The Voice of Eimear Quinn’s Powerful Irish History

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“I am the voice of your history
Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I’ll set you free…”

Eimear Quinn won the Eurovision in 1996 with these words set to a haunting Irish melody and sung in her sweet, clear voice.

MyHeritage had the privilege of helping Eimear answer the call of her own history. Eimear took a MyHeritage DNA test, and through her results, SuperSearch historical records, and family tree data, we found a deep family connection to the Emerald Isle that can be traced as far back as 1700 in Ireland.

Centuries of proud Dubliners

Eimear’s family contributed to life in Dublin over the centuries. Her ancestors are long-time members of the Liberties, one of Dublin’s oldest neighborhoods, which has always been a hub of commercial activity. The Quinn ancestors played a big part in creating that atmosphere. They were bakers, tobacco spinners, dressmakers, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, brewery workers, and market gardeners — all vital jobs that kept the local economy alive.

The family names of Eimear’s grandparents — Quinn, Sharkey, Ennis, and Swift — appear on the parish records of St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, in the heart of the Liberties, dating back as far as 1700. Although they were tenants who often moved to different addresses, the wider Quinn family stayed close to Dublin 8. Only three of Eimear’s great-great-grandparents were born in County Wicklow, and her maternal grandmother, Eileen Swift, was born in India where her soldier father was stationed.

Upholding Dublin’s silk weaving industry: Albert Quinn (1884-1961), great-grandfather

Silk weaving was an important and centuries-old industry in the Liberties, and the Quinns contributed to that tradition as well. The Dublin Weavers Guild was established on September 28, 1446. During the 17th century, French Huguenots, who were experienced silk weavers, fled persecution in France and came to Ireland. They settled in the Liberties, and were at the forefront of a boom in the silk weaving industry. The Weavers’ Hall in Lower Coombe was built in 1682, with a later expansion that was funded by the Huguenot David Digges La Touche. It produced a wide variety of fabric, but the silk poplin, a weave made of silk and wool, was especially popular.

Eimear Quinn: The Weavers Hall, Coombe, Dublin. 1750-1965
The Weavers Hall, Coombe, Dublin. 1750-1965

Although weaving was dominated by Huguenots, it didn’t stop Eimear’s paternal, Catholic great-grandfather from joining the industry. Albert Quinn’s father, James, was a baker. Three of his sons — Christopher, William, and James — followed in his footsteps, but Albert chose a different profession. He joined his maternal grandfather, William Harborne, in silk weaving, along with at least two more of his brothers — Thomas and George. The Harbornes had been silk weavers since at least the 1830s when a George Harborne is listed as a silk manufacturer in Pettigrew and Oulton’s Directory.

Albert Quinn married Catherine Clifford in 1909 at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in the heart of the neighborhood. Albert and Catherine were almost neighbors; he lived at 61 Cork Street, and she lived nearby at Ebenezer Terrace. According to the 1911 census, the Quinn and Clifford families lived only a few doors apart on Cork Street.

Eimear Quinn 1911 Census, Ireland, showing Albert Quinn, 26, Silk Weaver, living at 6 St. James’ Ave., Usher’s Quay, Dublin, 1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]
1911 Census, Ireland, showing Albert Quinn, 26, Silk Weaver, living at 6 St. James’ Ave., Usher’s Quay, Dublin, 1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]
1911 Census, Ireland, showing Albert Quinn’s mother Jane (Harborne) Quinn, widow, and her sons (2 silk weavers and a baker), living at 61 Cork Street, 1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]
1911 Census, Ireland, showing Albert Quinn’s mother Jane (Harborne) Quinn, widow, and her sons (2 silk weavers and a baker), living at 61 Cork Street, 1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]

61 Cork Street, Dublin
61 Cork Street, Dublin

By the time Albert Quinn became a weaver, though, the industry had declined. In 1890, there were only 20 looms left in the Liberties. The statue of King George II, which stood on the front of the Hall, was dismantled in 1937. The Weavers’ Hall itself was demolished in 1965. The tapestry of King George that used to hang in the Hall can now be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Irish Times, 17 November 1937
The Irish Times, 17 November 1937

