- Early Ireland - Governed in small groups
- About 1607 - Northern Ireland "planted" with Protestants from Scotland loyal to England with instructions to clear the land of native Irish Catholics.
- About 1641 - 1651 - Irish rebel against English and about 600,000 Irish die.
- After 1691 - Catholics and Protestants alike are denied religious freedom, ownership rights, voting rights, and access to educational opportunities. Protestants are particularly hard hit with almost a complete reversal of their fortunes in less than 100 years.
- Beginning early 1700s - Situation so bad that both Protestants and Catholics begin emigrating from Northern Ireland.
Interestingly that history continues to influence Northern Ireland and our understanding of our relatives who were there. We decided to take a trip there and see what we could find out. After a hectic week in England to visit my wife's dead relatives (and some live ones) we took a short flight to Belfast to see where my relatives lived between the early 1600s and the early 1700s.
Belfast is a nice town with lots of activity around the university and the downtown area. We stayed in a brand new hotel in downtown Belfast near the Ulster Historical Foundation. I had ordered both a preliminary report and a detailed report from them before we left home and hoped to discover even a small clue about the Hall family there. The town was full of nice people going about their business and we never felt uncomfortable or concerned about safety issues that dominated the news a few years back.
Since we were a little travel-weary, we settled in at the hotel and decided to have dinner there rather than walking somewhere else. I must say, they fed us like ranch hands with a delicious array of local foods. The following morning we had an Irish breakfast in the restaurant filled with a team of soccer players visiting town for a local match. There we tried to founder ourselves on sausages and other meats served in this heaviest of Irish traditions. Our Irish ancestors know how to put on a good feed.
After breakfast we took a short walk to the Foundation offices to meet with Brian Trainer and check the status of our search. The offices are in an historic looking building and we were directed to an upstairs area where there was a bookstore and a handful of enthusiastic volunteers. We picked a couple of books that looked interesting and a map - a weakness of mine. I just think you can never have enough maps.
Then we met with Brian to discuss our search for the Hall family and to go over the results and possible next steps. That meeting turned into a wonderful history lesson as Brian described the general conditions during the time our family resided in County Antrim and the most likely reasons and ways that they could have gotten to the US. Some of the information was enlightening. For example . . .
- The planted Scots were initially privileged and the native Irish discriminated against in the early 1600s. The large land holders didn't want to move to Ireland, so they got other people to do that work and offered land for these others to do the work. These smaller land holders did the same in a pyramid fashion until the people who were finally put on the land ended up with such a small amount that they couldn't make ends meet.
- The shipping companies took advantage of the bad conditions by making sure that emigrants in the early 1700s had little or no money when they got on the ship. It seems like a typical emigrant would leave their going-away party and travel to Belfast, Derry or some other port to meet the ship. Then they had to spend whatever money they had for food and lodging waiting for the ship to arrive. Some ship captains intentionally delayed their departure to make sure that emigrants were broke. This allowed the ship owners to make significantly more money by selling the Irish and Scotch-Irish into indentured servitude upon arrival in North America.
This situation also encouraged ship owners to take more emigrants than their ship could hold leading to extremely difficult on-board conditions.
- Tracing Irish ancestors is made more difficult by the number of ships that carried passengers to the United States and Canada illegally. Ships designed for cargo brought grain and other good from North America to Ireland and returned with human cargo - even though the ships were not designed to accommodate passengers. These ships sometimes didn't keep passenger lists at all and the over crowded ships sometimes only listed the number of people that they were designed to carry. This practice left off the names of many passengers that boarded over the limit.
- Since our William Hall was on 160 acre farm by 1743, there is a chance that he had money in Ireland, or that he had been in the US long enough to work off his servitude and save purchase money by that time. That's a nice bit of logic from Brian that helped put our relative in some context.
Records in Northern Ireland are a bit difficult because of the long history of conflict that has resulted in destroyed archives and a complex maze of things that must be known before starting. For example, it is important to know religion (Protestant or Catholic) and a very specific location within a county in addition to the usual name and date. The preliminary report from the Ulster Historical Foundation helped us discover the locations of records that might possibly help us find our relatives.
Our search didn't turn up any information that directly applied to our Hall family and we took a short break back at the hotel before deciding to spend the rest of our time getting to know the area and people in the Scotch-Irish area between Ballymoney and Ballymena. That required a change of plans.
We called the tourist office in Belfast to see what we could find out in the country. After a short conversation about possibilities, we called a couple of places before reaching Lily O'Neal who was surprised to get our call so late in the season (October). She informed us that the gate house was available was available for 100 pounds (About $120 in US dollars at that time). It is a three-bedroom house and much larger than we needed, but the price seemed right and it was out in the country where we wanted to be. So Lily gave directions to Stranocum and instructions to "Ask the man at the store how to find Mrs. O'Neal's house." I tried to clarify the name of the store and its location and Lily assured me that we ". . . couldn't miss it."
