Perhaps her name was Harget.
My great great great grandmother was probably Peggy Dempsy of Co. Antrim born about 1819. That ‘probably’ causes moments of creative thinking when the records fail to give proof - and I am one who relishes proof. At first I rejected Peggy as Margaret is not a family name but circumstantial evidence exists to accept her which I will explain soon. Peggy Dempsy married James Johnston in about 1835 aged about sixteen. Certificates exist for many of Peggy and James’ children with an agonising gap where my great great grandmother Rose Anne could be.
In the available c1837-1857 Ballymena baptism certificates for her other children “Peggy” is noted as having been corrected to a more formal Margaret. My great great grandmother Rose Anne has no daughter called Margaret.
One of Peggy Dempsy and James Johnston’s sons was Robert Johnston the Belfast Fenian: Robert Johnston’s daughter was Anna Bella, better known as the poet Ethna Carbery who was a cousin of Mary Ann, my great grandmother. My great grandmother who loved her cousin named her second daughter Annabella - the first was Rosina in honour of her mother, the third was Josephine Harget after her husband Joseph and, well, Harget. This is circumstantial evidence suggesting that Robert Johnston is Rose Anne’s brother and that Peggy is Rose Anne’s mother. It also shows how the same names tumble down the generations with slight variations: for example Rose Anne, Rosina, and later my mother Róisín.
Rose Anne married James Laverty in 1863 and their family of nine included twin girls born in 1866 named Mary Ann after his mother and Rose after herself (Mary Ann is my great grandmother). The next, and last, girl was registered as Harget Laverty in 1868. Her baptism certificate changed her name to Harriet. She married as Harriette in 1889 and died the following year as Hargret. Two of her nieces were also named Hargret/Harget. It is not a name I am familiar with and it made me curious. Harriet is not a family name either. That she was registered and died with the name Harget/Hargret seems to suggest that it was the one used every day by her family and friends.
In the middle of the night it occurred to me that perhaps the earlier Peggy is really Harget and not Margaret. Even in the morning the thought seemed worth following up so I set about to prove that Harget is the informal version of Margaret. I used the online census, RootsIreland, Irish Genealogy, and FamilySearch and restricted my search to the island of Ireland.
I found sixty-four females in Ireland called Harget (with spelling variations but for brevity I call them all Harget here) all born between 1792 and 1909. Where a formal name was recorded twenty-three were Harriet (with spelling variations), one was Ellen, one was Margate, and one was Margaret.
Twenty-one Hargets were born in Co. Antrim (this includes Belfast and Lisburn), twelve in Co. Down, four in Co. Tyrone, three in Co. Westmeath, two in Co. Monaghan, and one in each of Counties Sligo, Derry, Armagh and Louth. The strong clustering of the name in Antrim and Down explains why I, living in Dublin and Wexford, have never come across it outside of my family genealogy.
Thirty-four were registered as Harget, none were baptised as Harget, seven were married as Harget, twelve died as Harget and sixteen were in the census as Harget. That they were married, died and in the census as Harget suggests that it was the name used by their family and friends.
Sixteen were noted as Roman Catholic, thirteen as Church of Ireland, four as Presbyterian, and one as Protestant: the name is fairly evenly divided, no strong religious bias is showing.
I looked at their fathers’ occupations to see if there might be a suggestion of social status and I think there is. I found ten were born to farmers, fourteen to labourers, and seventeen to others including mill workers, carters, carpenters etc.; there were no teachers, judges, shop-owners or gentlemen, though of course the word ‘farmer’ can cover four or four thousand acres.
It would seem that I have proved that Harget was Harriet - though I clutch at the fact of two being Margate/Margaret. I still think that perhaps, just perhaps, my great great great grandmother Peggy Dempsy was named Harget, baptised Margaret as there appears to be no Saint Harget, and then called Peggy in honour of her baptism name.