Welcome to the “Irish Homelands – Member of the Month” feature for July, 2016. This month, we are heading to that “Orchard of Erin’s Green Land”: County Armagh!
Each month, we travel to the townland, village, town or city associated with a Green Room member’s ancestry (to become one of our Green Room members of the month, you need to be a Green Room member and then go to this page to fill out an application).
Introducing our Member of the Month for July, 2016.
Our July 2016 member of the month is Carolyn Oliver Hendry from Ontario in Canada! Her Oliver and Hayes ancestors came from County Armagh. Hi Carolyn!
Although this article is written about Carolyn’s ancestors – it is open for all Green Room members to participate and enjoy! You will find video, pictures and commentary – and it is all best viewed on a laptop or PC rather than a phone.
We will start with Carolyn and the story of her ancestors – then share what we discovered, and put it into the context of the land and events around County Armagh in the early to mid part of the 19th century.
Have a look at the brief video below to see more on what we plan to do – then you can read more detail on our briefing below the following introduction video:
What We Were Asked To Do.
Carolyn contacted us with the following information and request:
I am delighted that you have chosen my family and County Armagh. Very interested in Olivers of County Armagh along with Hayes of County Armagh. I have good information about gg grandfather Andrew Bradford Oliver but little of Mary Jane Hayes his first wife, and my gg grandmother.
Benjamin Oliver (1892-1941) was born in Glasgow and emigrated to Canada in 1921. He was in the Seaforth Hylanders when he married and emigrated with both his wife Annie (McRae) and son Benjamin. My g grandfather Ben Oliver (1841-1905) was born in Armagh to Andrew Bradford Oliver and Mary Jane Hayes. Mary Jane’s mother we think is Sarah Menary. Her father was James Hayes. He left Armagh going to first Australia then settled in Glasgow where he married Grace Orr Nov 22, 1881.
Andrew’s father was Benjamin Oliver (1765-1831). He was born in Ennislare and died in Killynure. The humble abode that all of these siblings of Andrew Bradford can be seen at Killynure. The main house seen today from the main road was built by Thompson Brown, Eliza (Oliver) Jackson’s son-in-law. Oliver gravestones are in the next property behind a fence where cows graze.
My hope is to connect Sarah Menary and James Hayes the parents hopefully of Mary Jane Hayes.
Right, Carolyn – let’s see what we can do for you – and all of our other Green Room members!
What We Discovered.
Carolyn provided us with a basic set of family connections, but we thought we’d better do a bit of research before we arrived in Armagh City – to get our story straight before we asked any more questions. We then cross-checked her facts with some Irish records, and came up with the following tree of our own to help with our travels:
When Carolyn said that she knew quite a lot about the Oliver side of her family, she was not joking! Carolyn was fortunate to have one of those cousins with both tenacity and a forensic brain. This cousin, Sharon Oddie Brown, has gathered her research in to a very interesting holding site called The Silver Bowl. On this site, she tells the story of the HSBC bank, all the way back to it’s roots within a number of families across County Armagh – and a number of other counties. One of the families covered is the Oliver family. Here is an example of the detailed record discovery around the Oliver family.
So, this led us to the conclusion that a) A lot of records have been unearthed surrounding the Olivers, so our aim would be to show more context and colour – to look at the time they lived in and b) we would see if we could discover more about the Hayes side of the family – and enrol the help of our own Green Room genealogist, Jayne McGarvey.
Records we discovered:
We first looked at available records online, and found the following Births, Marriages and Deaths records:
- Andrew Bradford Oliver and Mary Jane Hayes (1st wife of Andrew Bradford Oliver) were married in 1840. Andrew was listed as being from the townland of Enagh. Mary Jane’s father is listed as James Hayes from the townland of MagherKilcranny. This was found through a deed of settlement.
- The birth/baptismal record of their son, Benjamin Oliver – was not available online.
- Andrew Bradford Oliver and Anne Hanna (2nd wife of Andrew Bradford Oliver) were married on March 22, 1843 in the Church of Ireland parish of Eglish, County Armagh. Andrew is listed as being from “Brookly” – this is the townland of Brotally. However, Andrew was noted as “Insolvent” in 1853 – and later moved to the village of Killylea.
- Andrew and Anne went on to have six children together – all are buried together in the cemetery at Killylea church. The baptismal record of one of their children, Martha (3rd Feb, 1844) was the only one available online.
NOTE: Both Brookly/Brotally were lands held by the Olivers a short distance from the main house at Killynure.
Now, before I go on – let me say that there are a number of things to bear in mind with regards the mention of so many places above:
- First, County Armagh was the most densely populated county in Ireland by the early 1800s. The land was (mostly) very good and the fields and farms were relatively small. There was extensive “horse-trading” of land and farms as families intermarried, inherited and lost land. This led to fragmented farms “ebbing and flowing” in size as a families fortunes grew and waned.
