James McGuire (1805-1874)

Irish Born Ancestor James McGuire (1805-1874)

Keeping Raindrops at Bay

Wendy McGuire

St Mary's Abbey

St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin. Image © Stephen Conlin

It is unlikely that James McGuire dreamed of becoming an umbrella maker. James, son of James Maguire and Catherine Boyle, was baptised 16 June 1805 at St. Mary’s in Dublin. It was the same church at which James and Catherine were married on 2 May 1804. James was likely their eldest child. It is unclear if he had brothers and sisters.

An earlier St. Mary’s had been a large Cistercian Abbey founded by the Benedictines in 1139. St. Mary’s Chapel, where James Maguire and Catherine Boyle likely married, was built in 1729. Its funding had been a lifetime of labor for John Linegar, parish priest of St. Mary’s Liffey Street and eventually Archbishop. Though the authorities listed it as ‘Liffey Street mass-house’, it was considered a fine chapel at that time. A British Museum manuscript, written in 1749, describes the altar, pulpit, paintings, confessionals and ‘two galleries, several pews for better sort, and two sprinkling pots of black marble in the chapel yard’. In 1786 John Thomas Troy was transferred to Dublin as Archbishop and took St. Mary’s as his mensal parish. Perhaps he or one of his curates performed the rites for the Maguires.

For centuries before in Ireland, Roman Catholics could not celebrate Mass or the sacraments in public and were subject to severe penalties. By the early nineteenth century, many of the Penal Laws had either been repealed or were no longer enforced; an unsuccessful attempt had already been made to grant Catholic Emancipation. As a result, Catholicism began to emerge from its status as an “underground” religion. In 1803, a committee formed by Archbishop Troy purchased a property on the corner of Marlborough Street and Elephant Lane, within sight of the city’s premier thoroughfare, as the location for the new pro-cathedral.

St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, built between 1815 and 1825 on the site of the Cistercian Abbey of St. Mary, became a symbol of Irish nationalist spirit. Located on a rather grim road, St. Mary’s exterior is a mix of Greek and Roman architectural styles and the interior features beautiful stained glass and an important paneled ceiling. While James Maguire and Catherine Boyle’s marriage and their son James’ baptism occurred before the cathedral was constructed, the family must have watched with pride and wonder as it was erected. It would have been an impressive place for the Maguires to worship.

A plausible history can be imagined for James’s childhood in Ireland until he left in the 1830s. Education at the time was not yet nationalized. If James attended school, his parents probably chose one of the hedge schools established for Catholic children. James’s parents would have paid tuition for him to attend. Most hedge schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic, with some also offering Greek and Latin. When James would have been considering employment, the choices for occupations, especially for Catholics, were slim. Typically, women were domestic servants and men went into agriculture. As young as 12 years old, James likely was employed as a laborer or had an apprenticeship. Since nothing is known of his father’s occupation, perhaps he was in a trade. Like so many Irish seeking to improve their situation, James left Ireland for the west coast of Scotland, not to farm or to become a laborer but to apprentice in a trade.

James arrived in Glasgow, Scotland before 1839 during the time when many Irish immigrants flooded the city. His mother, Catherine, joined him, perhaps by then a widow. By the 1840s some of Glasgow’s housing conditions were regarded as among the worst in Europe. Overcrowding and a highly mobile population made the city vulnerable to epidemics. Cholera came in lethal waves. Typhus and typhoid struck with regularity in the city’s foul home environments or in dingy lodging houses, most likely where James McGuire was living. As an apprentice he would not have had the funds to escape these conditions. Polluted water supplies, a smog-laden atmosphere and a lack of sunlight were ripe grounds for chronic illnesses and epidemics. It was not a safe place for a young family to start their lives. James considered his options.

About 1839, when James was in his early 30s, he married Margaret Lamont, born in Antrim, Northern Ireland c. 1813. She was a daughter of Robert Lamont and Jean Ferrier, also natives of Antrim. At the time of James and Margaret’s marriage, Robert Lamont lived in Saltcoats, Ayr, Scotland with his second wife and family. While no records associated with James and Margaret’s marriage were located in Scotland’s Catholic Registers, their union was considered “lawful” in the eyes of the Catholic Church in Scotland. Likely they were married in either St. Andrew’s Parish in Glasgow, the groom’s residence, or in Saltcoats.

James may have been enumerated in the first full Scotland census in 1841, at age 25 with Catherine, age 70 and probably James’s mother, living in Marshalls, Chalmers Parish within St. John’s Parish in Glasgow. While the ages are not consistent with known birth dates, both James and Catherine reported that they were born in Ireland and James was a journeyman

shoemaker. If this is the census record for the James McGuire in question, it would have been relatively easy for him to transfer the skills he was learning as a shoemaker to another trade such as making umbrellas. What is certain is that becoming an umbrella maker required initiative, which James had.

In Glasgow James learned the trade of umbrella maker. Despite the terrible living conditions in that city, he may have continued to live there after his marriage in order to develop his skills, while sending his wife to live in Saltcoats.

The Esplanade

The Esplanade, Saltcoats, 1904. Postcard
from McGuire Family Collection

James and Margaret made Saltcoats their permanent home. They lived on Quay Street where their first child, Jane, was baptised 23 March 1840. The town’s name is derived from Saltcoats’ earliest industry when salt was harvested from the sea water, an enterprise that was carried out in small houses along the beach known as ‘cots.’ Other early industries in the town included coal mining, fishing and handloom weaving. After 1840 job prospects opened up for the Irish to come to Saltcoats to work in the mines. The population increased greatly as a result, although this migration is not what brought James to the town. As well as living close to Margaret’s family, James McGuire had a dream of his business growing due to Saltcoats’ proximity to the two adjacent towns of Stevenston and Ardrossan along the coast of Ayr. There, wealthy vacationers residing at lovely seaside homes were certain to need an umbrella to shade them as they strolled the esplanade – or more likely when they encountered frequent rain coming off the sea. According to the business directories, there were few umbrella makers in that location.

Seven children were born to James and Margaret at Saltcoats, spaced two years apart as was typical for the times. All of the children except daughter Catherine McGuire were baptised at home by itinerant Roman Catholic priests from Saltcoats or nearby Dalry in Ayr, Scotland. Catherine McGuire was baptised 26 June 1842, six weeks after her birth on 2 May 1842, at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, a prominent building. Sponsors for her baptism were Hugh McGrady and Mrs. McGrady. The journey for James and Margaret to have Catherine baptised in Glasgow would have required considerable effort and demonstrated their attachment to that distant parish. Clearly James and Margaret were devout Catholics.

Winton Circus

Winton Circus, Saltcoats, 1904. Postcard
from McGuire Family Collection

Baptism sponsor Hugh McGrady was an umbrella maker living on Bridge Gate Road in Glasgow and about 10 years older than James. It is possible that James McGuire learned the trade through Hugh, which would account for the close relationship between the families and connection to Glasgow. McGrady likely operated an umbrella business in Glasgow. It would have been a cottage industry, with the women in the family employed in the trade and sales.

In 1855 Scotland replaced its old system of birth, marriage and death registration by parishes of the Established Church of Scotland with civil registration. Registration became compulsory, regardless of religious denomination, but only events occurring after 1 January 1855 had to be registered. In an unusual and extraordinary effort for the time, James McGuire and Margaret Lamont provided the authorities with documentation for their seven children, all born prior to 1855. Their actions insured that their children’s Catholic baptisms dating from 1840 to 1852 were recorded and included in the new civil registrations. While the parents’ purpose is not known, it may have increased their children’s opportunities as well as securing their legitimacy within the broader government systems.

Although the first umbrella was seen in Glasgow in 1782, umbrella making was a relatively new trade in Scotland, leading to the supposition that James likely did not follow his father’s occupation. Given Scotland’s climate, it must have seemed to James like a great opportunity and exciting to be in the forefront. At the time he lived, the popularity of umbrellas was growing, particularly among the gentry and fashionable crowd who would have vacationed near his home. Exhibiting initiative and faith, James must have viewed his occupation as having a promising future.

