‘The Glens of Antrim Historical Society:45 YEARS ON’
By Malachy McSparran
The Society was formed as a result of a casual conversation between Jim McSparran, Jack McCann and Frank Connolly, outside the Cushendall Golf Club during the summer of 1965. Shortly afterwards, a number of us attended a meeting in Jim’s house in Knocknacarry, and a committee was formed. It was decided to invite Fr. James Webb of Campbeltown to give the first address to the Society. Fr. Webb was known to our family because of his great interest in the history of the links between the Glens and Kintyre and had been in close contact with the late Dr. Dan McSparran for many years. The idea of asking Fr. Webb was an inspired one. In fact he gave two lectures on the Friday and Saturday night of his first visit. Those of us who were present on those nights, were privileged to hear one of the foremost experts on the history of Western Scotland. The Society had got off to a great start.
Fr. Webb returned some time later to give a third lecture. He remained a good friend of the Society until his death ten years later. During his time in Campbeltown – he had come there in 1931 – he made many extracts from the Customs Records, and those which in any way referred to the Glens, he presented to the Society.
During the first winter we had lectures from Hugh A. Boyd on the Parish of Layde, Fr. McKavanagh on the Battle of Orra, David Kennedy on Alastair McDonnell and from Norman Harrison on the Making of the Coast Road. And how is this for a programme for the 1966 season? On the 29th October, Dan McLaughlin on the History of the North Antrim Coast. On the 5th November, Norman Harrison on The Famine. On the 12th November, R.C. Morton on the Parkmore Railway. On the 19th November, Hayes McCoy on Shane O’Neill. On the 26th November Michael Tierney on Eoin McNeill, and on the 3rd December, Hugh A. Boyd on Old Cushendall.
It has often been said that the Society would never have got off the ground if it had not been for Jack McCann, and it is certainly true that it would never have survived in those early days if it had not been for Jack. On his own, he organised the lectures, arranged speakers, sent out the notices and entertained the speakers during their visits. We had established our headquarters in the old Glens of Antrim Hotel – one of the oldest buildings in the town and referred to in the Dobbs Survey 1816 as being ‘a large and convenient house, begun by William Richardson Esq. and finished by Mr. Turnly – it is intended for a hotel’. Unfortunately this historic building, like so many others, did not survive the “Troubles”. Somehow we never recaptured the interest of those early days, when the older people of the town would slip into the back of the hall to listen to the lectures. People like Paddy Lynn, Willie Stevenson, Paddy McCollam, Frank McAuley and Paddy O’Neill, have all now passed to their eternal reward. At times they would contribute to the discussion afterwards, and many anecdotes that might have been lost, were recorded.
Another idea tried in those early days, was to invite people from a particular area to discuss their locality. We had two of these in Glenariff. The first was a memorable night when the audience was fascinated by among other things, George Sharpe telling of the days when his great grandfather imported ponies from Kintyre, and of how on one occasion a particular pony was cursed, and the boat was unable to sail until the curse had been removed. The next Glenariff night, twelve years later was somewhat spoiled by two of the participants who had spent too long at the bar, and proceeded to argue with each other all night. Nevertheless, the late Jeannie McMullan gave a lot of valuable information and a great deal of interest was generated. The Glendun folk discussed their Glen in December 1968 when the chief contributors were Patsy McAuley, J.C McElheron, James McSparran and Daniel O’Hara. We also, at a much later period, went to Glenravel on two occasions, one of these being a visit to the Skerry Inn, to talk to John McKeown. Again, the success of these nights was due to Jack, who acted as M.C. and interspersed the proceedings with his own unique anecdotes. We also organised an annual Folk Night, an occasion which seems to have fallen by the wayside. We spent some great nights in the company of Sean Quinn, Tony McAuley, David Hammond, James McElheran, Seamus Heaney, Jim McKillop, Cahal Dallat, Michael Longley and others.
Brian Trainor was one of our early lecturers. At that time he was Deputy Keeper of Records in the Public Records Office in Belfast. From Brian we heard of such treasures as the O.S. Memoirs, the Tithe Applotment Records and Griffith’s Valuation. Indeed our first publication in 1968 was the O.S. Memoirs for the Parish of Layde, and published under the title of Life in the Glens of Antrim in the 1830’s.
Nearly twenty years ago, we had an illustrated talk on the Book of Kells, given by the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Simms. The venue of that occasion was Garron Tower. The previous year, Dr. Tomas O’ Fiaich, then president of Maynooth, spoke about Co. Antrim in Oliver Plunkett’s time. In a very short time afterwards, Dr. O’ Fiaich was to become a successor of Oliver Plunkett as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. [Dr. O’ Fiaich was a life member and remained interested and a good friend of the Society until his untimely death in 1990.)
