Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Dalway's Bawn Revisited

Since my first blog postings about Dalway's Bawn in June and July 2010, a lot more information has come to light on this 17th century cattle-fort, and the people associated with it in the 19th century - for in 1860 it was still playing an important role in the cattle trade between east Antrim and Scotland.

A view of the bawn from the air is interesting because it shows a third (unroofed) corner turret at the back left-hand corner of the bawn. Originally there were four turrets, one in each corner of the bawn, but the interior space is now a mass of agricultural buildings. In 1858 the bawn was surveyed, and it was recorded that the front turrets had been converted into living accommodation as early as 1632. It was also noted that "in its original state it was capable of affording shelter for 200 head of cattle".

The bawn is in the townland of Bellahill (or Ballyhill), and was occupied in 1860 by Marriott Dalway. On the map of Bellahill I have marked the location of four tenants of Marriott Dalway on his 'home' townland (click on map to enlarge). These four families each have their own stories that help us understand the bigger picture.

First of these is the original homestead of the parents of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States. This (and not their temporary home in Boneybefore where the Andrew Jackson museum is), was the real 'ancestral homestead', and other members of the Jackson family farmed in this area right up to recent times. The ruins of the original house still stand along an overgrown trackway known as "Bullock's Walk" that accessed directly onto the old cattle drove road near Dalway's Bawn.

The next Bellahill farm is that of Alexander Harte. In 1860 Alexander Hart (as the family now spell the name) also had farms leased from Marriott Dalway in the North East Division of Carrickfergus, and in the nearby townland of Crossmary. These Harts appear to be the same family that came to Ulster with John Dalway in the late 16th Century (see earlier postings). The connection with Boneybefore is their surviving farm at 'Newseat' up Hart's Loanen from Boneybefore. In another earlier posting ('An uncanny gathering at Bellahill farm, near Dalway's Bawn, in 1953') there is a photo and explanation of the Hart family connection that I had when at Primary School in Eden, and of couse, Hart's Loanen from Boneybefore to the Commons was our gateway to that world.

James Esler of Bellahill was a cattle-hand at Dalway's Bawn in 1860, and his small cottage was on Alexander Hart's farm. His son James Esler (junior) lived a few fields away, in the townland of Dobbsland, and was a 'byresman'. This family was distantly related to me on my mother's side of the family, and all of the Eslers in Antrim at that time were involved with the cattle drove trade to Scotland. I still want to tease out a few things relating to these Eslers in future blogs: a) The Eslers of Islandmagee were a critical link in the final stretch of the cattle drove trail from Ballynure, past Dalway's Bawn, to Portmuck and thence to Scotland. b) The younger James Esler's marriage about 1855 to a Mary Drummond resulted in a fascinating legacy. James and Mary are both buried in Carrickfergus's Roman Catholic Graveyard, so I also want to explore this unexpected thread along with other aspects of the 'Old Irish Catholic dimension' of the Commons and Carrickfergus.

Finally, the farm of Alexander Hoey (later also Hay, Hoy and Hoye) in Bellahill in 1860 was right on the cattle drove trail coming down from the Commons, past the 'resting slap' and on down to Dalway's Bawn. (A 'slap' is an Ulster-Scots word for "a gap in a hedge or dyke allowing the passage of cattle"). This family would not have meant anything to me had I not recently received a fascinating family history from a member of this family in Canada with a detailed account of this particular farm - including this fascinating item:
"There is a tradition among the Hoys in County Antrim that their ancestor came from Scotland as groom in charge of John Dalway's horses, sometime between 1578 and 1606. As a groom, most of his duties were at the castle and bawn. But in time he leased from Dalway a farm about a half mile northeast of the castle overlooking the Muttonburn valley. This farm, or part of it, now belongs to his descendant Isaac Hoy, and the present Hoy home here was probably built by the original Scotch settler."

These four families living in Bellahill give us just a glimpse of the depth of history behind the thing that links them all - Dalway's Bawn.


