Home – a small word with a big meaning…

 

School House Brattonsville

The old school house at McConnells, South Carolina – a new home for Scotch-Irish families from Antrim and Tyrone in the 18th century.

IT’S the time of year for people to make their journeys home.

The arrival of family at our airports or ports for Christmas or New Year is often an opportunity for a news piece when things are, to be honest, slack and stories are welcome, even the predictable.

And for those who return, even though content with their lives elsewhere, there is still a little something that strikes a chord in coming back.

I have always been intrigued by this sense of belonging. It means more than just where you come from, but is, I suspect tied up in a wealth of other inherited and cultural traits.

I once had to explain in a prolonged discussion with someone of a nationalist background how I felt absolutely no sense of being Irish. It was not a political statement. I like Irish people, and I enjoy visiting the Republic, but crossing the border does not make me feel Irish. To be honest, I like London as well but it does not make me a Londoner either.

I’m mindful of the famous comment from the Duke of Wellington that being born in a stable did not make one a horse – rather topical at this time of year.

Wellington was supposedly responding to someone who had referred to him as Irish since he was born in Dublin.

I would imagine that someone from a nationalist background would feel more at home in Dublin or Galway than a unionist, because the sense of ‘home’ is connected to upbringing and world view.

I have had the good fortune to visit the United States and have felt strangely at home in South Carolina, where many of the people are descendants of Ulster settlers from the 18th century.

At the little cemetery at Waxhaw in the Carolina Piedmont, I was amazed that almost all the graves were of Ulster families and their descendants, some of them mentioning place names on the stones such as Derrykeighan, Loughgiel, Newry and County Antrim. Waxhaw was the home of the Jacksons of Bonnybefore and there is a memorial to Andrew Jackson Sr. and an outstanding monument to his wife, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, mother of the seventh President.

Eliza Jackson

On a warm Spring day I remember having an overwhelmingly sense of peace at the Waxhaw as I wandered through the cemetery and the sound of birds and breeze in the nearby trees was all that disturbed the day.

Some years later, at Brattonsville in the rural community of McConnells, I was part of a delegation from Larne which included a local accordion band. We were all there as part of a twinning celebration with Clover in South Carolina and the plans included a wreath laying at Brattonsville, site of the Battle of Hucks Defeat on 12 July 1780 (a date which is hard to forget).

After our group had laid a wreath in honour of the County Antrim men who fought against the King’s troops in the Battle, Larne Harbour Accordion Band played in the open air, watched by a small crowd. The sound of the Green Glens of Antrim was a fantastic tune to hear and when we were leaving the park manager came over and said he had ‘felt a presence’ at Brattonsville that day.

What he meant, I think, was a sense of connection to the ancestors. Something that transcends everything else and gives a sense of connection.

For the park manager the real life Scotch-Irish had come back to Brattonsville to pay their respects, making a direct connection back to the Brattons (from Seskinore in Tyrone, by the way), the McConnells and others who had once lived and farmed there.

I am always intrigued by the Barry family of Victoria in Australia. In the early 1920s they set sail from Larne Harbour on a journey that would take them to Melbourne.

James Barry and his wife Sarah took their young family with them, eager for a new land far away from the Troubles in Ireland at that time.

The farmers around Magheramorne put them all up overnight and one day in the 1970s a tall Australian came back to our farm as part of his visit ‘home’ to Northern Ireland.

His name was Wilson Barry and he had been a young boy who spent his last night in the old land in our farm cottage. Next morning two farm carts gathered up the Barrys and their belongings and conveyed them down to Larne Harbour.

Wilson, who was one of the last survivors of the 1920 family, was not the only one of the Barry children to come home. Interestingly, Barry grandchildren and greatgrandchildren were making a pilgrimage every few years back to County Antrim too in the 1990s.

I found it amazing that the main focus of these visits was not to see the sights of Northern Ireland (although I am sure they did that as well) but rather to visit the farm James and Sarah had left with their children and the farms and families who had been connected to them.

Home for them appeared not to be only about geography but also about people.

