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.