- From a homelands/genealogy point of view – this can make it tricky to track down the whereabouts of a single person/family as the 1800s progressed – we often have to follow specific land-related documents to develop a full picture of the places of a particular family.
- Most of Northern Ireland (County Fermanagh excepted), decided to do away with the use of Townlands on maps in the early 1970s as postcodes were introduced across the United Kingdom – this can make it difficult to locate some townlands on modern mapping services.
One final thought about records – it is very easy to slip into becoming a “record completist” as you aim to discover more and more about your County Armagh ancestors. We took the decision to use the words “possibly and probably” profusely in relation to names, dates and places for the rest of this feature. We put most of our attention, and energy, into story and context in order to paint a picture of life and times of the Olivers, Hayes and other County Armagh families in the early to mid 1800s.
- William Oliver – (probably) Andrew Bradford Oliver’s brother – is in the house/land in Killynure in 1864. See the record here.
- James Hayes – who may be Mary Jane Haye’s brother – had a lease on lands in the townlands of Lisdrummard, Lisdrumbrughas and also had the little gate lodge to Maghera House (next door to Killynure) in 1864. See more here.
- Martha Oliver – (probably) daughter of Andrew Bradford Oliver – is in a house outside Killylea in 1864. See the record here.
- James Oliver – (possibly) brother of Andrew Bradford Oliver – is in a house in the village of Killylea in 1864 (with other unspecified persons). See record here. Andrew is not listed in Griffith’s valuation – however, we believe he was in Killylea at the time – in the house of either Martha or James?
So, lots of possibilities and probabilities there – not too many certainties – and quite hard to get our heads around until we examine the area first hand.
But, before that, let’s have a look at the Oliver and Hayes surnames.
The Surnames and Families of County Armagh.
Let’s start our introduction to County Armagh by looking at the family names provided by our readers – names of members whose ancestors came from County Armagh:
As you can see, that’s quite a mix of surnames – you can see old Irish Gaelic names, Scottish planter names, English Planter names, Norman names and so on.
Is your surname among that list? Right, let’s zoom in on two particular surnames of the region – they belong to our member of the month – the surnames Oliver and Hayes.
The Surname Oliver.
Carolyn mentioned in her correspondence that she heard that her Oliver ancestors may have come from France – of Huguenot origin, brought into the area for their weaving skills. While that is possible, many Oliver families came from England and Scotland from the 1500s onwards – and they would have been in those areas of England for hundreds of years before that. The surname Oliver comes from the original French first name “Oliver” – and it is still prevalent today in England and Scotland (think of the chef Jamie Oliver or the comedian John Oliver).
This map shows the distribution of the Oliver surname in the 1850s (used with permission of JohnGrenham.com – click here to see the live map)
This surname distribution map gives an idea of how the Oliver families settled in different pockets of Ireland – mostly in the areas associated with the plantations of the 1500s/1600s.
How about you – do you have the surname Oliver in your family tree?
For now, let’s move on to the surname “Hayes”.
The Surname Hayes.
By comparison with Oliver, Hayes is found in abundance across Ireland. It can have several origins. On the one hand, it can be from the Irish Gaelic “Ó hAodha” – which derives from the popular Irish boys name “Aodh” (think of Aidan which is a diminutive version of Aodh). This was anglicised as Hayes, Hughes and O’Hea in various parts of Ireland.
Then, you have the old Anglo-Saxon word for undergrowth – “Haes” – this gave a name to many locations in England. Overtime, Hayes entered into the books as an popular English surname. Many of the holders of this surname emigrated to Ireland over the century – especially to the counties of Ulster.
Finally, there is the old Norman name of de la Haye – which gave us many of the Hayes’s of County Wexford.
This map shows the distribution of the Hayes surname in the 1850s (used with permission of JohnGrenham.com – click here to see the live map). Although you can see the majority of Hayes down in the south part of the island – this is for the simple reason the majority of the “Ó hAodha” of Ulster (including Armagh) anglicised their name as Hughes rather than Hayes. Even today, the version of Hughes – rather than Hayes – is one of the most numerous names in many parts of County Armagh.
How about you – do you have the surname Hayes in your family tree?
Right – lets take what we know, and just before head off on our tour of the county Armagh and Armagh City, we’re going to have a look at the County down through the ages. It’s a fascinating area – from pre-history right up events in recent history.
County Armagh Down Through the Ages.
When I was a young boy, I was thrilled with the tales of the mythical warrior Cú Chulainn (the hound of Cullain), Queen Maedbh of Connaught, the Knights of the Red Branch and so on. They were stories full of magic, warriors, Kings, Queens and Gods! Many of these tales originated around the place we are visiting – the modern County Armagh and surrounding areas.