My grandfather wrote a farewell song for the family called James Barry’s Farewell. It had a catchy wee chorus;

 

“Farewell to the green fields of Erin

Farewell to the land I was born

Farewell to Aul Whassagh, Ballyedward

And the dear friends of Sweet Magheramorne”

 

A copy of the song was sent back some years ago now by Heather Barry, one of the granddaughters. James had been given it by my grandfather when he was leaving and it was still in his possession in the 1950s when he was sadly killed in a car accident.

For James ‘home’ was clearly about more than where you lived. Location may be part of it, but so too is memory, people, experiences and culture. It is a tiny word with enormous meaning.

barry family382

PHOTO: the Barry family, who left County Antrim in the early 1920s but whose descendants still regularly came ‘home’ to Northern Ireland

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A Christmas homecoming that never happened

A Christmas homecoming that never happened

Thomas Craig Christmas card2It is a rather special Christmas card.

It was sent from France to my grandThomas Craig in front of the first housemother by her brother Thomas and it is one of the few pieces of the past that paint a picture of their wartime story.

Thomas Craig is something of an enigma to me.

He was from Ballyboley in County Antrim, and brother of my grandmother, Agnes Hume.

When the First World War came along, Thomas, like so many Ulstermen, enlisted.

But he did not join an Irish Regiment or enlist in Belfast.

Instead he enlisted in Liverpool in October 1914 and joined the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards.

Born in 1877, he was the oldest boy in the family of William John Craig and Isabella Houston. One brother had predeceased him by the outbreak of the War, being killed in an accident in Canada, and his older sister Ellen was in Argentina, having married a Kentucky rancher who moved south.

Thomas and his sister Agnes were in County Antrim in 1914.

One of the heirlooms which has survived in our family is a postcard which Thomas sent home in December that year, showing the squad which he was part of training in England.

Thomas Craig squadThe postcard would have doubtless been welcome to the young farmer’s wife in Ballycarry, County Antrim, but the message on the back would have been disappointing.

Thomas informed his sister that he was not one of the lucky ones who would be coming home for Christmas.

The Christmas card he sent has also been carefully preserved in the family. Perhaps it was sent that year, 1914, or maybe the following year.

For many of those who eagerly flocked to the Colours in 1914, the war was, ironically as it turned out, expected to be over by Christmas, the need for Christmas cards home not really anticipated.

But Thomas and hundreds of thousands like him would soon discover that the War was not conforming to hopes of an early victory. The men who went to the front found a stalemate, and conditions that were appalling and unimaginable to men from the green fields and hillsides of Ulster such as Thomas Craig.

Thomas was born in 1877 and the census returns for 1901 show that he was staying with his uncle, a schoolteacher, along with his brother Alexander. Both were listed as servants, suggesting they were helping their uncle and aunt run the farm.

Alexander later emigrated to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, where the family also had connections. He would sadly die there in a mining accident a few years later.

Thomas, meanwhile, by 1911 was back in his family home, where the census places him with his parents and other siblings.

That year was also significant was it saw the marriage of his sister Sarah Agnes to my grandfather William Hume.

Sadly little else is known about Thomas. He was 37 years old when the war came in 1914 and his early enlistment may suggest he was an army reservist, which could also explain the enrolling in Liverpool.

The other details we know are from his military record.

He was wounded three times in total during the war. The third time it was a fatal wound. Thomas Craig died at Ypres on September 15, 1916 and is buried at the Bernafay Wood British Cemetery in France.

No one from the family has ever seen his grave.

And we do not know if he ever got home during his time of service.

Certainly not in December 1914 when he sent his card to his sister back in County Antrim.

Thomas was not one of the lucky ones in December 1914. Nor was he one of the lucky ones who would survive the Great War.

I treasure his medals, given to me some years ago now by an elderly relative.  One day I hope to visit Bernafay Wood and see his stone. To paraphrase John Hewitt in his poem The Covenanter’s Grave – which relates to an expedition to see an old family gravestone – we will have been a long time coming.

The card he sent is always in my mind around this time of year. It is a special Christmas card, a sad reminder of a lost generation and the human cost of war….

