In 2004 we began a survey of clusters of rural housing in the Glens of Antrim which could have been clachans.
In the early stages of the project we relied on field observation and information from local people in each glen. It is worth pointing out that when we began to use the term clachan throughout the Glens the majority of people were not familiar with the word. If anything. they would have tended to use the word ‘town’ when referring to clusters.
In order to make the project manageable we decided that our survey could not exceed fifty clachans. This number was adopted because it was estimated that it should cover any clachans in the glens which were being lived in currently. We were anxious that all such clachans should be included. We also wanted to include uninhabited clachans where the houses and offices have been converted to farm outbuildings and are still being used today by farmers who no longer live on the site. Finally, we wished to record those sites which have become deserted within living memory.
Again, for reasons of manageability and availability of sources, we decided to restrict our study of changes in the clachans to the second half of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth centuries. This means that we were looking at the declining period of clachans rather than the period in the early 1800s when clachans were growing to their maximum populations.
Clachans identified and their status at present
In the end we identified forty-five clachans which met the above criteria. Thirty-two of the clachans were being lived in. Some were parts of working farms, some contained people who simply used the house in the clachan as their home but worked outside the area, and some contained holiday homes and holiday lets. The original houses in these clachans had either been refurbished or replaced with completely new houses and many contained ruined wallsteads scattered throughout the site. The other thirteen, uninhabited, clachans ranged from some, such as Knockban in Glenaan, which were completely in ruins, to others where some of the buildings had been refurbished as farm outbuildings and used by farmers who lived nearby. For summary details of the forty-five clachans, click here.
We know that were other clachans in the glens during the earlier part of the nineteenth century when the population of the Glens was at its peak. However, given the size of our task, its time limit, and the lack of detailed sources for that earlier period, we decided not to explore this aspect of clachans in the Glens.
Changes in the population of clachans and townlands 1841 to 1901
The two tables below show changes in the number of people and inhabited houses in the clachans during the period 1841 to 1901. Note that the numbers refer to the townlands in which the clachans were situated and will, therefore, include those persons and houses who lived outside the clachans. We could not find a reliable way of eliminating the latter from the figures.
Population 1841 to 1901
Inhabited Houses 1841 to 1901
We know that the population of clachans reached their zenith in the first half of the nineteenth century following the rapid increase of population in the second half of the eighteenth century. The figures of 3343 for people and 572 for inhabited houses is the nearest we can get to an estimate of that zenith. We also know that by the 1830s the clachans and settlements of the Glens had become overpopulated. Landlords were encouraging people to leave the land – some did, but many were reluctant to do so.
Clearly, the famine provided a tragic impetus to the movement off the land. However, it also clear from the figures above, that whilst it was a key feature in the early stages of decline in both population and inhabited houses, the latter part of the nineteenth century was just as significant. This reflects the changing expectations and aspirations of people at that time and the stories from America which encouraged more to emigrate during the latter years of the nineteenth century.
By 1901 the number of people living in these townlands was half of what it had been in 1841 and the number of houses had fallen by 41%.
The clachans on the web site provide individual examples of this trend but some, for peculiar local reasons, did not always follow the general trend.
Information from the Griffith’s Printed Valuation of circa 1860
The Griffith’s Printed Valuation of circa 1860 was the earliest document which we could use to get information on the names of the people who lived in each clachan in the nineteenth century, where they lived within the townland and the layout of the holdings and fields around the clusters. The classic rundale system normally produced a patchwork-quilt pattern of fields and holdings. Such a system ensured that all farmers within the clachan had access to land of varying qualities.The coloured 1860 maps of Cruck, Ligg and Cullyvully in the townland of Mullaghsandall are a good illustration of what this pattern looked like on the ground.
For at least three centuries, most rundale holdings and their associated clachan settlements have been found in the west and north of Ireland. Like the closely related Scottish system of runrig, rundale was a way that tenant farmers could gain access to land, by ‘partnership farming’. The members of each rundale settlement would share out strips of arable land, and make use of common grazing in nearby hills.
