Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Half-Century, 'Ulster-Scots' and Jonny

This is the 50th blog entry on 'McIlhagga Clan' so it is perhaps appropriate that it has a general character, though I want to conclude it with a fairly recent reference to 'Jonny'. If we can date the McIlhagga Clan back to 1750 in Carnmoney, Northern Ireland, on the coast near the port of Larne, in the peninsula called Islandmagee, the 'next earliest family' is to be found dating to a generation later, approximately 1780. In a valuable book by William J. Roulston, Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors, Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005, he cites three pieces of evidence which give us some of the background to our clan arriving there and thereabouts be that in 1780 or earlier.

First: 'In 1683 Richard Dobbs noted that all the inhabitants of Island Magee in County Antrim were Scottish Presbyterians'. Second, quoting from Raymond Gillespie's Community and Change: Ulster in the Seventeenth Century, in Brady, O'Dowd and Walker's Ulster: An Illustrated History, London, 1989, 'An anonymous Jacobite tract of c.1711 noted that after 1690 "Scottish men came over into the north with their families and effects and settled there, so that they are now at this present the greater proportion of the inhabitants".'. Third, quoting Kelly's The Letters of Lord Chief Baron Edward Willes to the Earl of Warwick, 1757-62, Aberystwyth, 1990, 'Journeying through east County Antrim c.1760, Lord Edward Willes commented that "all the people of this part of the world speaks the broad lowland Scotch and have all the Scotch phrases".'. We may presume, when we come to consider in detail the Clan members on Islandmagee that they had sailed over the North Channel, probably from Ayrshire.

Ever since these times there has been a strong movement to keep alive the ulster-Scots links, including the promotion of linguistic idiom. There is a recent example related to our clan in a letter to the Irish Times of 10th October 1998, which reads as follows: 'Sir, - Those of us who delight in Irish, which is still spoken at its best in the most Northern part of Ireland, should give every support to the preservation and revival of the Ulster-Scots language, as a precious and important part of our shared inheritance...  May I say to Mr. McCausland and to his colleagues on the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, what my late father and his dear friends Rufus Carson, Billy McCloskey and Jonny McIlhagga would surely have said: lang may yer lum reek!... (T)hough none of them spoke the Gaildhlic, they encouraged us to learn it and they always said "slainte 'gus saol agat" before taking their first dram of Bushmills'. If anyone can identify the Jonny McIlhagga referred to I would be most grateful.

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