By the Bridge

The Swantons of County Cork,
Boston, MA and Brooklyn, NY

by Ginni Swanton

Michael Swanton
Elizabeth (Bessie) Bradfield
Michael Swanton Chart

Michael Swanton and Elizabeth (Bessie) Bradfield Swanton were my great great grandparents. They were married on February 24, 1843 in the Roman Catholic Church Murragh in County Cork. Their marriage witnesses were John Swanton and Anne Hurley. Bessie’s parents were Michael and Martha Bradfield of Killowen, County Cork.

Killowen House

The Bradfield Farm
Killowen, County Cork

Bessie’s father, Michael Bradfield was born in 1786. He was a farmer and my great great great grandfather. Michael Bradfield died on May 29,1866 at the age of 80 at his farm in Killowen. The cause of his death was shock caused by a severe fall.

Killowen Kitchen
Kitchen at the Bradfield Farm
Killowen, County Cork
Maura, Michael John and Tommy Bradfield

There is a family cemetery on the Bradfield farm, but the stones have been worn smooth by time, and no writing is discernible on them. This may be where Michael and Martha Bradfield are buried. There is also a Bradfield family plot in the old Murragh cemetery.

James Bradfield Grave
James Bradfield's Grave
Old Murragh Cemetary
Cork, Ireland

The James Bradfield for whom this stone was erected was born in 1763. Michael's parents were Richard Bradfield and Susanna Wren (married 1775). This James was most likely Michael's brother.

In 1852, Michael Swanton lived in Derrigra, which was part of the town of Ballineen in the parish of Ballymoney, County Cork. Michael Swanton later moved to the townland of Boulteen in the parish of Desertserges, where he was the local pound keeper at Boulteen Cross Roads. The job of a pound keeper was to impound trespassing animals. Michael Swanton was also a carpenter. This area was renowned for its poteen, a potent drink distilled from potatoes and sugar, and I suspect that Michael may have had a fair amount of skill in its making, as well.

Townland of Boulteen
The Pound at Boulteen Crossroads
Townland of Boulteen
County Cork, Ireland
Home of Michael and Bessie Bradfield Swanton

According to legend, poteen has been produced in Ireland since the first potato was harvested. The term 'Irish moonshine whiskey' has been in use from around 1660. A levy was then introduced on the legal distillation of spirits carried out privately and unless the operator was licensed by the State, it would be deemed an illegal act and therefore a criminal offence. Not surprisingly a substantial element of the Irish population were elevated to the 'criminal classes' overnight!

Boulteen is a small townland of 212 acres , and was located next to the manor house of Mount Beamish. In 1823, William Daunt, Dr. John Beamish, Florence Carthy, John Buttimer, John Regan and John Cummins lived in Boulteen.

In 1864, the occupants of the townland of Boulteen were:

In the 1800’s, a fair used to be held at the Boulteen Cross Roads every year in June. I visited the Boulteen Cross Roads in 1998, and again in 2001. They were simply two intersecting grass roads with swinging iron fences on the road to Bandon and points west. No houses remained, although I found some stone ruins that appeared to be from old houses.

Boulteen Wall
Remains of a Stone House
Boulteen Crossroads
County Cork, Ireland

Boulteen Road
The Road at Boulteen Crossroads
County Cork, Ireland

Although the tenants changed quite a bit from 1867-1870, Michael Swanton continued to rent the same property. He rented first from Thomas Baldwin, then from Thomas Bennett, and later from Mary Moore, a descendant of the Joseph Moore who had rented the property at 1a in 1864.

In 2001, the site of the pound that Michael Swanton rented was covered with a tangle of vegetation. The owner of the land in 2001 (Tim) told me that it is said that many people died there during the famine, and that he was never going to clear that area. He told me that if I came back and found the area cleared, then I'd know he was dead.

On October 20,1877, an M. Swanton of Dunmanway contributed 2 pence, 6 shillings toward a fund for the widow of John Hayes of Ballincorriga, who had contracted fever while attending to his sick wife, and died, leaving 9 children . The M. Swanton who contributed to this fund may have been my great great grandfather, Michael Swanton.

