Thursday, 2 December 2010

Booley huts and booleying on the Commons

The ghostly footprints of ancient sod walls still mark the sites where families once moved with their cattle up to uplands in county Antrim during the summer months (from May to October). They built temporary "booley" huts to live in, usually beside a water burn or spring.
"Booleying" - what the text-books call transhumance in other parts of the world - comes from the Irish "booley" or "boley" that is used to describe either the upland summer grazing place for cattle
or the summer hill dwelling used by the herdsmen. These huts were made of sod and timber branches covered with rushes for thatch. Some 400-year-old drawings of these huts give an idea of how they were put together.

In the 1570 picture-map of Carrickfergus, it almost looks as if they had descended on the town after the summer for a harvest Feast of Tabernacles!

The old custom was for the young folk (sometimes the entire family), to leave the "clachan" (a cluster of farms with solid buildings) in the lowlands as soon as the crops were sown and migrate to summer pastures in the hills.
When the lands between Carrickfergus town and the Commons were parceled out in the 1500s into Aldermans Shares (strips of single, dispersed farms within their own fields), the Commons was still intended for summer grazing by these farmers. But it was the farms on the far (northern) side of the Commons that were still "booleying" on the Commons when the practice had died out in the 1800s elsewhere.

When the Commons itself was finally divided up into farms and fields there was serious unrest
, with bands of men pulling down the new fences in 1880 and attacking anybody who tried to build permanent houses. There had always been a slight sense of lawlessness connected with cattle on the Commons. In the early days, Bryan O'Neill was cattle raiding on a grand scale here in the 1500s, and cattle stealing remained a problem down to the Steelboys revolts in the 1770 when men from this early secret society of anti-establishment Presbyterian peasants burned down farmhouses and stole cattle belonging to the wealthy farmers (including some of Mr. Dalway's tenants) near Carrickfergus. Ransoms were demanded and the money was to be left at the Priest's Rock (Craignabraher) on the Commons, which is where the Covenanters held their open air meetings. It was soon discovered that the culprits were from the clachan of Raloo just to the north. Among those convicted in 1770 was a Paddy McKenty of Raloo, who almost certainly was from the same family as the ancestors of the modern crime writer Adrian McKinty mentioned in my last posting.

The families that took their cattle to booley places on the Commons like Ardboley (High Booley), Carnbilly (Booley Cairn) or Milky Knowes had their home farms down on lower ground in clusters or villages called "clachans". The arable land around each clachan was shared out between the group in a jigsaw of tiny plots and strips each year, and when the cattle returned before the 1st November, the field markers were torn down and the land around the clachans returned to common winter grazing. The homecoming to the clachan at harvest time (at the latest 1st November) was another great time of celebration and seasonal customs, closely tied up with Halloween bonfires and gatherings on 31st October.

When I was a young student, 40 years ago, I made a study of some of these clachans that had survived in the 1830 landscape north of the Commons in south-east Antrim - Glenoe, Raloo, Mackeystown, Ballylagan, Drummondstown, Lylestown, Uppertown and Browndod. In Scotland, such clachans are also called "farm-towns" (or if they have a church or mill: "kirk-towns" or "mill-towns"). Glenoe was properly a mill-town as it was clustered around a water-powered corn mill near Glenoe waterfall, and Raloo - still a really impressive clachan if you can find it - is a kirk-town with a (Non-Subscribing) Presbyterian Meeting House hidden among the cluster of surviving farms down a country lane.

When the family groups moved from these clachans in May along with their cattle to the summer booley pastures, their tracks up onto the high ground of the Commons cut across the established Dalway cattle trail, as shown on the map. This must have involved strange encounters, if not a clash of cattle herding cultures. And the booleying one was always the "poor cousin": often stigmatised with the idea that their encroachment was trespass. Another perception was that these "booley boys" were involved in cattle stealing, or worse. Not only did the Steelboys from Raloo conspire at the Priest's Rock near Ardboley on the Commons in 1770, but this was also the Commons rallying point for the local United Irishmen in 1798 before joining the Ballycarry Corps on their way to the Battle of Antrim. Of course, as the Commons had no permanent buildings or occupants in the 18th century, these "rebels" were from the radical Presbyterians that had lived in and around these clachans. These were the men who saw the establishment - be it landlords, government or established (Episcopal) church - as the same enemy as had been successfully overthrown in America by their first and second generation Scotch-Irish cousins in the American War of Independence. But the price of failure in Antrim was a dissenting tradition that has been submerged and forgotten for hundreds of years. The landscape north of the Commons is one of a rich, hidden heritage that has to be searched carefully for, off the beaten pad, and certainly off the tourist trail.

