Other Excavations – Cremation Burials at Gortfad, Co. Londonderry24th March 2022
Other Excavations – An Urn Burial at Slaghtaverty31st March 2022
Sharing Our Stories: Century of stories told through the lens of heritage & landscape
In Spring 2022 12 people took part in NOCN Storytelling training in Bushmills. This training celebrated stories of our landscape and people over the past 100 years. The training was supported by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council’s NI100 fund, among other funders.
Here are some of the stories shared:
A Boat Trip – Alison Mc Faul
Aboard the Celtic Mor,
We head away from Rathlin’s shore
Towards Bengore in dark of night
Leaving behind all twinkling light
The flash of Red and green and white.
The East Light slides from view
And soon we see the light at Rue.
Towards the west we tilt and tip,
Carried on waves that rise and dip.
The flood tide bears us in its grip.
The West’s red beam, broadside,
that guides ships in from ocean wide
Winks warning light on rocky stack
And now – above the island black
The merest gleam – a daylight crack.
Off Bengore Head we slow
And look for marker buoy to tow.
The line’s been cut and needs repair
So boys work fast, with skill and care
And set creels back to catch their share.
On past the Causeway Coast
Where fog slips, silent as a ghost,
As rising sun warms up the sky.
And now The Skerries catch the eye.
We chug along and then they‘re by.
Ports Rush and Stewart too
Are soon behind in distant view
As River Bann approach is made
And navigation plans are laid
With depth plotters used for visual aid.
The Bar mouth is so narrow
The Bann channel is so shallow
Against the sun, a blinding beam,
Brave Benji steers his boat and team
‘Tween marker buoys, against the stream.
We wait for trains to pass
Then watch the bridge lift up at last.
All has gone well – what can go wrong?
Arrived at docks and didn’t take long.
The lifting crane waits – high and strong.
Oh No! Our little ship
(The only reason for our trip)
Is far too heavy for the crane.
Alarms sound when it takes the strain
We empty all it may contain.
But still there’s too much weight.
So all the boys can do is wait.
Till tide will lift and she can go
On slipway trolley, safe and slow.
Liam and I must wait to know.
A taxi waits outside
But we find we are locked inside
A phone call soon gets gate unlocked
We all escape – a little shocked!
By end of day the boat’s dry docked.
Can I get a tour – David Douglas
“Can I get a tour?”
The voice came from behind me. I had just bade farewell to my last group of tour guests and was watching their minibus leave the Car Park through the Lion’s Gate.
“Sorry – I’m just finished for today” I said as I turned towards the voice. I was tired and hungry and it was starting to get dark on that July evening.
It was an old gentleman, wearing a full-length dark coat, with a hint of a purple robe underneath. “Can you come back tomorrow?” I said – he shook his head and explained he was only in the area for a few hours and wanted to see some places from his past. He had no money either, but he would send me something later, if I gave him my address.
Normally, I would have refused, but there was something so earnest in his manner that I agreed to take him for a brief walk around, before it got too dark.
“Have you been to Downhill Demesne before?” I asked him.
“Oh yes many times, but not for quite a few years.” He had a strange accent, somewhere from the south of England but very old-fashioned, even aristocratic.
So we started the tour, and I took him to the story board with the picture of the builder of the Downhill House, that of the Earl Bishop, Frederick Augustus Hervey. My big fact of the day, that I had wowed my previous tour guests with was that today 8th July 2003 was the 200th anniversary of the Bishops death, but he just nodded knowingly.
So we began our tour, walking from the car park, through the Walled Garden, past the Dovecote, down to the Cliff Edge and round to Mussenden Temple. He said very little but listened intently, as I told him stories from the area about the O’Cahans, Binevenagh, the Railway tunnels and not forgetting the Earl Bishop himself and his successors, the Bruce Family and the National Trust. He was particularly interested in the period of history after the death of the Earl Bishop, he seemed to know the earlier stuff already. From his manner, I took him to be some sort of retired academic, a history professor perhaps, and definitely a bit of an eccentric.
On arrival at the Mussenden Temple, he became more animated. He could not believe how close it was to the Cliff Edge, and he paced around and muttered and shook his head. I assured him that the National Trust had secured the cliffs, at least in the medium term by underpinning and he relaxed. I told him how the Temple was built as a memorium to the Bishop’s second cousin Frideswide Bruce who had died quite young, not long after marrying Daniel Mussenden. He raised his eyebrows as I told him about the rumoured romantic link between the two, and he looked to the heavens and said “Well, she was a beauty”.
We turned and walked back towards Downhill House and he shook his head as I told him about how the House had burned down but was rebuilt again in the mid 1850’s. I pointed out on the left the ruins of the belvedere known as Lady Erne’s seat, called after the bishop’s oldest daughter, and he mumbled, “Yes, Mary was always my favourite”.
Then we reached Downhill House, and as we walked through the courtyard towards the main building, I took out my phone and played the Londonderry Air as some background music as we walked, and I told him of the parties hosted by the Earl Bishop and how the blind harpist, Denis O’Hampsey played this on his harp along with local volinists.