Over a 21-year period, Michael and Bessie had ten children:

  1. John Swanton, b. 1843 d. 1913
  2. Anne Mary Swanton, b. 1847
  3. Michael Swanton, b.1849 d. 1922
  4. Johanna Swanton, b. 1851
  5. Ellen Swanton, b. 1854 d. 1932
  6. William Swanton, b. 1856 d. 1921
  7. Martha Swanton b. 1857 d. 1927
  8. George Swanton b. 1859
  9. James Swanton, b. 1862 d. 1901
  10. Robert A. Swanton, b. 1865, d. 1933 (my g-grandfather)

Parish baptismal records don’t include the name of the townland where the family lived. Robert was Michael and Bessie’s tenth and last child,, and the only one who was born after 1864, which is when civil registration became mandatory. His civil birth record confirms that the family was living in Boulteen at the time of his birth (April 24, 1865).

Michael and Bessie and their family survived the potato famine of 1845-1847, although it appears that they didn’t have any children in 1845 or 1846.

In August of 1880, Michael, Bessie, and their sons James and Robert, left Ireland, immigrating to Boston, Massachusetts. Michael would have been 65 and Bessie about 60 years old then.

I wondered why Michael and Bessie decided to emigrate after they had spent most of their lives in Ireland. I found a number of newspaper articles that appeared in the West Carbery Eagle between January 10,1880 and March 13, 1880 that painted a grim picture of the dire conditions that existed in the united parishes of Enniskeane, Kinneigh, and Desertserges. It is very likely that Michael and Bessie Swanton were among those who attended the meeting held at the Enniskeane Church on January 31,1880.

January 10, 1880

A group of men from the Castletown area traveled to Bandon to tell the Guardians of the Bandon Union about their plight.

“The relieving officer went outside the door and was accosted by about twenty five men, fine specimens of the Irish peasantry, but many of them bearing on their countenances the impress of hunger. They were men of ages varying from eighteen to sixty, and had traveled from Castletown to Bandon, a distance of ten miles, breakfastless. Three men were selected to lay their grievances before the guardians -- an old man, nearly sixty years of age, and two middle-aged men.

Spokesman: We are very destitute and don't know what to do. All we came here for is to try to live in the land as long as God Almighty will leave us. We don't want to beg a farthing as long as we are able to work. It's only right to give a man fair play. If you don't give us work, let us be put into gaol , or let us die.”

January 31, 1880

“The inhabitants of Castletown Kinneigh and the surrounding districts crept on Tuesday, the 20th inst., as half-starved and emaciated beings, to assist at a meeting, held at Castletown village having for its object the proposing of some resolutions, or instructing some means to alleviate their present more direful distress. Half-starved they rose, and cast aside their inactivity at last, hunger pinching them, and pronounced emphatically (of which I am an every-day witness), that starvation was knocking unmercifully at their cabin doors.”

January 31, 1880

Meeting at Enniskeane

After the 12 o’clock Mass on Sunday a meeting was held in the Roman Catholic chapel-yard of Enniskeane to take steps to endeavour to alleviate the deep and widely felt distress prevalent in the united parishes of Enniskeane, Kinneigh and Desertserges. An immense number attended, though the day was very wet, and I am sorry to say that want was visible in the faces of many of the poor labourers present, and yet, with that feeling innate to the Irishman—rather starve than complain or beg—they appeared to suffer their hard lot without a murmur.

The Rev. Michael Delay, the respected P.P. was moved to the chair, and Mr. O’Driscoll was requested to act as secretary to the meeting.

The Rev. Chairman, in his usual lucid and impressive manner, explained the object of the meeting, and in the course of his remarks, said that he felt heartfelt sorrow that such an amount of distress existed in his parish. He waited on J. R. Berwick, Esq., J.P., the feeling and popular agent to his Grace the Duke of Devonshire, and also on Mr. Doherty, J.P., agent to the Earl of Bandon, asking them to devise some means to keep the people from starving, and he was happy to tell them that both gentlemen received him in the kindest manner, and promised to provide employment forthwith for the labourers on the respective estates which they represented.

