Rediscovered Books! “Swords: A Social History” by Francis W. Coleman

Fingal Libraries
by Fingal Libraries on September 13, 2017.

I was tidying the store room in Swords library where all the older non-fiction stock is kept when I came across a gem of a book called Swords: A Social History. It stopped me in my tracks when I read the first page, a letter dated the 19th of September 1977 from the author’s son, […]

I was tidying the store room in Swords library where all the older non-fiction stock is kept when I came across a gem of a book called Swords: A Social History. It stopped me in my tracks when I read the first page, a letter dated the 19th of September 1977 from the author’s son, R. O’Colmáin, sent to the Central Public Library, Pearse Street, Dublin.  I had a feeling of curious nostalgia. The letter requested that Mr O’Colmáin’s father, who was a native of Swords, have his essays, photographs and drawings bound and held in the New Swords library. His father, Francis W. Coleman, now deceased, had written the essays ten years previously. He also asked for his father to be acknowledged by anyone subsequently using the history as a reference.

Letter from the author’s son, R. O’Colmáin, sent to the Central Public Library, Pearse Street, Dublin.

Letter from the author’s son, R. O’Colmáin, sent to the Central Public Library, Pearse Street, Dublin.

The preface is so poignant to me. It’s a son asking for his father’s work to be recorded and remembered for the future generations of Swords.  He seems extremely proud of his father for going to the trouble of compiling his memories for prosperity. He wanted his Dad’s knowledge not to be lost but shared and remembered. He recounts that his father had died in 1973, aged 81, which coincidently was the Feast of St. Francis and that he was the last surviving brother of a family of eleven, most of whom took an active part in the development of the new Irish State.

The book is a series of essays typed on an old typewriter, bound with a brown hardback cover with the title inscribed using embossed gold.

Front Book Cover, with the title inscribed using embossed gold

Front Book Cover, with the title inscribed using embossed gold

In the first essay written in 1964, Francis recalls his earliest years from 1892 to 1900. He talks of the Spanish American war (1898) and his first recollection of Irish Nationality. He describes how his Uncle Patrick decorated him and others with strands of ivy and thought them to sing “Who fears to speak of ’98”. It was the first centenary of the United Irishmen Rebellion and his uncle told them to sing the song passing the R. I. C. Barracks; they were surprised when the police chased them away. In this essay he also recalls his schooling and a visit to Dublin by the Queen.

In the second essay he describes the houses and their inhabitants in 1900. Starting at Pennock Hill, he gives a very concise detailed layout of the thatched cottages, farms, pubs and houses in the village and its surroundings. He not only names the families who occupied each dwelling at the time but gives lovely anecdotes in between the deluge of information. Apparently there were two Peter Earleys, a small farmer and a big farmer. The small farmer was nicknamed “Wretch Earley,” as he used to shout the word “wretch” at his “very restive old black mare,” and so the nickname of the horse became its master’s. Some of the names included are: Savages (veg shop, grocers, sweep); Weldons (grocers); and Kellys (sweet shop). That’s just a taster—there are too many to mention!

The mound of information is staggering in his essays. He describes public buildings, transport, amusements, scenic spots and politics. He lists the names of the tradesmen, harness makers through to millers (three mills were working at the time), plus a list of the prices of living essentials in 1900.

List of the prices of living essentials in 1900

List of the prices of living essentials in 1900

This book is in the reference section of the now old Swords library and is there to be read by anyone who is interested in knowing about the families and history of Swords—where they worked and where they lived at the beginning of the 1900s. It is a credit to Francis W. Colman and his son Risteard O’Colmáin who spent their precious time recalling and documenting the past the way they saw it, for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Library Ref: Coleman, Francis W. Swords: A Social History. 941.83/SWO

Swords Library has a collection of  local history material on Swords and surrounding areas in Fingal. The Library is situated on the Rathbeale Road – click on the link for opening hours, contact details and directions to the library.

In addition, Fingal Local Studies and Archives collect and preserve material relating to the history and heritage of Fingal County. You can access our collections in the Reading Room of Fingal Local Studies Library and Archives, Clonmel House, Forster Way, Swords, Co. Dublin

By Enda Greene, Swords Library, Fingal County Libraries