Monday, 30 May 2016

What I Learned from Jimmy

There is a man named Jimmy Duffy who does family history research in this area. I had contacted him before we came and sent all the family details he asked for. He said he couldn't be certain which of the local families was mine, which seemed like an honest answer.

Bill has a 'found' cousin whose wife's family is also from County Donegal and she wrote about an amazing experience of her family search there, down south around Killybegs. Her advice to me was to talk to the local people. So I did. I talked to the people who had the caravan site, to the people at the tourist board, at the library, in pubs, men on the street...  Jimmy's name came up a lot, as in 'You should talk to...' Even knowing that he couldn't really further my search, I asked if he could meet up and we did. 

We talked for three hours. 

One funny thing was that the man he would guess was my ancestor lived next door to his ancestor in 1823. This came from a rent book in Dublin. I've not encountered this genealogical source as yet, but he says they are still pulling old ledgers out of dusty boxes so I might still learn something useful.

I mentioned that I never see my family name except in cemeteries. Not on business signs, football team photos, school band photos (I did find one of those in Letterkenny), not in history books. The one mention in the Atlas is of a woman who was killed down in Donegal town during the war in 1916. He said that was good, that it wasn't a terribly common name. Mind, the common names in the Rosses are everywhere: Gallagher, Sweeney, Duffy, O'Donnell, Sharkey, Boyle... I have trouble enough keeping my Patrick's and my Bridget's straight, but having seen the repetitive nature of the local names I wouldn't even attempt family history if I lived there.

It may be that the members of my family who didn't die in the famine had emigrated. Another reason there aren't many of my name around is that there was a generation around the 1840's that had seven daughters. This is why so many people I talked to said, I had a Aunty / Granny / my wife's family had ...  That and some of the male line got killed off in an accident, about which I'll write later. Everyone knew the name, it just wasn't in visual evidence.

A couple of things Jimmy said stuck with me, one I'd heard before: there was no famine, as in there was plenty of food around when people were starving. Yes, the potato crop failed, but there was a lot of grain and dairy foods being exported for profit.  There was plenty of food around, only poor people couldn't afford it. I had read this elsewhere, so it wasn't news. I still find it shocking.

The other idea he mentioned was that the Protestant landlords were no worse about collecting rents than the Irish chieftains had been. That was a new concept, but it makes sense. Renters never get a free ride, regardless of the landlord. 

We talked briefly about the Ballymanus disaster. He was describing that all the coffins were gathered in the local hall and all 'waked' together. I found out why it's called a 'wake'. He told me that back in the day peoples' biggest fear was of being buried alive (my grandmother used to worry about it, I remember). So the family would sit with them for a period - usually 2-3 days - in case they 'woke up'. I'd never heard that before and it makes perfect sense. 

Another thing we talked about was naming conventions. A couple in the pub Bill and I met had said that the first child was always named by the father, the second by the mother, the third by the father, and so on down the line.  Jimmy said that the convention was that the first son was named for the father's grandfather, the second son for the mother's grandfather, the second son for the father, the third son for the mother's father. The exception might be that a child would be named for someone who had died very young...and every family has a Bridget! Not sure how all this applies in my family, will have to look at that.

We talked about the name Grainnie (pronounced GRAW-nee) which is Anglicized to Grace, Graicy or Gertrude. Manus is not a usual name, it tends to be unique to a given family, which is helpful. Bryan (pronounced BREE-an), in this area is a variation of Bernard / Barnard / Barney, common names in my family. 

We talked about DNA testing, the possibilities and the obstacles. He reckoned only younger persons would be up for it; older people would worry that they would be cloned! 

And finally, Jimmy's wife might be a member of my family! Must see if she minds being cloned -- I mean tested!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Cemetery Day

Across from Sharkey's Bar was the Catholic church (the only kind I was interested in this trip) named St Mary's Star of the Sea. Lovely name, eh? I was told it had been built in the early 1900s and that the older church was at Kincasslagh.

St. Mary's Star

So one day that is where we headed. We found a small graveyard with some conveniently placed boards on the front listing who all was buried there. Actually, it probably only listed those whose burials were in the records and/or had a marker. Funny how we take things at face value and don't question the details. There was no one on the board with the name I wanted. A nice lady there asked who I was looking for, then explained that this was the new Kincasslagh cemetery and directed us to the older cemetery at Kincasslagh, on the other side of the old church up the road.

