Mad in Pursuit Notebook

City of Dublin Steam Packet Co for mail service betw Dublin and Holyhead, 19th c. postcard

The Sea Cook: M. McCarty Flanagan

Every so often I poking at the boundaries of our knowledge about the family history. My great-grandfather Moses Flanagan was born in Limerick about 1865, said to be the youngest of five boys [1]. Nothing is known about his father, but his mother was "M. McCarty."[2] According to family lore, M. McCarty Flanagan worked as a cook on a boat in the Irish Sea and Moses liked to refer to himself as a "son of a sea cook."[3]

Irish SeaIt got me thinking. What did it mean to be a sea cook on the Irish Sea in the mid-19th century?

While the Irish were pouring out of the country to go to America in the second half of the 19th century, they were also pouring into England. In addition, there were ships to carry the mail.

So I'm thinking it's likely she worked on one of those big steamers.

A site called "Moving Here" [now archived] tells about crossing the Irish Sea in the 19th century: Ulster and North Connaught via Londonderry and Belfast to Glasgow; South Leinster and Munster via Cork to Bristol; and Connaught and Leinster via Dublin to Parkgate, Liverpool or Holyhead.

Since it's been passed down that Moses "went to school in Dublin," it's safe to assume his mother worked one of the Dublin routes.

...In the 19th century, voyages could be risky and conditions were often extremely unpleasant; for those travelling as deck passengers, the conditions were sometimes inferior to those provided for cattle. Some passengers died from exposure if conditions were rough.

Vessels were sometimes wrecked...

There were no proper controls on the numbers of passengers travelling on a particular ship, and ticket agents simply sold as many tickets as they could. This led to dangerous overcrowding, especially when weather conditions were bad and deck passengers needed shelter. Seventy two passengers, travelling from Sligo to Liverpool on the Londonderry, suffocated to death in December 1848...

She might have worked on the Irish Mail, the steamers connecting with the mail trains:

A through sea/railway service began in 1848, when the Chester-to-Holyhead railway was completed. The first Irish Mail train left Euston Station in London at 8.45pm on 1 August 1848, due to arrive at Holyhead at 6.45am the following morning. Four new mail packets (boats) were provided by the Admiralty, all paddle steamers - Banshee, Caradoc, Llewelyn and St Columba.

In 1850, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company took over this steamship service; later, the contract went to the London North Western Railway Company. By 1885, journey times on the London to Dublin night mail had been cut to ten hours and 20 minutes.

It can't have been an easy life for Moses' mother -- back and forth in notoriously stormy seas. Where was his father? Moses must have spent a lot of time alone. If we have found the correct record of his passage to America, in June of 1882, somewhere between the ages of 16 and 20, he took off to find his fortune. [More about Moses >>> ]

Mar. 2, 2005 (Updated May 17, 2016)


[1] Known children [oral history, KBPrice]:

[2] I must have gotten "M. McCarty" from some document, but now I can't figure out the source.

[3] The euphemism "son of a sea cook" was made famous in the movie "Arsenic and Old Lace" where it was substituted for the play's "I'm a bastard!" I can only guess that the phrase was common before that time, since Moses died in 1920.


Books by Susan Barrett Price:

THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.



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