Monday, May 18, 2015

Oral History - Jacksons and Fairy Rings

It is surprising – at least to me – how often I encounter a bit of oral history or local knowledge, and then days later am able to find that it is a perfect fit with the written record. Last week, I was enjoying a lovely Sunday dinner made by Marie Lynch at Cavananore in Co. Louth, when her husband Eugene asked me: Have you ever heard about Jackson’s Rocks?  I hadn’t.  I’ll take you there. He wasn’t sure exactly where they were, only that they were somewhere near Liscalgot. After a few stops along the road to see if we could learn more, we arrived at a bungalow where Mary & James Casey lived on Liscalgot Road. They were just pulling out of their driveway when we arrived.

Do you have a minute?  Eugene asked. This being Ireland, which as far as I can see is generosity personified, they did. They backed up into their driveway and welcomed us into their home, and we explained what it was that we were seeking. I should mention that it was totally bucketing down with the kind of rain that made you not only want to wear a hat or hoist an umbrella, but instead to duck and seek cover.

Jackson’s Rocks? Yes, Mary said. There was a fairy ring there. James pointed towards a hedge beside their house. Behind there. He grabbed a hat, and rain jacket, and the three of us went back out into the elements. Not much further out of their driveway and along down Liscalgot Road, I clambered up on the wee ledge beside the hedge at the edge of the road, and shot over the branches as best I could. Not that there was much to see, even taking my fogged up glasses into account. Had I not heard tell of the story connected to it, I would have walked right on past it in utter ignorance.

The cashel on Liscalgot Road - aka Jackson's Rocks.

The next day, I was in the Armagh Country Museum, and the curator, Sean Barden set out a pile of T.G.F. Paterson’s notebooks for me to peruse. Lo and behold, in the first one, Paterson was describing this same bit of land as it had appeared to him in 1930. He called it a cashel. A cashel is the anglicised version of the Irish word Caiseal, meaning "stone fort". It turned out, there were two cashels in the area. The first that he mentioned was at Liscalgot:

 The 1st cashel mentioned:
TGF Patterson Notebook No 135. LISCALGOT O.S. Sheet No 31
There are two cashels in this townland, one on the farm of Mr. Bernard Loy (and known as Loy’s For[th]) and the other on a grazing farm (within a stone throw) belonging to Sir Thomas Jackson. Both are well known locally, Loy’s being perhaps the more “famous” of the two. The cashel on the Jackson property contained a “cave” but it is now (1930) closed. These forts are not shown on the maps of 1855.The Jackson cashel, until a few years ago was a mass of thorns etc. These have now been cleared away but Loys Forth is still very much overgrown. 
NOTE: An Alice JACKSON married an unnamed LOY in the mid to late 1700s, and this may have been their land. She was a daughter of George JACKSON (1718-1782) and Margaret O’Laughlin (1722-1797) – the g-g-grandparents of Sir Thomas Jackson. Alice’s family farmed at Liscalgot, and her father and brother were both schoolmasters of the Creggan Charter School (the latter fired for reasons of scandal).

 It is hard to see - but look at the middle right of the photo,just above Milltown Bridge. The penciled in X is the kind of mark that TGF Paterson would have made. It suggests to me that this is where he thought the location of the cashel was. This copy of this map dates from 1836, and is held at the Armagh County Museum.

 The 2nd cashel mentioned:
TGF Patterson Notebook 284 Vol 3.: CORAGH OS Sheet No 8
JACKSON’S FORT The rampart of the ring of this earthwork has been levelled into the trench all the way round with the result that the ring sits several feet high above the surrounding fields. It is now (1931) in use as an orchard. Mr. Allen, the present owner of the farm states that his family settled in the adjoining townland of Ternacreevy in 1616. His mother was a Miss Jackson daughter of the former owner & the Jackson’s held the farm “from the days of Cromwell”.

On this map from 1836, held at the Armagh County Museum, TGF Paterson’s penciled annotation suggests that this is where he thought this cashel was. Even though the townland in this 1836 map was called Cornoonagh, I assume that this is the same townland referred to in his 1930 notes as Coragh.
Of course, given the nature of my particular quest, my next question is: who was the father-in-law of the Mr. Allen mentioned in Paterson’s notes, the Mr. Jackson who would have owned the farm in Coragh. More importantly, who was the Miss Jackson who was the mother of the younger Mr. Allen. This could go a long way to solving the puzzle of the relationships between several of the 19th Century Jacksons who lived in and around the Parish of Creggan from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s.

I have two photos given to me by Thomas Andrew Jackson (1930-2007) when he was still alive in Bangor. Are these the two in the photo beneath the Mr. Allens that Paterson referred to?
Mr Allen & son Richard
 And was this the Miss Jackson who married the Mr. Allen?
The photo was simply labeled: Mrs Allen - as if we should know who she was.

Stay tuned. My work is still cut out for me.

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