Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blogs and Research

On Boxing Day, I was yack-a-doodling with one of my brothers as we lolled on the ferry on the way home from our niece’s house in West Vancouver.

I did check out your blog, he said.
You’re not going to put any of that boring stuff in your book are you – all those graves and stuff? What I like to read is a story

Good. I have no intention of shoehorning scads of data into either my blog or my book. The point of writing The Silver Bowl is to tell a rocking good story –one that the reader can’t put down. At the same time, it will be based on rigorously researched facts. The documents that support these facts will continue to be available at The Silver Bowl. That being said, while I was recently travelling in Ireland I did post a couple of research blogs, the ones that understandably bored my brother to pieces. Interestingly, those postings had the largest number of readers of any of my blogs. Clearly, there are lots of us out there working on this kind of material.

Here’s my New Years pledge: I plan to have the first draft of my book finished by the end of 2011. Huzzah! As for the blog, my plan is to keep it light, tell the stories of what I am working on, and connect other researchers to the more arcane bits on my web site. That’s what hyperlinks are good for. Easy to use. Easy to ignore.

One of my most significant finds on this recent trip to Ireland was Mary Cumiskey and her book Creggan Charter School 1737-1811. I will review it in a future blog, but for now the game-changer for me had to do with her mention that in 1739, the schoolmaster George Jackson (1718-1782) ordered turf and cows for the school from his father.

Why would that mean anything much? Well, I still do not know who George Jackson’s father was, although there are strong hints about who his ancestors may have been - at least if we can close our eyes and jump back a generation or three to Coleraine, or Drogheda, or Carlow.

Cumiskey’s reference to George’s father, which she gleaned from church records, would seem to indicate that he owned a farm close to the school that old George ran in Liscalgot, Creggan Parish, Co. Armagh in the mid-1700s. It had to be close enough that it would pay to select a few cattle and then herd them over to the school. Let’s say, a 5 mile radius.

This thought led to me take a more serious look at the Jacksons connected to Tullyvallen in Co. Armagh. Who were they and where did they come from?

Tullyvallen is a townland in the parish of Newtownhamilton, in the southern part of County Armagh. Townland records are really useful for tracking down ancestors in Ireland. They date back a thousand years and usually include enough land to be a meaningful economic unit, which means that the larger ones tend to have soil that is rocky and thin, while the smaller ones have loam deep enough to reach half-way to China.

These townlands were leased by landlords to farmers of various ilk. Our lot seemed to be doing well enough that they had a roof over their heads, a few cattle and horses, sheds to house feed, and were often also running mills, tan yards or other such enterprises on the side.

Today, a vertically integrated enterprise usually refers to a business that owns everything that is part of the supply chain for the finished product of the main business. In Ireland in the 1700s, it often meant that the old man had the farm, while one son might run a tan yard, another a mill, another a chandlery – making candles from the fat of the land, so to speak, and so on. And of course, if you were really successful, then you posted other family members at ports to handle the export side of the trade. If you had your act together and luck was on your side, you might rise like cream to the top, and eventually get tagged as an Esq., or even a Gent.

Given that, Tullyvallen was not a bad place to hang your hat – especially if you were a farmer with sons. There is a great description of part of it in The Belfast Newsletter in 1747:

... Tullyvallen, in the Barony of Fews, and County of Armagh, lying on the great road leading from Armagh to Dublin by Dundalk, the estate of Alexander Hamilton Esq.; within 8 miles of Armagh, eight of Newry, 11 of Dundalk and four of Castleblaney, all good market towns, and on which lands of Tullyvallen is held a market every Saturday. On each of said farms there is plenty of good meadow and turf; a large river runs through the middle of said lands and never wants water sufficient to turn many Mills, with many places very proper for bleaching greens, and a fall of 180 feet in less than 2 miles, and places where mill ponds may be easily made. By the great plenty of turf, water, bog, timber for building, and meadow, the linen manufacturing and distilling may be carried on as cheap as in any part of Ireland ...

Linen manufacturing, farming and a distillery – what’s not to like? The farmers who held the sub-leases to this part of Tullyvallen would likely have had much in common – at least economically - with the Jacksons of Urker and Liscalgot.

