, a young married woman was brutally murdered. Her name was Bridget Cleary.

The case would have been long ago forgotten but for the reason and manner of her death – and at whose hands.

At the trial for her murder, Judge O'Brien said that she was “a young married woman, suspecting no harm, guilty of no offence, virtuous and respectable in all her conduct and all her proceedings.”

So why did she die and who was responsible?

The shocking truth is that her husband believed her to be possessed by a witch or the fairies and he, with the help of her father and cousins, saw fit to burn her on the fire of her own home.

But this was only after she had been subjected to days of various tortures inspired by the superstitious beliefs of her family and other members of the community.

At this distance in time it is easy to be deceived into believing that the former superstitions of ordinary Irish folk were always charming and harmless but, occasionallyat least, they proved to be dangerous and even fatal.

Children suspected of being fairy changlings, for example, could be exposed to cruel trials in order to test if they were the mothers’ real offspring or weakly substitutes left by the fairies.

Bridget Cleary was similarly subjected to horrible trials in order to prove that she was really Michael Cleary's wife, and during her ‘ordeal by bread’ he would demand of her, “Are you Bridget Cleary, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?”

Neither priest nor doctor, family or friends were effective in intervening to save poor Bridget's life. She was ultimately able to depend on nobody and was abandoned to her fate.

Her husband disposed of Bridget's body secretly in the dead of night and he and her family then concocted a story to explain her sudden disappearance.

Nobody in the community was particularly disposed to assisting in the investigation, but the truth did finally come out.

The ultimate fate of Bridget Cleary was as sad as the terrible ordeal she went through in her final days.

In Five Years in Ireland Michael J. McCarthy gives a broader and more detailed account of the tragic death of Bridget Cleary »

Find your family history in John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees; or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation. O'Hart traced the lines of descent of approximately 1000 Irish families, in many cases detailing births, deaths and marriages, as well as emigrations to Europe, Australia and America. Search now »

Most popular books on Ireland

Below are some of the more popular books on the site.

Ancient Legends and Superstitions of Ireland

Selected pages

Book contents

Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland »

A Topograhical Dictionary of Ireland

“A Topograhical Dictionary of Ireland comprising the several counties, cities, boroughs, corporate, market, and post towns, parishes, and villages, with historical and statistical descriptions.” (1837)

A monumental work by Samuel Lewis that provides fascinating and invaluable topographical and historical information on all the villages, towns, cities, parishes, etc. of Ireland.

Book contents

A Topograhical Dictionary of Ireland »

Irish Names and Surnames

Rev. Patrick Woulfe's book provides the origins and meanings of 1000s of Irish forenames and surnames as well as details on the clans of Ireland.

Book contents

Irish Local Names Explained

A handy little guide by P. W. Joyce to the meaning of 1000s of Irish place names and the root words from which many of them are formed.

Book contents

Irish Local Names Explained »

Featured reading

Below is a selection of compelling writing on different aspects of Ireland that will amuse, surprise, shock and sadden.

The first on offer is by an American widow, Asenath Nicholson, who gives a very revealing description of the living conditions inside a peasant cottage just prior to the Great Famine in a section from her book Ireland’s Welcome to the StrangerCabin Life.

The second, from Asenath Nicholson’s Irish sequel Annals of the Famine in Ireland, graphically details a visit to the island of Arranmore (off the west coast of County Donegal) during the height of the great hunger—Mr. Griffith and a visit to the island of Arranmore.

From the Dublin Penny Journal we have an article on the origin of the Irish funeral cry that includes a description of the author’s first encounter with it—The Irish Funeral Cry (the Ullaloo, Keeners and Keening at Irish Funerals)

In the Ulster Journal of Archaeology we find the mind-blowing suggestion that people from a certain region in Africa were able to speak and understand Irish!—Is the Irish Language spoken in Africa?

From Michael J. F. McCarthy’s Five Years in Ireland, 1895-1900, comes the horrendous story of the murder of a peasant woman in Tipperary as the result of her husband’s belief in fairies and witches—Bridget Cleary burned to death.

Lady Wilde conjures up a few rather gruesome prospects when she tells of—Superstitions concerning the dead.

Ireland travel readings: Discover things to do in Ireland and the many Celtic symbols designed by the Celts.

Latest additions

Irish Names for Children

Provides details of more than 500 forenames traditionally used in Ireland, giving origins and meanings where possible.

Special Report on Surnames in Ireland

Robert E. Matheson’s Special Report on Surnames in Ireland (1909) provides information on the numerical strength of 1000s of surnames in Ireland as well as indicating the provinces and counties in which they were most prevalent at the close of the nineteenth century.

