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Ellen Maxwell was born in Rathdrum on 2 July 1877. She was the daughter of Thomas Maxwell and Brigid Farrell. Her godparents were John McKeon and Catherine Whelan. She was named after her maternal grandmother, Ellen Byrne, who died a few months after she was born. Her grandfather Peter Farrell lived with her family after his wife's death. He died in 1879, when she was one year old. She never met any of her father's family, who all lived in County Roscommon.

Her father was a blacksmith hailing from County Roscommon, who had moved to Wicklow a few years before and married her mother, a dairymaid. The family lived in Rathdrum village. They rented their house from a publican named Sarah O'Brien. Ellen had an older sister named Mary Jane. Two younger siblings Timothy and Catherine, were born in 1879 and 1880.

On 1 Nov 1881, RIC Sub Constable Thomas Berrigam arrived at the Maxwell's house and demanded that they leave on the orders of their landlady, Sarah O'Brien. Brigid was three days away from giving birth. They refused to leave. They stayed in the house for a further two weeks, during which time Thomas Junior was born. Thomas Maxwell was summoned to the Petty Sessions Court on 17 Nov 1881 and his family were evicted. They had to pay a fine of five shillings for the trouble they had caused. Thomas (51), Brigid (35), Mary Jane (6), Ellen (4), Timothy (2), Catherine (1) and Thomas (2 weeks old) had nowhere to live. They were forced to enter Rathdrum Workhouse.

Inside the workhouse, the family were likely split up into the men's, women's, boy's and girl's wings. Baby Thomas died here of croup in 1883. Catherine also disappeared from the records around this time and her fate is unknown as of yet. Circa 1883, Brigid was sent to the Richmond Lunatic Asylum in Dublin. Ellen never saw her mother again. Thomas and his remaining three children later left the workhouse.

Ellen (6) and Mary Jane (8) begged in the town for money. On 3 Apr 1884, they approached John Nolan on the chapel grounds in Rathdrum and asked him for money. He took both girls immediately to the courthouse. The judge decided to send them to St Michael's Industrial School in Wexford, an institution for "orphaned, abandoned and neglected children". It was run by the Sisters of Mercy. The sisters were trained as servants under a strict regime and were rarely allowed to see their father, if at all. He had to pay two shillings a week towards their care.

Their father was brought to court three times in 1884 and 1885 for being unable to pay the 2s fee. He argued he was back living in the workhouse, had been ill and was not earning anything as a blacksmith. He was threatened with jail if he did pay the full amount. In 1888, Brigid died in the asylum. By Oct 1888, Thomas was out of the workhouse. He returned to his homeplace of Roscommon with Timothy in 1891. Mary Jane and Ellen remained in the industrial school.

Ellen left the industrial school circa 1895 at the age of about eighteen. She went to Dublin to work as a domestic servant. By 1901, she was living at 7 Denzille Street in Trinity and employed by Thomas Berthistle (34), a grocer. He lived with his wife Bridget (34) and their children Henry (5), John (4), William (3) and Patrick (2). Two grocer's assistants Anne (21) and Catherine Murphy (36) were staying over at the time of the census. The building had eight rooms, a slated roof and six front windows.

The Berthistles later closed their grocer's and moved away. Ellen found new work at 53 Palmerston Road in Rathmines.

On 31 Jan 1909, Ellen (31) married Michael Tracey in the Church of the Holy Name in Rathmines. He was labourer living at 35 Cumberland Street North. Their witnesses were Pat Keogh and Mary Whelan. Their first child was born six months after their wedding.

Children of Michael Tracey and Ellen Maxwell:

May  B. 14 Aug 1909

Elizabeth  B. 2 Apr 1911

Bridget  B. 10 Mar 1914

The couple lived at Cumberland Street, which was well known for its crowded and bad conditions, with up to ten people sharing one small room. Their second child Elizabeth was born the same day the 1911 Census was taken. Ellen and her daughters do not appear on this census. By this time the Tracey's lived at 21 Golden Lane, twelve minutes from their last homeplace.

On 6 January 1914, Ellen entered South Dublin Union Workhouse with her daughter Elizabeth. At the time she was heavily pregnant. Michael was still living in Golden Lane. It is yet unknown where May was. Ellen gave birth to another daughter, Bridget, on 10 March 1914 in the workhouse.

Elizabeth died a month later on 12 April 1914 after contracting tuberculosis. Ellen left the workhouse with Bridget on 14 April.

There is a death cert for an Ellen Tracey, widow, who died 13 Mar 1952, in St Kevins Hospital, Dublin. If this is the same person has yet to be confirmed.

Additional Information
Date of Birth 2nd Jul 1877 VIEW SOURCE
Associated Building (s) Dublin South Workhouse  
Father (First Name/s and Surname) Thomas Maxwell of Elphin, County Roscommon (1830-1904) VIEW SOURCE
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden) Brigid Farrell of Rathdrum, County Wicklow (1846-1888) VIEW SOURCE
Townland born Rathdrum VIEW SOURCE
Names of Siblings Mary Jane Maxwell Flanagan (1875-1928), Timothy Maxwell (1879-1903), Catherine Maxwell (1880-?) and Thomas Maxwell Jr (1881-1883)  
Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname) Michael Tracey of Rathmines, County Dublin VIEW SOURCE
Names of Children May, Elizabeth and Bridget Tracey  
Occupation Domestic Servant VIEW SOURCE
Place of Death St Kevin's Hospital, Dublin (Death Certificate Unconfirmed) VIEW SOURCE
New Type Paternal Grandparents: Timothy Maxwell (1790-1858) and Mary Jane Kelly (1787-1878) of Elphin, County Roscommon  
New Type Maternal Grandparents: Peter Farrell (1815-1879) and Ellen Byrne (1816-1878) of Rathdrum, County Wicklow  
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1901 Census for Denzille Street Ireland VIEW SOURCE


  • This is an absolutely heartbreaking story. So many bad people - the landlady who evicted the family; the busybody who dragged the little girls to the courthouse; the judge who put them into the industrial school, miles from their home. And that their father had to pay for it whether he had money or not! Outrageous - my blood's boiling.

    Well done for bringing their lives to us, that we may express anger on their behalf.




    Wednesday 30th December 2020, 11:47PM

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