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.

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.