Thursday, 4 August 2011

25 - 'Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen ..'

William Allingham, poet, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal
September 21, 2010

Now the 'roots' bit of Celtic Roots Radio refers to roots music, but I guess it could also refer to where we come from.  My Dad had a visitor a few weeks ago - a cousin of his arrived over out of the blue from British C, Canada. I didn't meet her, unfortunately, but apparently she's been doing some research on our family history - and was able to confirm our suspicions on one question, at any rate.  

This has finally started me off doin' a bit a' research into my family background - somethin' I've been meanin' to do for a long time.  And I can see how fascinating a subject it can become for many people.  Now, after a couple of weeks research - mostly on the Irish census of 1901 and 1911, which are both now available free, online - I've gathered up a database of about 150 individuals, covering seven generations.  

Since my last aunt died, my Dad has inherited his grandfather's small family bible, which records the births and deaths of members of his own family.  Until this point, I didn't even know my great grandfather's name - only a vague story of my grandfather having lived and worked in Glasgow, in Scotland.  James McCullough, his father, lived in Glasgow and married there.  He worked for the Central Fire Brigade as a gas fitter - so whenever there was a fire, he had to rush over and turn off the gas supply.

In October 1884 he and his wife, Mary, already had four kids and Mary was expecting a fifth.  On the 14th October their five-year-old died.  The baby was born the next day, and on the 24th the 2 year-old also died.   The baby only survived until the 30th December and then the mother died on 1st January.  What caused this tragedy, eh?  

My great grandfather lived on for another 14 years and, when he also died, my grandfather, Samuel, and his sister came over to Northern Ireland.  At this point I still didn't know if my great grandfather was Scottish, or if he originally came from Northern Ireland.  I just knew that my grandfather was born in Scotland.  Then my Dad remembered that, when he was quite young, there were two houses next to one another in Lisburn where members of our family lived - two of them called Samuel, big Sammie and wee Sammie - which is also my grandfather and my father's name and my first name.

When we looked that particular street up in the census we found those two houses of McCulloughs, Nos 45 and 47, and discovered that my great, great grandfather, Big Sammie, was still living in one house, with two daughters, a granddaughter, my great aunt, Mary Jane, back from Glasgow.  And also his grandson, Wee Sammie, with another son, John, and his wife, living next door.  

My great grandfather, James, must have left his home in Lisburn for Glasgow at the age of 16, or so, and married Mary at the age of 17.  His son, Samuel, my grandfather, returned to Northern Ireland when he was 17, lived in Lisburn and worked in the Belfast shipyard.

The other half of my father's family came from a wee village in Co. Donegal, called Dunkineely, just outside Donegal town.  My grandmother was called Given and her father used to own a grocer's shop in Dunkineely.  They were Methodists and they lived next door to the Methodist Church, across the street from the shop.  There are still Givens in south Donegal to this day, with a drapers shop, called Given, in the town of Ardara.  

For some reason, still to be discovered, her father, George Given, left Donegal with his whole family and came to Lisburn, between 1888 and 1894.  This must have been a bit of a come down for a shopkeeper, because he became a mill labourer and his children also worked in the mill in Lisburn.  His wife, was born Catherine Anne Allingham, and we've often wondered if she was related to William Allingham, the well known Irish poet - originally from Donegal, who used to hang around in London with Dante Rosetti and company?

The Allingham family, although originally English, from Hampshire, have lived in Donegal since at least the early 1600s.  Apparently Catherine was a neice of William the poet, so there is a connection there.  William Allingham wrote a lot of good poems, but he's probably best known for his poem, The Fairies, which many of us learned in school:
  
"Up the airy mountain, 
Down the rushy glen, 
We dare not go a-hunting, 
For fear of little men."

My mother's family. on the other hand, all came from Co Down - not too far from Lisburn - and only a few miles apart from one other.  My mother was born Martin, and I knew my Granda Martin for quite a few years before he died - though I didn't really know he'd been a carpenter.  Her mum was called Gregg and I found her in the 1911 census, but under her married name, Martin, though she was still living with her parents family.  She also has a one-month-old son with her, who was my Uncle Wullie.  My grandfather, Samuel Martin, was also still living with his family, nearby - maybe he was getting a house ready for them all to live in together?

So, two of my grandparents came from only a mile or two away from where I was brought up - in Co. Down - while my father's parents, though living only a few miles away in Lisburn, where actually born in Donegal and Glasgow.  Also, I always knew vaguely that my Dad had an older brother who'd died very young, but until now I never knew what his first name was.  It was Allingham!  So maybe I get my writing ability from the Allinghams, eh?  And my woodworking ability from my two grandfathers?  Plenty more questions to be answered, too!


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