Old Stones. Old Bones. Old Homes.

Today was all McCauslands, all the time as we were meeting up with local historian/genealogist Frank Collins who has been working on McCausland research here in Northern Ireland with Dave.

We had an early breakfast at the hotel then drove to the Ulster American Folk Park to meet Frank in person. Frank works at the park and we had planned to visit today anyway, so it was a convenient spot.

Frank indicated we had a lot to do in three or four hours and he wasn’t kidding! Little did we know that we’d be seeing close to 10 churches and graveyards during that time and that Frank had done an extremely thorough job in investigating where Dave might find the graves of his distant Irish relatives.

A few of the older graveyards proved challenging to get to and challenging to navigate as they had become so overgrown and neglected. Often times walking through fields of knee-high brambles and grass was the only way to access the graveyard. I’m so glad I wore my Merrill shoes. But Frank guided us to the headstones Dave needed to see.

After each reveal of a new headstone, it was remarkable to start to comprehend just how many McCausland’s were in such a small area of a few towns. Some were very big land owners and were able to afford prime burial locations.

In one church, Frank discovered this WAS a McCausland church and he was fairly certain there was a crypt below the carpeted floor that would contain McCauslands. Really, really fascinating and I think Dave was a little overwhelmed with everything Frank was showing him and the information he was sharing.

I’m unable to keep all of the graveyards and churches we visited straight, but I think Dave has a new friend and confidant here in Northern Ireland to use as a trusted resource. The time we spent with Frank was very special and he had done a tremendous amount of work and physically going to the locations weeks prior to our visit. That personal attention meant a great deal to Dave.

We were also very thankful Frank drove! If we had tried to find some of those VERY remote graveyards ourselves, it could have been hours. Because Frank has to work at the park today, he hurried us back to the car park. We went inside and enjoyed a cool drink together then Frank went to get to his post while Dave and I had a bite to eat and start to process everything we had just heard and seen.

Now it was on to explore the Ulster American Folk Park. It is an open-air museum just outside Omagh, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. With more than 30 exhibit buildings to explore, the museum tells the story of three centuries of Irish emigration using displays and stories. Then they physically showed you how they lived and where they lived in a series of homes recreated, or physically moved to the park plank by plank or stone by stone.

Obviously, famous Irish people who bettered their lives after emigrating are shown, but they also highlight the very real struggles and hardships that forced them to leave in the first place, then the new struggles once they reached America. They really do a fantastic job and the homes from different time periods on both side of the ocean, give you a true sense of how they lived.

Frank’s post today was on the very last “exhibit” which is a plantation home in Tennessee from the late 1700’s. Frank told the story of the home owners and also let us in on how the homes used in the park are acquired and built. It’s a huge undertaking and years in the making…also meaning it’s expensive.

Dave and I said our goodbyes and thanks to Frank, they stopped again in the park’s great cafe where I enjoyed a cup of tea and we both enjoyed pieces of fabulous lemon drizzle cake! THAT hit the spot!

Before driving back to the hotel, Dave wanted to drive to a couple more known McCausland locations that included the town of Ardstraw and another very old graveyard and visiting the entrance to Baronscourt estate.

Baronscourt is private, so, we just drove to the gate and Dave photographed the gatehouse. Baronscourt adjoined lands owned by Oliver McCausland and Baronscourt is also where my David Magee was the land agent to the Duke of Abercorn for 50 years, so they may have known one another 300 years ago.

As Dave put it so eloquently as we drove over a bridge on (appropriately) Old Bridge Street:

“Just think – BOTH of our relatives would have passed over that bridge. That’s just f***ing cool, isn’t it?”

Yes Dave. Yes, it is!

Obviously, the beauty of the Irish country-side and some the remote settings of the churches and graveyards, left us wanting to explore even more, but I feel Dave walked away from today’s experiences with a renewed sense of belonging and family. His Celtic Connections here in Northern Ireland.

Derry – the City in The Walls

Derry, Londonderry, Stroke City, or LegenDerry. No matter what you call it, the walled city of Derry has a history riddled with strife and a future ripe for peace.