'New' Kincasslagh cemetery

While we were there, Bill said he saw a truck driving across the wide sands that connected the sides of the bay. 
'Old' Kincasslagh cemetery

Later, I saw someone walking across. I discovered that the vast stretch of sand that separated land from sea was called a 'strand' (not a term commonly used in land-locked Oklahoma). I remembered the stories that long ago people used to walk across the River Tyne at low tide, between North Shields and Sound Shields, near where we live in England. I found plenty of names on stones and on the board for this cemetery. There were also a number of stubs or wooden crosses which couldn't be read. 

There were loads of people around doing various things related or not to the cemetery. A couple of men came up and asked whose graves we were seeking. One man, named Logue, recounted the Ballymanus mine incident  - about which I'll write later - and said he'd attended the recent memorial service. 

Another man, Gillespie, seemed to think we were 'chasing straws' - true enough - but then he thought the census began only in 1901, which is wrong. 

He talked a bit about Rannyhual as having originally been communal cattle grazing in the hills outside Annagry. Some of his family were from Rannyhual as were some of the people whose names interested me. He said it was where people moved for cheap housing after all the seaside land was taken. 

He also told us there was yet an older cemetery on Cruit (pronounced something like critch or crutch) Island, so we went there, driving over a small bridge beside which children and dogs were playing in the beautiful blue-green water. The cemetery there was called St. Bridget's (Cill Bhride). 

St. Bridget's cemetery on Cruit Island

Bill pointed out the large bare area at the front of the cemetery, with no markers in sight. We guessed that this area may have been where the famine victims were buried. If you can't afford to buy food, it seems unlikely you can afford an engraved stone marker. The board listed a few burials as old as 1830 so the time frame seemed right for this cemetery. 

After examining the board by the gate we walked over the field towards the sea. 

It looked like green grass, but it was spongy, like moss and wonderful underfoot. 

There had been a runner on the worn paths earlier and I envied him his route. We were passed by a man driving a car with a trailer that Bill thought looked full of sand, probably not a legal enterprise.

Errigal Mountain in the background!

One thing I noticed in several of the cemeteries was mention of family members in Australia, America or Scotland. In fact a number of head stones were placed by people from those places.

And then, since we were passing anyhow, we went ahead and visited St. Mary's Star of the Sea cemetery to collect names there. The graves were all so close together, it was hard to navigate. I have a feeling they'll be needing yet another cemetery soon!

Saturday, 28 May 2016


Now I don't honestly know where my ancestors came from in County Donegal, but my cousin Sharon and I have done a lot of researching and our best guess is that the earliest records surviving place them in a townland called Braade, in the Rosses.

I thought we should be able to cycle up there as it was only about 6 miles. I don't think we took the 6 mile route, if there was one. We stopped and asked directions of anyone we met and the old joke about asking an Irishman directions and being told he wouldn't start from here, is fact not fiction.

On the map Braade looks like it sits at the end of the runway of Donegal Airport and it kind of does, though the airport says it is in Carrickfinn. Then again, we saw a 1906 Ordnance Survey map at Donegal County Library and back then the land ended at Braade. That sticky-out bit (I think it should properly be called a peninsula) with an airport and a village beyond it is apparently all reclaimed!

I did have a bit of concern about trying to cycle up there, but thought since I'd run six miles just a few weeks previous I should be alright. Also I'd recently read a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that you should do something that scared you every day. I was right to be nervous. The six miles didn't take into account the hills. They aren't any of them terribly high, they just never stop upping and downing and by the time we got up to Braade I knew I wasn't going to cycle home.

I managed to fall over and bloody my knee and the nearest resting place was Sharkey's Bar. I knew about this place from Facebook. It's been a family run bar for 100 years; before that it was a family run grocers. There were half a dozen men wandering in and out at any given time having a chat over a pint. Bill left me with a restorative G&T while he heroically cycled back to camp and brought the motor home up to transport me home. At that point I didn't care if I ever saw my bike again.

