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.

Too Many Castle Photos You Say?

Our last day in Ballintoy greeted us with more haze and clouds, but still warm and no rain! We’ve been very fortunate thus far.

This morning I tried the white pudding for breakfast and found I quite like it. White pudding is broadly similar to black pudding, but does not include blood; modern recipes consist of pork meat and fat, suet, oatmeal and breadcrumbs formed into a large sausage. It had a nice crunch and wasn’t as spicy as the black pudding from yesterday. Would I go out of my way order it again? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t turn it down if offered.

 

We met a nice older couple from southern England over breakfast this morning and shared pleasant conversations about travel and places we’ve all visited. The O’Rourkes were lovely.

We shared our day’s plans with Theresa and she told us to take any of the breads and muffins we’d like with us for our lunch. I had just enjoyed a piece of what I believe was strawberry bread that was delicious, so I grabbed two pieces of that and two muffins. Theresa gave us a small container of butter and two plastic bags to take. Great idea!

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If you have tired of descriptions and photos of ancient castles, then look away, because this one is a doozy. Our last castle in Northern Ireland was Dunluce Castle. Even though it was abandoned in the late 1600’s it was amazing how much of this castle remains, especially with it’s ocean-side, cliff-top setting.

It has easy access and an easy-to-read map describing each area. A lot of archeological work has been done on the grounds and some of the photos and artifacts are on display.

I was fascinated with the “lodgings” or guest quarters where each room had their own fireplace. This was actually OUTSIDE the castle grounds. One of the two-feet thick walls had fallen over at some point and it has been left right where it fell.

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The views out every window and ledge were stunning. Dave and I both took so many photos from different angles and locations. We would rate this attraction high on our list of must-sees.

We kept seeing this spectacular sand beach while touring Dunluce and were able to pinpoint where it was. A short drive along the coast and there it was…just ready & waiting for us. It’s called White Rocks Beach in Portrush and it’s wonderful.

Dave and I settled into a nice spot on the sand, enjoyed the rolling waves and people watching and had our baked treats we had brought with us from the B&B. A terrific spot. And, yes, it does have white rocks,

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Our next destination was to  Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Although both of us had already agreed we probably would NOT walk across this narrow, rope bridge, we DID want to see the way to get to it and enjoy the view on this suddenly warm, sunny day. The path TO the bridge wasn’t too bad, but it would have been a bear for both of us to complete on the way back. So we enjoyed the tremendous views.

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We went back to the B&B for a rest before dinner and the TV was on in our room. Really odd since we haven’t turned on the TV since our vacation started.

Then we went back to the Fullerton Arms for dinner. When we walked in to the place, it was noticeably quiet and dark. The power was out. Just as we were deciding what to do, the power came back on. I had fish n’ chips and it was fantastic. We then drove to Ballintoy Harbour for a final look. It was lovely being bathed with sun this time instead of haze.

We returned to B&B and the TV had come in again in our room. Then we learned there was s power outage here as well. I guess it’s not that unusual.

Dave andI go inland to Strabane tomorrow. I will miss Ballintoy, it’s scenery and the very friendly people. Thank you!

 

Day 9 Photos -Northern Ireland

Another cloudy, hazy day, but not cold and more importantly, NO RAIN!

Irish Breakfast and Basalt Columns

Unfortunately, Dave woke up not feeling well this morning with a cold. He rarely gets colds, so of course he’d get one while on vacation. He was a trooper and powered through the day as best he could.

Our room at the B&B is very nice and the mattress is terrific! The personal touches and decor make it feel like a home…which it is.

The morning started with a full-on Irish Breakfast for me. Two fried eggs, two fried tomatoes, potato scones, UK bacon (different than US), two sausages, and black pudding.

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I have tried black pudding before five years ago when we’re in Scotland the first time, but could not remember if I liked it or not. This local Irish version was quite spicy with a lot of pepper and I couldn’t finish it. We may try white pudding tomorrow. I ALMOST finished the entire plate. Almost. Dave made a lesser, but still hearty breakfast choice of eggs and bacon.

So much effort goes into providing breakfasts every morning at B&B’s and this one did not fail. Fresh jam, fruit, scones, rolls, and evens decanter filled with ice water with cucumber & mint fresh added.

It was a foggy, cloudy morning again so views aren’t as clear, but it’s not cold or raining. We have been very surprised at the calm seas and light winds. We were looking forward to some crashing surf. Nothing yet.

Theresa graciously offered to do our laundry from the first half of our trip for us. We gladly took her up on the offer! Just wonderful.

The first stop on our schedule today was to view the ruins of Dunseverick Castle. Despite being cloudy, the dramatic setting for this castle is terrific.

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Next stop was to the world-famously Giants Causeway. Steeped in local folklore and mystery, these ancient basalt columns were formed by volcanic ruptures over a period of time. It was all explained to us, but I truly don’t quite understand just how these very straight, tall, perfectly edged columns were formed, but they are VERY cool and truly fascinating to see in person.

We arrived very early, which was good because we missed some of the early bus loads of people. Our tour guide Amy was terrific and after taking the walk down to the columns, it was nice to get a bus back to visitor’s center. Dave bought me a beautiful necklace in the gift shop.

Dave was then in the market for some cold meds, so we drove into Bushmills to find a drugstore or chemist as they’re called here. Luckily, we found one and picked up some cold medicines to start kicking this.

We also stopped for a bite to eat here at The Copper Kettle and enjoyed sandwiches and soup. VERY good and it was nice to support a local establishment and not the regular bus tour place.

The Bushmills Whisky Distillery is also here. We drove to pick up a gift for people who are showing us around Ireland later in the week and I’m bought a lightweight t-shirt since I didn’t bring many cooler clothes. We did not do the tour, however. Neither one of us are huge whisky fans and after see all the tour buses there’s I’m glad we didn’t go any further than the gift shop.

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We stopped one more time at Dunseverick Castle as the sun had started to come out a little bit more and we were hoping better light. Lower tide and a little bit more light helped.

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Then we drove to view the ruins of Kinbane Castle. Our vantage point was high on a cliff looking down on what is left of a 16th Century castle built on a highly-dramatic outcrop. The steps leading down to it are very steep and the path is overly rugged. We chose not to go down to see it…mainly because it meant coming back up. Dave didn’t feel good and I was about to crash & burn…which I did.

 

We went back to the B&B and both went to bed to try and get some much-needed rest. I set the alarm for two hours. Amy had done our laundry, folded and ironed things and placed them at the foot of the bed.

We were slightly rested, then went in to town for a light dinner at the Fullerton Arms. I had fresh tomato soup with a side salad and Dave tried the seafood chowder and said it was the best he had ever had.

After dinner we came right back to B&B and the views from our room, although still cloudy, were lovely. Still light out at 9:30. I hope Dave is better tomorrow. 🤧

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