Peter Berresford Ellis reviews A Biographical Dictionary of Cork, Tim Cadogan and Jeremiah Falvey (eds), Four Courts Press, ISBN 1-84682-030-8, £30/€35
BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARIES are always great, handy tools. The first thing I tend to do with them, I'm afraid, is to check to see who is left out by the editors rather than who has been put in.
As my family is traced back in Cork to the 13th Century, I seized on this particular volume with interest. Ah well, I really did not expect any mention of my ancestors although a few of them might have made a paragraph, like Ruaidri Ellis who anchored his ship in Leimcon cove between Crookhaven and Schull, in the West Cork, attacking English shipping, under letters cachet from the Medici dukes, between 1607 and 1629. He was outlawed by Arthur Chichester and was a particular enemy of the Earl of Clanricade.
Or maybe worth a line was William Ellis (1807-1852) a Douglas Street stonecutter, a founder member of the republican Cork Citizen's Club, who organised the collection for the defence of Smith O'Brien, Meagher and Mitchell. His son, Nicholas, served in the US Army during the American Civil War, took part in the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866 and returned to Cork in 1869.
Well, maybe not such a 'prominente' to get a mention, but what of his namesake Alderman William Ellis (1873-1951)? William became Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, but appointed Acting Lord Mayor when Lord Mayor Donal Ó Ceallacháin (who is mentioned), the successor to Terence McSwiney, had to go on the run. He resigned office on 25 January 1924, to allow Seán French (who is also mentioned) to be Lord Mayor, the 4th Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork at that time.
William Ellis left the Cork Corporation in 1935 having first been elected to it in 1916. He became a key figure in developing Cork City's vocational and technical education facilities. Not worth just a few lines? Apparently not. Sadly, in case you think this is a personal moan about my family, there are also no entries for Anna Doyle Wheeler (1785-1848), one of the first great feminist writers although her male partner William Thompson gets a good entry. Thompson always acknowledged that the book An Appeal of one half of the human race, women, against the pretensions of the other half, men, to retain them in political, and thence, in civil and domestic slavery (1825) was primarily her work.
No mention of Mick O'Riordan (1917-2006), who was one of the last surviving members of the Irish contingent in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. No mention of the CA's own Jim Savage (1923-2005) a great socialist republican and internationalist, a political activist and writer.
But I suppose I would be noticing these omissions, wouldn't I?
The balance, however, did seem odd. I kept noticing people whose connections with Cork were more than tenuous. One gent from Northumberland, who died in Welshpool, gets a mention because he represented Kinsale in Westminster from 1841-47. In those days, MPs didn't even have to visit their constituencies. I ceased counting the number of people born outside of Cork, and who died outside of Cork, but had a passing link.
Having said all that, biographical dictionaries are always useful. This one will be as well.
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