The Kinmonths of Shandon, Cork

The RCB Library recently solved a genealogical mystery concerning the family of Kinmonth from the parish of St Anne’s, Shandon. Whilst originally a family name of Norman origins, and with strong links in Scotland, Kinmonth is not a typical Cork name, yet some older Corkonians would have heard of the Kinmonth family as being poultry and egg merchants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. William Kinmonth was a town councillor, Justice of the Peace, and President of the Cork Rowing Club, and lived in a fine house called Ferney, overlooking Lough Mahon in Blackrock, in 1911. Cork wits referred to him as ‘Chicken Choker’ Kinmonth.

Michael Foley is a Kinmonth in-law, and as he was the only family member living in Dublin, took it upon himself to visit the Library of the Representative Church Body where there are now 1,155 collections of parish records, including over 80 from the city and county of Cork.

Title page from the earliest register for St Anne’s, Shandon, © RCB Library, P. 537/1.1

Initially he wanted to find the ancestor of ‘Chicken Choker’ Kinmonth – another William who had come to Cork in the early 18th century – but as he recalls himself “was not prepared for the mountain of records of Kinmonths” that he found recorded amongst the entries of baptism, marriage and burial – most of them in the registers of St Anne’s, Shandon, and the earliest of which was the baptism of a Thomas Kinmonth, on 29th April 1780 – some 249 years ago this month.  He was the brother of Hugh Kinmonth, son of William and Elizabeth, baptised on 17th August 1790 – the great-great-grandfather of Michael’s wife.

It did not end there, however. Going forward he found the baptism record of Hugh’s son Thomas, and forward again to the baptism of Thomas’s son, William Kinmonth, on 4th May 1842 – the poultry man. Three generations, all in the records of Shandon and all baptised in the same baptismal font that is used today. 

As well as reconstructing the movement of specific branches of the family, Michael made other interesting findings during his research. One was the detail given in entries about sponsors of children baptised – or ‘surities’ as they were called – which paint a picture of a very close-knit community with the Kinmonths ‘living in each other’s pockets’ of families such as the Clarks, Craigs, Franklins, Shuttleworths and Woods, acting as sponsors of each other’s children. 

The interior of St Anne’s Church in Shandon, with the original baptismal font from 1629 in the foreground. Photo: © Michael Foley

Another unexpected turn of the wheel of history with the parish of St Anne’s and indeed wider diocese of Cork today is the property that William Kinmonth, the poultry merchant, whose humble origins as the son of a humble weaver evolved to his becoming a wealthy merchant and able to buy the grand house on 25 acres called Ferney on the shores of Lough Mahon. After his death, his family were the last residents in the house and sold it in 1940. For many years it lay empty before being demolished. By happy coincidence the land in the front and to the right of the house was used to build St Luke’s Home, which for 130 years has provided residential care and support services to older people in the Cork region – a virtuous circle! 

Michael Foley says: “Working in the RCB Library is a real pleasure. Its intimate and warm space provides the perfect atmosphere for scanning thousands of records without distraction – and the task demands concentration. The staff is ever so helpful at finding the exact register one is looking for and bringing it to readers in the reading rooms. To an amateur genealogist like myself their efforts let me bask in the anticipation of what treasure I might find in the next register.” Dr Susan Hood says: “It is most rewarding when visitors like Michael not only find what they are looking for but share their stories – so inspiring others in their research.”