Monday, 8 November 2010

Plus Three Johns, minus One Robert?

The first John McIlhagga who signed the Ulster Covenant lived at 41 Cumberland Street, Belfast. There is no other person from this address who signed, so we must look elsewhere for clues to his identity. Fortunately we have at least three other resources to call on. John and his wife Isabella were living at the same address the year before when the 1911 Census was taken. Also the same address occurs, as I pointed out in my blog of 23rd July last, in a Belfast Directory, where we learn that John was a baker. Next we have an Irish marriage record at St. Anne's Church of Ireland, Shankill, for 11th July 1893 when John McIlhagga, a Baker, married Isabella McKay, a Smoother. She was from 67 Grove Street, daughter of Thomas McKay a tailor. John was from 48 Brussels Street, the 22 years old son of John McIlhagga, a Bread Server. Clearly father and son worked together. John junior had in fact been born on 4th February 1871. I considered this family on 8th June last when I was looking at the 1901 Census. The mystery I noted then, of the identity of John's grandfather, I'm afraid remains, and so of where I can place these people in a wider family.

The second John who signed was from Harryville, Ballymena. The 1911 Census has a Ballymena John living with his wife Mary at 115 Queen Street. He was a Railway Carter. They were both thirty years old. This couple is surely the John McIlhagga and Mary Sloan who married on the 5th January 1894 at Ballyclug Church of Ireland, Ballymena. John, a Labourer, had given his address as 87 Queen Street, Harryville, son of John a Labourer. His witness was a William McIlhagga. Mary lived at 103 Queen Street. The record does not name her parents. Like the first John to sign, a mystery remains about this John. I explored this couple in part in my blog of 21st January last, and again on 14th June when I was considering the 1901 Census. And once again I have to say that I am no further with placing this family in a wider context.

So we come to the third John signature, signed as from 120 Agnes Street, Belfast. As I pointed out on 2nd October last, this is John who signed as one of five men from the same address, Nathaniel, John, William and two Roberts. My first thought was that if there were two Roberts, one had to be the father and the other a son, or at least they had to be from different generations. I then searched other records for such a family. In the 1911 Census I found a family of four sons at 3 Diamond Street, Shankill, Belfast. And they were Nathaniel, John, William and Robert. They were all single and living with their mother Elizabeth who was 'head of the family'. No second Robert! And further investigation, back to the 1901 Census, revealed that their father, who had died in 1898 aged 45, was not Robert, but Archibald! They were part of the Maxwells' Walls McIlhaggas of whom I have written before. So yet another mystery. Who was the second Robert? Is there any further line of enquiry? Yes I think there is - back to the 1912 Covenant, and a careful examination of the two Robert signatures, which I have reproduced above. I have come to the (slightly reluctant) conclusion that they are in the same hand. For a reason best known to himself young Robert appears to have signed the Ulster Covenant twice! Maybe a simple case of over-enthusiasm!

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