I’ve recently been hit with a dose of reality that I have just six short weeks left to draft my MA thesis. Do I forge ahead with the optimistic idea I initially proposed? Investigating the personal histories of those who lived and worked on the Hazelwood Estate in the 18th and 19th centuries seemed a good marriage of my own personal interest in genealogy and local cultural heritage as well as the practical choice given its recent public interest in the site.
Having stood derelict since the construction of a vast industrial complex factory on its doorstep, Hazelwood House has long been ignored as an important monument of Ireland’s past. Until recently that is when the site has come back into the public consciousness for a variety of reasons and with several public interest angles. With the proposed redevelopment of the factory as a Whiskey Distillery and the refurbishment of the Georgian pile as a Visitor Centre. In the meantime, in advance of these developments. The cavernous former video tape production complex has become home to an ambitious Art Exhibition entitled Magnetism.
Photo credit: @sligotoday
The History of Colonial Power in Ireland has been a difficult one to respect for many people but with emotional distance we have become more accepting of the Big House dwellers of old as a legitimate brand of Irish-ness we can embrace without the sense of patronised subjection that has often accompanied the often uncomfortable history of the landed gentry in Ireland.
My intent was to explore the interaction of the symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Anglo-Irish landowners and the more identifiable but historically under-represented tenants and servants. My aim was to flesh out the lives of the ordinary population that lived and worked on the Hazelwood Demesne Lands and use this as a microcosm of Irish society in general during the 200 year span from its construction in 1730 to its abandonment in the 1930’s.
Having been continually occupied by successive generations of the same family I felt Hazelwood House and Demesne provided a stable case study for how a single family maintained working relationships with the surrounding tenancy over a span of Irish History from the post Cromwellian land grants of the early 18th century to the devastating cholera epidemic of 1832 that helped inspire Bram Stokers Dracula, to the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, and the political upheavals of the early 20th century that lead to the eventual collapse of the Landlord system the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.
Now, with six weeks to go and with my characteristically lax approach to planning and organisation this idea is starting to seem a gargantuan task. So do I consign it to the “maybe another time” file in favour of running with a personal project that, although not immediately as romantic or inspiring as the Hazelwood Histories idea, is of greater interest to me on a personal level.
That is compiling the genealogy of my own family and presenting it in a way that lifts it from dull presentation of historical fact to a visually engaging means of accessing various individual and intertwined storylines. There’s several transatlantic crossing, a few arranged marriages, a scattering of untimely deaths, a sprinkling of religious conversions and even a few mysterious strangers!
A family wedding 1937: Who are some of these people?
Obviously I’m interested in these people because I inherited their DNA. But they too lived through interesting times, and they also represent the under-investigated lives of ordinary Irish people in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. So what should it be? Personal interest or Public History?