The Boylan & Phillips Families in Skerries & America

by John Wheatley
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – February 2015)

Keane’s Bus Bar was packed one night in February for John Wheatley’s talk to Skerries Historical Society: The Phillips and Boylan families in Skerries and America. John has spent more than a decade researching his family tree and had a huge amount of information to impart – the earliest records of the family date back to 1702 when Christopher Boylan was born. For me the most fascinating parts of the talk were the little nuggets of information which John had found out about his forebears which allowed us a window on what life was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Three Boylan brothers, for instance, became members of the Coastal Militia – known as the Sea Fencibles – which existed between 1798 and 1810 to defend against a potential French invasion. Were these young Boylans particularly concerned about the French turning up in Skerries? Or were they great supporters of the British rule in Ireland? It seems that the real reason most men joined the Sea Fencibles was that they could not then be forced into the British Navy if they were caught smuggling or captured by pressgangs. And they did get a small amount of money for each day they spent training.

A hundred years later there was another sea related story, this time relating to the Phillips side of the family. It seemed that Christopher Phillips had everything going for him – in 1906 he was nineteen years of age, had a good job as a stone cutter in Milverton quarry and was engaged to be married. Late one Saturday night – probably after a couple of pints – he and two friends took it into their heads to jump into a boat and row around the head. The boat overturned and all three lads ended up in the water. One of them managed to swim ashore using  oars as a float but the other two clung on to the boat which was eventually washed to Shenick Island by the tide the following morning.

Christopher’s friend crawled ashore and was saved but poor Christopher himself was too exhausted to hold on and was drowned. A sad end to a young man with so much promise.

Fortunately not all of John’s tales from his family tree were so tragic and we also heard about members of the family who went to seek their fortunes in America – but the lure of Skerries was too much for them and they came home in the end.

Report by Oona Roycroft

Page updated – 03 / 03 / 2015