Local history of the parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly

Our great-great-grandparents, Samuel Kilpatrick (1810-1894) and Jane M'Kay (1806-1886), left Ireland in 1847,  a year renowned as the worst during that awful period called the Great Famine, or Great Hunger. Samuel and Jane were of middle age when they took flight with their five children, who ranged in age from infancy to ten-years-old. Jane's sister, Margaret M'Kay, accompanied the family on the ship to Québec. The crossing ended in tragedy, with the death of Margaret and Jane's and Samuel's youngest children, Willie John, aged three, and the wee infant, Adam.

During the fall of 1847, Samuel and Jane, with their three surviving children--Mary, Saragh Jane, and Margaret--journeyed from Québec to their final destination at Prescott, in Canada West (later known as Ontario). Here, they made their home: Samuel found work as a carter, Jane found the family a spiritual home in the Presbyterian church there, and the children attended school. Late in 1851, and I can only imagine this having come as a surprise, given their years, Samuel and Jane welcomed an addition to the family: our great-grandfather, Robert Gordon Kilpatrick (1851-1929). Samuel and Jane lived in Prescott for thirty-nine years, before following their son, Robert Gordon, shortly after his marriage, first to Peterborough in 1885, thence to St. Thomas in 1886.

Throughout their long residence in Canada, what, if anything, did Samuel and Jane think about their former lives in Ireland? Indeed, what had their lives been like there, before their departure? The eldest children, Mary (1837-1887) and Saragh Jane (1839-1901), probably retained memories of their childhood in Lislea townland, parish of Kilrea, county Derry. Aside from the successive failures of the potato crop, and the consequent visitations of typhus and dysentery, what memories might the various members of the family have retained of their time in the parish of Kilrea? Which events shaped their lives, created inconveniences, or proved interesting topics for conversation, of an evening at the fireside? What events took place in Ireland, after their flight to Canada, that had affected the families that they had left behind in the parish of Kilrea?

Unless they're interested in the mere accumulation of names, dates, places, and the acquisition of a Very Large Family Tree, these are the kinds of questions that family historians ask about the lives that their ancestors led. These are problematic questions, if only because "the time is out of joint." It is difficult for us to assess, let alone understand, olden times from this, our "modern" vantage point in time. Stated another way, in our attempt to understand any of our ancestors' decisions or behaviours, we cannot simply project our 20th-21st century sensibilities retrospectively. Yet, we want to understand something of the local history context in which they lived.

Knowing these limitations, I set out to explore the local history of the parish of Kilrea, say, between 1800-1847, in order to get some sense of the socio-economic context in which our Kilpatricks and M'Kays lived. This study was intended to be a prélude to writing up the family history of our Kilpatrick family. It was an endeavour, however, that has grown like topsy.

As "way leads unto way," the study has become that of two parishes, Kilrea, and Tamlaght O'Crilly, the latter of which lies due west and southwest of the former (where I found some possible Kilpatrick connections). Then, because we have Kilpatrick ancestors in Kilrea who date to the early 1700s, I started looking back earlier than the nineteenth century … somehow winding up in the mid-400s when St. Patrick had visited Kilrea and directed that a church be built there. Finally, in an attempt to make some sense of all the information, I decided to arrange the historical data in timelines. Not only would this assist me when writing up the Kilpatrick and M'Kay family history, I thought, perhaps it might help another family historian wanting access to the same kind of information.

The result is a set of timelines for the parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly. These commence in the middle of the 5th century, when St. Patrick visited Kilrea, and from 1600, proceed in ten- or five-year intervals through 1859. I chose 1859 as the end-point because that is when Arthur Griffith completed his valuation of these parishes. Accompanying these timelines, from 1735 forward, are newspaper transcriptions, the content and style of which add a very different dimension, or perspective, to the usual academic rendering of history. With newspapers, we often get the local "flavour." Unfortunately, we often also get the sensationalized bits, including the unfortunate language and sectarian characterizations of the era. Still, I hope that the newspaper transcriptions are more additive to the local history context than not.

These timelines are imperfect, not only because they are most certainly incomplete, but also because by their nature, they tend to divide, or chop up, continuous events into discrete measures of years. It is exactly analogous to taking an LP record and digitizing the music into a series of binary bits, categorized as either "0" or "1", "on" or "off." Thus, in order to get an indepth analysis, or the "full flavour," of an event and its context, it is best to read the narratives written by the historians. Still, I'd like to think there's a certain elegance, of simplicity, in the layout, if only because it allows me to look at a particular year and get a few answers, at least, to the question, "What was happening, when...?" … as long as I remember to look backwards and forwards, in order to keep a particular event in perspective.

As of today, thirteen of the planned eighteen timelines have been "completed" (5th century through 1834) and uploaded to the Arborealis web site, together with associated newspaper transcriptions and, where applicable, local history notes about late medieval history, the Plantation, landlords, government commissions, gazetteers, court reports, &c. (I have written "completed" within quotation marks, because there will almost certainly be additions made to these pages from time to time.)

A few, very interesting stories have emerged from this process of compiling historical information into a timeline format. In subsequent blog entries, I hope to write about a few of these, some of which are amusing, while others are (as they used to say, in the olden days), melancholy to relate.

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2015. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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© Alison Kilpatrick 2014–2017. All rights reserved.