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Our bestselling publications through its publishing imprint, Books Ulster, reproduces mostly classic Irish texts that still inform and enthrall today. Each book is carefully proofed and professionally reset to provide a quality product.

Here is a selection of the most popular titles:

Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger

Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger; or, an excursion through Ireland, in 1844 & 1845, for the purpose of personally investigating the condition of the poor is the intriguing account of an American widow’s journey through Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine. The no-nonsense character of the intrepid Mrs Nicholson and her conversational style of writing make this book an absolute treat to read. As she refused to travel in fine carriages or stay in the best of hotels, but often made her way on foot and rested in common lodging houses or the cabins of the poor, the author was perfectly positioned to describe the reality of Irish life at the time. Highly recommended! (also available on Kindle)

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Annals of the Famine in Ireland, in 1847, 1848, and 1849 is Asenath Nicholson’s sequel to Ireland’s Welcome. Here she returns to Ireland during the worst of the famine years and describes the harrowing scenes that she personally witnessed, or were reported to her, as she travelled about the country dispensing relief as best she could (also available on Kindle).

The Ocean Plague

The Ocean Plague: or, A Voyage to Quebec in an Irish Emigrant Vessel is based upon the diary of Robert Whyte who, in 1847, crossed the Atlantic from Dublin to Quebec in an Irish emigrant ship. His account of the journey provides invaluable eyewitness testimony to the trauma and tragedy that many emigrants had to face en route to their new lives in Canada and America. The book is also available in Kindle.

The Irish in America

First published in 1868, The Irish in America provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. In this substantial volume, the reader will find a sobering description of the fever sheds in the Canadian quarantine quarters of Grosse Isle, details of the heartless ruses employed by rogues to cheat newly-arrived immigrants out of what little they had, a graphic picture of slum life in the tenements of New York, portraits of life for the Irish in the countryside and in the towns, recollections of Irishmen who had fought in the American Civil War, and an account of the progress of the Catholic church in the New World.

The Irish in America (Kindle)

The Scotch-Irish in America

The passage of more than one hundred years since The Scotch-Irish in America by Henry Jones Ford was first published in 1915 has rendered the book no less fascinating and gripping. Written in a thoroughly accessible way, it tells the story of how the hardy breed of men and women, who in America came to be known as the ‘Scotch-Irish’, was forged in the north of Ireland during the seventeenth century. It relates the circumstances under which the great exodus to the New World began, the trials and tribulations faced by these tough American pioneers and the enduring influence they came to exert on the politics, education and religion of the country.

Fighters of Derry

Fighters of Derry: Their Deeds and Descendants, Being a Chronicle of Events in Ireland during the Revolutionary Period, 1688–91 contains almost 2000 biographical entries of men (and women) who were participants in the epic Siege of Derry in 1688/89. In many cases their subsequent careers and lines of descent are traced. As the author, William R. Young, said, ‘There is scarcely an Ulsterman whose ancestry, direct or through a female line, has not some hereditary touch with participants in those memorable events.’

Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk

This book caused one of the greatest sensations of the 19th century when first published in 1836. The shockwaves from it reverberated across the civilised world and the ensuing controversy has barely subsided today. In 1835 a young, pregnant woman was found living in woods just beyond New York City and was taken to a nearby almshouse. She claimed to be an escaped nun from a convent in Montreal who had been subject to and witnessed all manner of heinous crimes. Her published account met with vehement repudiation from her adversaries and she was accused of being an insane prostitute rather than a nun. Whatever the truth, the Maria Monk affair is a gripping story to retrace, with an abundance of claims and counter-claims, twists and turns. It is a challenge to those with an analytical mind to impartially assess the evidence and decide on where the balance of truth lies, and the best starting point is with her own account Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk. [N.B. We have also published The True History of Maria Monk in which her claims are refuted.]

Truelove’s Journal: A Bookshop Novella

The new owner of a shop discovers his predecessor’s journal and embarks on an emotional journey that will change the course of his own life. As he reads the booksellerr’s diary he becomes gripped by a compelling curiosity to know more about the man and imbued with the desire to reveal the past of which he never spoke. While ostensibly set in England, this novella is penned by an author from Bangor, County Down. It tells the story of a lonely bookseller whose life is dramatically changed by a hungry kitten and an attractive customer. If you are a lover of both books and cats then this novella is destined to please (also available on Kindle).

‘Occasionally one reads a story that is just so beautiful that it leaves a lasting memory. Truelove’s Journal is such a story.’A review from