Like some of them, David Jackson (1743-1796), son of schoolmaster George, was a farmer and Malster – according to his will - and held the leases for a number of townlands, one of which included the rights to a mill at Cashill aka Cashell, a townland in the adjacent parish of Forkhill. With respect to Tullyvallen, it is also worth noting that a David & Sarah Jackson leased about 250 acres in Tullyvallen in the mid 1600s.

All this is a roundabout way of me letting you know that I have assembled two new postings for my web site. The first is about a dozen pages in length and includes all that I know of Jackson-related links to Tullyvallen. The second posting is an attempt to construct some family trees around these folk. These trees are only a few generations long and I have had to make educated guesses about several dates of birth. Still, I think that they may open doors for some of us.

Take it all with a grain of salt, but I’d love to hear from you if you have anything to add or correct. Soon, I will revisit the Forkhill Jacksons and also look again at the Jackson connections to Carlow. More soon.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Club Foodies

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.
Camus – as quoted by Rawi Hage in his award winning book, De Niro’s Game.

My book club recently chose to read Rawi Hage’s, DeNiro’s Game. Often, we care as much for the dinner that we make to accompany the book, as we do for the book itself. This always results in amazing meals, since one of our members is a nationally acclaimed cook, another is a wine expert, and the rest of us try to up our game to get close to their level. The risk is that sometimes the book plays second fiddle to the food, although this was not the case this time.

Although this book was not my fave rave, at least when compared to other recent reads, other members loved it to pieces. Totally. They especially loved the richness of the inner monologues. Fair enough. Me, I really appreciated the pervasiveness of the atmosphere that Hage created when his main character was in Lebanon, and I also loved the chance to think of making some Lebanese food.

I ground some wheat, made some Pita breads, and flung together some hummus and Baba Ghannooj to go with them. Since several of the members asked me for the recipe for the dukkah that we also consumed by the fistfuls, here goes.

It is a Middle Eastern snack, also known as the poor man's dinner. It is great as a New Years Eve munchable, hence it may be timely to offer it now. You will still have time to procure what you need, which is not that complicated, unless you are trying to get reasonably priced coriander seeds up here on the Sunshine Coast. Fortunately, I had some on hand. One caution – while most of this mix keeps well for several days, weeks even, the texture of the garbanzo beans do not improve with time. Not that this stopped me enjoying the rest of it in the weeks that followed.

Dukkah goes well with pita breads, although it can be eaten on its own. If you have store bought pitas, perk them up a bit by browning them on baking sheet in a 350F degree oven for about10 minutes. I made mine guided by the recipe from Flatbreads and Flavours: A Bakers Atlas by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I also ground a couple of cups of wheat to make flour because I enjoy the nutty taste of fresh stone-ground flour. I used half white flour and half fresh ground.

Dukkah Mix

2/3 cup sesame seed
1/2 cup hazelnuts, somewhat finely chopped
1/2 cup cashews, somewhat finely chopped
1/2 cup chickpeas (cooked or canned)
1/2 cup coriander seed
3 tablespoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika


  1. If you have store bought pitas, perk them up a bit by browning them on baking sheet in a 350F degree oven for about10 minutes. I used the recipe from Flatbreads and Flavours: A Bakers Atlas by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I also ground wheat to make flour because stone-ground flour tastes nuttier than store bought. IN this case, I used half white flour and half fresh ground.
  2. Toast the sesame seed in a dry skillet until golden. I like my cast iron pan for this kind of task. Set the browned sesame seeds aside in a bowl large enough to hold everything.
  3. Do likewise with the hazelnuts, cashews, and chickpeas, and cook 4-5 minutes until aromatic. Watch them carefully – they can burn. Trust me - I had to pick out the burnt bits.
  4. Toast coriander seeds, thyme, and cumin until they start to darken, remove, and set aside to cool.
  5. Combine all of the above and toss with the paprika, salt, pepper,
  6. Serve with a side of olive oil in a bowl. The idea is to first dip the pita pieces in the olive oil and then into the nut mixture.

If you eat enough of this, I can guarantee that there will be no need to consider suicide, even though the characters in the novels by either Camus or Hage might suggest otherwise.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

JACKSONs in the Belfast Newsletter

Last month, I spent some of the evenings in my hotel room in Dublin compiling a 492 page index of all the mentions of JACKSONs in the Belfast Newsletter.

