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St. Mary's Parish, Cappoquin
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Cappoquin Civic Link Notes
Christmas Lights: What a Turn On!
After literally weeks of hard work, it was with a tremendous sense of satisfaction that Civic Link, in tandem with Waterford Area Partnership (through Siobhán Hubbard) and a couple of hundred members of our community were ready to switch on Cappoquin’s Christmas lights on Friday last, December 7th. The weather held up wonderfully, and a great crowd turned up for what proved to be a lovely occasion. With music and song provided by the excellent Déise Brass Band and scouts carol singers, everyone enjoyed the sing-along, followed by the very entertaining Wobbly Circus. The wonderful refreshments provided by local suppliers included sponsored items from Kelleher’s, Barron’s and the Sportsman’s , and some splendid eastern delicacies kindly provided by local residents, Amir and Dalal.
Lots of volunteers helped out on the night, in addition to regular Civic Link members, and a special ‘thank you’ to Gillian and Niamh Coffey, Mary Cunningham, John O’Rourke, Mike Ahearne and Alice Murray for all their help on the night.
In terms of the lights themselves, there was a lot of advance networking with many local residents who provided plug-in access and groups willing to help, and the result is that we probably have more lights than ever before. The Tidy Towns committee deserves particular mention, for sponsoring the tree and lights at the top of Castle Street, and it’s great to see the efforts of the GAA club, community centre and others to illuminate this darkest period of the year. Thanks to our suppliers Dungarvan Wholesale Electrical for their part-sponsorship of some lighting too, and how wonderful it was to have Melleray Vintage Club members with us again this year, adding considerably to the on-street illuminations on the night.
Our regular electrician Vinnie Coffey, as usual went well beyond the call of duty in getting everything up and running, ably assisted by brothers Mike and Tommy too, of course. John McCarthy and his team supplied the trees for the Square and Castle Street this year, and a huge thanks also to the local Council workers who were so helpful in getting the trees and setting them up too.
Christmas Remembrance Ribbons
While we fully acknowledge that this is a time of year when a lot of local and charitable groups try to fundraise, this is just a gentle reminder that Civic Link members will be offering Christmas remembrance ribbons, to go on the tree at the Square, at Kelleher’s Super Valu next Thursday and Friday. No specific fee is sought, but all contributions will be very welcome in the ongoing effort to support community events. Ribbons will continue to be available at Murray’s and at the Credit Union, and we will put them on the tree at various intervals in the run up to Christmas itself.
Another remarkable story from ‘Women at the Cornerstone’
Much of the reasoning behind the Heritage Group’s work on the book ‘Women at the Cornerstone’ was to commemorate the centenary of women getting the vote in Ireland (December 14, 1918). Below is a remarkable story from Dr Juliet Broadmore of New Zealand, about how her Cappoquin-born great grandmother became one of the women who succeeded in getting the vote in New Zealand, a full 25 years before that was achieved in Britain and Ireland.
On 11 August 1893 the Womens’ Suffrage Petition was presented to the New Zealand (NZ) Parliament. “Glued together to form a continuous sheet, the 270 -m-long petition was rolled around a broomstick and brought into the House in a wheelbarrow. Sir John Hall MP, a former premier of NZ 1879-82, theatrically unrolled it down the aisle of the chamber until it thumped against the far wall.” After 20 years of campaigning this was the final and decisive step.
The NZ Parliament adopted a new Electoral Act extending the right to vote to women on 19 September 1893 - 125 years ago. New Zealand thus became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Mary Michael - nee Clements - my great granny, born in Cappoquin in 1843, was one of the 25,520 who signed this petition. The NZ suffragists did not have to resort to violence in their campaign. Their symbol was the peaceful White Camellia.
The petition is on display this year at the National Library in Wellington. As part of “Suffrage 125” NZ National Archives have called for biographies to attach to each signature. Here is the story so far of Mary Clements of Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, also known as Mary Michael of Te Aroha, New Zealand.
Family life in NZ was challenging for Mary. She said little about her early years in Ireland or New Zealand. Her daughters and granddaughters remembered only that she was proud of being born in Cappoquin, where she said her father John Clements had been an Estate Agent, and her mother was Catherine Dwyer. Mary also let them know that she was a governess before she came to New Zealand. There was no mention of siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts or extended family.
John Clements’ family probably lived on the north side of Barrack Street in the 1840s and fifties. Griffiths Valuation 1851 lists John as “Immediate Lessor” of two adjacent houses, yards and small gardens to tenants Mathew Tracy and John McNamara. The 1855 Encumbered Estates Court Rentals schedule of leased properties shows at map position 69 a John Clements representing Michael Clements. Michael Clements leased from Sir Richard Keane these 17 perches of ground “containing 24 feet in front for 68 years from 25th March 1845”. This Michael may have been John’s brother. He was a witness at John and Catherine’s marriage, and a godparent of John and Catherine’s eldest son.
Mary grew up as a third child and eldest daughter in a large family. She must have had to help care for the young ones through the years of famine and the aftermath. Yet she definitely was sent to school. Nobody knows which school(s) she attended. At 8 years old she may have attended the Sisters Of Mercy School when it opened in 1851. Mary made the most of this opportunity becoming literate and skilled as a seamstress, and proud of the benefits of her Cappoquin education. She insisted on an education for her daughters in NZ who insisted on this for her grand-daughters, even when this meant defying the local Catholic church authorities.
