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Bolger Family History
In Ireland this name is an anglicised form of the Gaelic Ó Bolguidhir, meaning ‘a descendant of Bolgodhar’, a personal name composed of the elements bolg meaning ‘belly’ and odhar meaning ‘yellow’ or ‘sallow’. The name was most prevalent in south-east Leinster – especially in Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny - and several members of the family were physicians to local Gaelic chiefs.
Brassell and Dermot Bolger, both of Ballywalter, were listed among the chief gentlemen of the Barony of Ballaghkeen in 1608 and the family name was well represented in King James II’s Irish army and, after the defeat of the Jacobites, in the Irish Brigade in France
In Sir William Petty’s ‘Census’ of 1659, the name Bolger (or a variant) is mentioned as the Principal Irish Name of households in the baronies of the following counties:
Borough of Carlow: Bolger (6); Idrone and St Mullin’s: Bolger (13).
Kilkae and Moone: Bolger (5).
Gowran Barony: Bolger (10); Ida, Idrin and Iberion: Bolger (11); Knocktopher Barony: Bolger (5).
Forth Barony: Bolger (11); Ballaghkeen Barony: Bolger (15).
By the mid nineteenth century, the Bolger name was most numerous in counties Wexford (209 households); Kilkenny (108 households); Carlow (62 households); Laois (38 households); and Wicklow (36 households).
There were 1,962 with the Bolger surname in Ireland in the 1901 census and 2,049 in the 1911 census, principally in counties Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny but with significant numbers also in Wicklow and Dublin.
Some notable Wexford Bolgers
Bolgers of Ferns: the most prominent Bolger family in nineteenth-century Wexford, they owned a renowned edge tool works and corn mill. Founded by Thaddeus Bolger (1803-1862) of Tinnashrule, Ferns, it served a local demand, domestic as well as agricultural, and produced a range of products from hearth cranes, pot hangers, iron gates and ploughs to knives and hooks.
Thaddeus was succeeded by his son, David and the firm became known as David Bolger & Company, specialising in the making of patent scythes, sickles, hay knives, reaping and mowing machine knives, bill hooks, etc. The edge tool works won awards at the prestigious Dublin and Cork Exhibitions for its farm implements, especially the Bolger sickle which, it was claimed, had no equal ‘in temper, quality or proof’.
David Bolger died relatively young in 1884, aged 56 and his sons, Thaddeus and Brian continued to develop the business, finding a new market in South Africa. Brian died in 1900 and Thaddeus in 1912 and they were succeeded by their respective eldest sons, Bernard and David. In July 1920, a disastrous fire at the plant marked the beginning of the end for the company which finally closed in 1928.
Bolger, Anastasia (later Úna Brennan) was born in 1888 at Coolnaboy, Oylegate, Co. Wexford, the eldest of six children born to John Bolger, a farmer, and his wife, Johanna Whitty. She was educated in the Loreto Convent school in Enniscorthy. After leaving school she worked on the farm for a while but in 1908 she persuaded the editor of The Echo newspaper in Enniscorthy to give her a column in which she advocated for women’s rights in the home and in public life.
She joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), a radical Irish nationalist women's organisation founded by Maud Gonne which would merge with Cumann na mBan, a women's paramilitary organisation in 1914. She was also a supporter of the revival of the Irish language and changed her first name to its Irish form Annstas, and later to Úna.
In 1909 Úna married Robert Brennan, a journalist, an Irish language teacher, and a member of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. When the 1916 Rising broke out in Enniscorthy, Úna, in her Cumann na mBan uniform, joined her husband in the Athenaeum (town hall) and was on duty there throughout the Rising. She was one of three women who raised the Irish Tricolour flag on the building.
After the Rising the family moved to Dublin. Brennan was active in the Irish War of Independence, using her home as a safe house for documents and men in hiding. During the Irish Civil War, she and Robert took the Anti-Treaty side and continued to shelter men and hide documents and dispatches.
The couple had five children, Emer, Maeve and Deirdre (Derry), and sons, Manus, who died in infancy, and Robert Patrick. Their daughter, Maeve Brennan was an Irish short story writer and journalist in New York, and a regular contributor to Harper's Bazaar and the New Yorker.
Úna Bolger Brennan died in 1958 and is interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.
Bolger, William Roger was born in 1918 to Frank Bolger, a printer and his wife, Elizabeth Leary. The family lived in Green Street in Wexford town, not far from the Christian Brothers’ school which Roger attended with his brothers. He left school at 16 and got a job as a cabin boy with the Wexford Steamship Company, the beginning of his forty-four-year long career at sea as cook and purser in the Irish Mercantile Marine.
He served aboard the MV Edenvale and the MV Glencree during ‘the Emergency’ - as WW2 was known in Ireland - bringing food supplies to Britain and fuel supplies back to Ireland. They also sailed to Lisbon in neutral Portugal. As Ireland was a neutral country at the time, the tiny MV ships sailed unarmed and alone, with the word Éire painted on their decks and flying the Irish Tricolour for identification. They also always answered SOS signals and stopped to rescue survivors regardless of nationality. However, their neutral status did not prevent MV Edenvale and MV Glencree from coming under sustained aerial attack from the Luftwaffe on several occasions and the Edenvale was menaced at least once by a German U-boat which surfaced and circled the MV for an hour.
In 2000, Roger Bolger was one of four Wexford men who had served on MVs during WW2 to be honoured by the Irish government for their roles in the Irish merchant fleet which kept Ireland fed and fuelled during that period. He died in 2011 aged 93.
In 2016, Roger Bolger’s son, Irish novelist, playwright and poet, Dermot Bolger published The Lonely Sea and Sky - a coming of age novel about an actual rescue of 168 German sailors by the crew of the Irish ship, MV Kerlogue – in tribute to his father and all such men who risked much during ‘the Emergency’.
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