So, if you pass through Glenoe
(the only clachan which has a surfaced, drivable road through it), try and see beyond the picturesque waterfall to that hidden history of clachans, booleying and a "dissenting" independent spirit that typifies the local folk. I visited Glenoe waterfall again last month and as Helen and I walked up through the village it reminded me of a similar walk we had near Boone, North Carolina some 30 years ago - and then walking through Glenoe 20 years ago with friends from Kentucky. When you add the shared history and heritage together, the "mountain men" of this part of Antrim and the "hill-billys" of the Apalachians have more than genes in common.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Whitehead and Islandmagee: The Eslers in control of the end of the cattle trail

Whitehead is a quiet sea-side town, just a short hop on the train from Carrickfergus towards Larne. The road 'East of Eden' to Larne goes past the back of the town too, but it is a bit of a push on the bike as the road climbs over the high headland of "Whitehead" at a place called the "Blaa Hole", then down a very steep side road into the town.
The Blaa Hole
(blow-hole) was, as the name suggests, a bit of a wind tunnel. I remember my dad wakening me up to show me his first car that he had brought home the night before. He took me a run to Whitehead and back before school, and, coming through the Blaa Hole, the bonnet flew up and covered the view out the windscreen. So I had good reason to remember the reason behind the name - for the sea was a terrifying 200 feet below when we finally stopped against the stone wall!

The view looking down on the town from the Blaa Hole shows the promenade, an open-air swimming pool and the small quay at the far end of the bay. This residential town I remember being full of "oldies" (retired senior citizens), and as a place where our parents took us for walks along the shore to Blackhead lighthouse on the far headland.

But as boys we sometimes walked to Whitehead along the railway track, past Jonathan Swift's "Round House" at Kilroot, and along the coast to the White Harbour, underneath the Blaa Hole. This was a hidden world with a limestone quarry on the landward side of the railway track, and the derelict White Harbour (it was silted up then)on the other. It was built of massive cut white limestone blocks, and was once used to export the limestone. It was such a marvel to us that our walks to Whitehead often never got past this point.

The railway tracks separated here, with a single track hugging the coast, and the Whitehead-bound track cutting through the headland into a short tunnel which still emerges immediately into the town. The two tracks converge before reaching the period railway station in Whitehead, surviving much as it was when it was built in 1877.

Whitehead is the gateway to the peninsula of Islandmagee. It is a Victorian sea-side "railway town", and when the station was opened, it became a tourist haven for day-trippers from Belfast, especially those wanting to visit the Gobbins Cliff Path in Islandmagee by connecting jaunting car, or the nearby Blackhead lighthouse with its similar but less daunting cliff walks.
This earlier view of Whitehead from the Blaa Hole about 1900 is deceptive. It gives the impression of a long-established settlement, but in fact the oldest buildings visible are the Customs Houses in the middle foreground with the square Watch-tower at the far end. This Customs Station was built just before the railway about 1850. The map of the townland of Whitehead in 1860 tells a very different story as far as the age of the town is concerned.

Here, in 1860, we see the railway line completed but no station built as yet, and there is no town whatsoever. The entire area of the present town, from the coast to the main Larne road, was a 100-acre farm in the hands of William and David Esler (spelled Essler in the 1860 land valuation). This included the Coastguard Buildings which were leased from this farm and the significance of these Eslers to the running of the Antrim cattle drove trails to Scotland has already been described in an earlier post ("The Big Picture: Eslers and the 'Scotch' Cattle Drove Roads of mid Antrim", August 2010). The fact that they were landlords for the Whitehead Customs buildings at this port at the end of the Dalway's Bawn Cattle Trail is quite staggering! But, as we shall see, the Esler control was even more decisive in Islandmagee proper.