In pre-historic times – the Uladh tribe ruled much of what is known as the province of Ulster today (“Ulster” comes from “land of the Uladh”).
These Kings of Ulster had their main seat just south of what is now Armagh city – at a place called “Eamhain Mhaca” or “Navan Fort“. It was built about 300BC and has held in the mind of many Irish people down through the centuries as a place of spiritual significance and one the centres of our Irish identity. Here we see Carina at the top of Navan Fort, looking out over the local County Armagh countryside:
All over this area, you will see reference to the myths of the area – here we see a sculpture of Cú Chulainn balancing on the top of a tree (another of the stories) in the centre of Armagh City.
Over time, the Uladh were pushed eastwards into the modern counties of Down and Antrim, and were replaced by a tribe known as the Airghialla. They occupied a land covering much of counties Armagh, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Louth – and gave us many of the surnames that we know in these counties today. Names like: O’Carroll, McMahon, O’Hanlon, Forbes/McFirbhis, O’Heihir, McCann, O’Rogan, O’Garvey, O’Kelaghan and O’Lynn/O’Flynn.
The O’Hayes/Hughes of the area were the chiefs of the Fir Luirg tribe, located further to the west in County Tyrone. Any of your Irish surnames?
The Coming of Saint Patrick.
Saint Patrick also has strong associations with this area. He was the first bishop of Armagh – which he proclaimed to be the most holy church in Ireland. To this day, Armagh is the primary see of both the Irish Roman Catholic Church and Church of Ireland, each having an separate cathedral named after the saint. Here you see a list of Bishops of Armagh inside the Church of Ireland cathedral – starting with the great man himself in 444AD.
It was only in the 1500s – in Tudor times – that the County of Armagh came to be. The counties of Ulster were the last to be “shired”, and County Armagh was formed in 1585. It was named after the principal town in the region – Armagh, which comes from the old Irish “Ard Mhaca” or hill of Maca (an ancient Irish goddess).
Well, I think it’s a good time to take a break for a little music – what do you think? Here is a song that was a big hit in the Irish emigrant dancehalls of England and Scotland in the 1950s. It’s the “Boys of the County Armagh” – and it will give you a good summary of all the is good, and good to see, in County Armagh!
Well, I hope you enjoyed that musical summary of much of what County Armagh has to offer!
Plantation times and County Armagh.
To say that “Irish history is complicated” is a bit of an understatement. Nowhere is this fact more apparent than in the counties of Ulster. Let’s take a look at just a little of that history – and use it to put our County Armagh feature into context. Firstly, it’s useful to point out that you will find lovely, fertile land in the north of County Armagh – and much less desirable land in the south of the county. Right, here we go.
Following the Norman conquest of Ireland in the late 1100s, many of the most fertile parts of the land come under the stewardship of the colonising Norman lords. However, one area the Normans never really establish a strong foothold was in the province of Ulster.
By the mid 1300s, much of the “Lordship” of Ireland was reverting back to control of Irish chieftains and a group of Norman Lord/Chieftain hybrids.
In 1541, the English-controlled Irish parliament formed the Kingdom of Ireland with Henry VIII at it’s head. However, this “Protestant king” would be at odds with much of the culture and identity of a strongly Catholic Ireland. When Elizabeth came to the throne, she attempted a number of “Plantations” of Protestant settlers into pockets of Ireland. These were successful to varying degrees, but most just planted districts melted back into the control of native Irish chieftains.
In 1595, one of these Chieftains – Hugh O’Neill of Tyrone – rose in rebellion alongside Hugh O’Donnell of Tyrconnell and appealed to the Spanish for help. There were many early victories for O’Neill and his men – including the battle of the Yellow Ford in County Armagh. However, these victories just convinced Elizabeth that she would have to allocate more military resources to crush the Irish forces.
Her forces gained the upper hand, when she achieved a historic victory in the Battle of Kinsale. A subsequent series of events caused the Irish chieftains of Ulster to leave Ireland – and as it turned out, for the last time – in the “flight of the Earls” in 1607. The English administration considered this a forfeiting of their lands across the counties of Ulster.
Elizabeth’s successor, James – saw this as an opportunity to “plant” much of this land with loyal English and Scottish Protestant settlers. In 1609, the counties of Tyrconnell (Donegal), Coleraine (Derry/Londonderry), Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan and Fermanagh were targeted for plantation – an earlier plantation had already been underway in Counties Antrim and Down for a number of decades previously.
Powerful individuals called “Undertakers” were granted lands in Ulster by the Crown – and these men of means “undertook” to import Protest immigrants (often from their own estates in England and Scotland) to their newly formed estates. Many of these settlers saw an opportunity to escape unfavourable land, high rents and religious persecution (in the case of Presbyterians) – and many came from lowlands of Scotland and the border areas of England and Scotland. However, things don’t always work to plan, and many settlers did not like the original land, or conditions presentedto them. This led to some settling on uninhabited land (remember – Ulster had been to subject of an earth-scorching war over the previous decade).
