Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brittas and the Belted Galloway

Belted Galloways were bred so that they could be readily spotted as they grazed in the semi-wild Scottish landscape. Wuss that I am, I had little apprehension in approaching this one who was hanging out with the cows and calves at Brittas Estate in Co. Meath..
As soon as I heard the name of this breed of bull, I immediately thought of Steven Galloway. Last winter, Steve vanquished a totally different kind of bull when he took on the phishers who stole my Facebook identity. I figured that by mentioning his name here, I could at least return the favour by alerting you to his latest novel: The Confabulist. It’s a story which explores the nature of magic and memories, and how things can be hidden from us, even when in full view. And this is no bull.

So, you now know my connection to Steven, but what on earth is my connection with a Belted Galloway bull?  It began three weeks before I left for my latest research trip to Ireland, when Oinri Jackson emailed me. We had never met or corresponded before, but his question had my full attention right from the get-go. Were his Jacksons, who came from County Down, related to the Jacksons of Lisnaboe, Co. Meath? I will talk about this in a later post, but for now, here is my introduction to some exceedingly fine people, their home, and a whole other slice of Irish history.

The view on a soft day.
Brittas Estate is situated in the midst of a few hundred acres at the heart of what was the estate of the first Bligh to settle in Ireland: John Bligh (1616-1666) – and yes, he was from the same Bligh family made infamous by the movie Mutiny on the Bounty. Unlike his relation, this Bligh was a citizen of London, and a member of the Worshipful Company of Salters - one of the guilds that ran the show back then. As a merchant-adventurer, he helped to bankroll the New Model Army, gambling on their success in battle. As an agent acting on behalf of the Adventurers for the Forfeited Estates in Ireland, he was well positioned to benefit at the expense of those who lost. After the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, he was rewarded with over 25,000 acres. When it comes to the spoils of war, the rich and powerful always do well. 'Twas always thus, and always will be.

Sharon & Andreas at the back of Thomas Bligh's mausoleum.
You may wonder why I am pointing and laughing at this mausoleum. After all, it is a memorial to Capt. Thomas Bligh (1695-1775), the inheritor of John Bligh’s lands, and he probably deserves more than my mirth.
Capt Bligh - if I have remembered correctly.

In 1732, Capt. Bligh built the first part of Brittas house that still stands. More than two decades later, in 1758, he led a battle during the Seven Years War where he captured Cherbourg and destroyed the town’s fortifications. His age at this time – sixty-three - is more than deserving of notice at a time when riding into battle required stamina, strength and agility. Unfortunately, Bligh fared less well when he was in charge of a subsequent battle near St. Malo: the Battle of Saint Cast. Between 750 and 1000 of his men lost their lives before they could retreat. Not that this failure should all be left at his feet. After all, he had been met by not only bad weather, but also by a more daunting assembly of French soldiers. Plus, he was no spring chicken.

In this context, it is easy to understand what might have led him to not only site his mausoleum where he did, but also to dictate that he be buried standing up overlooking his estate, with rows of lime trees at his back intended to replicate the formation of his soldiers as he led them into battle. This formation, visible on Google Earth, may have been planted because he not only wanted to leave a memorial to himself, but also to the men who had served with him. Two hundred and forty years later, unfortunately for this vision of poor old Bligh, he and his lime tree troops have been thwarted by nature. If his upright body still had eyes to see, the view looking down towards Brittas would be utterly blocked by the trunk of a significant tree standing between him and his house. Perhaps that is what you get for building on an historic rath.

Here you can get a better sense of the size of the obstructing tree on the right. You can also see the edge of the ring of rath stones in the foreground. A house and/or fortification would have been built here in prehistoric times.
Looking down towards Brittas.

 In both the landscape and the interiors of Brittas, Oinri and Neville have honoured its history, kitting it out as it would have been when it was in its glory, not when it was down on its gums. The trees that you see in the foreground are protected. Like Cabra Castle, which I described in an earlier post, Brittas may be a large estate home, but all the individual rooms are of a human scale. In every room, I experienced beauty, balance, and serenity.

Our bedroom for the night overlooked well-tended gardens and fields. If I were a pastoral poet, I might have been smitten by the need to commit a sonnet. Thankfully, I am not, so you are spared.

