John Arnold: Breathing life into the story of Bridget Hawkes’s tragic past

Maybe a memory from somewhere might help solve the curious case of Bridget Hawkes’s grave... so says John Arnold in his weekly column
John Arnold: Breathing life into the story of Bridget Hawkes’s tragic past
The entrance to Gortroe cemetery in Co Cork

THE oldest inscribed headstone I could find in the hilltop cemetery of Gortroe bears the date of 1706.

While this memorial dates back more than 300 years, we can be absolutely certain that burials were taking place here for perhaps hundreds of years previously.

Records tell us that the Church of Gortroe was in ruins in 1615. This could well have been a medieval building which was replaced by a later structure.

In the centre of the cemetery are the roofless ruins of a ‘newer’ church which was used for Protestant worship up until the 1820s. This in turn was replaced by the short-lived church of St Peter at the bottom of the hill in Gortroe — built in the 1820s and dismantled in the 1860s.

A local farmer and historian, Tom Scanlon, got me interested in history and cemeteries and headstones many years ago. His mother, a Morrison from Castlelyons, was buried in Gortroe in 1978 at the age of 96.

I think it was Tom that told me about a shopkeeper in Cork city, Richard Henchion, who, according to Tom ‘knows everything there is to know’ about headstones and headstone inscriptions.

Well, I visited Richard in his premises some time in the 1970s and was fascinated by his vast array of knowledge. He took on the monumental task of taking down inscriptions from headstones in practically every cemetery in Cork city and county. He inspired me to publish a book on Gortroe Cemetery, which I brought out in the year 2006.

One lesson I learned from Richard is the cemetery register (if it exists) containing the details of burials bears no relation to the names on the actual headstones. For example, the present Register for Gortroe commences in June, 1933. Since then, close on 450 people have been interred there yet the names of more than 150 of these persons appear on no headstone.

The explanations for this fact are many and varied. In some cases the headstone was ‘full’ — no more room for names. In many cases no headstone exists at all. The location of the family plot was known by the ‘elders’ of the family and for each burial therein they pointed out the ‘ground’ for the grave. When the last of a family died there was no-one left to inscribe the name.

Sometimes, too, it was simply put on the long finger — one family member thought another should get the inscribing done and between the jigs and the reels it was never done

When I was compiling the book, I got great assistance from the Lane family, including the late Maureen Lane who died in 2007. Her husband Dan and his father Maurice before him had been the cemetery care-takers, registrars and grave-diggers.

Amongst the names of those buried somewhere within Gortroe cemetery but with no memorial stone is that of Bridget Hawkes.

The name Hawkes is an unusual one. I knew no headstone bearing that name existed in Gortroe — there are two stones with the name Hawkins but these I knew were associated with a family in the nearby townland of Kilshannig , a family that once had an inn in the area.

The cemetery register had the following information as regards Bridget: Bridget Hawkes, 78, RC, single, Cork, shopkeeper,11/4/1949. (Eva Nagle).

The name Eva Nagle refers to the person who gave the details of the deceased to the registrar and this Eva might also have been in charge of the funeral arrangements.

I checked the Death Notices on the Cork Examiner for April, 1949, and sure enough the details of the funeral to Gortroe were given. The Notice also gave Bridget’s address as 28, Friar Street and stated she was a member of the Tertiary of St Francis (TOSF).

The funeral Mass was at 10.30am on Tuesday, April 12, in St Finbarr’s South Church and thence to Gortroe.

Since the Irish Genealogy Online records are available, it makes family research far easier than years back, when it was a matter of writing letters and hoping for replies!

On her Death Certificate, it stated that Bridget Hawkes, late of 28 Friar Street, was the widow of a moulder and died at Cork District Hospital on April 10, 1949. So now this was the confirmation that Bridget was married to a ‘moulder’, I presumed some type of fabricator.

I went looking for deaths of men called Hawkes and there were a few in the Cork city area. Eventually I found the death on June 25, 1924, at St Patrick’s Hospital, Cork, of Richard Hawkes, of 28, Friar Street, iron moulder, aged 69, married.

The address of 28, Friar Street, was that of Bridget also. She died in 1949 aged 78 so she was born in 1871. Richard died in 1924 aged 69 so he was born in 1855 — a difference of 16 years in their ages but that was nothing new.

The next stop was Marriage Records and sure enough, I found the entry for the marriage of Richard and Bridget in 1921 — just three years before his death, which meant Bridget was 50 and he was 66 at the time.

They were married in St Finbarr’s Church but both had been married previously — Richard was a widower while Bridget Nagle was a widow. This was certainly proving to be an interesting case.

Their Marriage Cert also gave details of their respective fathers —both deceased by 1921 — John Hawkes had been a chandler while Bridget’s father Timothy Sheehan had been a carpenter.

As I worked backwards through the records, I found sadness on both sides.

In 1886, in St Patrick’s Church, Bandon, Richard Hawkes, an iron moulder of the City of Cork, son of John Hawkes, deceased, chandler, had married Catherine Lyons, from Bandon, daughter of John Lyons, a victualler, deceased.

When the 1901 census was taken, Richard and Catherine and their two daughters, Anne, aged 12 and Gertrude, aged six, were living in Friar Street in Cork city.

In July, 1903, Catherine Hawkes died, having been ill for eight months — she was only 37. Richard was left to rear his two daughters, but worse was to follow.

In 1912, Gertrude, a dressmaker, died of tuberculosis at home in Friar Sreet, she was just 17 years old.

Eight years later, Richard’s other daughter died in Friar Street, aged 32, leaving Richard without a family.

In early 1889, the 18-year-od Bridget Sheehan, daughter of Timothy Sheehan of Piercetown, Whites Cross, married Maurice Nagle of Chapel Hill.

In December of that year, Bridget gave birth to a baby boy, Timothy- named presumably, as tradition decreed, after his grandfather Timothy Sheehan.

The following February the little baby died at Chapel Hill.

I have so far failed to find the death record of Maurice Nagle but we must presume he died before 1921 when his widow remarried.

Fewer than three years later, Bridget was widowed for the second time.

When Bridget Hawkes died in 1949, why was she buried in Gortroe?

Maybe she chose to be buried with ‘her own people’ as many did rather than with either of her two husbands.

Her maiden name was Sheehan and there are five Sheehan grave markers in Gortroe, dating back to 1759, but I cannot yet link any of these graves with the Sheehans of Piercetown, Whites Cross.

As for Eva Nagle, who signed the register on the day of Bridget’s funeral, maybe she was a relation of Bridget’s first husband Maurice?

I discovered one Eva Nagle who died in the Victoria Hospital in Cork in 1961 and was buried in Kilgarriffe cemetery after a Funeral Service in Clonakilty Methodist Church. Was she the Eva Nagle I was looking for?

In whatever grave in Gortroe that Bridget Hawkes rests in, may she rest in peace.

Maybe we’ll never know, but then again, maybe further research or maybe a memory from somewhere might help solve the curious case of Bridget Hawkes’s grave.

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