I know. I am such a wild and crazy thing, I can barely stand myself. Fortunately, this pre-work stood me in good stead when I finally wended my way up to Belfast and then into the Linen Hall Library where I could actually look the darned things up.

Speaking of which, if you have spare coin in your pocket, the Linen Library could definitely use your help. Only one of their machines really works well, and the printer ... well best to assume there is no printer. Staff people at the front desk are more than happy to give you a receipt for donations of a certain size, otherwise there is a coin box at the foot of the stairs near the coffee shop – which by the way, is a great place to grab a light lunch.

Credit where credit is due - my work on the JACKSON articles in the Belfast Newsletter was only possible thanks to John C. Greene and an index posted at:

On this site, I got 827 hits when I simply typed in the surname: JACKSON. Since references show up at the reasonable rate of ten hits per page, it took a fair bit of time to cut, copy, and paste until I had the whole nine yards.

Since there was no way that I was going to have time to check them all out on this trip, I added an extra column where I could indicate my priorities. Then I did a sort by priority, and Bingo. It meant that I was in full sprint mode the moment I threaded in the tail of my first microfilm.

Several of the listings that I have included are not particularly interesting, being no more than lists of names of people who have agreed to sell brown linens, or those men – always men - who agree that the king, or at least the resident landlord, is a great, good, and worthy sod.

Others tell of duels won and lost, and of women who have eloped without any good Cause –at least according to their aggrieved husbands, whose published intent was to snap the purse clasps shut. Others describe thefts, lost horses, runaway servants, leasing of lands, and business advertisements. There were the usual birth, marriages, and deaths as well as a few notices following up on the settling of estates belonging to the recently deceased.

One of the ones that tugged at my heartstrings was the announcement of the death of John JACKSON of Newtownards on Aug 4, 1797 followed a couple of weeks later by: ANN JACKSON begs leave to inform the Friends of her late Husband and the Public in general, That she continues to carry on the Business as usual and will be constantly supplied with Wine, Spirits, &c. &c. She has purchased new Chaises, good Horses, *c. For the accommodation of her Customers, and hopes from her care and attention, to merit a continuance of former favours.

I have posted 18 pages of this index, rather than the whole kit and caboodle. These pages include all the notes for the references that I was able to research so far. They can be viewed on my web site. Just check out the What’s New link , and it will take you there.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Travelling Kisses and Kicks

Our local paper has a weekly feature called Kisses and Kicks. The Kisses usually include names, such as: thanks to Jane Davidson who arranged for Richard Van Camp to read at our school. The Kicks rarely include names, but I am going to break with that bit of protocol.

KICK #1: O2. Unbeknownst to me, as well as a fleet of other victims I have since heard from, O2 in London and O2 in Dublin are not twins, let alone brothers, not even kissing cousins. They simply do not talk to each other. I had bought my phone, SIM card, and time in London and then paid extra to cover for roaming charges when in Ireland. Because there are two Irelands, and since one of them is part of the UK and the other is most definitely not, roaming charges kick in between them – even though in the border region it is hard to tell which one you are in.

The first phone call I received in Dublin cost me so much that it was clear that I was paying the pickpocket fees that the industry neatly labels: roaming charges. As I waltzed into O2 Dublin, I naively thought that this was a simple problem to solve. After all, I had paid for this feature. I will spare you the details, but the sub-text of our brief conversation was that I may as well throw my phone under the next passing bus, no need to wait for a double decker. Any bus would do.

Fine, I thought. I will try the UK based O2 web site. Nope. To do this, I needed to have a British postal code, which I don’t have since I live in Canada. I could have lied, but that’s not my style. The site indicated that for the modest fee of 25p, I could phone help. Help. After more than 5 minutes of chat with Sally or whoever, and then being put on hold for a minute or so, I was no further ahead. In fact, I was more than £5 poorer, thanks to the aforementioned pickpocket fees called roaming charges. I have it all documented and won’t bore you with specifics, but it finally took a two hour drive up to Newry to sort it all out.

KISS #1: Thank you, Peter, for that bit of rescue.

KICK #2: Train check-in at Derby. I had dutifully printed off my chit of paper including everything that I would need to know to access my electronic ticket for the train leaving Derby and going to London. I had a lunch meeting scheduled there with the chief archivist of HSBC. So far so good. My cousin Rosie and I left extra early, even though it only takes a half hour to get there. Thanks to traffic delays, it took almost three times as long, and we arrived at the station with nanoseconds to spare.

