Monday, 28 July 2008

Ulster Heritage DNA Project Update 28 July 2008

(above, Port Hall House as seen from the Foyle)

First to some housekeeping: I urge those participants that have not done so yet to upload all their DNA values to Ysearch and also to upload a Gedcom file (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) to your FT site. The 25 to 67 level markers usually have to be entered individually, so have a care there. There are many participants that have had matches, have contacted their kin and have recovered much of their lost family history. Many of us have actually been over to Ireland to visit our cousins. Your DNA result can be a wonderful asset and research tool, but you have to use it.

I spent several weeks in late June and into July in Tyrone and Donegal. I was over to speak at the 17th Ulster American Heritage Symposium. The symposium has met every two years since 1976 and alternates between co-sponsoring universities, museums and historical societies in Ulster and the United States. One theme that came across was the need to broaden our concepts of the Ulster Scots. The stated theme of the symposium was the Changing Perspectives 1607-2007. I thought this was very fitting as I myself decided several years ago that the Scots-Irish are in need of a re-examination. That basically some very shallow stereotypes planted in late Victorian times have obscured a more interesting real history just begging to be told. This is not a case of any revisionism, but rather the need to add more details and facts to the story.

This idea was reinforced by several of the papers presented at the Ulster American Heritage Symposium. A couple that stand out to me would be the excellent work of Professor Peter Toner of St Thomas University, New Brunswick. Dr Toner’s current work is following the large Presbyterian Irish speaking communities in New Brunswick circa 1850s into the 20th Century. Yes, there were several communities of Irish speaking Presbyterians from Ulster in New Brunswick. Archaeologist Audrey Horning talked on the settlement of Scottish Gaels in Antrim on the eve of the Plantation; these were Roman Catholic and Gaelic speaking families who settled with the permission of the McDonnells of the Glens and Route. There were Catholic Lowland Scots that settled in Tyrone and more Scottish Gaels into Donegal. All these themes are extremely important to those of us hunting ancestors. These groups to not fit in the Presbyterian Ulster Scot stereotype, yet they also participated in the 18th Century migration to the Colonial USA and then others went into Canada in the 1830s.

And speaking of Canada, the Ulster Canadian links are just as large and important as those to the USA. It is high time to include Canada in any discussion of Ulster migration and Diaspora. My McCains left Ulster in 1719 and we are numerous in the South, yet when the DNA results came in we had located a small army of McCain kinsmen in Canada that had immigrated in the 1830s. Our case is not unique either.

(Below Writer, historian, and poet, Ivan Knox of Corcam, Donegal)

While in Ireland I spent a week with Finn Valley historian and writer Ivan Knox. His knowledge of families from the Finn valley north to StJohnstown and the over to Strabane way is remarkable. Looking through his large records collection reminded me there are still many records that are not readily available. While there I located a crucial piece of data on a Hamilton family I am tracking from a will which appears in a book no longer in print, taken from family records.

In the DNA news, the UHP Results have been brought up to date; you can access them via our main website. If you see errors just send Jim or I a note. Also if you know you have high quality matches and want to have a family or clan listing, again just contact us.

I see that the Ó Catháin clan haplotype pulling in some interesting septs and confirming Irish language records. The Mag Uidhir (Maguire) clan also is having much success in locating their septs and members. Several new Scots-Irish family groups have been recognised. All in all things are progressing nicely.

Jim has placed several more Ebooks up for those who are researching in the County Derry area. These can be downloaded for a small fee. One of the new ones is ‘Scots-Irish Origins, 1600-1800 AD’; this volume includes Phillips’ Survey of 1622, the 1630 Muster Roll of Derry City and County, the Summonister Rolls and court records of Derry, 1615-70.

I am preparing a short book on the Hebridean and Argyll Gaelic families in Ulster circa 1390s through the 1590s. This topic I’ve long been interested in and the DNA results have shed light on these families; so many of them participated in the 18th and 19th Century migrations. That will be available this fall.