By 1630, there were about 80,000 “British” settlers in Ulster – and they had come to form the majority of the population in places like the fertile grounds of the north of County Armagh.
In 1641, the remaining Ulster Catholic nobility went into rebellion – massacring about 4,000 of these planters and expelling another 8,000 (or indeed, frightened them back to Great Britain). This event had a huge effect on the psyche of Ulster Protestants over the coming decades and centuries.
By the 1690s, Scottish immigration had again resumed to Ulster, mostly driven by repeated crop failures in the lowlands and border regions of Scotland. As a result, Scottish Presbyterians quickly became the majority across the province of Ulster.
The Linen Trade.
Do you own a piece of Linen? How about Irish Linen? Maybe a nice tablecloth or even a cool dress or nice shirt?
Flax was grown in Ireland, and linen was woven from this flax, for many centuries. However, the quality and sizing of this linen meant it was never in demand from the larger markets across the UK and Europe. As we saw earlier, from the middle of the 1600s, the “Plantation of Ulster” was in full flight. Tenant farmers were enticed from Scotland and the border counties of England to land taken from the native Irish across the Ulster counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Derry, Monaghan, Cavan, Tyrone and Donegal.
These immigrants brought with them a skillset that was capable of manufacturing linen suitable for sale across the markets of Europe and the majority of these weavers and farmers put parts of their farms aside for the growing of flax. By the early 1700s, Huguenots were brought into the mix – offered freedom from religious persecution on the continent. They brought with them even more sophisticated weaving and manufacturing techniques.
Shortly after, the weaving of linen became the main export activity of many of the counties of Ulster – including County Armagh – and actually accounted for 25% of all exports from Ireland.
While the flax used for manufacturing linen was grown across Ulster, the seed used for the flax was imported from the Baltic states up to the early 1700s. Then, in 1731, the colonies of north America were permitted to export flax-seed back to Ireland and the United Kingdom for the first time.
This seed from the colonies was in high demand across the small farms of Ulster. Also, as the population of the colonies increased, so too did their demand for fine linen from the weavers of Ireland. As a result, ships arrived from the colonies (particularly from Pennsylvania) to the ports of Derry, Newry (County Armagh), Belfast and Coleraine – loaded up with flaxseed for the local linen industry. They then stocked up with a return boatload of fine linen to supply the growing markets in the colonies. A nice balance, you might say.
However, the ships were taking a smaller return weight of this fine and light linen – and the owners looked around for additional cargo to take to the colonies on their sparsely-loaded ships. The answer was people – new emigrants from the north of Ireland to the colonies. The shipping companies went into strong competition with each other to entice the tenant farmers of Ulster to leave their homes of several generations and strike off for a new life in the colonies of north America.
But, why would these (mainly Protestant) farmers want to leave their established homes in the province of Ulster for such an uncertain future?
A Little Told Story – The Famine of 1741.
So, what might give the Ulster locals the motive to emigrate to the colonies – with the risk of losing so much? As we discussed already, many of the original “planters” from the north of England and Scotland were attracted to Ulster by the promise of fertile lands and steady rents. They were tenant farmers on land that was owned by the larger (and mostly absent) English and Scottish lords. As the population and economic stability of Ulster increased, it was accompanied by a steady increase of rents (what became known as “rent-racking”).
A second factor made it nearly impossible to pay these increasing rents. Nowadays, our history tells us mostly of Great Irish Famine of the 1840s. However, the years between 1726 and 1741 brought a number of droughts and frosts – with resulting food shortages that hit famine levels. In 1741 alone, about 20% of the population of the island of Ireland died through famine and related sickness.
By 1775, about 200,000 men and women from the counties of Ulster had migrated to the colonies of north America. About half of them were indentured servants and the majority were Presbyterian of Scottish ancestry. When they arrived they were simply known as “Irish” – that is how they saw themselves – and later became labelled as “Scotch-Irish”.
The colonial attitude and skills that they had developed in the “colony” of Ulster had made them suitable for living on frontiers of western Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and on to Kentucky and Tennessee, where you will still find their ancestors today. This great migration from Ulster to the colonies came to an abrupt end in 1776 with the American Revolution.
Do you have an Ulster-Scot ancestor in your family tree?
So, many Ulster Scots left the north of Ireland during this time – but many stayed behind, including members of the Oliver family of County Armagh. So, let’s leave the story of the Ulster Scots in the colonies of North America for another day, and continue with story of the Oliver family, and others like them, who remained in Ireland.
The Orange Order.