The Glasgow Trade Directory of 1838-39 listed 18 umbrella makers; its 1839-1840 Directory listed 4 umbrella tradesmen. By 1840-41 there were 15 umbrella makers, two in Ayr, but again James McGuire was not listed. In the 1851-52 Ayrshire Directory, James’s name did not appear even though he reported that he was an umbrella maker in the 1851 census.

James McGuire’s occupation as umbrella maker was documented in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 Scotland censuses as well as on his 1874 death register. His likely was a one-man business. One would expect to find journeymen or apprentices listed in the occupations if there were any. If one looks at later censuses and explores the neighborhood where the master of a business lived, it is common to find that employees were housed nearby as was the business itself. Yet no other workers were found in Saltcoats or Ardrossan supporting James’s trade.

Two records suggest the involvement of James’s immediate family in the trade with him. The first indicator is his son Daniel, whose occupation in the 1861 census was silk weaver. Silk was a necessary material in higher-end umbrella making. The second individual who may have contributed to the family business was James’s wife Margaret Lamont. On the 1871 census her occupation was enumerated as a “Hawker.” Frequently, hawkers sold goods that were made by another family member, which in this instance could have been her husband’s umbrellas.

Winton Circus

Green Street, Saltcoats, Ardrossan
where James McGuire and his wife Margaret Lamont
were enumerated in the 1851 Scotland census.
Photo dated 2005 from McGuire Family Collection

Interestingly, on the1869 marriage register in Dumbarton, Scotland for James McGuire’s eldest son, also named James, the father was listed as a “Master Umbrella Maker.” The “master” designation indicated that James McGuire was at the top of his trade and an expert.

Perhaps it was James McGuire’s expectation that his son Daniel would follow in his occupation, but that was not to be. As children do, each of the surviving McGuire children looked for better opportunities and eventually left Saltcoats. Daughter Jane married a foundry worker (her residence is unknown). Daughter Catherine married John Hay in 1861, and in 1872 she left Scotland for Kansas with her children to join her husband. Son James was the only child

Son Daniel emigrated about 1865 from Scotland to America and never saw his father again. Daniel became a U.S. citizen in 1870, lived briefly in California where he married Jean Bisset Doctor, and later settled in Kansas and Nebraska. Daniel was a plasterer (which likely led to his early death from consumption), a farmer, respected civic leader and first mayor of Wymore, Nebraska. Son Robert died in 1867 at home of “sephalitis.” Daughter Margaret, a dressmaker, also immigrated to Kansas, where she married James Lowden and raised her family in relative comfort. Youngest daughter Janet “Jesse” remained in Saltcoats the longest, likely to help her mother and father as they aged.

Daniel McGuire

Daniel McGuire (1846-1888). Photo dated 1884 from McGuire Family Collection

James lived out his life in Saltcoats, Old Ardrossan, first on Quay Street and then with successive moves to Green Street, Chapelwell Street, and Drakemire Street. His wife and remaining children accompanied him. After his death in 1874 in Saltcoats, his widow Margaret applied for Poor Relief in 1878 and 1879 and was offered positions of support by the parish, which she declined both times. In 1880 Jesse and mother Margaret immigrated to Kansas, enabling Margaret to live near four of her children’s families. She died in 1888 in Kansas, and Margaret’s grave is marked with a monument.

Death notice

Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, dated 25 July 1874

A brief death intimation (obituary) about James appeared in the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, dated 25 July 1874: “At Crofthead Street, on the 23d inst. Mr. James McGuire.” The family would have been fairly solvent to afford even a brief posting in the newspaper. The location of the Crofthead Street home today is known as Chapelwell Street; that residence and the few other buildings on the street have since been replaced by the New Trinity Church.

James was likely buried in a collective grave, since he did not have the resources to purchase a burial plot. Did he achieve the financial success he imagined when he began in the umbrella making business? Were the departures of his children for the United States filled with sorrow knowing they would likely never see each other again? What were his views on religion, particularly when at least five of his children became Protestants? Beginning with his roots in Dublin, James McGuire did leave a rich legacy of courage, hard work and independent thought.


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