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10 May 2011

‘Tracing Ancestry through DNA by Dr. Gianpiero Cavalleri, RCSI

On Tuesday 10th May members heard a wonderful lecture on ‘Tracing Ancestry through DNA by Dr. Gianpiero Cavalleri of EthnoAncestry Ltd. The company, formed by population geneticists in 2004, is at the cutting edge of genetic research through development of new markers, identification of new genetic signatures and by providing authoritative interpretation of deep ancestry. Dr. Cavalleri gave a brief outline of his background, interests and current projects. He is a Senior Scientist of Italian parentage but born and raised in Co. Galway, Ireland. He is a population geneticist who trained with Prof Dan Bradley at Trinity College, Dublin before going on to work at Stanford with Prof Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Dr Peter Underhill. He completed a PhD at University College London under Prof David Goldstein studying the genetics of epilepsy predisposition and treatment. Dr. Cavalleri is currently researching the genetics and pharmacogenetics of epilepsy at the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, Ireland. Dr. Cavalleri also introduced his audience to the work of his colleague, Dr. James F. Wilson, Managing Director of EthnoAncestry Ltd., who is also a population geneticist whose list of publications and credits are familiar to all those interested in genetic genealogy and population genetics. His studies led to the identification of the first genetic signatures of Norse Viking ancestry in Great Britain and Ireland. He also discovered the ‘Atlantic Modal Haplotype’, which revealed genetic continuity in Britain from the Palaeolithic to the present. This work led on to the excellent TV documentaries ‘Blood of the Vikings’ and later ‘The Blood of the Irish’ and quite recently, ‘The Blood of the Travellers’ . Dr. Wilson is developing new markers to tease apart European origins and is collecting an unrivalled resource of ten thousand samples with which to understand Scottish and British history. He is a native of Orkney, who also has Shetland roots; and is an avid genealogist. Before providing some examples of his research and its relationship with genealogical research, Dr. Cavelleri explained the various terms used be geneticists as follows. DNA is the complex chemical in which the instructions to build and run our bodies are written – this genetic code is the ‘blueprint’ for life. It is also the means of transmitting this information to the next generation. The code is written in four letters, A, C, G or T. We each carry a enormous number of DNA letters (3000 billion) which we have inherited from our ancestors—the archive of our ancestry. Other terms such as Markers, Y Chromosome, YSNPs, YSTRs, Haplotype and Haplogroup were also explained as he demonstrated the methods used to explore our ’deep ancestry’ through our DNA. Dr. Cavalleri drew on the work of Dan Bradley and Brian McEvoy of Trinity College to show the link between groups with the same surname and to plot its distribution over the centuries. He also plotted the various population movements into Europe and within Europe and onward to Great Britain and Ireland. There was an excellent Q&A session following this fascinating lecture. For further information checkout the website of EthnoAncestry at

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14 June 2011

‘Irish Online Sources’ by Mary Beglan, MAPGI

On Tuesday 14th June 2011 the ever popular Mary Beglan, MAPGI, was back for a second lecture on the topic of ‘Irish Online Sources’. Once again, Mary’s lively delivery and wealth of knowledge was wonderfully received by a packed venue with standing room only. The online sources covered by Mary included: National Library of Ireland and especially the Library’s Sources: A National Library of Ireland database for Irish research—containing over 180,000 catalogue records for Irish manuscripts, articles in Irish periodicals etc—see: This online catalogue also includes 34,000 photographic images. National Archives of Ireland where there is no on-line catalogue but the website includes extensive information on the records held. This also includes the 1901 and 1911 census records on Public Records of Northern Ireland where an online catalogue is available with the following indexes: Geographical Index, Prominent Persons Index, Presbyterian Church Index and Church of Ireland Index. In addition five major database are available including: Ulster Covenant, Freeholder’s Records, Street Directories, Will Calendars and Name Search. Irish Archives Resource which contains information about archival collections open for research in Ireland and a list of contributing repositories. Dublin Heritage which includes Dublin City Electoral Lists and an online Dublin Graveyards Directory for the greater Dublin area. Glasnevin Cemeteries Group which has an online database for Glasnevin Cemetery & Crematorium, Dardistown Cemetery, Newlands Cross Cemetery & Crematorium and Palmerstown Cemetery. Glasnevin records date from 1826. Initial search is free. Charges apply for other information. Then again going north of the border, Belfast City Council which has a free online search for Belfast City Cemetery, records from 1869 (including Jewish, Public and Glenalina extension sections), Roselawn Cemetery—records from 1954 and Dundonal Cemetery—records from 1905. Irish Genealogy—the government sponsored site includes records for Carlow (CoI), Cork & Ross (RC), Dublin City (CoI, Presbyterian & RC) and Kerry (CoI & RC). With more records added this month. During her lecture Mary provided examples of the information available on each website. Other websites discussed were: Irish Newspaper Archives Irish Times Archives Pay-per-view sites like the newly launched and Origins Network and the free sites like Ask About Ireland and Family Search LDS which includes indexes for Irish Civil Registration to 1958. Guinness Archives which includes personnel records. Irish Ancestors on - free & pay-per-view. And then finally, Cyndi’s List -

