Investigating family legends
Blown up by mines
About 20 years ago, my husband spoke with his father on the phone to find out some details of his ancestry. He filled an A4 page with names, dates, occupations and locations and I then used those details to get started on an ancestral tree for his side of the family. It was only when I was re-filing that piece of paper in 2020, that I noticed the note scrawled in the margin – ’56 Lansdown Rd. Blown up by mines’. What could that mean? By using a variety of sources, I was able to uncover the details of this dramatic event.
My first port of call was the British Newspaper Archive website. Using “56 Landsdown” plus the family surname as search terms brought up a number of news articles from January and February 1923, which showed that yes, indeed, the family home was ‘blown up by mines’.
By continuing to search with various keywords from the articles, I was able to create a bibliography of more than fifteen articles from a variety of Irish and English newspapers which helped me to piece together the story. In summary:
The Dennison family were recent arrivals in Dublin. According to some articles, they had fled Belfast after their business there was ‘burnt out by the pogramists’, and Mrs Dennison had been ‘shot at by Orangemen’. On this particular January night, three siblings were at home, while their parents were out. One of those siblings was my husband’s grandfather, a 17 year old student at the time. After persistent knocking at the door, and a break-in to the basement, the siblings were ordered out of the house at the point of a revolver, and minutes later, a mine was detonated – completely wrecking the house. The Dennison children had made their way across the street, where they were fortunately unharmed by the falling debris. Later articles suggest that the action was a case of mistaken identity – and that the perpetrators had actually intended the target to be a different house on the street.1
I confirmed the other inhabitants of Lansdowne Road by using digitised Dublin city directories, and the names and ages of the siblings using Irish civil birth registration entries. While the initial search of newspapers provided the colour and detail which fleshed out the initial ‘56 Lansdown (sic) Rd. Blown up by mines’, it also raised many more questions, such as:
- What had happened to the family in Belfast?
- Why were they and their business targeted there?
- What type of business did they own?
- After the house in Dublin was destroyed, what happened next?
By using Belfast and Dublin city directories, further newspaper searches, Irish birth, marriage and death registration details, Ireland census entries, shipping passenger lists and South African death notices, I am expanding the narrative of this family story.
From one scrawled line on a page, a fascinating tale emerged.
1. Some of the most comprehensive source articles were: ‘Blown Up By Mines. Series of desperate outrages by armed men in Dublin. Belfast Refugee’s house wrecked.’ The Freeman’s Journal, 30 Jan 1923, p5; ‘Mines and Fires. Night of Terrible Destruction in Dublin. Dwelling houses Blown Up.’ The Evening Telegraph, Dublin, 30 Jan 1923, p1; ‘Havoc in Dublin. Private Houses Wrecked. Use of Land Mines’, The Derry Journal, 31 Jan 1923, p6.