Journeys into the past


My grandmother seemed to decide that I was to be the family archivist in the 1970s. She gave me a large number of photographs, letters from the First World War front that two of my great-great uncles fought in and letters from a relative in the USA to my great grandmother. Her father came from Ireland. A cousin had done some work on part of the family tree and this was passed onto me. Over the years I filled in many of the gaps and with the help of relatives, and the ever-increasing availability of information on the internet, now have got back as far as 1588 with the exception of the Irish relatives. James is from Northern Ireland so on a recent trip to visit his family we decided to delve further into his family tree as we had relatively little information. The major problem with Irish records is that so many public records were destroyed in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Volunteers have been digitising church register information and other information is already online. Our first step was talking to relatives, finding out if there was a family bible which often had names and dates of birth of all family members (there was not one) and then visiting the various graveyards where we were told some ancestors were buried.

In total we visited four and on the next rainy day I will start to plot out the tree and double-check what we have.

Mountstewart is an estate that used to be the home of the Marquess of Londonderry but is now under the care of the National Trust. We had been there previously so had a quick look at the house and devoted the rest of our time to the garden. Our last visit was late summer so this time it was good to see tulips and Tree Peonies blooming.


A range of animal sculptures sit along the top of the garden wall. This pig is one of them.

Across the road there are views across Strangford Lough.

On our last day we decided to pay a visit to Derry, a city neither of us had visited previously. The 400-year-old city walls stand up to eight metres high and are almost one mile around, making them the most complete city walls in Ireland.

The station is across the Foyle river from the walled city but there is a free bus link to the bus station which is near the shopping centre. We began our walk on the walls at New Gate which is near a bastion containing cannons.

Ferryquay Gate is one of the original four gates and led down to a ferry which used to cross the river. The Guildhall is nearby.

St Columbs Cathedral was built in 1633, one of the first after the Reformation and the oldest building in the city.

St. Augustine’s Church is known as ‘The Wee Church’ and was built on the site of an abbey which St Columba constructed around 543AD before sailing over to Iona in 563AD. It has been rebuilt a number of times until the last in 1872.

There are views all around: over to the Bogside

…and to St Eugene’s Cathedral

We spotted a bookshop near the Craft Village.

Foyle Books is run by a retired French teacher. It has a huge selection of Irish books and others. I picked up one on ‘Difficult to Translate Words and Phrases’ and had a chat with him about this. I had noted that French does not have a word for ‘iceberg’ and we agreed that had they remained in Canada for longer, they might have had one. He also told me that Irish Gaelic has no swear words and so use English ones. My other find was a Hungarian phrasebook which I have been looking for for a couple of months in preparation for our trip to Budapest alter this year. So far in both new and second-hand stores I had had no success. However, this shop had three different ones. I also spotted a book produced by another small society; there seem to be so many devoted to what appear to be minor interests. I had previously come across the Pylon Appreciation Society, but this was a book on British Piers published by The Piers Society which I had not heard of before. Along the wall outside the Millennium Forum is an Anthony Gormley sculpture. There were originally three but the others have ended up overseas.

To return to the station we crossed the Peace Bridge which was opened in 2011.

There is then a footpath/cycle route back to the station although some work was being done on part of it. We could have spent much more time here – there are several museums and plenty of culture. That will have to wait for another trip.

Journey into the future and the past

We were driving to Nottingham today to visit my aunt. It is a familiar journey in addition to family visits, for many other reasons. Our favoured route is the scenic one over the Staffordshire Moorlands, which gives me a fix of the uplands before dipping down into Derbyshire. Passing through Derby, there are still a lot of Georgian buildings on the west side of the city but very quickly we are on concrete dual carriageways and a short stretch of motorway to get to my aunt’s part of Nottingham. A brief respite from the rain in what promises to be the wettest June in living memory, made the driving easy. Passing through moorland villages, many hedges were adorned with ‘Vote Leave’ posters, a reminder of the great uncertainty facing the UK in the next week about the outcome of the referendum and if we do vote to leave the European Union, even more uncertainty about what will happen then. Brailsford, a village straddling the road between Ashbourne and Derby, also has an uncertain future like many in the UK, as it is proposed as a site for more housing. ‘Save our village’ notices were everywhere.

During our time with my aunt we inevitably ended up discussing family history as I have been researching this since I was at school and was given a lot of material by my grandmother, some of which remains a mystery. She is always available to fill in the gaps and dispel some myths but some still remain. These photographs remain a partial mystery. They were among my grandmother’s photographs and her handwriting on the back of the first says ‘American oil man, distant relation’, the second ‘Arbor Lodge’ and the last has ‘Humboldt Oil Field 1923’ on the front. I sent them to Arbor Lodge, Nebraska which is now a State Park and they confirmed that the second photograph is of the house and that the Humboldt Oil Field was several miles south of there. They forwarded my e-mail with the photographs to their historian but I am still waiting to hear if they have identified the man and then I can try and identify whether he is a distant relation or not. Some of my Irish ancestors did emigrate to the USA so he may be related to them. The mystery remains.

American Oil Man Distant relation_edited-1

Arbor Lodge Nebraska State Park_edited-1

Humboldt Oil Field Sept 16 1923_edited-1

Homeward bound with lights in the sky

We woke to a still foggy day and after breakfast wandered into town for a coffee and wifi fix and then a visit to the local museum. It had a good selection of Celtic and other early artefacts, a few medieval items and then a huge leap to the 1798 rebellion and subsequent history. A bit of a gap there. One good find in the associated shop was a book written about the old Kilraughts churchyard with all the memorial inscriptions and some history about the people. It will be a huge help for the family history research. We got soaked on the way back to the house and spent the rest of the day getting organised to return home.

UFO
This evening as we were driving down to the Belfast docks, we noticed a strange light low in the sky on our left. It was too high to be on a building and the wrong shape for a mast. We were well past the airport but as we were on the motorway, could not stop for a photograph. With a few hallucinogens or enough alcohol on board, I am sure it would resemble a UFO but a little further on, it became clear that it was a section of the moon, sandwiched between clouds which were reflecting the light. As I could not take a photo, I have grabbed one from a website which claims to have the best UFO shots. Now we are tucked up in our cabin for a short night.