Celebrity genealogy series. Presenter Emma Willis explores her family history, with a marriage in Ireland leading her down two very different paths.
Browse content similar to Emma Willis. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Emma Willis is a model, DJ, and TV presenter.
Look over your right shoulder at the end.
She's best known as the face of Big Brother.
Emma grew up in Birmingham with her mum and dad, and two sisters.
I always just wanted to work in a hospital,
like, that's what my mum did.
But when I was 17, I had the opportunity to do a career
that I never thought would ever happen to somebody like me.
Emma is married to Matt Willis from boy band Busted.
They live in Hertfordshire with their three children.
I think we have quite an open house.
And I feel like I grew up that way,
there was always family members round the corner, in the garden,
down the street. It was like that kind of typical, old-fashioned
working-class, everybody gets mucked in, everybody helps raise you.
I come from a kind family.
And I hope that that has been history repeating itself.
I know nothing past my grandparents on either side.
And I think I've got to a point in my life where I want to know more,
I want to know more about me, I want to know more
about where I came from.
I don't know what's about to unfold,
and I don't know what's about to happen.
Hopefully, it's a positive outcome.
I mean, we all want to have a nice story, right?
So, we're off to Birmingham.
Because I figure the best place to start would be with my parents.
I know, definitely, my dad knew his grandparents.
So I'm hoping they'll be able to tell me a little bit more
than what I already know.
Birmingham is my home, that's where I'm from.
That's where my family are, you know.
They're all still there.
And I still have a bedroom at my parent's house.
And they'd better never get rid of it!
I think, even getting the train, I love it because I hear home like,
everywhere. Like, I walk down the carriage
and I hear a Birmingham accent and I'm like, "I'm nearly home".
I would really, really love it
if we had deep-rooted ancestry in Birmingham.
It would be quite special, I think.
-Yeah, how are you?
-You all right, Ems?
Hello, Pop. You all right?
-We've got some photos to show you.
SHE SQUEALS EXCITEDLY
-Oh, look, there's your mum and dad.
-Seen enough of you!
And they're your Nan and Grandad.
Bill and Edna.
That's always how I remember her face.
-I think that's how we all still see her, don't we?
They were great grandparents, weren't they?
-Not as in great-grandparents, but they were.
-They looked after you from when you was a baby,
-when you were born.
-You know, they were so good.
But you don't really appreciate it until you get older.
This is a wedding photo of your nan and grandad.
That would have been in 1950.
He looks really dapper.
And she looks beautiful in, like, her dress.
But they didn't really have anything, did they?
-How do you mean?
-From a financial perspective.
-Oh, no, no.
-Yet they look amazing on their wedding day.
-I mean, obviously they didn't have a lot of money,
they're just ordinary working class.
This here, that is, that's my Nan.
So that's your great-grandmother.
-On my nan's side?
-That's Edna's mum?
Right. Her name was Evelyn, they used to call her Eva.
-You wouldn't want to mess with her, would you?
When I look at that picture, I think of Peaky Blinders!
-That would have been the era, probably.
Do you know what I mean? She looks like she's a grafter, though.
-Oh, yeah, yeah.
-Do you know anything about her husband?
Your grandad? Do you remember him?
Yeah, he was around, we've got pictures of him.
His name was Martin James Gebhard.
-Giving Edna away on her wedding day.
Yeah. By trade he was a plasterer.
They're all quite handy then, really?
I like that. Do you know anything further back than him?
-We've come across one...
-Have you heard anything?
We've just come across one photo, one older photo.
This is Martin's mum.
Her name was Alice Maud Gretton before she married.
So that would be your great, great-grandmother.
-What do we know about her?
-We know she's from Birmingham.
And I've got this envelope which has got more information on Alice.
-Can I take these then?
-Yeah, yeah, sure, yes.
Emma wants to explore her dad's side of the family.
She's found a photo going back four generations to her two-times
great-grandmother, Alice Maud Gretton.
My dad's pulled it out of the bag today
because I didn't know he had pictures that went so far back.
And I certainly have never seen the picture of Alice Gretton.
So to find out if she originally comes from here,
and if our bloodline has Birmingham roots, would be fantastic.
Look at that, coffee art!
-I love it.
-Ten years not wasted!
Thank you very much.
This is the envelope my dad gave me.
Right, OK. So this is a marriage certificate.
And Alice Maud Gretton married Martin Gebhard.
In Aston, so they were in Birmingham.
She was 18.
She was young. And he was 26.