Before our tour of the city of Derry today, I knew a little bit about it, but had yet to fully understand what had fueled the religious, social, and economic battles that have been going on for decades. And to be honest, even after a truly riveting four-hour walking tour, I’m still struggling a bit to grasp it all.

Dave booked us a tour with a reputable touring company called Marty McCrossan City Walking Tours and had hired a private guide for four hours. He wasn’t crazy about driving directly into the very busy, and very compressed city, so we caught a bus to Derry from Strabane this morning after breakfast at the hotel.

It worked out great. The bus trip was uneventful and quick and our meeting point with the tour guide was in the Peace Flame Park right next to the bus station in Derry.

Right at 10am, we met Sorcha Bonner, our guide. She’s a lovely woman with a charming Irish accent. We felt at ease with her and could understand her accent, so that helped. There are some accents we’re having a little bit of trouble fully catching.

Sorcha started out by asking us what WE wanted to know. We tried to narrow it down by time period and also explained to her about the family history research Dave has been doing. She indicated a few of our stops may be able to shed some light on questions we may have.

Rather than try to come up with my own description of Derry, I’ll take some copy from the tour’s website:

The city of Derry, or Londonderry is Irelands only remaining walled city and offers 1500 years of social, cultural and religious history. Derry was initially a monastic settlement, which became a plantation town and in later years it was a center port for emigration to America, Australia, England and Scotland. Derry is still making history as the opposing communities continue to work together towards a lasting settlement of disagreements.

In common with many areas of Northern Ireland and indeed the world this city has witnessed a recent turbulent past. The Bogside in 1972 became the focus of world news with the worst ever atrocity to hit a European city since WWII on what has been named “Bloody Sunday”.

Our guide will recount in detail the events of that day and the subsequent result of the initial inquiry. The second Bloody Sunday Inquiry finished in 2006, and is awaiting its conclusions.

Sorcha took us onto the city walls and described how they were completed in 1618 and mainly planned as a defense of the city against Irish raiders from Donegal. They are up to 26 feet high, and up to 30 feet wide, enclosing the old merchant city (where the money was). When the defiant Derry Protestants (apprentice boys) slammed and locked the four main gates to the walls, blocking the approaching Catholic army, the walls became an iconic symbol of Loyalism and Unionism. The original 17th century locks and keys (which are huge) are on display.

We were also able to visit several of the churches and neighborhoods were the “Troubles”, as they are known, began and still continue to this day in some neighborhoods. Although the peace process has begun and has been marginally successful, to an outsider, still seeing security gates/walls and clearly divided neighborhoods for Protestant and Catholics can be disturbing,

Dave and I could not help but compare Derry to another walled city, York, England where we visited in 2013. Derry is not that blessed when it comes to beauty spots. The city’s history and the buildings related to it make it a worthwhile visit from a tourist’s point of view, not her sheer opulence.

The newer efforts for peace had created several lovely monuments and symbols including pedestrian Peace Bridge that crosses the River Foyle. We walked halfway across. It’s a beautiful bridge.

Sorcha was a wonderful tour guide and we both enjoyed this whirlwind tour, Her personal story of living here and her wealth of historical knowledge was incredible. She also introduced Dave to Ronnie at a church who shared with Dave how a family member emigrating to America in the 1600-1700’s would have been thrown a “wake” right before they left because the odds of their family members ever seeing them again were so slim. IF the family had any money to give, they would give them what they could, and potentially any wills written would NOT have included the family member/s who had left for America.

After our tours Dave and I had lunch in a wonderful area called Craft Market. It’s a hidden gem with refurbished buildings turned into small shops, cafes and apartments.

The struggles still faced by the residents of Derry quite simply makes me sad. Sad that people have died for decades because of the way they choose to worship their God. Sad that our tour guide Sorcha grew up with armed guards around her otherwise civilized city. And sad that Derry’s children of today are still forced to deal with the crimes of yesterday.

As an American, I shouldn’t throw stones regarding another country’s peace because we’ve struggled with bigotry and racism in our country for decades. It IS better, but we’ve only entered the driveway. We have yet to open the garage doors and park the car.

Good luck Derry. May you find common ground and move forward but never forget those who innocently lost their lives in the past. Love & Peace