Wednesday, 24 December 2008

CS Lewis on Christmas

My family spent a very nice evening last night reading while seated around the fire on the hearth. I had chosen to read from CS Lewis’s 'The Business of Heaven'. The book is more of a CS Lewis reader than a book by CS Lewis. It takes excerpts from CS Lewis’s books and arranges them by a daily reading for each day of the year which follows the ecclesiastical year. What you have is a very pithy eloquent paragraph to read each day, a very nice format for the busy world in which we live. Yesterday, the 23rd had a very nice reading and as it is Christmas Eve I thought it would be fitting to post the paragraph, written by one of Ulster’s most talented sons. Merry Christmas to all, Barry R McCain

23 December

Pagan ‘Christs’ and Christ Himself

Theology, while saying that a special illumination has been vouchsafed to Christians and (earlier) to Jews, also says that there is some divine illumination vouchsafed to all men. The Divine light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man.’ We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of the great Pagan teachers and myth-makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story – the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth. And the differences between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Christ Himself is much what we should expect to find. The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when. The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named Roman magistrate, and with whom the society that He founded is in a continuous relation down to the present day. It is not the difference between falsehood and truth. It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams of premonitions of that same event on the other. It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first-century Palestine.
CS Lewis

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Merry Christmas To All

Beannachtaí Nollaig Daoibh

The Spirit Photographer

Family historian Chris Paton delves into the psychic world to uncover an extraordinary experiment carried out by his great great grandfather in 1926…

I have always been fascinated by stories of the supernatural and of things that go bump in the night, but little did I realise that through my family history research I would soon discover that I was not the only one to share this fascination. In the case of one ancestor, such a belief had once led to an extraordinary experiment in an Irish cemetery which had created headlines across the British Isles.

Coming from both an Irish and Scottish heritage, as a child I was no stranger to hearing stories about the otherworldly folk known in Gaelic as the ‘Sídhe’, who were said to have inhabited the Fairy Mount on the golf course in Carrickfergus, and in particular the ‘banshee’ (bean sídhe), also known as the “White Lady”, who was supposed to haunt the nearby Lover’s Lane. Despite never believing such things, I would nevertheless still find myself walking quickly down the lane on a winter’s night when finishing my paper round, a nervous glance occasionally thrown over my shoulder to make sure that the banshee was not behind me, ready to wail uncontrollably at the forthcoming death of a family member.

Eventually I left Northern Ireland to attend university in Bristol, and from there I moved on to Scotland. An interest in Highland history developed, and I discovered the most amazing stories about Highland Scots who had the so-called supernatural gift of ‘an da shealladh’, or ‘second sight’, whereby they could see the spirit world and predict the future. On one particular occasion, on a return trip back home to Ireland, I mentioned this to my mum, to which she replied, “Och, my granny had that in Belfast”. Really?! Sensing that I didn’t believe a word of it, she sought to clarify the situation…

My mother’s name is Charlotte Harper Graham, named after her own grandmother, Charlotte Harper Montgomery, who was married to Ernest Graham. Both of her grandparents had apparently been very active in the Christian Spiritualism movement in Northern Ireland, attending a Spiritualist church on Belfast’s Shankill Road, and both were said to have been ‘gifted’ mediums. Ernest, a painter for Harland and Wolfe shipyard, died in 1942, but family tradition has it that this was not the last the family were to see of him! When my aunt Edna visited her grandmother at Esmond Street in Belfast a few years later, aged just three or four, the story goes that she was at one point found staring transfixed up the stairs to the landing at the top. When asked by my granny what she was looking at, Edna turned and said “Grandad is standing there, waving down to me”, to which my great grandmother gave an all knowing and enigmatic smile…!

Despite a few seconds of experiencing the heebie-jeebies upon hearing this, I cast it to one side as just a playful family myth, but a few years later I would learn that there was in fact a lot more to this alleged Spiritualism connection than even my mother knew!

I traced my mother’s Graham line back, through her father and grandfather, both called Ernest, to her great grandfather, Edwin Graham. All were Belfast born and bred, but Edwin was particularly hard to trace, as the Irish censuses before 1901 largely no longer exist. I was fortunate, however, to discover that he had in fact lived for a time in Barrow-on-Furness in England, and was thus recorded in the 1881 census as a 19 year old shipwright from Ireland.

Having placed what I had found on a website, I was delighted to be contacted some time later by Edwin’s granddaughter Renee Fisher, who still lives in Belfast. From her I learned that Edwin had regularly crossed the Irish Sea to take up shipbuilding work at both Belfast, Glasgow and Barrow-in-Furness, and had at one stage even travelled to Boston in the USA to find work, though had soon returned. Whilst I am descended from Edwin and his first wife, Florence Halliday, to whom he had married in Belfast just prior to 1883, Renee was in fact descended from Edwin and his second wife, Sarah Ann Stitt (nee Wilson), who he had married in 1915, with Florence having died in 1911. I managed to obtain a photograph from Renee of Edwin with his new wife Sarah, and having had such good luck, I did not think I would find out too much more about him.

It was not until I discovered that the Irish Independent newspaper had been digitised and put online at that I was to make a truly extraordinary discovery. Whilst searching for any articles that might name Edwin, I found a story from Wednesday, July 28th 1926, entitled “Spiritualism in Belfast”, about a funeral service held at the City Cemetery for a Mrs McDermott, under the auspices of the Belfast Christian Spiritualists’ Association, where almost a hundred spiritualists had gathered to conduct an experiment in the supernatural. With her son John leading the service, the attendees took photographs as her coffin was lowered into the ground, in order to try and capture images of the “spirits of the departed friends of those around the grave”.

This was remarkable enough until I read the next bit. “Mr. Edwin Graham, secretary of the Association, said it was a very hard thing to obtain spirit photographs, and he added that the plates would be developed in a day or two, and they would then see if they had been successful.”

