The first Irishmen in Cardiff in the Nineteenth Century

The following extract from the deposition of John Driscoll, taken down by Fr. Signini in 1857, which is preserved in the Cardiff Diary of the Fathers of Charity, will be of interest.

“Before 35 years ago (1822) Mr. Joseph Davies, of Uske, Mon., and Mr. James McLoughlin an Irishman, were the only Catholics known to reside in Cardiff. But about 35 years ago, Jeremiah Mahoney, still living in Mary Ann Street, Cardiff, John Donahue (then living in Union Buildings—the site of which is in the Morgan’s Arcade of today) and John Driscoll aforesaid (the deponent) come to settle here, and in three or four years their number increased to a dozen.”

Mr. Joseph Davies has today as direct descendant in Cardiff, Dr. J. J. Buist, whose mother was a Miss Davies. About the Davies family we shall have something to say on a future occasion. It may be said at once that there was a Catholic family—Bavarian in origin and clockmakers by trade—actually living in Queen St. when John Driscoll, John Donahue, and Jerry Mahoney arrived. They were at least baptised, if not practising Catholics, and the father of the family had lived in Cardiff from the nineties of the 18th century.
We have sought for independent confirmation of John Driscoll’s statement and we have found it in an unexpected quarter, namely in St. John’s Registers. The following two entries are the earliest, and we shall give the Irish names in Italics, as it will help us to emphasise them better.
“15 Aug. 1825, Patrick Dogan and Margaret Harris” were married. Both were illiterate and made marks after their names. Again three days later “18 Aug. 1825, Jerry Maney and Ann McLoughlin, widow” went through a form of marriage to satisfy the requirements of the civil law at that time in force. Jerry Maney—it was either the parson or clerk who wrote the name—made a mark. Jerry, of course, pronounced his name, ‘Mah-ney’ and it was written for him phonetically Ma-ney. There is no “ho” in the middle of it, when Irish people pronounce the name. The widow McLoughlin wrote her own name thus: Ann Mac-loughlin. The witnesses were Denis Sullivan and George Kibbey, the parish clerk.
Turning to the Burial registers at St. John’s, we find the same striking fact which the marriage registers reveal that for over 20 years from 1800 to 1825 there are few if any Irish entries, and if the name is Irish (the writer has the name McCarthy particularly in mind) doubts can be cast on whether the bearer of it was Catholic. The first obviously Irish burial entries in the 19th century are “John Barry, of Tunnell Buildings, aged 6 months—on Feb. 5th, 1826” and “Daniel Donahue of The Hayes, aged 2 years—22 Dec. 1826.”
Thus at the end of December, 1826, the following Irish people, as shown by St. John’s Marriage and Burial Registers, were living in Cardiff: Patrick Dogan or Duggan, Jerry Maney or Mahoney, Ann McLaughlin who was possibly the widow of James McLoughlin the first Irishman, Denis Sullivan, The Barry family and the Donahue family.
If we proceed further still we have an increasing number of Irish names. Mary Donahue made a mark as witness to the marriage of Thomas Brown to Mary Hayes on 20th Jan. 1828. Mary Hayes was not able to write her name. On the 6th April, 1828, John Hase married Mary Bagley. On “5th July 1829 John Driscoll of the parish of St. Mary, batchelor, to Eliza Joseph”—both made marks for the parson. This John Driscoll was probably the deponent and the gentleman, a potato merchant, who died about 1870 in the first house of Bedford Place, St. Peter’s Street. Ann McDonald was a witness and Timothy McDaniel also witnessed the marriage with his own signature. Surely Tim made “a shot” at it, and should have written “McDonald”! A John Ganier was a witness 21 Sept. 1830. Other Irish names are John Scanlon (25 May 1832), James Keenan (24 Mar. 1833), John O’Connell (4 Nov. 1833) who all signed their own names. Michael Murphy married Mary Santry (both made marks) and the witnesses were William Calnan (mark) and Timothy Desmond who signed. In conclusion, we may note that in August 1836, John Donahue and Mary Donahue were witnesses—marking the registers in which their names were spelt for them: Donaghue. The Irish name practically cease in 1838, when the new marriage laws came into force and Registrars were appointed.
From this review of names in St. John’s registers, the testimony of John Driscoll receives ample support. The earliest Irishman that we know of in Cardiff is “Jerry my Lad”—Jerry Driscoll and his wife who were in Cardiff about 1807-8. They used to walk to Newport to Mass in Miss Pye’s house. They subsequently went to live at Newport. James McLoughlin lived in Cardiff before 1822. Then followed the three pioneers of the Irish emigration: John Driscoll, John Donahue, and Jerry Mahoney—all workmen who could not write. Two of them got married and we have their marriage entries. The third apparently was already married. Patrick Duggan, Denis Sullivan,— Barry; John Hayes, Timothy McDonald, John Gaynor, are some of those who followed after the three. It should be noted that their women folk, e.g. Mary Donahue, Mary Hayes, Mary Begley, Mary Santry, came too. The Irish after 1830 were not so illiterate, and a better type of man came as dock builders and engineers. As to the date of their coming it is clear that John Driscoll’s date—probably 1822—is about right. By 1826 there were at least half a dozen people with Irish names resident in Cardiff.

Published anonymously in a 1922 edition of the St. Peter’s Magazine, Cardiff.

Republished in The Green Dragon No 6, Spring, 1998.