The Rotunda Strikes Again!

This is my great-grandfather, Peter Reilly.

Peter Reilly 1882-1928

He died when my grandmother was just a young girl and we didn’t know much about him. She always said he came from Cork but on the 1911 Census, his birth place said Dublin. Reilly is a very common surname* and I hadn’t any luck finding a birth cert for him, despite knowing his father was called Thomas. No Reillys featured among the wider known family and I always presumed that they were either dead, in Cork, or both. Certainly, there was no assistance from this side of the family when he died, leaving a wife and 4 children.

Some years ago, I got the death certificate for my great-aunt, Marie, who died (before her father) in childhood of scarlet fever and she was recorded as the “child of a soldier”. This was news to everyone in the family. I subsequently contacted the Military Archives and, to my surprise, got hold of a service record. He had served approx 4 years in the 1920s. This recorded Peter’s exact date of birth and that he was born in the parish of St Mary in Dublin, better known as the Pro-Cathedral.

I was able to find a matching baptismal record which identified for the first time his mother as Elizabeth Murphy. I also collected a sister called Mary. This led to identifying my great-great grandmother on the census and her death in 1919. She recorded one living child out of four in 1911 and was a widow. But still I couldn’t find a birth record for Peter.

Today I was searching for someone else in the civil registers and it occurred that I had never looked at the “unknown” Reilly births for 1882.


Let me introduce the Rotunda Hospital, the world’s oldest continuously operating maternity hospital.  It lies on Parnell St on Dublin’s northside. The Rotunda registered the births of children born in there but they often did not record the child’s first name. I don’t know whether it was policy or laziness or that there was so many every day that the staff just didn’t bother but take a look at this sample page from 1884 birth register. All children born in the Rotunda and not one apparently named yet. Often, you can only establish from the census what the correct child is in a family, though sometimes the register was updated later with the name.

Anyway, I found Peter’s birth record! He is an unknown Reilly born in the Rotunda! Now the task will be to go through other unknowns and see if I can identify any of his siblings.

The marriage between Thomas Reilly and Elizabeth Murphy continues to elude me and is the main brick wall in my ancestry.

*11th most common surname in Ireland in 1890, according to Matheson’s report. Surnames with an O or a Mac/Mc would be considered interchangeable in genealogical terms in this period. Murphy is the most common surname.