Alice Gretton's father was James Gretton, who was a hair merchant.
What's a hair merchant?
Maybe we can find out a bit more about him.
Which would be my three-times great-grandfather.
OK. First name, James.
Last name, Gretton.
O N. Place your ancestor might have lived. Birmingham.
And keyword, which is my new favourite two words,
James Gretton, horn and hair merchant.
Which makes me think he was a merchant of horns and hair!
But then it says, and dealer in English and foreign sizing.
Which makes me think it's clothing.
So I don't really understand the terminology.
And the address that's on here for him is 61, Lower Trinity Street.
It's obviously in Birmingham.
Maybe I should go there.
And I don't know, see if there's anything that can tell me any more.
Emma's on her way to see where her three-times great-grandfather,
James Gretton, was based.
For me, Birmingham's the best place in the world.
Here she is, the Bullring.
Such a funny building, though.
This is where all the pubs and clubs and bars are.
And on the weekend, it's just awash of people
having the time of their life.
Of course I've never done that!
Emma's arranged to meet Birmingham historian Carl Chinn.
-How are you?
-How are you?
-I'm all right.
-So you're in the back streets of Birmingham now!
I am in the back streets of Birmingham!
-Tell me what you want to know.
-I want to know about James Gretton.
-My three-times great-grandfather.
-I wonder if you know who that is?
-I have no idea.
-Yeah, that's James Gretton. Your three-times great-grandfather.
He's got my dad's eyes.
-Yeah, kind of heavy lidded and little.
All I know is that he either lived or worked on Lower Trinity Street.
Yeah, he lived here, down there on the right.
So he lived here, or worked here, or lived and worked here?
He lived and worked here.
-The street pattern's the same.
The pub over there, the Wagon and Horses, was there in the 1850s.
-So he might've been in that pub?
-Yeah, could well have done.
What I'm most baffled about is his job.
When I read the documents about him,
it said he was a horn and hair merchant.
Which I, literally, am like, what?
I find him at the age of 14, he's a brush maker.
-And he would have been making his brushes, probably for ladies,
and the handle would be made of animal horn.
Right, OK. So the horn was the handle and the hair was the brush?
Yes. And the hair would have been horses' hair.
-Ah, right. So he made hair brushes?
-Why didn't they just say that!
Now, later on, in 1851, he's moving away now from making brushes,
but now he's becoming a merchant.
He's buying and selling horn and hair.
One of the other things that he does, he makes glue and size.
Size is a watered-down version of glue.
You make glue with animal waste.
-Bits of skin, the noses, the ears, the tendons.
Yeah. You boil it and you get the collagen.
-And it's the collagen, the thick, gooey substance,
that makes the glue.
-And he's typical of the small gaffers of Birmingham.
-Gaffer, he's a gaffer?
-He's a small gaffer.
-So don't forget, Birmingham was the city of a thousand trades.
That means there's a lot of small workshops as well as big factories.
-You could become a small gaffer if you're a skilled man.
So he's doing well.
I've got some documents to show you.
This is a legal case that they're reporting.
"Important nuisance information.
"James Bliss, Inspector of Nuisances for the borough,
"proffered a charge against Mr James Gretton of Lower Trinity Street,
"horn and hair factor,
"for carrying on that business in such a manner
"as to create a nuisance and be injurious to health."
Is creating a nuisance kind of a big thing back then?
Yeah, it's, like, very much like environmental health.
-Oh, right, OK.
-So you'd have an Inspector of Nuisances,
which Birmingham had.
In the mid-19th century,
the population of Birmingham had almost doubled in 20 years.
It was dirty and overcrowded.
To clean up the city,
nuisance inspectors were appointed to report on anything
that posed a threat to public health.
So they're basically saying his business was not welcome
and that it was a danger to people's health?
Now, can you imagine...
The smells coming from boiling all that waste of animals, yeah.
So a lot of people think they're going to get diseases.
-And they can get some diseases, Emma.
Terrible disease, that can be from infected animals.
So a lot of people have complained, but then a bit later on...
"Mr John Suckling, for the defence,
"put in a memorial signed by more than 100 neighbours
"stating that Mr Gretton's business was not a nuisance, nor injurious."
Right, so there's a battle going on, basically?
-Some of the community are saying
that he's the cause of it, all the disease that's going round
at the minute. The other half of the community are backing him,
saying it's nothing to do with him.
So why would 100 neighbours support him, do you think?
Well, it could be some of the poor, he's providing work around here.
