Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The James gang


On holidays in Ireland, my wife and I will sometimes ramble around an old cemetery, reading the gravestones, seeing which are the dominant surnames in the area and keeping our eyes out for unusual inscriptions.
Yesterday we visited St. Columba's Church of Ireland in Glencolmcille, an 1828 structure, built on the site of another Protestant place of worship, a good distance away from the main part of today's village and quite near to the old lightkeepers' cottages there. Some of the headstones are very ancient, mere rocks with no markings but there are a number of quite legible slabs dating back to the 1700s and others with interesting hieroglyphics depicting freemason membership! The dominant surname, far and away, is Maxwell, with Blain being a long-distant second.
Located just up the road from the cottages where the off duty lightkeepers from Rathlin O'Beirne lived, I had idly wondered if any old keepers or their wives or offspring were buried there, as many of them had been Protestant. Thus I came across the grave in the photo above of William James and his wife Louise.
As you can see, the headstone contains the Irish Lights corporate logo with "In Salutem Omnium" underneath the picture of the lighthouse and light vessel. Does anybody know if this was an option for former keepers, provided by Irish Lights or would the family have had to fork out for this themselves?

The former keepers' cottages in Glencolmcille

The James family were a well-known lightkeeping dynasty in Ireland. William Henry James was born in Cork in 1841 and his father, also William, was a lightkeeper. In 1868, William Henry James married Eliza Jane Brunell, herself a part of a lightkeeping family. The Brunells aka Brownells originated in county Meath and spawned many a keeper and a keeper's wife down through the years
William Henry James and Eliza had two sons who both became keepers. 
Richard Henry James(Service no 119) was born in 1871 at St. John's Point, Donegal. One of his sons was called William, born 1907. Actually, he was called William Jervis James (Jervis Brownell (5) was an old Brownell keeper) and went through life known as Bill. He had a long career, finishing up on the Skelligs 1956 - 60 before becoming attendant at Donaghadee from 1966 to 1982. Despite the name he is NOT the William James buried in Glencolmcille.
William and Eliza's other lightkeeping son was called George William James(139) born 1875. In 1902, he married Annie Jane Brownell - yes, really - daughter of George H. Brownell(6). Two of their sons - George(329) (1904) and William Frederick (350) (1910) both became keepers.
William (1910) was born at Dursey Sound and is the keeper buried in Glencolmcille. He seems to have developed an affinity for the place. His wife - Louise Maxwell - was from there and they married there in 1941. It appears from the clipping below that William might have adopted his second name, Frederick, to avoid confusion with his cousin.
And, as the photo above shows, they were buried there too.


  1. Another lighthouse dynasty Pete

  2. Yes, they're everywhere! There was a guy back in the 70s who used to publish Rock Family Trees - say Wilko Johnson was in Dr Feelgood and then joined the Ian Dury Band before forming the Solid Senders, where he played with someone who was in Eddie and the Hot Rods etc. I really think that Irish Lighthouse Family Trees would be a good idea because all the older families are related in some way!