4.1.2014.

Images and Notes of Interest from Co. Derry.


Slieve Gallon Hill in the eastern Sperrin Hills Co. Derry.

"But the rents are getting higher,
And I can no longer pay,
So fare well unto you bonny bonny Slieve Gallon brae:

From a song of despair and of emigration of the 19th century.

The image above taken close to the village of Desertmartin Co. Derry. Scores of young men from the small tenant farms on the slopes of hills like these would emigrate to America circa 1840, join the Union Army or indeed some the Confederate Army and fight in the Civil War. The names of the Irish soldiers found the various Companies of the 69th. Penn. are as common here now as they were in the mid 19th century indeed there would be numerous descendant families as now but sadly few would know of their ancestors who emigrated in times gone by.


Sunset across the Roe valley looking towards Learmount- Upper Cumber Co. Derry on the longest day June 1995

No not a photo of a current dwelling!. The image below is taken from a real photo of a thatched cottage in the Dungiven area of Co.Derry in the mid late 19th century. There would be hundreds of these thatched houses in the area of Learmount - Upper Cumber when Dennis O'Kane was growing up. He may well have been born and raised in such a dwelling. There were a few versions. Some were longer if say the owner had a bigger farm or could afford a higher rent. If looking at the lists of soldiers who fought in the Civil War from Co. Derry or indeed any part of Ireland one sees as trade "labourer" then it is almost certain this is the type of home he would have left in Ireland. If one looks at some of the soldiers who have rank one immediatley sees trades such as weaver,clerk or perhaps a plumber. Basically flagging up that this person would have a better ability to learn, be a better communicator, was better educated and had some skills that could be used by the army. I generalise but there is some truth in what I say. Looking at the cottage to the left the roof would be thatched with corn or wheat straw. The building attached at the right hand side would house perhaps a cow or hens and pigs. The interior of these houses would be on the whole spartan. The floor would be earthen. There would be a fireplace at each end which would in the Sperrin area burn peat. The front door would be the the infamous Irish half door ie the top half could be left open for light or ventilation, the bottom closed to keep in the children or the hens and ducks out.
The lower image taken in recent years is of small farmer's house - perhaps of a man owing about 20 acres in S. Derry. Though vacated in the 1950's the owner still leaves it as was. This house is the one that would have evolved from the type in the upper image. Basically the improvements to the thatched house were to firstly get proper windows fitted along with proper flooring. Then the outside of the house plastered and made watertight. The biggest advancement was to have a "proper" roof. The evolution of the roof was in many cases the original thatched roof covered with the newly produced corrugated iron sheeting (as in the image lower left). The next step would be to remove the thatch and lower the sheeting on to an improved beam structure. However if you really had enough money then the best possible scenario was to have your house fitted with a slate roof. The house on the left was inhabitated until the 1950's. However few of such examples of the houses lived in between the late 1800's and the mid 1950's survive.
The Irish half door has had many stories told about it. The man of the house in those years was invariably referred to as "himself". He had a great habit of hanging over the half door on a summer evening smoking his pipe and hoping the landlord would not call by for the rent. If there had been any enquiry as to "himself" being in or out then in the case of the landlord "himself" was out..well half out!. If say a neighbour were to enquire if "himself" was in then if say there was a drop of whiskey around then most definitely "himself" was in. Smoking a pipe at the front door could be dangerous and it is recorded that in the townland of Ballyporeen ( the townland of the small potatoes) in Co. Tipperary one summer evening "himself" set the thatch on fire with a spark from his pipe. He lost his cottage and he and his family had to emigrate in haste to Amerikay. However all was not lost. His grandson went on to become a movie star and later the President of the great continent to the West. So if you have an Irish cousin in say West Philadelphia and you ring asking if he is in and you are told Yes or No basically this does not mean anything. Just call by unannounced and drink his whiskey!. Genes do travel down the generations.

