chapter one

Thomas Carabine: Victorian Coalman

My Great, Great, Great Grandfather (my grandfather's great grandfather)


Deirdre Carabine


Thomas Carabine is our oldest known ancestor in Belfast. I have tried to put together his story using various genealogy websites, social history websites, mixed together with just a little bit of conjecture in line with the existing facts. I also try to situate Thomas in the context of what was happening in Belfast during his years there. Interestingly, his life in the city coincides almost exactly with the Victorian Era (1837-1901) – just three years difference – the time in which Belfast changed beyond recognition.

We know that Thomas Carabine was born in 1824; I am assuming he was born in County Mayo where there were many Carabines since there is no evidence of any other Carabine in Belfast prior to 1839 when Thomas is first recorded as living there. The transcripts of the Belfast Street Directories bear this out (see: )

When young Thomas Carabine arrived in Belfast from County Mayo sometime around or before 1839, he would have been both frightened and fascinated. This large industrial town would have been so totally different from the quiet rural area where he was probably born. And he saw changes that were truly life changing both for individuals and in terms of the city itself. He was possibly unable to read or write since he made his living as a carter for almost the whole of his time in the city – as a farm lad that was perhaps what he knew best – but maybe he had attended a hedge school in his native county and had the basics of reading and writing. It's likely that he was a native Irish speaker, and if he came from a remote part of Mayo, then he would not have had much English.

But why and how did he come to Belfast in the first place? What made a young lad of 15 years of age make the long journey from Mayo to this thriving industrial town, possibly by horse and cart? And who, if anyone, did he make that journey with? Given the popularity of family names, he could have had a brother Patrick (b. 1831) who came to Belfast with him. If so, he may have married Mary (b. 1830) and their children could have been Patrick, John, and James (see notes “Thomas Tree”). Could his journey from home possibly have been a response to what is known as “The Big Wind”?

The Big Wind

On the night of Sunday 6 January 1839, the “big wind” hit the west coast of Ireland. Five hours of hurricane-force winds battered the west and north. The morning of 7 January dawned to scenes of vast destruction. More than 300 people were killed and countless other injured. Mayo was hit particularly hard with great loss of life, livestock, homes, and savings. In one Mayo area alone more than 4,000 trees were uprooted by the sheer speed of the winds. Many were made homeless, and many lost their livelihoods. That single event, saw areas bereft of human habitation.