Paul Harrington Discovers His Irish Roots

Paul Harrington first achieved recognition for his debut album, What I’d Say, but his Eurovision win for Ireland in 1994 with the tender duet “Rock ‘n Roll Kids,” performed with Charlie McGettington, rocketed him to new heights of popularity.

The Irish singer was a performers’ performer: he was a regular at the VIP Room in Dublin’s most prestigious nightspot, and sang for and with stars from all over the world, including the Rolling Stones, Prince, and U2. He has also made many radio and television appearances and currently has a regular slot on The Pat Kenny Show.

Paul took a DNA test to learn more about his family history, and MyHeritage researchers delved into historical records to complete the picture.

Here’s what we found:

Paul’s MyHeritage DNA Results

Most Eurovision legends we’ve tested have come out with a predominant percentage of heritage from their homelands with a few other flavors mixed in. Not Paul! He is 100% Irish, Scottish, and Welsh.

We found 2,719 relatives of Paul’s currently living in the USA, 525 in Great Britain, 233 in Australia, 212 in Ireland, 128 in Canada, 90 in New Zealand, 82 in Norway, 29 in Netherlands, 24 in Sweden, 20 in France, and more in 17 additional countries.

Paul comes from a family with a long history in the printing business. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all printers or compositors. The family has strong roots in Dublin, but Paul’s paternal grandmother, Susan Kerrigan, was from Navan; his paternal great-grandparents, John Harrington and Mary Anne Keenan, were from Carlow; and his maternal great-grandfather, Michael Mills, was a sailor from Scotland.

A Political Prisoner in Naas: John Harrington (Paul’s great-grandfather)

When Paul Harrington’s grandfather, Richard, died in 1934, the family was living at 43 Carleton Road, in the new suburb of Marino which was built in response to Dublin’s housing crisis. A short obituary published in the Evening Herald (25 April 1934) noted that Harrington was formerly the foreman printer of the Meath Chronicle newspaper, and then of Wood Printing Works, Dublin. He was a member of the Dublin Typographical Provident Society (DTPS), a precursor to the Irish Print Union. While Richard Harrington was born in Dublin, most of his siblings were born in Naas, County Kildare. He subsequently spent most of his married life in Navan, County Meath, where his wife, Susan Kerrigan, was born. For a time, the couple and several of their young children lived with Susan Kerrigan’s parents, James Kerrigan and Jane Gerrard, at 18 Watergate Street, Navan. Richard Harrington is buried at Athlumney Cemetery, Navan.

Obituary for Richard Harrington in the Evening Herald, 25 April 1934
Obituary for Richard Harrington in the Evening Herald, 25 April 1934

 

1911 Census stating that Richard Harrington and his family, including grandparents James and Jane Kerrigan, live at 18 Watergate Street, Navan, County Meath
1911 Census stating that Richard Harrington and his family, including grandparents James and Jane Kerrigan, live at 18 Watergate Street, Navan, County Meath

Richard Harrington’s parents, John Harrington and Mary Anne Keenan, were from Carlow, but their first two children were born in Dublin, and they later moved to Naas, Co Kildare. John was a compositor and printer and worked for the newly formed Leinster Leader, a paper that opened in Naas in 1880. Those were turbulent times in the region, and John Harrington played a role in the nationalist cause—and paid a heavy price for his efforts.

In the 1880s, the Clongorey estate near Naas had begun to put the squeeze on tenant farmers. Like many large estates in Ireland at the time, Clongorey was under financial pressure, but so were the tenants, and they campaigned to pay reduced rents. 51 families were evicted between 1883 and 1892. The Leinster Leader proudly and unambiguously supported the tenants and the “principles of Irish nationalism and liberal process.” The Irish National Land League also got involved in the tenants’ campaign. As rent arrears mounted, families were evicted and agents for the landlord regularly seized and sold the tenants’ cattle and crops, causing public outrage and protest.

The home of the Fox family Clongorey after eviction, 1888. National Library of Ireland.
The home of the Fox family Clongorey after eviction, 1888. National Library of Ireland.

On October 29, 1888, John Harrington and eight other men, including the chairman of Newbridge Town Commissioners, were arrested following a protest at the seizure and sale of tenants’ cattle in Naas. Following several dramatic court appearances, the men were sentenced to a month in prison. The charge was “unlawful assembly,” an almost exclusively political offence at the time. Notably, John and some of the men were offered leave to apply for bail, but because some fellow protestors had already been imprisoned, they refused and were sent to Kilmainhaim Gaol in Dublin. The Kilmainham prison register records that John Harrington was committed to prison on January 11 1889, and mentions that he was a 35-year-old printer who was born in Carlow and lived in Naas. He was described as standing at 5’5” and weighing 166 pounds, and having brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin.