While I fully expected to pay some sort of fee for late cancellation, we checked out of our Belfast hotel and paid for only one night. The hotel people were just fantastic and understanding - something that we found to be true all over Northern Ireland.
Then we made our way along an almost deserted highway toward Ballymoney and Stranocum. The Irish countryside is similar to some of the places we saw in England with one striking exception. The thorny hedges around the small fields in England are replaced by rows of red colored fuchsia in Ireland.
Lily was right about the store. It turned out that the store was the only building in sight after we passed the sign at the edge of town. It is a wonderful store with just about one of everything you might need. The man gave us directions to a driveway about a half mile down the road. The O'Neal house was about another half mile off the road.
We saw the house from a good distance away - a mansion really. As we learned later, the house was the original house built for one of the large land holders from England during the early 1600s. It housed the people near the top of one of the land pyramids and had fallen into disrepair. The O'Neils bought it and shooed away the birds that were living in the house and restored it to its original condition. We later toured the house and grounds with Billy O'Neal and learned about its history. Among all of the beautiful art and furniture that Billy and Lily had in their house, there was a little sign that I remember, "There are no strangers here - just friends that we have not met." I like to remember them that way as well as the nice people that we met at the restaurant and Keith at the little museum in Ballymoney - all with the lovely lilting accent that has changed very little since William Hall left in the early 1700s. The area is well worth a visit and we were able to drive almost every road in the county in just a few leisurely days. A few places that you should not miss . . .
- The Glens of Antrim - a series of nine glens that extend inland from the sea, each with a unique character. Beautiful trees, more colors of green than you can count, history, peat bogs, and tiny villages where you can linger with locals over a pint of Guinness.
- The Giant's Causeway - a volcanic formation that was created when lava cooled rapidly - kind of like when the mud cracks in the bottom of a pond in summer except that the cracks extends straight down through the rock. The formation extends into the ocean in a series of steps and is a short walk from the top of the hill (where you can buy a map).
- Bushmills Distillery - A great tour that includes a taste of the finished product afterward. They have been making whiskey at Bushmills since before 1608 when they were issued a license. A lovely woman showed us through the plant and explained the process of making fine single malt Irish whiskey. She also did a short unbiased talk about the differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky ending with, ". . . and Irish whiskey includes an 'e' in the spelling; Scotch whisky does not." When a member of the group asked why the Irish use the 'e' in the spelling of whiskey, she answered simply, "Because it is correct."
- The castle at Carrickfergus - a beautiful building that will give you perspective on this time in history as you walk through a real castle. I liked the dungeon where a great Irish leader named Con O'Neil was held for a while until the owner's daughter brought Con a wheel of cheese that was stuffed with a rope. Con lowered himself out the window directly into a waiting boat below and escaped. This castle built in about 1180 will set you up to see the ruins at Dunluce castle on the bluff overlooking the ocean.
The highlight of the visit for me was the Ulster-American Folk Park. This park will show you real-life examples of houses, businesses, and life before your ancestor emigrated from Northern Ireland. It even includes exhibits about the boat trip and their lives in North America. An authentic prairie schooner from the United States is included. There is also a great library with a searchable database and rooms of books on emigration - and loads of wonderful volunteers waiting to help you with your search.
We struck some gold in the museum when we found a familiar name - James Patton. He was a neighbor of William Hall in the Borden Grant in Virginia and there were marriages between the Patton family and the Hall family in the US. It turns out that Patton was the son of a ship's captain from Limivady, a small town just east of Derry (also known as Londonderry) in Derry County. This is all just a short distance from the area in County Antrim where we believe that William Hall may have been born. Patton is important because he met Borden and was involved in transporting Scotch-Irish from County Antrim to populate land in both the Beverly and Borden grants in Virginia. In addition, lots of information is available about Patton's family and history. This helps fill in some of the gaps about William Hall's life and how he might have ended up in Virginia. This Patton connection was fun and unexpected discovery so far from home. I wasn't even prepared with information from home about the Patton family.
Northern Ireland is a place where the green seems to come out of the ground and float like a fog just above the grass - a green so bright that it merges with the water falling into the Irish sea blurring the margins of sea, land and sky. It is a land of castles, friendly people, empty stretches of road, and mysterious stone circles. Make plans to go - even if you can't find your relatives there.
Some good resources:
Ulster Historical Foundation - http://www.ancestryireland.co.uk/index.php?PHPSESSID=&new_login
Ulster-American Folk Park - http://www.folkpark.com/
Ballymoney Borough Council
14 Charles Street
Ballymoney Co. Antrim BT53 6DZ
Telephone: +44 (0) 28 2766 0245