  1. Interesting, as usual. I know some "Hoy's" in my area. but I've never heard them mention their ancestry.

  2. Thanks Gorges. That story of the Hoy's came from a Canadian 'Hay' who was descended from the Hoeys of Dalway's Bawn, and he caught my blog while surfing. I think one of the reasons for different spellings becoming fixed was when immigrants arrived in America they had their name put down 'officially' by some clerk, and that was it! I feel sorry for those of a Russian or Polish background that had their family name hopelessly mangled!
    By the way, we have Smiths and Smyths here, but very few Smythes! There's bound to be a story there?

  3. Hello Phillip, I so love history, it makes my heart swells and I always think of how many people have walked before us. About Andrew Jackson. My husband took me to see his home in Tennessee where he resided when not at the White House in Washington.
    I love to wander around slowly and savour the feeling from bygone days when life was so different, simple and natural. They would never imagine how interesting they are to us today. I thank God I grew up without television, airconditioning, a phone in the house and many other comodities people consider a necessity today. In fact I rarely use an aircon and like to hang my washing on a clothes line.. when you take life slower you see and appreciate the world in a different light. I think that is the reason I enjoy history so much, the people were a special breed and selfishness was less dominant. Bless you friend.

  4. Crystal Mary, I love history too, especially family history, as it gives you a glimpse of real lives in the past and how people and their problems never change. When you think of families thousands of years back, like Abraham and Isaac, it is fascinating to think that they went through exactly the same daily trials and ups and downs as we do. Wouldn't it be nice to go back in time and be with them for a few hours?

  5. Phillip, Oh wow, I cannot imagine going back to then, and living in tents? The family was much closer and the respect I believe was of greater value. Oh well, we can always stick our nose into a book. Actually I have a lot of the old dvd stories of David, Ruth, Esther etc with old actors they transport you back with awe.

  6. Thanks Philip, another interesting post. I'm a johnny-come-lately to this blog, and several questions (which you may have already answered) come to mind: Our Irish group is beginning to learn the Irish song MOLLY BAWN. What is the derivation and definition of BAWN - are Dalway's Bawn and Molly Bahn referring to the same thing?

    Also, I marvel that such a stone fort would be built for an agricultural purpose. Was it originally a residence that later became a "barn"? I know there are few wooden structures in Ireland, that most things were made of stone.
    Here in North America, barns are virtually always wooden. The turrets seem like "overkill" for an agricultural compound. Was life really so violent there at one time?

    1. Back then cattle was their livelihood and the four towers housed up to 200 cattle and their home was in the centre of the building
      It wasn't until 1600's the towers were used as domestic living opposed to the animals
      this is just round the corner from where I live and only recently have I realised how old and historic this area is

  7. Gary,
    The best way of picturing these 'bawns' is to think of them as stone versions of the American timber forts that you used to see the US Cavalry in in the old westerns. They were required to be built by all the Ulster Plantation landlords from 1603-1625 as places their settler families and cattle could retreat into when/if attacked by the 'native Irish'.
    The name comes from two Irish words bo (cow) and dun (fort) which when combined as bodhun, the 'd' is silent. So the meaning of this 'adopted' word is literally 'cattle-fort'. The original landlord's house would have been free-standing within this compound.

    Hope this gives a better picture. Good playing with Molly Bawn! The 'Bawn' here is from a different Irish word - 'ban' (fair). Thanks again Gary for your interest.

  8. Thanks for your insights, Philip. Blessings today!

  9. Philip,another wonderful post and thank you. My grandfather and his brother, my uncle and cousins in turn have owned this property as part of their farm since 1917 until quite recently when the whole lot apart from the Dalway Bellahill House was sold to a neighbour who had make good with a pharmacy chain. As a neighbouring child and cousin, I spent quite a bit of time in this property playing with my cousins and close friends. I have to admit that my uncle my not have fully appreciated the importance of maintaining the Bawn in its original format and adapted it as necessary for farming purposes although it continued to be used for milking and sheltering animals up to the time of its recent sale. In the 1950s and early 60s my uncle decided to construct two silage pits and commissioned my father (who had quarries and some knowledge of explosives to remove the ruins of the fourth turret and the North side enclosing wall. I was there and witnessed the big bang that was considered apropriate to extending the yard as shown in the aerial photograph.

