Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Falling Silent

After my last post, I began to create one on the last of my 3 main characters. But before I was able to finish it to my satisfaction, my computer was hacked. For a non-techie like me, this was exceedingly tramatic. Perhaps even more annoying than the original intrusion was the fact that no one from AOL seemed to find it of any importance.

My efforts to return my computer to a secure mode resulted in other equally unsolvable problems. My computer slowed down to the point where I could have written quicker with a quill and vellum.

Finally, however, my computer has returned to both security and function. So I'll have the post on John Martin up soon, but probably not until after Christmas.

I wish all of you who visit the best of holidays.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

James Harshaw, Irish Farmer

James Harshaw was an ordinary farmer in most respects. He worked in his fields, and worried about the weather and market prices for his produce. But in several important ways, he was very different. Like most Irish farmers, he owned no land, though he leased over 100 acres of Donaghmore Estates in County Down. During a time in Irish history when most farmers struggled to hold on to a few acres, holdings this extensive were unusual.

James believed that such good fortune came with major responsibilities. He was the ultimate good citizen. There was no beneficial project that he didn't support. He was particularly interested in education for his poorer neighbors, and for their health as well. The school he helped build for residents of the eastern part of Donaghmore Estates still stands near McGaffin's Corners. He participated in the first efforts to secure a doctor to service the needs of those forced to live without any health care. Later he helped found the Donaghmore Dispensary.

In a land where most people were participants in one of three main religions, James was particularly active in the Donaghmore Presbyterian Church. He and his family participated in daily prayer and reading of the Scriptures. When they finished Revelations, they began again reading Genesus. He was the Ruling Elder of his church for many years, meaning he was the administrator of church affairs day by day. Every Sabbath, he and his family could be found in their pew near the pulpit for at least one service. For years, he led efforts within the church to build a manse for the minister. Before he died, he was able to visit the minister in his manse.

This information would have been long forgotten, except for one other unusual activity that James performed every day. When the day's work was over, he would sit in the "wee parlour" to record the details of the day, writing with pen and ink on ledger pages. His records were later bound into books, and now provide a different perspective of a critical period in Irish history. They are preserved at the Public Record Office in Belfast and are considered a national treasure.

Still, James was different in another important way. He as an Irish nationalist. He held no hostility to the Catholic majority, so he was free of the necessity to cling to English control. He was a man who loved Ireland and greatly wished to see her free, though his responsibilities at home prevented any active political life.

The Harshaw home was in the townland of Ringbane. James was the last born of the children of James Harshaw and Mary Bradford. He lived almost 70 years from 1797 to 1867. married Sarah Kidd before he was twenty. James always referred to Sarah as the "Dandy" during their 50 years of marriage. They had 12 children, ten of whom lived to be adults. Three of his children came to America, though one of them later returned home. These children, Willy and Samuel, lived in Paterson NJ. Some years later, a granddaughter, Sarah also came to live in NJ. It was always a great sorrow to James that he couldn't keep all of his family in Ireland.

Times were hard when James died, so there was no stone placed to mark the grave. The site was finally located in 1996, and a proper stone erected. The inscription is simple. "James Harshaw, Ringbane, 1797 to 1867. A noble man." No tribute could be more suitable.

Dwelling Place of Dragons follows James from 1830 to 1849. The later part of his life will be included in my next book, now under preparation.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Beginning

I never had any intention of writing a book on Irish history, though I enjoyed both writing, and reading Irish history. Most of the things I had written were small pieces, bits of autobiography, essays, curriculum materials, and one sport story which was rejected by Sports Illustrated. Dwelling Place of Dragons was an accident. I had read and reread all the Irish histories in the Ipswich Library.

When my family was grown and I had some free time, I discovered that genealogy was a great hobby. So, from time to time, I tried to add bits of information about my Irish family. One item of interest was a journal written by a relative, James Harshaw. Through a set of very lucky circumstances, I was able to locate them, and then later read them. The six Diaries were written in a simple handwriting and inventive spelling by an Irish farmer during the middle of the 19th century. I knew almost at once that I had stumbled on a very important story. Somehow, it would have to be prepared in book form for the many people who would find the information intereting.

I would have been very happy to find someone to whom I could pass off this project. But somehow this task seemed to be my responsibility, one I could not ignore. With great reluctance, I began the additional research that I recognized would be needed to complete the story of James Harshaw and his time.

Years passed before I finished. Finally, I had the material for a different kind of history, and two more major characters. Through the writings of James Harshaw, his nephew John Martin, and John's friend George Henderson, readers can follow the history of Ireland as it unfolded rather than having to look back at it from our very different perspectives and agendas of today. The years from 1830 to 1849 which are covered in this book were difficult years full of anger, confrontation, sorrow and death. Small wonder then that many of our Irish relatives left then to come to sanctuaries in Amercia, Canada, and Australia.

I will introduce James, John, and George in my next posts.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

I never even knew his name though he lived just around the corner from my home. He was never a real man with a name and personality to me though I saw him often. Many times as I passed his house on my way to school, I would see him sitting on his porch in the sun. He was always wrapped in blankets. And he was always coughing.