It seems that the family circumstances deteriorated in the 1850s, and the family dispersed. They may have been adversely affected by the 1855 forced sale of the Keane Cappoquin Landed Estate, perhaps especially if John was in fact an Estate Agent. So far there is no evidence that this was his occupation. Mary’s word cannot be completely relied upon, as she was inclined to embellish or stretch the truth in her favour.
After 1854 Mary left no trace in Cappoquin, or elsewhere in Ireland. This may have been a result of the loss of the 1861 and 1871 Irish census records. She does not appear in the UK or Wales censuses of 1861 and 1871. When or where or for whom she worked in any capacity, or as a governess, is unknown and unproven. The next reliable record of her life is her emigration from London to New Zealand on the British Empire in 1875.
Mary did not discuss her early life in New Zealand with her family. Perhaps there was a good reason for this. A google search in late 2017 found a Te Aroha Mining District Working Paper written in 2016 by Phillip Hart, a Waikato University historian, and entitled “Robert Michael; Labourer ”. The contents astonished Mary’s descendants.
Mary arrived into Auckland, New Zealand in 1875, and settled 100km east in Thames, a booming gold rush town, where she worked as a dressmaker. In June 1877 she married James Abbott, an Irish miner. They had no children. By August 1879 she was no longer living with him. In December 1880 he placed a Public Notice in the Thames Advertiser stating “This is to intimate that I will not be responsible for any DEBTS contracted by my wife, Mary Abbott, she having left me without sufficient cause”.
Probably in 1880, she and Robert Michael, a Presbyterian miner born in Bovedy, County Derry got together. Their first daughter and my grandmother Mary Isabel, was born in 1881 in nearby Waihi where Robert was mining with his cousin. The birth was not registered. (Perhaps it is no surprise that my grandmother was always vague about her origins). It is said that this daughter inherited her mother’s looks. A 1908 photo of Mary Isabel therefore may offer a glimpse of the young Mary Clements.
In 1882 Robert and Mary moved 50 km south of Thames to Te Aroha, a prospective gold mining town with 95 women in a population of 311. (Cappoquin population was 1555 in 1881). It became a popular tourist town in the 1890s because of its therapeutic hot pools.
Robert bought rights to several unproductive gold mining claims between 1882 and 1892. He and Mary acquired four residential sites in Te Aroha, the main one of which was advertised in 1888 as a:
“ snug three roomed cottage, with verandah; acre of first class land attached, well fenced, and cultivated; cropped with clover, hay, potatoes, and orchard in full bearing, and a never failing well of spring water, shelter trees, cow shed, fowl house, etc etc.”
They leased and farmed another 40, and later 80 acres of land on which they had dairy cows. Mary milked the cows, and Robert worked on the land, and as a labourer in Te Aroha.
Robert and Mary had two more daughters, Isabella Margaret born 13 August 1883, and Kathleen Frances born 9 July 1885. Their births were recorded as illegitimate with a note “Robert Michael, Agent duly authorised in writing by Mother… Desiring to be registered as Father.” Robert and Mary loved and protected their children.
Robert and Mary never married, possibly because James Abbott would not grant Mary a divorce, and he died after Robert. They lived together for twenty years as a devoted and feisty couple. She was quick to take offence, or was much offended against, and they were both fierce in defending themselves. She was always a strong supporter of Irish independence which could have been a source of conflict in Te Aroha. They were each once found guilty of assault or using offensive language. They confronted their immediate neighbours over fencing, access to land, and “damage resulting from association of a neighbours bull with their cows”. It did not help that one of their neighbours was a particularly pugnacious man.
Mary questioned authority, and defied conventions. For many years she used the name she preferred, not her legal name. She referred to herself as Mary Isabella Michael (Isabelle/Isabella was a significant name in Robert’s family).
Robert was active in the Presbyterian church, and Mary a devout Catholic. Nobody remembers how they “negotiated” this difference but in January 1894 their three daughters were baptised into the Catholic church as “converted from Protestantism”. The determined Mary got her way.
There are no accessible records of the evolution of the women’s suffrage movement in Te Aroha. There were undoubtedly links between this movement and the active “Band of Hope” or Temperance movement which was supported by the local Wesleyan minister and the Catholic priest. One of the leaders of this movement, Emma Blencowe, was a neighbour of Mary and Robert, and they had a common interest in their concerns about freeholding their leased land. Mary, who fought for her own place in the world, would have been more than ready to champion women’s right to vote.
Robert died aged 54 in 1902 of rheumatism and heart failure, and Mary and her daughters aged 21 to 17 struggled financially. In 1904 and 1906 Mary was sued for unpaid rent and rates. They may have been dependent on the income of daughter Mary Isabella who was employed from 1902 as the “Lady Attendant in the Domain ticket office”. She was the “face” of Te Aroha’s hot pools which were a tourist attraction and an important source of income for the town. She married my grandfather and left Te Aroha in 1908.
Mary and her youngest daughter Kathleen departed in 1910 to live with her daughter Isabel Margaret in Auckland. Mary died in 1914. She is buried with Robert in Te Aroha Cemetery.
Mary of Cappoquin/ Te Aroha was a complex, contradictory and courageous woman. Her attitudes and values were formed in her childhood in Cappoquin where she was lucky to receive an education, and an enduring Catholic faith, but where she also felt the effects of the injustice and unfairness of the Irish political system. Unknown subsequent experiences may have strengthened her determination. She was proud of her Irish roots but emigrated alone to the far side of the world. She broke the rules and defied the odds when in 1879 she left a marriage that was not working for her. She remained a staunch Catholic, and as she told her lawyer when writing her will “lived in sin” for years with the man she loved.
She believed in increased choices for women. So of course she signed the 1893 women’s suffrage petition.