Current Events

Just a little aside to tell you what’s been going on. As in the previous post, I have been attempting to read Michael Prestwich’s, Edward 1. It has been slightly dry and definitely not as reader friendly as Marc Morris’s, A Great and Terrible King. Although I did feel that Marc’s book had a definite sympathetic bent towards Edward. Prestwich’s book is more a confusing reword of the facts of his reign as taken from the financial accounts of the time. This of course, is useful for citing your own research but so far, does little to flesh out the person of Edward himself in the way that Marc does.Again, let me caveat that with the fact that I am only partway into the book.

While there is no doubt that the facts are essential to proving the likelihood of a certain event taking place, it does take talent to bring that to the public. It is rather distracting to have numbers written all over the place when I am reading. Hopefully sometime in the near future they will find better ways to cite sources. That being said , I like it when the writer says that prior thoughts on a subject couldn’t have been correct because ……. and there is the fact.  We can never fully know what the motivations may have been behind someone’s actions unless we were there. History is always incomplete. We are a little more certain of the outcomes of their actions. Let me say this though, it is hard to even begin to imagine the world Edward was thrown into as a young man. The term “living large” would hardly describe it. Some were up to the task , like Edward, and some were not, like his father.” It is a pity that the closest most young men will get to this kind of history is in a video game. I would recommend Marc’s book as a good basic book that can hold your interest. When I am done with Prestwich’s book I will do some comparing. If my mind isn’t boggled by then.

In other news, I had put my Irish research to bed in order to get on with the Scottish side of the family and that is how I got into this thing with Edward. He was the scourge of the Scots and I became curious about all the claims against him. However, things suddenly started to crop up. First, I got an email by an offended second cousin who felt I had portrayed her in a bad light (which I have tried to rectify), then I got an email from a lady who has worked at Garden Hill for 20 years and suddenly came upon my post Life at Garden Hill. That was the home of my great aunt and uncle who ran the South Dublin workhouse. It was converted into offices. She wanted to know if I had more info and has colleagues writing about the St. James hospital which was built over it. The house will be torn down and replaced by a pediatric wing. Then just the other day, I got a long-awaited reply from William Healy, whose great grandfather was acquainted with the Phillips family (my mom’s family). He is trying to help me locate the graves of my great grandparents and is sending information on that. Mystery there is that everyone keeps saying that 3 brothers came to Canada instead of 2. I was told the first one died when he was young but I have not found a death record for him. That leads me onto another chase to see if either of these is true. It is all unexpected but exciting! I hadn’t thought of my posts as being permanently up there for people to read years after I wrote them. Lesson learned.


The Eldest

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned how some members of a family are spoken of with fondness and admiration and I mentioned William McDowell. It was also this way with my great-uncle George Holmes Phillips. William was George’s grandfather.
I first met Uncle George during a bizarre experience I had when visiting with my grandmother Jane at the age of 14. I was put to bed in “Uncle George’s room”. It was very tiny just like the little house that my grandparents lived in but cozy. The window on my right had the customary blind in the window which would throw the shadow of people wondering through the yard at night. My family was rife with stories of the predations of the local degenerates who passed through looking to steal something. I was a city girl and found the whole situation very nerve-wracking. That coupled with the fact that I was sleeping in Uncle George’s bed left me in a disturbed sleep. I woke up at some time during the night, feeling a hand on my shoulder, and there, at the foot of the bed, stood two men; the faces were clouded but there clothes stood out. One in farm clothes and the other in dress clothes. I was frightened to say the least! Then, I realized there was someone talking or rather having a heated argument in the other room. The shadows disappeared and I crept out to the main part of the house. My grandmother was rummaging around in her bedroom having a real go-round with someone (I assume my grandfather) in a state of dementia, of which I had no idea existed. Eventually, my mother came out and calmed her down. No one ever spoke of it. The brothers appeared again on the second night. I have always wondered what they meant to tell me. But will take it that they would like their story told!
In 1905, at the age of 17, school-leaving age, George was put aboard the S.S.Saxonian bound for Boston. He would probably make the rest of the way to Winnipeg, Manitoba by train. Left behind were his two sisters and his brother, Richard. His sister Sophie would not see Canada until 1913, the other, Evelyn would not leave Ireland. He had $31 in his pocket and listed himself as a farm labourer, a definite step down from the life he had known.  On the 1906 census of the Prairie Provinces, he was living at a boarding house in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, that census does not state the occupation of the person.
In 1907, George returned to Ireland, I assume in relation to Richard coming over. He came back to Canada on the S.S. Caronia, July 24, 1907. A few months later, Richard followed on the maiden voyage of the RMS Lusitania, docking in New York on Sept 14, 1907.  The Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans in 1915, off the coast of Ireland. That was the year my grandparents married. Still, I can’t help but imagine the reaction of my grandfather to the news of the ship going down. He had laboured on farms for 8 years before getting married.
In the 1911 Canadian census, George was working in a saw mill on Valdez Island in British Columbia. On the 1916 census, he was with Richard and Jane on their farm in Manitoba, the start of a lifetime of companionship between the three. The couples first son, George Holmes was also listed with them, so you can see the respect that they had for him. It is likely that he helped them in many ways.
In 1920, George made an ill-fated attempt at marriage to Dorothy Johnston in Vancouver. She however, was not for the homesteading life so that didn’t last long. He never did remarry.The land in the Lawrence municipality of Manitoba did not lend itself easily to farming so the two brothers took to raising cattle. Below a pic of George at a cattle fair in St. Rose du Lac, Manitoba (in the dark suit on the right).

