Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The curse of Loughmourne

I've just being going through a pile of papers belonging to my late mother, and amongst them I found a poem about Loughmourne, an area comprised of many farms and a lough (loch) just a couple of miles north of my old home town Carrickfergus in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. My parents separated in 1979 and then divorced in the early 1980s, and a few years later my mum had a short term relationship with a gentleman from a farm in the area, which is how I assume she came into ownership of the poem. During this period I remember going up to her partner's farmhouse with her one night as a young teenager, and spending a magical winter's evening seated beside a roaring turf fire, as a blizzard hit outside - it's the only time I've ever been to Loughmourne, but the experience still remains very vivid in my memory.

There's no village at Loughmourne, but there is a lough, about 57 hectares in size and filled with brown trout. There's also a church in the area that bears the name, said to have been founded by exiled Scottish descendants of Covenanters in 1784 (see As for any village that may once have existed there... well that's where the poem comes in!

Where the lough now stands there was certainly once a village many centuries ago - the remains of several crannogs have been found there (see - but it's said that a visiting peddlar, from whom nobody would buy matches, cursed the village the following morning, sending the place to a watery doom.

It's almost Hallowe'en - enjoy!


'Twas nightfall and the clock had struck
The solemn hour of rest;
There lay the infant still asleep
Upon its mother's breast;
The weary peasant free from toil
Upon his bed was laid;
The lover sought the silent hour
To talk love to his maid.

'Twas in a village that lay law
Within a valley green;
Encircled round by verdant hills,
This village looked serene.
'Twas on that night a wanderer passed
Through it with weary feet;
Within its walls he shelter sought,
No shelter could he meet.

The poor ones there no pity showed,
The wealthy scoffed with scorn,
But pride and vanity were doomed
To die before the morn.
'Ye know not what to do, proud men,'
The wanderer this did say;
'Omnipotence shall avenge the just
Before the break of day'.

'Ye heavens give power, O God give strength,
To the powers on earth below:
Let the village sink with a fearful shake
And o'er its waters flow.'
With one fearful road and one wild convulse
The hills and dales did shake;
One hour more and that village lay
A calm and peaceful lake.

Then view it now as its waters flow
To a thriving distant town,
And with reverence think on the scenes below,
For that spot is sacred ground.
And the legend says that the curse was this
'A toon the night and a Loch the morn'.
It has claimed that name to the present day,
It still is called Loughmourne.


If you are just starting out with your family history research, my book, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet, should help you to locate many of the key resources to help you get under way - not least of which some of the resources digitised and made available online by bodies such as PRONI, the National Archives of Ireland, the National Archives at Kew, and more. The book is available from publisher Pen and Sword in paperback, Kindle and ebook editions. For a free 13 page preview - and to order a copy - visit

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Scotland says No. For now...

This last two months has seen me do something that I have never done before - get involved with politics. Independence for Scotland is something that I have long believed in, and a few months ago I first popped into the Yes Largs shop to offer my help. However, it was not until the European elections and the recent rise of the right wing political party UKIP in England that I really decided that enough was enough. From that point on I became much more involved in the campaign, and in the last two months I have pounded the streets of Largs on many occasions to leaflet, post newspapers, and to work on Yes stalls for the idea that we should be able to govern ourselves as a sovereign nation.

Largs and its surrounding villages are very Conservative in nature, and we have a very elderly population here, not great factors for a movement in our area that wanted to push the potential that independence could bring. The No campaign targeted the +65 demographic so successfully with fear stories on their pensions that when the vote took place, some 73% of this age group voted No, by far the biggest group, with those aged 54-65, approaching pensionable age, being the next largest group at 57%. No doubt on top of this the old feelings of British identity were much stronger, something which contrasted sharply with 16-17 year olds, the devolution generation, for whom 71% voted Yes. With the exception of the student age range (18-24), which showed 52% in favour of No, the pattern was that the younger the age group, the more pro-Yes they were (Source: Lord Ashcroft Polls:

On the referendum night the final vote came in, showing Yes at 45% and No at 55%. So on this occasion, we lost - but we certainly put the fear of God into Westminster. Despite this defeat, I am very proud that our work, along with the work of other groups in North Ayrshire, saw us deliver a 49% result for our area, despite the odds. The eventual resurgence in the No campaign has been attributed by many to a last minute pledge given by the three main Westminster parties just a couple of days before the day of the vote, which vowed that Scotland would receive more powers if a No result was given. A timetable was given by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he said would begin yesterday to deliver on this. Not only has that promise already been broken (yesterday came and went without the first promise fulfilled on that timetable), the three Westminster parties themselves are now disagreeing about the way forward, with the Labour Party in London even trying to kick it into the long grass at the end of next year, after the next UK general election. They never learn. So, for the Yes campaign, my feeling is that the referendum result has simply bought the union a little more time, and is merely the end of this current act. Another referendum will come, perhaps as soon as within the next 5-10 years, when the circumstances and demographic of the population have again changed, and most importantly, amidst the political circumstances in what I suspect will be a failure of Westminster to deliver on its promises - though time will tell.

On a personal note, I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the greatest democratic exercise this country has ever seen, so much so that I have now joined a political party for the first time. On the referendum day itself I worked at three poll stations as a polling agent for the Yes side, with much good humour on the day exchanged between myself and my opposite numbers on the Better Together (No campaign) side, and I also had the privilege to attend the subsequent count in Ardrossan for North Ayrshire. I've gained a lot of experience of the political process, and hope to contribute further in the years ahead. As of next week, I become a full-time family historian again - not that I stopped as one throughout, mind! I have kept a diary throughout the campaign for my kids, and have kept copies of some of the key documents and literature from both sides to show them in years to come.

In addition to the great folk of the Yes Largs shop with whom I worked, perhaps the biggest highlight of the last few weeks was last Wednesday, when I unexpectedly got a chance to meet our First Minister Alex Salmond in Largs, and grabbed a chance to get a selfie with him. Sadly he has now announced that he will be standing down soon, but the selfie shows a real joie-de-vivre that to me just summarises the optimism that we all had.

The Yes campaign will be back - after a short intermission - but Scotland will never be the same again. We tasted sovereignty for a few hours, and developed a liking for it. So stay tuned...!

First Minister Alex Salmond hits the streets of Largs

With actor Peter Mullan (Sunshine on Leith/Braveheart/Trainspotting)

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits the Yes Largs shop

With fellow campaigners in the Yes Largs shop

Yes will return....!

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Scottish Independence Referendum

I've just received my Poll Card in the post for the Scottish Independence Referendum. As someone who has spent a decade living in England, over a decade in Northern Ireland (where I was born), and half of my life in Scotland (both as a child and as an adult since 1997), I have long been convinced that a Yes vote is the right vote for Scotland - the United Kingdom has for a long time not been an equal union, not just between its countries, but within its countries. Since the rise of UKIP in the recent European elections, which really put the fear of God into me, I have been actively helping out with my local Yes group to canvass and to leaflet. But I have to admit, that even with all this personal conviction instilled within me, when I picked up the poll card from the post, a huge shiver went down my spine. This is genuine history in the making. 

The future of this country is in my hands, and the hands of everyone resident in Scotland who is entitled to vote - whether they are Scots born, a wayward paddy like me, English, Welsh, French, Polish, other European, South African, black, white, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, gay, straight, able bodied, disabled, or from any other nation, culture, colour or creed who is resident here. This is not a referendum written as a sequel to Braveheart (no matter how much an ignorant Londoncentric media chooses to view it), this is not about the past, it is first and foremost about democracy. As a genealogist I work every day in the past, I respect so much about our shared history with the other nations of the UK in the past, but I do not live in the past. I live in the present with an eye always to the future, and most specifically, my kids' future.

