On my mother´s side, I am descended from the Douglas family of Glenmanus, a small farming village about one mile south of Portrush, on the north Irish coast. Until the completion of the harbour in 1835 and the arrival of the railway in 1855, Portrush was but a tiny insignificant fishing village, with but a few families huddled under the headland, separated from the mainland by a range of sand dunes. In contrast Glenmanus was a thriving rural community.
But the new harbour and the railway brought new business opportunities to Portrush, especially in the field of tourism. Over the next 150 years, the town expanded relentlessly, and Glenmanus was swallowed up. Today little remains of the original village, save for a few renovated houses and the name on a street sign.
According to my ‘family legend’, the first Douglas arrived with General Munro’s Scottish army during the 1641-49 conflict, after which he remained, settling in Glenmanus, possibly with a small grant of land. I have no evidence of this claim, but certainly a John Douglas (c1734-1771) and Eliza (c1731-1800) lived and died there. I have succeeded in tracing my own ancestral line back as far as my third great grandfather, John Douglas (1811-1876). My maternal grandfather was Adam Douglas (1900-1977)
My maternal grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Wilson McCloskey. Her father, James McCloskey (1853-1933), and his father before him, James McCloskey (1808-1890), had a farm at Bannbrook, between Coleraine and Castlerock. Mary was the fifth of seven sisters and one brother. She married my grandfather on 14 February 1924. My mother, Beatrice Elizabeth Stewart Douglas, was born four months later on 15 June
I know nothing of my grandparents lives during that era, but I suspect that life was not easy for the young family. I cannot imagine that their parents were thrilled with the premature arrival of a granddaughter; their strict Protestant religion has never been renowned for its tolerance of human weakness. And how the self-righteous neighbours must have talked about the young couple! Despite my grandfather being the eldest son and the logical inheritor of the Glenmanus farm, in 1927, when my mother was two, he took his family and migrated to Canada. They left Belfast during late March on the Aurania and arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 3 April 1927.
They then travelled across Canada to Saskatchewan, most likely by train, and settled in Simpson, a small town situated about 150 k northwest of Regina and 140 k southeast of Saskatoon. The nearest rail station was at Watrous, some 25 k to the north of Simpson.
Why did they decide to leave Ireland? Perhaps there was an unbearable relationship with his parents or with his siblings or perhaps with other villagers. Or maybe the family farmhouse became intolerably crowded with an eight adults and a baby. Or like me, he just wanted to see something of the world and have a better life. It is most unlikely that we shall ever know the real reason. In those days life in Ireland was not easy. The standard of living was poor and mainly based on the farming of small holdings, like that of my ancestors. It was not unusual for young people to migrate to the industrial towns of the UK, or further afield to Canada, Australia or New Zealand, the latter countries willing to pay the cost of transportation.
The little I know about my grandparents in Simpson was provided to me by Mrs. Beatrice Crew (née Allen) of New Westminster, Canada. She was a childhood friend of my mother and despite their having been separated at a young age, they corresponded until my mother’s death in 1985.
I recall my mother telling me that her father had once been fired from his job. The farmer for whom he was working at the time was being cruel to a horse and my grandfather hit him. I have always felt proud of him for having done that. I don’t know who the farmer was. I like to think that I would have reacted in the same way.
Mrs. Crew told me that initially my grandfather worked on ‘little’ Fred Wilson’s farm outside Simpson, then for a summer for Frank Witley, before moving to a cottage in Simpson. Adam worked for farmers and my grandmother did house cleaning. She also provided full board to Bill Libby, who ran the Simpson Trading Company.
In August 1932, my grandfather’s father died, but it was not until the end of 1933 that the family returned to Ireland. They arrived in Liverpool on 17 December on the Duchess of Atholl, from St. John, New Brunswick, giving Kilcranny House as their proposed address. They may have initially stayed there, but must have eventually moved into Seaview Farm, where Adam’s mother was still living, as my mother never mentioned them as having lived elsewhere.
Why did they decide to return to Ireland? Until recently I had assumed that there was something outstanding or in dispute, resulting from his father’s death. It was one of my mother’s cousins who recently shed new light on the question. He said that my grandfather’s mother wanted my grandfather to inherit the farm after she died and had come to an agreement with the other siblings to accept her wishes and not make a claim.
So my grandparents and my mother moved back to Seaview Farm in Glenmanus and worked the land. My mother went to Mark’s Street primary school and left at the earliest opportunity to help her parents at home and on the farm. As she never mentioned that era of her life to me, I assume that it was uneventful.
It was when World War Two broke out, that my mother´s life changed dramatically. But that is a story for another day.