03 December 2022

120 Years Ago ... A Tragic Accident: the Death of a Child of Belfast Deaf Parents

Warning: this post may be upsetting to read for some people.
John Creaney and Mary Ellen (or just Ellen) Connell were a Belfast Deaf couple who had married in 1901. Both had attended the Cabra schools.
Ellen was originally from Co. Cavan, and in 1901, lived on Brougham St; she worked as a smoother in a laundry.
Census of Ireland 1901: Brougham St, Belfast. Source: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Antrim/Duncairn_Ward/Brougham_Street/957010/
John worked as a tailor, and in 1901 lived in an interesting household on Lisbon St. The head of the house was Sarah Jane Park Ervine, mother of future Belfast playwright John Greer Ervine. John Creaney was one of four Deaf boarders with the Ervines at Lisbon St, and the house contained Deaf members of the Church of Ireland, Catholics and a Presbyterian. Kate McGoldrick, a Deaf Catholic woman also boarding with the Ervines in 1901, was a witness at their 1901 wedding. (John had been married twice before, but his previous wives had passed away.)
Census of Ireland 1901: Lisbon St, Belfast. Source:http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Down/Pottinger/Lisbon_Street/1214931/
When they married they ended up living at 12 Well Street, and in October of 1902 Ellen gave birth to a daughter, Honoria, born in their home. But tragedy struck when Honoria was six weeks old - the child died, and an inquest was held to find out what had happened.

1902 civil birth and death records for Honoria Creany. Source: www.irishgenealogy.ie
The inquest used the services of an interpreter named J. Stewart. Stewart would have used Northern Irish variant of BSL, but John and Ellen may have been familiar with BSL from living with Protestant boarders and socialising in the Belfast Deaf community. (John and Ellen were listed since at least 1914 as Catholic "Members and Adherents of the Mission Hall" in Belfast for Deaf adults, the members being mostly Church of Ireland and Presbyterian, but a substantial minority of Catholics.) Also present was the Superintendent of the Belfast Deaf Mission - Francis Maginn. He may have present as an emotional support to the Creaneys in this most distressing time, or even acted as a Deaf interpreter, working between Stewart's BSL to Irish Sign Language
Source: Irish News and Belfast Morning News, 3 December 1902, p. 6. Note that Honoria's name is misspelled in the report as 'Ferona'.

Ellen was called upon to give evidence; after this, it was decided that the child had died "due to suffocation ... the result of being overlain". It is not clear from the very short articles in the press exactly how this happened but it seems it was purely accidental.
The couple remained involved in the wider Belfast Deaf community and the Mission Hall. In 1911 they were living at Woodstock St, Belfast, with their second child, son Conner. Connor would grow up to become an important interpreter in Northern Ireland.
Source: Mission Hall for the Adult Deaf and Dumb Report, 1924.

Census of Ireland 1911: Woodstock St, Belfast. Source: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Down/Pottinger__part_of_/Woodstock_Street/219655/

An example of the interpreting work of Conor John Creaney, son of John and Ellen. Source: Belfast Telegraph 16 January 1961, p. 12.


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