The vote of thanks on that night was given by Hugh A. Boyd. He described the lecture as one of the finest lectures he had ever heard. It would be an omission, if this article did not pay a special tribute to the enormous contribution which Hugh A. has given to this Society. Our first honorary member, he has spoken to the Society on eleven occasions, and written regularly for The Glynns. But he should also be remembered for the contributions he has made during discussions after our lectures, when he gave us priceless nuggets of information which were of interest to us all.
In April 1981, our speaker was Dr. T.K. Whitaker and the subject of his talk was a very famous Glensman, James Hamilton Delargy. As Dr. Whitaker was at that time, a member of the Irish Senate, the R.U.C. were keeping a watch on the premises as the “Troubles” were at their height. In the middle of the proceedings the lights went out, and for a while great consternation was caused as no one was sure what had happened. Happily, normality was soon restored. This was an important lecture. The Senator knew Delargy well and recorded his memories in 1974, when Delargy recalled his early days in The Glens, his visits to Rathlin to learn Irish and how in 1920, on Red Bay Pier, he wrote down from Jimmy McAuley, his first folk tale in Antrim Irish. Delargy was the founder of the Irish Folklore Commission and the foremost collector of folk tales in Ireland. Dr. Whitaker recalled that Delargy, who never forgot his Glens roots, was barely in the nick of time in saving that priceless heritage of folklore from oblivion.
In the early days of the society there were exhibitions organised at the Glen Feis and in the old school in Cushendall, where by coincidence the society now has its headquarters. It was at one of these exhibitions that a visitor from Belfast chanced to enter and have a look around. He later started to attend lectures and subsequently came to live in Carnlough. Along with Jack McCann, Jimmy Irvine was to become the other great influence on the success of the society. Jimmy soon became a member of the committee. In a way he was the opposite of Jack – Jimmy wanted everything precise and ordered – Jack worked on impulse. Jack thought up the ideas – Jimmy carried them through. Jimmy was mainly responsible for the drafting and adoption of the constitution in 1973, and he became the second chairman and second editor of The Glynns which was also published for the first time in that year. Jimmy contributed to every edition of the Glynns until his death in 1987, and his last article was published posthumously in that year’s edition. His wife Honor, was also a life member, and was responsible for the drawing of Red Bay Castle, which appears on all our publications.
On the 20th April 1986, we celebrated our “coming of age”, at a dinner in the Bay Hotel, Cushendun. Dr. George Thompson, a Larne man, and just then retired as Director of the Folk Museum at Cultra, spoke to over two hundred guests. Dr. Thompson had spoken to the society on a previous occasion in 1973. At the dinner he recalled his earlier visit when the society was in its infancy and how he had speculated on his journey along the Coast Road as to what size of an audience there would be, and to how he was somewhat taken aback, to find a “veritable horde” assembled. He still thought in 1973, that the enthusiasm would soon wear off, and never envisaged that he would be speaking at its 21st celebrations.
Four years later we commemorated our silver jubilee in a similar manner, with once again Dr. Brian Trainor as guest speaker.
And then, another milestone, with our thirtieth birthday. despite the cynics, and there were many, who asserted that the Society would not last.
And yet, another milestone has been reached, the fortieth anniversary of our inauguration.
To mark the occasion a celebration dinner was, very fittingly, held in Cushendall Golf Club on 16th September 2005. The current Chairman, Mr Graham Gault of Ballycastle, welcomed the 120 guests, who were entertained by Alex. Blair’s witty and interesting after-dinner talk.
Presentations were made to the surviving members of the first committee, James D. McSparran, and Frank Connolly. Pat. McCambridge was unable to be present. A special presentation was made to Malachy McSparran who has continuously served on the committee since the inauguration of the society. There was also a presentation acknowledging Cahal Dallat as the longest serving editor of the society’s magazine The Glynns.
As well as The Glynns, which has appeared every year since 1973, the society has been responsible for a number of other publications, some of which are still available at the society’s office in Cushendall and also through our bookshop on this site.
Publications of the Society
As already mentioned, our first publication was Life in the Glens of Antrim in the 1830’s. This venture was so successful that it had to be reprinted. The Glynns was first edited by our secretary Frank Connolly. After two years Jimmy Irvine took over and he in turn was succeeded by Anne Mageean. Anne, who had been a Committee member and treasurer, carried on as editor from 1981 until 1988 when after the death of her husband Joe, also a member, she had to relinquish the post. Sadly, shortly after Joe’s death, Anne herself was diagnosed as being terminally ill and died two years later at an early age. The position of editor was then filled by Dr. Cahal Dallat, a long time member and frequent lecturer to the society. Graham Gault , a Ballycastle member took over the editorship in 2000 and continued for the next three years.Since 2003 the post has been ably filled by another Ballycastle member Frank Rogers.
