Monday, 6 September 2010

The Road from Boneybefore

Our history in Boneybefore was folk history - tales told to us by the likes of Tillie Millar from the door of her thatched cottage.

"This was once the main horse and coach road to Larne", she told us. "Along here dandered Andrew Jackson's mother, wi' the future President in her wame (womb); and Jonathan Swift, the man that writ Gulliver's Travels, spittin' on the Presbyterians as he passed; and General Thurot wi' his French soldiers marching on Carrick".
"How did Boney get its name?" we asked.
"This is where the French soldiers landed", Tillie said, "and General Thurot told Napoleon that they were at a bonny wee place before Carrick".

That last story made us laugh, for even in those days we knew the French didn't speak Ulster-Scots. But, a large farm above Boneybefore was given the polite name of 'Fair Prospect' and the older spelling is sometimes "Bonnybefore" as it is on the map below. 'Boney' is simply how we pronounced the Scots word 'bonny' in Ulster, and the best-known version of that is in the local song "The boney wee lass" (which has nothing to do with the pretty young girl's frame!)

We never took such folk history very seriously back then, but as I went on myself to travel the long road from Boneybefore to the bigger world, I discovered not only the truth of most of those tales, but that it was my school-book history which was often untrustworthy. In 1760 a Francois Thurot did land 600 French troops 'near Kilroot' and captured Carrickfergus after the 'Battle of Carrickfergus' in the streets of the town. He held it for 5 days and then fled back to France by sea.

On reflection, the most impressive of all Tillie Millar's gems of Boneybefore history was her insistence that the dust-track running through our village was once a main coach road, (something that seemed unlikely to us as we were sandwiched in a backwater between the railway line along the shore on one side, and the wide, main Larne Road on the other side). But the map evidence tells a different story.

The 'Carrickfergus and Larne Railway Company' opened the line to Larne about 1845, and it cut across the line of the old coach road just before Boneybefore, removing the original Andrew Jackson homestead in the process. From this point a new 'Larne Road' was constructed by-passing Boneybefore and it took a new course through the 'new' village of Eden. But the old line of the original coach road (a dashed red line on map) could still be traced in laneways and footpaths right to the ancient church site of Kilroot when I was a boy.

Kilroot Church was founded in the 5th century, right back at the time of St Patrick. It has the ruins of a bishop's palace and a surrounding bawn wall with two surviving round corner flankers (but nothing like as grand as those at Dalway's Bawn). The old church ruins are just tiny fragments of stone walls, in the middle of an ancient graveyard. Jonathan Swift was appointed Prebend of Kilroot in 1695, and lived nearby.

I have made mention of Jonathan Swift and his Kilroot house in an earlier post, but two other boyhood associations with this ancient site come to mind. There was a large round stone with a cup shaped hollow in it that held stagnant water, and was believed to be a cure for warts. My old school pal Eric Glynn did try it on a wart he had on his thumb, and it did work! I now know this was a "bullaun" stone (check it out on wikipedia) and these are reckoned to be early Christian in date. It has been removed to a local church, I think, as a baptismal font.

The second association I have with Kilroot is the old graveyard. Only once did we ever hear of a burial in our time there. It was a very cold January, and Tommy Donaldson had died. It was his farmhouse in Boneybefore that is now the "Andrew Jackson Museum". The reason the Donaldsons had burial rights in Kilroot must tell a story of its own, but I presume they were an old family with connections hundreds of years before going back to that parish. Anyway, when Tommy died, there was a fierce snowstorm and the Kilroot graveyard was cut off for over 3 weeks. The delay with Tommy lying in 'cold storage' in Boneybefore was the talk of the place for years, and seemed to emphasize the question we all had - why Kilroot?

The other end of the road from Boneybefore was, of course, the road into Carrick town. This was just over a mile, and
the line of the original coach road was mostly the same main road as today from Green Street along the Scotch Quarter into the town. .

Right back in 1680, a drawing of the east side of Carrickfergus shows the line of thatched houses in Scotch Quarter (outside the town walls) leading along the shore towards Boneybefore. This is just as Jonathan Swift must have known it when he rode from Kilroot to Carrickfergus and Belfast.

Of course, the Scotch Quarter has only larger, slated houses today, but between there and Boneybefore the road was known as Green Street (from a local linen bleaching works and bleaching green). The houses here were all still thatched as shown in this photo when I used to walk past them into Carrick as a very young boy.

The house on the extreme right had a sweetie shop in the front room that was open on a Sunday - a bit of a scandal in those days. In the rain we could shelter under the overhanging thatch, and on our way to Sunday School at Joymount Presbyterian Church in Scotch Quarter, we could sin twice at the same time by spending part of our collection and going into a shop on the Sabbath. We all were clutching a 3d bit (a three pence coin) for our collection, and could buy 2d's worth of penny chews and have one penny left for the collection. I think that is my first real recollection of having a guilty conscience!

What a different history this old coach road from Boneybefore had compared to the old drove road in the Commons. But for me the road from Boneybefore is different in another way. It takes me back with sadness to happy memories, if that makes sense.


  1. Interesting post, as always. The last line has a world of truth in it for every sentimentalist that ever lived.

  2. Thanks Philip -- what is the approximate size of Boneybefore? How many people? How many churches? And the same questions regarding Carrickfergus...

  3. Phil: Regarding the "bullaun stones", do you suppose that they could have originated as primitive mortars and pestles for grinding small quantities of grain and then developed religious significance from some sort of crop worship before Christianity?

