I was finally able to get to Belfast, post-pandemic, to visit the Linen Hall Library for some research on my husband’s ancestor, the mysterious Mr. Robert Gracey. I knew from marriage records that his daughter, Lilian Ann Gracey (my husband’s 2nd great grandmother) had married Hugh Macauley in Belfast in 1867. I knew that Lilian was a Catholic woman born in Glenarm, in County Antrim, about 1836, but Robert’s identity was a mystery – I could find no Glenarm marriage or baptism records that even mentioned anyone named Gracey. Robert was from the Lecale area, in County Down, where there were records of Gracey families who were protestants. My only hint to his possible identity was an old newspaper notice from 1839, that read:
“On the 1st inst. at his residence in Glenarm, Robert Gracey, Esq. formerly of Lecale, in the county Down. He held a commission for some time in the Patriot army of the Liberator of South America. He was an officer in his own County Militia the South Downshire. His kindness of heart and benevolent disposition procured many friends, who have to lament their loss in his premature death.”
I was able to confirm Robert’s residence in Glenarm, and his service in the South Downshire militia, with an old letter from 1833 that I requested from the Irish National Archives. In it, Robert was asking for some back pay that had been delayed in the army’s red tape. He was categorized as a “reduced ensign”, meaning he was a junior officer who had been put on reduced hours. He stated that he had written repeatedly to the military authorities in Dublin Castle, and had submitted a “certificate of ill health” for an unspecified condition.
With this minimal documentation, I had two outstanding questions about Robert Gracey that needed to be answered in order to flesh out his story:
- Was Ensign Robert Gracey the same Robert Gracey who was the father of Lilian Ann Gracey?
- What were the family origins of Robert Gracey from Lecale – who were his parents, and were they a protestant family? Lilian’s catholic religion would suggest a mixed-religion relationship between her parents (her mother is still unknown).
There are a number of facts that point to a positive answer to the first question, with identical times, places, and names and living circumstances that would be coincidental in the extreme. The second question was answered during my visit to the Linen Hall Library, with a handwritten family tree from a large series of ledger books painstakingly created by Reginald Blackwood (1883-1961, a former library president). These Blackwood Pedigrees contain about 1200 family trees of people primarily from County Down. Blackwood apparently personally knew most of the families, and he included an assortment of family details scribbled in the margins in his tiny handwriting, along with some old newspaper clippings pasted to the pages.
Blackwood’s books contain several pages on the Gracey family of Ballyhosset. Ballyhosset is a townland located in the barony of Lower Lecale in County Down. And there was my Robert Gracey in the tree, born about 1783, died in 1839 in Glenarm, with a reference to his participation in the army of Simon Bolivar (the “Patriot Army of the Liberator in S. American”). Robert’s parents were Alexander Gracey of Ballyhosset (about 1747-1828) and Elizabeth Henry, daughter of Joseph Henry of Cargagh. As a bonus, the Henry family tree is given in a separate volume of the pedigrees. Tracing back through the Graceys, Alexander’s father was another Robert Gracey (circa 1700-1782), whose father was yet a third Robert Gracey, whose father was the wonderfully named Launcelot Gracey. Launcelot was one of the earliest Scottish Presbyterian who came to County Down in the mid-1600s as part of the Ulster settlement.
Though I can’t yet give an absolutely definitive “yes” to my question number one about Ensign Robert Gracey of Lecale and Glenarm, I’m 95% sure about it, and I’m happy to report that question two has been answered with an even higher degree of confidence.
- Linen Hall Library, Irish and Local Studies
- Irish Booklore: The Genealogical Collection by John Killen, The Linen Hall Review, Vol. 9 No. 2, Autumn 1992, published by Linen Hall Library
- Ballyhosset Townland, County Down, 2022
- The Anglo-Norman Families of Lecale: In the County of Down by J. W. H., Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 1 1853, published by Ulster Archaeological Society