The children in the neighborhood were afraid of him. We believed that he had TB, the only explanation that made sense to our childish minds. Therefore he was a danger to us, and I avoided him.

Year after year he sat on the porch, never speaking, his coughing more frequent and deeper.

One morning as I walked to school, some of my friends were waiting at the school crossing with exciting news. The man from the porch had shot himself to death at the edge of a little creek just a few feet away. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go to there, but allowed myself to be pulled toward the death scene. Sure enough, there was a new blood stain on the pavement just next to the brook.

In the days that followed, the true story of my dead neighbor emerged. He hadn't suffered from TB at all. He had been gassed in World War I. Though many years had passed between the time he had been so severely damaged in the war and the moment when he escaped from his torment, he was as surely killed in the war as his comrades who died on the battlefields of France.

I was greatly ashamed of myself for my actions. Though I was a very shy child, I knew I could have stopped to wish him a "good morning," or perhaps have walked up to the porch to comment on the sunny weather. I have no idea whether or not he would have responded, but I have always known I should have tried. It was only later that I began to wonder why the adults in the neighborhood hadn't told the children about his sacrifice, and encouraged the new generation to properly honor a fallen hero.

Perhaps I'm the only one now who remembers my unknown soldier. He always appears in my thoughts when issues of war and peace are discussed anywhere. I wonder what he might have become, would he have married and had children of his own? There is no way to answer these questions. But his life and death are explained in my favorite comment on war, whose author I do not know. But it defines the tragedy of all wars in a way no other words could do. "It tears the fabric of the future."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Finding Family Places 1

Ireland is filled with wonderful scenic and historical sites to visit. But when I made my first trip to Ireland, all I wanted to find was the place that my Irish great grandfather Michael Harshaw came from.

I was already luckier that many descendants of the Irish Diaspora. My grandfather had recorded some important facts about his father's life in Ireland. The most critical of these was the name of the place and the county which young Michael left on his solitary trip to America.

Most maps of Ireland were not sufficiently detailed to point me where I needed to go. However, I found that Ordnance Survey maps filled in the gaps. Survey map number 9 pinpointed the exact place my grandfather mentioned, Loughgilly in County Armagh. These map contain enormously helpful detail. In addition to place names, they show the locations of the smallest roads, dots to indicate building locations, and crosses to indicate churches. Anyone searching for family locations in Ireland should bring at least one of them along.

My husband and I arrived in the area of Loughgilly without any difficulty using a combination of the Ordnance map and a regular road map. That is the point at which we ran into trouble. We couldn't find Loughgilly. We traveled around the lovely back roads of Ireland taking pictures of any site that might prove important later on. But Loughgilly seemed to have disappeared. The only place bearing the proper name was an old Church of Ireland Church.

Frustrated, we stopped at the lovely village of Mount Morris to ask directions. A fairly unhelpful store clerk pointed us to a small road we had already traveled. We knew there was nothing useful there. Without any other option, we drove on toward Belfast. I was most frustrated and disappointed. I had waited so long to visit Ireland, and had no idea when or if I would be able to come back.

More careful research before I left would have avoided this frustration and disappointment. Only after my trip was just a memory, I discovered that a successful search for place in Ireland required the name of the correct townland. Loughgilly was the name of a Parish. If I was to find the exact location of the Harshaw family holdings, I needed to know the townland name.

That essential piece of information is often hard to find. Nothing in any family papers mentioned the correct townland. I seemed to have hit a wall without a door. But Michael had worked to pay for the rest of his family to come to America. They represented other people with the same information Michael had failed to record. Fortunately, an obituary for Michael's brother Andrew provided the needed information. The Harshaw family had lived in the townland of Ballydogherty, Parish of Loughgilly. On my most recent visit, I took the photo of the sign marking the road where the Harshaws lived. I had found one family place.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Northern Ireland 1

A friend was recently sharing her plans for her upcoming 2 week trip to Ireland. Like most people I know, this trip didn't set aside any time for a visit to Northern Ireland. I understand some of the reasons for this lost opportunity. Most commercial tours limit their intineraries to the major tourist sites in the south. The Irish Tourist Board also focuses on the southern part of the Ireland. Certainly, Northern Ireland is the forgotten part of Ireland.

Personally, I don't mind this at all. The places I want to go are usually quiet and devoid of lines. But this situation isn't at all beneficial to the people in Northern Ireland who are depending on a new influx of visitors now that the 30 years of conflict are over. Since I have many friends there who would benefit from lots of new visitors, I will do what I can to help them. I will certainly hope to tempt everyone north of the border.

My home base in Northern Ireland, Newry, is the easiest part of the North to reach. Newry is the first major city in the north. It is a quick trip from the airport in Dublin by a new "dual carriageway. My first report on this special part of the island will focus on places to eat in the Newry area, eating being an important part of any vacation.

For Americans who find it difficult to get far from American food, Newry now has a Dominoes Pizza branch. Their pizza seems even better to me than it does here in America, due to the Irish skill with cheese making. There is also a conveniently located Subway shop.

