Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hennigan, Henigan, Hanigan, Shenanigans


The word 'shenaningan' sounds like it should be of Irish origin. Some think it comes from the Irish gaelic sionnachuighim meaning 'I play the fox'. In researching my Hennigan- Henigan-Hanigan ancestry I have already come across some funny shenanigans which are certainly of Birmingham Irish origin.

My great-great-grandfather Thomas Curley married Jane Hennigan in 1888, which was about four years after their son my great-grandfather, also called Thomas Curley, was born. I posted previously about how I have found it hard to confirm documentarily my family's view that Jane Hennigan was the mother of my great-grandfather as I haven't been able to find Thomas Curley jnr's birth certificate. Things may change soon as I have ordered Thomas & Jane's marriage certificate and am in the process of hiring a researcher to search the Birmingham Roman Catholic registers. (update here).

Nevertheless, I have started to follow Jane Hennigan's family history, and indeed studying the history of the Hennigan-Henigan-Hanigan name (in its various spellings) in Birmingham. This was prompted by a helpful email from someone who had seen me post about the Hennigan name on the Birmingham Rootsweb list. The correspondent is also descendend from one of the Birmingham Hennigans. The below is the product of her research, of which I am very thankful, and some extra findings by myself. Needless to say, I have to prove a lot of the relationships with some extra documentary evidence, but I am confident the following is accurate. Throughout this article I will spell the Hennigan name how it appears in the individual record.

The Birmingham Hennigans
The Irish have a long history in Birmingham. Although the Irish had been coming to Birmingham for centuries, large scale immigration did not occur until the early 1800s, with the largest influx occurring around the time of the Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

Looking at the 1871 census for Birmingham, I can find only a few families with the Hanagan surname. The first is Fergus Hanagan, b.1811, Roscommon, Ireland, with his wife and son. Two houses away is a Martin Hanigan, b.1809, Roscommon, Ireland. It is very probable that Fergus and Martin are brothers. Fergus is listed as a labourer while Martin was a rag gatherer. They are both living on London Prentice Street, a street that is particularly renowned for being 'Irish'. According to one poster on a rootsweb mailing list, it was apparently a very hard place to live; it was so rough that policeman were forced to go around in twos, and several gangs roamed the street. Among these were a gang known as 'cappies' who carried razor blades sewn into the front of their caps. This article by Carl Chinn describes more about the history of the Irish Birmingham. In it, Chinn recalls how:

"...over in Birmingham one author welcomed the disappearance of London Prentice Street in the late 19th Century as the sweeping away of a "nasty, dirty, stinking street" in which children could learn lessons of depravity; and in 1863, a reporter from the Birmingham Gazette damned the people of the street as a mixture of the worst class of Irish and regular thieves. In a unique voice from the Irish poor of this period, J Goffey responded to this slur. He was resident at 13 London Prentice Street and explained there was no more than one house harbouring thieves. J Goffey went on to object to the condemnation of 700 Irish for the evil doings of a few."

Elsewhere in 1871, at Water Street there is a James Hannagan (b. Ireland, 1843) living with his wife and son. Living at Cottage Yard in the St. George district is a William Hinighan (b. Birmingham, 1855) is living in lodgings. Both of these 'Hennigan's are bricklayer's labourers.

The final family found in the 1871 census is a Michael Hanigan (b.1832, Ireland) and his wife Catherine (b.1840, Ireland). Their children are called Mary A (b.1862), Jane (b.1863), John (b.1865), Catherine (b.1867) & Margaret (b.1869). Michael is working as a bricklayer's labourer and the family is living in one room at 4 C 2 H Windmill St. in the St. Thomas part of Birmingham.

Michael & Catherine Hennigan
It is highly likely that Jane Hennigan, the daughter of Micahel & Catherine, is the Jane Hanigan who eventually marries Thomas Curley. (update here). The couple had two more children, Ellen and James. In 1881, times have been hard for Michael and he appears in the Birmingham Workhouse at Western Road. Catherine Hennigon is living at Beak St. with her children John, Jane and Catherine. Catherine is working as a laundress, Jane is a spoon polisher, Catherine jnr is a wire drawer, and John is a filer of brass casts. Their is also a grandchild also called John, who may be an illigetimate child of Jane - see below and this post. In what may be described as a shenanigan, Catherine Hennigan says that she is a widow even though Michael is still alive.

The four youngest children - Margaret, Ellen, James and Michael are all inmates at the newly opened Marston Green Cottage Homes (part of the Birmingham Workhouse system - see link for pictures). These cottage homes had been established the previous year to house pauper children over the age of three years. It was organised as a "village" located away from the workhouse in an airy rural setting.

Michael Hannigan died four years later in 1885, aged 51 according to this GRO reference -
"Michael Hannigan - MAR 1885 Birmingham 6d 121".

Catherine Hennighan was still alive and working as a laundress in 1891, living at Beak St. with her children Ellen and James, who were obviously now out of the workhouse. By this time, of course, Jane had married Thomas Curley - In the census entry Thomas is called William see this post
- the illigetimate son from the 1881 census, John Hennigan, is now known as John Curley. Thomas and Jane are both spoon polishers.

By 1901 Catherine Hennigan was unemployed and still living at Beak St, with her unmarried daughter Mary who was working as a spoon polisher. Two doors away another daughter Ellen, was living with her husband Thomas Moore.

The earlier life of Michael & Catherine Hennigan
Where were Michael and Catherine Hennigan living prior to 1871? And when did they arrive in England? In 1861 we find them married and living in Birmingham in a room on Tindal St. and Michael is working as a paper maker. Catherine is only 21 while Michael is 28 - given how young Catherine is the marriage may have occurred in England, but I have not found the GRO index. Also in 1861 living next door to Michael and Catherine is a John Hennigan who is lodging with Timothy Ward and is six years younger than Michael - It is highly likely that they are related and probably even brothers. I cannot find Michael Hennigan earlier than 1861. It will be tough to know where in Ireland my Hennigans came from, but given that many other Hennigans in 1871 came from Roscommon, Michael Hennigan may have also. As with my other Birmingham-Irish ancestors, I am going to have to search through the Roman Catholic registers.

If you are interested in the Hennigan name itself, please visit the Heneghan information pages which contain much information about Hennigans everywhere!

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