Edwin had been their secretary! I was disappointed to find no follow up to the story in the Irish Times, but soon discovered that the Manchester Guardian newspaper, the Scotsman and the Daily Mirror in Britain had also covered the story, as had the Irish Times, which on August 18th also had an update to the story. The photographs had apparently been out of focus, showing ‘small white clouds’ over the people assembled round the grave, though this did not deter the spiritualists. “Mr McDermaid claims that in the photographs he can see the spirit forms of three departed relatives. Mr Edwin Graham, the Secretary of the Association, is convinced that he can see his brother. The Association invites inspection of the photographs.”

Keen to find out more, I searched for information on the Belfast Christian Spiritualist Association, and from their current website I discovered a potted history. It stated that Spiritualism in Northern Ireland had started amid the furore of religious and political activity surrounding the signing of the Ulster Covenant of 1912, where thousands of Ulster born Protestants had put their name to a document protesting at the possibility of Home Rule in Ireland (these signatures are available to see online at As interest in Spiritualism had spread, the movement had often changed its headquarters over the next three decades until it was bombed in an air raid on Belfast in 1941. Again, I was to find a mention of the Grahams: “The Alliance then accepted an invitation from a group meeting at 45 May Street which was functioning well under the leadership of a truly excellent Medium of high spiritual character, Sarah Graham.”

I contacted the Association, but they were unable to provide any additional information. They put me in touch with a Liverpool based spiritualist association, as Edwin and Sarah had lived on Merseyside for a time, but again, I could find no further clues as to their spiritualist activities.

I did, however, make one further find. There is a wonderful Belfast based website called the Glenravel Local History Project (, and in the ‘Belfast Timeline’ section, which has stories from many local newspapers, a story about John McDiarmad showed that he had been prosecuted for fraud shortly after the experiment! As president of the Belfast Christian Spiritualist Association, he was charged that he “did pretend to tell fortunes to deceive and impose on his Majesty’s subjects.” He was put under bail of £10 for his future good behaviour.

Edwin eventually died in Belfast on February 2nd 1943, aged 80 years of age, and was buried in the very cemetery where he believed he had once photographed his deceased brother’s spirit. The next time I visit Belfast I intend to visit his grave, armed with my own trusty camera, as I may just be lucky enough to catch him standing nearby with his family, smiling at my humble efforts to find out exactly who he once was…!

About the author

Chris Paton is a professional genealogist and former BBC television producer. He has a Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies and runs the Scotland’s Greatest Story research service (

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A Scots Irish Christmas Tale

This is a delightful Christmas scene by Joe McMaster, born in Ballymena, County Antrim and now living in
Orillia, Ontario, Canada.
The rising smoke from the old stone chimney had lost its battle with the cold night air as it floated and floundered and fell back down to earth. Aye! down it came and gently curled around the red-berried tree. Smoke from Stone Chimney
If perhaps you had paused to wonder if the night wind had wrapped the twisting, turning wisplike strands of smoke around the old holly tree like a Christmas ribbon. You are not alone.
For this very same image had not gone unnoticed by the old woman staring out through the frosted glass of the drafty old window. A window, which by now, needed an occasional wipe from her tattered sleeve to help remove the frost. Aye! an old woman with many long winter nights far behind her.
Too many Christmas eves had come and gone and were relived only in her memory, where once again the joy and the laughter of her children sitting around the fireplace excitedly making up their Christmas lists brought life and love, and the happiness back into this sparsely furnished cottage.

But now in the quietness of her little thatched cottage, she watched the swirling smoke outside and wondered Snow-covered Thatched Cottage where and how her children were on this special night. Her children, who as young men had left their childhood wishes far behind them and gone off to a distant land. Little did she know that her sons would go on to help shape that land. Her children, aye! and her grandchildren too, would help build the foundation for a new country.
Letters home as sparse as they were, told her of the many wonders of that country far across the Atlantic. The scribbled words now held in her aching fingers had taken her to places she knew she would never get to see. But by now they were names recited so often in her loneliness in front of the open Fireplace & Christmas Tree fireplace, that the names and the words from the letters rolled off of her tongue with such smoothness that she could almost taste them.
Names like the Blue Ridge Mountains, Kentucky and the Shenandoah river. Places steeped in so much wonder and beauty that her sons talked about them with a reverence and respect.
As the smoke outside her window caressed the shiny red berries of the old holly tree, the first snow flakes began to fall and she knew that Christmas was indeed all about the giving. For had she herself not given three fine sons to a land she would never get to walk upon.
And so it was with pride that night that she read once again the last few lines of one of the letters in which her son made mention of a new name in that new land.
"Scotch Irish, that's what they call us here in America Ma ... they call us the Scotch Irish."
By Joe McMaster
P.S. - I would just like to say Merry Christmas to all of the sons and the daughters in far off lands who won't be home for Christmas. And to the families who will miss them all so very much.

Irish Language Newspaper Launched

Irish language newspaper launched - Tá Lá Nua le dul as gno Déardaoin ach tá nuachtán laethúil nua anois ar líne - uasdatú 3 uair sa lá - féach - breaking news na Gaeilge - ach nios fearr Lá Eile.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Old Thatched House

Ach Tay live in an auld thatched hoose,
A hoose to ca mae’ ain.
Tay sit by an auld herth fire bay Dy.
Or stroll doon a wee country lyne.
Tay ga ootside in the winter’s naght,
And to view the Milky Wy
Tay see the rise O the morning sun,
And the start O a new born Dy

Nay mere fay me the polluted air,
Or the smoke O the passing car
Fay me it’s the life O the young an the free,
An the country life bay far
Tay sit and to see the flight O the birds,
An to hear the howl O the fox by naght
It’s a sight an a soond that you’ll ne’er firget
An it will cheer your hearts delaght.

