Since my mother died in 1985 and my father in 1995, my visits to my homeland have been few and far between; Portrush is about as far from NW Europe as one can go.
In the spring of 2005, I drove over to Ulster, via Stranraer and the ferry to Larne, to spend some time in the archives in Belfast; I wanted to research part of my Irish family history. And afterwards, for two glorious days I went walking in the Mourne mountains.
Instead of returning directly to Larne and Stranraer, as I had intended, I decided to take a detour north to Portrush and around the stunning coastal road. Almost without exception, when I have returned to Portrush, my first stop has been the graveyard of the ruined church at Ballywillan. For in that graveyard are buried my Douglas ancestors, as far back as the early 1700s. My parents and paternal grandparents are also buried there and for a while I wander from one known grave to another, lost in memories of when many of them were alive, especially in the case of my first schoolmaster (see Jimmy) and Derek Aiken, a school friend, who died at age 44.
Existimos mientras alguien nos recuerde
(We exist while someone remembers us)
Further down the hill, was the grave of Molly, the wife of my first cousin, Bertie Law. After leaving the graveyard, I intended on passing by his house in the hope of spending some time with him. I had just found new data on ancestors in which I knew he would be most interested, for like me, he was an enthusiastic amateur genealogist.
But when I arrived at Molly’s grave I was momentarily confused; she had been dead for thirteen years, yet the soil had still not settled. And then of course it dawned on me that Bertie was dead, and only very recently buried.
Bertie’s mother, Annie, was my grandfather’s sister. She died three days after giving birth to Bertie’s younger brother, John, commonly known as Jackie. Twenty years later, Sergeant John Douglas Law of the R.A.F. died over Germany and is buried at Rheinburg War Cemetery. I believe Jackie to have been the only WW2 casualty of the village.
Bertie was my mother’s first cousin and the most complete example of a handyman that I have ever known. He was an accomplished carpenter, bricklayer, plasterer, roofer and decorator. He built his own house in Glenmanus and most of the buildings on my father’s farm: the housing for the incubators, chicks, poultry, turkeys, the pig pens, and all of the storehouses. And when my mother was on one of her ‘I’d like to change this room’ moods, Bertie would construct cupboards and partitions. It was through observing Bertie at work, that when the need arose, I knew instinctively how to lay bricks, plaster, rebuild a shower, decorate etc.
Bertie was something of a workaholic. During the day he worked as a conductor for the local bus company and later he would work on the farm buildings. And when he returned home, he would spend time in the evening in his extensive vegetable and flower garden.
It was after the death of my father that I discovered Bertie’s interest in family history. He showed me the charts that he had drawn and we ended up by combining our research. And we supplemented it by mail, by telephone and occasional visits by me. Bertie’s charts are the backbone of what I know today of the history of the Douglas family of Glenmanus.
I felt very sad that day in May when I eventually left the graveyard. It felt like the end of an era, for Bertie was my last close contact with my parents. I still have two cousins living in the village, Hughie and Brian Douglas. I have recently renewed contact with them and long may that contact last.
Sometimes I feel most fortunate, for I am rich in memories.