The two tiny ports of Whitehead and Portmuck that link the end of the east Antrim Cattle Trail with the main Scottish Drove Roads were effectively "twinned" from the 16th century down to the 1850s. Each had an Elizabethan "castle" maintained and garrisoned from Carrickfergus - not for defence, but to control the customs duties due from trade with Scotland. These subsidiary "creeks" as they were called in the 17th century were a constant headache for the main port of Carrickfergus, and so the Customs stations at Portmuck and Whitehead were their direct descendants.
Castle Chichester in Whitehead is the only pre-Victorian building in the town (its shared history with Portmuck Castle is also described in previous posts).

Whitehead was one of two tiny ports marking the end of the east Antrim Cattle trail. The trail splits behind Muldersleigh Hill north of Whitehead, the hill whose coastal headland is the location of Blackhead lighthouse. I have added to a contextual map of Islandmagee and Whitehead not only the route of the end of the Cattle Trail, but also the location of the Islandmagee farms of Patrick and Andrew Esler in 1860 siuated side by side between the Gobbins Road to Portmuck and a small break in the Gobbins cliffs called "Heddle's Port".

The Eslers' farms in Islandmagee were mostly in the townland of Balloo, about midway along the Gobbins coast, and a few hours cattle drove from Portmuck. Unlike the Eslers at Whitehead, they had no interest in the port itself, and maybe had good reason to be just out of immediate sight of the Customs Station there. Smuggling was of course, illegal, but when it involved simply the occasional avoidance of duty payments for horses being landed or cattle being shipped out to Scotland, it was not as rigorously pursued as the illicit trade in spirits and tobacco. A row of thatched cottages at the end of Sally Kane's Loanen on Patrick Esler's farm in Balloo was called "Caleery-town". According to the local historian Dixon Donaldson writing in the 1920s, this name was given because it was a popular rendezvous for the "young bloods" of the neighbourhood. Dixon Donaldson also wrote that there were smugglers caves along the Gobbins. One near Portmuck "... is called the Horse Cave where it is said stolen horses were hidden until transferred to smuggling vessels for transportation." Another cave, long forgotten, was discovered by two boys on the farm of Mr. Esler's "... on the face of the heughs above Heddle's Port. A rope and candles were procured ..." and the boys discovered the remains of barrels and other contraband. (Every time I read this, I think of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn!)
If, as seems likely, the "Esslers" of Islandmagee, Whitehead and Dalway's Bawn were all related, it is the Islandmagee farm which seems to be the earliest settlement. A local graveyard near Balloo has all the known Esler graves, some going back to the early 1800s and apparently including an "Uncle David" Esler of Whitehead.

These 'East of Eden' Chronicles have stumbled on many connections with famous writers such as Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. And there are others still to be met with. But just now, for reasons which will soon become obvious, I must bring the modern crime writer Adrian McKinty into the story. He was born and raised in Carrickfergus, only a stone's throw away from Boneybefore, although he has lived for most of his writing career in America and Australia. Adrian McKinty is best known as a writer of crime and mystery novels such as the award-winning "Fifty Grand", or the one I first discovered, "Hidden River".
I was outside a shop in the south of England, impatiently waiting for my wife and browsing through some books for sale. American crime novels are not usually my scene, but the author's name (McKinty) caught my attention: a Les McKinty lived nearby to Boneybefore when I was a boy, and he cycled to work every day to Castle Dobbs where he worked on the Dobbs' estate. His sons were in the Star of Eden Pipe Band, so imagine my surprise when I flicked open the first page and found that the American detective in the story was originally from Carrickfergus! Eagerly reading whatever else of McKinty's books I could get hold of, I found that I actually liked these crime novels anyway. But the bonus was that several of his books have really strong local associations: "Orange Rhymes with Everything" is set in Carrickfergus, and "The Lighthouse Land" in Islandmagee.
In fact, the main setting of "The Lighthouse Land" is Portmuck, or to be precise Muck Isle. The book is the first of three in the Lighthouse Trilogy of "young adult sci-fantasy novels" - different from the decidedly adult crime novels. A young American boy, Jamie O'Neill, inherits the small isle of Muck through a previously unknown descent from the Elizabethan Clandeboy O'Neills - and travels to take up his new life across the causeway on the island:
"But the island has a secret, locked in the top of its ancient lighthouse ... Discovering the secret will send him on an interstellar mission that could change the course of his life, and the universe, forever."
The story is well worth reading, even as an adult, but I can't resist being parochial in my enthusiasm. The area around Portmuck is described vividly as Jamie makes local friends and travels daily to school in Carrickfergus. So too is Muck Isle, apart from the obvious fact that the real Muck Isle doesn't have a lighthouse.
That is where Blackhead Lighthouse at Whitehead comes in. Adrian McKinty has cleverly brought the two together in a way that almost makes me expext to see Blackhead lighthouse on Muck Isle when I go down the steep road to Portmuck. He still has family connections in Whitehead and Carrickfergus, but the McKinty roots are firmly grounded in the Islandmagee - Magheramorne area. I almost expect to find some of them along with the Eslers as I explore and re-trace the historical path of the old Dalway cattle trail from Ballynure to Portmuck and Whitehead.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Mark Twain - descended from the Dalways of Dalway's Bawn?

