On W.G. Hoskins

In the Review section of yesterday’s Guardian, the author Penelope Lively pays tribute to her hero: W.G. Hoskins. Hoskins is to local history what W.G. Grace is to cricket. He’s considered by many to be the founding father and standard setter, writing one of the most influential works of local history, The Making of the English Landscape, in 1955 and going on to found and lead the Department of Local History at the University of Leicester. His approach to local history, which was perpetuated through the work of the wider ‘Leicester School’, was to chart the ‘lifecycle’ of a community, from its inception, through its expansion and on to its eventual decline and death. He was hugely influential on historians of local history in Ireland; you can see his method of walking the landscape echoed in E. Estyn Evans’ work in particular. 

Lively speaks eloquently about the way Hoskins’ approach gave her ‘a sense of the presence of the past’ which she has used to inform her writing. Although she acknowledges that many people now think his approach is outdated, for her it provided ‘an imagery of the juxtaposition of past and present, of the random nature of memory, of the way in which, in the head as in the landscape, everything happens at once….’

The Guardian, Review, 26 November 2011, p. 6

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Access to Sources in Libraries

While PRONI is a great place to find sources for local history, you will soon find that you’ll also need to visit your local library. More and more these days, libraries are joining regional or national schemes which will allow users from others areas to access (and sometimes borrow) their books and other holdings. If you’re a student at a UK or Irish university, you can take advantage of the SCONUL network. For students in participating universities (which is pretty much everyone), this allows you to gain access to the library of any other participating university. When more and more university libraries are only accessible via a swipe card, getting a SCONUL card can be the only way for you to gain access.

But for those of you who aren’t affiliated to a university, there are a growing number of options. LISC Inspire is a network of libraries across Northern Ireland who have joined together to make their collections more widely available. People who are members of their local library can sign up for  LISC Inspire Passport. This is a card which tells the library you are visiting that you are a genuine learner and that your special requirements for information cannot be dealt with by your local library.

The LISC Inspire network of libraries includes Queen’s University, the University of Ulster, all of the Library Board libraries along with a range of specialist libraries, such as the NI Assembly library, the Education Centre library and the Medical library based at Altnagelvin Hospital.

For more information about LISC Inspire and how to go about getting your Passport, go to www.liscni.co.uk.

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The Ogilbys of Drumnahoe

National School, Drumnahoe (1913)

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Poverty in Kilwaughter

Larne Hospital

Larne Workhouse, now Larne Hospital

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Industrial Kilwaughter


An abandoned factory, Drumnahoe townland, Kilwaughter, November 2011



Drumnahoe townland, November 2011. Here you can see the modern reflection of 18th century rural industrialisation, when factories were located in rural areas to take advantage of water as a power source. In front here is the factory; there's been one on this site since the 1780s. To the right are the row houses of Millbrook village, modern council replacements of the originals built in the early 20thc. To the left are fields and farms, showing that this community still reflects its rural origins.

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Using the Local Library


Larne Library, November 2011



Larne Museum and Arts Centre, November 2011

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In Praise of _Ulster Local Studies_

I would just like to sing the praises of the former journal of the Federation for Ulster Local Studies, Ulster Local Studies. About three or four years ago, I was browsing their website and for the princely sum of £20, discovered that I could purchase the entire run of 43 issues on CD. I would recommend this to anyone interested in Irish local history. I have stumbled upon a number of articles which have been incredibly helpful in getting my Kilwaughter project off the ground. Trevor Parkhill’s articles on the OS maps and valuation records are excellent introductions to complicated sources. Bill Crawford’s articles on landholding and kinship have gotten me thinking about my place in creative ways. Yesterday, I came across a fantastic article on the Rev. Classon Porter, the minister of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Larne for much of the 19th century and a well known local activist, raconteur and local historian. A fascinating account of his life and work, with the added bonus of a an appendix, which lists all of his published articles in the local newspaper. How handy isn’t that?

The Federation for Ulster Local Studies is the umbrella organisation which represents local history societies across Northern Ireland. Their website is a treasure trove of information and includes local society events, links to local history publications and a list of speakers on local history topics. Given the organisation is run entirely by volunteers, the scope of their activities is truly impressive.

Click on ‘Publications – Ulster Local Studies’ and you can find out how to purchase the CD for yourself. Worth every penny!

