Irelands record keeping is absymal...most of the census records were burnt when the Post Office in Dublin was set on fire...some were pulped to help the war effort...though quite why Ireland wanted to help the war effort is anyone's guess...and births, marriages and deaths are decidedly iffy...a few priests just didn't bother writing down when they buried anyone or a married a couple...could have been due to pure idleness or may be because they were illiterate.
And I can't remember the actual dates, though I ought to...it was quite a while before the powers that be decided proper records needed to be kept and submitted each year to the Bishop.
Then you have the added complication of Catholic records needing to be hidden away because practising the faith under British Rule was forbidden...and incurred severe penalties should you be caught doing so.
Most of the Annals survive...they were history as it happened written by learned men as far back as the 9th and 10th c...they are mostly kept in Trinity College...but are only for those who are able to read Old Irish and Latin...
Court records exist...and most are quite unpleasant...people hanged for what we would nowadays consider a trivial offence and very many of those transported to Van Diemen's Land...the usual sentence was transportation for life.
And there are fairly extensive records of those who emigrated...even during the Great Famine records were kept of who was travelling where...as long as the researcher keeps in mind many people had no idea of their date of birth or even how to spell their name correctly.
Local history comes from word of mouth...especially social history. I've learned far more by listening to older people talk than I've ever have done from reading books. Sometimes there'll be a collective book written and privately published about the history of a particular Townland...but they aren't very well written actually and you don't glean much in the way of new information from them.
So the social historian in Ireland needs to haunt the Doctor's waiting rooms and chat to old men standing on the street corner...buy a glass of Guinness for the two old boys propping up the bar in the 'pub...accept the offer of a cup of tea and a slice of Soda bread from the lady you meet in the supermarket...
It is those people who have the stories to tell of Wakes which lasted a full three days and pipes of baccy laid out on the coffin...of walking to school with their boots tied by the laces round their necks to save wear...they will tell you exactly where the illegal still was that their Father used to collect his Whiskey and the day the Polis came and raided it...and they know about the politics of the War of Independence and wasn't Michael Collins the grandest fellow at all...
Much of their conversation is concerned with events their Father or Grandfather told them...not those they actually lived through themselves. They'll tell of the day the Black and Tans took six men out of a farmhouse and shot them dead...evil bastards they were so...but it will be a tale they are often repeating from an Uncle who was there at the time.
Absolutely the most stunning story I've ever heard was when I was researching the deviant burial grounds...I had a letter from an elderly man who told me he could clearly remember his Grandfather being responsible for collecting the bodies of those who had died during the previous night during the Great Famine...he had a canvas sling into which he'd roll the corpse and then lift it onto his shoulder to carry it to the nearest cillin...his friend would dig a rudimentary grave and they'd say a quick prayer before collecting the next person.
It's doubtful he could actually remember those days...but it was a story he'd been told often enough for it to stay clearly in his memory.
I've heard tales about Oliver Cromwell which sound as though he was about last week...and of course the local Bishop accused me of having been in cahoots with Cromwell himself which I considered rather rude actually...especially when he followed that by asking would I ever catch and dispose of his feral cats...
Max suggested I look through the town records for any likely tale relating to the ghost children I saw...and there lies the biggest problem...what records? We can often only discover hidden gems of information by talking and listening and asking the right questions...not from carefully kept and neatly written records stored away in some library...
The terrible death of Captain Jack I found out about while talking to my friend Eoghan...there is a monument to him now by the side of the road where he was dragged from a farmhouse and beaten to death by the Black and Tans...they refused to allow him to be buried and surrounded the graveyard armed to the teeth...his followers simply waited them out and when they'd gone, quietly buried him against the graveyard wall...the farmhouse and its betraying occupants was burned to the ground.
There are no written records of Captain Jacks betrayal and death...the simple stone cross, with brief wording, by the side of the road was erected by his family...his memory and story live on in the man who ensures his grave is kept tidy and people like Eoghan whose Father was one of those who carried his body to the graveyard.
Books there are a-plenty telling the stories of the old Kings and the Famines...of the days of the French and of Cromwell's excesses...but for the small stories of quiet people who were armed for freedom...of the personal tales of stealing a piece of turf to take to school for the fire...or the need to be 'churched' after giving birth...of still born babies left out on the dung heap...of the ghosts of small children who appeared one hazy summers afternoon...for those tales you need to rely on collective memory from the people who remember a story they heard while sitting by the hearth when the neighbours were gathered round for a pipe and a glass.