You can see from the above how we had quite a contentious situation across much of Ulster from the early 1600s onwards. There were two divergent populations, each with a strong belief that the land rightfully belonged to them. Two populations pitted against each other in one of the biggest experiments in social engineering in history.
For this feature, we arrived in City of Armagh on July 6th – just in time for what is known as “marching season” in many of the six counties of Northern Ireland. This season culminates on the “glorious 12th” of July. July 12th marks the anniversary of The Battle of the Boyne – and the celebrations are lead by members of the Orange Order across much of Ulster. But, what is this “Orange Order”?
Towards the end of the 1600s, there was a chance that the Catholic James of the United Kingdom might regain the throne taken from him by the Protestant William of Orange. In 1690, the two forces met on the shores of the River Boyne near the town of Drogheda in County Louth. On the day, the forces of William won a resounding victory. Between this, and a battle a year later at Aughrim, the Protestant ascendancy across Ireland was assured going into the 18th century.
One of the tools employed by the English administration were a set of laws that “encouraged” all residents of Ireland to join the established Protestant Church of Ireland. These became known as the “Penal Laws” and forbade non-adherents to the established church to hold office, profession – and put them at a disadvantage in commercial transactions. For much of the early part of the 18th century, the targets of these laws were not only Roman Catholic – but also Presbyterians.
By the 1780s, Armagh was both a prosperous county – and the most highly-populated county in Ireland. The estimated population of Ireland in 1672 was 1.1 million (Petty) – an by the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s, the population had risen to 8 million. This illustrates the pressure that must have been felt on the farms and society of County Armagh by the late 1700s. Adding to this pressure, the Penal Laws were being relaxed for the first time in almost a century. This must have made the native Protestant population very anxious indeed.
Fights over the tenancy of land in Armagh were fast becoming a feature of market days, and much of this hostility was organised on sectarian lines. On the Catholic side, the gangs were organised into a group known as the “Defenders” and the Protestant side were known as the “Peep O’Day Boys”.
In September, 1795, the rival factions gathered to fight in the Diamond (squares in villages and towns in Ulster are often called “Diamonds”) in the village of Loughgall, County Armagh, just 5 miles from where we were visiting in Armagh City. The Peep o’Day Boys dominated, and the Defenders lost thirty men on the day. After their victory, the Peep o’Days went to the house of James Sloan and founded the “Orange Order”. It was to be a Protestant fraternal organisation of lodges, formed to defend the Protestant citizens of Armagh and beyond.
Their first marches were held in July 1796, in the Armagh towns of Portadown and Lurgan and celebrated the victory at the Battle of the Boyne. This has been a tradition that has been maintained to the present day.
At it’s peak in 1965, membership of the Orange Order was about 70,000 – but that number has dropped to about 35,000 today. However, north Armagh retains a high membership of the Orange Order – organised across 168 lodges.
Many people find it hard to understand how an organisation such as the Orange order exists today. Given their sectarian “reason for being”, the tradition of marching, the wearing of provocative emblems – all of these trigger extreme reactions. For some, they are a proud symbol of a shared heritage – and for others, they are a provocative sectarian group. For many more, they are a historical anomaly, and inconsequential within a modern, secular society.
What do you think – where does your opinion lie?
My opinion is – I think we need little music now. I’m going to share two pieces, each from each side of the old divide in Armagh, and Ulster in general. The first is “The Sash My Father Wore” – do follow the words to hear the sense of history and pride in this Unionist ballad. Then, we have “Four Green Fields“, written by the late, great Tommy Makem from Keady in County Armagh – and performed by himself and Liam Clancy. It’s a Republican ballad lamenting the loss of an old Ireland – the hope of a united one in the future.
Here is “The Sash My Father Wore”:
And here are the “Four Green Fields”:
I hope you enjoyed that – didn’t Tommy Makem have a fine voice?
The Early to mid-1800s.
So, what was Armagh like by the early to mid 1800s? This was the time that the Oliver and Hayes family appear on Carolyn’s family tree. One of the best places to get a flavour is in Samuel Lewis’s Topiographical Dictionary of Ireland. This was compiled in 1837 – and gives an overview and detail of the counties, towns and villages of the time. You can see the whole Dictionary here, but for now, we will concentrate on County Armagh.
He notes that in County Armagh the “population, in 1821, was 197,427; and, in 1831, 220,134.” Quite a large increase for a small county.
He notes that:
“The peasantry are in possession of superior comforts in their habitations as well as in food and clothing, which cannot be attributed solely to the linen manufacture, as their neighbours of the same trade in the adjoining counties of Cavan and Monaghan are far behind them in this respect.”