  10. Drystonewaller,
    Thanks. That really does fill in so many final pieces of the jigsaw in the story of Dalway's Bawn. Uncanny that 1952 gathering indeed! I do have to save some comments here for a new post on Bellahill House etc. with all this exciting and unexpected new material - but I'll have to resist the temptation to pun about the 'Big Bang' theory!

  11. Philip,
    Thanks for that. I'll look forward to blogg on Bellahill house. I also hope that you can finish that walk down the cassie from Beltoy Road to Dalways Bawn. It has been many years since I made that trek and it may have changed from (or in) my mind's eye recollection. The photo record of the Uncanny Happening in Bellahill (my 7th birthday party) was taken only a field length away from the cassie and Beltoy Road. My bother built a new house at the top of the lane, just down wind of the farm. I'm sure that he would be glad to see you if you care to call.

  12. Philip,
    great blog very interesting I,ve walked the cattle trail from Lough mourne over to the Beltoy road quite a few times (not knowing it was a trail) allways felt there was an atmosphere about it.Next time home I must find out if the trail still exists from Beltoy to Dalways Bawn.It would be great if the powers that be could open up these old cattle trails as walking country roads these days is to say the least dangerous.Have you ever been to the caves at the knockagh and if so how did you access them?How on earth did you source the photo of the O,haughn brothers,you would not want those two boys calling at your remote hill farm late on a winters night.Look forward to reading your next blogs.

  13. Imac,
    The next stage of the cattle trail does still exist, and I am in regular contact now with Ray Cowan (drystonewaller) whose family farm and relatives farms border the route. It is the ultimate posting to cover that stretch, but there are so many things to cover. Wouldn't it be nice to see a version of the Ulster Way from Dalway's Bawn up over the Commons to Ballynure? "Dalway's Way" is too hard to say! (sounds like the opening line of a very bad poem.)

  14. Thanks for that Philip the next time home I will check it out.My great grand mothers maiden name was quite grand "Bessie Jane Barnes Dalway Patterson" so I would think there must be some connection with the Dalway family."Dalways Way" seems like a good idea to me oh no I feel a "cause" coming on.

  15. I wonder where the Dalway part of your gg mother's name came from. The 1901 census does have Pattersons running the shop beside Dalway's Bawn where the cattle trail (the "Cassie") comes out onto the Ballycarry Road. This family all seem to have had grand names like Euphemia, etc. and were CoI.

  16. Hello Philip,
    Just to let you know I walked the "cassie" from Loughmourne to Dalways Bawn and back beautiful walk what a hidden treasure on our doorstep

  17. Well done Imac - I feel quite jealous as I've been saving that bit of 'on the ground' exploration for a trip with Ray Cowan when he comes back on a visit. I would love to know more about what you found along the way. Any photos?

  18. The day I walked the "cassie" it was a glorious sunny day,(with girlfriends little dog in tow)
    As you cross the Beltoy road the trail is quite overgrown, down to a single track but ok to walk without any difficulty.After about 2 or 300 yards it opens out again.You cross a small road and continue on towards Dalways bawn (all downhill from this point).As you get further down the trail the trees almost merge from each side it is truly a sight to behold.A few farms straddle the trail as you said in your blog but you do not encroach on them the couple of people I encountered all gave a friendly wave.Like a fool I did not have my camera with me so no pics.Had a few sandwiches at Dalways Bawn and headed back the same way Will most definately walk the "cassie again.

  19. Hello Philip enjoyed you last couple of blogs re. the "cassie".Last time home I walked it with my uncle(he is 77).We walked from Loughmourne down past Dalways bawn and up the Beltoy back to Loughmourne.The maps on your last blog are very interesting I would love to spend an hour or two on Porg hill with my metal detector?

  20. Well done again Imacc - or more to the point, well done your dad! That is quite a hike all the way down and back - My solution is to go in two cars and leave one at Dalway's Bawn so we can drive back up to base. I'm not sure about the metal detector, as I think you need a DOE license to use one on any potential archaeological site in NI (unlike England). Wouldn't it be great to have a 'Time Team' dig here?
    Anyway, thanks for your comments - in discussions with Ray Cowan and Barry Poag, the next part of the exploration seems to be establishing where the old cattle trail went from Dalway's Bawn (site) on down to the sea in Medieval/Early Christian times.