Category: Kilkenny

Seven Generations of Irish Ancestors

Near Kilree, County Kilkenny, Ireland

It was the end of April in County Kilkenny. Trees were turning a delicate green, lambs rested beside their mothers in the shadow of an old monastery and cows grazed beside an ancient Celtic cross. I was on a pilgrimage to this corner of southeast Ireland to visit the haunts of ancestors who had left here almost 175 years ago, and I was wondering whether this landscape had been as beautiful during their lifetimes.

Seven generations of the Shearman family lived in the Kilkenny and neighbouring Waterford regions between the middle of the 17thcentury and the mid-19th century, when my great-great grandmother Martha Bagnall Shearman left for Canada. 

Around 1853, John Francis Shearman (I will refer to him as JFS), a Catholic priest and amateur archaeologist, wrote a history of the Shearman family, a document preserved in the archives of National University of Ireland at Maynooth. Family members were also mentioned in newspaper articles and land records. From those small facts, I formed imaginary snapshots of my ancestors and planned an itinerary for a trip to the part of the world where they had lived.   

The Shearman family was long associated with Grange, a townland and parish in County Kilkenny. According to JFS, Robert Shearman bought property there in 1697. Almost a century later, in 1780, another Robert Shearman constructed Grange House, but all I could find in the neighbourhood where the house once stood was a narrow lane surrounded by low hedges.

map of Grange courtesy Kilkenny Archaeological Society

Edward Law, who researched Kilkenny houses, noted that, in 1767, Robert Shearman (it is not clear which one) found a new method of planting potatoes early in the season.1 Reading that, I imagined Robert in the garden, shovel in hand, bent over the potato plants. 

Eighty years later, another generation of Shearmans were listed in Griffiths Valuation as both landlords and tenants in Grange and in other Kilkenny townlands.

Thomas Shearman, the first documented member of the family in Ireland, was part of a wave of English settlers. In 1649, English forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, invaded Ireland in a brutal campaign. Within a year, almost 40 percent of the land that had belonged to Irish Catholics had been confiscated and distributed to English-born Protestants. My ancestors no doubt benefited from these events. JFS discretely noted, “Thomas Shearman, of Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, formerly of York, England, who came to Ireland in the middle of the century.” 

According to JFS, Thomas was buried in Burnchurch in 1704. I hoped to find his grave, but instead found the church in ruins. 


Thomas and his wife (name unknown) probably had four children, including my direct ancestor Robert Shearman. Robert was born about 1636, possibly in Burnchurch, possibly in England, and died in 1732.  Robert married Mary Boulton in 1665. JFS gave no more details about them except that they had six children.

Robert’s and Mary’s second son, Francis Shearman, born in 1669 in Grange, apparently enjoyed “rude health.” Even at an advanced age, JFS reported that Francis was able to crack a mouthful of hazelnuts. He died at age 105, following an accident received from his horse. 

Francis married Anne Davis in 1701. Anne became a Catholic “from the effects of a dream.”

According to JFS, her husband and her son Robert inflicted “heartless persecution on her” because of her religious conversion. Catholics were treated as second-class citizens at that time. Anne died at age 90 in 1767 and was buried in Cuffesgrange (Catholic) Church Cemetery. It is not clear whether her husband is buried with her.

Francis and Anne had eight children. My line goes through the second oldest, Robert, born around 1704. He eventually became an alderman of the city of Kilkenny and also served as mayor. I imagined Robert striding past Kilkenny Castle, overlooking the River Nore, on his way to meet a friend on High Street. JFS wrote that Robert had “a stern and hasty temperament” adding that his wife’s personality was the opposite.

St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny

Robert Shearman married Frances (or Fanny) Waye in 1740. The daughter of Thomas Waye and probably of his second wife, Frances Cuffe, Fanny was born around 1714 in Kilree, County Kilkenny. Her father, Reverend Thomas Waye (1644-1716), was treasurer and administrator of St. Canice’s (Church of Ireland) Cathedral in the town of Kilkenny. During my visit to this medieval church, I admired its soaring stained glass windows and imagined Reverend Waye at prayer in a quiet corner.   

Robert and Fanny Shearman are buried in Cuffesgrange churchyard. The inscription on the large tomb erected by one of their sons is no longer legible, but a transcription suggests that Robert died in 1798 at age 101, while Fanny predeceased him in 1780.2

Shearman tomb, Cuffesgrange Cemetery

My line of the family was through Robert’s and Fanny’s fourth child, Thomas, who was born around 1754. At age 25, Thomas married Martha Emerson at Waterford’s French Church, an ancient Franciscan friary. It is listed as a national monument of Ireland, but only the shell of the building remains and it was hard to imagine a wedding being celebrated there.

Kilkenny Castle

JFS said Martha was the daughter of General Emerson, but nothing is known about him. It is not clear when Thomas died. In 1787, Mrs. Martha Shearman married Lt. William St. Clair, of the 17th Regiment of Foot, in Waterford.3

Thomas and Martha had three children: William, a lawyer who lived in Greenville and married Hannah Mammett; Thomas, of Waterford, and Fanny, who married Richard Curtis.  Thomas, my three-times great-grandfather, was born in Waterford in 1785 and died there in 1850. Although the obituary that appeared in a Waterford newspaper said lovely things about him – “an exemplary character, honest and just in his dealings ….” it gave no indication of his  occupation.4  

Thomas married Charlotte Bennett Clarke, the daughter of Waterford pewter manufacturer Charles Clarke and his wife, Miss Bennett of Bath, England. Thomas and Charlotte had 13 children.  

By the time Thomas died, his daughter Martha Bagnall Shearman (1826-1897) had married Charles Francis Smithers and they were living in Canada. Two of his sons and a daughter were in Brooklyn, New York and son Robert Clarke Shearman was in Australia.  