On the living conditions, he attributes much of their positive aspects to linen manufacture:
“The general diffusion of the population is neither the result of a predetermined plan, nor of mere accident: it arises from the nature of the linen manufacture, which does not require those employed in it to be collected into overgrown cities, or congregated in crowded factories. Engaged alternately at their loom and in their farm, they derive both health and recreation from the alternation. Green lawns, clear streams, pure springs, and the open atmosphere, are necessary for bleaching: hence it is that so many eminent bleachers reside in the country, and hence also the towns are small, and every hill and valley abounds with rural and comfortable habitations.”
He comments on the farms of the area, noticing the dense population through the county:
“In consequence of the dense population the farms are generally very small, and much land is tilled with the spade. Wheat is a very general crop in the baronies of Armagh, the O’Neillands, and Turaney; the main crops in the other baronies are oats, flax, and potatoes.”
That was a picture of County Armagh before the arrival of The Great Famine in the mid 1840s. However, much of north County Armagh was spared the worst extremes of the famine as the nature of the flax crop meant that it had to be rotated on a regular basis with the potato crop – making the potato crop less open to blight (thanks to Jayne McGarvey for pointing this out).
I’m going to skip over the time we called “The Troubles” from the late 1960s – I covered them in some detail in the Monaghan Irish Homelands feature.
Armagh today still has the look of a farming county. The fields are small – and spread across hilly drumlins around the City of Armagh.
While much of the evidence of the earlier troubles has either gone away, or receded into the background – every now and again you notice something that makes you sit up and take notice. For example, the heavy fortifications around the police stations of the area.
I think that is probably enough history and context for one feature – what do you think? Time now to head to the City of Armagh, and the surrounding hinterland – in search of the Oliver and Hayes families.
On To the City of Armagh.
And then we set off on our trip to County Armagh! Have you every been here? These days, it’s a fast trip on the motorway from Dublin to Newry, and then turn left into the rolling countryside of mid-Armagh. As we drove along in midsummer, there were plenty of tractors on the road – reminding us that this is prime agriculture territory. The fields are noticeable smaller than further south, where many of the ditches have been removed to create 5 and 10 acre fields.
We eventually arrive into the City of Armagh. As this is July 6th, there is a lot of blue and white bunting up on the streets – celebrating the upcoming “glorious 12th”. Armagh is a busy market town – it clearly had it’s economic troubles like many midsize towns over the past 10 years, but is looking really well with new footpaths, roads and a welcoming feel for tourists.
The two pictures above show “Scotch” street – then and now. Many towns in Ireland, especially in the northern half of the island – had an “English Street”, “Scotch/Scottish Street” and “Irish Street” (usually outside the gates of the old town walls). Just to remind you where you came from!
Once thing we noticed in this lovely, compact city – was that all roads and paths led to the Cathedral.
The Cathedral is situated on a hill known as the “Height of Macha”, of “Ard Mhacha” in Irish. This hill gives the City, and county in turn, the name of Armagh. It was the place that Saint Patrick is said to have built his first great stone church in Ireland in the 400s, and declared it the ecclesiastical centre of Ireland.
Over the years, many have layered meaning and story over this site of spiritual significance. For example, Brian Boru – Ireland’s last great High King – was slain near Dublin, but his body was said to have been taken to this spot and buried in the old Cathedral. Here we have Carina and Jayne McGarvey chatting about this place – and the stories associated with it:
The Cathedral we just visited was the one in use by the Church of Ireland since the 1600s. However, the City of Armagh was also (and is also) the ecclesiastical centre of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The second St Patrick’s Cathedral is located on another hill, and was built in phases starting in the 1840s. However, it was large donations from the descendants of Irish RC emigrants that really made the cathedral the imposing, and artistic structure that it is today.
Armagh can be a puzzling place. When we asked for the nearest bookstore, we were told there was no longer one in the city. In Ireland, it is quite usual to see one or two independent bookstores in most large towns. But, this is an ancient seat of learning! Samuel Lewis reminds us of this, when talking about the Cathedral:
Attached to it was a school or college, which long continued one of the most celebrated seminaries in Europe, and from which many learned men, not only of the Irish nation, but from all parts of Christendom, were despatched to diffuse knowledge throughout Europe. It is said that 7000 students were congregated in it, in the pursuit of learning, at one period; and the annals of Ulster relate that, at a synod held by Gelasius at Claonadh, in 1162, it was decreed that no person should lecture publicly on theology, except such as had studied at Armagh.
Time to sort that one out, Armagh!
There is, however, Armagh Public library, which dates from 1771 – and is located just beside the Cathedral. Looking inside, we came across this first edition of “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift – and guess what? That is the writing of the great man himself in the margins, correcting a spelling mistake!
By the way, that edition was stolen in an armed robbery in the late 1990s, but returned unharmed 20 months later.