Just as in County Antrim we saw a lot of new houses in The Rosses. One difference was that many were built next to old stone huts. We overheard a man say it was cheaper to buy land with a house than land alone, this guaranteeing all the proper planning permissions; one could get a lot for as little as €30,000.

I was interested where there were clusters of small houses, thinking they might be an old fashioned clachan, as described in the Atlas as a cluster of stone huts, generally owned by members of the same extended family. The farming system in place before the widespread plantation of Protestant landowners in the 1700s following The Flight of the Earls, was called the rundale system. It involved the division of communal land in an inner field into strips, where food was grown. The outer field was for grazing animals during the growing season, but over winter animals were brought into the inner field to help fertilize the soil. Each year the strips were re-allocated for use by each household, according to its need.

Landlords abolished the rundale system and apportioned a plot of land for each house, thus being able to charge rent for each individual house and plot. The land wasn't rich enough in the Rosses to farm on the small allocation and people had to look for other ways to make their rent. Thus the habit of 'working away' in 'The Laggan': western Donegal, eastern Ireland, western Scotland. Children as young as 9 or 10 were sent to hiring fairs and from there went to work on wealthier farms or to pick potatoes in Scotland, from May to November. They brought their money home to pay the rent. Hiring fairs continued up into the 1940s. Working away continues to be a tradition in the Rosses. The new homes we saw are hard earned, but there is so much beauty there it is easy to see why people would fight to stay.

Peat extraction.

I've never seen peat being harvested. I was thinking this practice was frowned upon, but Bill says the EU is against industrial harvesting; that for personal use is still permitted. We ran across some men standing outside a house in Dungloe that had a stack of dried peat sitting outside. I paused to take a photo and they insisted I take a piece of it with me. What I will do with it, I've no idea.

Gorse looks much the same to me as broom, which grows all over Scotland. Apparently they are both members of the pea family. I asked Bill how he knew it was gorse, not broom, and he said because gorse has sharp spiny bits. Isn't he clever?

If you can't get a plot by the sea, get one by a lake. I've no idea if they are fresh water - probably not, but they are the same vivid blue. I used to say my mom's father and her brother had swimming pool blue eyes, but now I know they had Donegal blue eyes.

Before I leave the subject of hills, I must remember to tell you about Errigal Mountain. I knew it was there (from reading the Atlas) but hadn't appreciated what a distinct landmark it was from The Rosses. Looking at it I knew I was seeing what my ancestors had seen. I'm guessing it was about 10 miles east as the crow could fly.

I never could get a good photo of it; this is of course nothing as dramatic as these.

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Cope

There wasn't a great deal to do in Dungloe, but I can't say I was ever bored. One evening we walked out to the end of the pier, to see about the possibilities of a good sunset photo. 

We decided we'd need to keep looking, but it was a pleasant walk all the same.

Bill was fascinated by this old hotel. I could see why. I've heard that women fall in love with men for their potential; I am more likely to fall in love with a building for the same reason. In both cases the potential is often more imagined than real.

I didn't know much about Sweeney's Hotel, but I did know about 'The Cope'. This was an important part of County Donegal history when in 1906, Paddy 'The Cope' Gallagher founded the Templecrone Agricultural Cooperative Society. 

This area of Donegal is called "Na Rosas" or "The Rosses", the Irish word for 'headland'. The soil isn't very good at the coast and farming income needed to be supplemented. Local families worked hard to produce textiles and to catch fish. However, transport systems to the market towns in the east part of the county were practically non-existent. Their efforts to make a living were thwarted by the 'middle men' who sold them supplies, such as salt for curing the fish, at high prices, then bought their produce at low prices. They were called 'gombeen men': shady wheeler-dealers who made their profits at the cost of others. The Cooperative gave families an alternative that would represent their interests, as members.  The grandson of Paddy Gallagher also gives himself "The Cope" as a middle name, it likely being useful to his political career, but it seems to me he's riding on coat-tails. Then again, there are so many men by that name in the area it may be the only way to properly identify himself to his constituents.