This is an image of a poster of the local travel agent David Mitchel in Dungiven giving notice of the departure of the sailing ship Superior for Quebec on 13th July 1847 from Derry the year of the Great Famine. The ship was owned by the Derry Company of J & J Cooke. Looking at the bottom of the advert the ship had brought cargo from Philadelphia. It is thought that Dennis O'Kane was in Philadelphia a few years before this but it is just possible he booked with Mitchel and who knows sailed on this ship on previous voyages. If a person intended emigrating they would pay a fee of about 1 called a passenger contract to Mitchel, the remainder they paid to the shippping agent or perhaps the ships captain on arrival at Derry prior to sailing. For this they were provided with 7lbs of bread, biscuit, flour or rice per week. Also three quarts of water allowed per day for all purposes!. Passengers had to provide their own beds, in most cases sacks stuffed with straw. Very simple cooking utensils were provided in a small common cooking galley. Then six or seven or eight weeks on the N. Atlantic!. The voyage cost about 4 when O'Kane was emigrating. Assuming that his wife and two children also went along with him he would have needed about 12 for fares alone plus some money to get organised in America though in his case I feel that he already had relatives in Philadelphia. Assuming that he was a labourer in the Learmount area circa 1832 he would have been earning at best 6 pence per day in the winter and perhaps a shilling to two shillings in the summer. If he had been working in any linen bleach greens he would have had slightly better pay. Keeping a wife an two children and saving for the trip to America was no easy task. Assuming that he sailed from Derry port his route would have been perhaps on a small horse and trap into Park village. There he and his family would pick up the mail stage coming from Cookstown and thence on to Derry. Assuming that the coach left them off in the Derry side of the river Foyle ie close to Derry Walls they would only have a short walk down to the ship which in those days would be small enough to anchor in the river close to what is now the main Craigavon bridge over the Foyle. As the ships grew larger then then passenger and mail tenders would be used ( up to circa 1925) to bring passengers down to the ship which lay at anchor off Greencastle or Moville in Co. Donegal.It was about 20 miles from the embarkation stage close to the city center to where the liner was laying at anchor. This probably took nearly two hours down the river Foyle with the Donegal shore along the port side. This would be a period of great reflection for the emigrants. The big liners would have a large door close to midships and close to the water line which could be opened to allow access from the tenders.

The image to the left is of the Anchor Line ship Devonia which ran on the Glasgow, Moville and New York run in the late 19th century. This ship was of the "transition" period between pure sail and full engine power. She would have had engine power probably using coal but could as seen from the mast structure erect sail. This gave a vessel of remarkable speed. However the other side was she was built to carry passengers at a time when the demand for passenger places to America was massive. As many as 1,000 passengers could be carried on this vessel. One wonder what life was like on board but the requirment of the emigrant was to get to America as quick as possible. Comfort was not a great priority. However the ships of the era were remarkably safe and could maintain good speed on the N. Atlantic passenger trade. As well as having a Head Office in Glasgow there was a sizeable Anchor Line Office in Derry close to the City Walls and Guildhall. This were the tickets would be purchased. No doubt there were many distressing scenes of emigrants bidding good bye to family who had probably accompanied them to Derry to bid them Bon Voyage. Few of the thousands of the emigrants would ever return.

Post Penal Chapels.

Many people especially people abroad on hearing the expression " a post Penal chapel" wonder what it means. Basically is a structure built as a Catholic chapel after the Penal laws were relaxed against the Catholic population in Ireland. The populace were extremely poor so building a large structure was not an option. Many of these chapels evolved from old straw or hay barns in secluded places. The above image is of the still standing ruins of the Catholic chapel in Drumsurn Co. Derry. It was built circa 1796 and was used until about 1901 when a new chapel was built about a mile away. Drumsurn old chapel would have been earth floored, straw roofed, there would be benches for the better off members of the congregation while the poorer people would kneel on slates or perhaps even on the earth floor. The church would have been used along its long axis ie the congregation would have had their backs to the wall in the image left side, backs to windows. The altar would have been along the other wall and the priest would have had his back to the congregation during the service as was the case until recent times.After the Penal Laws were relaxed and when Catholicism was tolerated to a greater level many landlords would give some land, a rood or quarter of an acre was typical in an obsccure position that was not in general view for worship for their Catholic workers and tenants. This is why to this day in rural areas of Ireland even though there is a modern chapel on site it is seen that the area in which it stands is about a rood.This had to suffice for both church and graveyard.

The O'Neill's, O'Donnells and O'Kane's.