The reprint of Hill’s Macdonnells of Antrim in 1976 was a great success. One thousand copies were printed by Impact, then just established as a printing company in Ballycastle. Such was the interest in this publication, that it was sold out within a fortnight.
Our next venture was the publication of a collection of early photographs of the Glens, taken mainly by a former doctor in Glenarm, Dr. Holden. The idea for this publication came from one of our Carnlough members, Willie Stewart, who was shown the collection by Glenarm doctor, Dr. Glover. He had been given the collection by Dr. Holden’s niece. The title of the book was chosen by Jack McCann and came from one of Moira O Neill’s poems, Oh Maybe It Was Yesterday. The next line of this poem “Or Fifty Years Ago”, was also chosen for the next venture in 1981. This was the reprint of The Glensman, a local magazine which had been produced by the late G.B. Newe in 1931-1932. Both these publications have long since been out of print.
Andrew Nicholl’s View’s of the Antrim Coast in 1828, was also produced in 1981. This superb book consisted of twenty full colour pages, eight illustrated in black and white, with historical notes on the plates. An old friend of the society, John Hewitt, wrote the foreword.
In 1988, McCahan’s Local Histories, a series of pamphlets on North Antrim and the Glens (1923), were compiled by Cahal Dallat and reprinted by the Society. But undoubtedly, our most successful production was The Day of the Corncrake, the poems of John Hewitt and the paintings of Charlie McAuley. (The poems had been printed previously, by the Society, in a small book in 1968). The demand for this book was so great that the initial order was increased and when these were sold, a reprint was carried out. This too, is now out of print.
Another publication was the Survey of Layde Graveyard, published in 1992. For a long time, the society had been anxious to preserve and record what was left of the headstones in Layde graveyard. The project was made possible by the endeavours of Noreen Delargy and Josephine McCallin, who were employed by the society under an Enterprise Ulster scheme.
To mark the millennium, the Society published From Glynn to Glen a record of significant events, people and places in the Glens of Antrim over 1000 years.
We have released two publications in 2007. A Wheen O’ Things That Used To Be is a social history of the small settlements (clachans) of the Glens of Antrim 1800-1950. This well illustrated publication includes specially commissioned sketches and a comprehensive selection of previously unpublished photographs. How It Used To Be collates work done by the fifteen schools which took part in The Clachan Project for Schools. It is presented thematically and as far as possible in the children’s own words. A considerable section of children’s stories are also included. These publications compliment the information on the Clachan Project section of our website.
The objects of the society, as laid down in the Constitution, are – the study of the history, traditions and folklore of the Glens of Antrim. The preservation of historical knowledge and objects of historical interest. The social and cultural entertainment of members. The issue of an annual publication. When the Society was formed it was one of only four such Societies in the North. Donegal, Clogher and Armagh were the others. Our society is now recognised as one of the leading historical societies in Ulster, if not in all of Ireland, and a glance at the objects laid down on its formation, show that the aims of the founders, have been faithfully carried out. We look forward with confidence to the future. After a few years in a Portacabin in Cushendall car park the society has acquired premises in the old schoolhouse in Mill Street, and we continue to add to our store of records and archives and expand our website.
The Glens of Antrim Historical Society
Current Office Bearers:
The Glens of Antrim Historical Society
The Old Schoolhouse
25 Mill Street, Cushendall
Web address: www.antrimhistory.net
Telephone +44 (0) 28 2177 1180
Charity Registration Number XR 44018
- Mary Blaney- Cushendall
- Eamonn Duffy – Cushendall
- Catriona Duncan – Ballycastle
- Elizabeth Hoy – Cullybackey
- Sheila McGoran – Cushendun
- Robert McMullan – Glenariffe
- Brigid Mc Sparran – Cushendun
- Leonard Quigg – Ballycastle
The Old School House, Mill Street, Cushendall, BT44 ORR
Tel: 028 2177 1180. E mail; email@example.com
|Officers of the Society|
1973-1976 Frank Connolly
1977-1980 Jimmy Irvine
1981-1988 Anne Mageean,
1989-2000 Dr. Cahal Dallat
2000-2003 Graham Gault
2003- Frank Rogers
1965-1969 Jack McCann
1969-1980 Frank Connolly
1980-1997 Mrs. B.P.McKay
1997-2000 Anna McCaughan
2000-2008 Sheila McGoran
2008- Dominic O’Loan