The transformation of my guest was unbelievable as he started excitedly rushing around the house, telling me stories of parties and of anecdotes of the Earl Bishop. How he laughed as he told of how the Bishop put baking powder on the corridors to see which guests had nocturnal visits to other rooms during the night.
For a few minutes our positions changed as the tour guide became the tour guest, as he told me story after story of the House, and of the life of the Bishop and his travels throughout Europe, visiting the courts of kings and queens and of collecting art treasures from Italy, Germany, France and Spain.
All too soon it was time to leave the House, as the light was nearly gone. I pointed out the mausoleum to the bishop’s brother George, the 2nd Earl of Bristol, which had been damaged in the great wind of 1839. When I told him of how the statue fell and was recovered minus its head and is now in the nearby garden, he shook his head and sighed “Poor George”.
We walked in silence back to the car park. I wanted to ask him so much more – his knowledge of the Bishop was amazing, could he share his research with me, had he written a book or academic paper, were just some of the thoughts that went racing through my mind.
As we reached the car park, he thanked me for the tour. “Bless you, my dear boy” he said and touched me on the shoulder. It was a friendly, but strangely cold touch on such a mild summer’s evening.
“Let me get you my address” I said and went to my car to get a page to write it down. When I returned, he was gone, vanished as quickly and quietly as he had appeared.
Well that was nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve never seen him since. While he never paid me with money, the stories he told have remained with me, and enthralled my guests from that day to now, as we visit this beautiful and magical place, of the Downhill Demesne.
Covenanters in County Antrim – Tommy Nicholl
In April 1644 orders were issued from Scotland that the Solemn League and Covenant should be administered to the Scottish army where it was garrisoned throughout Ulster.
Rev James Hamilton, minister formerly of Ballywalter, was to oversee the Solemn League and Covenant in Ulster, assisted by Hugh Henderson (of Dalry, Ayrshire), William Adair (Ayr) and John Weir (Dalserf, Lanarkshire). Not only was it subscribed to by the army, but many of the settlers also signed it.
For the three months from 4th April 1644 at Carrickfergus to 30 June 1644 at Killyleagh, the Solemn League and Covenant was administered and signed by the Ulster Scots people at 26 locations across the province, from Ballywalter in County Down to Ballyshannon in County Donegal.
One of these original Covenants survives to this day, signed by the people at Holywood on 8 April 1644, and is in the collection of the Ulster Museum. Contemporary reports indicate that inside six weeks, over 16,000 people had taken the Solemn League and Covenant in Ulster.
For present purposes, it is of interest that one of the places where the Covenant was signed in 1644 was Ballymena.
One of the most important meeting places of Covenanter societies in County Antrim was at Laymore, near Ballymena.
Here was the Round Hole, a natural amphitheatre and the perfect setting for open-air services. It is not known if David Houston ever preached here, though if, as has been suggested, Covenanters had been meeting here from as early as the 1670s, it is likely that he did.
In 2005, a plaque was placed here by Ballymena Borough Council which read: ‘THE ROUND HOLE, LAYMORE. It hosted gatherings before the building of a Reformed Presbyterian meeting house at Cullybackey in 1789.’
Charles Mc Auley – Madeline McCully
Around the nine Glens of Antrim there are farmers, traders and shopkeepers by the name of McAuley but one name stands out as quite different from the others. That is the artist, Charles McAuley who lived with his wife Peggy and four children in a house overlooking the sea at Dalriada, on the edge of Cushendall village.
He was born in 1910 on a small farm at Lubatavish, Glenaan, near Cushendall, the youngest of eight children. For generations before him, his ancestors had lived in the Glens so the landscape was in his DNA.
Although he had to work in the farm when he was younger he painted the landscape of the glens and his mother and teachers encouraged him. He often said that this was vital to his desire to be an artist although his father often counselled him that there wasn’t much money ‘in that sort of thing’.
His next encouragement came from a professional artist, Humbert Craig, whom he met when he was about 18. He had entered some of his art work into Feis na Gleanna, Craig, who adjudicated, praised them and told him, ” People will think you crazy when they see you out painting in the fields but don’t you pay any heed. You go ahead with this, and you’ll do well.”
He briefly attended Belfast College of Art but, in his own words, “I pined for the Glens”. He was however, persuaded to send some of his work to the Royal Hibernian Academy and they were accepted.
This had a great influence on Charles and although he always insisted that he was ‘technically self-taught’ he said that RHA acceptance was the spur he needed to become a professional artist at the age of 26. When asked what subjects he preferred to paint he had no hesitation in saying that his desire was to try to produce the sunlight and the shadow of the glens landscape and to show the everyday lives of the people who lived and worked there. That was what fascinated him.
He returned home to Cushendall and married Peggy. As the children came along he realised that he had to make a living yet he still persevered with a strong belief in his ability to earn enough from his paintings to provide for them. He was a prolific painter of the Glens, of the scenery and the people at their work, cutting corn, cutting and stacking turf, mending fishing nets and other tasks. He didn’t like farming machinery and preferred to paint the farm animals. He died in 1999 at the age of 89.