John McCaffrie b1842 – d1912

William Thompson sent me a message saying, “Hi Paul. My mother (born Gertie McCaffrie) was born in Blantyre in 1914. She had several brothers and sisters (sadly, all dead now). Her father was John McCaffrie who had a pub and (I think) a grocer’s shop in Blantyre. At one time the family were quite prosperous. They lived for a while in a house called (I think) The Priory.

John McCaffrie was good friends with the Kelly family, of Celtic fame.  (my mother kept in contact with the Kelly family at least until the 1960’s). Sometime in the 1920’s (?) John McCaffrie’s business went bust. My mother and her siblings then went back to Kerry in Ireland, where they were taken in by various cousins, etc. My mother met her husband (my father) in Killarney and got married there in 1941. I was born in Limerick in 1945. I’ve lived in the UK/London now  since 1968 and am retired. I’ve often wondered about my grand-father’s business in Blantyre and what really happened to it   – and him. He died about 1953. My mother (died 1986) wouldn’t talk about him – sad memories perhaps. I’d be grateful for any information you may have on my grand-father and his business in Blantyre. Thanks in advance, Sincerely – Bill Thompson (London)

P.S On 24 May 1960, Celtic came to my home town to of Limerick, to play a friendly against the local team, Limerick FC (the score was 3-3). My autograph book shows the signatures of Robert Kelly, who my mother met that day, James McCrory, Pat Crerand and the entire team. This included several Lisbon Lions – Billy McNeill, John Clark, Steve Chalmers and Bertie Auld. My brother and I went to the match and sat in the Celtic dug-out, Great days!”

What a great start to any ancestry request! I was able to respond with:

Mr. John McCaffrie was born in Kirkintilloch in 1842. In 1869 at the age of 27 he set up business in Hamilton, Lanarkshire as a spirit merchant. He rented premises at 17 Campbell Street (incidentally and coincidentally, an address I’m familiar with having once had a catering business there just after the Millennium!)

He found love and married Agnes Teresa McGowan in January 1874 who was 10 years his junior. I believe the couple married in Ireland and then came to Scotland to set up home in Blantyre. This time John was to be self employed. Irish immigrants, they were known to have arrived during 1877 (the year of the Blantyre Pit Disaster) whilst John was still in his mid 30’s. A first child Agnes M McCaffrie was born in Blantyre in 1878. A daughter Margaret followed in 1879 and on 15th March 1881, their first son John Patrick McCaffrie had been born.

The family were deeply spiritual and there were few Catholics in Blantyre at that time, services being conducted from 2 houses in Dixon’s Rows, long before a church being built.

John McCaffrie is noted in 1879 within Naismith’s Directory as being a wine and spirit merchant at Springwell Place, which then was a newly formed small street in Springwells in Low Blantyre. The family lived at McCaffrie’s Land, having built their own home at the corner of Springwell Place and Glasgow Road, (a building at risk, which still exists in very poor condition today). McCaffries Bar or Public House was located at 26 Glasgow Road. The surname was also often known as McCaffertys, appearing in some census info.

2019 McCaffries Building

McCaffrie’s Building, Blantyre as it is now, Credit to Jack Byres Photography

During 1881, they had a domestic servant in 20 year old Catherine Scott helping around their house, thought to have been above the bar. The business prospered and by 1885, it is telling that having arrived in Blantyre only 8 years earlier, John then owned 4 shops and 4 houses in both the Springwell and Stonefield areas of Blantyre, as well as his bar! This would have provided him excellent rental opportunity in a town rapidly expanding. One of his shops was leased out that year to John McClusky, a grocer.

By 1891, a daughter Teresa had joined the expanding family, which at that time still lived at Springwells, immediately next to the Robertsons aerated water factory. However, tragedy was to strike this family a few years later when on 30th December 1894, Agnes died at her own family home in Donegal, Ireland leaving behind John still in Blantyre, now a widower with their children. Agnes was only 42. The family erected an impressive gravestone in Donegal. This may have been the catalyst for the family moving home from Springwells to a new residence at Priory House, Blantyre.


By 1901, son John P McCaffrie was assisting with the family business and John senior still worked at Springwells, living westwards at his home at Priory House, (at the Dandy, Blantyre). John P McCaffrie was also a wine and spirit merchant and lived there too, an immediate neighbour to Celtic Director, James Kelly.

John McCaffrie Senior died on 17th June 1912, just two months after the Titanic sunk. The family is mapped out here. It was said in his obituary that John was one of the pioneering Catholics of Blantyre. At the time of his death, he was the oldest license holder in the Middle Ward of Lanarkshire. He was well known and respected and considered himself an agriculturist, attending shows with interest. He was a keen member of Blantyre Bowling Club (as were neighbours the Kellys). He had a mild temperament and had a remarkable flair for business. In his final years, he had been ill for some time and his care was being assisted by the Church.

Requiem mass was held in Blantyre at St Joseph’s Church before the funeral left for Broomielaw, where his body was taken on board a steamer heading for Donegal. He is buried beside his wife. Many wreaths from Blantyre accompanied him.

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Sadly, the McCaffrie business looks to have been on a downward slide from WW1. In 1912, now with access to inheritance, John Patrick McCaffrie just scraped through getting a license for his own business, McCaffries pub further westwards at 220 Glasgow Road after a number of protests from local clergy. He continued also with the pub at Sptingwells and his time was likely very split.

During the end of WW1, in April 1917, John Patrick McCaffrie was in court for failing to provide adequate supervision of his business and more other minor offences relating to the pub. One has to wonder what was happening? This young man aged 31 in 1912 had inherited many houses, shops and a thriving public house and would have had access to some considerable wealth.

He still owned the pub in Springwells by 1920. He may have suffered from the economic depression of the 1920’s for by 1922, McCafferie’s Pub was in new hands and this ties in well with the thought that the business went into liquidation. In one decade (albeit it a decade of conflict and hardship), the prosperous family business collapsed and one has to ask what part John P McCaffrie played in that. There is no mention of the family still in Blantyre by 1925, having lost the homes, shops and pub to liquidators.

As a side note, John P McCaffrie would have been just 41 in 1922 when this business ventures collapsed. This would have no doubt have had a serious impact on his family life. He had married Gertrude around 1906 and when the business was wound up, there were several children between the ages of infants to a thirteen year old. With such a large family of cousins, there may have been some discussion around what had happened in Blantyre, something which the children may have learned about later. There would have likely been a desire to forget that a business so prosperous in previous generations, had failed.

Of course, good did come out of all this, in a family back in Ireland and of course through the emergence of the descendants who are all alive today because of that very move.

It is known that by 1932, Mrs. Jessie Craig or Rae was the license holder at Springwells. The bar later became Enzio Caserta’s Ice Cream Parlour. McCaffrie’s Building then became known as Valerio’s Building, then later as Casertas Building then finally in more recent decades, Millers Buildings (Miller’s Fireplaces), Springwells.

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