19th century Irish history – help needed

I’ve been researching my family for a few years with a view to writing their story. My mother’s family were the Bolands – major figures in the Irish revolutionary movements pre-independence and government ministers in the decades afterwards.

I’m trying to go back over four generations. The more recent generations – Kevin Boland and his father Gerald and uncles Harry and Ned and aunt Kathleen – are fairly straightforward. Much has been written about their lives, including by themselves. And there’s no shortage of information about 1916.

It gets a little more difficult with the generation before – James Boland and his brother Jack. Both were senior members of the IRB – James was implicated in the Invincibles killings in 1882 and absconded to the States for a few years. Jack became the IRB’s envoy to Clan na Gael in 1888.

I’m gradually filling in their stories and intend to spend a bit of time, when I have the chance, going through the Dublin Metropolitan Police files in the National Archives in Dublin.

Where things get very opaque is the generation before – Patrick Boland and his wife Eliza (née Kelly). I have three definite pieces of information about them:

  1. They were married in St. Chad’s, Manchester, in April 1845.
  2. They lived in 84 Tiverton St, Ardwick, Manchester in 1881 (according to the census – the only one they appear to have filled out. Also, the birthplaces of some family members on the census are questionable.)
  3. Patrick had a brother called Harry – a common family name.

According to what Gerald’s written about his family, his grandmother, Eliza, was a first cousin of Colonel Thomas J. Kelly, the US civil war veteran who led the IRB for a short time in the 1860s. I’m still trying to verify that relationship, unfortunately, Irish census records for early 19th century are almost all destroyed and other records are patchy.

If anyone has any information about the Kelly/Boland (and Mullins, Eliza’s sister’s family) link, I’d love to get my hands on it.

Gerald also wrote that his father, James, was present as a young boy at the liberation of Kelly and Deasy from the police van in Manchester. According to material written by Gerald’s brother Harry (related by Kevin), Patrick and his brothers were also involved in some way.

I’ve recently come across a new lead – in John Devoy’s autobiography, he relates the story of how he worked with Colonel Kelly in 1865 to liberate James Stephens from Richmond Bridewell jail in Dublin. They were successful and brought Stephens to a house on Brown Street – off Love Land. In the house lived a Mrs. Boland, a sister of future MP James O’Connor and 15-year-old John O’Connor who had acted as a look-out for the prison break. James O’Connor had been one of the first recruits to the IRB.

This poses the question – was Mrs Boland married to one of Patrick’s brothers? I’d really appreciate any information people might have about the O’Connor/Boland link.

James and John O’Connor were early intermediaries between the IRB and the new Clan na Gael in 1867, the role later taken on by Jack Boland. They would definitely all have known each other, a marriage link would make sense.

If the Patrick Boland and his brothers were involved in the Manchester van incident, it’s very likely they were involved in the IRB in general – possibly in the aborted Chester Castle raid.

Does anyone have any idea where to look to verify their IRB membership and/or activities?

With all the research going on at the moment about the history of Irish republicans, I’d hope someone might have stumbled across bits and pieces that could help me – or might be able to point me in the right direction.


Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 20 years' professional experience.

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