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.