Many thanks to the Mag Uidhir clan for their money donation to the the UHDP. We have other people ask us if they can donate money, the answer being, Yes Please. Jim and I are a volunteer organisation and donations are very much needed and welcomed. There is a donation link on the main website.

We are also looking at a way to recommend qualify on the ground researchers in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, i.e. all nine Ulster Counties, as many people have asked us to do this. There are good qualified researchers that are reasonable with their rates.

I am sure there are things I forgot. As always updates can be viewed on the our home website at under the News and Updates. You can also catch up on the news from the Ulster Heritage Magazine at:

Any member of the UHDP is welcomed to submit a short article on your family, its links to Ulster, etc., your visit over, etc. We are particularly interested in families that have made the connection to their kin still in Ulster.

Mise le meas mór,

Barry R McCain

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Hidden Treasure in the Antrim Hills

Here is a flowing conversation with Glens Music's Seán Quinn, an icon in the traditional music world in Ireland. I've actually had the pleasure of sitting on a stage with Seán at the very trad venue of Mary McBride's. Seán owns Glens Music of course and records and produces some of the top trad records to come out of the North. He has a knack for finding those rare treasures that are the heart and spirit of the music of the Ulster. Not only does he record regional musicians in the Antrim area he is also a top performer, a magician on the piano accordion. His own band called the Trasna Ceilidh Band which plays the authenic Irish and Scottish ceilidh music.

Seán Quinn talks to Barry R McCain

I came into the Glens of Antrim through marrying a local girl, and after taking most of our holidays there we eventually acquired a small house with a large garage which we initially converted into a play room for the kids. Having played traditional accordion for many years I quickly fell in with the local Comhaltas (traditional musicians’ fraternity) and with the great accordion player James McElheran and his sean-nós singing wife Caitlín, who live close by our vacation house. Through these contacts I met a number of other musicians and singers from the Nine Glens (which lie in the North-East corner of Ireland between Larne and Ballycastle). I was impressed at the quality of the music and craic which they had, but it was confined within a very small group of mostly older people. In particular they were big into set-dancing (the set-dancing revival had not yet become widespread in the North) and traditional unaccompanied singing. Although there were several Comhaltas branches in the Glens, they were not terribly active in the late 1980s, apart from running irregular sessions and the occasional local Fleadh, and there were no young musicians or singers.

I persuaded some of my new friends to join with me in forming a radical local arts organisation: “The Glens Traditions Group”. We sought public funding to help bring traditional music, and particularly set-dancing and traditional singing to a wider audience locally, and also to promote the traditional culture of the Glens to the world at large. We got support initially from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council and then the Arts Council and launched our first rake of activities to coincide with the new “Heart of the Glens” festival in Cushendall in the summer of 1991. We ran one-day traditional singing, set-dancing and instrument workshops and a great set-dance céilí, which led to winter set-dance and instrument classes running from then until the present and a monthly traditional singing night. This in turn led to a re-birth of the Cushendall Comhaltas to cater for an influx of new young members.

I had always been interested in tape recording and around this time I released my first music cassette of piano accordion music, recorded direct to tape at the home studio of a friend. That music cassette was the first to come out on the “Glens Music” label. Then I used a borrowed portable DAT machine to record the first traditional singing day at the Cushendall Festival in 1991 which headlined singers like John Kennedy, Sean Corcoran and Brian Mullen, and brought out “The Glens Sing” on audio cassette in collaboration with the Glens Traditions Group. James McElheran had made, for the NI Arts Council, some reel-to-reel recordings of the great local traditional singer, Archie McKeegan, and the Arts Council arranged for them to be mastered on to DAT by Harry Bradshaw in Dublin. I helped the Traditions Group to bring out Archie’s Songs on cassette when he was about 80 years old, and a few years later they asked me to be sole distributor and I transferred the album to CD.

below, The Trasna Ceilidh Band

By this time we were phasing out cassette production and had released a number of Glens Music titles re-mastered on to CD, including 2 albums of music for set-dancing by the McElroy ceili band from Co. Down, two albums of music for céilí dancing, two more albums of my own accordion music, and a CD of unaccompanied songs by another Cushendall man, Charlie McDonnell. This was all done very much as a kind of cottage industry by myself and family members. Through my work as an education media specialist in Belfast, I had acquired the sound recording and computer design skills necessary to do almost all aspects of the CD production , hiring some studio time in Belfast when required, and going out only for printing and CD duplication services. Most of the early productions were based on location recordings.