The Earl of Bandon had some labourers employed in the northern part of the parish, and will employ others in some other parts of the parish immediately. So much alive to the present and state of the locality is Mr. Berwick, that he authorized him to say that every farmer on the estate of his Grace of Devonshire, in the parish, may instantly employ labourers for draining, &c., and his Grace will allow them for it.

Mr. Berwick will also employ a number of labourers to-morrow clipping off the trees in the plantations near Enniskeane, in order to provide for present very pressing cases. The Rev. Chairman further said that Mr. Conner, J.P., of Manch, a gentleman who had a long and varied experience as guardian, chairman of dispensary committees, &c., told him that he knew the people to be actually starving.

He, Mr. Conner, had a considerable number of men employed at a distant portion of his property, and hoped, in a very short time, to be able to employ several others at Manch. But, said the Rev. Chairman, there is a class of labourers who have my fullest sympathy—those who are engaged to work for farmers during the whole year, at 4d. or 6d. per day, the rent of their little cabins, and potato-ground. I will not harrow your feelings by reminding you of what the latter was worth, especially last year.

He impressed on them the necessity of patience and trust in God, and He, in His goodness would not neglect them, and the landlords would do all they could to employ labour, as Lady Carbery is doing at Phale.

VOICES: Long live your reverence.

Mr. Patrick Harrington, P. L. G. , Kinneigh, proposed, and Mr. Patrick Foley, seconded the following Resolution:--“Resolved—That it is our painful duty to record that very severe destitution prevails in this parish, and that unless immediate and effective steps be taken to remedy same, starvation will be the deplorable consequence.”

Mr. Harrington said that to his own knowledge parties in that locality were obliged to subsist on one meal of stirabout in the day, and that he saw men before him who had not the price of a half-penny bun for themselves and family. He would beg to impress on those who could afford it to keep his countrymen from starving.

The resolution was passed unanimously.

Mr. Denis Mahony, Clonomara, proposed, and Mr. C. O’Sullivan, seconded: --“That the following be, and are hereby appointed a Local Relief Committee -- “The clergymen of all denominations, the dispensary doctors, the P.L.G’s of the locality, the members of the Dispensary Committees, and the following gentlemen: -- Messrs. D. Connor, Jun., Manch; John Carey, and Thomas Kearney, Currycrowley; B. Scofield, Knockaneady; P. Lordan, Liscroneen; Denis Crowley, Ahillnane; Wm. Daunt, Enniskeane; James Chambers, Teadies; P. Harrington, P. Foley, Kenneigh; Joseph Fuller, Castletown; James Welply, Denis Mahony, Clonomara; Dan Crowley, Lissecorrane; Dan Crowley, Ardkilleen; Dan Hurley, Clonereague; Lawrence Buckley, Moneygoff; P. Donovan, Derryville; J. Flynn, Tullimurrihi; David Walsh, Ahiohill; E. White, Garavauler, with power to add to their number.”

The want of fuel is also much felt, as several poor families have no fuel, except the hulls of flax, which the proprietor of the local scutching mill (James Hutchinson Swanton of Ballydehob) is kind enough to give them. The Rev. Chairman relieved some of the most urgent cases out of his own private purse.

After a vote of thanks to the Chairman the meeting separated.

February 21, 1880


SIR,--I send you a copy of a letter addressed by me to the Land League, which you will kindly publish in your next edition, and thus help us in our present difficulties. Yours very truly, T. MURRAY, P.P.

Drimoleague, Feb. 18th, 1880

DEAR SIR, -- On behalf of my poor parishioners I beg to appeal to your association for aid to enable us to keep our poor farmers in their holdings and the poor labourers from starving. This is not exaggerated language, but the real truth. I have in this parish at present, over twenty farmers ejected from their holdings during the past year, and now in actual want of food for themselves and children.

