In 1875, Kathleen Ferguson was born to Robert Ferguson, a judge of the Cork County Court. By 1900, she had gained a first degree with honours from the Dublin School of Cookery. She taught cookery to a class of nearly 200 students in the Presentation Convent, Bagenalstown, Carlow, where she was described in the Nationalist and Leinster Times as having ‘high qualifications and unremitting energy’.
In 1908, Kathleen sued her second cousin Dr Malcolm Ferguson for alleged breach of a promise of marriage. Malcom had moved to Preston. She was looking for £3,000 in damages but received £500. On the day of the court case, the gallery was filled with ladies who had hoped to hear some gossip. They were sadly disappointed as the case was settled between the lawyers before speaking with the judge.
In 1901, she was living in a boarding house in Catherine Place, Limerick and was described in the census of that year as a ‘Lady Cookery Organizer’. She published at least seven advice books for children between 1900 and 1908 with titles such as “Hints on good manners for the use of children”, “Sick room cookery with notes on sick nursing”, “Elementary lessons in laundry work” and “Catechism of domestic sciences. For the use of children”.
Her book “Lessons on Cookery and Housewifery” contained advertisements from local Limerick businesses Matterson’s and Shaw’s bacon factories and Geary’s biscuit factory. It included recipes such as how to boil a pig’s head, how to stuff a sheep’s heart and how to make a soda plum cake. She also gave tips on how to make a bed, how to wash glassware and how to polish boots. You can read some of her recipes and tips by searching the hashtag #1901Cooking on Twitter.
Catholic Ireland is historically known for its large families and Limerick was no different. There were three women in Limerick in 1911 who had given birth to 20 children. The youngest of these was 46-year-old Kate Blake. Of her twenty children, only ten were still alive in 1911. Five of her sons – with ages ranging from seven to twenty – were living with her and her husband John, a general labourer, in New Street. Their house was deemed a second-class house, with two windows at the front and the family occupying three rooms. Ten years earlier they were living in Mount Vincent’s Cottages, with six of their children and a boarder in a two-bedroom house.
There were 16 of Mary Borough’s 20 children still living in 1911. Mary was aged 65 and living on Wolfe Tone Street at the time. None of her children were living with her and her husband Robert, who was a horse dealer at the time. Their 12-year-old granddaughter Mary Egan was staying with them on the night of the census. They also occupied a second-class house.
However, they had three rooms to share between only three people and had three windows in the front. Ten years earlier, the couple were living in a two-roomed house in Dixon’s Lane with two of their children and a grandchild. Interestingly, their youngest child Frederick Borough was the same age as their granddaughter Theresa Carr.
The third mother of 20 was 53-year-old Mary Horgan who lived in Caher, near Abbeyfeale. As with Kate Blake, only 10 of Mary’s children survived until 1911 and five were still living with her and her husband William Maurice Horgan. The Horgan family spoke both English and Irish. As with the two large city families, the Horgans also lived in a second-class house. This time they shared only two rooms between seven people. Ten years earlier, the house was even more crowded as eight of their children were still in the family home.
Some of those children came in groups, as in August 1824, when a woman in Manister gave birth to quadruplets: two sons and two daughters, all of whom survived. It would be another 138 years before another set of quadruplets were born in Limerick. In 1962, Nora Peppard of Broad Street, gave birth to three boys and a girl at St Anthony’s Nursing Home. In 2014, Grace Slattery of Caherconlish gave birth in Dublin to three girls and a boy. Fellow Caherconlish woman Lisa Fenton became mother to the most recent set of Limerick-born quads: two boys and two girls, born in the Regional Maternity Hospital in 2016.
As children grew in Limerick they became involved in some interesting extracurricular activities. For a period of at least six years from 1909, under the guidance of Rev William O’Leary, the students of Mungret College used a seismograph to measure the size and distance of earthquakes. In 23 April 1909, they recorded an earthquake that occurred 1,340 miles from Limerick, which lasted 63 minutes and 30 seconds. They later discovered that the epicentre, near Benavente (Spain), was the largest crustal earthquake in the Iberian Peninsula during the 20th century. The college also recorded an earthquake that hit Iceland on 22 January of that year which reached Limerick with such intensity that the seismograph used was not capable of recording its full force and was ‘thrown out of gear’. In April 1911, there were 179 boarders and 15 professors in Mungret College. Of the students, eleven were born in the USA, three in England and one in Australia.
It was not all fun and games for children a hundred years ago. Many had to leave school at a very young age to help with the family finances. In 1911, the four surviving children of Michael Nash and Mary Nash (née Rourke) of 12 Island Road were working in Cleeve’s toffee factory. Their children were Margaret, 16, Teresa, 15, Sarah, 13 and Agnes Mary who was only 12 years old. Their eldest daughter Madeline also worked in Cleeve’s before her death in 1909 of T.B. She was only 16 years old.
Madeline was buried in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery.
The hazards of everyday life were very apparent for children at the turn of the last century. On 16 June 1896, Joseph Toohill, age 30, a labourer of 3 Palmerstown (Seymour’s Lane) rescued 12-year-old Kate O’Brien, of Fogerty Lane. Kate was playing by the quay when she fell into the Shannon, which was at high tide. She was sinking fast and Toohill jumped in, pulling her to safety. The Committee of the Royal Humane Society, London, later honoured him for gallantry.
Tuesday, 20 June 1899, was an exciting day in the Crescent College school calendar as it was their annual college sports day in the Market’s Field. One of the competitors was 11-year-old Patrick Joseph Keating, the eldest son of Richard Keating and Julia Keating (née Connolly) of 2 Alphonsus Terrace. His mother was only 17 when she married the 38-year-old Richard in St Michael’s Church in 1887. Patrick had arrived at the Market’s Field early that day, at half past twelve, to exercise his cob, a sturdy, short-legged horse. When the animal, which was standing, slipped and fell on its side, it landed on its rider who sustained an injury to the brain. He was rushed to the County Infirmary (today this building is the Limerick College of Further Education) on Mulgrave Street where every effort was taken to save him, but he passed away four hours later.
He was buried two days later in his mother’s family grave in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery. Despite this tragedy and the inclement weather, the sports day continued. Francis Vincent Monsell, Lady Emly of Tervoe and Rev Gill distributed prizes.
These included awards for J Halpin, who won the first division ‘One Mile Bicycle’ race, while H Spillane won the second division ‘One Mile Bicycle’ race. W Spain received the gold medal in the sack race. J Halpin won the 100-yard race, J Spain took the top spot in the 220-yard race and finally the 400-yard race was won by P Kennedy. The event concluded with music from the Cheshire regiment and a fireworks display.