Amazing history and quite nice community attached…

Amazing history and quite nice community attached…
us visit et al 016Preserving unique history

Glen Pratt and his group of Ulster American visitors to Northern Ireland were in no doubt as to the significance of the village which they had arrived it. Ballycarry, on a hillside in County Antrim overlooking the coast, is a small place with a big history.
Looking around, with the Scottish coast clearly visible, the Texan visitor reminded his party that they had come to 'the bridgehead of the Ulster Scots'.
Glen was right. Ballycarry, or Broadisland as it was known, was a bridgehead. This was one of the places were Scots arrived early in the 17th century, establishing their homesteads and farms and building their little community. For them this was the frontier just as for some of their descendants, America would become a new frontier.
 For these people were pioneers and much of the history of the village of Ballycarry is bound up in their presence.
I was born and raised in Ballycarry and grew up listening to stories of the fascinating history of this little settlement on the hills overlooking the North Channel and Scotland. For such a small community, there can be little doubt that Ballycarry has an amazing history and heritage.
That history goes back to neolithic times, a small bead at an excavation some years ago proving that neolithic man had once gazed out over the sea towards Caledonia.
In early Christian times there was an ecclesiastical settlement on the hill, an enclosure which is the fifth largest in Northern Ireland.
And evidence remains of the Norman presence in the area, a Norman motte at Redhall having survived and a bevelled coffin lid with an early Christian inscription having been unearthed in the 18th century and deposited at the Templecorran cemetery.
Before the settlenment of Scots from the Lowlands in the early 1600s there was a battle in the area between Highland MacDonnells and the English. The Battle of Aldfreck was fought in 1597 and resulted in the killing of the English Governor of Carrickfergus, Sir John Chichester.
 From the early 1600s Scots settlers overtook English in the area and came to dominate Ballycarry. The remnants of English settlement were to be found at Dalways Bawn and Bellahill to the south west.
In the 18th century Ballycarry was the birthplace of James Orr, a poet who has been compared to Scotland's Robert Burns. The village was a hotbed of rebellion against the government in London in 1798 and one of those who took part it in and survived became the personal architect to US President Thomas Jefferson.
 Among the 20th century interest is the fact that Ballycarry general Sir James Steele was the man who signed the mobilisation order which took the UK to war in 1939.
Over the past years, through the local community group, we have tried to ensure that the history of the village remains in the face of new developments. If the history of the community - any community - is not preserved, then we will become a mere satellite without identity.
There was once a Saatchi and Saatchi advertising campaign for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. It included an advert highlighting the benefits of the cafe at the museum and had the slogan "...with quite a nice museum attached".
In our case we have an amazing history with quite a nice village attached.
Ballycarry was the home of the first Presbyterian (Scottish) congregation in Ireland, the first Presbyterian minister in Ireland and the foremost Ulster Scots poet, to name but a few aspects of our identity.
We look very closely towards Scotland as our motherland. We are not Irish. And we are not English. We are Ulster Scots. 
Our heritage is not only to be found in oral history or in books.
Over the years our community group has successfully established outstanding interpretation around the village. There are plaques denoting village history. There is a memorial to General Steele. There is a cemetery trail. All new housing developments have local placenames - no Anglicised generic titles like Walnut Hill or Oak Manor, for example. And to complement it there are now hanging street banners provided by the local council as well as old farm pillars at the main entrances, denoting that we are an 'Ulster Scots Heritage Village'.
Some of these efforts were extremely simple for us to organise. As a group we wrote to the local council every time there was a new development planned and suggested names. It became clear that if a developer put forward his own names there would be a counter proposal from the local community if the group was unhappy. The end result was that for all of the new developments, the agents started to come to us first. The overall cost of this was nothing other than a few stamps for initial postage!
Other elements were more ambitious and required application for funding. The Heritage Lottery Fund supported a Weaver's Trail project which commemorated James Orr (1770-1816), the Bard of Ballycarry and the foremost of the Ulster Weaver Poets. The project included plaques at the church which he attended, the pub where he socialised and other sites, for example. 
Living culture and tradition is also reflected in our annual Broadisland Gathering Festival, the longest-established Ulster Scots festival in Northern Ireland. This event attracts several thousand visitors and has put the village on the map for many people who had no idea it even existed in the past.
The success of the village in preserving its heritage and culture is something to be celebrated.
Its also a good model for others to consider.
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