Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Children's Fiction

Some time ago (2 Nov 2011) I wrote about Andrew McIlhagga who appeared in a historical book about IslandMagee. In 1798 Andrew had joined up with the 'United Irishmen' to fight at the 'Battle of Antrim'. I'm afraid I do not know what happened to Andrew on that fateful occasion, unlike the ancestor of one of my USA correspondents, Don Milligan who knows that his ancestor, Samuel Millikin, was killed in 1798. In the remote chance of finding Andrew, but with the positive aim of understanding more about the United Irishmen I recently bought and read a book by Tom McCaughren called 'In Search of the Liberty tree'. This turned out to be a story told from the point of view of two young boys living in Ballymena who were friends though apparently from families on different sides of the conflict, for and against British Rule in Ireland.

It was an enjoyable read and though clearly written for children I looked forward to reading another of Tom McCaughren's books, 'The Legend of the Golden Key', not least because the tale is set in County Antrim and concerns treasure which was said to have been buried just before the 1798 Rebellion. Again, it is a children's adventure for two boys, Tapser and Cowlick and their friends. Apparently the treasure had been buried on a 'landed estate' with its inevitable castle. They decided to take a look. Imagine my surprise when on page 43 I read "We climbed up round the quarry dump and cut across Big Hughie McIlhagga's land...".

We learn a little more about Hughie on page 52. A man called Craig was caught ill treating a horse on the estate. "He lost his job with Big Hughie McIlhagga on the farm beyond for the very same thing" - shades of a story I told on 18 Sep 2009! And on page 56, "Leaving the river, we began climbing up towards the trees at the back of Big Hughie McIlhagga's place". On pages 73, 76, 86 and 90 we learn that Big Hughie has a bull in a field next to the estate and that his cowsheds play a significant part later on. On page 99 a thug is mistaken for Big Hughie. There are other references to Big Hughie's farm on pages 103, 112, 174 and 175. Although there are a dozen or so references in the book to Big Hughie, with we have to say, no dialogue, it is almost at the end of the book he appears to be a little more than a very minor character, for it is his farm which turns out to be key to the story. On page 178f we read "...he showed me a spade guinea which he had found.. in Mr. McIlhagga's field while ploughing". and on page 180, "I don't know how the guinea.. came to be over there in Mr. McIlhagga's field."

It's intriguing to think where a contemporary author finds the names of his characters. There are only two 'Hugh McIlhaggas' known to me. In fact they were father and son and both were William Hugh McIlhagga. W.H. junior was born in 1911 in Belfast and his father in 1870, also in Belfast. He married a Margaret Boyd. W.H. senior's father was George McIlhagga, a Merchant in Connor Parish, County Antrim, who married Elizabeth Ann Robinson. George's father was William, like his son also born in the Townland of Maxwell's Walls. He was a farmer born I think about 1810. It is possible that we can take this family line back two more generations to another William, to the first half of the 18th Century. Was it this family that was known to the author of 'The Legend of the Golden Key'?

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