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Kilwaughter in the 1830s

Thomas Colby thought that in order to truly understand what a map was saying, there had to be some kind of explanation, some kind of ‘aide-memoire’ that would explain how this landscape had evolved in the way that it had. This formed the basis for the Ordnance Survey Memoirs. They were intended to be further information about the area that couldn’t be fitted onto the maps, but would make them more understandable. So, Thomas Larcom, Colby’s assistant, designed a form, called the ‘Heads of Inquiry’, and each of the engineers was asked to collect information under these headings about each of the parishes they mapped. These headings were Natural Features and History, Modern and Ancient Topography and Social and Productive Economy.

The OS engineers began work on the northern parishes and managed to complete Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh and Derry, along with a few parishes in bordering counties before, because of time and money constraints, the whole project was closed down in 1840. The manuscripts were moved to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, and you can read about the collection here. The memoirs were eventually published as Angelique Day and Patrick McWilliams (eds), Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland (Institute of Irish Studies and Royal Irish Academy, 40 vols, 1990-98).

Kilwaughter, looking east over Mullaghsandall, 2011

Everyone in local history waxes lyrical about the Memoirs because they provide such a detailed account of everyday life in Ireland at a time when, as we know now, everything was about to change utterly. And now I’ve spend the last week poring over the entry for Kilwaughter, I can understand why. There is so much here. It’s not in any great detail (although some parishes do merit quite extensive coverage), but it suggests a whole range of ‘leads’ which could be pursued.

For some reason, Kilwaughter was surveyed three times, once in 1833, 1835 and 1839-40, so there are three sets of memoirs and, as a result, a fair degree of repetition. But what comes through plainly enough is the fact that Kilwaughter is a place of spectacular beauty, but where nothing ever happens. The reporters point out that while the lower part of the parish is good farmland, with rolling hills, in the northern part it becomes very mountainous. Agnew’s Hill, the tallest in the region, dominates this part of the parish and is said to display a ‘solitary grandeur’ with a ‘bold and dusky summit’. It was described as having, along its eastern side, a 150 ft exposed basalt cliff, or escarpment, which was striking in the extreme.

Kilwaughter, with Agnew's Hill (right) and Shane's Hill in background, 2011

When asked to comment on the human geography of the area, the reporters adopted a disappointed tone. Kilwaughter had ‘neither town, village, public building nor place of worship’. It had no magistrate or police, there was no illicit distilling or smuggling. No one had emigrated. There was no particular incidence of early marriage. Everyone appeared reasonably healthy. ‘There has not been anything,’ said one, ‘that could be said to have produced any improvement in the habits, comforts, or circumstances of the inhabitants of this parish.’ And the people themselves were described as ‘active and shrewd, of sober dispositions and industrious habits’ who did not do anything remarkable, had no particular customs and were little given to amusements. Even dancing, which some had been wont to do, was now largely given up.

None of this bodes particularly well for a local history project, at least, not for one that anyone would want to read. But I think the OS engineers were judging their evidence too harshly. They themselves record a number of ‘events’, I’ll call them, that I think will be well worth chasing up in the months ahead. For example:

1. In August 1826 or possibly 1827, the heath on Agnew’s Hill was set on fire and it burned for several weeks. Might this have been reported in the local papers?

2. In April 1839 Mary Macgreggor, from Raloo parish, was murdered near Glebe House. The Memoirs say that 4 men were responsible and that one, John McNinch, had been arrested in Scotland and was now in Carrickfergus gaol awaiting trial at the assize courts. What happened? Is there a record of the trial?

3. The Memoirs say that Kilwaughter Castle, although it looks ‘modern’, can be dated back to 1566, and that Agnews have been the only family to occupy it. ‘Squire Agnew’ seems to have been the landlord in the 18th century. He was then succeeded by his relative, Edward Jones Agnew, who died around 1834, and then by Miss Margaret Jones. What were the Agnew’s like as landlords? It says that the house was renovated by Nash – was he a famous architect? Someone called ‘Paddy Agnew’ is mentioned several times. Who is he?

4. The Memoirs refer several times to the cotton factories in Drumnahoe. It would appear that these were built in the 1760s, as bleach mills, which seems really early for industrial development to me. What’s odd is that the Memoirs say the factories are now closed, because of the collapse in the cotton and linen industries. What is the wider context for this industrial development in the parish? What happens to the factories over the course of the century?

4. The Memoirs indicate that a new road from Ballymena to Larne is being cut, and this is giving labourers in the area employment. Can I find out any  more about this road?

5. At the end of the Memoir, there’s a big description of the schools in the parish. One is newly built because, it says, the ‘orthodox’ Presbyterians had a falling out with the ‘Unitarians’ because the latter didn’t like it that the school was opened and closed with singing and prayers. What were the denominational relationships like in the parish?