As a democratic nation - and Scotland IS a nation - we have a responsibility towards each other, but as a parent my first responsibility is to my kids. Our kids need a better deal than that being offered now within the United Kingdom, within which Scotland is and will continue to be the second violin in Westminster's eyes. It is not alone in that regard - Northern Ireland is treated as badly, as are parts of England and Wales, even within parts of London - but we have a chance here in Scotland to stand up and do something about it. I know that many No voters feel the complete opposite of that for their own kids, and I truly respect that - I just happen to think they are wrong. If we vote Yes we won't change Scotland overnight. But despite many ups and downs in the future, we will change Scotland for the better - because we have to. We can certainly do no worse than what is being offered by Westminster in the present.

No matter which side of the fence people are on, the greatest thing about this whole process is that it has been democratic. I feel very privileged to live here, to participate in the debate, and above all, to be able to vote. Thank you Scotland. 

In the Yes Largs shop

Meeting actor Peter Mullan (Sunshine on Leith)

With the team on Largs' Main Street

Friday, 1 August 2014

The last heir - ultimus haeres records and retours

I had an interesting case to look at last week, where a client contacted me to try to trace the relationship between a John Menzies and James Alexander Playfair MacLaren, with Menzies having been appointed as MacLaren's heir some two years after his death in 1910. The client had already obtained some solicitor's records and some sasines (land transfer records) outlining to a degree what had happened to the deceased's estate, but without the relevant genealogical information. There were mentions of family trees having been drawn up to prove the claim - could I essentially find the other side of the conversation, and work out the relationships by locating the mentioned tree charts?

The deceased was a gentleman called James Alexander Playfair MacLaren, who had passed away in November 1910. He died without any immediate lawful issue, and no claimants were immediately forthcoming as prospective heirs. In Scotland, if no claimants step forward in such circumstances, after a suitable period the estate goes to the Crown as Ultimus Haeres, which is Latin for the 'last heir' (see The papers that my client held seemed to indicate that this was what had happened to James' estate, and so the first step was to first confirm that it had indeed fallen to the Crown. To do this I ordered up the Ultimus Haeres lists for the year in question, and confirmed it to be the case (they are catalogued under E869).

Next up, I then called up the Treasury Report in which the case would have been mentioned. In some cases genealogical evidence can be found included alongside these reports, and it was hoped that the family tree chart might have been included here - sadly this avenue turned out to be something of a damp squib in this case, however, simply noting that James' unclaimed estate had fallen to the Crown on 14 FEB 1911, with his lands due to be sold off in 9 lots. After any debts incurred by the deceased were paid off, the rest was to go to the office of the King's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer in Edinburgh, or KALTR (today it would be to the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer).

My next avenue now was to consult what are known as the Procedure Books, catalogued under E851. These provide a summary of developments concerning the administration of the Ultimus Haeres process, but also any subsequent claims made on the Crown by prospective heirs late to respond to the initial advertisements made by the KALTR for claimants to step forward. In this case I was now fortunate to get a 5 page summary of written conversations held between the agents of John Menzies and the KALTR's office. This slowly began to reveal some genealogical information. For starters, it noted that James MacLaren was the eldest lawful son of the late James MacLaren, draper of Coupar Angus, who was brother german of John MacLaren of Beechhill, a solicitor ('brother german' means a full brother), and that James junior had died at Auchterarder on 3 NOV 1910. In September 1911 the first mention of the name Menzies appeared, with a Jessie Menzies claiming to be the descendant of the deceased's grandfather's sister, though no names were provided. An exchange of letters requiring proof followed, and in February 1912 a solicitor was noted as claiming that John Menzies was MacLaren's rightful heir.

The thing is... the KALTR office was deeply unconvinced. There was a question mark over whether the relevant documents to support the claim had been found as proof, with particular concerns over a marriage document that seemed to imply that MacLaren's grandfather was aged 13 and a half when he married.

