UNDER the sub-heading "Extra Ordinary Childbearing" the army Lieutenant George Boscawen who compiled Ordinance Survey Memories of South Antrim in 1832 reported that Anne Gilbert of Drumaleet (near Aghalee) gave birth to 24 separate children, the offspring of three husbands.
Divorces were not practiced in those days so death must have parted her from her spouses and of course child benefit and other welfare services were nil.
She was only around 16 when the first child was born and she (the mother)' often had to be called in from playing "Jackstone", and "by much flattery" persuaded to breast-feed the infant. The prolific mother lived to an advanced age and died circa 1800.
Another Drumaleet mother bore 18 children, 17 sons and one daughter. She was Catherine Brady nee Lavery, and Patrick Brady fathered all eighteen. He died around 1800. Actually he was murdered while returning from a visit to his native Connaught. Catherine married a second time some years after the death of Patrick.
In the eighteen thirties Aghalee parish had a population of 1,411, male 661. Aghagallon parish had 3,572 of which 1,832 were females.
Big families still existed in the same area in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Robert Mallon who lived to the age of 90 plus fathered ten. His pride was reflected in the recorded rebuke which he voiced when a stranger who met him asked his name.
"I'm Robert Mallon father of seven sons and three daughters. Holy mouse, d'ye not know me." That was about 100 years ago.
In the next generation, his son Bill, a farm labourer fathered 14, all of whom survived into adulthood.
There were about eight boys in the family: a baker, a cabinet maker, three bus conductors, and several labourers. The mother and older girls did outwork, i.e. thread drawing and hemstitching for local factories to supplement their father's meagre wage of two shillings or half-a-crown a day as a farm labourer.
Some of the younger members of the latter family were schoolmates of mine and one of them always brought a large wicker basket and parked it in the small shop close to the school.
When school was over, four batch loaves, called "a ticket", went into the basket plus some other groceries every day. "The ticket" was a daily standing order and of course lumps were pulled out of the loaves before they reached home.
There were no school meals in those days ....even turnips in a field by the roadside were uprooted and munched by scholars on their way home from school.