Robbie’s maternal Grandfather Jack Farrell was a big influence on his early life, but what is the family story behind the name? Hopefully this article will help explain some of that in the context of the hard working Irish immigrants in the Collieries and Iron Works of Tunstall area of “The Potteries” around Stoke-On-Trent.
So the story begins with Michael Farrell born around 1785 and living in County Kilkenny in Ireland. Michael married Mary Bergin around 1808, and they raised a family of two girls and two boys (Mary, Bridget, Pat, and Daniel) at St John’s Green Kilkenny in the early 1800s. We don’t know much about the family at this time, other than that they were Catholic, and Michael was most likely a Labourer on the surrounding farmland.
Kilkenny Town at this time was divided between an “English” and an “Irish” town, which grew up respectively from the stronghold of the occupying Norman/English forces of the Strongbows and the settlement of the Native Irish. So there was a real social divide, but not an insurmountable one at the higher levels of society.
Despite these political upheavals, an even bigger event to change the lives of the working class locals happened in 1848 when the railway line reached Kilkenny, this would transform journeys that would have previously taken days to a few hours, and open up the travel out of the area to anyone with the price of a train fare in their pocket.
Pat Farrell born 1816
St John’s Green
For the Farrells the 1840s were also a time of change and growth; Michael’s son Pat married Anne Butler on 24th May 1842 in St John’s Church Kilkenny. In 1843 the family were living in William’s Lane, St John’s. They had six children between 1843 and 1861 (James, John, Thomas, Patrick, Mary, and Anne) all born in St John’s Green Kilkenny.
The 1840s also heralded the advent of the Great Famine during which so many people in Ireland died or emigrated. Kilkenny was much luckier than many parts, being propserous with good communications and excellent farmland meaning that the poor were not dependant on Potatoes as their only crop. However the famine squeezed the whole Irish economy, and it is interesting to see that between 1845 and 1861 there are no children born to Pat and Anne, there could be many reasons for this, but given that they had children regularly on either side of this gap, and there is no sign that Pat had left the area, it seems likely that the family did not have enough to eat during the famine time, and that affected the couple’s fertility for a period of time. Once the worst of the famine had passed in 1853, the couple moved to 5 Ballybought Street, Pennefather’s Lot, St John’s.