My great, great grandfather Jeremiah Cronin was born in County Cork in around 1837.

He had a somewhat peripatetic life, living variously in Belfast, Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast again. At one time Jeremiah worked as a baker but at various points in his life his occupation was also recorded as "labourer", "street musician", "hawker" and "dealer".

His wife, my great, great grandmother Theresa Mullally was born in Dublin city in 1849. She and Jeremiah Cronin met and married whilst he was working in Dublin. They had at least six children - Theresa, William, Joseph, Mary, Lizzie and Sammy.

Interestingly, all but one of the children was born in England. The oldest, Theresa, married Hugh O'Hare on 9 February 1895 at St Mary's church in Belfast. Both she and her husband are recorded as working as "hawkers".

I have been told two stories about William Cronin, both of which appear to have originally emanated from Bernie Brown, my grandmother's sister. The first story, relayed via Bernie's nephew Brian McGivern, is that one day William Cronin went out to buy a loaf of bread and was never seen again. The second, relayed via Bernie's niece May O'Toole, is that William became a professional clog dancer in England. It has not been possible to verify either story.

Joseph Cronin appears to have died young.

Mary Cronin was born on 26 March 1868 and married a man called Charlie O'Reilly. Mary, as a typical Cronin, is listed as a "hawker" by profession. Her husband Charlie is listed as a flax dresser. Flax dressers were workers who carried out the early stages of preparing raw fibre, such as Jute and flax, for spinning. This involved the use of "hackle-pins" and fluted rollers to comb and soften the fibre. Mary and Charlie had only one child, Charles, born in 1928.

Elizabeth Cronin is my great grandmother. She was born at 44 Oriel Street, Liverpool, on 25 November 1874.

Lizzie Cronin's birth certificate

 

Jeremiah Cronin died in Belfast in 1894, two years after his daughter Lizzie had married my great grandfather Arthur McGivern. His wife Theresa Cronin died in 1907.

Sammy Cronin, was the only one of Jeremiah and Theresa's children to be born in Ireland (in Dublin to be precise). During the First World War Sammy Cronin joined the second battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles as a volunteer rifleman. Sammy spent virtually all of the war in Belgium and northern France on the so-called "Western Front", a line of interconnecting trenches which stretched from the Belgian coast all the way to the Franco-Swiss border. The Royal Irish Rifles were involved in some of the key battles of the war. Initially assigned to the 25th Division, they fought in the first Battle of the Somme in 1916.

 

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Riflemen from the Royal Irish Rifles resting in a communications trench during the Battle of the Somme. The photograph was taken on 1 July 1916

The Royal Irish Rifles were subsequently transferred to the 74th Brigade, and fought in the Battle of Ypres in 1917. Later, in early 1918 and as part of the  36th Ulster Division they fought in Flanders in the First battle of the Lys. There was massive loss of life on both sides in this battle and the 36th Ulster Division suffered the heaviest losses of all of the 7,310 allied dead, although Sammy Cronin was one of the survivors.

 At 4.15am on 9th April 1918, an intense bombardment of high-explosive and gas shells burst over British and Portuguese positions on a 10-mile front south of Armentieres. Within hours at least eight German divisions swept forward through thick fog and smoke and by the following morning they had established an offensive front several miles into the British and Allied troops' lines. Many of the British troops that tried to resist the advance were still weakened from the Somme offensive which had ended some four days earlier, and the Germans were able to make rapid headway.

It was on the following day of the German offensive, 10 April 1918, during fierce fighting at Messines in what became known as the Battle of the Lys, that Sammy Cronin was killed. He was thirty six years old. On 11 April 1918, the day after Sammy's death, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued his now famous "Order of the Day" in which he proclaimed, "With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end."

Sammy had been married to Ellen Benjamin, known as Nelly and they had three children - Francis, Mary and Theresa, all of them very young at the time of their father's death. Nelly later remarried but was widowed for a second time. She married for a third time, to a man named George Tennyson, but the marriage collapsed not long afterwards, apparently due to Nelly's heavy drinking.