I did try to buy some shoes in there, but there weren't any employees to be found. It was a bit eerie having a big department store with only a few customers and no staff.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Learning the Language (Not)

We camped for over a week at Dungloe. It's dead easy to find on a map because of Arranmore Island. It was the only caravan site Bill could find in that area and it was fine; very handy for the town. One of my first challenges was to pronounce the name properly. I caused more than a few smiles by saying Dun-GLOW. They say it Dung-LO. Subtle difference, but for them apparently a big one.

Our first morning we visited the tourist information centre which used to be a Catholic church but was now the town library / information centre. One of the ladies there said she was distantly related by marriage to someone by the family name I was after. She said it with a rather strained expression. Turns out he is known for his tall tales, so not perhaps not a great source for genealogical information. She didn't seem to know that family history was a major American hobby or that DNA testing was available. I couldn't imagine I would be the first to inquire about this, but perhaps I was the first in her experience. She did help me out by correcting my pronunciation of Braade: not Braid, but Bradge, rhymes with Madge.

We picked up a few maps with some walking / cycling / driving trails marked, but as for determining distances or reading place names, they weren't very helpful. They didn't think they had an Ordnance Survey map, though on a later visit we found they did. Still not as complete as one would wish. I would be armed with Google Maps and Google Earth if I were to try navigating there again. That's the map on which I could find Rannyhual.

However, we were pretty safe walking up and down Main Street in DungLo. I spotted a craft shop called The Erratic Makers, named for the erratic boulders that are fairly common in the area. Bill explained this term to me, but I looked up again:

A glacial erratic is a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests. "Erratics" take their name from the Latin word errare, and are carried by glacial ice, often over distances of hundreds of kilometres.

You would know one if you saw it - just a huge rock sticking up in an odd place. Bill liked to call them 'erotic boulders', but there isn't anything sexy about them. And so I took no photos.

Yes, my dear husband, being his usual erratic self.

Perhaps the craft shop would improve their business with that subtle name change (though I did my best there to contribute to the local economy before we left). 

The art nouveau style window caught my eye.

I photographed this building because I thought it very handsome, no improvements necessary. Bill thought the owner might be a bit confused, the pub being called Patrick Johnny Sally, but no doubt it all makes perfect sense to an Irishman.

Smoke from a peat fire.

We wandered in one evening after dinner and discovered a great place to photograph sunsets, from the balcony at the back. We met some people from Dublin back visiting their home town and that was where I learned how to pronounce their name: not Gallagrrr, GallaHER. Clearly I just think I know how to pronounce words...

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Ahoghill and Beyond

So, we caught the ferry the next afternoon. I felt like an old hand at this given the number of trips we'd made over to the Continent, but this was different.

For one, the journey was only a couple of hours and for two, loads of Irish accents on board! Thirdly the engine died at one point, which was slightly worrying, but it all worked out. What I hadn't planned was lunch. Big mistake. 

We had one of the worst lunches I can remember: lasagna, cabbage, carrots, garlic dough balls and chips. I don't know why I let Bill lead me into these things. He walks and runs for miles and miles and I do not. Men burn more calories than women. I'm mostly sedentary with bursts of enthusiasm followed by long periods of recovery. In preparing for our return journey he did ask me to 'save' him from the lasagna so, thankfully, we didn't repeat that experience. 

Not the church we were looking for.

Anyhow, we landed at Larne and drove to Ahoghill, just the other side of Ballymena. (We have Ballymena to thank for actor Liam Neeson; and apparently for John Wayne too, as his great-great grandfather emigrated from there in 1801). 

I noticed there are loads of Irish place names that start with 'Bally' names. I was wondering about the old fashioned slang 'bally', a euphymism for the British swear word 'bloody'. Bill wondered about it being form of 'bailey' which is the outer wall of a castle. However, according to this website, bally is Irish for 'place of'... and Ballymena is the 'middle town' or something. Anyhow, it was Ahogill I was interested to see, it being the place where some of my great-great grandparents married, there in County Antrim. They also emigrated to Dalry in Scotland. 

Ahoghill is not pronounced 'a hog hill' but aaHOGle, like this. I will probably always fondly mis-pronounce it, but I thought it only polite to know better in front of the natives.  Apparently this word has something to do with Yew Trees and the town itself has decided it was the "Ford of the Yew Trees" - or a shallow place in a river near some yews. And I'm guessing it would be the River Maine. 

