VIDEO: A Tribute to Our Celtic Connections

I have loved the lyrics to this song for many years and always imagine a young wife saying and writing this to her husband as he leaves for America. Or a mother to her son…basically anyone who was brave enough to leave everything they’ve always known and held dear for the unknown across the ocean.

With the family history Dave has uncovered for both of our families, and the places we went while in Northern Ireland and the historical documents we read and touched, this song had even more meaning to me.

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Paper Ghosts and Thirsty Goats

Today, Dave and I were following the paper trail left behind by our ancestors in Northern Ireland. We spent three quarters of the day at PRONI (the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) here in Belfast. Like our national archives in USA.

Dave had arranged for us to meet up with Dr. William Roulston. Roulston is Research Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation and is a renown author of numerous books about the Ulster area.

We were honored William agreed to meet us and generously spent an hour of his time showing us the ropes of the process at PRONI. Unfortunately, the electronic process of requesting documents was down today, so it was a paper process all the way around.

Upon arriving at the PRONI building, we were required to register and get ID cards, which needed a photo being taken and having a card to gain access to areas throughout the building. Then we had to place all belongings into a locker. We were only allowed cameras, a notebook, pencils and any meds needed to be carried in a clear plastic bag they provided. Everything else had to go into the lockers so that documents could not be smuggled out in any bags. Security was everywhere here.

You then went into the Search room, where you’d request the documents needed. You’re then given a table number (where you’ll view the documents) for the Reading room. Once they have found your requested documents, they post your table number on a digital board. You go up to the reading room desk, sign out your documents, then go to your assigned table to read them.

Luckily, Dave had done his research on the PRONI website and had written down some of the exact PRONI document ID numbers we needed, so that part was easy and pain free.

We requested multiple records for both McCausland and Magee/Macghee and were overwhelmed by the fragility of these live documents and the shear history contained in them. The paper was so old it either crackled and cracked when you opened it, or was so thin, it felt like touching fabric.

The documents that made our jaws drop were:

MCCAUSLAND

  • The will of Alexander McCausland in 1675. Dave’s possible 14th great grandfather.
  • an extensive family tree created in 1830 dating back to Baron McCausland, chief of Clan McCausland in Scotland.

MAGEE/MACGHEE

  • A bargain and sale document between George Macghee and his brother Patrick with William Stevenson for land and premises in Strabane in 1729. What was so cool about this was that all three signed the document and all three had their wax seal on it.
  • A lease between Sir George Hamilton (Duke of Baronscourt) and David Macghee for land in Strabane in 1671. This doc also had s single wax seal on it that was almost complete and had detailed graphic on the seal, probably the Duke’s signature ring.

The most exciting document for both of us was a bargain and sale between George Macghee and his wife Rebecca Macghee with Oliver McCausland. BOTH of our families recorded on a document for property sold between them. We had the security guard take our photo with the brittle document. So neat!

Then I remembered a document we both already knew about and had read a transcript of it online that I really wanted to see the original of. It’s the will of George Macghee from 1742. PRONI had it and I wanted to see it.

They brought it to me and I was shocked it wasn’t even in a protective envelope, but was all folded up. Dave took a video of me opening this very large document, but I’m having trouble transferring videos on the road, so I’ll post it once I’m home. Dave thinks the “paper” is some kind of canvas. It’s VERY thick and had a texture to it.

What is so unusual about this will is that it’s a grandfather (George) recognizing his illegitimate grandson in his will and also providing for him after his death. Pretty extraordinary, expecially for that time period and in Northern Ireland.

This day left me gobsmacked, as they like to say in the UK. Just blown away at reading these long-forgotten documents and signatures of our possible relatives. I have to continue to say “possible” until we find out for sure. Until we’re proven completely wrong, they could still be potential relatives. We did pay to have copies made of some of the documents and we were allowed to take photos.

Either way, it was a great experience. And we needed a Guinness! So we took a taxi back go the hotel to freshen up, then went back to White’s Tavern for dinner. However. after we arrived and Dave went to order us dinner, they informed him they were only serving drinks. So, we moved on to other pub. They weren’t serving food either, so we went to a third option, even closer to our hotel and they WERE serving food, so we stayed.

The Thirsty Goat has a mix of modern and vintage decor with wood paneled ceiling, plush cushioned booths, and wooden menus. I chose the beef fillet special and Dave ordered up the Irish Stew. Probably the best meal I’ve had in Belfast so far. The two Guinness helped and then I applied Sticky Toffee Pudding directly to the hips. Oooo…so good! They even had some life music tonight. A man playing guitar and he threw in some Irish tunes, so it was a fun night.

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

Historians, Headstones, and Holy Hill

Today was the first day of our trip south to discovery some of our Ulster ancestors and visit places where they lived and died. Both Dave and I believe our ancestors came from this area of Northern Ireland to America, although a hundred years apart.

