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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, proved to my mind, that February 25th, the date displayed on Crean’s birth certificate, is incorrect

Any case put forward for the 20th July as Crean’s birthdate, can be ruled out entirely. Despite it being the date displayed on Tom Crean’s Naval record, it too misinforms.

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, 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 however, lay 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!

Birthdates being registered on dates later than the actual birth were not uncommon across Ireland as it was a legal requirement to register births in the Civil records. For Tom Crean’s father Patrick, this meant a trek to Dingle on Sunday, 11th March 1877 to register the birth of Tom. Without a vivid recollection of the actual birthdate, the registrar dated the birth exactly two weeks previous to Sunday, 25th February.  

The image below is a screenshot from the Irish Genealogy website that shows two examples that are similar to the confusion that comes with Tom’s birthdate. The conclusion reached here too is that the baptism entry is the more accurate source of a child’s true birthdate.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

There are other clues that provide firm evidence that 16th February was the closest record to Tom Crean’s true birthdate and they lie very close to home.

It has been generally 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 where Tom and his siblings were christened.

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 as being born on 2nd October 1871. His mother Catherine, travelled to Dingle on October 27th 1877 to register his birth. 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.

In fact if we go back to another two of Tom’s siblings a pattern emerges of late birth registrations. Let’s first take a look at the facts regarding Mary. Tom’s older sister.

Mary was baptised on March 6th 1869 however, her civil birth certificate shows a date of March 11th 1869 – it was registered in Dingle by her father Patrick on 11th April 1869. 

Patrick, now accustomed to making the journey to Dingle to register the births of his children, was again in no hurry when it came time for his son Daniel’s birth registration. Daniel was baptised on March 15th 1873 yet the date on his birth certificate is April 15th, over a month later. Patrick made the journey to Dingle to register Daniel’s birth on May 9th 1873 – that’s almost two months after his son was born.

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 analytical evidence of the Crean family’s tendency to register civil births much later that their children were baptised, then Tom Crean’s true date of birth becomes far less contentious and as such can be dated on or before his baptism on February 16th – it’s only the name on the baptism entry that may leave any degree of doubt. Let us then explore this in greater detail.

Could he have been a twin?

Had he been a twin there would have been another entry detailing his correct name and records would have revealed his mother, Catherine as having given birth to 12 and not 11 children as revealed in the 1911 census, 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 name of the child 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. Any other explanation was impossible to prove given the evidence at hand.

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 also, as a result, offer a greater reliance that the person who registered the birth, in this case, Tom’s father Patrick, had a vivid recollection of the date it actually took place. 

As a result of my findings, I am fully confident that the baptismal entry, 16th February, is the most authentic source we can apply for Tom Crean’s true birthdate particularly when we take into account the history, on three previous occasions, of the Crean’s tendency to register the birth of their offspring on dates later than when their children were born. 

That “baptismal records are the more accurate reflection of the true date of birth of a child,”  is a belief strengthened by the writings of one of Ireland’s leading professional genealogists, director of Timeline Research Ltd, Nicola Morris.  Her post here offers an explanation as to why some Civil birth certificates were deliberately recorded as later than the actual birth.

Throwing doubt upon any possible birthdate for Tom Crean, would also, of course, leave us with no date whatsoever on which to celebrate the day in remembrance for him. 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. I believe the case I’ve put forward here leaves very little doubt that it is the right date to choose.

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?

The reasons, if any, behind incorrect birthdates entered on Naval service records are unclear but having studied a number of Naval records of boys from the same area who joined up in the months before and after Crean, I found the same applied to many young boy recruits across Ireland .

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. Any suggestion that Tom Crean was aware of his own birthdate and the notion that he lied about his age when signing up is balderdash, however enchanting that claim may appear when reading other accounts of his life. In truth, boy recruits never needed to lie about their age because they were actively recruited from the age of 15, as can be seen in this Royal Navy Recruitment poster from 1892, just a year before Crean joined the Navy.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

Those of us, including myself, whose parents were born in early to mid 20th century Ireland, know only too well, the confusion many had about their own true birthdates. My own father, born in 1917 in Keel, just a few miles away from Crean, was unclear of his birthdate and it was, only after he passed away that birth records revealed we had celebrated it a few days late than his real date of birth.

The most compelling piece of evidence proving Crean’s age at the time of his joining the Navy, appears in a statement he made during a court case in 1930, as can be read in the following image:

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean Book

So, in concluding this post accounting for the confusion of Tom Crean’s birthdate, I’m happy and confident in stating that the most appropriate date that can be identified for future celebrations of  Tom’s birthday  is 16th February, 1877.

Researching and writing Crean’s Life Story

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean BookMy book, Crean — The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero, has been as much a labour of love for me as it has been a passion to see Tom Crean awarded the recognition he deserves from the country he loved.

For 3½ years I researched Crean’s story at some of the world’s most respected archives to be able to chronicle his story. In doing so I’ve unearthed a substantial amount of new information never before published about this incredible man and I became aware of many errors that exist in the existing timeline of his life.

In mid-2020 I presented a 7,000 word document and three folders containing files and sub-folders of the sources I used as references and notes to write the book. Used as evidence of inaccuracies and missing information, this was submitted to the Royal Irish Academy after I offered to share the research I’ve gathered over the period of my investigating Crean’s life in preparation for writing his biography.

In an update of huge importance, on October 2nd, 2020, I received confirmation from the Royal Irish Academy, that the entry for Tom Crean in the internationally recognised, Dictionary of Irish Biography, would be revised in light of the evidence I provided them. Substantial revisions to Crean’s story were officially announced on March 17th 2021.

Tom Crean's True Birthdate Tom Crean BookFor children, and because existing children’s books about Crean also contain a number of inaccuracies, I have written a book specifically for 6-10 year-olds. Tom The Mighty Explorer. The book is based on my findings while researching Crean’s life. The story contains 27 fully illustrated images, 4 maps and a fun interactive section.

To discover more about Tom Crean and how to purchase any of the formats of the books you can read more at

Because of my research Tom Crean's story has changed so do please share the posts.
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