ROCK STAR STING VISITS WORKHOUSE AND MEETS RELATIVES OF INNISKEEN ANCESTOR
MICHAEL FISHER Northern Standard Carrickmacross News Thursday April 16th
In a private journey to Carrickmacross recently, the rock star Sting made an emotional visit to the 19th Century Workhouse, where he was shown the mass grave in which one of his relatives is believed to have been buried. The visit on Thursday was kept low-key at the musician’s request.
63 year-old Sting (real name Gordon Sumner) was born in Wallsend, near Newcastle-on-Tyne in North-East England. He discovered his Irish connections when researchers for an American television programme, ‘Finding Your Roots’, discovered that the singer’s origins could partly be traced back to Inniskeen in County Monaghan. The programme broadcast last November also revealed that his great-great-great grandmother Mary Murphy (née Goodman), who was recorded as “a widow and pauper”, had died in a workhouse from illness aged 68 in 1881. All her children either emigrated or died.
After his Dublin gig at the 3Arena with Paul Simon, and as he headed to Belfast for another concert at the Odyssey, Sting visited Carrickmacross Workhouse and spent time in quiet reflection at the site of one of three mass graves associated with the workhouse.
Tour of Workhouse
Workhouse manager Yvonne Marron said The Workhouse staff took him on a tour of the front Workhouse building, which was restored in 2004 and now houses a community training, resource and heritage centre. It is one of only a handful of restored workhouses in Ireland. The building contains a fully restored famine-era children’s dormitory, as well as historical and famine- related exhibits.
Yvonne described how the singer was “quite overwhelmed by it all. He was due to stay for half an hour but spent nearly an hour here”, she said. The staff explained to him that, while the Workhouses were originally built in the 1840s to house the poor, by the time his great-great-great grandmother, Mary Murphy, was admitted in the 1880s, mass death, famine and emigration had reduced the ‘inmates’ primarily to the sick, elderly and orphaned children.
Sting was also shown the derelict back Workhouse building, which originally contained the ‘Wards for Old Women’, where his relative would have lived and died. The building was designed for 500 tenants but by the 1850s had 2,000 destitute men, women and children living in it. The musician then spent some time viewing the four white crosses at the back of the Workhouse six-acre site, where Mary Murphy is believed to have been buried in an unmarked mass grave.
It was explained to him that, in February 1847, the British government passed the ‘Temporary Relief of Destitute Persons in Ireland Act’, which empowered the Board of Guardians of Irish Workhouses to use land adjacent to the workhouses for burial grounds, since ordinary graveyards were unable to cope with the vast number of deaths.
The Workhouse staff clarified that there are few surviving records for Carrickmacross Workhouse; therefore, Mary Murphy represents the hundreds of nameless South Monaghan men, women and children that are buried in unmarked mass graves onsite.
The musician queried whether there were plans to erect a memorial at the graves and was informed that, in 2007, the then owners of the Workhouse, Lakeland Dairies Cooperative Society, sold the site and buildings to Heron Property Ltd.
The Workhouse Committee are currently fundraising to purchase the mass graves and heritage site to return it to community ownership. They wish to protect and restore the back derelict building, and to create a Memorial Garden to all those who died in the Workhouse during the Great Hunger and its aftermath.
Long Lost Relatives
Sting was then accompanied back into the restored front building to meet some long-lost relatives from Inniskeen. He was delighted to meet Joe Fee from Tattyboy, Blackstaff, who is a direct descendant of Sting’s Mary Murphy, whose maiden name was Goodman.
He also met Thomas and Mary McHugh from Carricklane, along with their children, Gerard, Paul and Annmarie, and grandson. The McHugh’s are descendants of Sting’s great-great-great grandfather, Michael Murphy, who married Mary in the 1830s.
Workhouse Genealogy Researchers then presented Sting with a printed Genealogy Report, which was complied with great assistance from his relatives, in particular, Thomas McHugh, aged 89. Sting learned that his great-great-great grandparents, Michael and Mary Murphy, who lived in Carricklane, had five children born between 1837 and 1850. Unfortunately, it appears that their four eldest children did not survive the Great Hunger, as only their youngest child, John, born in 1850, is mentioned in later records.
John was Sting’s great-great grandfather, who emigrated to Durham, England, where he married Elizabeth Cody, who gave birth to Sting’s great grandmother, Agnes, in 1879. Agnes subsequently married Robert Wright and gave birth to Sting’s grandmother, Agnes Wright, in 1906. In the ‘Finding Your Roots’ programme, Sting mentions that his grandmother always told him that if he had any talent, it was because of her! Sting’s grandmother subsequently married Thomas Sumner and gave birth to Sting’s father, Ernest Sumner, in 1926.
Art Work by Orlagh Meegan Gallagher
Before Sting departed after his almost hour-long visit, the Workhouse presented him with an art work by their artist-in-residence, Orlagh Meegan Gallagher. Simply entitled ‘Mary Murphy’, the piece depicts the moment before she entered the Workhouse, and is based upon Orlagh’s much larger artwork entitled ‘The Last Resort’, which is on permanent display in the Workhouse.
A moment was taken during the presentation to note that Mary’s death certificate describes her as a ‘widow’ and ‘pauper’. Aged 68, with her husband dead, and her only surviving child emigrated to England, it is probable that Mary was unable to pay her rent and was therefore evicted. Her only recourse was to seek admission to the Workhouse/Poorhouse; knowing that she would end her days there, which she did on Thursday, 12th May 1881 after a month-long illness.
After saying farewell, Sting departed for Belfast with his head full of historical and genealogical information.
The Committee of Carrickmacross Workhouse would like to thank everyone who contributed to Sting’s visit; in particular, all his Inniskeen relatives for generously giving their time and knowledge; Orlagh Meegan Gallagher for her art work; Liebe Kelly for her flower arrangements; and our friends at home and abroad for notifying us about the ‘Finding Your Roots’ programme.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., who worked behind the scenes to arrange the visit, said: “It was a great privilege for me to be able to organise the visit by Sting to Carrickmacross Workhouse. Our Irish heritage consistently manages to uncover some of the most amazing stories. It is incredible to think that one of the biggest rock stars in the world can trace his family tree back to a workhouse in South Monaghan. I am delighted I was able to help bring this story to Sting, and I have no doubt that he was given a fascinating insight into his ancestry”.
As a solo musician and a member of The Police, Sting received 16 Grammy awards, three Brit awards, a Golden Globe award, an Emmy award, and three Academy award nominations for Best Original Song. He was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Police in 2003. In 2000, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for recording. He was awarded a CBE from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for services to music, and was made a Kennedy Centre Honoree at the White House in 2014.