In the west of Ireland, the system was associated with extreme poverty, and in the early nineteenth century, settlements could be very big. One clachan in county Clare, for example, had 200 houses. In the Glens of Antrim, clachans were smaller, and there seems to have been more variation in wealth between the people living in them. However, as elsewhere, most landlords in the Glens saw the rundale system as very inefficient, and during the mid nineteenth century, holdings were reallocated to single tenants. By contrast, many runrig settlements in the Outer Hebrides had their farming arrangements recognised by law, and the system of partnership farming is still active in the west of the islands.
Most of the clachans we surveyed exhibited this pattern but there were some where the patchwork-quilt pattern was less evident. This tended to be on those sites where there was less variability in the fertility of land around the clachan e.g Gortnagory and Carnahagh,
One glen, Glenariff, had a distinctive pattern of ladder farms. Glenariff’s particular geographical shape made it possible for each of the ladder farms to have an equal share of lowland pasture, arable, hill-ground and mountain grazing. Landlords used this system to consolidate scattered holdings and break up clusters by placing an individual house within each ladder farm. This was why we were only able to find three genuine clachans within the valley of Glenariff even in 1860. However, we did find evidence of more clusters on the 1833 Ordnance Survey maps of Glenariff, which were absent from the 1860 maps having been replaced by ladder farms – see Glenariff clachans for more details.
There were a couple of clachans – Feystown in Glenarm and Carnasheeran/Drumnacur in Glencorp which, on the evidence of Griffith’s Valuation, had almost ceased to exist by 1860. We included them mainly because local people still regard them as old clusters.
The Griffith’s Valuation also provided information on who were landholders, and therefore farmers, and who were landless and only held a house. The latter were known as cottiers and cottiers generally tend to be more numerous in areas where there are relatively large farms where they can find employment. Not surprisingly, the numbers of cottiers living in clachans was relatively small. Those who did, were often older relations of the farmers or they were people such as blacksmiths, shoemakers, etc.
Information from the 1901 Census Enumerators’ Returns
The 1901 Census Enumerators’ Returns provided us with the earliest, detailed information on the individual members of families within all of the clachans. This information included relationships between individual persons in each house, their ages, marital status, occupations and place of birth.
We created a database with 1526 entries of which about 1481 were useable. The unuseable ones were those which were recorded as unoccupied houses, so no details were given. In some cases information was not recorded e.g. in most cases no profession was entered against wives or very young children, and in a few cases the information was illegible.
The 1901 Returns listed 336 heads of families of whom 176 were married, 67 were widows, 26 were widowers and 67 were unmarried (20%). 236 of the heads of household were males (166 married, 26 widowers, 44 unmarried (19%)) and 100 were females (10 married, 67 widows, 23 unmarried (23%)). The husbands of the 10 married women were absent on the night the census was taken and we have been able to establish that three of the husbands were at sea on the night the census was taken. Sadly, one of them, the husband of Mary Jane Black, who lived in Ballyhuriman clachan in the townland of Kilmore in Glenariff, was drowned later that year in Dublin Bay.
The average age of the 235 male heads of households was 54. The average age of female heads of families was 57.
With regard to occupations 216 heads of households, both male and female, listed themselves as farmers (64%). About 35 listed themselves as farm labourers or farm servants (10%) and there was a varied list of other occupations such as coastguard, sailor, shepherd, gamekeeper, blacksmith, flax scutcher, carpenter, butcher, grocer, shoemaker, stonemason, limestone quarrymen, seamstress, dressmaker, coachman and the ubiquitous housewife. With the exception of housewife, the numbers in each of these occupations rarely rose above 5 and was more likely to be of the order of 2 or 3. Nevertheless they reflect the kinds of work that went on in the countryside outside farming and the presence of shepherds, gamekeepers, limestone quarrymen and occupations connected with the sea give the list a particular Glens’ flavour.
With regard to education 273 children aged 4 to 12 were listed in the returns. According to their parents who filled in the forms – 75% were able to read and 60% could read and write. 237 of the 273 children (87%) were at school. Furthermore 57% of persons aged 13 to 16 were at school and 129 of the 134 listed in this age group could read and write. In contrast only 207 of the 355 persons listed in the 50 and older age group could read and write (58%) and 25% of them could not read at all. However, as you might expect, a number of the older folk, especially on Rathlin, could speak Irish and English.
