Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Magherafelt, Draperstown, and Graveyards, Northern Ireland

My brother, Ron, had been to Ireland with his wife Adell. They explored Northern Ireland and found that Magherafelt region was where our grandfather, William Barnett lived. He’d married  young Hannah Wylie before they emigrated to Toronto, Canada.  Knowing my grandfather as a child I remembered most him dressing in an Orange sash to go off to a parade. For a child this might as well have been a circus.  I later learned he’d been an  Orangeman, a Loyalist Protestant,  and very proudly Irish. The Orangemen march in a parade every July 12 and have for centuries.
My mother was very moved by her father’s love of the old country and loved all things Irish.  I’d become enamoured by the Scottish side of our family, visiting the Wylies in Glasgow.  My father’s family, Hay was from Aberdeen.
I didn’t really pay attention, as a child might, to what the old folk told me and what my mother told me especially.  Since they’ve died I’ve thought of all manner of things I want to know but never asked them. I can’t imagine how this was. I feel like I know so little about my ancestors and yet when my parents and grandparents were alive I didn’t have the right questions or the time.  Now I’ve only questions, though I can’t say I have a whole lot of time.  This 10 day trip to Ireland has only whetted my taste for more.  Next time I’ll come straight to Northern Ireland.
 I picked up where my brother left off by visiting  Magherafelt.
Walking about the town of Magherafelt I had that sense of fay certainty that my grandfather and grandmother had walked these very same streets.  Laura felt my mother’s spirit must be guiding me.

