Sunday, 12 July 2009

Henry's Will

The Will Calendars in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) reads: 'The Will of Henry M'Ilhagga or M'Ilhaga late of Maxwellswalls, Antrim, Farmer, who died the seventh of March 1886 at the same place was proved at Belfast by Samuel Beggs of Barnish and James McMeekin of Collinview both in the said County, Farmers, the Executors'. Appointing James McMeekin as one of his executors, together with the fact that he mentions his wife Agnes in the Will, I think makes us certain that, from several Henries about at the time, this Henry must be the one who married Agnes McMeekin. She was presumably James' sister; they married on 31st August 1854 or 1855 at Templepatrick, County Antrim - there are two IGI records of this marriage giving different years! Also we know they named their second child and eldest son Samuel McMeekin, so we can be doubly sure of the name of Henry's wife.

Two of their seven children are named in the Will, Jane and James. It is probable that four others had left home: Elizabeth (aged 30), Samuel (28), John (26) and Mary Ann (22). An unnamed female had been born and presumably had died in 1865. But why hadn't Jane (23) or James(19) left? It is clear from the Will that the plan was for James eventually to take over the farm, but in 1886 he was after all still a teenager. And Jane? Well, there is a grand-daughter Sarah Mary named in the Will! We may presume that she was Jane's natural daughter and that Jane stayed at home to look after her. Henry's effects were worth a modest £60.17s, about £5000 sterling in today's money. Interestingly he left farmland, stock, crop and household goods to his wife Agnes and on her death half each to James and Jane. He left £5 from each of them to his grandchild.

A presumption is made on the IGI that Henry was born about 1830, when his name is spelled McIlhaggo, as it is on the IGI record of his marriage. As this is our earliest Irish Will its form, written in a perfect copper-plate hand, is of special interest so I will produce it below. We note that Henry 'made his mark'. Either he could not write or he was too ill to write - he died only eighteen days after making his will. We note that his surname is here spelled McIlhagga three times and McIlhaga four times, due to a lack of consistency by the scribe - a good example of how name variants evolved as late as the 19th Century. Third, Henry had confidence in his wife Agnes managing the farm. Fourth, although Jane was to get half the value of the farm, James only was to succeed Henry and Agnes as the farmer, and presumably as the leasee from the local landowner, Lord Massarene. Fifth, and very significantly, the place of residence was Maxwellswalls.

This is the Last Will and Testament of me Henry M'Ilhagga of Maxwellswalls in the County of Antrim made this 19th day of February in the year of our Lord one Thousand eight hundred and 86. I hereby revoke all wills by me at any time heretofore made. I appoint Samuel Beggs Barnish James McMeekin Collin View to be my Executors and direct that all my just debts and funeral and Testamentary expenses shall be paid as soon as conveniently may be after my decease. I give and bequeath unto my Wife Agnes McIlhaga all my farm of land which I at present hold in Maxwellswalls with all my stock and crop thereon with all my household goods to be held and managed by her during her life and if she can hold it so long at her death I allow the property to go to my son James McIlhaga by him paying one half of the valuation of all the said property made by two competent persons minus all the just debts to my daughter Jane McIlhagga after which division of the property I allow them to pay five pounds each to my grandchild Sarah Mary McIlhagga and if any of my two children die before this division of the property takes place all is to fall to the survivor after the Mother's decease~~~Signed by the said Henry X (his mark) McIlhaga the Testator in the presence of us present at the same time who at his request in his presence and in the presence of each other have subscribed our Names as Witnesses: Samuel Beggs..........William Scott........

Probate of the Will of Henry McIlhagga, Deceased Granted on the 11th day of October 1886 To Samuel Beggs and James McMeekin the executors herein named.........

Full Abstract:

The Will of Henry M'Ilhagga or M'Ilhaga late of Maxwellswalls County Antrim Farmer who died 7 March 1886 at same place was proved at Belfast by Samuel Beggs of Barnish and James M'Meekin of Collin-view both in said County Farmers the Executors.

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