Now, you might think that the first place on the printout where the word Code appears, followed by a string of numbers, would actually be the code you need to get the ticket. No such luck. No, the code you need is half way down the page. With the nanoseconds ticking by and finally with the help of a human being, which is as scarce as hen’s teeth in such circumstances, I got my ticket, and hauled my upholstered, 64 year old bod up several flights of stairs with my 23kg suitcase and 10kg pack, along an overpass & down again. At least my cardio system is still good to go.

KISS #2: Thank you Rosie! I made the train.

KICK #3: KLM Boarding Pass. Again, I had printed off the requisite piece of paper for my homeward flight and was in good cheer when I descended in the elevator to Platform 6 at the Earls Court Underground Station to catch the Piccadilly Line train to Heathrow. It was then that I realized that there were two Heathrow trains: one for terminals 1,2,3 &4 and another for 1,2,3,&5.Naturally, I hauled out my boarding pass. Uh, oh. No mention of which terminal.

A sign behind me showed me the number I could call to find out which terminal I might need, which is all very well, but there is no phone service at Platform 6, Earls Court. This means that you have to get on a train – whether it is the right one or not – and wait till you are out of the tunnel, which means you are halfway there, before you can figure out if you are in fact on the right train.

Finally, when the train surfaced with 23 minutes ride ahead of me, I dialed the number, and a voice told me that I had dialed the wrong number. You see, this was not the number for mobile phones to use. I hung up before the recording was finished, and stewed for a few stops, called the number again and then heard the message in its entirety. Aha. What I needed to do was to dial the same number, except drop the first 0. Now, you would think that the message that was on the sign telling me how to phone would have told me this, yes? No. Hence the Kick.

PERSPECTIVE: I had left Tommy’s house near High Street Kensington before dawn that same day on a perfect London morning, and walked at a comfortable pace down to Earls Court. I had allowed myself a half hour, but it only took about 15 minutes. The night before, I had told Tommy not to worry about breakfast, that I would grab a bit to eat from one of the wee pastry take-outs by the station. Well, he said, whatever you do, don’t do McDonald's.

Normally, this is good advice, but as it turned out, McDonald's was the only place open before 7:00 AM, and since I had time on my side, I decided to order an Egg McMuffin and juice and enjoy some relative comfort for 15 minutes. It was a good call. Otherwise, I would not have known that a London McMuffin has way better bacon than the Canadian version. I think even the cheese is better, although maybe it was because I was so hungry. Since this was my last meal in London, even though it was what it was, it had something of a sacramental feel to it. I approached it with reverence.

Sitting in the booth across from me was a woman, who looked to be about my age, but who also looked as if she had lived hard, very hard, and hence she was probably a decade or more younger than me. She was dressed in skin tight jeans, a black leather motorcycle jacket and sandals with thick socks. Her hair, a mass of lank gray curls, fell forward and obstructed much of her face. She was sleeping, sitting up, and her coffee cup was empty before her.

I don’t know how long she had been there, but in her sleep, she often leaned to the left until she risked landing on the floor, and then she would slowly straighten up to a more stable position. I thought of photographing her, but didn’t. It felt as if that would be a violation. Part of the reason for considering a photograph was that behind her there was a large blue sign with the icon of a wheelchair on it, and the upper case words embedded in white: ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE.

Not for her, I thought. It is not so easy for people like her. By comparison, my own little kicks and grumbles are absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Lest we forget.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gilford Castle & the gift of Christine

My introduction to Gilford Castle started like this:

This is a presumption on my part. I am hoping that you are the right person, but it is hard to imagine that you aren’t. Please forgive me if I am wrong.

I had mailed this to Gilford Castle in the summer of 2003, along with what little I knew at the time about the history of the silver bowl. I was connected in no time at all to the amazing Christine Wright. Her son, James, emailed me first:

We noticed from your website 'the silver bowl' that it looked remarkably similar to a piece that we have in the house... so I thought you might enjoy a photograph ....

The silver bowl at Gilford Castle was, of course, the spitting image of the bowl that our family had once owned, the one that had initially sparked my quest to run the particulars of this family story to ground. It was the second of the three or four such bowls that I had hoped to trace.

