12.37 – Felix Sebastian Muldoon, Patrick McDonald and Thomas Sutcliffe

This is a grave where the relationships between all three people took a short spell to unpick. Not one of these three is biologically related to the other, but all three men meant something to a Suthers. Not that poor Felix got the chance to become a man.

In chronological order, we will begin. Patrick Muldoon was born in Tullamore, nearly the very centre of Ireland, in about 1838. His life before he came to England is a mystery, and even once he got here it remained something of a mystery – it’s not the most unique of names. In fact in Todmorden in 1871 there were two Patrick McDonalds from Ireland who were born around 1838. We’re fairly sure that the relevant one is the Patrick McDonald who lived at 8 Cannon Street in Shade. He was a widower (his wife Marcella having died in 1870) and was living with his cousin Mary Cronley and a lodger named Bridget Gaulagher, or something of that sort. The two women were factory operatives and Patrick was a shopman. The reason we think this is our Patrick is because our Patrick was a grocer operating out of Patmos.

In late 1871 Patrick married Sarah Dawson Suthers. Sarah’s first husband, the excitingly named “Bland Suthers”, had died the year before, leaving her a widow with three daughters between the ages of five and nine to somehow maintain. Patrick was a charming and moderately successful Irishman who was occasionally before the magistrates but never censured, even when found guilty. At times he even had them laughing along with him. Sometimes he operated just on the other side of the line of the law, but (for most of his life) was never before the courts for flaws in his personal life – only pushing the envelope in business.

Todmorden Advertiser, June 16th 1882

Falling for Irishmen ran in the family. Sarah’s middle daughter, Betsy, became a cotton weaver and also started attending at St. Joseph’s with her stepfather and mother. In fact, she became a committed Catholic herself, with her baptism into the faith occurring in Carlow, Ireland, in 1889.

Through one or the other connection she met Felix Muldoon. Felix was also from Ireland, having come over with his widowed father and siblings in the 1860s. Felix was a little more free with his fists than Patrick, and at one point was convicted and fined for affray alongside his father Bernard after a disagreement at a wedding turned violent. Again, though, Felix escapes any mentions in the papers for anything other than the occasional brawl. The Muldoons went from Liverpool to Salford to Liverpool, and at some point Felix left the family and ended up in Todmorden working as an iron moulder. He and Betsy married in 1895 and they had two children, Sarah Jane Agatha and Felix Sebastian. The Muldoons lived at Mills Street while the McDonald/Suthers family remained up at Ridge Street.

Felix Sebastian as born and died in 1901, only two months old when he was buried on February 19th here at Christ Church. The Muldoons had no more children. Sarah Jane grew into a bright intelligent girl, being chosen to give an address to the new priest at St. Joseph’s when he arrived in 1908 on behalf of the rest of the schoolchildren there. Still, finances and conventions at the time meant that she had to leave school as soon as she could, and in 1911 she and Betsy were both working full time as cotton weavers. We’ll come back to the Muldoons soon.

Patrick and Sarah continued on at Ridge Street, but not all was well. Sarah grew unwell, as did Patrick. When Sarah died in 1905 she was buried with her late husband Bland and their daughter Molly who died in infancy. Patrick was left alone in the home and grew a tumour of an unspecified nature. The two things left him mentally a little unbalanced, and this culminated in an appearance before the magistrates of a far less enjoyable nature than his previous ones. The parish priest (not the one Sarah Jane welcomed, but the one before his predecessor) had called in several times to see Patrick but had criticised the state of the house on his last visit and refused to give Patrick communion due to the state of things there. Patrick roused himself the following evening and went down to the vicarage and smashed a window with his walking stick, apparently with the aim of bringing the attention of the Bishop of Salford to the situation so the priest could be reprimanded. All that happened was that Patrick was fined the cost of repairing the window and the costs for both sides before the court. Within a year of this incident he died and he was buried here, with his name at the bottom of the stone because of an assumption that others in the family would join him here eventually (and would need space leaving).

Todmorden Advertiser, May 19th 1905

Who is the third man here then, Thomas Sutcliffe? Well, at some point after 1911, the Muldoons upped sticks and left Todmorden for Rochdale. There, at some point after WW1, Sarah Jane met a young man named Tom Sutcliffe. Tom was a few years younger than her, born in 1899 in Todmorden to William and Mary Sutcliffe of Walsden. William was a coal merchant who moved his family to Rochdale shortly before the 1901 Census was taken. It shows baby Thomas, two years old, alongside his older brothers Sam and Joseph. When WW1 broke out Joseph stayed home to help with the family business while Sam and Tom went off. Sam died in 1916 and Tom survived, but at great cost. From his later obituary:

“[Tom Sutcliffe]…enlisted in the Devon Regiment at the age of 16 and was shot through the lungs and the left arm whilst serving with that unit in France. After undergoing ten operations he was discharged from the Army with his health greatly impaired.”

Tom’s return to health was slow but he did his best, and at some point in the 1920s he and Sarah Jane found each other. Sarah Jane seems to have been informally going by her second middle name, Agatha, by this point. The pair married in 1925, had their daughter Vera in early 1926, and in April 1926 Tom was dead from pneumonia aged 27. A terrible month for the Sutcliffes; William died only two weeks before Tom did.

Rochdale Observer, April 21st 1926

William was buried in Mankinholes with his first wife, Mary, and Tom was buried here in Christ Church. The question of why can only be answered via the assumption that other Muldoons or Muldoon-adjacent people would be buried here too – after all, there were still three spaces left. Where did the others end up?

Felix and Betsy Muldoon were still in Rochdale, and if 1926 was a bad year for Sarah Jane, 1927 was just as bad – that’s when Felix died. His death made the papers because he was found dead in the street, having suffered some sort of attack while out at work knocking up people’s windows (the precursor to the alarm clock was a person you paid to tap on your bedroom window with a long pole at the appointed time). The newspaper headline focused more on the fact that he had a number of purses and handkerchiefs in his pocket at the time of his death, and poor bereaved Betsy had to explain to the coroner and inquest jury that it wasn’t theft or something dodgy, Felix just…really liked handkerchiefs and purses.

Rochdale Observer, December 3rd 1927

Betsy never remarried and died in 1937; we don’t know where either she or Felix are buried. Betsy’s sisters Emily and Esther moved to Rochdale after Esther’s husband William Turner died, and can be found there in 1911. Emily died in 1918 and was buried at Cross Stone; Esther died in 1937 in Littleborough and her burial place is unknown. Sarah Jane remarried in 1941, to James Morris of Rochdale, and died there in 1962. Finally, Vera married Jack Taylor in Rochdale in 1945…and so a wide cast of players were dispersed to other places and other graveyards, and the big gap on this gravestone never got filled.

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