Two things were left to do in order to realise the original concept for the Glens Music enterprise: to have a studio in the Glens and to release some recordings of the other traditional musicians of the Glens. The kids had grown up so I cabled and soundproofed the garage of the Cushendun House, my workshop at the back of the garage becoming the control room. Then we worked with the outstanding Ballycastle fiddler Dominic McNabb to bring out his debut album “Traditional Fiddle Music form the Glens of Antrim” in 2003. This was followed in 2004 by “The Slopes of Knocklayde” featuring two local session stalwarts: PJ Hill (banjo) and Leo Brown (accordion), and including a number of Leo’s own compositions. That was the first album to be completely produced in the new Glens studio and was followed quickly by a CD of the Trasna Ceilidh Band in which I play lead accordion, offering a selection of Irish and Scottish music which is very typical of the Glens (you can see the Mull of Kintyre from the beach at Cushendun). That was also the first project to be completely digital from start to finish.

The final breakthrough came in 2005 with the first contract job – a mammoth project for the debut album of young Ballymena, fiddler Johnny Murphy. Johnny had all his friends, including a number of other fiddlers, the All-Ireland champion bodhran player Sheila Rooney, Cavan accordion virtuoso Padraig Lynch, three different keyboard accompanists and a singer on board…so we broke a lot of new ground for Glens Music and it took over four months to bring to fruition. Johnny’s CD “Tuned In” is not on the Glens Music label, but we were able to make it available world-wide for Johnny through our web shop which we had set up at and where we sell our own CDs as well as other recordings, books and videos related to the Glens of Antrim.

A very pleasant experience was the visit to our humble studio in 2006 of the Bush River Band (now The McCains) of Mississippi when we recorded some tracks of them playing alongside local musicians including members of the O’Kane clan. One of these tracks (Over the Mountain) ended up on Donovan McCain’s debut album Traveller’s Way.

Since then we have recorded another Johnny Murphy album specially for competition dancers and the first of what we hope is to be a series: Master Fiddlers of County Antrim, featuring Denis Sweeney of Randalstown and Davy Rice from Belfast. We also have a major multi-media project now on sale: a teach-yourself Irish fiddle course by the same Denis Sweeney, comprising books and CDs.

This continues to be a very satisfying and, I believe, worthwhile activity - providing a reasonable recording facility and showcase for the outstanding traditional musicians and singers of this beautiful part of Northern Ireland and bringing them, Irish Music and the region to the attention of people world-wide.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

McKane's Corner in Stranorlar

The place to sit and have a chin wag in Stranorlar (Srath an Urláir) is McKane's Corner. It is located at the junction between Chapel Street and Main Street. It has been the place to meet and chat for over a century in this district. The building was at one time owned by Charles McKane, from the Whitehill McCains and he ran a general Merchants shop in the building in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After Charles McKane passed away in 1936 a line of McKanes ran the shop throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The building is a flower shop today and the current owners have kept the building in excellent shape and true to its historic origins. Many people stop by to have their photo taken at McKane's Corner.

An idea of what the place means comes from the poignant story of young Pat Kelley, a local man in the army during the 1st World War. In a letter to his family he said he was well and to tell all the lads back at McKane's Corner hello, and two week later he was killed in action.
The gents still go down to McKane's Corner, he's a photo taken just a few days ago of some of the regulars there taken by our fearless editor.
Barry R McCain