-You need jobs if you're poor.
-You do, yeah.
To help Emma understand why James Gretton's business
caused a nuisance, Carl is taking her
to some working class Victorian houses, now preserved as a museum.
The amount of times I've walked past here...
and not even known that this existed.
Now, your great, great, great-grandfather,
he would have had something like this yard.
Probably two thirds of this, I would have thought.
-What we've got to understand is,
can you see how tight it would have been?
-People living on top of each other.
-And you can imagine, can't you,
the smells coming from James's yard.
-I'm getting a well-painted picture of work life...
..and what he did,
and the trouble he was kind of in at that time in court.
-So what about his wife and the children?
-Well, here's the 1861 census.
So if we read along there...
"Lower Trinity Street."
So you've got James Gretton, who's the head.
-And there's an A afterwards, which is probably for Ann.
All right, so Mary Ann Gretton.
-Yeah, who is your three-times...
-And that is...Mary.
-Is that her?!
Oh, my God. Her hair looks nice,
but then she's got enough brushes, probably!
Emma wants to find Mary Ann and James Gretton's daughter,
her great, great-grandmother, Alice Maud Gretton.
She was born in 1860, a year before this census was taken.
Clifford is nine, son.
-So he's got a son, who's nine.
-Agnes is eight.
-Clara is six.
And there's no Alice.
This is another census return.
Heath Mill Lane.
Hannah, his wife.
-And Alice Maud Gretton.
-So why was she living with Abraham Readding
and Hannah Readding?
When she's only one?
Had they given her up, would they have given her up?
Perhaps the mum, your great, great, great-grandmother...
Is thinking, smelly, there's a stench here...
Not good for such a small child.
No, all this hair. What do babies do when they're crawling around?
Yeah, they crawl and their hands are in their mouths.
It might be that's the reason.
So do you know anything about what happened next,
what happened with the nuisance report?
Have a read of the London Gazette.
It's a notice to the court.
"As directed by the Bankruptcy Act.
"Name and description of the debtor as in the deed, James Gretton."
-So he's gone bankrupt.
Now he's fallen on harder times.
He's gone bankrupt.
Alice isn't living with him.
-What happened to the family next?
For that question to be answered,
-my advice would be to see a family historian.
I kind of feel like he was doing quite well,
but then it all just kind of fell away from underneath him.
I don't know why they didn't have Alice living with them
when she was so young.
The only thing actually I can imagine as a mum
of a one-year-old myself was that for her own health and safety,
she shouldn't have been in that environment.
And from what we've heard, with the nuisance report,
that would, kind of, make sense.
Because I can't see how you would otherwise not have your baby
living with you.
So now, now I want to know what happened to Alice.
Did she go over to live with the rest of the family?
That's what I need to know next.
Emma has come to Birmingham library
where she's meeting genealogist Olivia Robinson.
-Hi, Olivia, how are you doing?
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you too.
I don't know whether I should be excited or nervous.
OK. So, so far I have got pictures
of my three-times great-grandparents,
-James and Mary Ann Gretton.
They had a baby who was one, called Alice.
Who was my two-times great-grandmother,
who wasn't living with them.
So what I don't know is what happened to the family and to Alice.
This is the census from 1871.
So this takes you ten years forward.
-If you can see, here's Alice Gretton.
-So she's back with them.
Good, that's what, that's what I really wanted to happen.
Helena, wife, 42.
Who's Helena? And where's Mary Ann?
What we haven't found is a marriage certificate for James and Helena.
So I don't believe that they married.
But she is living with him.
Right. Clifford, son, 20,
Agnes, daughter, 18.
Clara, daughter, 17.
Alice, daughter, ten.
Lily, who's five.
This is the birth certificate for the little Lily, at the bottom.
So March 1868,
Lily Helena Gretton, girl.
This is Lily, the child of James and Helena.
Do we know what happened to Mary Ann?
This may give you a clue as to what happened to Mary Ann
in the same period.
So it's another, another birth certificate.
18th of July 1867.
Mary Ann, a girl, name of father, Joseph Kilby.
Name, surname of mother, Mary Ann Kilby.
But she hasn't, she hasn't given Gretton, she hasn't mentioned it.
Mary Ann had her child with Joseph Kilby in London.
Oh, where are we?
St Martin-in-the-Fields in the county of Middlesex.
Joseph Kilby may not have been aware that she was married or had another
-She's a right one!
Secret lives in London!
-Exactly. So on the evidence we have...