When I first read 'Tom Sawyer' by Mark Twain as a boy it gripped me like no other book I had ever read. The stories in my other books were very 'English public school' in their setting and dialogue, but Tom Sawyer's world (actually much further away - in Missouri), seemed just like my own. I can still remember the story when Tom couldn't go out to play with his friends on a Saturday because Aunt Polly had told him to whitewash the garden fence first. When his chums called for him, Tom pretended that he would rather paint the fence as he just loved doing it. So his puzzled friends asked to watch. Then, they asked to have a try with the paintbrush, but Tom said he wanted to do it himself. I think his friends ended up paying Tom to let them paint the fence while he sat and watched. This was a rouse I tried out on my own friends one Saturday, and it almost worked, but not quite!

'Mark Twain' was the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), a name he took from the leadsman’s call on the Mississippi river. In 1876 he published "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" followed in 1882 by his story of Tudor England "The Prince and the Pauper". However the popularity of Tom Sawyer had readers demanding more, and in 1885 he wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Life on the Mississippi". Huckleberry Finn has been hailed the first ‘Great American Novel’, a concept meaning a novel which most perfectly represents the spirit of life in the United States at the time of its writing. He wrote more than 30 books and hundreds of short stories and essays.

Apparently, Samuel Langhorne Clemens was of Scotch-Irish descent on both his father's and his mother's side of the family. His mother was Jane Lampton who
married John Marshall Clemens in 1823. Jane Lampton's grandfather was Col. William Casey, an early Kentucky pioneer who, in 1789, established the Casey/Butler Fort. This was the first permanent settlement in what is now Adair County and he settled there with his wife (Jane Montgomery) and about 30 other families. The Casey family had migrated to America from Ulster earlier in the century.

On his father's side of the family, the Clemens (originally Clements) were also of 'Scotch-Irish' descent, but this time they came from a more aristocratic Ulster background in east Antrim that had an association with an English army tradition before the American Revolution. Samuel Langhorne Clemens' grandfather was a Samuel B. Clemens, the first of Mark Twain's father's family to make an appearance in the historical record in America. The occasion was in October 1797, with his marriage to Pamela Goggin in Virginia.

Here I jump to the Clements (or 'Clemence') family of 'Clements Hill' between Straid and Ballynure. This district is right at the start of the Dalway's Bawn cattle trail, and in an earlier post ("The Rise of John Dalway's Cattle Empire in East Antrim", 10 July 2010) I described how this area around Ballynure - although quite distant from Dalway's Bawn - was a key part of the Dalway land grants from the early 1600s.

I have re-posted the map here, adding in the location of Clements Hill, south-west of Ballynure (click on the map to enlarge).