  4. Georges,
    You are exactly right about the bullaun stones. They often have rounded stones in the 'bowl' and are thought to have been hand mills for grinding oats to make bread. The everyday (secular) hand mills were more sophisticated, and they may have been reserved for making the bread for 'communion'. I don't know about crop worship - plenty of other pagan traditions were adopted and adapted, but I never heard of that one here.

  5. Gary,
    Boneybefore itself had no churches or halls, just one wee shop, and I suppose its population was a couple of hundred at the most.
    Carrickfergus had a population of about 11,000 in 1950, and with the redevelopment of Belfast, (11 miles away) and the new industies in the town, its population grew to 40,000 in 20-30 years. New housing development surrounds the town, and Boneybefore is today a strange 'suburb', surrounded by new housing developments. I have very mixed feelings going back.

    As far as churches are concerned, the old Norman Church of St. Nicholas (12th century) in the center of the town is the oldest. It is Church of Ireland (Episcopalian), but maybe only 25% of the whole area would be C of I. Over 60% of the population would be Presbyterian, with 2 very large churches in the town (one in the town center and one in Scotch Quarter). About 10% RC with the only 'chapel' as we call it, in Irish Quarter on the Belfast side of the town. I want to do something on the Catholic tradition in the area on these posts, for it is very interesting historically.
    Methodists, Baptists, Independents (Congregationalists), Brethren, etc. all present in the town with old established traditions, but very small - and of course the modern Pentecostals. In Eden village the Congregational Church had a Mission Hall, as did the Brethren and the Church of Ireland. It would surprise you how many people have a traditional denominational allegiance which they will give as their 'denomination', but in practice worship in small mission halls of whatever denomination.

  6. Thanks for this info, Philip...

  7. Hi Philip,
    I think that it is wonderful that you are recording and publishing the history of this locale in such an entertaining and enlightening way,. As you know I grew up in this area and although interested in history, my knowledge only scratches the surface of you you are uncovering. Having left this area nearly 50 years ago and removed to various parts, I have a very nostalgic interest in your writings. The photos of Bellahill townland (and Scotland beyond) taken from the top of Car(n)manus show my homeplace and my brother's cows grazing in the field. When you descend Car(n)manus and cross the Beltoy Road heading for Dalways Bawn, you are into "Graze Loanen" which was the name given to the field on your left. Incidentally you are only a field's width away from where that birthday shot of the "Uncanny Gathering" was taken in 1952. This field's name intrigued me and I recall asking my father was it Gray's loanen or Graze Loanen. Would you believe, he had never thought about it, but adamant that he had never heard of any Grays in the area. Could this have been a grazing spot on the cattle drove? There would have been water in the Copeland stream close by. Sounds possible? heading east and nearing the top of the incline behind my brother's farm,the lane to the old Cowan holding (half a mile away) was on the left and slightly further on two round pillars guarded the lane to Davisons (which was my home place).The loanen levels out for a few hundred yards and then climbs to the Resting Slap on the right opposite Connor's pillars and lane. The local folklore had it that an army had rested here and buried some bounty which was never recovered. Inside the gate there is a depression in the ground where people have quarried in times past so perhaps the loot was found afterall, but not by us or perhaps the gold was of the Percy French variety (hard labour). Barrons and Hays was on the left. hays are still there. On the right before the New Road was an old hedge school that no doubt our ancestors may have attended. Over the New Road was known to us as the "Cassie" which would not only have been the cattle drove but served several small holdings on the way down to Dalways Bawn. McQuitty, Clugson, Barrys and Hays all would have used that route before the New Road ( I think in 1904)was built they would either have accessed from the county road at Beltoy Road or from Dalways Bawn at Bridgend, both torturous journeys in horse and cart.

  8. Drystonewaller,
    Thanks Ray for your kind comments and the very helpful information on the part of the drove road that I haven't traveled yet! I have to keep an eye out for later comments on the older posts, as such important details could easily be missed. Anyway, I'll definitely be referring back to your comments here when I do write up a post on the "cassie".

  9. Great post! In the drawing, I wonder what is the big building on the right that looks like a palace?

  10. Citizen69,
    The mansion in the 1680 drawing is Joymount House, built in 1612 by Inigo Jones for Sir Arthur Chichester who named it after Lord Mountjoy, Lord Deputy of Ireland at the time. It was burnt down in the late 1700s. It had a gatehouse with 4 corner towers that can be seen towards the sea. One of these round towers still survives and is built into the back of the Town Hall.

  11. There was a large round stone with a cup shaped hollow in it that held stagnant water, and was believed to be a cure for warts --->this stone can be found sitting on top of bricks in the middle of the graveyard at the bottom of the fort road beside the bishops palace

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    1. Absolutely amazing history that makes our land so interesting. My son an I will be walking the cassie someday hopefully. Thanks Philip for letting us gain history and knowledge of theses area

  13. Kate Bell, wife of Michael Bell here. I'm doing family research on his McGiffin, Henry, Gyle, etc. families who were from Carrickfergus. I was searching for images of Glenrosa Street and the Scotch Quarter and was delighted to come upon this blogsite with its interesting history. Fascinating stuff!

  14. Philip This is most interesting I am cousin of Ray and farmed in Dalways Bawn which my Grandfather’s brother bought in 1910 I think There is a route which I’d like to ask you about some time which I have no evidence to validate but feel sure it was used My neighbour Davy Stewart retired architect has beautiful map done of land area from Eden to Ballycarry Perhaps you have already seen