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Tom Crean’s True Birthdate

Just when was Tom Crean born?

There’s been a lot of confusion over the years about Tom Crean’s birthdate, and today is a fitting one to state that my research when writing up Tom Crean’s biography, indicates that February 25th is the wrong day to be celebrating his birth.

Today may see a number of posts, tweets and blogs celebrating Tom Crean’s birthdate but I believe they are incorrect. The evidence I’ve put forward here provides an extremely strong case that Tom Crean’s birthdate was on the 16th February.

So how and when did all the confusion begin?

In an erroneous entry on Crean’s Naval record, (below), the date originally thought to be Crean’s birthdate appears as 20th July 1877.  Reference to the date appearing on an official document meant that no-one had any reason to question it. Still, today, Wikipedia and a number of other publications add to the confusion by listing the date and, in the event, misinforming their readers.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

It was only after the General Records Office freed up public access to the birth, marriage and death records in September 2016, that information and records were made freely accessible to internet users.

In 2014, genealogist Kay Caball discovered, in the archives, a birth registration certificate that seemed to confirm Tom Crean’s birthdate as 25th February. The birth was registered in Dingle on 11th March 1877 and the birth certificate was dated ’25th February 1877.’

It was a significant find that confirmed Tom Crean was not 15 years old when he signed up to the Royal Navy as had previously been assumed. He was in fact 16 years and almost 5 months old when he travelled to Minard coastguard station in July 1893.

An even more reliable source of a person’s date of birth lies in the parish baptism records. To make matters even more confusing, when researching my book, I came across an entry listed in the National Library of Ireland records, (shown below). This confirmed a child, named ‘Joanna,’ was baptised on 16th February 1877 born to Patrick and Catherine Crean of Gortacurraun. The parents referenced here are irrefutably the parents of Tom Crean.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book
Source: National Library of Ireland – Ballanvohir | Microfilm 04274 /

How could this be possible?

A female child born 9 days prior to the registered birthdate of Tom Crean and to the same parents?

Well, the truth is that it could be possible yet in the unlikely event that there was a delayed birth of a second child nine days later, why didn’t Tom Crean’s name appear on the baptismal records on 25th February. Such delayed births are rare and in today’s world they still make the headlines. Advances in medical technology and the close supervision of trained staff make it possible but in this case, we are referring to Ireland of the 1870’s where such maternal support was not in great supply to those living an impoverished existence while Ireland was under Crown governance. 

After investigating all possible scenarios I reached the same conclusion – what I found was what I believe to be as the earliest reference to Tom Crean’s true birthdate. 

For pious families such as the Creans, their strong Catholic beliefs meant that it was imperative their children were baptised as soon as possible. The high mortality rates of the era meant that there was a greater urgency of having a child being baptised to prevent infants from entering ‘Limbo.’ (A former Catholic doctrine which stated that babies who died without the benefit of baptism would reside in ‘Limbo’ permanently on account of their having original sin). 

Consequently, children were usually baptised within days of being born – and very often on the same day as the birth!

There’s another clue that provides further evidence that 16th February was Tom Crean’s true birthdate and that lies very close to home.

It has been universally accepted that Tom’s brother, Cornelius, was born on 27th September 1871. The source for Cornelius’s birthdate was taken from the baptismal records written up in the same Annascaul parish.

Like his younger brother Tom, Cornelius also has a birth certificate dated later than that given in the baptismal records. In his case, Cornelius’s birth certificate registers him being born on 2nd October 1871. The mere fact that it is listed 5 days later than his baptismal record is immaterial as we understandably accept his appearance in the world 5 days earlier given the greater accuracy and authenticity of entries in the parish register.

So, if we apply that same criterion of credibility to Tom Crean’s real birthdate then it’s only the name on the baptism entry that may leave a degree of doubt. Let’s then explore any possible alternatives.

Could he have been a twin?

Had he been a twin there would have been an entry under his name and the later census records would have revealed his mother, Catherine as having given birth to 12 and not 11 children, all of whom I’ve accounted for in baptism or birth registrations. 

What isn’t conclusive is why the priest would have written the incorrect name. The explanation I have entered in my book is based on the fact that Parish ledgers were not drawn up immediately after an event took place. It is entirely plausible that a priest, having undertaken many baptisms, marriages and funerals in the time before compiling the register, made a mistake. If we throw into the mix the fact that the child’s name in the previous entry, immediately above that of ‘Joanna’ Crean, was also named ‘Joanna’ then it becomes even more of a probability. 

There may be other explanations for the name error but during my research, it was, for me, easy to prove that this was the earliest recorded date of Tom Crean’s arrival to the world yet it was impossible to disprove it. 

Whether 16th February is the ‘actual’ date of his birth is open to question – it could have been earlier as we have no proof that the baptism took place the same day he was born. Still, the evidence provides us with the strongest indicator that 16th February is the closest date we can establish as Tom Crean’s true birthdate. 

Incidentally, and just to add to the confusion, Tom Crean’s parents did have a daughter, Johanna, who was born four years later than Tom, on 4th April 1881

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

What of the misleading birthdate entry in his Naval records?

Now, this is a tricky one to grasp an understanding of but I studied a number of Naval records of boys from the same area who joined up in the months before and after Crean and found the same.

In a number of cases, like Tom Crean’s, their registered birthdate is months earlier than that listed on their Naval record and there is no pattern that emerges to present us with a reason. It seemed to be just a case of ‘let’s pick a birthdate and run with this’ before signing on that dotted line for a 12-year tenure in the Navy. 

So, in concluding this post accounting for the confusion of Tom Crean’s birthdate, I’m happy in stating that the earliest date that can be identified for future celebrations of  Tom’s birthday, or ‘Crean’s Day’,*  is 16th February.

*’Crean’s Day’ is a title I must attribute to Andy Walsh, who came up with the name and it’s a fitting one we both adopted and used on our Tom Crean platforms after 2014. Maybe one day it will become an official title 🙂

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

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