-There are two illegitimate children.
There are two illegitimate children, yes.
Emma has learned that her three-times great-grandparents
James and Mary Ann both met new partners and had a child with them.
Did things like this happen a lot, or is this quite a rare situation
to kind of find both parties in?
I haven't seen anything quite like this where each married partner
finds a new partner and has a child with them within a year.
-It's not impossible, and it's not unheard of, it's unusual.
Yes, very unusual!
This is too much.
The whole way down this line...
..the parents have always stayed together.
My parents, my dad's parents, her parents, do you know what I mean?
What happened to James?
Entry of death.
This is what I didn't want to see.
I like James!
February 1899, James Gretton, male, 72.
Cause of death, senility and exhaustion.
So he'd gone senile.
-Did that have the same meaning back then as it does now?
Yes, it would have meant that he couldn't care for himself.
When and where he died, workhouse infirmary.
So could he have been working at the workhouse?
No, if he had been in the workhouse, they call them inmates.
He would have been treated slightly better than the people who were just
inmates in the workhouse.
What is quite nice about this record is that his son...
-..Clifford was actually in attendance.
Clifford could simply have registered his death.
But in attendance means he was actually there.
-When it happened.
-So he may not have lived with his children,
but they were still very much around him.
It certainly looks that way.
Oh, no, how sad.
Even though I don't physically know James Gretton...
..I've become really attached to him in a really short period of time.
He seems to have had a life of ups and downs.
And it does seem apparent that he always had his children around him.
And he had love.
The one thing that I wanted to find...
..within this, was that we had solid...
..authentic roots in this brilliant city, that I absolutely love.
And James Gretton has given me that.
This is where we're from.
We are true Brummies.
I want to know where the rest of my family come from.
Cos it's not just one bloodline, right.
They're sprouting off everywhere.
So where... Are we all from here?
Emma is back home in Hertfordshire.
Her dad's done some more research into his side of the family.
OK. So "Hi, Em, I've been doing a bit more digging around for you
"and I've found a certificate from my great-grandma, Margaret Kirwan.
"She is your two-times great-grandma
"and she was born in Dublin."
Margaret Kirwan, born November, 1862,
to Michael Kirwan and Harriet...Fowler.
Better go to Dublin, then!
Emma now wants to find out about her Irish ancestors
on her father's side.
Margaret Kirwan and her parents Harriet Fowler and Michael Kirwan.
I've hitched a ride on a ferry because now I'm on the trail
of my great, great-grandmother, a woman called Margaret Kirwan.
I had absolutely no idea that we had any Irish on my dad's side.
I really don't know what I'm hoping for at the other end.
I think in the whole process, I've tried to go into it,
having no expectations.
Emma's heading to the Registry of Deeds which holds records
dating back to the 18th century.
She's meeting genealogist John Grennam.
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you too.
-Come on in.
John, so far I know that my great, great-grandmother
was called Margaret Kirwan and she was born in Dublin.
OK, that's a great start.
Here's the record of the marriage of her parents.
So on the 22nd of October 1861,
Michael Kirwan married Harriet Fowler.
-If you look at the surnames there, Kirwan and Fowler...
Kirwan is a typical Irish, Gaelic Irish surname.
Comes from O'Ciardhubhan, meaning grandson of the dark-haired fellow.
-So it's a good Gaelic Irish name.
Good, solid Irish name.
That's a bull's-eye for Gaelic there.
-All right? Whereas Fowler is obviously an English surname.
-So are we mixing, here?
I think we are. He's from a Catholic background
and she's from a Protestant background,
that's what I would read it as.
-I think if you see as well,
the marriage is taking place at the Registrar's Office.
-And the reason for Registrar's Office marriage or Registry Office
marriage, is, at this period at least,
almost always because it's a mixed marriage.
My mum is Catholic, and my dad is Church of England.
But they married and I don't think that was ever a problem.
But that was in the '60s.
-How would it have been looked on in 1861?
It would have been hard.
They were going against his church and her church.
-This is almost certainly a love match.
This is not an arranged marriage.
And that's what this looks like to me.
Father's name, oh, so his dad's name is Michael Kirwan as well.
-The groom's father.
-And he was a marble mason.
And Harriet's father was Richard Fowler and he was a gentleman.
What does it mean if your rank or profession is a gentleman?
The idea is that a gentleman doesn't have to work for his living.
-As it were.
-Oh, OK. Do you know anything else about Richard Fowler,
-Actually, I found a marriage announcement
in the Leinster Express newspaper from 1835.
