Wednesday, 7 July 2010

An uncanny gathering at Bellahill farm, near Dalway's Bawn, in 1953

This is the second time the East of Eden Chronicles have taken a strange twist with the discovery of another old photograph taken about 1953 (see the 'year of the crowning' post). The event was a birthday party for Raymond Cowan - the boy in shorts pointing a toy gun across my face at the sheep. It was held on the Cowan farm at Bellahill beside Dalway's Bawn, and behind Raymond is my mum. Mrs Cowan is beside my mum on the left of the picture. In front of Mrs Cowan is Eric Glynn (of Davy Crockett hat fame in previous posts) . Mrs Glynn (with the round glasses second from the right) came from the area between Dalway's Bawn and Ballycarry before she was married.

But on this occasion I want to introduce another classmate from Eden Primary School - Alexander (Victor) Hart on the extreme left. His brother Ian is feeding the lamb on the extreme right, and my younger brother is in the middle at the front. Mrs Hart is the tall lady in the center.

This uncanny gathering is relevant to the Dalway story not just because it places us on a farm at Dalway's Bawn, but because the Harts play an important part in that story.

Jumping forward from 1597 when Lieutenant Harte was with John Dalway at the Battle of Pin Well at Ballycarry, to the mid-1800s, we find an Alexander Hart (sometimes spelled Harte) as the principal tenant farmer on the Dalway home farm at the Bawn in Bellahill townland.

Victor Hart (who I have just renewed contact with after 55 years) tells me that he is the 5th Alexander Hart from his home farm at Newseat, near Boneybefore. His brother Ian is still 'feeding the sheep', as he is now a Presbyterian minister of a large Belfast congregation.

But back in 1860, Alexander Hart was Dalway's main tenant farmer at Bellahill, and he had a network of other farms in the nearby townland of Crossmary and in the 'County of Carrickfergus' (which was divided into Alderman's Shares between 1576 - 1601). These Hart farms were mostly in the North-East Division of Carrickfergus, although one holding was a 'Burgers' plot in the center of the medieval town. The Aldermans Shares in North-East Division ran in parallel strips up to the Commons, and they brought with them rights of access to and grazing on the Commons. Up alongside each strip was a lane or 'loanen', and Hart's loanen ran up beside Victor's farm at Newseat and gave us Boneybefore boys a gateway - a straight walk - up to what was the magical world of Lough Mourne and the upland moors and bogs of the Commons.

Like Eric Glynn, Victor Hart was in my class at school and the three of us walked the mile or so from Boneybefore to Eden twice a day. On the way home (so Victor reminds me) I often went past my own house and walked with him back to his farm up Hart's Loanen until dark. The memories of this and of another parallel laneway on the next Aldermans strip (Davy Jack's Loanen) to Davy Jack's farm are legion, but I must stick to the story after one digression. Davy Jack's farm had a waterwheel, open-hearth cooking and he only used horses in the fields. His only road transport was a horse and farm-cart, and many times I rode in it even as far as Carrickfergus. On the side of the cart was
'Hugh Jack, Bluefield' painted in small white letters. I now know that Davy's grandfather was a Hugh Hart Jack, that his great-grandmother was an Alexandrina Hart who married a Hugh Jack, and that her father was the Hugh Hart of Bluefield farm that is marked on the map 0f 1860.

The fields on all these farms were always stocked with cattle when I was young, with a multitude of small thorn-hedged fields climbing up like ladders towards the foothills that marked the beginning of the Commons. The lanes were literally cart-tracks, but straight and not regarded as private.

When I re-trace my steps up Hart's Loanen (in my minds eye, for the fields are all housing developments now), I force myself not to divert into Victor's farm at Newseat. A bit further and the 'ruins' appear (the earlier Hart farm of Alexander Hart Senior in 1860). Then over a hump-back bridge, past Smiley's farm (John Smiley had joined the Star of Eden Pipe Band), straight across the Middle Road and on up a steep rise until the blue, wild waters of Lough Mourne were reached. Carrickfergus Castle used to house some prehistoric dug-out wooden boats found here, and the surrounding 'mosses' had wild plants and birds we never saw down in the lower fields.

I allow myself this apparently meaningless nostalgic ramble for three very good reasons:

a) I didn't know before now that there was a Hart family connection with John Dalway, or with Dalway's Bawn;

b) I didn't know before now that Hart's lane had originally been a secondary cattle drove route to and from the Commons; and,

c) I didn't know before now that a James Esler was a tenant of Alexander Hart at Dalway's Bawn in 1860 - sharing a double cottage with another 'byresman' called William Close. A 'byre' is, of course, a cattle-house and it appears these men were actually 'cow-boys' in Dalways Bawn itself. But my maternal grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all cattle farmers along the cattle drove routes of mid-Antrim, and had the same name:
James Esler.

Now if it turns out that I am related to this James Esler, I will be just as excited as Victor Hart was to learn that he was descended from Dalway's comrade, Lieutenant Hart of Carrickfergus in 1597.