Two weeks after James’ email, a follow-up letter arrived from Christine telling me, You must come stay with us. A few months later, I actually washed up in person on the doorstep of Gilford Castle, at Gilford, County Down. I couldn’t believe my good luck. I had fallen into a piece of what to me was heaven. It is the de facto repository for much of my JACKSON and BROWN and MENARY family memorabilia. Once, I found a letter in a drawer from my grandmother, written in the 1920s. It included photos of my father as a boy.

The Castle itself was bought in 1908 by James Francis Wright, the husband of Mary Menary. Mary was Christine’s great-mother-in-law, and was known for the way that she toured about Ireland in the company of her chauffeur, Mons, and it was she who both documented, and then archived the facts that got me under full sail pretty much right from the get-go.

In these trips, Mary was also accompanied by Dean Orr, an eccentric clergyman, known to traipse about Gilford with the soles of his shoes barely attached to the uppers and his coat buttoned all askew. Both Mary and Orr are now long dead, and one of my life’s regrets is that I missed meeting the two of them – and not by much. Unfortunately, I hadn’t cared to pursue this kind of research when I was a few decades younger. Then again, most of us don’t.

Luckily, Christine & I truly enjoy each other’s company, and Gilford Castle has become the place where I hang my hat for several days whenever I make one of my mad forays into the archives of Ireland. Our shared regret is that Mary Menary’s daughter-in-law, who was also Christine’s mother-in-law, saw fit to bin hundreds of family letters, and save only the envelopes. For the value of the stamps. We can only guess at their content.

On my first visit in 2003, Christine gave me free rein to explore every nook and cranny. Look in whatever drawer you want, copy what you like, use what you find. Since then, in successive visits, I have scanned, photographed, transcribed and annotated pretty much every pertinent document – with her permission – and posted it all onto my web site. The Castle’s archives are now, as a result, accessible to all. No one else need bother. It is all done.

Occasionally, Christine will pry me away from the documents and say, Lets go safari. This always means clambering into her workhorse of a car and heading off with an ordnance survey map in hand, the better to find the actual places where these people, who I have only met in old documents, once lived, and worked, and died.

As well as this, Christine has also introduced me to the names of the roadside flowers of the region, the need to preserve historic trees, and the names of the dozens of birds that she cares for with mixtures of fats and seeds in her numerous feeders. She is one of those Renaissance women who can design a wedding dress and sew up the finished product on one day as readily as she can birth a calf on another. I have seen her concoct a meal for forty with the same ease and élan as she crafts a simple lunch for two. I continue to remain in awe.

She also sheepdogs me when my ignorance of Irish history and customs leads me astray. For example, on this last trip I learned that “ditches”, the kind referred to so frequently in old deeds, are actually the stone walls that were used to demarcate fields. They were renewed each year by adding the rocks that were turned up in each season’s ploughing. Until then, I had assumed that a ditch was a deep trough in the ground. That is what it is in Canada.

She also explained to me that the cut blocks of stone that were used to create the archways at one of our old family homes at Cavananore would help us to date the building. Brick arches tended to show up later in this part of County Louth.

Since she also once lived at Urker, a significant Jackson family home, she is more authoritative than anyone else on how the house there grew to be the size that it was before it was sold in the late 1980s, and became no more than a tumbledown ruin. When Christine was doing an addition to Urker in the early 1970s, she found straw and feed between the rafters of one section, indicating that part of the building had seen earlier use as a feed loft. In all likelihood, Urker had started as one of those ubiquitous thatched roof cottages that were the norm in much of Ireland until well into the 20th Century.

More than once on this last trip, Christine and I would be barrelling along a narrow country road, me seeing nothing but hedge, hedge and more hedge, when she would brake, throw the car into reverse, brake again and then say, Here, See this. A break in the hedge that I had missed would reveal an overgrown path or an avenue of trees, leading to a knoll where a significant house had once stood, a house that I had on my list of things to find out about. There is no way on God’s green earth that I would ever have caught that gap in the hedge on my own.

I know that I would be utterly lost without her when it comes to researching this project. My fond hope is that one day, I will be able to pry her loose and bring her for a visit to my home on the west coast of Canada, where perhaps the whales will be courteous enough to pay us a visit. Or at very least, a school of dolphins, or a few generations of the family of bald eagles that live in the trees two lots over from us. I suspect she would love this.

Maybe, maybe.... Hope springs eternal.