This was useful stuff, but what I really needed was the written conversation from the KALTR, not a summary, and as such, I next called up the letter books for the period from 1910 to 1913, which are catalogued under E854. The first thing to note about these books was the appalling quality of the letters, which had been kept as carbon paper copies. A few were so faded they were close to being illegible, but I photographed them all and was able to enhance some of them when I got home. These not only revealed the genealogical problem causing the KALTR office grief, but also the workaround that led to Menzies being confirmed as heir.

It transpired that the issue causing problems was the fact that Alexander McLaren (Laren or McLaurin), the grandfather, was said to have been baptised in February 1787, but that he had an older brother born in December 1785. This meant that the earliest that Alexander could have been born was September 1786 (assuming his mum fell pregnant again within a couple of weeks, which was optimistic!). This therefore put a question mark over whether Alexander was truly 14 when he married Elizabeth Cochrane in October 1800 - the age of 14 being the minimum legal age for marriage at that point for males. The minimum age for girls to marry back then was 12, but this was far from the KALTR's concern - the bride in this case was supposed to have been aged 24! John Menzies was said to be the grandson of Alexander's sister Jean MacLaren, and again there were problems confirming that she was related to Alexander. In short, the KALTR was having none of it, and was of the mind to reject the application of John and Janet Menzies to make a claim on the MacLaren estate that had fallen to the Crown, noting the relationship to be "unsatisfactorily established" in July 1912.

And that's when it got really interesting! Clearly frustrated with the KALTR's objections to the claim, the solicitor on behalf of John Menzies went down a separate tack - to have John formally recognised as an heir via the Services of Heirs procedure, and to have Janet Menzies appointed as an executrix dative for the moveable estate. Janet was first recognised as such in January 1913, and a month later John's application to be served heir went before the court. The Services of Heirs process was the Scottish jury based process by which anyone making a claim on heritable estate had to be first recognised as the lawful heir. There were two types of 'service' that could be applied, the easiest simply being a 'general service', the process pursued by Menzies' agents, where a jury simply looked at the evidence put before them and said yes or no as to whether the claimant was who he or she said they were (the other was a 'special service' where any land in question was also brought into the proceedings). Against the KALTR's objections, the Sheriff Court in Perth took a look at the family trees and other evidence placed before it and contented itself that John Menzies had the right to be recognised as MacLaren's heir-at-law. A last check in the indexes to the Services of Heirs from 1913 confirmed that John Menzies was duly served as heir as "second cousin" to James Alexander Playfair MacLaren. It seems that this move by Menzies' solicitor to have him recognised by a court as a lawful heir was enough to force the KALTR to release the assets held by the Crown which had been surrendered to it as Ultimus Haeres, to John Menzies, despite its overwhelming objections.

Although there were many references to family trees and genealogical documents being bandied about between the relevant parties, no tree was found in the papers that have survived from the case - but the detail in the records at least provided the information that allowed Menzies to satisfy his claim as understood and believed by a court of law. Unfortunately the Sheriff Court papers from the period have not survived, nor the solicitors' papers, and so this cannot be pursued further. The question remains as to who was right. Did the KALTR office have a legitimate problem with the evidence it was asked to consider - or did the Jury listening to the services case get it wrong?!

An interesting case!

For more on Scottish land records and inheritance, my book Discover Scottish Land Records is available from Unlock the Past at - both print and ebook versions are available.

