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).
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.
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.