Knowing that we were sailing this way I made contact with the parish of Desertmartin after a tip off from my aunt Rosann Bell (nee McGuigan) that that was where my great grandfather Hugh
McGuigan and his wife Rosann (nee McCann) had come from.
I received a reply from Paul Bradley and his wife Maryrose who was a McGuigan. Paul said he would do some research on our behalf and tell what he had found out when we arrived. Apparently the parish priest (Peter Madden) had circulated a leaflet to all churchgoers asking if someone would like to do a follow up and Paul took up the challenge. Firstly he was able to confirm that Hugh McGuigan and Rosann McCann were married in the parish of Desertmartin on the 20th May 1877. He had also found out which houses each of their families occupied and where they grew up.
We arrived in Desertmartin just before lunch and phoned Paul Bradley to say we were at Bradley’s Corner Pub which seemed to be an ideal place for a meeting. Paul said it would be half an hour before he could be there as he had a cow calving and we are all ‘farm boys’ we understood what that meant.
Paul and Garth went straight to the bar and ordered Guinness all the way round as our brother Brian had sent Garth with some pounds to put on the bar as he was not able to join us but was there in spirit. We immediately toasted his health and our ancestors who would also have been there in spirit. Paul Bradley showed up while we were drinking the second pint and we were delighted to meet him. After some chat Colm Breen arrived by arrangement with Paul and we were ready to begin the pilgrimage. Both men were a sea of knowledge.
The first stop was the Cemetery and the church which were both on the same land.
Colm began with a commentary and was joined a short time later by Angela McGuigan wife of Gerry McGuigan. Note Angela’s maiden name was Gribbin. Between Paul, Colm and Angela a picture began to emerge of the McGuigan family. There are still a few blanks or pieces of the jigsaw missing but I am sure that in time it will all fall into place.
We looked also at the church which was being renovated and will look stunning once finished. During the troubled period in the 1970’s a lot of incidents took place around the Desertmartin area including bombs using gas cylinders that were exploded in this same church, the local school and the church house. The bombs were powerful enough to blow the roof off the church!! For the last 10 years a ceasefire has been in place but that does not take away the undercurrents.
From the church Angela kindly took us back to her house for a cup of tea and in the finest of Irish traditions we ‘broke bread’. A lot of general banter followed which we all found very interesting with the Irish accent adding much colour to the conversation.
As we walked towards Angela and Gerry’s house Graham had notice a large shed door was ajar and inside was a fine collection of old farm machinery but mostly tractors. Graham asked Gerry if we could see his collection and we spent a very pleasant half an hour reminiscing over the machinery that we had also grown up with. Everything was in show room condition with dust covers on all of the tractors. From memory there were three Fordsons, an old Nuffield, a Field Marshall and two old thrashing mills. Also tucked into the shed was a Morris Minor 1.000, the high headlight version. Well what a treat and totally unexpected! Thank you Angela and Gerry.
Paul and Colm then took us to meet a real character Tommy Shiels and his family. Tommy owns about 60 acres a short distance from the pub at Bradley’s Corner and in fact you can see the house and land from the back door of the pub. He told us that in 1800’s each family would typically have a plot of 8/9 acres of land with a house on it and that they were long narrow strips of land. The McCanns owned one such piece which now belonged to him. We had afternoon tea with Tommy and his extended family and with a few memory jogs from Colm he told us what he knew of the McCanns. Present was Tommy’s wife Shay (a lawyer in the local town) his wife Annemarie and their two children Megan and Maebh.
Tommy is 84 years old and has a remarkable resemblance to my deceased uncle Patrick Joseph McGuigan (R.I.P.).
We walked down the lane to where the McCann house still stands although it is now derelict as British soldiers during the seventies kicked all the doors and windows in while looking for Provos and armaments. Tommy recalls that he nearly stepped on a soldier in camouflage gear lying in one of his paddocks during this time.
We walked around the house and took lots of family photos. I was invited to take a small rock from the walls as a memento. Tommy pointed out the bedroom where Maggie McCann was rescued from her bed and taken for medical care. He said her back was raw with bed sores. Tommy said he was just a boy when they had taken a horse and buggy down the lane, the buggy packed with straw, to recover Maggie McCann who was from all accounts an ample woman.The lane is now somewhat overgrown but it once gave access to five different family holdings. We said goodbye to Tommy and his family and exchanged email addresses. Wonderful home hospitality!
The next stop was the McGuigan family home about one kilometer from the McCann property. Colm went to untie the gate which was tied with ‘Bronco Bob knots’ and decided better of it so we climbed over the gate and walked down the lane. It is an amazing feeling to walk down the lane where our great grandfather would once have walked every day before he embarked on a ship to New Zealand in 1880 never to return to the land of his ancestors. We speculated as to whether he may have left with a trunk or a leather suitcase or even perhaps a kitbag. What we do know is that he left his wife behind with one small child Edward and already pregnant with Mary. He went to New Zealand to start a new life for his family because presumably his life in Ireland did not hold great prospects. Separation was the price!