On one townland alone the landlord has ejected four tenants during the past year, some of them as yet keeping possession till the Sheriff’s officers came and threw them on the roadside, or rather hillside, as there is no road in the locality.

very morning the wife of one of these victims of landlordism was with me for advice about what to do. She had struggled with the perseverance of the Irish farmer to retain her land, and by appealing to friends and the charitable made up a year’s rent and took it to the landlord, but she was spurned from his presence and told that she should pay ten pounds besides for costs, and thus that poor creature who, a few years ago was a strong and handsome woman, appears today a heap of rags and the very personification of wretchedness.

This is no isolated case. There is on the same property a worse case if possible. He has eleven in family, and but himself to provide for them; even last year when ejected he would not get his manured field for potatoes. The ejected farmer makes but a bad daily labourer, his spirits are crushed, and he has no heart to push his claims forward, but prefers to hide his privations, and thus it is not easy often to reach such cases till extreme distress compels him to disclose his wants. And if this be the case with our farmers, need I say that our labouring population must be wretched in the extreme.

In my entire parish there is not a single landlord giving work to a labourer, nor have they come forward to subscribe to our fund for relieving the distress in our district, although they are receiving thousands of pounds annually.

What has become of the saying that “property has its duties?” I shall not add anything else, but that your aid shall be given to objects most worthy of it, and distributed as you shall order. We have in this parish already committees for distributing the aid obtained from the other public funds in your city, and if you should wish to avail of this mode, I will be happy to comply with your wishes, otherwise, it shall be effected as you shall order, and to the class of persons you wish. You will be pleased to lay this appeal before the Land League, and ask for a favourable consideration for it, and believe me, yours very faithfully,


March 13, 1880

“One hundred and thirty-five families got relief. The number of destitute applicants is so much on the increase that, unless subscriptions from the landlords and other sources come soon and liberal, the consequences will be deplorable.”

In light of the desperate conditions that existed in the Castletown-Kinneigh and surrounding areas in 1880, it isn’t surprising that Michael and Bessie Swanton decided to leave Ireland and to immigrate to the United States. It also isn’t surprising that their son, Robert, who was my great-grandfather, never talked about his life in Ireland to any of his family. The only thing he ever told his family was that “he was born by the bridge.” Perhaps this bridge spanning the Bandon River near Enniskeane was the one to which he was referring.

Bandon Bridge
Bandon Bridge
Cork, Ireland

It was very common in those times for Irish immigrants to join family members who had already emigrated and who were settled in their new homes.

George W. Potter observes the following in his book To the Golden Door: The Story of the Irish in Ireland and America:

Despite the casual disarray of the Catholic Irish emigration, it contained within it a deep foundation of order, even logic, in accordance with the traditional Irish pattern. The individual Irishman was tied by inflexible bonds to the complex of intricate family relationships extending beyond immediate consanguinity which imposed duties and responsibilities that could be avoided only by his own shame and the censure of an opinion he respected. His responses to these family obligations were almost instinctive, above rationality, to be honored by the call of blood to blood.

So it can be said of Catholic Irish emigration that while as a physical fact it was individual, one by one or two by two, the addition ultimately made a family emigration to America. Behind the young Irish farm laborer or servant maid who set off alone for America was a waiting family, and behind them the friends.

Michael and Bessie’s son, John Swanton and his wife, Mary McCarthy Swanton, had immigrated to Boston in 1873, and had settled in South Boston, Massachusetts.

Making the decision to leave their homeland of more than 60 years probably wasn’t easy for Michael and Bessie, in spite of the hardships they had endured there. They were leaving behind a lifetime of friends, memories, and a way of life that their families had followed for generations.

Nevertheless, Michael and Bessie sold their household furnishings, packed up their meager possessions, and in August of 1880, they departed from the port of Cobh , County Cork, on the S. S. Samaria with their sons James, age 18 and Robert, age 15, bound for Liverpool and eventually Boston, where they arrived on August 15.