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12 July 2011

Dublin Fire Fighters and the 1941 Belfast Blitz’  by James Scannell

Renowned local historian James Scannell was the guest speaker for the July 12th lecture on the topic of ‘Dublin Fire Fighters and the 1941 Belfast Blitz’ which focussed the April 1941   Easter Tuesday blitz on Belfast by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and the assistance rendered by fire fighters from Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, Drogheda and Dundalk fire brigades   who volunteered to assist in fire fighting operations the day immediately after this. James began by covering the general situation in 1941 which saw Belfast unprepared for the possibility of air raids with a low priority to air defence allocated to it by the authorities in London, coupled with a misplaced belief by the Northern Ireland government that the city was beyond range of the Luftwaffe when it fact it was since the German occupation of northern France in June 1940. A six-bomber air raid on the city in early April 1941 showed the error of this complacency and the subsequent hurried scramble to improved the city’s air defences and civil defence organisation which was under strength and deficient in equipment, was too late, as this minor air raid which resulted in 32 deaths and property damage, showed the Germans that the city was undefended and easy to attack. James then progressed to the night of Tuesday 15 April 1941 when a force of Luftwaffe bombers operating from bases in the Low Countries and northern France headed for Belfast, with the first wave arriving over the city around 22.30hrs. German pathfinders mistook Belfast Water Works as the aiming point instead of Belfast Docks with the result that many bombs from the following waves of aircraft fell on residential areas rather than the Docks. Over the new few hours over 203 tons of bombs of the high explosive and aerial air bust blast type were dropped, some of which were fitted with delayed action timers, in addition to thousands of incendiaries, which triggered numerous fires which began burning out of control and to overwhelm the Belfast fire fighters on the ground.   As the situation raged out of control, James outlined the steps which resulted in a request being made by the Belfast to Dublin City Manager John Hernon for fire fighting assistance, one readily approved by Taoiseach Eamon de Valera, which untimely saw fire engines from the Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, Drogheda and Dundalk fire brigades on their way to Belfast within hours where they spent the next day engaged in fire fighting operations until nightfall when they returned to Dublin. Central to this part of the presentation were the recollections of several Dublin Fire Brigade fire fighters and the detailed recollection of Paddy White of Dún Laoghaire Fire Brigade interviewed by James some years ago. James concluded his presentation with the Blitz recollections of some Belfast people who lived through this ordeal of fire and blasts. Officially 745 people were killed, including some entire families, in this raid but it is believed that the actual death toll was nearer 1000. Following the lecture there was a very lively question and answer session with many members sharing their memories or those of their relatives of the German bombing of Belfast and parts of Dublin, which was a neutral city. The full lecture text will be published in the next issue of the Society’s Journal.

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9 August 2011

Dublin’s own Titanic: The sinking of the ‘Tayleur’ off Lambay in 1854’ by Declan Heffernan

On Tuesday 9th August members were treated to a fine piece of maritime history in a lecture by Declan Heffernan on Dublin’s own Titanic: The sinking of the ‘Tayleur’ off Lambay in 1854’. This is the fascinating and yet, harrowing story of a ship that left Liverpool on January 19th 1854 on her maiden voyage bound for Melbourne in Australia. The ship’s complement of 652 passengers and crew included only 37 trained seamen amongst the 71 assigned to the vessel. The crew was by all accounts a motley bunch, many not speaking English and others just working their passage to Australia. Designed by William Rennie of Liverpool the ‘Tayleur’ was the largest merchant ship afloat – 230ft in length with a 40ft beam and displacing 1750 tons. She could carry around 4000 tons of cargo below three decks and was launched by her owners Charles Moore & Co. in Warrington on the River Mersey on October 4th 1853. The vessel was named for Charles Tayleur, founder of the Vulcan Engineering Works in Warrington. Chartered by the White Star Line and under Captain Noble she left Liverpool on January 19th 1854 and sailed out along the Welsh coast with the intention of going so far westward before turning south through the Irish Sea and out to the Atlantic Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope and onwards to Melbourne in Australia. But things went wrong almost from the start, not only with a barely trained crew, but the ship’s compasses didn’t work properly due to the iron hull and, instead of heading south through the Irish Sea, the ‘Tayleur’ headed due west for Ireland. The weather played a significant part in its fate as she sailed out in a fog and then in a storm directly towards the rocky coasts of Lambay Island off County Dublin. Within 48 hours of leaving Liverpool disaster struck, the rudder was undersized for the vessel and control of the rigging was hampered by ropes which were not properly stretched and became slack and useless in controlling the sails. The vessel ran aground on the east coast of the island and attempts to lower the lifeboats were hampered by the seas and the rocks. The high seas moved the vessel to deeper water where she eventually sank in around 18m of water. The loss of life was horrific as out of the complement of 652 passengers and crew, 380 people drowned including all but three of the 100 women on board. Survivors faced a gruelingly hard climb up a 24m high cliff to safety. When the alarm was finally raised and word reached Dublin, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company steamer ‘Prince’ was dispatched to pick up survivors. Many of the bodies recovered were either buried on Lambay or in the graveyard on the nearby north Dublin coastline. An inquiry into the tragedy absolved the Captain for negligence and blamed the ship’s owners for failing to test and to adjust the ship’s compasses. However, a Board of Trade inquiry found that the Captain failed to take soundings which would have been the standard practice in such circumstances of low visibility. Declan Heffernan’s knowledge of this vessel was greatly enhanced by the fact that he has dived on the wreck several times and indeed, his enthusiasm for the subject was certainly infectious as he gave a most fascinating account of this little known maritime tragedy of 157 years ago.