Friday, 18 January 2013

On the Move

Tomorrow should have been the meeting of my local Family History Group, but we have several inches of snow on the ground and a severe weather warning, so there's no chance of a meeting. We were going to share with each other how our respective families had migrated from one place to another. The following is what I had prepared to say, most of which will of course be familiar to readers of this blog!

I am looking at this topic from a Clan point of view, not simply from my own family's point of view. My researches have I think demonstrated that our family name (and hence maybe my own family) moved from the deep south of Ireland to the west of Scotland way back in the 6th Century. It seems to have stayed around the west of Scotland for a whole millenium with interesting examples cropping up in the 12th, 13th and 15th Centuries, until during the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th Century, it moved over to Ireland again, this time to the north, which I think I can pinpoint fairly accurately to 1660. It stayed there until the time of the Potato Famine in the mid-19th Century when there were movements in fairly rapid succession to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and again back to Scotland and then down to England and Wales.

My own family is in England, Scotland, Australia, Canada and the USA. I'm in correspondence with Scotland and Australia and I've been to Ottawa, Canada to meet my third cousin (once removed) - incidentally one of only three McIlhaggas I've ever met outside my own direct family line, and the other two for only a brief time.

It has been very difficult to trace the early movements of our name, but I'd like to give you two examples of 'finds' which have led me to 'probable' conclusions. The first is the movement from the south of Ireland to the west of Scotland in the 6th Century. The earliest reference in the English language to the surname is in 1527 when Michael Macylhaggow witnessed a charter in the Ayrshire Conservation village of Colmonell. So I went to Colmonell and saw the handsome sign at the entrance to the village which reads ' St. Colmon of Ella built his cell here in 555 AD'. The name Colmon rang a bell, for a St. Colmon had in the 6th Century met a fellow pilgrim in the South of Ireland, a bishop called Mochuda, whom he had persuaded to set up a Monastery and a University in a place called Lismore. Now in Gaelic the name McIlhagga means 'follower of Mochuda'! Wouldn't it be serendipidous if, when Mochuda's friend Colman had travelled to the west of Scotland he had taken with him one or more of Mochuda's followers from Lismore, known as 'the McIlhaggas'? These followers could have settled in the place which became known as Colmonell and lo and behold, in about 1490 (when they had stopped speaking Gaelic and had started to speak English), one Michael Macylhaggow had been born and about thirty years later had witnessed a charter which we still have - it's in the National Archives in Edinburgh.

My second 'movement' can be told more briefly. From about 1500 I have traced those earliest Scottish McIlhaggas right down to the present day. They are now mostly in New Zealand. The earliest clan members I have found who moved across to Ulster are named in the Hearth Money Rolls for 1665 (three of them). For years I've been trying to find any direct links between the Scottish family and the Irish families (including of course my own). At last I think I've found one. In the earliest Ulster newspaper, The Belfast Newsletter, for 6-9 November 1781 I found a 'notice' which reads "A stray beef cow, in possession of William McIlhaga, near Connor. Whoever can prove their property may have her, by paying his expenses". Apart from the three men in the Hearth Money Rolls, William in nearby Connor is one of the earliest McIlhaggas in the Province. Farming in 1781, he must have been born in the middle of the century. So is there a William in the Scottish family, who could possibly be the farmer who decided to make his fortune across the North Channel in Ulster? Yes, there is. There was a William McIlhago of Dalmellington, Ayshire who was born in 1743. Dalmellington is not so far away from Colmonell!. A newspaper notice seems insignificant but I think it has probably provided me with one of my most significant 'break-throughs' in my family history research, and has shown how our clan moved from one place to another.

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