John Dwyer (c.1795-?) and Margaret Quirk (c.1795-?)

The first Dwyer ancestors known to us are John Dwyer and his wife Margaret Quirk, who are only known from details provided in the marriage record of their son, James Dwyer.

John and Margaret were probably both born in the 1790s in County Tipperary, but precisely where in the County is unknown. There are over 100 records for a John Dwyer of County Tipperary in the Tithe Applotment Books for 1815-1830. Griffith’s Valuation, which was completed in County Tipperary in 1853, possibly after John had died, has 216 Tipperary records for an occupier named John Dwyer.

John and Margaret most likely would have married around 1815-1820, since most women married between 15 and 20 years of age, and men from 20 years upwards1. Their only known child, James, was born in 1821, probably in their home.

John and Margaret would have spoken both English and Irish: Irish at home and among their friends and family, English in their dealings with the wider world. They would have had little or no education, having grown to adulthood when Catholics were still restricted under the Penal Laws from attending school. At best they may have attended outdoor “hedge schools” run by itinerant schoolmasters, possibly with one of the pupils acting as lookout for officers of the law. The quality of education in hedge schools varied according to the teacher. Both John and Margaret are very unlikely to have been able to read or write.

John was noted in his son’s marriage record as having been a farmer. This could mean that he was a tenant farmer, who leased his land and worked it full-time, or he may have been a cotter tenant, who worked for a landlord, lived  in a cottage on his estate and rented small plots of land to grow his own crops, primarily potatoes and oats. In either case it is likely that Margaret and their children also worked in the fields2.

John and Margaret may have lived in a single-room mud cabin – around 40% of rural dwellings were like this – or a small stone house, depending on their status and circumstances. Potatoes and buttermilk would have figured prominently in their diet, and if they were tenant farmers they might also have had access to oatmeal and wheaten bread. Tobacco and alcoholic drink were luxury items.

There is no evidence that John and Margaret ever left Ireland as their son James did, so they probably died as they lived in County Tipperary. It is possible that they were among the million or so victims of the Great Famine (1845-1852).

1 Maxwell, Ian.  (2008).  Your Irish ancestors : a guide for family historians.  Barnsley, South Yorkshire :  Pen & Sword Family History. p. 12.

2 Maxwell, Ian.  (2008).  pp.23-25.


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