The Speaker at the December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was the well known local Historian, Mr Alec Blair whose subject was “The Planter and the Gael”.
He pointed out that they made what might be called a volatile mixture as the Planter was generally taken to be Protestant and British and the Gael to be Catholic and Nationalist. In fact he pointed out that there was no such thing as a true Gael as Ireland had been invaded very many times centuries ago (for example by marauding groups such as the Vikings and Normans) and that the Gael was a mixture of different bloods. There were Gaels in France and other countries in Europe and he quoted Irish names which had obviously descended from these times.
The first Planters were mostly Scottish and were sent here because they were expelled for various crimes they had committed and a lot of them went back . The seventeenth century plantation had been more successful because the King oversaw it and with the disastrous intervention of Cromwell it had become the most resented episode in Irish History. He then gave examples of the strife it had caused – from the rebellion of 1641 up to the present day.
He also interspersed his talk with poems written by “both sides” which demonstrated with humour how well, in fact, they had got on. His concluding points were to illustrate what a mixture we all are, tracing the origin of names from the Planter and the Gael which illustrated that many families had “changed sides” over the years and pointing out that in present times we had learned to respect each others cultures and points of view.
Mrs Mary Breslin thanked Mr Blair for his talk which had been listened to very attentively by his audience and reminded members that the meeting in January would be a showing of events and customs in very old films by the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission.
The Speaker for the November Meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Mr. Ronnie Hanna M.A. whose subject was “The Ulster Emigration Experience of the eighteenth century”. Mr. Hanna lectures at Queen’s University and has written many papers on historical subjects.
He pointed out that emigration to the New World which most people believe to be the result of the Great Famine of the 1840s, had in fact started in the previous century as there had been smaller famines before that time, notably that of 1729 when bad weather caused the Scottish settlers on the Antrim coast to suffer a mini-famine.
There was great hardship in Ulster and little opportunity for a man to improve his condition. When the linen trade, on which many of the landlords depended, underwent a slack period they would raise the rent and there were many evictions of tenants who simply could not pay the higher cost. The area most effected at this time was a triangle which Mr. Hanna showed on a slide, comprising the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Antrim all of which had been “planted” with Scottish families, who were mainly Protestant and Presbyterian.
At that period in history The Penal Laws were equally severe on Presbyterians and Catholics, who could not hold offices of any significance or own land because of the dominance of the Established Church of England (and Ireland). The agents sent from America to attract people to emigrate were offering them a chance to own land and develop it.
The bad conditions at home and the offer of land in the New World were known as the “push and pull” factors which caused families to emigrate. There was therefore every reason for them to take the very bold step of crossing the Atlantic, a journey which took about three months in sordid conditions where disease was often present and when many people died on the voyage. Those who made it were met by representatives of the landowners who had recruited them through their agents and who had paid for their passage. Many of these Ulster Scots emigrants became famous and at least three American Presidents sprang from this importation, the best known being possibly Andrew Jackson.
Sometimes a Presbyterian Minister would organise a whole group from his congregation for this exodus to be settled in the Frontier regions. The figure given for the number of people who emigrated between 1710 and 1775 was one hundred and sixty thousand. Those who emigrated in the following century as a result of the Great Famine settled mostly on the Eastern seaboard of America.
Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanked Mr. Hanna for his most interesting talk and reminded members that the Speaker for the December meeting would be Mr. Alec Blair whose topic would be “The Planter and the Gael”.
The first meeting of the 2008-2009 season was addressed by Mr. Harry Hume whose subject was “The Glens of Antrim – a Place and People Apart.” A Glensman himself from the tenth glen, Glenravel, Mr.Hume had an intimate knowledge of their history and the characters both past and present who inhabited them. He spoke of the Scottish influence because of their proximity to Kintyre and the Western Isles and traced the influence in the area of the McDonnells of the Isles from the marriage in 1399 of John Mor McDonnell of Kintyre to Margery Bissett right up to the present day. He told of Sorley Boy’s victory over the McQuillans at the battle of Orra which gave the McDonnells possession of the Route and the three baronies of Dunluce, Carey and Kilconway and of his engagement with Shane O’neill in 1565. Many famous people have come from the Glens and Mr. Hume named Dr. James McDonnell who founded the Belfast Fever Hospital (fore-runner of the Royal Victoria Hospital) and whose great love of harp music led to his organizing the first Belfast Harp Festival. James Hamilton Delargy, the famous Irish folklorist also came from the Glens as did George Benn, (a son of the Benns of Glenravel), who wrote a History of Belfast and was benefactor of the once famous Benn Hospital, Belfast. A Hodge of Glenravel was associated with the establishment of the Faculty of Agriculture at Queen’s University and Mr. Hume also dealt with the association of Roger Casement with the Glens. Reference was also made to the famous McNeill, Turnley and Higginson families with readings from the poems of Moira O’Neill ( born Agnes Shakespeare Higginson). The talk also referred to the great seafaring tradition of many families of the area and ended with the portrayal of some interesting Glens “characters”, including the well known fiddler and poteen maker, the late Mickey McIlhatton, “KING OF THE GLENS”. Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanking Mr. Hume for his fascinating talk and many amusing anecdotes which had been greatly appreciated by his large audience, reminded members that next month’s speaker would be Mr. Ronnie Hanna from Portadown, whose subject would be “Crossing the Atlantic – the Ulster Emigration Experience of the 18th Century”.