Background to visit
In November 2014, Sting participated in an episode of the American ‘Finding Your Roots’ programme, which revealed that his 3rd great grandmother, Mary Murphy from Inniskeen, died in Carrickmacross Workhouse in 1881: – from segment timer 28.20
The Committee of Carrickmacross Workhouse subsequently contacted Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and she kindly offered to extend an invitation on our behalf to Sting to visit at his convenience.
His management company subsequently contacted the Workhouse and confirmed Sting’s interest in a visit on Thursday, 9th April 2015, on his way to his Belfast Gig that night with Paul Simon as part of their World Tour.
His management requested that Sting’s visit be kept private and respectful, without any media presence.
Definitive confirmation of his visit was only received the afternoon before, and Sting duly arrived at 1pm on Thursday, 9th April, accompanied only by his PA and a driver.
Tour of Workhouse
The Workhouse staff took him on a tour of the front Workhouse building, which has been restored into a Community Training, Resource and Heritage Centre.
We explained that, while the Workhouses were originally built in the 1840s to house the poor, by the time his 3rd great grandmother, Mary Murphy, was admitted in the 1880s, mass death 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 3rd great grandmother would have lived and died. He then spent some time viewing the four white crosses at the back of the Workhouse 6-acre site, where Mary may 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., Northern Ireland’s leading commercial and industrial property developers.
The Workhouse Committee are currently fundraising to purchase back the 6-acre Workhouse site to return it to community ownership. We wish to protect and restore the back derelict building, and to create a Memorial Garden to all those that 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 descendent of Sting’s 3rd great grandmother, whose maiden name was Goodman.
He also met Thomas and Mary McHugh from Carricklane, along with their children, Gerard, Paul and Annmarie, and grandson, Denis. The McHugh’s are descendants of Sting’s 3rd 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 3rd 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 2nd 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.
Sting, whose real name is Gordon Sumner, was born in 1951 in Wallsend, North Tyneside, England.
Art Work by Orlagh Meegan Gallagher
Before Sting departed after his almost hour-long visit, the Workhouse presented him with an art work by our 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 art work 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 some photographs and final goodbyes, Sting departed for Belfast with his head full of historical and genealogical information!
The Committee and Staff of Carrickmacross Workhouse would like to sincerely thank everyone that 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
* Steve O’Donoghue for his photographs and discretion
* Our friends at home and abroad for notifying us about the ‘Finding Your Roots’ programme