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Tom Crean’s True Birthdate

Just when was Tom Crean born?

There’s been a lot of confusion about Tom Crean’s birthdate over the years yet I can confirm that the research I carried out prior to writing up Tom Crean’s biography, proves to my mind that neither July 20th nor February 25th are correct

Both dates may still see a number of posts, tweets and blogs celebrating Tom Crean’s birthdate but they are, in my belief, incorrect. Any case put forward for the 20th July can now be ruled out entirely. Less contentious is the date that Crean’s birth was registered, 25th February 1877 and although a case could be put forward it would hinge entirely on the priest having entered the incorrect date in the baptismal ledger. I consider that unlikely and believe that the wrong date was entered when the registration was made by his father Patrick Crean, on 11th March 1877. 

The evidence I’ve put forward in my book is that the 16th February provides us with strongest case for the day in which we should celebrate Crean’s birthdate and it remains the earliest recorded date of his birth.

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, continue to misinform readers.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book
Tom Crean’s Naval record with an erroneous birthdate

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.

A 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 / Tom Crean’s baptismal entry

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 remotely 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 and considering all possible scenarios there was only one conclusion to reach – what I found was the earliest written reference to Tom Crean’s 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.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book
Cornelius Crean’s Baptism entry


Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book
Cornelius Crean’s Birth Certificate

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 us 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 clear 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 the baptismal entry of 16th February, 1877, was the earliest written and recorded date of Tom Crean’s arrival to the world. it was impossible to disprove it this was his actual date of birth.

Thinking outside of convention, it could be argued that the priest entered the wrong date to erroneously record an earlier date of birth. It’s a possibility and one that would bring into question all dates entered into baptismal registers. This belief would, as a result, offer a greater reliance that the person who registered the birth had a vivid recollection of the day it took place. 

Having consulted and debated the point with a number of genealogists, analytical drilling down of the data could place the date anywhere between 16th February, maybe one, two to three days earlier and any subsequent day up to and including 25th February,  the date registered on his birth certificate.

Throwing doubt upon any possible birthdate would of course leave us with no date whatsoever on which to celebrate the day in remembrance of Tom Crean. Being the good lapsed Catholic I am and given that Crean himself put his strong Catholic faith into men of the cloth, I would deduce that he too would consider his priest’s entry, 16th February, to be the most appropriate date on which to celebrate his birthday.

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. 

To take a couple of examples of the trend that saw incorrect birthdates being applied to  Naval records, let us firstly take Crean’s Terra Nova colleague Patrick Keohane.

Keohane was born in Barry’s Point, County Cork on 2nd June 1879 yet his Naval record gives his date of birth as 25th March 1880.  In the case of Thomas Mahony, born a stone’s throw away from Crean in Ballinacourty, a full year separates his true birthdate, 22nd November 1864, from that displayed on his Naval record, 21st November 1865. 

Of all the Naval records I investigated, (20 in total), 90% registered the incorrect birthdate, some by days, as in the case of Crean’s great friend, Edgar Evans, and others, like Tom Crean’s, by months, as was the case of Crean’s friend Dave Moriarty of Castletown, Berehaven, County Cork. Dave was born on 10th June 1869 according to his Navy record yet a more accurate indication of his true birthdate can be found in the Civil birth register and recorded as 9th January 1869.

Interestingly, Robert Forde, another of Crean’s Terra Nova colleagues, is one of the very rare entries of the era in which the birthdate in his Naval Record matches the Civil entry. Forde was born into the Protestant faith and it could be that he, unlike his Catholic colleagues, was aware of his true birthdate.

What has become clear is that any celebration of 20th July as Tom Crean’s birthdate is an extremely belated gesture – almost 6 months too late in fact. To believe and suggest that Tom Crean may have known his own birthdate after writing it in his own hand on official naval documents, is merely a resistance to accept the facts which are available to any member of the public. That inability to accept the truth serves only to continue a falsehood. 

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

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

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