Keeping the Guinness flowing: Patrick Sharkey (1880-1955), great-grandfather

The Guinness brewery in St. James’s Gate was the heart of Dublin, and Eimear’s maternal great-grandfather, Patrick Sharkey, played a role in its legacy. The brewery opened in 1759, and by 1894, when Patrick began working there, it was the largest brewery in the world, exporting its famous porter as far away as New Zealand. The brewery owned most of the buildings in the nearby streets, using them as offices and for homes for its employees.

Guinness employee records show that Patrick started working at the brewery when he was just 14. By the time he retired in 1940, he was the foreman of the cooperage department. The cooperage department was one of the largest at Guinness. It employed 300 skilled coopers who had completed seven-year apprenticeships. They were assisted by 600 laborers who helped prepare the wooden staves for the barrels and stack the finished ones into pyramids. As the foreman, Patrick would have been a trusted and important employee.

Patrick Sharkey’s employment details at Guinness [Credit: Guinness Genealogy Archives]
Patrick Sharkey’s employment details at Guinness [Credit: Guinness Genealogy Archives]

For a long time, Patrick and his growing family lived in one of the houses owned by the brewery, either on Rainsford Avenue or the adjacent Thomas Court. The 1911 census records his family of 7 as living in 3 rooms at 7 Thomas Court. They shared the building with three other families.

7 Thomas Court, Dublin [Credit: Google Maps]
7 Thomas Court, Dublin [Credit: Google Maps]

Later, they moved to modern, public housing and lived at 37 Clarence Mangan Road, where Eimear’s grandfather Thomas Quinn was born. It was here that Patrick died, on October 23, 1955. His death notice in the next day’s Evening Herald announced the passing of Patrick Sharkey, “late of AGS (Arthur Guinness and Son) and Company.”

Death notice for Patrick Sharkey [Credit: Evening Herald, 24 October 1955]
Death notice for Patrick Sharkey [Credit: Evening Herald, 24 October 1955]

Caught up in the Easter Rising

The Easter Rising was one of the most earth-shaking events in 20th-century Dublin history. Eimear’s great-grandfather was one of the hundreds of Dubliners who were affected directly by the uprising.

Martin Ennis (1882-1939), great-grandfather

Martin Ennis was Eimear’s maternal great-grandfather. He was born in 1882 in Lansdowne Valley, Drimnagh, not far from central Dublin. His father, Patrick, was a papermaker, and probably worked at the nearby Drimnagh Paper Mill. By the time of the 1901 census, Patrick had retired and the family had moved a few miles away to the townland of Commons in Crumlin. The census lists Martin, aged 19, as a “land steward,” together with his brother, who was also called Patrick.

1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]
1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]
1911 Census, Ireland 1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]
1911 Census, Ireland 1901 Census, Ireland [Credit: MyHeritage]

Ten years later, the 1911 census shows Martin as married to Martha Murphy and living in a two-room, thatched home in Crumlin. At this point, he was working as a ward master at a workhouse called the South Dublin Union (SDU). The SDU had been established in 1838 to serve poor, elderly and needy people in Dublin’s South City. Today, the SDU no longer exists and St. James’s Hospital occupies the site.

When Martin joined the SDU, there were around 4,000 sick, elderly and destitute people living there. In 1914, he was placed in charge of the SDU farm at Pelletstown, near Naas in County Kildare. He employed his brother, Christopher, at the farm, because he was an experienced market gardener.

In the minutes of the meetings of the SDU board of Guardians, we found details about Martin’s salary and his requests for leave when his brother and his mother died.