Every local history book and tourist guide for Ballynure in east Antrim claims Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) as a 'famous son' of the district. Here is a typical entry:
Mark Twain, as he was known to his worldwide readers was christened Samuel Langhorne Clemens. His family roots were on the edge of Ballyclare and the oldest gravetone in the nearby churchyard in Ballynure is his ancestor Elenor Clemens - 1628. A favourite walk in this part of County Antrim is from the Green Road to the Ballynure Road. It is known as the Back Walks and crosses an area called Clements Hill from whose height there were splendid views across the valley of the Six Mile Water. This was the Clemens family home for many years - the 't' being added at a later date. They were an important family and there are records of their contribution to the town of Carrickfergus where some served on the governing bodies. Samuel himself refers to the family living in this County Antrim valley.
These Clements were not ordinary tenant farmers, but they belonged to the same old-established, English landlord class as the Dalways - and indeed they married into the Dalways in the 1600s.
In the old graveyard of Ballynure Parish Church are two large family vaults belonging to the Dobbs family of Castle Dobbs (who by also marrying into the Dalway family, came to be in possession of much of the former Dalway estate at Ballynure). But the oldest gravestone in the burying ground is that of Ellinor Clements, dated 1698. Here is the full inscription (with the Dalway connection highlighted):

Here lyeth the body of Ellinor,
the wife of Edward Clements of Mvlligan-Hill gent.
and eldest daughter of Alexander Dallvay of Bally Hill Esqr.,
who departed this life
03 Mar 1698 aged 35 years.

The historical connections
between Ballynure and Dalway's Bawn at Ballycarry - although they were at opposite ends of east Antrim and separated by the County of Carrickfergus - were extremely close because of the Dalway cattle trail. It is a bit like the close connections between two trading ports at opposite sides of a sea. This came home to me when I visited the graveyard at Ballynure Parish Church last week. On a ruined stone wall near the Dobbs' family vault, is a blue plaque erected by the Ulster History Circle to "JONATHAN SWIFT author of Gulliver's Travels, Prebendary here 1695-97".

Jonathan Swift's period as Church of Ireland Prebend of Kilroot is described in another earlier post ("The original Yahoos at Kilroot", 28 May 2010), but I was unaware then that his ecclesiastical duties extended beyond the 'East of Eden' parishes of Templecorran and Kilroot, to include this distant parish of Ballynure. Swift's literary importance is enormous as he has been described as the greatest satirist of English literature. So it is interesting to speculate about the possible closeness of Swift's friendship, not only with the Dalways and Dobbs at Kilroot (as they were the leading Episcopalian families in a district which was otherwise almost wholly Presbyterian), but also in Ballynure with Alexander Dalway's daughter Ellinor and her husband Edward Clements of Clements Hill (from whom 'Mark Twain' is believed to be descended).

King John in 1210 granted a charter to Henry Clemens and Roger de Preston to lands near the present town of Larne in County Antrim. By the 1600s, the family (sometimes spelled 'Clemence' and sometimes 'Clements') were living in the Ballynure area of the Six-Mile-Water valley.
In 1609, Edward and John Clements settled at Straid, which was then called Thomastown because it had been possessed under Elizabeth I by Thomas Stevenson of Carrickfergus. Edward Clements had just obtained
a deed from John Dalway of the townlands of Ballythomas, Straidballythomas, and Ballymenagh. At the same time his brother John Clements is noticed as also holding lands near Straid.

About 1640, Henry Clements of Straid, who is believed to have been son of the above Edward, was deputy recorder of Carrickfergus. In 1648, we find him a captain in Sir John Clotworthy's regiment of foot, and in the following year in garrison at Carrickfergus, of which town he had been chosen an alderman. He died soon after.

Henry Clements (Junior) and his brother Edward, were among those who signed the Antrim Association in 1688. In 1692, Henry was one of the representatives in parliament for Carrickfergus. On the death of Henry, his brother Edward succeeded to the family estates. In 1707, he resided at Clements-hill, in which year he served the office of high sheriff of the county of Antrim, and in 1715 he was appointed major of a regiment of militia dragoons belonging to the same county, commanded by the Hon. John I. Chichester.

Edward Clements married Ellinor, daughter of Alexander Dalway, Ballyhill
who died March, 1696, and by her had seven sons, and two daughters: Edward, Henry, Hercules, Francis, John, Dalway, Anne and Millicent. In 1716, Edward Clements was high sheriff of the county of Antrim. He died 1733.