I do occasionally eat in such places, as the speed is sometimes enticingly convenient. But there are other places I certainly prefer. In Newry proper, my favorite place to eat is the Canal Court Hotel. They have a lovely fomal dining room where the food is just delicious. But my favorite place to eat there is the Carvery. The is the place to go for lunch. Service begins at noon. A carvery is an Irish tradition. Food is served cafeteria style, with the choice of food all laid out for easy selection. As would be implied by the name, chefs will cut thick slices of beef, lamb, and my favorite, gamman, to your order. Gammanis the Irish version of ham and has a delightfully novel flavor. There are endless side dishes that can be ordered. For visitors, this will end the need for food for the day. Price for a complete meal is around 15 dollars.

Leaving Newry, a visitor has a number of choices as to direction. Going west toward Armagh, the first major town is Markethill. There is a perfect place to stop to eat. The old Court House there has been converted to more modern uses. Inside they have a wonderful restaurant. All the food is made by the best local cooks. It is a way to have tea in dozens of Irish homes.

North of Newry, along the main road to Belfast there are 3 other eating spots worthy of note. The first is the Sheepbridge Pub. It is one of the oldest in the area. The food is good, not fancy. American's can get a good hamburgers and too many fries to eat. The ambience makes clear that the diner isn't in America though.

Moving north past the Sheepbridge, travelers will find a turn off to the little town of Loughbrickland. This road passes another wonderful restaurant, the Seven Stars. On weekends, reservations are an absolute necessity. However in midweek, walk-ins will find little waiting required. Guests are seated at the bar, or in comfortable chairs by the fire. There they place their orders, and remain until they are called for dinner.

The next stop is in Banbridge, another easy diversion just off the main Belfast Road. The first of Banbridges' eating places is at the tourist center, just a few yards off the main road. There visitors can stop for tourist infomation, and family history data in addition to a very good lunch. Do not be deterred by the construction. It is a perfect place to stop, especially with children.

The second great stop in Banbridge is the Downshire Arms. This is also on the same main road, no diversions required. It is another very old inn with great ambience. I have never eaten in their dining room, as it is always too busy. But the pub has the same kind of food, at a reduced price. There is limited parking on the main street, but there is parking behind as well.

Now to my absolute favorite. This restaurant is in the last of the towns that circle Newry, this one the most easterly of the three, Rathfriland. I just discovered it on my most recent trip, as it is rather new. Ordinarily, I would keep the name and location a secret, but I want them to continue to prosper.

So let me tell you about Annie D's. This is a small restaurant, with a fireplace to warm visitors in cold, damp weather. There is a modern look to the dining room, a bit unusual for Ireland. The chef is most particular about his ingredients, and his presntation. On my first visit, I was accompanied by a man from our southwest who knows his beef. He reported that the steak he had there was as good as the best he had ever eaten. My tastebuds would certainly agree.

On my second visit, my friend and I ate from the early bird special fixed price menu. For some unaccountable reason, I ordered an appetizer made entirely of ingredients I don't like. It was a blood pudding tart with goat cheese in a phylo crust. This was my ultimate test for this restaurant. The chef had managed to make this dish look appetizing. And it was delicious!!

So please go to Annie D's on Downshire Road in Rathfriland. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday all year round. You will get a nice trip through beautiful county landscape with the Mourne Mountains looming above, and a wonderful meal to top off.

So you can see that you will find the food a wonderful part of the northern experience. I will get on to what to see in my next Northern Report.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ejectment 1

Alice Caulfield had a small holding in Drummond, County Armagh in 1850. Her father had built a cabin there some 20 years earlier. After he died, Alice and her children had continued to live there.

One day early in the year, Alice had gone out and left her children at home. When she returned home, she discovered that the house had been destroyed, her children crying about the ruins. In an attempt to escape the cold, she had collected what stones and wood she could move to a new site, and built a small shed on the same ground.

Bernard Bradley, owner of the land, threatened to tear the shed down, and to take her to court. Alice protested that she had never received any notice of ejectment. He therefore had not right to damage her home.

This land dispute had begun several years before, and had been taken to court at that time. Mr. Bradley was attempting to collect rent he claimed was due. His case was dismissed, so Alice believed she was entitled to continue to live in her little house.

This time, Alice's house took the case to court. At the hearing, Mr. Bradley claimed that the house was in poor shape, and the neighbors wanted him to tear it down. Alice attempted to refute that claim. The cottage had a bit of garden with it, and was made of stone and mortar. It was this good freehold that had been reduced to ruins by a servant of Mr. Bradley's named Rafferty. The young man had run away and was therefore unavailable to testify as to whether he had been directed to tear down the house, or had acted on his own.

The Magistrates presiding at the Newry Petty Sessions where Alice's case was heard decided to dismiss the case.

As the parties moved away from the bench, a "hubbub" broke out. Alice returned to the Bench and addressed the Court. "They say, yer Honors, that they have bate me; and I want to know is that the case? Wont I stick on by the wee shed?'

The Court agreed that the land was hers. Alice left the courtroom greatly pleased.