Nay mere fay me do I hear ye siy,
Nay mere, nay mere fer us.
Turn bak; turn bak to the dys of auld,
Tay the dys O nay flatter or fuss;
Tay sit at a table spread wiy food,
Prepared in the auld, auld wiy.
Tay hae an tay eat that natural meat,
An to sup that auld boul of tae;

Tay smell the air O the grilling fish,
O’er a fire O the Tirf and the Glow.
Tay pick the bones bare O that beautiful fish,
That we done in those yiars lang ago;
Nay mere fay me this man made meat,
That is tinkered wiy in every wine.
I’d rather eat grass and know that it’s guid,
Than to eat O the meat O the Dy;

Nay mere fay me this fat, and that Oil
Or food that’s been tampered with;
Just gae me the food that is naturally grown,
On the natural soils O earth;
To think O the naght’s O the candle laght
When we played in the frost and the snaw.
Tak me back, tak me bak, to that beautiful time
That, we, lived in those long years a gae.

By Ivan Knox, 22nd day of September 2003. ©
2nd Prize Winner in the Frances Brown Poetry Competition Sponsored by Ulster Scots Association and organized by The Finn Valley Voice News Paper Oct 2008.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Finding My Family Roots in County Antrim


Bob Wilson

Beaufort SC USA

Back in 1997, after having been away from my original hometown at Newburgh, New York, for some ten years, I traveled there from my home in nearby Connecticut to begin the task of tracing the roots of my several ancestral families’ roots to their origins in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, and in England.

To begin with, I went to the Old Town Burying Ground in Newburgh where I made note of the markings on my paternal grandmother’s grandfather’s plinth/headstone in the Wiseman family plot there.

His name was Archibald Wiseman and the inscription on the stone says he “died at sea” on May 9th, 1853” at age 40. Aside from the fact that I had once heard from my grandmother that Archibald’s origin was from somewhere in Ulster, that was all that I knew about him at that time. Beginning with that information, and from a subsequent visit to the Local History Room of the Newburgh Free Library, I learned that Archie had married in the local Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on December 25th, 1838.

At the same time, I posted an inquiry on the Wiseman Family Message Board at Rootsweb, and also contacted the official historian of the Wiseman Family Association in the US, who keeps collected genealogies of any Wiseman family in the US, regardless of their origin. The message board posting soon brought two responses: one from another Wiseman family descendant now living in Ballymena who believed we might have a common family link, and another from a professional genealogist in New Jersey who was on an assignment for another Wiseman descendant whose ancestry had been traced back to Newburgh where an ancestor of his was born in 1844. From Ballymena, my contact referred me to an item in the “Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1833-1835 for County Antrim” that reported that a young 20-year-old man named Archibald Wiseman, from the Ballywatermoy Townland (now in the Glarryford area of Antrim), had left his home land in 1833, “bound for America.” I believe that he went to Liverpool at that time, and in the autumn of 1836, left from there to New York on the bark “Lanark”, perhaps in the company of a young wife or female relative with the same surname.

Soon after learning of Archie’s 1838 marriage (to my fellow ancestor, Susan Clyde), I consulted the 1840 US Census, and failed to find him… at first. Then I did find him there, under the name of “Achabad” Wiseman, with a wife and two young children, and employed as a clerk in a grocery store. This led me to the 1850 Census, where he and several members of his family appear with their ‘correct’ and complete names, and he is listed as a ‘brewer’ by profession. One of his children was a daughter Elizabeth, born in 1842, who was my maternal great grandmother.

The last reference I have to Archibald is that his marker in the burying ground says, as I noted above, that he died at sea in 1853. I have found no explanation or elucidation on that fact even though I’ve been looking for something for the past seven years. But I now know much more about Archibald than I did when I began this hunt.

And as a footnote to this, my son and I took a trip to Antrim while on the island, during a trip to the Republic. There, in Ballymena, we met with my presumed remote Wiseman family cousin and his son. He took us on a drive out to Cullybackey where there are several Wisemans interred in a churchyard there, and then over to the BallywatermoyTownland now in the area of Glarryford, where we visited the site of property at one time owned by Patrick Wiseman. Patrick was evidently part of our mutual family, gave the land on which a Gospel Hall was built in the mid-19th Century, and has his picture on page 22 of “Sandy’s Story”, a pamphlet published in 1991 by the Ballymena Borough Council.

Footnote: Another of my ancestral lines, the Wilsons, I believe may have originated in Ulster with the birth of my great grandfather and namesake, Robert Wilson, in 1826. However, because this name is so ordinary in all parts of the U. K. and Ireland, I’ve never been able to determine exactly from whence he came. He first appears in an early, circa 1860 New York City directory as a milkman, but that’s the absolute sum of all that I know of him prior to his later residence for 30-some years in Brooklyn, New York.

...a picture of the Patrick Wiseman farmhouse/barn just up the lane behind the present church on the grounds of the old Gospel Hall and churchyard

...a photo of the headstone of Patrick Wiseman in that churchyard

...a photo of our presumed cousins with my son at the right, taken in the parking area for the present church on Ballywatermoy Road

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ulster Heritage DNA Project Update Nov 2008

Ulster Heritage DNA Project Update November 2008

The Ulster Heritage DNA Project has grown at a steady rate, so much so that we are having growing pains. One plan under consideration is a division of the project along haplogroups. This will make it much easier to access and organise the results. This will make it much easier for each participant to look at his results and get to that information important to his family research. We will be working on this in December and all participants will receive an update when we move to that format.

We are asking that any participant that is also a member of a clan or family society to write us and keep us informed about your matches and research. Also, if you have matches, we suggest you be proactive, contact your matches and if they are not already in the UHDP urge them to join so that we clan list you as a family or clan. We are building up a data base of surname matches and corresponding geographic locations that will be a great help to family historians, or seanachaithe (plural of seanchaí, i.e. keeper of family history and traditions).

You will notice on the results page that participants sometimes are moved around; this is to accommodate research. Many Ulster surnames have multiple origins, for instance the surname Campbell. You will notice that kits with this name will move from time to time. Campbell can be native Irish when from a certain district, but usually is the surname of either Gallóglaigh families that came into Ireland from mid Argyll in the 1400s and 1500s, and in other cases, may be from families that moved to Ireland during the Plantation years, post 1610. With Campbell as with other surnames, we will move them around on the results page for some point of research.

To view the Results go to and follow the links on the left hand side of the page. You can also access the Ulster Heritage Magazine via links at that web site.

