Families and family backgrounds

Those interviewed for this project came from a wide variety of family backgrounds. Some came from families that had been resident in their respective districts for centuries, while others were newcomers. When asked how long his family had been living in the area George Laverty replied, ‘Hundreds of years’. John Milliken’s family has been living in Islandmagee since the seventeenth century, having moved there from Scotland. Robert Chesney was the fourth or fifth generation of his family to have lived on his farm in Ballynaleney, near Toome.

Derek Lorimer can trace his ancestry in Holestone, Doagh, back to a Samuel Lorimer who lived there in the late eighteenth century. This Samuel was a member of 1st Donegore Presbyterian Church in Parkgate and the congregation’s clerk of session. He was also instrumental in having a boundary wall built at Kilbride graveyard and in collecting the money for it. Among the many interesting features of this graveyard is a ‘corpse house’ where bodies were placed to decompose to the extent that they would no longer be of use to the body-snatchers who supplied the Edinburgh medical schools. Samuel Lorimer took his turn at guarding the corpses prior to their interment.

Others had a more recent lineage in their respective districts. P. J. O’Donnell was born in Whitehead, as was his father. With regard to the generation before that: ‘My grandfather came here before the town was built in the early 1880s and he probably worked at the White Harbour at the quarry for the limestone because there was no town here at that time.’ Frankie Dale’s grandfather bought a farm in Ballydougan in 1916, but as the place was a ‘wreck’ as a result of a lawsuit he did not move there until 1926. Edmund McLarnon’s father was the first of his family to live at Moneynick, Toome. On the other hand his paternal grandmother was a Wilson from Aghacarnaghan and her family had long been resident in the area. Edmund’s mother was a Wolfenden from Ballydonnelly, near Toome; the name Wolfenden is believed to be of Dutch origin and to have first appeared in Ireland in the 1600s.

Brian McKenna’s grandparents were hoteliers in Belfast, owning the Albert Hotel in High Street. Later his grandmother purchased the Whitehead Hotel (now the Whitecliff Inn). In 1936 Brian’s father Arthur established a dental practice in Whitehead. Brian’s wife Kathleen was also born in Whitehead. Her father, Patrick O’Neill, who was from Randalstown, was a signalman at the railway station. Her mother, Ellen McMullan, was from Glenravel and had come to Whitehead to work in a house. They met while out walking and married in Whitehead in 1933. Leith Burgess was born in 1942 in Flemingstown in Browndod townland, near Doagh. His parents were among the thousands of people who had departed from Belfast in the wake of the blitz heading for refuge in its rural hinterland. What drew them to the Doagh area was the fact that in the adjoining townland of Ballybracken lived Bob and Sarah Leith. Bob was a cousin of Leith’s maternal grandmother.

Others moved to their respective settlements during childhood or in their teenage years. Trevor Monteith was born in Bangor, but moved to Whitehead, where both sets of grandparents were in business, when he was a toddler. Mary Ann Higgins was born in 1920 in Mounthamilton, near Cloughmills, and moved to the house in which she still resides, Union Lodge, in March 1925. Robert McConnell was born at Gateside, Ballyeaston, in 1928, but moved to Fourmileburn in November 1933 after his father found work with a farmer there. James Lamont was born near Portglenone and moved to the village of Ballycarry, two miles from Whitehead, in 1950 when his father took over a general store there. Matt Quinn moved with his family from Ardboe across to the lough shore near Toome when he was 11.

In other instances work brought interviewees to live in a particular area. John Wilson moved to Whitehead as a doctor in 1958. However, he was already familiar with Whitehead for some of his relatives had been evacuated there during the Second World War. Now living close to Toome, Maureen McMeel was raised on a farm in County Fermanagh, near the border with Cavan. She left home at 16 or 17 to work in a shop in County Antrim; her sister had already found work in the office attached to this shop.

Though Victor Crampton did not move permanently to Whitehead until 1979, he had been familiar with the town from the 1950s. He was born in Coagh, County Tyrone, where his father, Edward, who was in the RAF, was stationed during the Second World War. In 1946, the family moved to Ballygally where Victor spent his childhood. As a boy Victor would have visited Whitehead with his parents. His parents moved to Whitehead in 1962 when his father took over the Post Office in the town. Wilma Shaw moved to Whitehead with her husband and children in 1970. Before that they had lived in Islandmagee. However, Wilma had been visiting Whitehead from her childhood. Not only did her mother’s family have a house in Islandmagee, her Sunday school excursions had been to Whitehead.

While people often assume that country families have lived in the same place for generations, this was frequently not the case. In fact a number of those interviewed moved several times in their childhood. Mary Moore was born at Calhame, near Straid. When she was a few months old her family moved to Holestone where she lived until she was 6 or 7, and then relocated to Kilbride until she was 14. In 1945, her family moved to The Plains where she has lived ever since.

Marriage brought Greta Milliken to a farm near Whitehead in 1942. She had grown up on a farm at Ballyeaston where her father’s family, the Dickeys, had lived for generations. In other instances, the husband moved to where his wife’s family lived. Mary Moore met her husband Bob at a Farmers’ Union dance. They married in 1956. Bob was from the foot of Slemish in the Braid valley. This was ‘the end of the world’ for Mary who refused to live there and so Bob moved to The Plains.

No-one interviewed was born as far away from their place of residence as Hanni Weinhardt. She had been born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, and arrived in Whitehead in the spring of 1963 as an au pair to the family of a local doctor. It had not been her original intention to come to Whitehead for it had been her wish to go to London. However, her father overruled this and decided on Whitehead. He chose it because Hanni’s kindergarten teacher had a niece who had spent a year in Whitehead with the same family.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: