Contributed by Pól Ó Duibhir
This is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Patrick Joseph Medlar, Dublin City Councillor 1920-24 and 1930-42. Although he was seen as a native Dubliner , PJ was actually born on the Upper Ballyellin Lock, near Goresbridge, in Co. Carlow, among his mother’s people, the Brennans. His father was a blacksmith from nearby Paulstown, in Co. Kilkenny, who then lived in Dublin, and after the birth of his two children went to the USA to find work, with the intention of then sending for the family. Unfortunately he died there soon after his arrival, and his wife Ellen was then adrift with two children to raise. She farmed out the children to their grandparents, Larry to Ballyellin, and PJ to Paulstown, while she went back into domestic service, this time in 22 Merrion Square, Dublin. This was the household of Samuel Mason, Professor of Midwifery at the College of Surgeons. The house has recently been restored and extended and still keeps its connection with the College of Surgeons by housing the College of Anaesthetists.
Ellen remarried in 1897 and PJ returned to Dublin. He started as a messenger, became a registration agent, married my Granny’s sister, Tess Burgess, and was soon in the undertaking business. His premises, at 48a James’s Street, served both as an office/shop and sometime accommodation. My Granny, Sarah Burgess, lived there briefly after her husband was drowned in the Liffey in 1918.
PJ was the sole tenant of the premises from 1916 to 1918. He went into partnership with another city undertaker, Charles Claffey, between 1919 and 1927, when the business was listed as Medlar and Claffey. And, following his breakup with Claffey in 1927, it reverted to Medlar Undertakers until his retirement in 1942.
PJ has appeared in Dublin city folklore. One lady, for instance, told me that there was a phrase in her family if someone sneezed: “The Medlar’s Gotcha!”; though she was unaware that Medlar was the undertaker. Again, Pete St. John, in Jaysus Wept, quotes some lines from, his own composition, the Inchicore Wake: “And Bigamy O’Keeffe, and Black Paddy Medlar, with Claffey were talkin’ of gravestones and flowers”.
PJ used his hearses and other vehicles to drive Republican prisoners to their homes after their release under the Treaty in 1921. He promoted the “Medlar Bridge”, linking Maryland and Upper Basin Street, during his time on the Council. He opened the Tivoli Theatre in Francis Street, which is still hanging on by the skin of its teeth.
PJ’s Paulstown cousins were a Republican lot. Larry was sentenced to death by the British for a raid on Gowran Barracks and having 39 sticks of gelignite in the eaves along with a whack of papers compromising the Kilkenny Brigade IRA. The court rejected Larry’s three pronged innovative defence: a spurious alibi from his father; a ridiculous note from his doctor; and an unbelievable resort to “force majeure”. However, Larry walked when the Treaty was signed but went straight back into internment when he took up arms against the Free State Government. Cousin Martin became a Fianna Fáil TD, 1956-65. And Peggy was a well known Irish dancing teacher in Dublin.
When PJ died in 1949, he had a glass panel put in the lid of his coffin through which you could see his face. He said this was in imitation of Constance Markievicz.
Pól Ó Duibhir is a retired civil servant with an interest in family and local history.