If your kit is currently grouped by haplogroup and you know you have matches to your surname, email us, and we will set up your family as a separate classification on the Results page. If you have a location in Ulster that you know your family is from, also send that, it could be the very piece of information that allows you to make contact with your kith and kin. It is important to be aware that Ulster surnames can have multiple anglicised forms; an example a McKean match to a Johnson, or White to MacBain, etc., etc.

As many have noticed FT labs is coming out with sub clades of many haplogroups at a furious pace. This is good for research, especially for those interested in deep ancestry, i.e. if you are a Gael, a Cymro (British Celt), Norse, Frisian, etc. If you are curious about this just look into the sub clade test, which I think FT does for around US$ 89.

Please remember to keep your email address current on your Family Tree page, we get a lot of dead email addresses and it is hard for FT and the UHDP to contact you with no valid email address.

Mise le meas mór agus beannachtaí

Barry R McCain
Ulster Heritage DNA Project

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Galloglass Today

above a German sketch of Gallóglaigh warriors with two attendants, from the 1500s
The Galloglass, more properly called the Gallóglaigh (said Gall-og-glee) were a hereditary warrior caste that were active in Gaelic society from the early medieval period right up into the early 1600s. Gallóglaigh families are found throughout all of Ireland, but have their greatest concentration in Ulster. Most Gallóglaigh families have roots that originate in the southern Hebrides or west Highlands, especially mid Argyll.
The surnames of the Gallóglaigh are easily recognizable as being both Irish and Scottish, some of the more common Gallóglaigh surnames are: McAllan, McAlister, McCabe, McCain, Campbell, McDonnell, McDougall, McLachlan, McClain, Gallogly, McNeil, McCrory, McSweeny, McSheely, McGinley, just to name a few.
Historians in the past have speculated as to whether these families were Norse that had become Gaelicised or perhaps Gaelic families that had adopted certain Norse technologies and military tactics. As the Ulster Heritage DNA Project ( has progressed many men that are descendants of Gallóglaigh families have participated in Y Chromosome testing and certain patterns have started to form among these families.
We know now that most of the Gallóglaigh families are Gaelic in paternal ancestry, not Norse, and they tend to be from kinship groups indigenous to east Ulster, Argyll, and the southern Hebrides. For the most part then they can be seen as indigenous Gaelic families that were influenced by the Vikings and they adopted Viking ways of military organization, training, weapons, etc.
Like other Gaelic families’ medieval genealogies, the genealogies of the Gallóglaigh elites were written for status and political reasons, that it was most desirable to show Niall of the Nine Hostages as their progenitor. We now know that most Gallóglaigh families are not part of the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages haplogroup.
Anyone that believes that are of Gallóglaigh ancestry are urged to participate in the Ulster Heritage DNA Project. One of the goals of the project is to locate the historical Gallóglaigh families and learn as much as possible about them using genetic genealogy. Already several Gallóglaigh kinship groups have been located by the UHDP.
Barry R McCain © 2008

Friday, 31 October 2008

New Donegal E-zine

The new Donegal community e-zine:

The first edition of the Donegal - community in touch / Dún na nGall - pobail i d'teagmháil e-zine is now available on line.

This publication provides sources of information to those who have moved away from County Donegal and who wish to be kept informed of local news, the Donegal business community, education and learning opportunities and upcoming events and activities of interest.

If you have an interest in Donegal and would like to receive a copy of the new magazine send your contact details to to have your name added to the distribution database.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Samháin and Halloween

Halloween was brought to the New World by Ulster settlers in the 1700s. Halloween has dual origins. The first being a pre-Christian Celtic feast which is associated with the Celtic New Year and second is a Christian celebration of saints. In Ireland and the British Isles, you will notice that the more Celtic an area, the more Halloween is observed and enjoyed. In fact, the closer you get to London people are more apt to skip Halloween and observe Guy Fawkes Day, which celebrates the execution of an English patriot who tried to blow up Parliament and not nearly as much fun as our Halloween.
Among the Gaelic and Cymreig Celts in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the border areas of England, the Halloween traditions have been around for several thousand years making the holiday among the oldest in Europe. In Irish Halloween is known as Samháin (said Sow-win). The celebration dates to pre Christian times, but it has never been remotely linked to the Christian concept of the Devil or evil. That bit was made up in Hollywood and Madison Avenue, where come to think of it a lot of pseudo history comes from. Sadly today, because of the Hollywood pseudo history there are those that mistakenly believe that Halloween is a dark holiday and have urged parents to not allow their children to participate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real Celtic holiday marked the beginning of the year and there was a belief that spirits, ghosts, and the Fairy Folk could easily cross over into our world as this happened. The costumes and masks are worn to ward off evil spirits, not to celebrate them. The Jack o' Latern also serves this purpose. One dresses up in a scary costume to scare the bee-jeepers out of goblins. Another aspect of Halloween is the end of the harvest and the giving of gifts of food. These two old traditions still make up the basis for our contemporary Halloween festivities.
The Gaels in Ireland and Scotland had a very easy and natural transition into Christianity, it was almost an evolving of their belief system and naturally enough they also incorporated Samháin into their Christian beliefs.
In anno domini 835 Pope Gregory IV changed the celebration for martyrs, and later all saints, from 13 May to 1 November, thus All Saints Eve fell on 31 October, on Samháin, which was then also known as All Saint’s Eve. From that date onward Halloween had very Christian roots attached to it. The following day was a Holy Day of obligation were in the mass all saints, even those not canonized, were remembered. Saints and holy people are called ‘hallowed’ in old English, and All Hallow’s Evening is what we now call Halloween.
Now because the Irish and Scottish Diaspora sent so many to Canada, the USA, Australia, etc. the celebration of Halloween, or Samháin spread to those lands settled by these Celtic people. To me Halloween has always been link in my mind with the harvest festivals and the sheer joy and wonder of Halloween night. That otherworldliness that is so exciting for children and the better sort of adults alike. Halloween is also a time of awareness of our spiritual side and of the spiritual world.
Halloween is a wonderful time, a tradition of Celtic Ireland and Scotland, and also one linked with the early Christian Church. Let the little ones dress up in their scary costumes, no clowns and ballerinas please, remember you are trying to scare away evil spirits and spooks, not attract them.
Trick Or Treat from the Ulster Heritage Magazine!!!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Ivan Knox and Senator McCain

left to right, Letitia Knox, John Barr TG4, Ivan Knox himself, Aine of TG4, and Celine McGlynn of the Finn Valley Voice newspaper (standing)

Ivan Knox was interviewed recently concerning his relationship to Senator John McCain by TG4 (Teilifis Gaeilge 4). Ivan Knox as many know is a writer, poet, and historian from the Finn Valley in County, Donegal. His mother was Sarah Knox née McKane and Ivan has the many Finn Valley McCains among his cousins.

