Local historians everywhere will be delighted that Friar’s Bush Press have had the foresight to reprint Bassett’s Directories and County Guides for Antrim, Down and Armagh—the only ones published for Ulster counties.
The Antrim volume, first published in Dublin in 1886, is a compendium of social history, local history and genealogy. This marvellous historical document has been virtually unobtainable and on the rare occasions on which it was on offer in the catalogue of the antiquarian booksellers it was costing an arm and a leg! Now it is available as a reasonably priced paperback bringing it within reach of even the most parsimonious local historian.
There is an unbelievable wealth of information within its pages. The entry for each town, nay even village, is accompanied by a short description of the locality as well as a potted history. Take for example Cushendall;
“Nature has done so much for Cushendall, that human effort, however magnificently directed, could do very little that would be worthy of comparison. Mountains of great height and glens of surpassing loveliness, give to the scenery of the coast at this point a grandeur indescribable. The village is delightfully situated in the valley of the Dali, which is handsomely planted ”
and so it goes on for three pages which include references to Court MacMartin, the battle of Orra, Red Bay Castle, Ossian’s Grave and the Cushendall Hospital opened by Miss Catherine McDonnell in August 1885.
The social history jumps out from the advertisements on almost every other page and many of these advertisements are in the form of fine engravings of spinning mills, distilleries, hotels, nurseries, etc. The directory pages include the names of professional people and businessmen and there is a section for farmers and residents. An important feature of these lists especially from a genealogical point of view is the fact that the farmers’ names are linked to their townlands.
Congratulations to Brian Walker and Friar’s Bush Press. In my opinion this is one of the most useful books to come into the local historian’s hands in a very long time.