(With thanks to my client for permission to share the story)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Two Carrick Smashers

Paddy Giles at our wedding
I'm sure everyone has a favourite family song or two, but one song in particular used to define my father-in-law, Paddy Giles, originally from Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary, and who passed away in 2001. It was called The Two Carrick Smashers, and was a song that if Paddy thought he had an audience for, he would sing verse, after verse, after verse! At my wedding to Claire in June 2000in Piltown, County Kilkenny, Paddy never gave a speech as the father of the bride - instead, he grabbed a microphone, and came out with several verses of the song, much to the delight of the assembled guests. When he passed away the following year, shortly after his funeral the family was all gathered in Anthony's Inn in Piltown, understandably upset. A lad with a guitar was seated by the main entrance, as it was back then, and I asked him if he knew The Two Carrick Smashers? He did, and once he got started, everyone gathered around him and belted it out, at what became an epic four hour singalong in Paddy's honour, with a lot of ceol, deoch agus craic!

Although it is relatively well known in Carrick-on-Suir, trying to obtain the lyrics was something else! I believe the song is a variant of another called The Two Ashton Mashers, aka the Brothers Malone. It took a while, but a few years ago my sister in law Lia was able to obtain the Carrick lyrics, and emailed them to me. These are the words for the first two verses and chorus:

Oh we are the two Carrick smashers,
We often go out on the mash.
We wear no tall hats
Or no shirts to our backs,
And we seldom have got any cash (cash,cash).
We often bring out a new fashion,
While the old ones they stick to the old.
Although we are just 27
We are daring quite handsome and bold

And we'll sing tra la la la as we walk down the street
For style and perfection we 'ere can be beat,
All the ladies declare that we are a treat,
We're the two Carrick smashers from off Greystone street
And we dance and we sing
And we don't give a jot, we're a jolly fine lot
We're all right, when we're tight, 
And we're jolly good company.

Last Saturday we were invited,
To the town hall by two ladies fair,
Their cheeks were in bloom
Like the roses in june,
And we danced to a beautiful air,
We were singin and dancin til midnight
Drinkin whiskey and porter and rum
And when the dancin was over
With the queer wans we had lots of fun

And we'll sing tra la la la as we walk down the street
For style and perfection we 'ere can be beat,
All the ladies declare that we are a treat,
We're the two Carrick smashers from off Greystone street
And we dance and we sing
And we don't give a jot, we're a jolly fine lot
We're all right, when we're tight, 
And we're jolly good company. 

I've just returned from a trip to Piltown, and a few nights ago at Anthony's, my brother in law Mick Murray and several others were having a singalong in the inn's back yard, when they suddenly got started on The Two Carrick Smashers. By a coincidence I had my phone in my hand and had just moved the sound recorder app to the home screen, meaning my finger was close to the Start button as they got underway! Although I missed the opening lines, I managed to record the song - it is not a great recording, as I was not close enough, and there were feral kids running around us in all directions, but the tune is easily identifiable from it!

So this one's for Paddy Giles - Up Tipp! :)


Thursday, 26 June 2014

My mum's barbecue sauce recipe

My mum, Charlotte Harper Graham, who passed away last November, would have been 64 this coming Sunday. One of her most delicious recipes was the barbecue sauce that she used to make for us when we were kids, and so this Sunday, we're going to have it for our dinner as a wee birthday remembrance.

But as a recipe, it's too nice to keep to myself - and with my luck I'll get run over by a bus before I get a chance to pass it on myself.

  • Two teaspoons sugar
  • Two teaspoons flour
  • One teaspoon vinegar
  • Five teaspoons curry powder
  • Sprinkle of black pepper
  • Small tin of tomato puree
  • Medium sized bottle tomato sauce (400ml/460g)
  • Two tablespoons Worcester sauce
  • Small minced animal of choice

Put sugar, flour, curry powder, vinegar, black pepper and tomato puree into a bowl and mix to a paste
Pour tomato sauce onto the paste
Fill tomato sauce bottle with cold water and add - mix in bowl to smooth consistency
Add he two tablespoons of Worcester sauce and again mix to smooth
Fry mince to brown (optional - add garlic and onion)
Pour the sauce over, stir and mix - bring to the boil
Simmer the sauce for half an hour.

Eat barbecue sauce.

Raise a glass to my Mum.