It’s hard to avoid ecclesiastical buildings and references while you walk around the City of Armagh. We next headed over to the “Bishop’s Palace” – built by Archbishop Richard Robinson in the 1770s. He is the man who was responsible for laying out the City of Armagh, and restoring the city as a centre for the Church of Ireland.
Today, it’s a lovely place to wander on a summer’s evening. However, it’s amazing just how quiet the whole place is. If this were another town in Ireland with the same history and amenities, there would be people coming to stay, tourists, busses – the whole shooting match! Maybe it’s undiscovered as of yet – and maybe you have an opportunity to get here ahead of the crowds.
The city would have been the local Market town to the Oliver and Hayes family. This is the place they would have come to deal with all commercial and legal business.
Just 15 miles to the north of Armagh, lies the more industrialised town of Lurgan, which would have been the centre of the Linen trade in the area during the early 19th century. Here is Samuel Lewis again, summarising the trade and commerce aspects of Armagh city prior the the Great Famine of the 1840s:
After the introduction of the linen manufacture into the North of Ireland, Armagh became the grand mart for the sale of cloth produced in the surrounding district. But this does not afford a just criterion of the present state of the trade, in which a great change has taken place within the last 20 years; the quantity now bleached annually in this neighbourhood is nearly double that of any former period, but only a portion of it is brought into the market of Armagh. The linen-hall is a large and commodious building, erected by Leonard Dobbin, Esq., M.P. for the borough.
There are two extensive distilleries; several extensive tanneries; and numerous flour and corn mills, some of which are worked by steam. The Blackwater, within four miles of the city, affords a navigable communication with Lough Neagh, from which, by the Lagan canal, the line of navigation is extended to Belfast; and to the east is the navigable river Bann, which is connected with the Newry canal. The markets are abundantly supplied; they are held on Tuesday, for linen cloth and yarn, pigs, horned cattle, provisions of all kinds, vast quantities of flax, and flax-seed during the season; and on Saturday, for grain and provisions.
Fairs are held on the Tuesday after Michaelmas, and a week before Christmas, and a large cattle market has been established on the first Saturday in every month. The market-house, an elegant and commodious building of hewn stone, erected by Archbishop Stuart, at an expense of £3000 (see picture above), occupies a central situation at the lower extremity of Market-street.The supply of butchers’ meat of very good quality is abundant, and the veal of Armagh is held in high estimation: there is also a plentiful supply of sea and fresh-water fish.
So, Andrew Bradford Oliver was born into an area in 1818 that may have been highly populated, and the land fiercely contested – but there was a high demand for the agricultural produce and linen cloth of the area at the time he was born.
When Andrew Oliver was 24 years of age, the author Willam Makepeace Thackeray toured the area and commented:
…the county is well cultivated along the whole of the road, the trees in plenty, and villages and neat houses always in sight. The little farms, with their orchards and comfortable buildings, were as clean and trim as could be wished; they are mostly of one storey, with long thatched roofs and shining windows, such as those that may be seen in Normandy or Picardy.
However, massive change was coming. Between the time that Andrew Oliver was born in 1818 – and the years just before the famine – the population of the County had increased from 197,000 to 232,000 – and this massive population increase was repeated through many counties in Ireland over those same years.
Andrew was a young 25 years of age when he married for the second time in 1843 – following the death of his first wife. They were a young, farming couple – with a growing family to feed. When the first potato blight struck in 1845, it came at a time when there was a slump in the linen and cotton trade. The potato harvest failed in 1846 for a second year – and this time it was accompanied by outbreaks of fever in many areas of the county. One can only imagine the pressures that the Oliver family must have felt as they looked to rear their young family while holding on to their health and their land.
While the crop failures of the mid 1840s came to an end by 1848, tenants and farmers in the area remained under financial pressure. Many could not pay their rent and were evicted by landlords who wanted to pass the land on to others who could pay, or clear the land for consolidation into larger estates.
In 1853, Andrew Bradford Oliver became a victim of the times and was declared insolvent. Although we came across many parcels of land that placed Andrew at the time of his marriage and births of some of his children, there is no sign of him by the Griffiths Valuation of 1864. The next time we come across Andrew is in the graveyard at Killylea. He is buried there with his second family. He was interred there in 1877, a relatively young 59 years of age at the time.
Where the Oliver and Hayes Family worked and lived.
The extended Oliver family held a number of parcels of land across a location to the west and southwest of Armagh City from at least the late 1700s.
While the crowded nature of the county in the early 1800s led to the fragmentation of many of the farms, another thing to bear in mind, was that, unlike the Roman Catholic tenants across much of Ireland – who tended to stick with adjoining townlands for tenancy and intermarrying, Presbyterian farmers like the Olivers of Armagh were more likely to travel further for the right piece of land or the right marriage alliance.
