Graham Norton - or Graham William Walker, as he was born - left Ireland when he was young and hasn't looked back - until now. He always felt out of place, growing up in a small Protestant family in the predominantly Catholic south of Ireland. But he now admits that he feels drawn to the country, and wonders if his discoveries might change his view of Ireland. There is only one way to find out.
Graham begins his journey on the trail of his great grandmother, Mary. On her daughter's birth certificate, she is listed as Mary Reynolds, formerly Dooey. But a handwritten document in his mother's possession tells Graham that there was some confusion over her name, and that she was also known as Mary Logan. There is a mystery here. Was there something to hide?
Graham tracks down Mary's marriage certificate of 1895, where she is listed as Mary Logan. No father's name is provided, suggesting that Mary was illegitimate. From baptism records of Mary's children, Graham realises that she must have been eight months' pregnant at the time of her wedding - and recognises the shame that this held in her society. Graham also locates Mary's own baptism record, where she is Mary Jane Logan. So where does Dooey come from? The answer is nestled in the baptism records of one of Mary's siblings, where the father was listed as Fred Dooey, but the name has been scratched out. It is very likely that Fred Dooey was Mary's father, but was not married to her mother when the children were born. Thus Graham has solved the mystery of the Dooey name, and recognises how unusual it was for Mary's mother to have produced four children out of wedlock - and to remain living in the same community throughout. Her 'misdemeanours' must therefore have been accepted, and Graham is pleased to see it.
Graham then turns his attention to his southern Irish Protestant roots, hoping to discover how far back they go. His paternal grandfather, George Walker, was sexton of the Protestant church in Carnew. Land valuation records reveal that George's father was William (and his grandfather Joseph) and was a tenant of the Fitzwilliam Estate - in other words, he was linked to English Protestant planters. Joseph was a pillar of the Protestant community - vestry minutes at Carnew show that he was a churchwarden, which meant that he had the right to levy taxes from Protestants and Catholics alike for the upkeep of the Protestant Church of Ireland.
Still hot on the trail, Graham uses parish records and the Fitzwilliam estate papers to push the family back another three generations, including Thomas, who lived in Carnew through the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when the town was a royalist stronghold, and Carnew Castle the scene of a famous massacre of Catholics. The records show that a certain John Walker, almost certainly a relation, was shot and piked whilst fighting for the royalist cause.
But Graham has still more to discover. With the help of the Fitzwilliam Estate Papers, Hearth Tax records and baptism registers, he is able to trace his first ancestor who went from Yorkshire to Ireland - in about 1713.
And so, although surprised to be a Yorkshireman, Graham declares that he is comforted that his family have resided in Ireland for so many generations and pleased to be rooted so deeply in history.
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