From Naas Petty Court. One of several court appearances laying out the charges against John Harrington and several others. December 1888.
From Naas Petty Court. One of several court appearances laying out the charges against John Harrington and several others. December 1888.
From Kilmainham Gaol prison register, January 1889.
From Kilmainham Gaol prison register, January 1889.

1888 was a difficult year for the family. In November, while John’s case was making its way through the judicial process with regular court appearances, Mary Anne’s mother was dying. Margaret Keenan (née Nolan) broke her hip around November 4 1888 and died 10 days later in her home at College Street, Carlow with her daughter in attendance.

Nationalist and Leinster Times, 16 February 1889
Nationalist and Leinster Times, 16 February 1889

John was released from Kilmainham in February 1889 and came home to a hero’s welcome for the “Clongorey Prisoners.” An editorial in the Nationalist and Leinster Times on February 16 1889 concluded: “The whole of the countryside was ablaze in honor of the ‘criminals’ and in their respective towns they were welcomed and feted as only criminals in Ireland are.”

But not everyone was happy about the protest campaign. A few days after he was released, John was back in court fighting an attempt to have his family evicted from their home. The case was “dismissed without prejudice.”

The Mills family line

Paul Harrington’s mother, Eileen Mary Mills, was born in 1922 to James Mills, a clerk or bookkeeper, and Christina Harper. Paul’s maternal great-grandmother, Mary Ellen O’Reilly, was born in nearby Sheriff Street, and she married Michael Mills in 1883 in St Laurence O’Toole Church, where she was baptized. On their marriage record, his name is first recorded as John Mills, and then as Michael. Through his life he used both names, and the records of his children’s births reflect this. Michael Mills described his own father William Mills as a miner (deceased).

Record of the marriage of Michael (John) Mills and Mary Ellen O’Reilly, 23 Oct 1883
Record of the marriage of Michael (John) Mills and Mary Ellen O’Reilly, 23 Oct 1883

The 1901 census records the Mills family with their 7 children, including 8-year-old James. Michael’s occupation is listed as “mariner,” and his place of birth as Scotland.

1901 census. Michael Mills and family with his wife’s mother Margaret O’Reilly
1901 census. Michael Mills and family with his wife’s mother Margaret O’Reilly

On the birth certificates of his children, Michael (sometimes called John) is described as a sailor, seaman, or mate of vessel. On his son James’s marriage certificate, he is described as a “chief officer” indicating a progression through the ranks. When Michael’s youngest daughter Teresa was married in 1928, his occupation is recorded as “sea captain (deceased).” Exactly when Michael (John) Mills died is unclear. A 61-year-old sailor named John Mills died in the Richmond Hospital on 10 April 1911, but Mary Mills described herself as a widow in the 1911 census which was taken on 2 April 1911. Of course, Mills was a sailor, so he might have died abroad.

Michael Mills was one of many mariners living in the docklands area of Dublin at the time. In the 1901 census her mother Margaret O’Reilly was living in the family home with the Mills family. Her occupation is given as “qualified midwife.” What level of qualification she had is unclear, but in a time when most babies were born at home with midwives in attendance, it is an important distinction.

A closer look at the birth certificates of her grandchildren shows that Margaret O’Reilly was present at their births. She was also listed as the person present at the births of other children in the neighborhood who were born around the same time. For instance, the birth record of James Mills, Paul Harrington’s maternal grandfather indicates that he was born on February 16, 1893; Margaret O’Reilly registered the birth on April 26, 1893. The next record shows that James Shiels was born on February 17, 1893, with Margaret O’Reilly present. That birth was also registered on April 26, 1893, as was the birth of James Dwyer—who was delivered on April 1, 1893. It is likely that Margaret O’Reilly delivered all three children but did not register the births until April 26. Similar clusters of registrations by midwife Margaret O’Reilly surround the births of her other grandchildren. Margaret O’Reilly signed her “mark” on these records, which indicates that she was illiterate. By the 1901 census, she could both read and write and was “qualified,” indicating that her skills had improved.

Midwife Margaret O’Reilly registered the births of these three children, including Paul Harrington’s grandfather James Mills, on 26 April 1893
Midwife Margaret O’Reilly registered the births of these three children, including Paul Harrington’s grandfather James Mills, on 26 April 1893

MyHeritage’s research provides some colorful details about Paul’s family past—from political prisoners to sea captains to midwives. They share a common thread: all of them were deeply devoted to their people and their families, and we’re sure they would have been proud of Paul for the pride he brought, and has continued to bring, to Ireland since 1994.