Ivan Knox is one of the most knowledgeable men there is concerning the families and clans of the Finn Valley. His kinship to the McCains has been to subject of much of Ivan's research in the last few years and he and Letitia, his lovely wife, have hosted several McCains that have traveled to Donegal from the Diaspora to visit the land of their people.

The Knox home in Donegal has become the
de facto headquarters of the McCain family. Ivan Knox has been even been in contact with Senator McCain. Ivan is also a participant of the Ulster Heritage DNA Project and recently found a host of new Knox relations in the American South. Jackson's and Kee's in Ballybofey are getting used to hearing the slow soft accent of Southern American speech as these McCains and Knoxes enjoy the Finn Valley.

Ivan Knox is noted for his honesty and frank talk and his views of being interview are:

…I was interviewed for TnaG last Friday and was shown on their news item in the evening news, but, they cut the tripe out of it and only showed about 3 seconds of the total interview while Obama got 3-4 minutes time. I rang the station and complained bitterly about this kind of conduct but got nowhere, I then demanded that they return the full tape that they took during the interview and they conceded to that. …
It is sad to see TG4 lower themselves to such partisan bias, but TG4 and their spin doctors have met their match in the Finn Valley.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

John McCain's Irish Roots, reloaded...

above, John McCain with the last Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern
The Ulster Heritage Magazine, which is a news section for the Ulster Heritage DNA Project, has been getting a lot of email requests and phone calls for information on Senator John McCain’s ancestry. The level of interest has surprised me and our webmaster and my cousin, Jim McKane up in Ontario, Canada. We did release a short statement which appeared in the Ulster Heritage Magazine concerning the Senator’s paternal ancestry on 11 January 2008.
Jim and I have worked on the McCain family history for some 35 years very quietly; obviously the interest surrounding a presidential campaign has changed this. Getting emails and phone calls from Media powers that be suggests our quiet work has entered a new phase.
So, here is another presentation of the facts as we know them concerning Senator John McCain’s paternal ancestry and how we obtained this knowledge.
Senator John McCain is a descendant of a McCain family that immigrated to the American Colonies from Ireland circa 1719. The McCain family DNA Project started in September of 2003 and used Y chromosome DNA testing to confirm kinship and locate the branches of this family. In the course of the project the native Irish McCains were located. The McCains are native to Counties Donegal and Antrim originally, but are now dispersed and are also found in Counties Derry, Tyrone, and Dublin.
Senator John McCain did not participate in the DNA test, however around 35 of his cousins did, including several McCains from the Carroll County, Mississippi area. They are all a DNA match to each other and are all a match to the McCain families still in Ireland, as well as to those throughout the Diaspora. Senator McCain’s branch is called the Teoc McCains, after the little town in Carroll, County Mississippi where they lived during the period of their ascendancy.
There are several incorrect versions, or pseudo histories, about this McCain family floating around on the internet. The McCain families that had their kinship confirmed via DNA testing in Ireland, Canada, the UK, and the USA, have worked very closely with one another in the last few years to uncover their real history.

The basic and salient facts are the McCain family is from Ireland and their cousins in Ireland have been located.
There is DNA evidence and enough primary sources to suggest the McCains were part of the traditional Gaelic society prior to 1600.
left, a Gallóglach with their unique conical helmet, seen here carrying a sword with his attendant and dogs behind him

Most people are not familiar with Gaelic history, so I will offer this brief explanation. The McCain family DNA results revealed a paternal kinship with other Gaelic families active in Ireland and mid Argyll and that are associated with the Gallóglaigh Irish. The Gallóglaigh were a professional warrior caste active in Ireland anno domini 1200 to 1600.
The McCains are a classic Gaelic patronymic clan. The Patriarch of the clan was named Eáin. The surname in Irish is spelled Mac Eáin which means ‘son of Eáin.’ In the Gaelic dialect in use in Argyll, the southern Isles, and parts of Ulster, from the 15th Century onward, Eáin was a popular form of Eóin. Eáin is a loan word to Gaelic from the Latin Ioannes via the Aramaic and Hebrew y'hohanan, meaning 'Jehovah has favoured.'
An analysis of the DNA suggests this Patriarch lived circa 1350 to 1450 AD. The McCains were part of the older Gaelic order yet post mid 1600s many converted to the Presbyterian faith and took a leadership role in this community and yet other McCain families remained Catholic or Anglican.
above, Donovan McCain of Oxford, Mississippi in an informal session with Trad icon, Seamus O'Kane of Dungiven
If I can slip into the first person plural for a bit; we are very active, stay in touch with one another; we do travel to Ireland and hobnob with our Irish cousins, we love Guinness and are prone to enjoy ól, ceol, agus craic and the céilí is our chosen form of entertainment. The rumour now is for a McCain clan gathering in Ireland in 2009.
Barry R McCain © 2008

The Kavanagh Clan DNA Project

The Kavanagh clan in Leighlinbridge, Carlow

The Cavanaugh/Kavanagh Y-DNA project
was initiated to complement genealogical research for members of the Caomhánach Clann (web site location: and other interested parties. Cavanaugh and Kavanagh are the two most common of some 200 derivations of the Gaelic Caomhánach. The eldest son of Diarmaid MacMurchadha (Dermot MacMurrough), Domhnall carried the nickname Caomhánach and was the King of Leinster from 1171 to 1175.

