mad in pursuit family history

more family history


about me


The Sea Cook: M. McCarty

I'm poking at the boundaries of our knowledge about the family history. My great-grandfather Moses Flanagan was born in Limerick in 1865. Nothing is known about his father, but his mother was M. McCarty. 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."

It 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.

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

A site called "Moving Here" [1] tells about crossing the Irish Sea in those days:

In the 19th century, the main routes to Britain were:

  • Ulster and North Connaught via Londonderry and Belfast to Glasgow

  • South Leinster and Munster via Cork to Bristol

  • 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 [2], the paddle steamers connecting with the mail train for a quick route between London and Dublin:

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 >>> ]



[1] Moving Here. 200 years of the immigration experience of England. Notes on the journey of the Irish to England in the 19th century.

[2] The Irish Mail route.


Known children
- went to Australia
Jeremiah "Jerry"  - married Bridget Mehan. lived in Chicago. According to my grandmother, Moses married Jerry's widow at some point, but it didn't work out
Timothy - lived in Chicago
Dennis - lived in Chicago
Moses - thought to be the youngest