Sunday, 14 June 2009

Who was Mary?

My great-great-grandfather was William McIlhagga of Ballycloughlan near Broughshane, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He married Agnes McCosh of Clogh. They had seven children who were born between 1830 and 1844 and to the best of my present knowledge, all of them married between 1850 and 1866. All seven were baptised and four were married at the First Presbyterian Church, Broughshane. We think that William was born in the decade 1797-1807 and married between 1828-1835. The absence of Church records doesn't allow us to be more precise. William is in the Tithe Applotment Books farming in Ballycloughan and next door in Eglish, as is a James McIlhagga, though none of the Broughshane Record Books bears his name, which is a pity because we suspect he might have been William's father. Now there is a Marriage entry which complicates things. With such a rare surname surely all McIlhaggas (and variants) in the Broughshane Registers must be related. But who is Mary McIlhagar (aged 22) spinster of Rathkenny who married John Auld (aged 21) of Rathkenny on 25th August 1847? Her father was William McIlhagar, a farmer. Her witnesses were William McIlhagga and Elizabeth McIlhagga! Rathkenny, like Ballycloughan, is in the Glenravell district of County Antrim. 

The fact that John and Mary were both resident in Rathkenny at the time of their marriage probably indicates no more than that they were cohabiting. Mary could have been brought up elsewhere. Mary's father William is probably the 'earliest' clan member for whom we have a reference in the nineteenth century, apart of course for my great-great-grandfather William, who as we have seen, also lived in the same area, a townland just outside the mid-Antrim town of Broughshane. So were these two Williams one and the same person? If so, Mary would likely have been his and Agnes' eldest child for she was born about 1825. Indeed she may have been born a year or two before they were married. Now we know that William and Agnes did indeed have a daughter Mary, but we also know that she married a Robert Dickey at Broughshane First Presbyterian Church on 13th June 1856. We have the Marriage Register record which says 'Mary McIlhago, spinster, of Ballycloughan; Father: William McIlhago, Weaver; Witness: John McIlhago'. All the details of this entry 'fit' my family. Given that McIlhago was one of several name variants used (most of the family 'made their mark' when signing the Registers), William was indeed a weaver as well as a farmer; they did live in Ballycloughan, and Mary had a brother John. As the 1856 marriage says 'spinster' we must assume this was not a second marriage. Also we have no evidence that John Auld died before 1856, though we must acknowledge also that we have no evidence of children being born to John and Mary Auld.

Returning to the Marriage Entry for John and Mary, who, we may wonder, were her witnesses, William McIlhagga and Elizabeth McIlhagga? It is tempting to think that they were husband and wife, though this is not necessarily so. If they were Mary's parents it is very strange that William's surname is spelled two different ways - McIlhagar (as father) and McIlhagga (as witness). So was William a son (the eldest) of William and Agnes? If so this might indicate that he was Mary's brother. And we know, William son of William and Agnes did indeed marry an Elizabeth - Elizabeth Carson. Our present estimate is that they married 1851-53, which is four to seven years after Mary and John married (a date based on when we think their first child was born). We also have to say that there is no other known William who married an Elizabeth, and if as witnesses they were not a married couple, we also have to say that there is no other Elizabeth, of whom we know, who could 'qualify' to be a witness. We may therefore reasonably conclude that the fact that they both signed as witnesses is the best (circumstantial) evidence we have that this William McIlhagga and Elizabeth McIlhagga, who were surely both relations of the couple being wed, were in fact married, and were married before 25th August 1847. We may conclude that they were indeed William and Elizabeth nee Carson. This in turn argues for Mary being William's sister, which in turn argues for Mary's marriage to John Auld being her first marriage and her marriage to Robert Dickey being her second marriage. The word 'spinster' in the 1856 entry could have been a mistake. After all the Officiants at the two weddings who wrote the entries were different - in 1847 Robert Stewart and in 1856 A. Robinson. We can't assume that Mr. Robinson should have remembered a previous marriage as he had become the church's minister in the interim.

We have assumed, I think rightly, that the two Williams named in the 1847 Broughshane Marriage Register, father and witness, must have been related. Surely they must have been, both involved in the same wedding and sharing versions of such a rare surname. We have put forward the possibility that 'father' William was not only Mary's father, but witness William's father. The only other possibility would seem to be that witness William was the father of 'father' William and hence Mary's grandfather. It is tempting to think this as it would give us four generations of Williams leading us in to the Ballycloughan family. However, there is no evidence that this theory is true and the possibility that James who farmed at Ballycloughan and Eglish was Mary's grandfather seems to have more to commend it.

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