James Keenan 1832-1889

James Keenan was the brother of my great, great grandfather, Patrick Keenan. Patrick’s daughter, Ellen Keenan, was my mother’s paternal grandmother.

James was born in County Down, Ireland about 1932. He was one of at least 8 children of Hugh Keenan and Hannah McCarten. I’ve found records for siblings born in Clonallon so it may be that James was born there. He certainly spent time there.

On 1 August 1852 James married Elizabeth Cunningham. Having survived the great famine and remained in Ireland throughout, the couple made what must have been a difficult decision to leave Ireland and seek new opportunities in Scotland. Perhaps it was the birth of their daughter Hannah in 1853 that prompted their decision. I can’t be sure when they came to Scotland, but by 1855 they were living in Lanarkshire. I know this to be the case from Hannah’s death records. She died on 1 December 1855.

A son, Hugh was born in 1856, followed by Catherine in 1857, Thomas in 1859 and Elizabeth in 1862. Son James was born in April 1864 but died of bronchitis in December that same year. Elizabeth would have been pregnant at the time and when their son was born in March 1866 they named him James too. Tragically, just a couple of weeks before his second birthday, James died within the family home at 18 Furnace Row in Newmains. A few months later, in August 1868, Mary was born. Followed by twins Bridget and Margaret in June 1871. In December of 1873 James and Elizabeth lost two more children when scarlet fever took both Mary and Margaret.

In March 1874 another Margaret was born and in 1877 their 12th and last child was born. They named him Daniel.

Life would not have been easy for Irish immigrants and James would have worked long hours in harsh conditions as a furnaceman. There would have been no time off to mourn the loss of his children or support his wife. Feeding his family meant working every day.

There came a point, however, when James could work no longer. In 1887 due to “bronchitis and debility” he was forced to seek poor relief. By that time he had been off work for 18 months and I imagine he must have received support from family in that time.

His initial application was in February 1887 and he was given relief of 3/- per week. The register (which is available to view at the Heritage Centre in Motherwell) states that at that time he was “unable for work and could not be moved without injury to health”. By April he was able for light work and “could be moved to Motherwell Combination Poorhouse”. It is unclear from the record if he was ever admitted to the poorhouse or remained at home.

There is so much information to be found in the poorhouse records. James’ record shows the details of all dependant children and children no longer living at home. I discovered that Catherine, Thomas and Elizabeth were married and that Catherine had left Scotland for America.

James died aged 57 on 12 May 1889 at the family home at Woodhall, Cambusnethan. The 1891 census shows Elizabeth residing with youngest child, Daniel. Elizabeth died in 1898.

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