As part of this project, a noted professional genealogist in Ireland, Paul MacCotter, was commissioned to investigate the many genealogical clues that Martin dropped in his confession. His report is listed below; but the upshot is that there is no definitive proof that John/Michael Martin was his real name, or that anything about his origins in Conahy, Kilkenny County can be confirmed.
The clues Martin gave in his confession:
–Born Connehy [sic Conahy] (7 miles from Kilkenny) on 9 APR 1795.
–Father: Joseph Martin, farmer
–Mother: Maria O’Hanlan
–Family had four sons and one daughter; John was the youngest son.
–At age 14 (1809), John Martin was apprenticed to his uncle, also named John Martin, at his large brewery in Kilkenny.
–At age 16 (1811), John Martin joined the United Irishmen, e.g. the “ribbonmen,” an Irish resistance secret society. Introduced by a member named Welsh, a mechanic in Connehy.
–In Spring 1812, John Martin went to Dublin where an uncle, John O’Hanlan lived and was a cloth dealer who resided at Thomas Street. His uncle spurned him, so John Martin sought out a cousin, Thomas Martin, who was head clerk at distillers Higgins, Rowe, and Higginbotham.
–While there, Martin frequented a dive called the Nine Steps. He wooed a servant girl of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, whose garden was next to the warehouse of Higgins, Rowe, and Higginbotham.
–Another uncle, Patrick Martin, who lived in the Connehy-Kilkenny area, died in 1812/13, but only left 2 shillings to John Martin.
–In 1816, John Martin met John Doherty, aka “Captain Thunderbolt,” in a public house about 5 miles from Connehy. Doherty was 30-40 years old, 6’1” in height. Doherty was ignorant of the secret signs used by Ribbonmen. “Captain Thunderbolt” had long been a highwayman in that part of Ireland, and recently had a bounty of 500 pounds for his head advertised. They left the public house separately and then met again at the ruins of a monastery about a mile away (4-6 miles from Connehy).
–Left Ireland from Waterford in March or April 1919 aboard brig Maria, bound for New York. Gave his name on the ship as “Michael O’Hanlan.”
–No relatives were mentioned in Martin’s will or last wishes.
It is safe to assume that Martin was familiar with central and southern Ireland, and with Dublin. His mention of the distiller “Nicholas, Rowe, and Higginbotham” refers to the malt whiskey operations of Nicholas Roe and his partner Henry Higginbotham. Nicholas Roe was related to the more famous George Roe distillers.
Paul MacCotter’s Report:
The records of the Catholic parish of Conahy begin in 1832 (baptism, marriage, burial) and so are of limited value here. A search of these on the Rootsireland database for the first thirty years or so found one marriage of a Martin couple in 1856 and no baptisms in the same period. The earliest comprehensive tax records of farmers in the civil parish of Grangemaccomb dates to 1834 and records no Martin farmers (Tithe Applotment). Grangemaccomb is approximately similar in area to the Catholic parish of Conahy.
Regarding the Dublin references, the main source here was commercial directories. Book refers to Joseph O’Hanlon of Thomas Street, Dublin, in 1812.
Wilson’s Directory of 1820 records: [No Josephs]
–John Hanlon, Oil and Fish merchant, Pill Lane, Dublin (now Chancery
Street near Thomas Street)
–John O’Hanlon, Skin and Feather merchant, Usher’s Street, Dublin
–Dublin Directory, 1803, nothing.
Book, p. 8 says ‘Nicholas, Rowe and Higginbotham’ and should clearly read
‘Nicholas Roe and Higginbotham’ in terms of distilling. Note the following:
–Pigot’s Directory, 1824, Nicholas Roe and Company, distillers, Bellvue,
–Treble Almanack, 1804, Nicholas Roe, distiller, Marrowbone Lane, Dublin
No Martin’s brewery or distillery found in Pigot’s Directory of 1824 in Kilkenny town. There was a major brewery, Smithwicks, there, founded in 1710.
Our earliest homestead record is Griffith’s Valuation of 1850. In Conahy parish there was just one Martin homestead, of Daniel Martin, lot 1 in Ardaloo townland, farming three acres and buildings valued at 15 shillings. One earlier reference to Daniel occurs, of August of 1848, mention his house and piggery,
held at will from the landlord.
Headstone inscriptions have been digitised in two of the three local cemeteries, Grangemaccomb and Conahy. One Mrs. Mary Martin of Newtown is mentioned in 1850 in Conahy. No mentions of any Martins in the parish in the flax growers list of 1796. Same in the fragments of the 1821 census which survive.
Two newspaper databases were searched. The Findmypast.uk base and the Irish Newspaper Archive. The search period was 1790 to 1820. The main newspapers were Finn’s Leinster Journal and the Freeman’s Journal, both covering all of the country. All relevant names and terms were searched.
On page 72 of the book mention is made of Sir William Morris, landlord of Joseph Martin, Michael/John’s father. An extensive search of Grangemaccomb and its surrounding five civil parishes did not reveal any such landlord, but this was in 1850. (Coolcragheen, Rathbeagh, Aharney, Donaghmore, Kilmacar)
The surname Martin is fairly common in Kilkenny but notin the Conahy area. I have included later references to Martins in Conahy as these may retrospectively as it were indicate earlier references to the surname here around the time of the subject of this research. I think the Dublin references on balance can be linked to Martin’s account, especially the Roe distillery ones and at least one of the others.
Notes on sources used
Griffiths Valuation is a land and property tax which lists the heads of all households in rural areas
and the rates on their home and lands. It dates from 1848 to the early 1860s and was published at
different times for different counties. In the absence of 19 th century census records it is the nearest
equivalent. The Valuation comes with maps showing homestead location and area of farms. Earlier
material survives for some counties, usually dating four to five years before the published Griffiths,
and this can contain additional data, such as the measurements of homesteads and details of rents
and leases. This material is the house and tenure books of the Valuation Office, now held in the
The Tithe Applotment Books are a collection of records by civil parish which record all farmers
holding more than two acres of land. These mostly date from the period 1825 to 1835, and record
acreage and land quality of farms, names of farmers, and amounts of tithe payable to the Protestant
State Church. They are another valuable census substitute.
Church records are normally older in initiation than civil registration records. Catholic records are
available on a number of websites, most of which are pay sites. The data on some of these sites have
been transcribed from the original register entries, and in others from microfilm of the originals, so
the quality varies. The value of these websites lies in their search engines, and these are again of
varying quality, from excellent to problematical. In some cases it is possible to link to the original
entry from the website and in other cases not. In these latter cases one must search the online and
unindexed photographs of the originals available on the National Library of Ireland website if one
wishes to view the originals, or visit the church and request access. Catholic records range in start
date from the late 1600s to the 1870s. The finish date for records on the websites ranges from 1880
to circa 1920. Between the various websites above approximately 95% of all 19th century and earlier
Catholic records are available online in searchable databases, most of the remainder must be
searched for manually as described above. A very small number of registers have yet to be copied.
Only around 40% of Protestant records survive from before 1878. Anglican (Episcopalian) records are
mostly housed in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin, while the National Archives has a
microfilm collection of many of these. In many cases the surviving Anglican and Presbyterian records
are available on the same websites as the Catholic records, but this is not true in all cases.