Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Boneybefore: The American Connection (2)

My home village of Boneybefore between Carrickfergus and Kilroot is where the President Andrew Jackson Cottage and US Rangers Museum can be found today.

Here is what the official information has to say about this ancestral white-washed cabin:
At least 12 US presidents had family connections to Ulster and part of this museum is dedicated to the seventh president, ‘Old Hickory’ Andrew Jackson who was in office from 1829 until 1837.
The Jackson exhibition is housed in a thatched cottage built in the 1750s, similar to the one left in 1765 by Jackson’s parents when they migrated to South Carolina. The main living space and bedrooms of the cottage are set out in the style of the 18th century, while the parlour is dedicated to the Jackson family and the career of their most famous son.
In the War of 1812 Andrew Jackson served as American military commander. He became a national hero after defeating the British forces at the Battle of New Orleans and earned his nickname when supporters described him as tough as Old Hickory wood. Jackson later served two terms as president during which he was able to shape the new Democratic Party.
In the garden is an exhibition dedicated to the US Rangers, who were formed at Carrickfergus in 1942. Based on the British commandoes, the Rangers were stationed a short distance from the cottage. They were a spearhead of the Allied D-Day landings and of the 500 volunteers who first formed the Rangers at Carrickfergus, only 87 were alive by the end of the war. The exhibition includes letters sent by serving Rangers and the equipment that they would have carried with them.

If you read this carefully, it does not claim that this was the actual house in Boneybefore that Andrew Jackson's parents lived in. Most of the dozen or so US 'Presidential Homesteads' that are on the tourist trail in Ulster are just that - but the 'Andrew Jackson Cottage' is just 50 yards or so away from a monument with a blue plaque that states "Reputed site of the ancestral homestead of Andrew Jackson, President of the U.S.A. 1829-1837 "

As boys, even in those days before plaques and heritage centers, we all knew that the original 'Jackson' house was knocked down to make way for the railway line from Carrickfergus to Larne about 1860. It was more or less behind where the plaque stands, where you can see the railway track along the shore. A different old farm-house behind where this photo has a window in a coach-house that was taken from the original Jackson house.

Boneybefore still had plenty of thatched houses when I was a boy, but only two survive now, and one of these - the one that is now the Andrew Jackson Center - was Tommy Donaldson's farm.

Tommy Donaldson's House was no 'cottage' - for that means a landless labourer's house. It was a proper farmhouse that had been in the Donaldson family for 300 years.
As it stands today, you can see the tall concrete chimney of Kilroot power station behind, and modern housing where Tommy's byre and other farm out buildings used to be.

Take a look at me in my teens outside the same house when Tommy was still alive.
The white-washed out-building at the end was the byre, where I often watched spell-bound as Tommy milked his cows by hand into a white enamel bucket. Every so often he would aim a teat at us and squirt us like a jet from a water pistol.

The two doors at the far end of the thatched long-house were into a workshop and a stable, for Tommy still used horses, and traveled into Carrick by horse and cart. The US Rangers museum is now housed round the back in what used to be the old cart-sheds.

But when I was in my teens, things were already changing in Boneybefore. Gone were the days when Tommy churned his own butter with a horse-walk round the back (the horse walked round and round in a circle and drove an axle inside a building with a barrel full of milk inside that turned on a cog driven by the horse). When I was still aged in single figures, I remember my mother sending me down to Tommy's with an empty jug for a pint of buttermilk to bake soda farls with.
Tommy just took the jug into his kitchen where he had a large barrel, dipped the jug in to fill it, and handed it back - waving me away without a word when I offered him a coin to pay. He was a kindly soul, a man of few words, and when I look at the stable door now I remember going there at Halloween to ask for the lend of ropes to bring in cut-down hedgerow branches for the bonfire. No other adult that wasn't a relative would have been as accommodating.

This photo goes back to those days, and here we were, messing about in the street. Tommy Donaldson's house (the 'Andrew Jackson Cottage') is the one in the background, and you can see the byre and store beyond.

The gable in the middle was that of another thatched house belonging to 'oul ma Hagan'. It burnt down in about 1959.
To the left lived Nellie Donaldson, and her hen-house can just be seen on the extreme right.

An even earlier shot looking the other way has Nellie Donaldson's hen-house in the center. Tommy Donaldson's (now the museum) is extreme left, casting its shadow. Oul Ma Hagan's thatched house is on the right, and the other thatched house beyond was Tillie Millar's.

Tillie Millar was another kindly soul who used to come out when we were playing to educate us about the history of Boneybefore.

She told us about the Andrew Jackson's parents, where they had lived in Boneybefore, how they had just moved into a 'wee two-room hoose' from up near Dalway's Bawn, just to get ready for the trip to America. The Jackson's were not really 'Boney folk', she said, and the President was born on the boat to America, but Mrs Jackson smuggled him ashore under her dress. We never questioned the logic of this, as he had to be born in America if he was going to be President.