The children of Edward Clements and Ellinor Dalway included several that had distinguished military careers. Francis was appointed major of dragoons on the decease of his father, and in 1721, served the office of high sheriff of the county of Antrim. Both John and Dalway Clements were officers in Colonel Skeffington's regiment when it served during the 1689 Siege of Derry. This tradition continued into the 18th century with several of the next generation of the family serving with their regiments in North America.

I have to admit that, swamped under a tide of genealogical information about the early migration of these Clements to America in the wake of Arthur Dobbs' first contingent from this area in 1751, I have not even attempted to trace the direct line of descent to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain). But it is well worth somebody researching it - if only to justify another blue plaque in Ballynure graveyard. And, of course, also a similar one on Dalway's Bawn!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Portmuck - the end of the Cattle Trail

Sailing into Portmuck harbour from Scotland takes you past the small Isle of Muck - seen here with the north end of the Gobbins Cliffs in Islandmagee behind.

The only landing place on the island is on the landward side, and it was here that smuggled horses from Scotland were landed out of sight of any patrolling customs and excise boats. On the Gobbins coast almost opposite is a cave known as 'horse cave' where the smuggled horses were also hidden. The inward horse trade was the counterbalance to the outgoing cattle boats destined for the great drove roads of Scotland.

Looking down on the island from the high ground in the middle of the peninsula, the small harbour of Portmuck can be seen to the left, hidden from the isle by a small headland with farm buildings on top.

This scene has hardly changed in 100 years since the old photograph below was taken.

The ruins of Portmuck Castle are only the base walls of a stone tower built in the 1590s (see earlier posts "The Big Picture: Eslers and the 'Scotch' Cattle Drove Roads of mid Antrim", and "Dalways Bawn: The Earl of Essex's Plantation in east Antrim). It sits among and behind the farm buildings on the headland, so that it could overlook both the harbour and the 'sound' of water between the headland and Muck Isle. The large building down at the harbour was the Coastguards Building, which in the 1800s replaced the castle as the customs control center for the control of livestock imports and exports.

This was the end of the cattle trail as far as the old drove road from Ballynure, across the Commons of Carrickfergus and past Dalway's Bawn, but it was the beginning of the horse trail in the opposite direction, for Ballynure's horse fair was one of the biggest in the county.
When I was a boy, the shore opposite Muck Isle could only be accessed by climbing over the limestone rocks at the headland (there is a footpath now).

From this headland, where the castle ruins are, the shore is a limestone platform of white rocks which contrast completely with the black basalt rocks of the Gobbins cliffs. The castle wall rises straight from this headland on the Isle of Muck side, so that it had a clear view of the 'sound' and the causeway that linked the island. This natural causeway can be waded across at low tide, and of course, livestock could be driven across at this point too.

There is a very interesting account of how (because of the smuggling trade) the locals were unwilling to admit, even to Scots 'plantation' landlords, that there were any horses 'to be had' in the district in the early 1600s. The source is a letter of 1631 from J. Montgomery of Newton (Lord Montgomery of the Ards in County Down) to Archibald Edmonston of Red Hall, Ballycarry. Of course there were plenty of horses about, but the fact that they were all busy working sounds like a typical Ulster-Scots bargaining tool to effect a sale at an extortionate price.

"J. Montgomerie to Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath. Requesting the loan of some horses.

1631, April 21st, Knockfergus [Carrickfergus]. - 'Worshipfull and loving coosen, It hathe so falne out that in my passage from Dunstey I have been forced to land far doun in Iyeland McGhie [Portmuck, Islandmagee] so as I ame forced to employ my freinds for supplie of horses, and in regarde the countrey is upoun the heate of there labour, I must intreate yow for the laine of some three or four garreins [small work horses] for the transporting of myself and company to the Newtoun [Newtownards] ... Signed, Montgomerie