6. There’s a ton on farming and agricultural practices here, including farm size, rents, the status of labourers and cottiers and bog rights. To what extent were all these typical for other parishes in the area? Can any of these farms and families be traced in Griffith’s Valuation?

7. A number of family names are mentioned. Are any of these families still around in the 1901/1911 census?

8. What was life like in Kilwaughter if you were poor? The Memoirs convey an impression of a parish which is, for the most part, ‘comfortable’. The majority people are reported as living on farms of reasonable size, wearing decent clothes and using a range of tools and implements. However, there are signs of poverty. One reporter claims there are only 12 ‘native’ paupers in the parish, although many more strangers and drifters occupy the boggy and mountainous ground. Another points out that the Catholic population, clustered in Mullaghsandall, is mostly very poor and only survive by being able to sell turf in Larne or working as day labourers. In 1834, the only provision for the poor was a small bequest from the Agnew family and an annual ‘dole’ from the Anglican minister amounting to little more than £5. But how did the Famine affect this area? And what about the Poor Law? From 1838, paupers in Kilwaughter would be able to walk to Larne and get relief from the workhouse there. How many did so?

Source: Angelique Day and Patrick McWilliams (eds), Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Parishes of Country Antrim III 1833, 1835, 1839-40, vol. 10 (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies with the Royal Irish Academy, 1991), pp 106-22.

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Start With A Map

One of the best places to begin a local study, so I’ve been told, is with a source called the Ordnance Survey. In 1824 the British government recommended that in order to better tax the country, Ireland should be surveyed and its land properly valued. The idea being if you occupied land worth more, you paid more tax (and that’s still the basic idea behind our current rates system). So, between 1824 and 1842, Col Thomas Colby of the Royal Engineers, along with his officers and 3 companies of miners and sappers, wandered around the country and produced a whole series of maps, the first ever official set to be produced for Ireland. These were done on a scale of 6″ to the mile. In layman’s terms, that means quite detailed. Just to give you an idea, here’s the map which covers the main chunk of Kilwaughter:

OS Map of Kilwaughter, Co. Antrim 1832 (PRONI, OS/1/1/40) Used with kind permission of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, PRONI

Now, to put it all into perspective, this map, when you look at the real thing is about 3 feet wide by 2 feet high. I needed to look at 4 to get a proper sense of Kilwaughter’s boundaries, but it actually falls onto 5 sheets.  And to put it into perspective again, that’s mapping a single parish onto a space the size of my living room wall. It may be hard to see here, but the level of detail on these maps is incredible. On top of the standard stuff you would expect from a map, like elevations, road layouts and boundaries, you can also see things like ‘corn mill’ or ‘ice house’ and the actual outline of large buildings like churches, schools, factories and farms. What is great about this is that it immediately puts everything in its place. Does that sound completely obvious? What I mean is that it shows you where everything is in relation to everything else, so that you can begin to draw conclusions about how things inter-connected. So an OS map is vital if you are starting out on a local history project.

However, I was no map expert when I started out on this project, and I’m still struggling a bit. Lots of the advice I read, either in books or online, assumed far more about my cartographic capacity than they should have done. Not only that, but much of this advice is now out of date, now that PRONI has moved to new premises and their catalogue has gone online. While their way of organising, or numbering all the OS maps is truly a work of art, like Irish roadsigns, the online catalogue lets you down at the last turn off. I say more about finding your way to the OS map you want in PRONI under the ‘How To’ tab.

So far, all I’ve really done is to look at the original OS maps, the ones produced between 1824-42. These are sometimes called ‘OS First Series’ or ‘OS First Edition’ or ‘Six Inch County Series’. At PRONI these maps are given the catalogue reference OS/1. This is to distinguish them from the many other series of maps which the OS has gone on to produce. Again, the original reason for the revisions to the Six Inch County series was to do with the rates: if there had been any improvements to the land since it had last been valued (say, an extension added and a garage built), this would increase its value, and therefore make it ‘eligible’ to pay more tax. But someone needed to go out there and map these improvements and see where they had taken place. So the government authorised three further ‘series’ of Six Inch County maps. The second edition was in 1853-61, the third in 1903-6 and the fourth in 1921-39. These are all given the PRONI reference number OS/6.  These maps form the basis for so much local history research. For example, a copy of these maps were used by the Valuation office, who marked them up with red pen to indicate field boundaries. Lots of local historians say that really, these are the maps to use, because they show the outline of individual farms, and who owned what property in a particular area. I haven’t looked at these yet, but soon!