-And here it is.
In Dublin, Richard Fowler Esquire of Dunlavin, County Wicklow,
to Harriet. So...
Richard Fowler was an Esquire.
Of Dunlavin. What does that actually mean?
I mean, I know of it, and I've heard of it, but...?
Well, Esquire there is interesting.
He's a gentleman in her marriage record,
and he's an Esquire at the time of his own marriage.
Esquire was not exactly a precise label.
In theory, it means that he had property.
That he was part of the landed gentry, as it were.
So do you know what type of land he had, or how much or how little?
I found something here in the Registry of Deeds.
I have uncovered marriage articles of Richard's parents,
-so let me just go and get that for you now.
-OK, thank you.
These books are absolutely incredible.
Terrified to go anywhere near them.
This book is probably 250 years old.
Maybe a bit more.
John, don't rip it!
-All right, now.
-What in the world does that say?
Is it so happens, we have a transcript.
-And here you are.
-Marriage settlement, 1790!
Made it to the 1700s, yay!
What is a marriage settlement?
It's an agreement made between two parties, two families,
-who are going to marry into each other.
It's made between you can see Richard Fowler,
that's Richard Fowler senior.
Yeah, Richard Fowler
and Abigail Fowler,
So these are my...?
Great, great, great, great, great-grandparents.
-Part of the lands of, how do you pronounce that?
Commonly called the Boggy Meadow.
-Was it really boggy?
-I would imagine it probably was!
Got to get its name from somewhere, right!
In the whole 43 acres.
So 43 acres is what they have?
It's a middling sized holding.
-It sounds a lot.
-Maybe to our ears.
To us, yeah.
But for example, the major landowner in the area would have
had tens of thousands of acres, owned outright.
Right, OK. So he's doing all right?
He's doing all right, but not spectacular.
He's not flying high! OK.
Emma has discovered that her five-times great-grandfather
Richard Fowler senior was a Protestant land-holder
from the town of Dunlavin at the end of the 18th century.
At the time, fewer than 5,000 Protestant families
owned nearly all of the land in Ireland.
The vast majority of the population were Catholic,
but they had been excluded from land ownership.
Most worked as labourers for land-holders like Richard Fowler.
And what was Dunlavin like at the end of the 1700s?
It was a small country town, about 40 miles south of Dublin.
It was quite a particular place in that it was majority Protestant.
-The fact that it was majority Protestant
made it stand out in this, as this island in a sea of Catholicism...
-..at the end of the 18th century.
Were they, were they not very well liked?
There was a certain amount of sectarian tension, put it like that.
-Should I go to Dunlavin?
-Yes, is the short answer!
I'm really surprised that someone's a gentleman in my family!
Not because they're not, like, all the men are my family are gentlemen,
but like, a gentleman of old times,
you know, an Esquire.
Someone who kind of had land.
I expected working-class grafters,
I didn't expect a gentleman.
I am on my way to Dunlavin to see if I can find out anything else
about Richard Fowler and his family.
When I was speaking to John yesterday, he mentioned
that it was a big Protestant community.
And that there was tension.
So I'm quite interested in finding out what...
..what it was and why.
Emma's meeting genealogist Nicola Morris.
-Lovely to meet you.
-How are you doing?
-And welcome to Dunlavin.
Thank you. So I've been hearing that this is where some of my roots lie.
-With a man called Richard Fowler
who is my five-times great-grandfather.
So the land that he had, which was Boherboy,
Brewers Hill and Boggy Meadow, is outside of the town.
As well as his land, he had an inn, here.
Now, unfortunately, we don't know which building it was
that was his at the time.
What we do know is that the Dunlavin Inn here was here in the 1790s.
So a contemporary of Richard Fowler's,
if not his own pub.
Shall we go inside and I've got some more information on Richard for you.
I'd love to, thank you.
I have some documents here that record Richard Fowler.
So the first record that we find,
the first reference that we find to him is in November 1797.
And this is in the Union Star newspaper
which was a newspaper of the United Irishmen.
It was very much a propaganda paper.
The Society of United Irishmen was founded in 1791.
At the time, Ireland was ruled by the British monarch George III.
The United Irishmen wanted to establish
an independent Irish Republic.
This appealed to many Irish Catholics who wanted self-rule.
Somewhere along here is a reference to...
A distiller in Dunlavin,
a notorious informer
and one of those privileged murderers Orangemen.
So, the Union Star was a United Irishmen newspaper.