Uncle George St. RoseUncle George visited Ireland several times. Here he is enjoying a dance with one of the New York relatives in 1960.

George Holmes Phillips N. York 1960My grandparents had many rough times in the isolated environment they found themselves in and Uncle George seems to have always been there along the way. What they lost in coming to this cold and vast land, they gained in friendship and loyalty. George and his sister Sophie eventually bought neighbouring farms to my grandparents. All this I will go into further along.

Richard, George and Jane in their latter years. 1960

Richard, George and Jane in their latter years. 1960

George is buried in the Magnet Cemetery, Magnet, Manitoba along side of Jane and Richard. Rest in peace, Uncle George.

Headstone, George Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007


After their marriage in 1883, “Ebby” followed George up to Parsonstown, Kings County where my great-aunt Sophie, was born. It is interesting that she did not go home to have her children but perhaps her youngest sister Sophie came to help her, hence the naming of the baby. I am quite certain that George was a bookkeeper for the estates. His son’s ship’s record states that he is a bookkeeper. Parsonstown, now Birr, was an elegant market town known for it’s Georgian architecture.

The birth of Sophie was followed in 1896 by that of William Henry, in 1888 by George Holmes Jr., who was born at Woodlands, Parsonstown. There were reports of William dying of typhus when he was young but I have not found an appropriate death record for him. Then the family moved to Ollatrim, down the road from Dublin, where Richard Walker, my grandfather was born at Carraway, in 1890. In 1893, Ebby had a little boy, Evan who died within a year.  In the previous year, her mother had died, and in the same year her sister Sarah died of puerperal fever right after Evan .

Shortly after that Ebby had a little girl, Evelyn baptized in May 1894. Then in 1896 Ebby  died from an embolism (blood clot), commonly occurring during pregnancy. The duration of illness was 4 hours so one wonders if she didn’t die during childbirth. The family story is that she was buried with twins in her arms. She died at Curraghaneety, Toomevara in Tipperary. Below is her obituary from the Nenagh Guardian.
Nenagh Guardian, Weds Aug 2nd 1896.
Deaths :On the 31st July, at Curraghaneety, Elizabeth (Ebby) the dearly beloved wife of George Phillips, aged 35 years. Deceased was interred in Ballycormack (now Borrisnafarney Church of Ireland) churchyard on Sunday last, the funeral being attended by a large number of the gentry and farmers of the district.

 A few years later, in 1899, George, died of typhus in Moneygall.    


Things pick up a bit when we get to my great-grandmother, Elizabeth McDowell, better known as “Ebby” Below with her husband, George Holmes Phillips

Elizabeth and George Phillips c.1885

Elizabeth and George Phillips c.1885

We know that the only son in the family had died in 1863. He was just two years older than Elizabeth. She would have attended school at the Presbyterian Manse with the other children and lived that busy life with the rest of the girls in the family. On September 12, 1883, she married George Holmes Phillips with the good Reverend Holmes abiding.
As closely as I can tell, George came from a family in Oakhampton, Newport, Tipperary who were land agents for Lord Bloomfield. There are no birth records for his date of birth, c.1858 but I have found his name and his sons names in this family, that is , Evan, George, Richard and Harry. My great uncle George was registered at Kings Hospital School in Dublin with his father’s occupation as “clerk in a land agents office”. Close enough for the time being. George’s occupation kept him and Elizabeth on the move up  along the road to Dublin  to Parsonstown, Kings County, now Birr, Offaly.

So, lets us talk about the life of a land agent. From Wikipedia: ” Traditionally, a land agent was a managerial employee who conducted the business affairs of a large landed estate for a member of the landed gentry in the United Kingdom,[1] supervising the farming of the property by farm labourers and/or tenants and collecting rents or other payments. In this context a land agent was a relatively privileged position and was a senior member of the estate’s staff. The older term, which continued to be used on some estates, was steward, and in Scotland a land agent was usually referred to as a factor. Today the term estate manager or similar is more common.”That is fine and well but being a land agent in Tipperary would be just a little different than in England. You would have been “standing in ” for the hated  “landlord” who often was absentee, would have been the one responsible for overseeing the horrible evictions that took place all over Ireland. Most of all, you would have been tough. A lot of this would have passed by the time of George and Elizabeth’s marriage but the memories would have still been there. I have an example of that in this article that was sent to me by Mary Guinon-Darmody of the Thurles Library in Tipperary .

“In 1922, Oakhampton House was broken into by thugs, claiming to be from the I.R.A. They demanded the key to the drawer where the money was kept. Evan Phillips refused to hand it over so they fired a shot over his head. The bullet lodged in the wall of the drawing room and they left without anything. Evan complained about this to the local I.R.A. leader, Paddy Ryan Lackan, who was a most upright man. He was furious about this as it wasn’t an authorized action and he was very keen on discipline. He brought a gun to Evan and instructed the family on how to use if they were ever molested again. They weren’t.”

This article mentions the family names as well as the Kingscote name which was the married name of Harriett Bloomfield who came into the estate when her brother died childless. How George fit into this scheme of things is hard to tell. He remained a clerk all of his short life, (he died at 43) but if they were moving frequently he may have been handling the accounts for these estates.

You can find Oakhampton House on the Landed Estates of Ireland database.