You can find out more about her at - she was one hell of a woman!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The French Horn

One of the greatest thrills from doing family history research is that occasionally what goes around, comes around. Over the last couple of years I have been corresponding with a cousin of my wife's, Paddy Nolan, on a shared part of our family tree concerning the Giles and Nolan families of Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. I've been sending finds at this end to Paddy, he's been reciprocating with finds at his end, and together we have achieved a lot in unravelling the shared part of our respective family stories.

As a part of this, some time ago Paddy sent through a photograph of my wife's father, Paddy Giles (1926-2001), which depicted him in the uniform of a Local Defence Force volunteer playing with the Carrick-on-Suir Brass Band (originally the Carrick-on-Suir Brass and Reed Band). The LDF was a local defensive group set up to prepare for the possibility of an invasion during the Second World War, known in the Republic of Ireland today as the 'Emergency', as Ireland was neutral throughout. It was an extraordinary find, not just because it was the first time we had seen him in an LDF uniform, but more so because we did not know he played an instrument. Front and centre though, Paddy sits there in the image with a French horn. This is the picture...

Last November, there was a further development. Following the recent passing of their brother, Midge (Eugene), Paddy Nolan and his brother Pierce (top photo), who still resides in Carrick, had been in conversation about the family history research being compiled, and during their conversation came across the above photo. It transpired that Pierce had in his possession the very same French horn that Paddy Giles once played in his youth.

Paddy Giles was in the LDF and the band for a couple of years, but when he left (after the war, to join the RAF), the French horn was duly passed to Pierce as Paddy's successor. Pierce continued to play with the band for just under a year, before he too eventually left. At that point the French horn left Pierce's possession, and that was seemingly that - until a happy venture at a recent local auction in the town saw Pierce purchasing the instrument once again. During their discussion, Pierce had indicated that he would like to give my wife the instrument that her father once owned and played - if ever we were in the Carrick area, we could pop in to pick it up. Needless to say we were absolutely delighted!

Last weekend, we were indeed once again in the area, and arranged to meet up with Pierce. We had a wonderful conversation with him about Carrick in the past, the role his grandfather had in establishing the brass band in the first place, and confirmed that Paddy Giles' father was also involved with the band in earlier years, though to what extent we have still to establish.

But there was more... Pierce sat us down beside his computer and promptly showed us an extraordinary collection of photographs from his family's past, including both Giles and Nolan members. The highlight was a photo of Paddy Giles as a child, believed have been taken in approximately 1942, marching with the LDF in a parade through the Main Street of Carrick-on-Suir, possibly as part of a recruiting drive. Patrick C. Power's book, Carrick-on-Suir Town & District 1800-2000, notes such a parade on St Patrick's Day 1941 (p.315) - it may well be the same parade. At this stage Paddy was not playing an instrument, but was merely shadowing one of the members as he learned the ropes. The following is the image...

This cropped detail of the picture shows Paddy, marching behind Pierce Nolan's father Henry (Harry) Francis Nolan, carrying the band's sheet music for them - the French horn itself can be seen in the image also, on the far left, with the gentleman with the mop of hair looking down as he plays it:

I asked Pierce how he knew that the French horn purchased at auction was the same one? The answer was simple - the instrument was partially damaged one day when Paddy Giles dropped it on the Main Street! The dent that it left was of a unique shape, and it was this that Pierce recognised instantly at the auction.

Later in the evening, Claire and I returned home, after thanking Pierce for his generous gift. In the house of Paddy's widow, my mother-in-law Pauline Giles, several of Paddy's grandchildren were present, including my sons Calum and Jamie. An instrument is for playing, and so we allowed them each to try to get a note from it!

The French horn is now very tarnished, and we will seek advice now on whether it should be cleaned and restored, or left as is, before doing anything further with it. But the experience was absolutely extraordinary, and one for whom we are forever indebted to Pierce Nolan, and to his brother Paddy.

Family history does not get much better than this.