They would have used this paper, which was handed out,
to defame people.
What they've done here is they've accused Fowler.
What is that? What is Orangemen?
The Orange Order was established in the 1790s in Ireland as an
organisation, its membership came from Protestants.
Its purpose was to defend loyalism to the British crown
at that particular time. Richard Fowler would have been
-considered to be a loyalist.
-What about the murderers bit?
This statement about Fowler very likely comes from an incident
that Fowler was involved with, and it was actually reported on
in a newspaper called The Press.
So, this would be far less of a propaganda paper than the Union Star
would be. A little bit more balanced reporting in it.
"The morning of the 20th October last,
"between the hours of one and two,
"Lieutenant H of the Antrim militia, Richard Fowler,
"of Dunlavin, and Thomas Butler of County Kildare went to the house
"of Michael Egan and having broken open the door,
"desired him and his son,
"Thomas Egan, to come down out of their beds.
"They were not even allowed to dress themselves.
"And on the very instant that they appeared,
"they were knocked down and received many..."
Would a stab back then be the same as one now?
They were using bayonets so, yes, it would have been.
"Naked and bleeding as they were,
"on daring to complain of such treatment,
"were again knocked down and beaten in the most unmerciful manner."
Shall I keep reading or not?
If you want to.
"On their arrival at the guardhouse,
"they were again stabbed with bayonets.
"After having nearly killed the father,
"they dragged the son to a private part of the guardhouse
"and by every kind of cruelty and torture they could invent...
"..endeavoured to extract information from him.'
Surely they can't...
..or they wouldn't have reported it if it were not true.
The case did go to court...
..in the following months
and actually, Richard Fowler was charged.
So, he was certainly held accountable for his role in this.
The United Irishmen were a banned organisation,
so their activities took place in secret.
Loyalists feared they were planning a rebellion
and turned on anyone suspected of belonging to the United Irishmen.
Many were imprisoned, tortured or executed.
Do you know what happened to the two men, the Egans?
They did survive, so they weren't killed on that night.
One of the reasons that they would have been targeted
is because they were blacksmiths.
Around the country, blacksmiths were targeted simply because
they had the ability to make weapons, so they made pikes,
which were used as weapons.
It's hard to...
..make sense of it, but...
..what type of man do you think Richard was?
Because it's hard, after reading this...
-..to think he was a good man.
But then, because there's so much going on,
you can't make sense of it.
-No. And it's very hard to excuse or justify what he did...
But I think he was very much caught up in what was happening
in this area at the time.
The United Irishmen were posing a very serious threat
to the stability of the country.
An uprising is planned and that's why I think Richard Fowler was
feeling such threat and panic.
How can you defend that by doing that to somebody?
I felt quite sick when I was reading it.
Because it's so detailed.
You know, it didn't really leave much to the imagination.
And I could understand every word of it, and it just was so...
the polar opposite to what I expected.
And I was speechless, if I'm honest.
I come from, from what I know of, from good people.
And I feel like I've found...
..somebody who, maybe, wasn't so good in Richard Fowler.
People acted on instinct, I would imagine,
on panic and fear and not knowing what was going to happen to them
or their families, or their futures, and...
..when you think about it in that respect,
if it were me and I didn't know what was going to happen to my family,
I would panic, too.
But I wouldn't panic so much as to physically hurt somebody.
What is incredible...
..and fills me with more hope,
is that, two generations later,
Richard Fowler's granddaughter Harriet Fowler, a Protestant,
married a Catholic,
two generations before, everybody was at loggerheads.
Two generations later, they marry
and it's not a marriage of convenience,
we don't believe, it was a true match of love.
That can't have been easy to have done that.
It must have been frowned upon.
Emma's three-times great-grandmother, Harriet Fowler,
was married to Michael Kirwan.
His father was also called Michael Kirwan and he was a marble mason.
Emma now wants to find out more about him.
So, I'm just going to search...
That sounds right.
Dictionary of Irish Architects.
Stonecutter and marble mason of Dublin.
His altar for the Franciscan church in Henry Street, Limerick,
was described in the Catholic Directory for 1848
as one of the most splendid pieces of Irish manufacture...
Maybe I should go to Limerick.
I really needed something like this at the end of today, I think.
Well, not I think, I know.
I did. I was feeling a little bit defeated
and now I feel positive again.
I don't know what to expect or what to find.
All I kind of know about what he made was...
..written in the Dictionary of Irish Architects.
And that it sounds like a thing of beauty, so I can't wait to see it.