[Reply on same page] Right honourable my, I sent your Lordship thrie garreins and for this present I have non els exept my gray hors that rane ane cours yeisterday, and I dar nott ventur him so schoune efter the race. My Lord, I tak very unkindly that ye suld have gone by this cottage, always I hop your Lordship vill mak ane amends. Thus in quhat I am able I remain ... Signed, Ar. Edmonstoun. "
Of course, I should have repeated in this post that the names of Portmuck and of Muck Isle are both derived from the Irish Gaelic word for 'pig' (muc) and the names have nothing to do with the state of cleanliness of the place! But it also shows that the so-called 'cattle trail' was frequented by other livestock as well - particularly horses and swine.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Gobbins Cliffs

The Gobbins cliffs in Islandmagee run almost continuously between the sea-ports of Whitehead and Portmuck, so that these two tiny harbours were the only places the cattle trade from Dalway's Bawn to Scotland could operate from. This 100-year old romantic painting of the Gobbins does not capture the terror which these cliffs held for me as a young boy. There were sea caves that could only be explored by boat, and I remember being taken in a local fishing boat from Boneybefore - the only time I ever saw those caves up close.

In the 1960s we could still walk along parts of a cliff path from the Whitehead end, but the footbridges had collapsed before the stretch where the caves were.

The Gobbins path was built as a tourist attraction for visitors traveling from Belfast to Whitehead on the newly constructed railway in the late 1800s. It was a marvel of engineering with iron suspension bridges giving spectacular access.

As a boy, we could actually 'tight-rope' walk across some of the remaining girders, until the whole path was closed off for safety reasons in 1961.

But the real terror for me was when we would walk along the cliff tops. I had - and still have - a fear of heights, but the Boneybefore boys were intent on adding seagulls eggs to our collection. Egg-collecting is of course illegal and regarded as 'bad behaviour' now. But we thought it was only bad if you ignored the 'one-egg-only-per-nest' rule.

It was the other lads who went down the cliff, not me! But that wasn't because of any scruples I might have had about egg-collecting. The last time we tried it my friends got stuck half-way down, and called up above to me to go and get a rope from a farm. So off I went to the nearest farm across a few fields as fast as my trembling legs could take me. The two men in the farmyard just shrugged their shoulders as if a cow had got out of the field again, lifted two ropes hanging ready, and effected a rescue. Hardly a word was spoken, even back at the farmhouse where we were given a cup of tea. "Ye'll stick to the road in future then?" the older man said. "Ay", I said, and meant it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Along the Cattle Trail - in sight of Scotland

Last week I explored further along the old cattle drove road where it survives from the Commons to Dalway's Bawn.
This was a new stretch of the countryside for me, as I had only gone as far as the first hill after Lough Mourne before. Imagine my surprise when I ventured beyond the next brae, over the highest point, and suddenly the Irish sea and the coast of Scotland was there - straight ahead. (No history in this post, just a few photos.)

The center hill in the near horizon is Muldersleigh Hill, behind Whitehead - one of the ports where the cattle were exported from, the other being Portmuck in Islandmagee which can be seen on the distant left. The ridge of fields in the middle distance is in the townland of Bellahill (where Dalway's Bawn is), and the valley immediately in front is that of the Copeland Water, which marks the boundary of Carrickfergus County.

Just to explain for the benefit of anybody following this 'virtual' field trip, the figure on the lane is my long-suffering wife Helen, getting ahead of the game picking blackberries.

Going back to the first part of the cattle track which I described in an earlier post (
The Commons Cattle Trail Today, June 2010), some more photos from then set the scene just as you leave Lough Mourne and the Commons.

But back at the newly explored trail and the view of Scotland - you might have to click on this to enlarge if you want to see the Galloway coast - but believe me in the flesh it was as clear as anything, and to the left was the Scottish isle of Ailsa Craig looking just like Slemish rising out of the sea.

So, how far did we get? Well according to the map the lane goes all the way to Dalway's Bawn. But we only went on as far as the Copeland Water, at the bottom of the next valley. Here the lane crosses the Beltoy Road, and I was able to make a note of where to park the car when I (or we) come back to explore the next stage through Bellahill townland. (Our car was parked back at Lough Mourne, and as you will see from the next picture, this track is definitely not for ordinary vehicles).
At this point, the lane dives down to the valley bottom in a 1:3 gradient. Nothing like a field trip to understand why this lane survives without being made into a modern road!

So, nothing else for the time being except back to base at Lough Mourne.

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.