We looked all over for the Catholic church, but it was nowhere to be found, not even on Church Road. I should have written down the address more carefully, but I was focusing on a different branch of the family over in Donegal for this trip. My main impression of Ahoghill was how prosperous it looked and how many new-looking houses there were. Clearly the English town planning system (rows of identical houses all facing the same way) doesn't take precedence in Northern Ireland and it was much more attractive for it.

They paint the sheep to keep track of the mating programme.

I was generally pleased with what I was seeing, but it didn't feel right: the sun was shining and that makes everything different. I'm used to seeing Ireland greener than green under grey skies. That blue seemed a bit off, but the temperature was a very pleasing 80-something and I wasn't going to complain about not being wet and cold!

I merrily snapped photos to prove that the sun does shine in Ireland and to document our trip. I took several of road signs highlighting 'Ahoghill' but I'll spare you those. We were across County Antrim and the next one (Derry or Londonderry, depending upon your politics; I'll just call it the middle county).

I recognized this church from the book I read earlier this year An Historical, Environmental and Cultural Atlas of County Donegal. (Yes, I did read it and thoroughly enjoyed it). Not to my taste but folks around there seem to like it, which is what matters.

Then we found ourselves in a different kind of terrain and I began to understand how the west part of Donegal is so different to the east. 

I noticed the difference on Google Earth when I linked to the ferry crossing yesterday. West Donegal isn't that green; it is more brown and grey, but with the bluest lakes I've ever seen. 

I'd read a whole Atlas about the place, but I was still astonished when I saw it for myself.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

On the Way to Donegal

We're just returned from our first holiday this year: we spent two weeks on the north west coast of Ireland, in County Donegal. I was going there to look at the place my Irish ancestors left in the 1840's when they emigrated to the West of Scotland. I hoped I would find out a lot more about them, but knew it was unlikely because most of the Irish records were destroyed either in their war of independence or in the civil war that followed. Still, I'm very pleased we went. Bill has always been a bit dubious about the wisdom of a Brit travelling to Northern Ireland, but we had zero bad experiences and found all the Irish people we met to be extremely pleasant.

This involved driving up to catch the ferry at Cairnryan (used to be at Stranrar) from Scotland to Larne, on the east coast of Ireland. We broke our drive somewhere on the coast of southwest Scotland in Galloway. We've joked that if Britain decides to leave the EU then surely Scotland will have another referendum and vote for independence. Then we would have an excuse to move to the southwest coast of Scotland, which is incredibly beautiful and seems to have better weather than we do in the northeast of England. Something about the Gulf Stream I've never got the gist of. 

The campsite was miles from anywhere and there wasn't much to do except walk on the beach and investigate the building (a farm house as it turned out) around the corner. 

An entirely pleasant way to spend the evening.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Granny Square Addiction

I've discovered my real passion for using yarn (they call it 'wool' over here, even if it's acrylic...I like my term better) is not knitting, but crochet. Specifically granny squares, which are far easier to do in front of the telly because you aim for the spaces, not for the stitches, at least most of the time.

Given that my source of yarn is a knitting group that gets donations of yarn collected by the local Rotary club, it helps if you can use small scraps and this is one of the gifts of granny squares. 

Even while I'm working on one I find myself planning the next! I mainly think of colour combinations I want to use. I make all the centres of the 12 squares then I do the next row of each and so on, as this makes for the most uniform design and I can select thinner or thicker yarns as needed. If I have a very large supply of one sort of yarn it makes things much simpler, but those aren't quite as much fun.

It was a long time before I felt happy taking yarn, my sweaters were so slow in the making I had nothing to show for what I took. Not so with granny square throws. They are small - only about 3 x 4 feet - but then this group knits for babies and children, so that seems appropriate. Just working on them in front of the telly a few evenings a week I can churn one out about every fortnight (two weeks).

I never thought something with as many holes it would be warm, but I've learned they are, as my creations keep me cozy while I work on them. 

And this last throw - obviously not granny squares - I made somewhere back in the 1980s, I think. I've never used it much, never even finished it properly by trimming the ends. It just gathered dust in the attic and I decided it was time to pass it along.