The Kavanagh inauguration

World-wide, thousands of people carry a surname derived from Caomhánach, but do not know the history of their name or where their ancestors came from. Many others do know the history of their surname but can't determine where in Ireland their ancestors came from. Standard genealogical research many times can go no further when records are not available to support either family lore past down through the generations. Well intentioned elders may have told stories, tales and yarns that through the passage of years became family "facts". It is a natural tendency to believe Grandma and Grandpa but unfortunately, family lore often cannot be documented. For example, records were destroyed by fire, either by accident or deliberately by invaders. Until DNA testing was available keys to finding the truth could not be found. This is called by many researchers, "Hitting the brick wall."

Y-DNA testing promises to unlock the past and assist people find their roots. Generations can be skipped if matches are made with people who have been successful with standard genealogical research. If their research is accurate, a positive match may lead to where one came from. One issue we have had to deal with is some people who claim to be able to trace their ancestry back hundreds of years refuse to submit to DNA testing. While DNA is a tool for aiding research by narrowing down possibilities, it cannot prove with certainty who one is. On the other hand, DNA testing can prove with100% certainly who you are not. I believe many people do not really want to know the truth, therefore refuse to participate with testing.

We have had some significant success in putting people whose test matched together. It must be thrill to discover you may have a relative you didn't know existed. Over time, my hope is that more Caomhánachs will submit to DNA testing and more family researchers will find the key to unlock their past.

The project website is at:

The family cost of arms may be seen at:

Mark R. Cavanaugh

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Ulster Heritage DNA Project Update

16 October 2008

To view the results tables go to the website, look at the menu on the left, click on Ulster Heritage DNA Project, when that page comes up, click on Results, then tick view Complete Results. It will take it some time to load. We are looking into more efficient ways to display results, so please bear with us.

The Ulster Heritage online magazine is found at:

It contain bits of Ulster news and updates on aspects of the Ulster Heritage DNA Project. The magazine also puts a face on our project. Participants in the DNA project are invited to contribute short articles and photos relating to your Ulster ancestry and experiences.

For those participants interested in Scots-Irish research part three of Bob Forrest's work is now available as an ebook on the main website. Details below:



The following seventeenth century records are included in this volume for the city of Derry/Londonderry:-
- the 1619 Inquisition,
- 1622 Muster Roll
- 1628 Rent Roll
- 1630 Muster Roll (599 names)
- 1642 Muster Rolls (9 companies)
- 1654/6 Civil Survey, 1659 Census
- 1663 Hearth Money Roll
- as well as numerous miscellaneous records including; Corporation records (Governors, Mayors, Aldermen, Sheriffs), lists of merchants and seamen linked to the port of Derry, Gravestone Inscriptions from the seventeenth century, siege records, Summonister (court) records (1611-1670), Will indexes (1600-1700), original will abstracts, and a list of Derry voters from 1697.

By Bob Forrest, B.A Hons; Economic and Social History (Queen’s University, Belfast). 112 pages, over 2000 surnames.

And Congratulations to the Knox families in the Diaspora, mostly in the American South, that successfully located their Irish cousins recently. That level of success really highlights how effective DNA testing can be. You can view photos of two of the ten matches this family made, Dwayne Knox of Arkansas and Ivan Knox of Corcam, County Donegal, on the Ulster Heritage E-magazine, address above.

Mise le meas mór,

Barry R McCain

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

William and Brian Triumph!

above, left Brian Trainor, right, William Roulston

William Roulston and Brian Trainor, two of the most talented researchers in the field of Irish family history, rolled into Oxford, Mississippi, on 6 October and gave a well attended seminar the next day. William and Brian are very good at what they do and some participants drove many miles from neighboring states to have an opportunity to hear them. This was the next to last stop on an eight stop speaking tour that started in Connecticut and ended in Georgia. They logged well over a thousand miles of driving on the tour which included seminars in Texas and Indiana.

The seminar was organized by Tom Lilly, whose ancestors are from Ulster and are of Huguenot origins. The Lilly family left Ulster and settled in Chester County, South Carolina, in 1798.

below, William and Brian with Tom and Connie Lilly

William and Brian went to the famous Oxford Square and enjoyed the local ales of Lazy Magnolia Brewery, a Mississippi brewery, at the local Proud Larry's Pub. Tom and Connie Lilly and Barry and Debi McCain joined William and Brian at Boure restaurant, just off the Square in Oxford, and coffee and desert were enjoyed at the Lilly's home later in the evening.

Congratulations go out to Brian Trainor and William Roulston for another very successful American tour.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Only 70 Years Too Late!

A bit of Irish opinion, which I thought was well said below. I've been a traveller in Ireland for some 35 years now, I've always thought it rather daft to put the Gaeilge in smaller print than the English in bilingual signs. What do they think, that Irish speakers have super eyesight? No of course. This comment from Rossa Ó Snodaigh gives you a nice flavour of the real Ireland.
Barry R McCain

Irish eyes

I am delighted that the Government has passed a Bill which orders that the Gaeilge on all government bodies' stationary, signage, logos etc, be either only in Irish or as visible and as big as the English version. Are we to understand from this that the Government no longer believes that Gaeilgeoiri have better eyesight than their counterparts?

Rossa ó Snodaigh; Cluanin Ui Ruairc, Contae Liatroma

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Gaelic Place Names On Line

Website may end squabbling about Irish placenames

Localised squabbling about the correct spelling, pronunciation and origins of placenames could come to an end following the launch of a website providing the official Irish names of thousands of towns, streets and villages. People all over the world can now log on to to find the official translation of some 100,000 Irish placenames.

The service comes following years of research and engagement with local communities which attempted to set in stone what exactly is in a name. Even though the site was formally launched only yesterday, interest in the service has been high, with the website recording some 250,000 hits in September.

Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív said he was delighted to launch the resource, which he hopes will be of interest to students, teachers, journalists, translators and anyone interested in Irish heritage and geography.

'Most of the country's place-names are Irish in origin, but through history and the decline of the Irish language as the everyday vernacular, many of our place-names have evolved into anglicised versions of the original names,' he said.