Sadly, we first had to say goodbye to Theresa and the Ropebridge House B&B in Ballintoy. Dave and I truly enjoyed our stay here. The location was spectacular, the hosts couldn’t have been more gracious, and the breakfasts were fantastic! Neither one of use wanted to leave this little slice of heaven at the coast. I’ll have more about the B&B in a later post.

The weather was spectacular again today. Warm and sunny, but areas we were going weren’t that photogenic and we were on a schedule.

Our first stop was at a Presbyterian Church in the town of Aghadowey to meet local author, historian, and former teacher Jennifer Cunningham. Dave had been communicating with Jennifer and was interested in meeting her regarding McCausland history in the area as it related to the 1718 migration of Ulster-Scots to America.

Jennifer had spearheaded a wonderful exhibit in the church and we were excited to see it. She and another member of the church arrived to let us into the church, show us the exhibit, and give us a tour of the church that was built in 1830.

The exhibit was a wonderful mix of true antiques & documents. From delicate Irish linens and an antique flour-sack quilt, Jennifer did a great job on the exhibit and couldn’t have been nicer to us.

Afterwards, Dave drove through Garvaugh to drive by the Woodbank House that used to be owned by a McCausland. Beautiful home!

Onward south! Today was mainly going to be about looking into my Magee family tree. Dave arranged to have historian/genealogist & teacher, Boyd Gray meet us at our hotel in Strabane to help us find a few locations.

The first place we wanted to find was the Old Leckpatrick Graveyard in Strabane where we believe my 10th great grandfather, John Maghee is buried. Dave had found a photo of a map of the graveyard online indicating where the stone may be. However, finding it proved far more difficult than we had anticipated.

The cemetery itself is overgrown and not very well maintained. Large carpets of dense prickly, stinging nettles and vines had found it’s way in, under, over, and around many of the older stones. Of those we could read, none matched the stone we were looking for. Dave and Boyd climbed through some serious overgrowth and finally…past a heavily-traveled modern roadway, we heard Boyd yell “Found it!”

Dave and I rushed over and in a sunken area of ground beside an old iron gated section of the cemetery, we spied John Maghee’s name on the stone laying flat on the ground. The vines, dirt, and moss needed to be swept away to be sure. Dave and Boyd did their best to clean it off with absolutely no tools at our disposal. Then the rest of the words on the stone came to light and proved this was the stone on the map we were looking for. It read:

HERE IS THE BURIAL PLACE OF JOHN MAGHEE DECEASED 26 FEBRUARY 1617 AND HIS FAMILY

On it is carved a coat of arms, a hand bearing a sword and a Celtic cross. It’s a large stone, especially for that time period. We believe he is from the Dumfries area of Scotland and was born in 1548 around the Elizabethan Era. (Queen Elizabeth I). Boyd said it’s the oldest stone he has found in a graveyard and the graveyard touts it as one of the earliest stones in Ulster/Northern Ireland.

Needless to say, it was a special moment for me and I was beyond thrilled we hadn’t given up looking and Boyd had discovered it. It was basically right where the map said it was but because it was so overgrown, you could hardly see the stone. He just happened to see the edge of it.

In the hopes that we’d find this cemetery and the grave of John Maghee, I brought some of my mother’s ashes with me in a lovely cremation necklace with the tree of life on it. I wore the necklace today and once we were able to clear off the stone a wee bit, I spread the small amount of ashes on the stone and told mom I had brought her home. I had to crawl back out of the nettle-lined hole to get some wild flowers at the graveyard, then I had Dave place them on the stone.

So, what could top that adventure? Why, having tea at an estate that used to be owned by a Captain George Magee in the late 1600’s, of course!!

Boyd had spoken to the current owner of Holy Hill estate and had arrange for us to meet him at Holy Hill. It’s a little difficult to find. Which is probably what you’d want with an estate.

The shiny white walls of the buildings displayed brilliantly with the lush green lawn and gardens. We were met by current owner Hamilton Thompson who purchased the housed and 230 acres in 1983. Hamilton is a soft-spoken sort who didn’t let an arthritic hip keep him from sharing his home with us.

We started the tour in a lovely sitting room with many windows and seating areas. He had Boyd read aloud, a few passages about Magee’s involvement with Holy Hill. And, although Hamilton didn’t give us any new information, we truly appreciated the fact he did look into it.

The next few rooms he took us into were rooms straight out of Downton Abbey! Beautiful, old country estate rooms and opulent decor and furniture. He had some unique and beautiful pieces and you could tell he loved talking about them with others.