In the sitting room, Andreas is deep into his book, while the pile of estate books in the foreground awaits my attention. I will report on them in a later post. The ongoing tenancy of Jacksons is noted in every year up till 1920 - if my memory serves me.
These are Jacob Sheep. Note their four horns. As a working farm, Brittas supports the grazing of horses, cows and sheep, as well as the raising of hogs and chickens.
The eggs, sausages and home-smoked bacon which Oinri & Neville prepared for us were all from Brittas.
It isn’t only the memories of the places I explore, the stories I hear, and the people I meet, but also the friendships that are made during these trips that are amongst the gifts that come home with me.
A FOOTNOTE. A few years ago, I wrote a blog about Carolan’s Farewell, a novel by Charles Foran. The harp player Carolan, who was the central character in Foran’s novel, grew up a stone’s throw away from Brittas – literally – in the nearby townland of Spittal. The landlord family who owned that townland, the Cruises, were an old Anglo-Norman family who had much of their land awarded to John Bligh. They supported Carolan's music. Like Galloway, Charlie also has a new book out this spring: Planet Lolita. I just bought my copy from Talewind Books in Sechelt. Both men will be performing in August at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts.

The Jacksons of Rathe

One of these mugs is at my side as I write, but let me back up a bit before I explain why they mean so much to me.

 Oinri Jackson, whom I introduced in my previous post, not only picked Andreas & me up from Dublin, and drove us the full hour up to his home at Brittas in Co. Meath, but he also took the time to make several side jaunts along the way.

One of these side trips was to meet Brian Garvey, a farmer at Rathe, who owns and runs a sheep farm of some several hundred acres in the Parish of Nobber. This is a parish in the Barony of Morgallion in Co. Meath. In 1754, the townland of Rathe had been leased by Henry Jackson of Lisnaboe and his son Thomas Jackson, and was likely owned by the family for several decades before this. These Jacksons are related to the Jacksons of Ballybay in Co. Monaghan, and are also likely related to another line of Jacksons who lived at Ballyreagan, Co. Down. SEE: Jacksons of Lisnaboe.

Rathe House: I do not have a construction date for the house as yet.

Brian is a full time farmer tending to hundreds of acres grazed by his flocks of sheep. I would have loved to have had more time to hear his stories.

It is hard to see much detail in a thumbnail such as this, but it does show the scope of the map.

As you can see, the map is dated 1856 and is enlarged from the Griffiths Survey. Maps connected to Griffiths can be found on line at Ask About Ireland. The part that Jacksons leased at Rathe belonged to Sir William Verner. Knowing the name of the landlord helps in searches at the Deeds Registry since the Memorials of the Deeds are indexed by lessor, not lessee. During the potato famine, Verner offered work to any of his tenants in need and also reduced rents by as much as half. This had the knock-on effect of reducing turnover, which means that next on my to-do list is to explore the rental records of the Verner Estate to see what I can learn about any stray Jacksons.

Three things caught my eye when I studied this map.

Firstly the siting of the mill dam and mill holding - just to the left of the red line. This is of interest because the Jacksons of Rathe, as well as the Jacksons of Ballybay and elsewhere, were involved in both the milling trade and the linen industry.

In this section of the map as well as the next one, what caught my eye were the names of neighbours. They are the same names that we see as neighbours of the Jacksons of Creggan, South Armagh. The Jacksons of Creggan are - based on oral history - related to the Ballybay & Co. Down Jacksons. I would love to know who Mrs Elizabeth Smythe was. It may shed light on this issue, since the Smythes were also connected to land in Creggan.

Corrs and Allens were also lessees in Creggan parish, and they lived there as well.
Thomas Jackson jr leased Ballynalurgen. He was a son of Thomas JACKSON and Anne GORDON. He died Mar 6, 1877.
The courtyard of Rathe as it is today. The location of the house and farm buildings can be seen in the map detailing the mill dam –they are sited above the mill.
An old stone by the house with the dates 1794, with the “4” curiously inverted, as well as the dates 1795 and possibly 1767. What they mean, I have no clue.

The home of the Jacksons who had resided at Lisnabo is no longer inhabited. Had time and weather been on our side, we might have caught a better picture. There are some thumbnails on Bill Farrell’s site on the page: Irish Photographs from the collection of Nixon and George Montgomery as well as on the page with John McCabe’s report.

As for the cups at the start of this blog, they were an unexpected gift from Brian Garvey. We were just heading out, when he insisted that we should have something to take home with us. A memory. The swirly things he said as he reached into his china cabinet, they are very old here… made by a local potter.

In Irish folklore, the three connected spirals represent the intertwined powers of maiden, mother and crone, a convergence of powers which is most likely to be realized at a time of transition and growth. With all the ancient raths resulting in this townland being named Rathe, Brian could not have handed us a more appropriate gift. A bit of local magic. It is also a fitting symbol for me to reflect on as I write. Always.

POSTSCRIPT: I have just posted some data that might help flesh out the family trees of the JACKSONs of Rathe. Help on this would be more than welcome.