Friday, September 05, 2014

Granny



Anyone know exactly where Linford is? It's near Sallagh Braes. John Steen my g-grandfather lived in Linford in 1901/1911 while his father Jacob Steen was in Sallagh in the 1850s.

Posted on Facebook August 2014

Linford, Sallagh Braes and the surrounding area

In the census years 1901 and 1911 my great grandfather John Steen was living in Linford. John Steen was a shepherd and he and his family were the only people in that area. He worked for a landowner Campbell Tweed whose descendant, also called Campbell Tweed, still owns and farms the land. Linford is a hilly place not far from the Sallagh Braes. I was curious as to what it must have been like to live and work in that bleak country. Lonely and bleak it may have been where the Steens lived but Linford and the surrounding area is now designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

I got a few responses from my Facebook post but the most helpful was from my cousin Clare who put me in touch with local historian, Felix McKillop. I spoke to Felix on the phone a few nights ago. The first thing I learned was that he is kin to me. His grandmother and my great grandmother, Rose Steen nee Campbell, were sisters and that makes us second cousins, once removed.

I also learned that the herd's house where John Steen lived is still there, the only dwelling house in the townland. I had imagined it fallen down but remembered that the house belonged to a gentleman farmer and that the gentry do not abandon their properties. It is very likely that the house where Granny spent her childhood was pointed out to me when I was a child for we were often taken for drives through the Glens of Antrim. Sadly I was not interested then and consequently have no real memory of it. Ancestral tales did not make much of an impression on me when I was young. John Steen was a shepherd. That was all.

Johnny's brother Father Joe Byrne was a Catholic priest and in 1911 he was living in Altmore Street in the village of Glenarm. Felix told me that Father Joe was a regular visitor at his father's house where friends and neighbours would gather together to play cards. John Steen would also have been part of that group. That is probably how Johnny came to meet Jeannie. I cannot be sure when they met but they got married in 1913. Hugh McKillop (Felix's uncle) and Jeannie's sister Agnes were their witnesses.

Jeannie Steen was only eighteen when she came to live in the comparatively lush pastures of Lisnevenagh. Johnny was twelve years older. She was, by all accounts, very innocent when she married. Matty told the tale that when she first became pregnant she had no idea how long it would be before her baby was born. Yet she was an intelligent woman and had been a pupil monitor at her local national school in Feystown. That would be a post similar to that of a classroom assistant today. It was an unpaid position but it offered her the opportunity to continue with education.

Johnny, Jeannie and their first born son

Coming from where she did, it is no wonder that Granny was so austere. She abhorred waste and despised new clothes. Yet going by the only photograph I have of her as a young woman, she could dress well and she had a tiny waist but I only remember her as a big woman who wore a man's grey gaberdine coat for Sunday best.

Matty had a very telling story. Once, during my parents courtship she was visiting his home place and wanted to help out. It was a busy farm and pub and there was always plenty to do. She noticed the scullery sink could do with a clean and set to with a cloth and scouring powder. The job was completed and the sink gleaming when her future mother-in-law crashed through the back door, Jeannie was wearing a hessian bag as an apron and was carrying a big creel of freshly dug spuds. She looked at the sink, scowled, elbowed my mother out of the way and tossed the potatoes into the sink, clods of earth flying everywhere.

Granny was such a fierce woman. And fiercely nationalist. She'd quiz us on the history of the Easter Rising and cried bitter tears that our knowledge of Ireland's martyr's often fell short. She blamed the educational system for that. She spent her latter years keeping a petrol station (always called The Pumps) where she sat with a huge stick at her side and if we annoyed her she'd wave the stick at us. I made sure never to get too close to her. I was so scared of her. I certainly never felt any love either for her or from her. She had 26 grandchildren and I always felt that our part of the family came far down the pecking order.

Granny at the Pumps

Both my grandmothers had large families of their own and lots of grandchildren. Jeannie had her 26 living grandchildren and Granny Mac had more than 40. Each granny seemed to have their favourite family of grandchildren. It was never  us so I did not have that experience of grandmothers being very special people in a child's life. Perhaps it's a generational thing for both my grannies had hard, hard lives. My own children had loving grandparents as do Martha and Evie. 

Some of these days I'm for driving to Linford and I'll have a good look around and I'll remember my cross old grandmother. I may even take a walk. It's a beautiful part of the world.

Sallagh Braes

P.S. Attention Game of Thrones fans - apparently they were shooting in this area today. Brienne of Tarth and Pod were being filmed riding down the Braes.

4 comments:

Brighid said...

I love reading these histories. Thanks for putting them up.
Granny was a bit scary, wonder why.

Mage said...

What a wonderful story of family and what sort of people they really were. I was an only child with one grandmother. She was the best thing in my life.

Nelly said...

I went to view the house at Linford today. At least, I think it was the house.

Clare McGill said...

What a great story, Mary. I can just remember your granny at the pumps before your Aunt Mary took the seat. I also agree with you about ' granny's favourites'. That's how I've always felt about mine, but I admire them more now that they not here...such is life.