My father’s party piece used to be a lusty tongue-in-cheek rendition of “The Bould Thady Quill”. For those who don’t know it, the song is a wonderful mock-heroic come-all-ye that depicts the ultimate Cork superhero:
” For rambling, for roving, for football or courtin’
For drinking black porter as fast as you’d fill
In all your days rovin’ you’d find none so jovial
As the Muskerry sportsman the bould Thady Quill”
I went off to check the lyrics recently (my own version is rusty, not lusty) and immediately found myself down several rabbit holes. First, Wikipedia told me that he was a real person, a landless farm labourer employed by a local Muskerry farmer, Johnny Tom Gleeson, who was also a balladeer, and who paid for Thady’s services with the song instead of his wages, “which pleased Thady no end”. The picture painted is of a bashful man – “he died a bachelor” – tickled pink to be painted in a ballad as a Corkonian Popeye.
And there he was in the 1901 census, a live-in labourer in an O’Sullivan household. But not in the 1911. Hmmm. Why not? A question that set a hundred threads a-pulling.
An image-search turned up a picture of his gravestone. It revealed his given name as Timothy, gave an address and a date of death. Three fine threads there. With the address, I got his baptism in Aghinagh parish in 1860, to parents Patrick Quill and Catherine Kelliher in Carrigiulla townland.
A check of 1932 death records in Macroom district uncovered a Timothy the right age and occupation:
This was written on November 5, a few days after the burial. But my Timothy’s death was recorded in January 1932. Not possible. Back to the death records. And there, registered in January 1933, and so listed in the index under 1933, is the real bould Thady:
A bachelor after all. But maybe not the retiring flower Wikipedia implies. The Dictionary of Irish Biography has him requesting the ballad be written, not being fobbed off with it. And his prison records suggest someone in no need of assertiveness training:
The moral of the story? It’s almost impossible not to construct stories that connect partial records. Beware of them.