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.

Dwelling Place of Dragons

For the last 10 years, I've been immersed in an intensive study of Irish history. The result of all that research is a recently published book, Dwelling Place of Dragons. It allows three people to present their view of history as it unfolded rather than how it is viewed by historians look back. As a result, this is history that evokes emotions as readers become involved with the experiences of three Ulster Presbyterians, George Henderson, the editor of The Newry Commerical Telegraph, a prominent Ulster newspaper, an Irish farmer who recounted the events of Ireland day by day, and his nephew John Martin. Both James and John were Irish nationalists, a position of great peril during the 19th century. John became a national leader, a man well known throughout Ireland, England and America. The story they tell will make clear to readers the reality, the peril of life in Ireland that drove millions of them away to distant lands.

Yesterday marked an important opportunity in Northern Ireland. Local government returned there after several years absence with both Catholic and Protestant leaders working to better the lives of the citizens of Northern Ireland. At the moment, this is just an event in the history of Ireland. Its significance will depend on what happens next.

One of the great obstacles to a secure peace is the lack of information about Irish history. The residents of Northern Ireland study English history rather than that of their own country. I learned this amazing bit of information one morning, as I made my first visit to the battlefield of Dolly's Brae. As I drove around the area with a friend, I explained how the battle unfolded. I noticed a strange look come over his face. I asked him what he was thinking. He told me that it was very strange to learn about Irish history from an American lady.

At that moment, I knew that I had to put what I had learned into a book form. Dwelling Place of Dragons resulted. It is available from Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Sad Death of Margaret Gallagher

Margaret Gallagher was unlucky. She was born during hard times which would seem like the "good old days" when the great Irish Famine struck in 1845. Still she was somehow able to survive the first few years after the potato blight struck.

Like many other Irish families, she had reached the end of her resources by the winter of 1850, having at some point become a widow. There was no help for her in Clones, County Monaghan, where she lived with four surviving children. Having no hope for survival if she stayed where she was, she, her, 3 sons and a daughter set out to walk to Belfast in search of work. They arrived cold and exhausted on a Monday to begin the search for work. Unfortunately, they could find none.

Margaret had to find some help for her children. So with great reluctance, she applied to the Belfast workhouse for shelter for her daughter and youngest son. They were refused help and directed to return to Clones where they could enter the workhouse where she belonged.

On Saturday, January 1850, they left Belfast more desperate than when they arrived. Still Margaret and her children had the strength to reach Lisburn by nightfall. They pawned the few extra clothes they had left, and received two small donations from begging. That gave them enough money to find shelter for the night and a bit of bread and coffee for breakfast.

The two oldest sons decided to leave Margaret there to hurry to Armagh for help. The remaining family members arrived in Moira by nightfall. They encountered a Clergyman's wife who gave them enough money for shelter, but they were unable to beg for something to eat.

Portadown was the next major town on their seemingly endless walk. There they met one of the sons who had gone on ahead. He had been given a shilling. They would have shelter from the cold and a bit of food for another day.

Margaret and her family had gotten a mile and a half outside Portadown, when she declared that she needed to stop for a rest. She sat beside the road for a short time, when the children noticed that she was becoming unusually pale. Her breathing slowed, became intermittent, and then stopped.

The children went for help, and the coronor, Mr. Atkinson was summoned. He pronounced Margaret dead. That evening, he held an inquest and pronounced that she had died from "destitution."

While Margaret had been scorned by government institutions, she had found some help from kindly strangers. Both actions were important elements of Irish history.