At the end of the lane there stood a two storey house which was owned by the Daly family for many years after the McGuigans had owned it. The Dalys had added the second storey but we could see the old profile of the single storey cottage with it’s steep gable roof imprinted on the end brick wall.
Nobody lives there right now and Paul Bradley told us the property was recently sold. The price he thought would be around 15,000 pounds per acre and perhaps an extra 100,000 for the house site.
As we stood in the farmyard looking at the old homestead we were surrounded by Friesian milking cows and it could have been any heavy land farm scene in New Zealand!! Paul told us that to add a second storey to the house at the time would have meant that the Dalys were doing very well and hence we coin the phrase”keeping up with the Dalys”!
Colm who is an expert on Irish history then took us back to two critical dates in Irish history 1605 and 1609. In general the Celts were essentially a nomadic tribal people who moved with their animals, spoke Gaelic, and seldom wrote things down. They did not keep records like the English. After the invasion of James 1 King of England the English were very keen to survey the land and collect census details – the motivation was to collect TAXES!! The man charged with this task was Arthur Griffith. Tax collection came into effect around 1630. Twelve major Guilds from England were by Royal edict charged with the task of developing Ireland for the benefit of The English Crown. They became the Landlords and were hated by the Irish. Land that fell between the Guilds was given to the Anglican Church which was very powerful and also derived a tithe or Tax. This is the basis of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
We walked back along the lane with much to think about. Colm had a meeting to attend and although we invited him to join at the local pub he declined and took his leave. We are much indebted to him for his research. He traveled to Belfast to look up the records at Births, Deaths, and Marriages. He explained that there are large gaps because when paper was short during WW2 some bright person decided to take the Irish records and pulp them for recycled paper!
He also had a copy of an original survey map from Arthur Griffith which showed that Edward McGuigan farmed block 4 in Desertmartin and that Bridget McGuigan had block 2A. Edward’s plot was more or less square and twice as big as the average and there perhaps is another story. Because it was common to call the first born son after the grandfather and the first born son of Hugh McGuigan was Edward, Colm, Paul and Angela were reasonably confident that they had found the correct line of McGuigans as there are many in the area. They also explained that many ancestors were buried around the church in unmarked graves because of the cost of a headstone.
We returned to the pub to drink another pint of Guinness and consider all that we had discovered during the day. Paul left to check on the cow that was calving and the agreement was that we would meet again at the Keenaugh Road church in an hour as I had asked could we see the bog and where they cut turf for the fire. We lined up for a fish supper at the local chippie which was excellent but took a long time coming. Paul, Rory and Garth returned to the pub while Graham and I went to meet Paul.
We drove all over the area and learned much. Firstly the bog in the uplands of Slieve Gallion, the mountain that dominates the area, was a real eye opener. Paul explained that very few people now take the time to cut the peat turf by hand and dry it. That once every family had their plot for cutting turf and that gathering it for winter was a very social activity and they would boil up billies of tea and talk over events while working. Photos show the cutting area and turf stacked in threes drying. Machines now cut turf as it is back breaking work.
From Slieve Gallion we could see for miles and according to Paul on a clear day you can see the city of Derry. We could also see Lough Neay.
We drove around the countryside Paul pointing out various farms plus a house that he and his sons had just finished building. He and Maryrose have tradesmen sons in all areas of construction. He and one son are builders, another is a plasterer and yet another a plumber. The house we saw was very well built and around 3,000 square feet and the whole thing was built as an in house family affair. Well done Paul!
We saw Lough Fea which is small and cute with a floral island in the centre. Driving down the hillside was a large farm with house and outbuildings and Paul said to me, “who do you think owns that?” I replied perhaps a McGuigan and he said, “yes but what is his first name?” The owner was Noel McGuigan!! Never have I met another Noel McGuigan because in New Zealand it is an uncommon name. So I am not alone in the world.
We talked of many other things and then as I had invited Paul and his family to join us for a sail in the Bay of Bangor we had to firm up on arrangements with the weather on Saturday looking dodgy. Graham and I returned to the pub where the lads wherein good spirits. We joined them for a pint and suddenly the pub erupted in song. Cathy McGuigan was behind the bar and she and Rosie began to sing Slieve Gallion and made a beautiful job of it. It was a magic moment which cannot be constructed – they just happen. From there were more songs and then I was encouraged to sing one. I started with Galway Bay and we all finished on Danny Boy . There was no accompaniment, but then we did not need it. It was 0030 hrs and life was GOOD.
WHAT A HUGE DAY!!
Graham our Batman/Driver who drinks little steered the Volvo back to Roaring Meg and we all slept like babies and probably snored like pigs!