Michael Swanton Passenger List
Passenger list for the S. S. Samaria,
listing the names of
Michael, 60, Elizabeth,50, James, 15, and Robert Swanton, 13
Arrived in Boston on August 15, 1880

The S. S. Samaria was built in 1868 by J. & G. Thomson, Ltd., Clydebank, Glasgow, Scotland, and was part of the Cunard Line. It weighed 2,605 tons, and was 320’ long and 39’ wide. Propelled by a single screw, it traveled at 12 knots an hour. It had two masts and one funnel, and an iron hull. It could accommodate 130 cabin passengers and 800 third class passengers. Michael, Bessie, Robert and James traveled in third class. The journey would probably have taken up to two weeks, depending upon the sea conditions. The S. S. Samaria was scrapped in 1902.

S. S. Samaria

Although Michael was 65 and Bessie when 60 when they emigrated to Boston, both of their ages were recorded as 50 on the Samaria’s passenger list, and James’ and Robert’s ages were recorded as 15 and 13, although they were actually 18 and 15. There is quite a bit of disparity in the ages my Irish ancestors provided for various records. It’s possible that they didn’t remember exactly when they were born, or they simply didn’t care. Another theory is that they might have represented themselves as younger on the passenger list in order to ensure passage. A 50-year old man would have been perceived as more able to find a job in the United States than a 65-year old man.

Although the Irish had been immigrating to Boston since before the potato famine, it had been at a slow enough rate that they could easily be accepted and assimilated into the area. During the potato famine, thousands of Irish immigrants poured into Boston, and their sheer volume made it very difficult for them to be assimilated. Many of the Irish who arrived in Boston during the famine years were ill, destitute, and unable to work. Large families crowded together into wooden-frame tenements with inadequate sanitary facilities and ventilation.

The Irish were regarded as drunkards and brawlers, and were not welcomed by the locals, who reputedly hung “Irish Need Not Apply” signs in their store windows. Saloons sprang up on every street corner, and they provided a place for the Irish men to get together and enjoy the company of their fellow countrymen.

From Bessy Conway, The Irish Girl in America by Mary Anne Sadlier, 1861

"What's the cause of the misery and the wickedness we see around us? Isn't it drunkenness, Ned, an' nothing else? When you see a naked, starved-lookin' creature of a man comin' in to take his glass, don't you know very well that the money he throws down on your counter has the curse of a heart-broken wife on it, an' that a whole family may be shiverin' with cold an' perishin' with hunger while that beast of a man is gettin' drunk on your stock, as you call it. Ah! that's the stock that brings down the wrath of God on them that sell it an' them that buy it now."

Often, Irish families were supported by their women, who hired themselves out as domestics, while the men tried to find day labor.

By 1880, the flood of immigration into Boston had diminished. The Irish were carving out a niche for themselves in their new home, and were slowly becoming assimilated and accepted. Ambitious Irishmen had risen up from menial jobs and were now successful real-estate investors and contractors. The Irish were also becoming involved in politics, and in 1884, Boston elected its first Irish mayor.

Although by 1880, attitudes in Boston were more favorable toward the Irish, the Irish still tended to live together in close-knit communities, carrying on their religion and traditions, and raising their children as their parents had raised them.

South Boston at the Turn of the Century

The following excerpt from the book South Boston: My Home Town by Thomas H. O’Connor, paints a colorful and evocative picture of South Boston before the turn of the century.

“All the heavy trucking of freight throughout the city was still done on huge four-wheeled wagons called drays, about the size of a modern ten-ton truck and drawn by two, four or sometimes even six great horses, which were kept stabled in South Boston. Every morning at seven o’clock, the noise of clopping hooves resounded loudly on the cobblestones of the lower end as hundreds of drays rumbled down Third Street on their way to the Broadway bridge. Once the parade had passed, the children would get up, have their breakfast of oatmeal and cocoa (fresh milk was a scarcity), and leave the house about 8:30 to make it on time for school, which started at nine.