The OS/1 maps are by no means the extent of the maps that you can find for your area. In the 1890s, the OS launched a new series of maps, catchily titled ‘Twenty-five Inch County Series’. This is a much larger scale series (that is, more detailed), so that for every one 6” sheet, there would be 16 (yes, 16) to cover the same area. The first edition of these was issued between 1894-1904 and a second came out in 1920-24. These are catalogued in PRONI under OS/10. But there are also lots of maps out there that were not produced by the OS, private maps, estate maps, town plans to name a few. PRONI has lots of these as well.

My version of the OS/1 map for Kilwaughter

I spent a whole afternoon at PRONI just staring at my Kilwaughter wallpaper. I started by tracing the outline of the parish as a whole, and then getting all the townlands situated in the right places. Then I marked out the villages, like Millbrook and Hightown. I outlined the boundaries of the Kilwaughter estate (in Demesne townland) and then marked out some of the main features, like Agnew’s Hill, the Millbrook factories and the location of the corn and flax mills. I noticed that there were two schools quite close to each other, which seemed odd, but might be explained through further research.

I don’t care what anyone says, getting a printed copy of something this big is just fiddly. The First Edition 6” is available for free online from the OS website, and you can print out the maps in chunks. But I find them really grainy when you zoom in quite close, so that you lose a lot of detail. You can get a digital copy from PRONI on a CD. It’s not cheap: £14.50!! And, to be honest, when I zoomed in, it was still pretty fuzzy. I think I might try a paper copy next time, and see how that goes. Regardless, I need to get a visual representation of the area I’m thinking about up on the wall sometime soon, although I’m already starting to get a mental picture of it in my mind.

Thomas Colby knew that a map was only ever going to be a poor approximation of what the real landscape looked like. And he knew that there would never be enough room on it to explain all the reasons why a certain place was called the way it was. That’s why, when his engineers embarked on the mapping project, he also commissioned them to collect the ‘why’ behind the landscape. These ‘aide-memoires’ were meant to accompany the maps, and to explain the local topography to those unfamiliar with it. It was a hugely ambitious project and unfortunately, it was never finished (axed by government funding in the early 1840s). Only the parishes in the north of Ireland were completed. Luckily, there is a volume for Antrim, so that’s where I’m headed next.

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What’s In A Name?

After I gave my first lecture to the crowd at PRONI, a woman came up to me and said, ‘Are you sure you’re pronouncing “Kilwaughter” correctly?’ Of course, I’d never even thought that there could be different ways of pronouncing it. I had always heard my mom and gran pronounce it like ‘kil-water’, with the ‘w’ being sounded. Of course, my six year old son thinks it must, therefore, be a very cool place because it is ‘that place, mamma, where they kill water!’

But the woman’s comments got me to thinking, that ‘augh’ in Irish place names is often sounded, isn’t it? As in ‘Augher’, for instance. And in those cases, it is pronounced with the hard ‘gh’ sound, as in ‘lough’ or ‘cough’. So maybe it is actually pronounced ‘kil-w-augh-ter’. But when I put this to her, she said that the way she had heard it pronounced was without the ‘w’, like ‘kil-aughter’.

Of course, I know what Bill Macafee would do. He would head off there and just ask people what they called it. But I’m a bit shy, what with my big Canadian accent, and the time when I did wander around, there was no one about to ask, really. Someone came up to me at the Poverty lecture and said he worked with a couple of guys from Kilwaughter, and he thought they pronounced it the way my gran had: ‘kil-water’.

Of course, for the local historian, this whole debate raises that whole idea of a place that exists on a page, or in a photograph (which it all it has ever done for me for my whole life) and one that exists in the spoken word of the people who actually live there. It reminded me of my home town (Windsor, Ontario) which was originally settled by French immigrants. Many of the streets take the names of these early settlers, and over the years, the pronunciation by locals has been twisted almost beyond recognition. Thus, ‘Pierre Street’ is, to a Windsorite, ‘Pirrie Street’.  What is also does is to raise the whole question of ‘right’ pronunciation. Is there such a thing? Who’s to say that the way folk pronounce Kilwaughter now is the way they did a century ago? Maybe people on the left-hand side of the parish always pronounced it one way, and those on the right another? If no one ever wrote these things down, and there’s no one left to ask, then it’s a question no one can answer.

I’m not sure if a local historian’s work would be any less accurate if they never discovered these odd disconnects between the printed sources and oral tradition and custom. I know from my recent experience, though, that it can be pretty embarrassing! 

If anyone from Kilwaughter ever finds their way to this blog, please do post the ‘right’ pronunciation and help me avoid sounding like the outsider that I so obviously am.

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