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First we walked to the churches.  The Church of Ireland church was one of the most beautiful churches I’d ever seen. The graveyard, for lacking names of my ancestors, was less impressive.   I learned about looking at gravestones from my brother going before me.
We found  Wylie’s in the Presbyterian graves.  A lovely lady from the church stopped and chatted with us, telling us there was a fine Wylie man in their congregation still.   She also recommended we visit the  library as they kept more records.  I visited my Wylie cousins in Glasgow. My brother and sister in law did as well.  The now famous writer in that lot came to Canada and visited us while my brother, with kids of the same age in common, kept in close touch with the now famous landscape artist and professor.  Grandfather William Barnett, my namesake, was however the greater mystery.
At the library we met  the beautiful young librarian, Katheryn, who helped immeasurably in the continuation of our search.    Thanks to her we learned of which listed those buried in the area. I’d imagined scouring over dusty tombs of parchment with some grizzly bearded spectacled gnarly.   instead this angel with a few keystrokes in this space age era  had the information.
 “There’s been lots of Barnett’s in this area of Magherafelt, “ she told us.  “There seem to have been more families though in the Draperstown area nearby.”  We thanked her dearly asking her if I might take her picture for my blog.  She graciously agreed so I have a grand picture of this angel with Laura.   At the Library they had old pictures of Magherafelt.  I bought a couple of these showing the town at the turn of the 19th century.  One, showing this library,  will be a gift for my brother at his new house at Hay Bay, Nappanee, Ontario.
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We  drove on the 20 miles or so to Draperstown.  They have marvellous old church there, St. Columba’s, that was said to have been visited by St. Patrick. They had no Barnett’s in the graveyard but one of the most beautiful Celtic Cross.
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It was at the Presbyterian Church, Congregation of Draperstown, that we first struck pay dirt.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of “at-tone-ment” or “at-home-ness” that follows finding a grave half around the world with your grandfather’s name on it in an area where family were said to be.  This grave was definitely that of a relative.  What an odd old man’s game, kind of like a car rally. Here we’d been going from church to church and grave to grave finally to find evidence of what.  One’s roots, I guess. Yet, there I was feeling a little like graduation day.
Now we might well have stopped here but our sweet librarian had showed me that Barnett’s were buried at nearby St. Anne’s Church. At the library in Draperstown I asked about St.Anne’s Church and the lovely lady there said she thought it was up Sixtowns.  A couple of librarian ladies consulted on this and agreed,
“It must be up Sixtowns”.
Then the first went to the shelves and found a tract written about St. Anne’s Church.  Now this picture was what we needed to know which church was the right one.  Driving along having an image is a Godsend, especially when you’re driving on the wrong side of the road. With that knowledge we were able to be certain that other churches we saw were not St. Anne’s.
I then stopped at the gas station in Draperstown and asked where Sixtowns was.
“It’s not a place,” the gentleman there said. “It’s a road. What place are you looking for?”
“St. Anne’s Church,” I replied.
“I don’t know that particular one but there are a couple of chapels up that way.  I’d suggest if you haven’t seen it by the time you get to the Shepherds’ you stop there and ask the fellow there. He knows everything about anything around here. He’ll be able to help you."
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Well, I’d like to say we just drove off and found the church at this point but the truth is we drove most roads out of Draperstown without any luck till we put the name Sixtowns road into my GPS and found the obvious road.  Then we drove up Sixtowns road still quite lost until we came to the Shepherd’s Pub.  There I found Colin Doyle out cutting his lawn on his tractor.  I’d looked in the very inviting little pub and found no one before I wandered about the farm and found Colin. There was a campground in the back of the pub by the barn which looked like the perfect little place. I’d gladly come with my RV if my RV hadn’t been across an ocean  in Vancouver, Canada.
Colin showed me a picture of Geordie Barnett that they had on the wall in the pub.  Geordie had apparently been really well known and liked with a keen interest in the geography and archeology  in the local area. I liked that he was curious about  the nature of time and fascinated by rock circles. A man after my own heart. He’d been a poet as well as a scientist. He was described as “Historian, archaeologist, botanist, geologist, folklorist, musician, and poet, he spent sixty years studying all aspects of the Sperrins”.  The Sperrins I learned were the mountains about, more foothills compared to our Canadian Rockies.  I was so very thankful to Colin who not only recited a couple of Geordie’s poems but  gave me a tract, “The Real Mountainy Man’ about Geordie , published by Moyola Books.  He also drew me a map to get to St. Anne’s Church.
“It’s not actually on Sixtown’s Road. You have to take the lane beside the Primary School down in the dip there.  You go along that to where the Presbyterian Meeting House is on the right and then take a little lane on the left. If you get to a sharp turn to the right after a fork then you’ve gone too far.”  He showed me what he meant with his hand drawn map.  "That will get you to St. Anne’s Church. I saw one of the Barnett’s graves in the briars there so you should find what you’re looking for. ”
He then told me, “You know the old Barnett place has just come up for sale. You might go along and see that as well."
Well, we had no difficulty finding the lane by the school but drove too far of course and had to come back.  This was all on a single track with bush and trees all around and open pasture areas with fat grazing sheep.  It was the most beautiful countryside in the world. And yes, we found St. Anne’s Church back of a farm. I spoke with the young man who’d just come by on his quad asking if I might park in his yard and he said, “Oh sure”.
Some dogs were barking and a cow was lolling loudly.
There was a little metal gate which was open and we walked along the fresh mowed path to the church which was closed.  In the back where Colin had told us, sure enough, we found the Barnett Graves. I had that eerie uncanny fay feeling I’ve known for true all my life.  Laura said again that she felt my mother was guiding me.
What a joy it was. " William Barnett."  I am a William and was named after my grandfather.  Now here was another William Barnett. To say I’d been excited by seeing the first Barnett graves was nothing compared to the feeling I had finding these.  Partly it was the adventure but something more as well. Yes, something more.  Something about time and stone hedges and connections.
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1 comment:

Misskd said...

Dear William and Laura, I have been checking this blog all morning eagerly waiting to hear how your trip to Draperstown went yesterday. It sounds so special and exciting. I too believe your mother was guiding you. It was lovely meeting you yesterday. The Shepherd's Rest is a fantastic bar and they hold great parties with awesome food - my family go there every Christmas for food and a disco. Colin is a great business man with a wealth of knowledge. I am so glad to hear you bumped into him. I look forward to seeing you and Laura next time. :-) Enjoy the Rest of your stay here in NI. Kathryn from Magherafelt Council (Tourist Information)