Monday, 16 August 2010

Some Maxwellswalls features

Sketch from "Round 'Kells & Conyer' Part 2; Mid-Antrim Historical Group, 1992

Some of the earliest 19th Century information available to us from County Antrim in the north of Ireland is in the Tithe Applotment Books of the townlands. For the McIlhaggos a significant townland was Maxwellswalls in the Parish of Connor, for that was where Henry, John, James and William farmed. We know from the books who owned the land on which they were tenants, in the case of Maxwellswalls, Viscount Massarene & Ferrard. Now we are fortunate to have some excellent background material about the townlands in a number of Ordnance Survey Memoirs put in train by the House of Commons in 1826. They were published along with 6" maps, the purpose being to facilitate a uniform valuation for local taxation. For the Parish of Connor we have what is called a Statistical Account in 1833 and two further (Aides) Memoir in 1835. Very few names are mentioned and no McIlhaggos, but these are the years when our families were farming land there owned by Lord Ferrard, so it is of real value to note their contents. The 1832 Tithe Books are presently being digitised so we can look forward to knowing our clan details.

The author of the 1833 'Account' can't have been particularly interested in Maxwellswalls as it doesn't get a mention. However the first of the 1835 'Memoirs' tells us that it had a Flax Mill "14 feet by 2 feet, breast water", which indicates that it wasn't driven by the river, Kells Water. Farmers on small plots would spend about 50% of their time working the land (in summer) and 50% working the loom (in winter). Another comment about the townland follows: "The inhabitants of this parish are almost exclusively the descendants of the Scots who came over in the 16th and 17th Centuries... (and) many people seem to inherit the abodes of their forefathers". This comment makes one wonder how many generations of McIlhaggos had been in Maxwellswalls.

There is rather more information about the school in the townland: "Under the Synod of Ulster education Board, in a house built by subscription for the purpose... established 1810; income by a grant from Lord Ferrard, which with money and house and garden [presumably the house in the sketch above] amounts to 15 pounds annually, 15 pounds from pupils; intellectual education: books of the Kildare Place Society, reading, writing and arithmetic; moral education: Sunday School, visits from the minister, Scriptures and Shorter Catechism; number of pupils: males, 30 under 10 years of age, 20 from 10 to 15, 5 above 15, 55 total males; females 23 under 10 years of age, 8 from 10 to 15, 2 above 15, 33 total females; total number of pupils 88, 6 Protestants [ie Church of Ireland] 81 Presbyterians, 1 Roman Catholic; master [blank], Presbyterian."

This information gives us a picture of the kind of education enjoyed by the children of our three of four clan farmers in the townland. At the time of writing the Memoirs there would I think have been only two or three McIlhaggo offspring, though in the following ten years, perhaps another twenty. The information is expanded a little, naming the schoolteacher, in a further paragraph: "Maxwell's Walls, master Archibald Wilson, Presbyterian; pay school, annual income 20 guineas and pay of scholars; schoolhouse stone and lime, cost 40 pounds; number of pupils by the Protestant return: 80 Presbyterians, 44 males, 36 females; by the Roman Catholic return: 23 Presbyterians, 2 Roman Catholics, 17 males, 8 females; connected with Kildare Place Society, Lord Ferrard gives 20 guineas to master". I won't speculate why there are discrepancies between the figures in the different 'returns'. I the third Memoir the comment on schools confirms the '88' &c, earlier numbers and adds the information that the pupils paid 1d per week.

Clearly Scots Presbyterians were numerically in the ascendancy, which is reflected in the second 1835 memoir, in its section on Public Buildings, applying to the whole parish of Connor: "There is a church and a Presbyterian meeting house. The former is a plain stone building 60 feet long and 30 feet broad. It was built in 1814... It will accommodate 200 persons. The general attendance is about 60. The meeting house is a neat stone building 100 feet long and 40 feet broad. It was built in 1815 at an expense of 1,600 pounds, which was defrayed by a levy on the sittings and by subscription. It will accommodate 1,100 persons. The general attendance is 900".

All heating of buildings was by the burning of 'turf', so the local folk must have been grateful that "in Maxwells Walls there is a small bog of good black turf. It is 600 feet above the sea and 260 feet above Kells Water. Fir timber is found indiscriminately scattered over it and oak is found in the margin. About 50 feet of an old fence formed of hazel sticks above 2 inches in diameter was dug up in it a few years ago".

Clearly there is quite a variation in the height of the townland's terrain, which is pertinent to a further comment on climate: "I obtained information of a farmer in Maxwellswalls townland: that there was now no difference in ripening of the crops in the mountains and plains, but in his time he could remember when there was a difference of 2 or 3 weeks. He could give no reason for this but he thought the seasons were milder". Plus ca change... "The crops are oats, flax and potatoes...". The oats and the potatoes provided the basis of most of the food available and their mention is a reminder that in comparatively few years after these Memoirs were written, the people were to face the hardships of the Irish potato famine.

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