Although we did not list religions in the tables for each clachan on the web site, the pattern was again as you would expect. The majority of inhabitants in the clachans in the middle and lower glens were Roman Catholic (85%) with a higher percentage of Protestants being found in some of the clachans in Glentaisie, Glencloy and Glenarm. The Protestant breakdown for the entire area was: Church of Ireland 136 (9%), Presbyterians 82 (6%).
As to place of birth 96% of all persons listed were born in County Antrim and although the exact place of birth is not given, it is more than likely that the vast majority of these people were born in the Glens. Some of the ‘outsiders’ were children who had been born in England, Scotland or even America where their parents had obviously moved to but had returned at a later date. One example was one of the Black families in Ballygill Middle on Rathlin who had moved to England some time around 1880 and returned to the island around 1890. Four of their children were born whilst they were in England and the remaining five were born in Rathlin after they returned. Another example was a McVicker family in Straidkilly who had gone to Australia for a short time.
Reasons for the decline or survival of clachans
The clachans which have survived through to the present day and, indeed, are still growing, tend to be found in the lowland areas near towns such as Cushendun, Cushendall and Carnlough. Clachans such as Dunouragan and Straid have new and refurbished houses and are almost in “the suburbs” of Cushendun and Knocknacarry. Some clachans, such as Coolanlough near Fair Head, Drumfresky in Glendun, Milltown in Glenaan, Ballyhuriman in Glenariff and Straidkilly in Glencloy now include rural cottages which are available for rent by tourists.
In contrast clachans which were located in the more upland, remote and harsher environments of the Glens – Knockban in Glenaan, Ligg and Cullyvully in Glenarm, Crockincarragh near Fair Head and many on Rathlin Island are now deserted and in advanced stages of ruin.
Many of the deserted buildings in clachans such as Bellair in Glenarm, Aughnasillagh in Glendun and Cruck in Glenarm are now used as refurbished farm outbuildings. These places also contain ruined wallsteads of former houses.
Apart from these geographical differences which partially explain why some survived and some declined there were three other key factors which led to the changes that took place in clachans after the 1860s and they are not that different from those that were operating in the island of Ireland as a whole.
First there was emigration. Sources such as The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of the 1830s provide evidence that emigration had already begun before the Famine and the population figures presented earlier indicate how that movement was quickened in the years both during the Famine and the decade or so after it. We have not attempted to quantify, exactly, how many folk left the Glens from the Famine onwards. There is a plaque on Rathlin commemorating the departure of some 500 people from the island after the Great Famine – a figure that is backed up by the population figures that can be seen in the Rathlin section of the web site. Our studies of individual families point to many sons and daughters, as well as whole families, leaving the clachans particularly after the 1860s – again backed up by the population and house figures in the table above.
The second key factor was the fact that, increasingly, many men did not marry. Unlike the earlier part of the nineteenth century when the majority of people got married, many men, who stayed behind when their brothers emigrated during the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, remained unmarried. There are plenty of individual examples in the 1901 Census Returns of households with unmarried brothers and sisters or sons and daughters aged 25 or more. The key factor here was the number of males who married. The data that we collected from the Census Returns show that only 20% of males in the 20-39 age group were married or widowed in 1901. In contrast 73% of males in the 40 and over age group were married or widowed.
This pattern of marriage continued into the twentieth century and even allowing for the fact that some of the younger members of the 20-39 age group would eventually marry, such a state of affairs could only lead to one outcome. By the 1950s and 1960s these old bachelors died and left their farms to nephews or nieces either from the Glens or from Britain, America or Australia. Many of the recipients may have kept some of the houses but often sold the land.
Such a scenario finally finished the consolidation process which was the third factor that led to the decline of rundale and, in some cases, the clusters of houses associated with it. The consolidation process had begun in the later part of the nineteenth century but in the Glens it does not seem to have proceeded at as rapid a pace as it did in lowlands areas elsewhere. In fact it was probably the second or third quarter of the twentieth century or, in some cases, the 1950s and 1960s before its full impact was felt.
Today there are fewer working full-time farms in the Glens. Many families who live in the lowland clusters near major settlements such as Cushendun are simply part-time farmers earning the bulk of their living away from the land. And, increasingly, there are families in these clusters who have no direct connection with the land. It will be interesting to see how these trends continue into the future as agricultural and rural planning policies evolve over the next few decades.
For further reading on clachans and rundale, click here.