The Story of One Immigrant Family in Lisson Grove
Quite soon after Lisson Grove was developed, pockets of poor, even very poor people, began to move in attracted by the prospect of finding work. One couple were William Kilroy and his wife Margaret Cuniffe, both from Aghamore, County Mayo, Ireland. William was probably born between 1785 and 1791.
To add to the general poverty of Ireland, the Potato Blight had struck Mayo in 1817, earlier than in some other parts of Ireland and many died. By the mid 1840s, when the potato famine was at its peak, whole villages had been wiped out, or deserted. The problem was that all potatoes were essentially one potato. The small potatoes from one crop became the seed potatoes for the next. If a virus attacked one plant, it could devastate whole fields, for every plant was part of the next one. There was no immunity. Therefore this disease was not like others. It did not attack one plant and spare others. Whole fields turned to suppurating black decay. With no alternative food, the only result was starvation or flight. The Irish emigrated to wherever they could, and many came to Britain.
It was not the first and certainly not the last, of similar mass movements to Paddington. Refugees from every war and disaster since Queen Elizabeth and before have come to London and many have used Paddington, with its excellent transport facilities, as a staging post.
William Kilroy was 42 and a widower, while Margaret was about 17, when they came to England in about 1826. It is possible that they had been married in Ireland, but no records are extant and Roman Catholic marriages were not recognised in England at that period. They first appear in English records at the baptism of their son, a second William, but the entry is in Latin. There were few Roman Catholic missions in England at this time, so the baptism took place on 19 August 1827, thirteen days after his birth, in the chapel of the Spanish Embassy in George Street, later to be rebuilt as St James Church, Spanish Place. Spain, Sicily and Austria all had such chapels where Roman Catholics could attend mass, be married, and baptise their children.
The Kilroys, Roman Catholics, for some reason decided to go through an Anglican marriage service in September 1828, at Christ Church, Cosway Street. Presumably this was to conform with the law in some way, as catholic marriages were not recognised in England. Surprisingly, William was literate, for he signed the register. Margaret simply made her mark with a cross.
The family went on to have nine more children, three of whom died young. In 1851, the oldest boys were labourers, while the younger ones were still at school. In the 1861 Census William I (the Father) was out of employ and his wife was a charwoman. Two of the boys were 'fishmonger's boys' and the third a labourer. William 11 was still at school at the age of 15, unusal with poor people at that time, and two younger children were also at school. In 1869, William Kilroy I died and was described as a ‘musician out of employ'.