Emma's now in Limerick on the west coast of Ireland.
She's discovered that the Franciscan church no longer exists.
But she's on her way to see another of Michael Kirwan's altarpieces
at nearby Saint Saviour's,
where she's meeting historian Caroline McGee.
-How are you?
-I'm really good, how are you?
-Good to meet you.
-Nice to meet you, too.
-It's really beautiful.
Is that...? Everything I'm seeing is by him?
The big backdrop that you see there, that's Michael's work.
The carving on the pillars at the front here, that's Michael's work.
It's pretty impressive.
I have some reports about it
that will tell us a little bit more about it.
-Yeah, I'd love to find out...
-Is there anything about him?
There's lots about him, yes.
-Lots of interesting things.
So, what we have here is a newspaper article that was an interim report
on the building of this extension to the church.
"Some time since we called attention to a magnificent altar
"in varied coloured marbles, manufactured by Mr Michael Kirwan
"of 17 Bolton Street for a Catholic church in the country.
"We then remarked on the extreme beauty of the design
"and the elegance of the workmanship."
-I think they're absolutely right.
"And stated that nothing better of its kind
"could be produced in any other country."
I mean, they like him, right?
That's a superb testimonial, to say the least.
Yeah. "The general effect of this altar is exceedingly fine,
"and should be seen by those who have any doubt of Irishmen
"producing at home as good specimens of art
"as they are known to produce in other countries
"where their genius is appreciated and rewarded.'
-Are they calling him a genius?
An Irish genius!
An Irish genius.
Exactly. It's a very Victorian description, isn't it?
But it's just lovely and it does show you how well-regarded he was.
-They love him.
And now you love him, too!
I love Michael Kirwan.
So, Michael was creating altars probably from the early part of the
century, probably around the 1830s.
By then, Irish craftsmen had only begun to start
doing this kind of work because
Catholicism was very much an underground religion.
There were a lot of restrictions on Catholics.
For a century, Catholics had been outlawed
from practising their religion in public,
so few Catholic churches were built.
But a series of reforms in the early 19th century allowed Catholics to
worship openly, sparking a revival in church building
and creating a demand for Michael Kirwan's altar pieces.
And by 1866, Michael is a very successful businessman.
He has a workshop and a showroom in Dublin.
Very big business. By this time,
a really good example of how a Catholic might have achieved a lot
during the 19th century.
This article is from 1851.
It's to fill in Michael's story for you because, as you can see,
it's a very important piece.
So, what was the Manufacture Movement?
This was a group that came together to promote the sale of Irish goods.
"The secretary handed in ten shillings and said
"he felt peculiar pleasure in proposing
"one of the most patriotic of Irishmen, Mr Michael Kirwan.
"He had the talent to wrest from the hands of foreign artists
"an important branch, the manufacturing of marble altars."
So, he's as good as any foreign artists.
He's as good as any foreign artist.
And so Michael became kind of a poster boy for the achievements
of Irish Catholics, Irish artists and craftsmen, and he was very,
very important to the Irish Manufacture Movement
because they thought he was a real patriot for promoting Irish goods
at a time when the church furnishing industry was really dominated
by overseas suppliers.
Flying the flag for Irish craftsmanship.
-Is there more to find out?
Well, he was based in Dublin.
So I think you should...
-Back to Dublin?
-Back to Dublin!
It's overwhelming, I think,
to walk into such a gorgeous building in itself,
but then know that the centrepiece of that building...
And a building with a lot of history,
was made by your four-time great-grandfather.
He crafted that and touched it with his own hands.
He seemed dedicated to his craft and dedicated to his country,
and kind of wanted to show Ireland in the best light possible.
That, to me, seems like a good man.
And I needed to find a good man!
To find out more about Michael Kirwan, Emma's back in Dublin.
She's visiting Trinity College,
where she's arranged to meet historian Patrick Geoghegan.
-Lovely to meet you. This is incredible.
All the books that you need.
I'm trying to track down as much as I can about Michael Kirwan,
who is my four-times great-grandfather.
So, can you tell me any more about him?
Apart from all this brilliant work making these marble altars,
he was very politically active and he was certainly one of the leaders
of the Trade Union Movement
because he was campaigning for worker's rights
and he became close to a person called Daniel O'Connell who,
in Ireland, is known as the liberator.
Daniel O'Connell is one of the greatest figures in Irish history...
..remembered for his role in winning civil rights for Catholics
and fighting for Irish self-rule.