Our first port of call was to the small village of Killylea – a place where Andrew Bradford Oliver, and his family, are buried in the local cemetery of Saint Mark’s Church of Ireland.
Killylea was a quiet spot when we arrived, and we went straight to the church. Unlike most Roman Catholic churches in the south of Ireland, the Churches of Ireland tend to be locked outside mass times – so we did not get a chance to go inside. We did, however, come across the final resting place of the Olivers.
Here we have Carina with a short video talking about the site and the village:
When we looked at the locations of the Oliver family in the area during 1864, we found only two Oliver locations listed. One was in the village of Killylea itself – in the name of James Oliver (possibly the brother of Andrew Oliver). The other was in the name of Martha Oliver, just outside the village – and then we headed down this lovely lane towards her homestead.
As we said before, Martha was probably the eldest daughter of Andrew Oliver. She lived in a house surrounded by land that was farmed by her neighbour, John Greer. Is this the place where Andrew and his family also lived? Or maybe they lived with his brother (?) in the village?
Here we have Carina outside what was once the home to Martha Oliver:
Our next stop was one that went back along the timeline of the Olivers. Here we see what was the Oliver home in the early 1800s – the place where Andrew Oliver was born in 1818, in the townland of Killynure.
The large red-bricked house has been added since, but Carolyn Oliver Hendry, our homelands member of the month – received this photograph from an earlier visit. It shows what was the older Oliver home – it was single storey and probably thatched in the early 1800s.
At this point, we were joined again by our County Down-based genealogist – Jayne McGarvey. We wondered out loud about the wisdom of arriving at the doors of one of these houses unannounced. That is what we try to do in many locations in the south. She advised against it – the welcome maybe wonderful, or the welcome may be less-than-wonderful. She advised always to get an introduction first. There is nothing like local knowledge!
Across a few fields from the Oliver house at Killynure, lies Maghery House shown below. Carolyn Oliver Hendry’s ancestor was the son of Andrew Bradford Oliver and his first wife, Mary Jane Hayes. We examined the evidence shown in Griffith’s Valuation – and noticed that James Hayes had the tenancy on the unoccupied Gate Lodge to this house. It is possible that the James Hayes listed was a brother/cousin of Mary Jane Hayes – and that the gatelodge where the family lived at one point in the early 1800s. Now that’s a lot of “possibles”!
Here we see Carina and Jayne outside the old Gate Lodge.
And Jayne gives an opinion – and you can get a feel for here preference for accuracy (!!!) in this short video:
Well, with that visit to the possible homesteads of the Oliver family – we decided to call it a day. One thing struck us about this whole area – you might look at it on a map, or even “fly in” with Google Maps – however, nothing compares with being “on the ground”. Smelling the cut grass in the fields, feeling the direction of the wind, hearing the local accents – relying on expert assistance (thanks Jayne) – as well as local chance encounters. All of these things paint a much more complete picture around the records that we do possess.
As always, we like to conclude a visit to an Irish Homeland with a video capturing just some of the sights. Here we go with a composite video for County Armagh:
We hope that this article provides those of our readers with Armagh Roots – including Carolyn – with a good base to discover more about the details of their ancestors. We hope that you enjoyed this tour around County Armagh with a look into the life and times of the Oliver-Hayes family.
I think that this feature – more than some others – is only really half-developed. There is now a lot more opportunity to discover more facts, make more connections – and post new pictures and videos as we go on.
There are also many unanswered questions that we would like to obtain answers to as we move forward:
- What became of Andrew Bradford Oliver and his family after the 1840s?
- What happened to Mary Jane Hayes – Andrew’s first wife? Where did her father and mother live?
- How about the children of Andrew who stayed in Ireland – they were all dead by the early 1900s. Did any of them leave spouses and children behind?
I do hope that we uncover answers to these questions, and more, as we move forward.
How about all of our readers? Were any of your ancestors from County Armagh? Do let us know in the comment section below.
In the meantime, here’s a video of Carina with a few nice comments in conclusion:
I hope that Carolyn now has some more information (and inspiration) with which to continue her research and discoveries.
There we are – our featured Green Room member of the month – Carolyn Oliver Hendry from Ontario in Canada! Thanks very much for providing us with the details of your family, Carolyn – we hope it was a pleasurable and useful experience for you – and for all of our members.
What about you? Do you have details, stories or questions to share about the Armagh ancestors in your family tree?
As always, let’s keep this article and story “active” – open to updates and corrections as time goes forward. We do hope that Carolyn and her family will come up with new facts and family stories. Perhaps another Green Room member will add their own research of this name and location to the story?
If you liked the Irish Homelands feature – you can see see more of our features by clicking here – as well as those we have planned.
Remember, if you would like to be one of our Green Room members of the month, you need to be a Green Room member and then go to this page to fill out an application).