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This is a unique history of the North East's Irish community through the eyes of Godfrey Duffy.
Godfrey Duffy was reared in a coalmining village in County Durham. From an early age he was aware of the ethnic group to which he belonged.
I was part of an Irish Catholic community that had lived and prayed together for three generations. Religion and politics were my daily bread and butter. You can look at your ethnicity and all it represents and ignore it or embrace it with all its imperfections. I embraced mine.
Here some stories of Godfrey's ancestors ...
Duffy Family Group c.1901
John Duffy and his wife Margaret sit proudly with their youngest son, Joseph. Standing to the left side is their only daughter Susannah and behind them, sons Charles and Peter. These two brothers married two sisters and went to live in India, and became colliery managers in West Bengal. Joseph after missing the Titanic by a week, wandered around New York, avoided the draft of 1917 and became a Cadillac salesman in Chicago. However he returned to County Durham in 1923 where with his savings he converted his parents old clothes shop into a fish and chip shop in Albert Street, Stanley.
John Duffy 1855-1942 (Portrait c.1895)
My great grandfather, John Duffy who was born into abject poverty in Union Court, Carlisle. Within three years of his birth, Patrick (his father) and baby brother were dead leaving his mother, Jane to struggle on alone. In a short time Jane married her next-door neighbour, John Doherty a railway labourer from Dublin. The small family then moved to South Shields where John Doherty worked in a local colliery. In 1880 John Duffy married Margaret Hynes at Stella Catholic chapel. For a while the newly weds lived with John's mother, his half siblings and 76 year old great aunt from Cumberland. John and Margaret then moved to Stanley where they raised their family. By 1940 John was being cared for in a home run by nuns, the "Little Sisters of the Poor in Bishop Wearmouth".
Grandparents on the Moon c.1921
My grandfather Jimmy Hughes married my grandmother Bella Smith at St. Josephs RC church in Stanley in 1921. As Bella was a Protestant she had to be baptised a Catholic before she was allowed to marry in a Catholic church. I was told that both sets of parents disapproved of the marriage but got over it in time. It is possible this photo was taken in South Shields, a favourite destination of theirs.
The Wedding of Veronica Hughes 1929
My grandfather's sister, Vera married John Heslin at Brooms RC church near Dipton in County Durham. There followed the traditional Irish Hooley in the House to which all extended family members were welcome. The wedding brought together people united by their religion, nationality, families and culture. In the foreground of the photograph is my mother, a seven year old bridesmaid and her two first cousins, Gerard and Raymond Heron acting as pageboys. In the group are my grandparents, Jimmy and Bella Hughes, and my great uncles' Barty Hughes and his brother Tommy dressed in the attire of a Dominican Father. They were photographed at the side of my great grandfathers house at Hilltop called Garden House which still stands today.
The Hibernian Club Committee 1945
Mr Patrick Lavin and a group of Irish immigrants set up a branch of the Irish League in Stanley before 1900. Their aim was to maintain and engender an interest in Irish culture. This photograph records the club committee of 1945 including my father, Frank Duffy. Founder member Mr Lavin sits in the front row [he held the presidency until 1955]. The surnames of the committee members, Messrs Connelly, Martin, Duffy, Hughes, Ryan, McGee, ONeil, Doran, Lavin and Carney to name but a few, bear testimony to the strong Irish presence in 1945.
Godfrey Duffy: Biography
Godfrey has had numerous articles published on the theme of Irish history and genealogy and for a time ran adult education courses on tracing your Irish ancestry. He also had a book published on genealogy in Ireland in 1996. His research concerning Irish settlement and genealogy in North East England continues.