The spelling and pronunciation of the names of Irish towns has been a source of much controversy over the years and Mr Ó Cuív said the development of the service was not without hitches.

'This can be a very emotional and difficult subject and the public will come to you and say 'we think we're right', so we sent them the research we have . . . but some people just don't accept our response.'

Mr Ó Cuív said, for instance, some people call Knock, Co Mayo, An Cnoc, but locals call it Cnoc Mhuire, which, he understood, came from a priest in the last century. He said he let Cnoc Mhuire stand on the basis that An Cnoc could cause confusion as other places carry the same name. 'It was a hard call, these things are not black and white, but I felt this had come into the language and you have to allow change over time, and of course you know the most famous one of all and I'm not going to mention it,' he said.

Work on the site, developed by Fiontar, Dublin City University's Irish teaching and research unit, on behalf of the Placenames Branch of the Department of Gaeltacht Affairs, is continuing.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Irish language Playschools Increase

Irish is child's play

Twenty years ago, the Irish language was not cool. If a student left secondary school with any more than a cupla focail, they were doing well. Unless they needed Irish for a career in politics, with the Gardaí, or perhaps teaching, many people did not see the point in learning a language that was used only sporadically.Fast forward to today and much has changed. Irish has slowly become trendy.

TG4 is popular with adults for shows like Ros Na Run and children for shows like Dora The Explorer. Comedian Des Bishop's In The Name Of The Fada documentary further helped to reinvent Irish. As a nation, we are interested in our language again and demand for it is on the up. Not only are gaelscoil-leanna becoming the popular choice for parents when picking schools for their children, naíonraí (Irish playschools) are also increasing in popularity.

Until recently, many people did not even know what a naíonra was - it is, in fact, a playgroup for pre-school children who come together daily, usually for between two and four hours, under the guidance and supervision of a naíonra leader. Its defining characteristic is that it is run solely through the medium of Irish.

The staff structure the environment to ensure that all facets of the child's holistic development is catered for, while also giving the child the opportunity to acquire Irish naturally through the medium of play, which is this particular age group's chief method of learning.

Cliona Frost, principal officer of Forbairt Naíonraí Teoranta, an organisation which supports the promotion of education and care services in Irish for children from birth, particularly through naíonraí, says the demand for Irish has been steadily on the rise since the organisation was founded in 1978. Back then, there were a total of 12 naíonraí nationwide, whereas today, there are 221. Cliona reckons one of the main reasons we are embracing Irish with gusto again and exposing our children to it at a young age is that we are aware of other nationalities living among us who have strong cultures and languages.

Joanne Uí Chuana recently opened the naíonra Cead Ceimeanna (First Steps) in Bettystown, Co Meath, as she felt that there was a general lack of Irish-language facilities available for pre-schoolers in her local area. 'I have been working closely with Forbairt Naíonraí Teoranta regarding the set-up of the naíonra. 'They gave me practical advice and a small grant to help me purchase books and CDs,' she says.

Joanne admits to being excited about the adventure ahead: 'My dream is that this house will not only be a much-loved naíonra for the children who come here but that it will also become a little haven for all things Irish.'The benefits for children attending a naíonra include language acquisition, excellent reasoning skills and cultural awareness. 'The children will learn about Irish music and dancing and we will celebrate Irish festivals, such as St Brigid's Day and St Patrick's Day,' Joanne says.

Although she will speak Irish exclusively to the children she says they will mostly be learning through play and, at their age, will pick it up easily. 'I will use body language to help explain what I am saying but if a child becomes upset and I need to communicate with them in English then of course I will,' she adds.

The children will be learning Irish every day so some parents may lag behind, but Joanne has a plan for them. 'We will help parents who are a bit rusty by offering lessons. Soon we will introduce other Irish activities too, such as speech and drama and after-school Irish classes.' For the time being, though, Joanne is content to start with a morning and afternoon class daily, each with six pre-schoolers. Although she expects this to increase soon, as there is currently a very long waiting list. 'I aim to have two morning and two afternoon classes soon. I was shocked but delighted at the high level of interest."Joanne is also looking forward to diversity, with children of various nationalities attending.

'At a naíonra where I worked previously, we had a young Iraqi boy. 'He had only been in Ireland a short time and was learning English and then he came to us to learn Irish too. 'His parents played Irish CDs in the car for him and within a few months he was able to sing whole songs in Irish. 'If he can do it, anyone can - even the parents!'

While new naíonraí are popping up all over Ireland, many have been established a long time, such as Croí na Coille (Heart of the Wood), in Shankill, Co Dublin, which has been run by Cris Uí Bhriain for the past 15 years.

Cris had been involved with various playschools and had been secretary of the IPPA, the early childhood organisation, before her love of the Irish language gave her the idea to set up a naíonra. 'I loved Irish and had become fluent and I wanted to do something with it. I felt that the Irish language was often restricted to the middle class and I wanted to make it available to everyone, so I set up a community naíonra."

'Since setting up, Cris has incorporated other services too. 'At Croí na Coille we are different to many other naíonraí because we run full-day care, whereas other naíonraí usually offer a morning or afternoon class. 'We also run Irish after-school clubs. These are open to all children who are interested in Irish - we do not restrict it to only children who attend gaelscoilleanna.

'I believe our own language of Irish is in our hearts and it is great when children can acquire it. So whether a child is fluent or only learning, we welcome them all,' she added. Irish Independent -

Lthch: Siobhan O'Neill-White

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Stonewall Jackson Society

one of Ulsters famous sons is remember in his ancestral land John Tate and the mayor of Craigavon stand by the plaque commemorating Stonewall Jackson ancestral home

40 years ago the Jackson ancestral home was identified at the Birches, Portadown. A plaque was unveiled by the then American Consul Mr McManus. Since then the plaque and the ancestral home of Thomas Jonathon 'Stonewall' Jackson was largely forgotten except by the locals in the Birches. A couple of years ago it was decided that one of Northern Ireland's most famous sons should be remembered and honoured and the Stonewall Jackson Appreciation Society was set up.