Henrietta Street, Waterford, where Thomas Shearman lived

Ireland was a troubled place for centuries, treated as a rebellious colony by the English government. In the 1840s, the potato crop failed and thousands of desperately poor peasants either died or fled. Although the Shearmans appear to have been relatively well off, they must have felt that their families would have better opportunities elsewhere. I doubt that the Ireland of 1850 resembled the idyllic-looking countryside of today. 

All photos copyright Janice Hamilton

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “My Shearman Brick Wall”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 9, 2014,

Janice Hamilton, “Waterford Cathedral: A Tale of Two Weddings”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 8, 2016,

Janice Hamilton, “Breaking through my Shearman Brick Wall,” Writing Up the Ancestors, July 6, 2016,

Janice Hamilton, “Charles Clarke, Pewter Manufacturer, of Waterford,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 26, 2016,


This article relies extensively on a copy of a copy of John Francis Shearman’s research. My distant cousin Lorraine Elliott took notes on the JFS’s family history and did additional research. She generously shared her notes with me. JFS had access to parish records and family anecdotes that no longer exist, but there are many details that remain unknown and it is likely that there are errors in this article.    
Another version of the Shearman family history can be found on “Genealogy of the Shearmans” was prepared by George Shearman of Penn Yan, New York in 1863, and it is clearly based on the document JFS wrote a decade earlier.


  1. Edward Law, Kilkenny History; Miscellaneous Houses,, accessed Dec. 12, 2017.
  2. Email correspondence with the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Rothe House, Kilkenny, March 30, 2016.
  3. Farrar’s Index to Irish Marriages, 1771-1812, 
  4. “Death”. Waterford Chronicle, Dec. 28,, Irish Newspapers, accessed April 8, 2016.

Breaking Through My Shearman Brick Wall

In 2014, I wrote about the brick wall surrounding the Irish origins of my great-great grandmother Martha Bagnall Shearman.1 Thanks to the generosity of a new-found distant cousin, I have now demolished that brick wall, moved the family tree back another six generations and discovered additional Shearman family branches in New Zealand and the United States.

I knew that Martha Shearman was born in Waterford, Ireland, married Charles Francis Smithers there in 1844 and came to Canada three years later.2 Because of Charles’ career in banking, the Smithers family lived for several years in Brooklyn, New York, and I discovered that two of Martha’s brothers and a sister had also immigrated to Brooklyn. I knew nothing, however, about the Shearman family’s roots in Ireland. 

Shearman Esq. in Grange, lower right corner

I posted the article online and eventually Lorraine Elliott, who was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia, came across my blog. She contacted me to tell me that her ancestor Robert Clarke Shearman,3 a New Zealand policeman, was another of Martha’s siblings. The clue that helped convinced her that we were related was a photograph in her great-great-grandfather’s album identified as Maria Boate, Martha’s and Robert’s sister in Brooklyn.  

Some years ago, Lorraine’s research led her to a genealogy of the Shearman family written in 1853 by John Francis Shearman (I’ll refer to him as JFS). He was a cousin of Martha’s and Robert’s, an amateur archaeologist and a Catholic priest. (Some of the Shearmans were Protestants, others converted to Catholicism.) This document is in the archives of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, near Dublin. Lorraine sent me the notes she had on that document, along with some of her own research on the extended Shearman family.   

The JFS genealogy takes the Shearmans back to the mid-17th century when Thomas Shearman (c 1610-1704) came to Ireland from England with Oliver Cromwell’s invasion forces. He then settled in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, in southeast Ireland. Subsequent generations of Shearmans lived in and around Grange, not far from Kilkenny City. 

Lorraine’s notes stated that Martha was one of 13 children, and that their parents were Thomas Shearman (c. 1785-1850) and his wife, Charlotte Bennett Clarke (no dates available).4 Her research suggested that Thomas lived in Dunkitt, Kilkenny, near the city of Waterford, but other sources say that he was from the nearby city of Waterford. Perhaps he lived in Dunkitt in his early life, then moved to the city.

Ruins of Burnchurch, Kilkenny

I recently came across another Shearman genealogy on This 15-page manuscript was written in 1863 by a member of another branch of the family, George Shearman (1818-1908) of Penn Yan, a small town in New York State. It was clearly based on the family history written by JFS 10 years earlier, and it added more detail about George’s line and had less information about mine. It listed Thomas Shearman and named his sons, but only mentioned that he also had five daughters.

All this information comes with a caveat: neither of these documents meets the requirements of genealogical proof standards. The names and dates of birth, marriage and death were probably based on family records and anecdotes and parish records that existed at the time, but today there are no official records in Ireland to back them up. Nevertheless, Shearman family members can be found in various cemeteries, old Irish city directories, newspaper articles, Tithe Applotment Books and indexes of wills. Kilkenny researcher Edward Law found numerous records pertaining to Grange House, home to my Shearman ancestors in County Kilkenny, and the librarian with the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Rothe House, Kilkenny was extremely helpful in my search for traces of the family.

This article has also been posted on the collaborative blog

Photo Credits: Rothe House; Janice Hamilton


  1. Janice Hamilton, “My Shearman Brick Wall”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 9, 2014,
  2. Janice Hamilton, “Waterford Cathedral: A Tale of Two Weddings”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 8, 2016,
  3. Robert S. Hill, “Shearman, Robert Clarke”, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Note that this article says Robert’s uncle was William Hobson, first governor of New Zealand; Lorraine has been unable to confirm that. 
  4. Charlotte was the daughter of Waterford pewter manufacturer Charles Clarke and his wife “Miss Bennett, late of Bath.” This maternal line has now come to another brick wall.  
  5. “Genealogy of the Shearmans”, prepared by George Shearman of Penn Yan, New York, c. 1863