Would they have known each other?
They were of different classes,
Michael Kirwan is a working-class hero,
Daniel O'Connell came from a much more privileged background,
but they would have met at political meetings,
they would have seen each other,
speak and they would have been aware of the other person.
But they didn't always see eye to eye.
In the late 1830s, Daniel O'Connell made some controversial speeches
attacking the trade unions.
He criticised their practices and even spoke out
against the idea of trade unionism.
Michael Kirwan was one of the first to stand up for the workers.
Here's the Freeman's Journal from the 1st of December 1837.
OK. "At a meeting of the Operative Stonecutters of the city,
"to disabuse the public mind on the unwarrantable charges
"made by Mr O'Connell against the trades of Dublin generally.
"Moved by Michael Kirwan."
The fact that Michael Kirwan is proposing one of the motions
shows the level of influence he had in the movement.
It shows that he was one of the leaders of it
and he's one of the key people who's really driving this defence
of their actions.
He was prepared to stand up for himself
and he was prepared to stand up
against the most charismatic and the most successful,
and the most dominant Irish political figure of his day.
Did that reflect badly then, on Michael Kirwan,
because he'd challenged somebody that was held in such high regard?
I think it reflected worse on Daniel O'Connell himself because O'Connell
ended up losing popularity in Dublin
because of these attacks on the
workers and, for a time, he was booed on the streets of Dublin,
he even considered giving up his political career and retiring.
So, I think, in a way, Michael Kirwan
had the better of the argument.
It showed huge courage and it showed a certain kind of spiky character
that he wasn't going to be pushed around.
So, what happened? Did they resolve their differences?
Or did they carry on fighting?
They did resolve their difficulties and here's good proof
of it, because it's an article in the Freeman's Journal
in October 1862.
"The O'Connell National statue."
-So, Daniel O'Connell died in 1847
and 15 years later,
they wanted to erect a national statue in his honour
in the capital city of Ireland, in Dublin.
And if you just look all the way down...
17 Bolton St.
He's there! Yes!
So all of these names, Michael included, obviously,
he helped get the statue built.
Does that mean he put his own money in,
or helped kind of raise funds for it?
He did both. He put his own money towards it
and he also showed that he was publicly behind
this national statue.
Michael Kirwan clearly was hugely respected
or otherwise he wouldn't be taking such a prominent role
on this committee.
He carried a lot of influence
because he was the champion of the workers.
-So he was a good man?
-A very good man, a strong man
and someone who was prepared to stand up
and fight for his beliefs.
And is it still standing? Can I go see it?
Yes, you can. It's on our main national street in Dublin,
O'Connell Street -
the street that's named in Daniel O'Connell's honour.
It's one of the great landmarks in Dublin.
Oh, my goodness.
While you go and see it, here's something
that you might want to read on your own.
Thank you so much.
It's been a pleasure.
It really is an incredible, incredible monument.
And I think what I obviously love most,
is the fact that Michael Kirwan
was one of the people responsible for making it happen.
I kind of feel like I can take a bit of the credit for it!
"Death of Mr Michael Kirwan."
I know he's dead, but obviously, I...
I didn't really want to read about his death.
"Mr Kirwan, we believe, was the first to establish
"the marble altar building in Ireland and in many of the Catholic churches
"in this city and the provinces, excellent specimens of his work
"bear testimony to his talent and industry in the art."
I mean, that's just incredible.
I suppose this is kind of the first time I've really heard it, but
they believe he was the first to establish
the marble altar building in Ireland.
So, it began with him, pretty much.
"He was respected for his skill and integrity,
"for his professionalism, and by the general community
"who esteemed him for his virtues and patriotism."
I don't know why I'm getting upset about somebody that lived
150-odd years ago.
I think when we went down the trail of...
..of the Fowlers and I saw there was a gentleman, I was quite excited,
because I'm from a working class family, so I thought
that would be something quite different.
Then that turned out not so well.
So, to then go on the path of the Kirwans
and find a hard worker
from a working-class background that did really well,
that's what I think is parallel to my family.
What a fantastic man Michael Kirwan seemed to be.
That is somebody that I'm immensely proud of.
Presenter Emma Willis grew up in Birmingham and loves the city and her fellow Brummies. She wants to find out how deep her roots are there.
Further afield, an interfaith marriage in Ireland leads Emma down two very different paths. Violent events force her to confront disturbing truths about one ancestor, while the hard graft and determination of another lead Emma to draw parallels with her own life.