John Tate as Stonewall Jackson seen here with the mayor of Craigavon, Sidney Anderson

This year, 2008, was the 40th anniversary of the unveiling of the plaque and it was decided to hold a public event to commemorate this.The Stonewall Jackson 40th Anniversary Event was held at Peatlands Park on Saturday 30th August was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who attended.

The Mayor of Craigavon, Alderman Sidney Anderson, joined members of the Society at the plaque for a short ceremony and later the Mayor got into the spirit of the event as he spent time with the 8th Alabama infantry at their campsite. He even managed to get his hands on an original 1860's Enfield musket! The 8th Alabama re-enactors put on displays of marching, drill and volley fire.

In the marquee the entertainment was provided by the groups 'Stonewall' and 'The Dog Ruff String Band' as well as the Roadrunners line dance team and the 'Flower of the Bann' Scottish dancers. Children attending the event made good use of the Bouncy Castle and Slide provided by Bouncy Castles Direct.

Dog Ruff on stage

The Stonewall Jackson Society would like to thank Peatlands Park for the use of their facilities and our thanks also go to Craigavon Borough Council and the Ulster Scots Agency who funded the event.The Stonewall Jackson Society is seeking to educate people in Northern Ireland about the contribution made by Ulster men and women in the formation of America and particularly their involvement in the War Between the States.

We are looking for members so that our society can grow. Anyone interested can find out more about the society on our webpage at The secretary can be contacted on

John Tate
Secretary Stonewall Jackson Society
photos courtesy of Tate photography

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Ulster Iberian Connections

As participation grows in the Ulster Heritage DNA Project there is a corresponding growing interest in genetic and cultural connections to Iberia.
right, Spanish Celtic torc

Most people assume these links to be several millenniums distant and while this is true, it is also true that the Celtic people of Britain and Ireland continued to travel to the Iberian Peninsula well into the Christian era. Within the Atlantic Celtic population there was continual movement back and forth between the people of northwest Spain and Portugal and Britain and Ireland.

The on line E-Keltoi magazine has several scholarly articles covering many aspects of Celtic Iberia. These are found here:

Celtic hill fort in Spain

Dr Barry Cunliffe, the leading historian in the field of early Western European history, has basically told us that much of what we thought we knew about the Atlantic Celts was wrong.

The old pseudo history, the idea of continental Celts sweeping west and south into the Isles and into Iberia, continues to circulate despite DNA and archaeological proof that this did not happen. The new paradigm, one based upon what we now know from DNA testing and an open minded look at the archaeological evidence, is that the Atlantic Celts, those in Spain, Portugal, Breton, and the Isles, were indigenous to their Atlantic world. This Atlantic society is very old, thriving even before the pyramids of Egypt were built. The Atlantic Celts developed from the indigenous population in other words.

Dr Cunliffe's most extraordinary insight however is that it is very possible, that the Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, Galician and Breton languages are not the last vestiges of a tongue carried by Celtic invaders from northern India, but were local languages which grew from the aboriginal population. The connections between Ulster and all of the Celtic Isles, to Iberia are very real.

Barry R McCain © 2008

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Ulster Heritage Surname Reports

Ulster Heritage Surname Reports Available

Many times one’s DNA results are hard to understand and analysis is needed. This is especially true when dealing with Gaelic names that have multiple anglicised forms and non-surname matches. Valuable facts and family connections are some times overlooked or not understood, because of a lack of understanding of Gaelic etymology, orthography, and onomastics.

For an example; one participant surnamed Boyd that had a close non surname match to a McCaw family. This would have little meaning for most researchers, but a historian and Gaelic speaker would make sense of this. Boyd is often a Gaelic locality surname, given to people from the Isle of Bute, i.e. Bòideach in Scots Gaelic and Búiteach in Irish Gaelic. The surname often just means someone from the Isle of Bute.

A surname of one of the main clans on Bute was Mac Ádhaimh, which is often anglicised as McCaw. This Gaelic surname is an alternative form of the surname Mac Ádaim and means son of Adam and is a Celtic saint’s name. A family surnamed Boyd with a high quality DNA match to a McCaw family would strongly suggest the family’s origins and connections are to the Isle of Bute. This focuses the research to those areas of Bute were the McCaws lived and gives the participant a course of research. The recruiting of more McCaws on Bute or of Bute descent could reveal even more of this family’s history and with hopefully produce cousins in Ireland or Scotland.

A simple report in which your DNA results is looked at with consideration of the Gaelic etymology, orthography, onomastics and how they relate to your matches, can often help considerably. These reports are available for the fee of US$100. Contact Barry R McCain

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Stabane Gaelscoil Visited by Mary McAleese

A day the Gaelscoil will never forget

During her visit to Strabane yesterday, Mary McAleese described Gaelscoil Ui Dhochartaigh as a 'remarkable achievement'. And it is. Since been founded by a handful of parents in a tiny Barrack Street classroom, the school and indeed the Irish language in Strabane has flourished. Today the Gaelscoil is one of the finest primary educational facilities the North West has to offer.

Now nestled comfortably in the Ballycolman Estate, the Gaelscoil is this year celebrating ten years in existence. And what better way to do it than in the company of the President of Ireland.

The children of the Gaelscoil greeted Mrs McAleese and her husband with the recital of a poem on Tyrone's upcoming battle with Kerry followed by the singing of two songs in Irish. Then it was the turn of the President who, effortlessly switching between Irish and English, paid a great tribute to both staff and parents. 'You don't have a place like this unless people are passionate and have a love of language and culture.

'It is a remarkable thing to have accomplished and a special thanks must go to everyone who has put their lives into creating this opportunity for the young people of the area,' she said. Following much banter on Tyrone's undoubted victory over Kerry on Sunday, a plaque was unveiled to mark Mrs McAleese's historic visit.

Gaelscoil principal Maire Ni Dhochartaigh summed up one in sentence what the occasion meant for the school. 'This is an important day for us and one we will never forget.'

www.strabanechronicle.comStrabane Chronicle - Lthch: Conor Sharkey