Once the children were in school, the streets filled with the sounds of peddlers, each with his own distinctive cry, calling out their wares and rousing the housewives of the neighborhood. The vegetable man yelling “fresh tomatoes!” made his way through the streets with fresh vegetables for the kitchen table. The fish man bawling “haddock and mack-er-ellll!” was a popular figure on Thursdays and Fridays, although his wagon usually attracted every cat on the street because he butchered the fish as he sold them. The rag man, with his broken-down wagon and worn-out nag, rattled along shouting, “Any rags, any bones, any bottles today?”

The scissors-grinder, with his complicated contraption of wheels, levels, foot-pedals, pulleys and bells, was always a fascinating sight. The soap-grease man sliced off a bar of very heavy, dark-brown laundry soap and gave it to the housewife who handed over her used fats and grease. The piccalilli man went around with two or three different kinds of relish on his cart, lading it out for a modest price.

Frequently, the tinkling sounds of “O Sole Mio” of “Funiculi Funicula” brought people into the streets. Sometimes it was the organ-grinder, balancing his portable organ on its single wooden leg; sometimes it was the hurdy-gurdy man, pushing his large upright organ along on two wheels. But almost always it was the antics of the monkey that captured the attention as he went through the crowd at the end of a long chain collecting pennies and nickels in his little red cap.

On hot summer days, the watering cart sprinkled water on the broiling streets; and in days before refrigeration, the ice man was always in great demand as he lugged huge cakes of ice on his back up two or three flights of stairs to the icebox in the kitchen. “

South Boston
South Boston, MA in the late 1800's

Michael, Bessie, Robert and James arrived in Boston in August 1880, just after the census had been taken. This may have been deliberate timing on their part, as many of the Irish were reluctant to answer the questions the census takers asked. Their position in their new home was very tenuous, and they may have felt that the less people knew about them, the better.

Michael, Bessie, Robert and James would have been greeted at the dock by John, Mary, and their children. Their first night in Boston would have been a time of rejoicing and celebration, with simple, but ample, food and drink. It had been more than 6 years since Michael and Bessie had seen their son John, his wife, and their grandchildren.

This was the also first time that Michael and Bessie met their three granddaughters, who had all been born in Boston. The oldest girl, Elizabeth, was 4 years old and had been named after her grandmother. The next granddaughter was Catharine, who was 2, and little Mary, who was nine months old. The boys had been born in Ireland, before John and Mary had emigrated, and James was 8 and John was 6.

Michael and Bessie moved in with John, Mary, and their five children. They lived at 306 West Second Street in South Boston, Massachusetts, a predominantly Irish community. They lived in a 2-family house, and with the new arrivals, the Swanton household was now comprised of twelve people. Another seven lived in the McDonald household in the same house, bringing the total number of the inhabitants of the house up to 19.

In 1882, three more of Michael and Bessie’s children immigrated to Boston. William arrived at the Port of New York on May 1,1882, and it is very likely that his sisters Ellen and Martha came over with him, as they both also arrived around the same timeframe. William didn’t move in with his already crowded brother, John. Instead, he lived on South Street in Boston.

Sometime before 1883, John Swanton, his family, and his parents and brothers, moved down the street to 274 West Second, which presumably had more room to accommodate them all. Ellen Swanton and Martha Swanton may have moved into the house at 306 West Second then, as Ellen, her husband and their children still lived there in 1898.

In 1883 and 1884, Bessie and Michael celebrated the marriages of three of their children. On February 6, 1883, Martha Swanton was married to Michael Crowley; September 30, 1884 Ellen Swanton was married to Michael Cleary, and on October 5, 1884, William Swanton was married to Anne O’Neill.

Bessie Bradfield Swanton died on Sunday, June 28,1885 at her home at 274 W. Second St., South Boston of heart disease at the age of 65, just five years after she left Ireland. Her funeral was held on Tuesday, June 30,1885, with a high mass at St. Vincent’s Church in South Boston.

Bessie Swanton Bradfield Obituary
Death Notice for Bessie Bradfield Swanton

Bessie died just one month before Ellen Swanton Cleary’s first child, Margaret Cleary, was born, and two months before her son James Swanton married Ellen Ahearn.