During the tour, his wife Margaret came in an introduced herself. Then she excused herself We Hamilton continued. Then last room we visited was their personal sitting area and I felt very bad for Mrs. Thompson because she was enjoying her crossword puzzle and these three strangers are brought into the room.

However, she then offered us tea and out came the tea tray, crisps (cookies) and shortbread. The four of us continued to talk history and Holy Hill. As a teacher and historian, Boyd himself, was thrilled to have had this opportunity.

Margaret asked us to sign their guestbook, then we were on our way. We had only scheduled to stay there an hour, but ended up being 2 1/2 hours!

Boyd drove us back to our hotel. We said our goodbyes and thanks him so very much!

What a special day and I hope my mom and sisters were looking down and smiling at our adventures.

Deer, Duncan, and Downpours

The quiet morning by the Loch. The birds chirping. The spectacular views. Ah…Scotland!

Dave and I enjoyed a restful night and arrived in the breakfast room ready to meet the day. There was a lovely woman from England at the table and we were shortly joined by another couple from the Lake district of England. The food was excellent and company was as well. We spoke of history, travels and language. Enjoyable.

Our first stop today was to drive down to a viewing point to see Castle Stalker. It is one of the best-preserved medieval tower-houses to survive in western Scotland. The castle is privately owned and apparently the family that lives there DOES give private tours, but we were just going to stop and take a few photos from it.

The weather was perfect and we enjoyed a short stroll to the edge of the lock. Upon doing so, I spotted something tall in the field and it turned out to be a very large deer. We were surprised how unaffected he/she was by our presence and allowed us to walk quite close to take videos and photos.

Castle Stalker has been featured in May television shows and movies throughout the years. We can see why. What a picturesque setting as it rises from the rocky island.

We continued our drive and stopped for another castle drive-by. This time is was the ruins of Kilchurn Castle across the loch through the trees.

Our next stop was the ancestral home of Clan Campbell at Inverary Castle. What a stunning building inside and out. A very unusual entrance, at least compared to other castles, with the hanging flowers.

However, we needed food! So we stopped into the on-sight tea room for a bite to eat. Dave ordered some coffee and a ham salad, which he loved. I had a fruit scone, butter, jam, and a wee pot of tea. We sat outside in the shade (yes, it was very warm again) at small bistro tables with the castle directly beside us.

The Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell lives in the castle with his young family and they’ve done an amazing job of allowing the public to view a certain number of rooms, maintain a fabulous garden & gift shop, and keeping it their ancestral home as well.

The grounds are very sprawling and the large garden as lovely. Many of the early spring flowers had gone by, but all the rhododendrons and azalea were in bloom. Some of these bushes/trees must be VERY old because they were very large.

The rooms inside gave one a real taste of the 17th century through the Victorian age sprinkled with photographs of the present Duke and his family.

Although, I hate war of any kind, I have to admit the armory room is impressive. They indicated the last time these weapons were used was at the Battle of Culloden. One certainly looked at them with a sense of sadness and respect.

The extremely large silver bowl on the formal dining room table was given to the Duke at the time by Queen Victoria and we learned the gilded sailing ships are actually filled with soup, the top is removed and they roll them around the table for the soup to be served.

Dave and I walked around the beautiful gardens admiring he grounds and expansive tree collections just like Balmoral. There was one HUGE tree truck that caught my eye and I had to have Dave take a photo of me with it for perspective.

I snapped a few photos of Duncan at the entrance as this would be his last castle in his homeland of Scotland then the clouds moved in and we could see rain was coming.

We were able to stay ahead of the rain for awhile and enjoy still more stunning scenery around Loch Lomond. Dave’s ancestors went to Northern Ireland from an area/river here called Glen Douglas, which we were able to find. Dave walked along the path his ancestors walked 450 years ago and he paid his respects. I snapped a photo of him walking the road and also a massive tree that MAY have been there at the time. Who is around today to prove us wrong, right?

Then the skies opened up as we tried to find our B&B for the night. The GPS was leading us in all sorts of directions and finding certain places proved difficult. Those darn back, country roads!

We finally found the entrance gates to the 19th century lodge, the Mulberry Lodge and were greeted at the door by owners Yvonne and David. Our room was a lovely back room facing the lovely gardens and a small deck overlooking the gardens with a bistro set. Fresh flowers, interesting artwork and a painted bookcase on the wall…literally! The sitting room and breakfast room were great. Like an old country manner.

Dave and I wanted to eat some place nearby and Scottish, so Yvonne generously offered to make reservation for us at the Clachan Inn/Pub for dinner. We cleaned up and drove in to Drymen and discovered this lovely, very old white-washed stone building.

The Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland (1734). It has a lot of character and warmth and we thought we’d give Scotland ONE last change on their fish n’ chips. They did NOT disappoint and they also had Belhaven Best, so I was happy.