Minutes of the Guardians of the South Dublin Union, 5 April 1914
Minutes of the Guardians of the South Dublin Union, 5 April 1914
The South Dublin Union [Credit: Bureau of Military History]
The South Dublin Union [Credit: Bureau of Military History]

In 1916, Dublin was rocked by the Easter Rising. This was a nationalist revolt against British rule in Ireland. It began on Monday, April 24th, led by groups of fighters that included the Irish Volunteers. They seized key locations in Dublin and declared the Irish Republic. The British sent thousands of soldiers to put down the revolt and there was fierce fighting throughout the city. The revolt lasted just 6 days, but the city was still in chaos in May 1916 when the Board of Guardians reconvened. The repercussions were felt for decades.

Thanks to its strategic location west of the Dublin city center and close to Kingsbridge station, the SDU was at the heart of the Rising. Led by Eamon Ceantt, the Irish Volunteers seized control of the SDU and its 3,272 residents, most of whom were weak and frail. Martin’s fellow ward master, Patrick Smyth, later gave a witness statement to the Bureau of Military History about the events at SDU.

A map of 1916 battleground locations showing the SDU [Credit: www.rte.ie/centuryireland]
A map of 1916 battleground locations showing the SDU [Credit: www.rte.ie/centuryireland]

During fighting at the SDU, seven of the Irish Volunteers were killed. But Martin and his fellow SDU staff also lost one of their colleagues. Margaret Keogh, an SDU nurse, was shot and killed when she ran outside to tend to a wounded Volunteer. Martin and Margaret had worked together and knew each other well. In 1914, both of them had served as witnesses in an inquiry where an SDU inmate was accused of contaminating the workhouse milk. Margaret’s death, on the backdrop of all the bloodshed and violence of the Rising, must have affected Martin deeply.

Nurse Margaret Keogh, SDU nurse who was killed in 1916 [Credit: Myles Keogh, The Irish Independent, 4 March 2016]
Nurse Margaret Keogh, SDU nurse who was killed in 1916 [Credit: Myles Keogh, The Irish Independent, 4 March 2016]

Eimear Quinn’s MyHeritage DNA discovery

Given these deep family roots in Ireland, it’s no surprise that Eimear’s DNA test revealed 96% Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ethnicity. Perhaps less expected are the remaining results: she is 3.1% Ashkenazi Jewish, and 0.9% Middle Eastern.

Eimear Quinn’s MyHeritage DNA Ethnicity Estimate
Eimear Quinn’s MyHeritage DNA Ethnicity Estimate

In addition to four extended family members, Eimear has over 5,000 relatives from 29 different countries worldwide that she can now reach out to directly from the MyHeritage platform.

“I am the voice of the future
Bring me your peace
Bring me your peace, and my wounds they will heal”

With the discoveries MyHeritage made about Eimear’s family’s past, the lyrics of the song with which she won the 1996 Eurovision take on a particularly poignant meaning. She is the voice of her ancestors’ proud Irish future. Want to learn more about Eimear and the other Eurovision stars who have joined our One Big Family project? Check out the MyHeritage Eurovision site.

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  • Kentuckygen


    April 16, 2019

    Great writeup Talya! You can really get a sense of the Irish history with the addition of some of the more colorful stories.

  • Mary Kane Durley


    April 24, 2019

    I liked reading about Ireland but my Irish relation stems to Co. Cork area. Cornelius Keane who married Mary O’Leary from Cork. And Dennis Keane born 1840 from Cork who Married Mary Kingston,b-Aug 15, 1842. I don’t have Mary Kingstons parents dates for brothers and sisters. My father, Daniel Bernard Kane b-June 1, 1903 father was Cornelius D. Keane b-April 15, 1862 at Cork. He came to America and died in Seneca, Wis. His father was Dennis Keane and mary Kingston from Cork and town of Drimoleague area of church. If you know of any Keane family still living who has a Keane family tree, I would appreciate any family member to write me or you my bdurley@chorus.net computer address with any message or Keane family to help me with my Keane-Kane family.I thought maybe the library would have family genealogy help for families. My father gave me the Keane knowledge that I have on the Keane family. Hope you can help me. My love to you. I am 82 and in and out of the hospital.
    Mary Kane Durley