Five months later, her granddaughter, little Margaret Cleary died, and she was buried with her grandmother in Old Calvary Cemetery. In 1887, Elizabeth Crowley, just a year old and the first child of Martha and Michael Crowley was also buried there, and in 1898, Elizabeth’s 4-year old brother, John Crowley, joined them in this grave.

In 1921, Annie Swanton, the wife of William Swanton, Bessie’s son, was buried in the same grave as Elizabeth Bradfield Swanton. William had a stone engraved with the names of his mother and his wife. Although Bessie had died in 1885, the year 1884 was erroneously carved on her gravestone.

Bessie Bradfield Swanton's Grave
Bessie Bradfield Swanton's Grave

After Bessie’s death, Michael had no reason to remain in Boston. Most of his children were married now and they were busy raising their own families. I've always gotten the feeling that Michael's children weren't very close to him and perhaps didn't think very highly of him. I got the impression that Michael might have been over-fond of the drink (his sons Robert and William both were, according to Robert’s daughter and William’s neighbors in Lislevane). My great-aunt Mary (Robert’s daughter) remembers they had a cat named Mike, which suggests other tendencies, too. Robert didn’t name any of his sons Michael. So I just have the general impression that he wasn’t very close to his family, or that there was some kind of problem there...

Anyhow, for whatever reason, after the death of Bessie, Michael Swanton decided to return to Ireland.

When Michael and Bessie had left Ireland in 1880, their son, Michael, and his wife, Jane McCarthy Swanton, moved into their old home in Boulteen, County Cork. Michael and Jane lived there on May 1,1884, when their son, James, was born. There are no records indicating where Michael Swanton Sr. lived when he returned to Ireland after Bessie’s death. Perhaps he went back to live with Michael and Jane, although it was about this time that Michael and Jane immigrated to New York.

I haven’t been able to find any more information about Michael and Bessie’s other children, Anne, George and Johanna. They may have remained in Ireland, and perhaps Michael stayed with one of them when he returned to Ireland

Michael Swanton Sr. had been plagued with health problems since 1880, suffering from stricture of the urethra. On August 17,1890, he died at the age of 75 after a 2 month-long bout with urinary fever, doubtless contributed to by his chronic condition. Michael died in the Bandon workhouse.

The workhouses had been Ireland’s poorhouses during the famine years, but in later years, they were used as homes for the sick and elderly. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, why Michael’s children didn’t take care of him during his last illness, but left him to die alone and forgotten in the workhouse, and to be presumably buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. This always bothered me, but in 2001, during a trip to Ireland, I finally came across the answer to this puzzle in an entry from the minutes of the guardians of the Bandon workhouse.

Masters Report of the Union of Bandon Guardians

I beg to report that on the 16th of June 1890, a man named Michael Swanton was admitted to this Workhouse Hospital as sick, on the 19th July I received a money order from the Revd. Wm. Murphy, P. P. of Enniskeane for him sent to him by one of his sons in America. I got the order cashed in due course. The man died on the 17th inst. And some of his friends came to me to claim the money. I refused to give it, and will now respectfully ask for the Guardians’ instructions on the matter “being read the Board ordered that the Union charges be deducted from the money and the balance returned to the Revd. Mr. Murphy, P.P.

Michael Swanton Bandon Workhouse
Master's Report of the Union of Bandon Guardians
June 16, 189

Finding this information made me feel a lot better. Now I knew that Michael had not been abandoned and forgotten by his family. It was probably Michael’s son, William, who had sent the money, as he was the only one in the family who had any. This also let me know that Michael had some friends in the workhouse, although they seem to have been far too interested in acquiring the money William had sent for Michael’s care.

A couple of questions remain: did Father Murphy use the remaining money to give Michael Swanton a proper Catholic Mass and burial, and if so, where was Michael buried? Perhaps someday I’ll be able to learn the answers to these questions.

Next: John Swanton and Mary McCarthy

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