Many who may read this website may recognise the above names and immediately relate them to be Irish. This is true. Around 1600 prior to the Plantation of Ulster and the removal of the Irish leading families the three main ruling families in N. Ulster in what is now basically counties Donegal, Tyrone and Derry were the three families above. The O'Neill's were primarily the ruling family of all Ulster and had their headquarters in Dungannon Co. Tyrone. The O'Donnells would have been the lords of Co. Donegal and the O'Kanes or O'Cathan's would be the ruling family in the lands along the Roe valley and hinterlands in Co. Derry.
The people over which these lords ruled simply took over the name of the ruling family. I generalise but this is basically true. Thus any O'Neill as now would be so named because his ancestors were members of the O'Neill sept and accepted this. Similarly with the O'Donnells and O'Kanes or the more Irish version of the name O'Cathan. Note in many cases up to this day the letter "O" meaning "of the clan of" is dropped by many people. Needless to say for various reasons. It is important to note that names can be very misleading. Ireland's troubled history has left a legacy where is is possible to determine in many cases the religion of the person you are talking to by their name!. Many people carrying the name Neill may wrongly assume that Neill is a "real" Irish name. Not so it could well be Scots. This is minefield subject and in the case of Irish Americans was really messed up when entering at say Ellis Island where perhaps a Greek clerk with little knowledge of where Ireland was and even less of Irish names was recording the names. He simply wrote down what he thought the name sounded like. This has been compounded in recent history by 2nd or 3rd generation American basically inventing Irish names. However its not all one way as there is now a plethora of American Christian names doing the rounds here mostly triggered by film stars, famous Americans etc. In recent decades for example we have had increases in the number of Waynes, Gary, Jimmys, Jacks, Lyndons and Bills!. However the jury still out on the Georges!!. Believe me its quite difficult to keep ones mind focussed when introduced to a fisherman in Connemara called Lyndon Ni Fhlatharta. The images on the left above is the Coat of Arms of the O'Cathans - O'Kanes of Co. Derry. This is the correct version of the Coat of Arms. The Latin expression Felis Demulcta Mitis translates roughly into "The stroked cat is meek" ie stroke a cat along the lay of its fur and you'll be its friend.The other way against the lay and you'll be in trouble thus leading to the statement do not cross an O'Kane or you'll be in trouble! The other image at the bottom of this page is that of Dungiven Priory close to Dungiven town in Co. Derry. It is the remains of what was one of the numerous fortified houses perhaps not castles though referred to as such in history. The remains of these castles or fortified houses still can be identified along the Roe valley. These were the strongholds of the ruling O'Cathan families.This ancient site holds the tomb of Coey Na Gall O'Cathan buried there in 1385. It is also the burial site of many of the other chiefs of the old ruling O'Cathan families of the Roe valley. The last chief of the Co. Derry O'Cathans, Donnell Ballagh O'Cathain was held a prisoner without trial in The Tower of London until he died there in 1628.

A view of Dungiven Priory

View across Park village from Altinure. Sawell hill in background. This would be a village close to where Col. Dennis O'Kane came from.

Coming into Park village from Learmount.

Famine era Lumper potatoes.

May of you who are reading these pages will have Irish ancestors and no doubt some of you will be descandants of famine era immigrants cira 1847. Some of you will read about the desperate situation that arose when the infamous "potato famines" struck in the middle of the 19th century. No doubt you will have come across the word "lumper" as the type of potato that was available. It was easy to grow in simply "lazy beds" and in many cases especially down the western coast of Ireland in Mayo, Clare and Galway. Seaweed was used as a fertiliser. Though the lumper was easily grown it was not at all resistant to disease.
The above is a group of such potatoes. These were grown by an enterprising potato farmer from Co.Antrim from a small setting of seed potato lumpers aquired earlier. As will be seen they are not the usual "smooth-designer" potatoes that the housewife expects to find in the local supermarket.However boiled and with a few pats of good butter and just a little salt they are delicious. I know as I have despatched the ones in the image above.!!

The above is an image of a long defunct group of lazybeds dating from famine era times. This group on Achill Island in Westen Mayo in and area of Mayo that suffered greatly from the 1847 era famine.